Swipe right on Gibson Dunn, an internationally renowned litigation beast offering British youngsters a “malleable and tailored” training contract, top pro bono cases and a considerate culture.
On a day when all the leaves are brown and the sky is likely to be grey, law students can turn to Gibson Dunn for their California Dreaming. “There’s something special and escapist about being at a Californian firm in London.” Born in LA in 1890, it took just under 200 years for the firm to leap across the pond, opening in London in 1979. Now a network of 20 offices across the globe, Gibson Dunn is renowned both in the US and worldwide for its blockbuster litigation cases: it’s currently representing the founders of Tinder in a high-profile breach of contract case worth billions of dollars. The firm also covers media and entertainment work that hits the press in big ways. Gibson is also working for AMC on the high-profile claim brought by a former The Walking Dead showrunner who seeks a larger share of the profits of the $3.4-million-budget-per-episode show.
Chambers Global places the firm in the worldwide top tier for corporate investigations and anti-corruption, and the firm also makes the worldwide shortlists in dispute resolution, competition, corporate/M&A, and private equity fund formation. The London office receives its strongest rankings in international arbitration, both investor-state and commercial, and it also gets nods for its competition and real estate finance work.
“There’s something special and escapist about being at a Californian firm in London.”
First formed in 2015, Gibson’s training contract is “fairly young and small,” meaning training here is “a malleable and tailored experience, with a lot of learning on the job.” Most Dunners arrive through the firm’s vacation scheme, which was described as “a short replica of being a trainee. You really earn your £500 a week!” Potential trainees are assessed using five assignments including a presentation and a drafting project – “I finished the vac scheme satisfied that even if I didn’t get the training contract, I'd learnt a huge amount that’d help me in my other interviews.”
Trainees are told of their first seat during their induction week. For subsequent seats, HR hand out a list of available seats, trainees give their preferences and HR match people up “most of the time.” An overseas secondment gives one trainee per rotation the opportunity to go to Hong Kong. The application process involves either aninformal email or video interview depending on how many people go for the opening. “There’s a big trainee community in Hong Kong, so it’d be great to go and expand your network.”
Gibson’s dispute resolution team has three branches: arbitration, investigations, and commercial and corporate litigation. Though trainees are assigned to a specific subgroup, “it’s more fluid than that. You can work across all three and dip in and out.” Commercial and corporate litigation covers a lot of big financial clients on litigations such debt enforcement and competition-based disputes, as well as media and energy sector matters. The team recently defended mining company Koza from the Turkish state’s attempt to interfere with its operations in a way that infringed public policy. Trainees get the unique opportunity to get “a bird’s-eye view on these massive, sprawling financial cases.”
Arbitration covers “bilateral investment treaty enforcement and interpretation.” The team go through a “long process of establishing whether we have jurisdiction to bring the claim and whether it’s the correct arbitral tribunal.” Due to the ambiguity of the jurisdictions involved in many of these cases, “one of the partners calls it the jurisdictional Wild West. It’s super interesting and very technically difficult.” The team recently represented Yukos Capital in an oil-related investment treaty case against Russia for $6.24 billion.
“...a bird’s-eye view on these massive, sprawling financial cases.”
The white-collar investigations group primarily works for large financial institutions, as well as some large corporates in sectors such as media, technology and real estate. The team recently represented Fender in connection with an investigation into the pricing of musical instruments. The group works on a lot of US companies’ UK regulatory work, where they “seek advice from us on potential conduct that might lead to a regulatory investigation here in the UK.” Trainees get to “see the dynamic between the client, firm and regulator. You're all trying to work in the same way – so it almost feels not contentious.” Interviewees liked working with their US counterparts – “it’s a great way to expand your network.” Across the litigation practices, trainees undertake “intellectually challenging” research tasks, writing letters, drafting witness statements, and writing presentations and notes of meetings. Trainees also get to go to court and hearings: “We were all in the war room until 1am every night. It sounds weird, but it was enjoyable.”
The firm’s corporate seat is great for generalists. Trainees get to sample private equity, public M&A, private M&A and capital markets work (though the last was described as a “less essential component to the team”). Typical clients again include large finance and energy companies. The team recently represented Marathon Oil Company in its sale of UK North Sea to RockRose Energy. They also advised Emirates in connection with the initial public offering of Network International, the largest European IPO in 2019 for £2.2 billion. Trainees here typically run checklists, liaise the signing process with the other side, coordinate due diligence, draft diligence reports and “generally be the point person on the deal.” They also get to “communicate with local counsel and specialists within our Gibson network. You get a good sense of how the firm all fits together as a machine.”
“Pro bono clients are treated the same as fee-paying clients, so you can really prioritise pro bono matters.” Gibson Dunn is a leader in the US for pro bono cases, and a lot of “high-profile, ground-breaking” pro bono work makes its way through the doors here too. London associate Ryan Whelan represented the heavily publicised ‘upskirting’ case, which successfully campaigned to outlaw the act in 2019. Partner Penny Madden is currently representing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian journalist detained in Iran. Trainees told us about working for clinics and charities and on human rights cases and employment matters.
