Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP - True Picture

This headline act brings top-tier disputes and transactional work from the City of Angels to the London stage, giving trainees the chance to spread their wings from day one.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher training contract review 2024

The Firm 

Gibson Dunn might not be a name you’d see on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it’s an LA superstar nonetheless. It carries the weight of more than 130 years’ worth of American BigLaw clout: “I wanted to be at a top-tier firm with big US clients and headline deals. Being from the west coast, Gibson’s more connected to the entrepreneurial Silicon Valley market.”Chambers USA has ranked 104 of Gibson’s departments and, as you’d expect, its hometown tech practice is top class. Partner Mark Sperotto explains that tech is an area of growth in London, too: “We recently hired Joel Harrison and Alison Beal, two corporate lawyers who focus on FinTech and other technology-related matters. It’s a high-growth area that’s interesting for young lawyers as it’s very much the future.”

The