“Partner Penny Madden is currently representing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.”
“From my first interview to now, I've never felt uncomfortable at the firm in the slightest.” Gibson Dunn is host to diversity initiatives that are “genuinely enthusiastic and ambitious.” The firm hosts lunches and events and “on Mental Health Awareness Day they put free fruit out for the day. Great! Thanks, just for one day, that’ll make a massive help,” quipped a trainee. The firm has since made fruit free indefinitely. Overall, interviewees described the firm’s attitude as “affected by our West Coast US roots. It doesn’t matter who you are at all.” This fed into the feeling that the culture at Gibson Dunn is “certainly very welcoming and supportive. Everyone has that team spirit.” It’s common for staff to “congregate in the cafeteria in the middle of the building,” and the office in general has a “chilled atmosphere.” The small, around-100-attorney-strong office means that “it’s the sort of place you can stop and chat to anyone.”
Though there are some drinks and team dinners, there’s “not always as much socialising as there might be with other firms.” Luckily trainees get all their socialising done in one densely packed stint. Each year the firm runs a New Lawyers Academy retreat to California for all new starters worldwide. Trainees fly to a luxury Cali resort on a Thursday and fly back on the Sunday – “the jet lag was immeasurable.” We heard of “karaoke, ridiculous outfits and amazing food. We had one dinner overlooking the sea and honestly it looked like a wedding. We did a hot-seat-speed-dating exercise where we got to meet loads of different people.” Trainees realised “just how big the firm is. We came away from it really invigorated, thinking ‘wow, this really is a great firm!’”
“It’s the sort of place you can stop and chat to anyone.”
Back home, trainees benefit from “a large system of safety nets.” As well as their supervisors, trainees have a trainee buddy from the year above, and an associate mentor. During lockdown, the firm gave trainees partner buddies too, “just to keep us connected.” The buddying system makes trainees feel like a “valued part of the team. It goes a long way to making us happy.” Most interviewees finished work by 8pm each day. Some reported being in until 11pm “pretty much every night” during busy periods, especially in groups like litigation and corporate. When it came to salary, there were “no complaints! Not many firms pay more.” The firm’s £120,000 qualification salary means there is only a handful of firms that pay more in the UK.
The firm started the qualification process off early this year as “they understand everyone’s nervous given the climate surrounding the virus,” and management has “made a big point that they didn’t let anyone go during the recession.” HR managers kick off the process by asking where trainees want to qualify. Interviewees felt confident as the firm has historically enjoyed a 100% retention rate. In 2020, fourof five stayed on.
LA LA Land Lord
Gibson Dunn appears to pull off something quite enviable in the US: it operates in the same league as the rather intense New York elite, but pulls it off with a more chilled vibe and a clear commitment to pro bono. Californian working culture must be to blame. Take a look at our US review in chambers-associate.com if you’re researching Gibson Dunn in detail.
How to get a Gibson Dunn training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 1 February 2021
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 July 2021
Open day deadline (2029): 22 November 2020
First-year insight deadline (2020): 11 April 2021
Gibson Dunn's London office welcomed its first batch of trainees in 2015. Graduate recruitment manager Kathryn Edwards says that “to date, we've recruited around 90% of our trainees from the vacation scheme – it's a vital part of the recruitment process. That's not to say it always will be, but I always encourage those interested in training with us to get onto the scheme.”
The firm uses the same application form for the vac scheme and training contract. It covers academic and work experience and there's a cover letter section, “which is the key part of the application,” says Kathryn Edwards. “We don’t break it down much, as we want to assess how candidates approach the exercise of writing the letter. It's an opportunity for candidates to tell us anything they'd like to about themselves, including noteworthy achievements or interests. From this we can get a real feel for the person, because the relatively free structure of the letter allows an applicant's personality to shine through.”
The firm receives over 600 initial applications and around the top 10% are invited in for an initial interview with Graduate Recruitment, followed by two second-stage 45 minute interviews with a partner and an associate. During one part of these interviews, “generally, the interviewers spend time exploring the application form” and the second part “is spent going through questions on a topical news article that we ask candidates to read quite quickly before the interview starts and discuss. The emphasis is very much on how candidates marshal the information in the article, express themselves and formulate their arguments, particularly when challenged. Their level of knowledge of the topic and their personal opinion are irrelevant.”
The vacation scheme has 20 places and runs for three weeks at the end of June/early July. Students who successfully bag a spot on the “jam-packed programme” spend a week and a half with a supervisor in the firm's transactional group and the same amount of time within the disputes group. “We try to ensure they're getting involved in live work and gain a realistic understanding of what it's like to train at GD,” explains Edwards. Assessed exercises include a group presentation which “allows students to showcase their team-working skills. We want to see whether they thrive in a group, how they divide up tasks and support one another. Their presentation is scheduled in the final week, which means the students have over two weeks to research the scenario and produce a two-page memo before they're up on their feet for a ten-minute presentation.”
There are also written exercises to contend with. One “has a corporate slant, while the other requires the students to consider the elements of a settlement agreement. In each case the students attend an information session to learn about the task set, as well as receiving feedback so they know what they did right and where there might be room for improvement. We think it’s really important for students to learn and develop while here.” Vac schemers also get involved in a mock negotiation, which “isn't formally assessed. We split the group into teams and run three concurrent negotiations – people enjoy being out of their comfort zone and taking on a different persona. We talk to them beforehand about tactics and they put that theory into practice. Students often report that it’s a favourite part of the scheme.”
'Coffee conversations' are also on the itinerary – “these are informal chats over coffee and biscuits with partners and senior associates from each of the firm’s practice areas, with the opportunity to ask questions about life as a trainee and the day-to-day work of each team.”
Kathryn Edwards notes that “one of the highlights” of the vac scheme is a discussion with Lord Falconer QC, who's a partner at the firm. Falconer talks to the group about his career, which included working alongside Tony Blair as Lord Chancellor. Edwards tells us: “He encourages the students to examine what it is they want from a legal career, what their goals and aspirations are, and how they can use their skills for good in the future. The session is extremely inspirational and the students really look forward to it!”
On the social side of things, there's a legal treasure hunt around the City, a thrilling bank-heist themed Escape Rooms night, a partner dinner at a top London restaurant, plenty of impromptu drinks, plus a farewell summer party on the firm’s roof terrace overlooking the Thames.
How much work experience do successful candidates need? “There's no set amount. We review each application individually and expect to see different paths. I might want a little more legal work experience from someone who's a non-law student in order to evidence their commitment to a legal career, and to show they've investigated whether commercial law is for them. It doesn't have to be weeks of vac schemes but valuable experiences like attending court or working in a commercial institution in the City or in the service industry. We also understand that it is easier for some students to get relevant and interesting work experience than others. The key thing is that, whatever level of experience a candidate has, he or she has thought a little outside the parameters of their particular role, for example, considering the commercial aspects of the organisation for which they have worked. We like curious individuals!”
Any final tips for candidates? Edwards says: “Be yourself! Don’t just repeat things at length which you’ve read on our website or tell us what you think we want to hear. Your application will stand out if it is well-considered and a true reflection of your achievements and ambitions.”
The Hong Kong training contract
“From the sparkling lights of Shanghai to small farming villages in rural India,” the trainees and junior lawyers work on all sorts at Gibson Dunn’s Hong Kong office. Learn more about life and work in HK.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
2-4 Temple Avenue,
- Partners 31
- Associates 61
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 19
- Graduate recruiter: Katy Edwards, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager
- [email protected] gibsondunn.com
- Training Partner: Mark Sperotto
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-7
- Applications pa: 650
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 16-18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 31 July 2021
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 1 February 2021
- Open day deadline: 22nd November 2020 (General Open Day)
- 11th April 2021 (First Year Open Day)
- Method of application: Online
- Hong Kong training contract
- Vacancies: 1-2 (2021/22 start)
- Summer interns: 4-5 per scheme
- Please visit our website for more information or send enquiries to Katy Edwards at [email protected] gibsondunn.com
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Competitive
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Yes
- Hong Kong training contracts pa: 1-2 (2021/22/23 start dates)
Main areas of work
We welcome applications from exceptional individuals, those who are capable of taking the initiative, who have strong interpersonal and organisational skills and can rise to the challenge of working directly with partners within small, focused teams and having client contact early in their careers.
Trainees rotate around four six-month seats with opportunity to spend time in corporate, finance, dispute resolution, employment, tax, competition, energy, real estate and funds. We also expect to be able to offer secondments to an overseas office of the firm, and with a client. Trainees share a room with a partner or senior associate, and work with them on their matters, whilst also having the opportunity to work with the other lawyers in the firm.
Gibson Dunn is proud to have a strong, sustained commitment to pro bono work, and our trainees are encouraged to participate in this tradition and work on local and international pro bono activities.
• Pay: £500 per week
Our summer vacation scheme is intended for both law students and students of other disciplines in their penultimate and final year of study, recent graduates (in any discipline), and those already taking a GDL or LPC course. Gibson Dunn strongly encourages candidates interested in a training contract to apply for a place on our summer vacation scheme, rather than directly for a training contract. To date, the majority of our trainees have been recruited from our summer vacation scheme. Early application is advised as places will be allocated on a rolling basis.
Open days and first-year opportunities
• First Year Insight Day – 22nd April 2021 Applications are welcome from students of any discipline in their first year of undergraduate study.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)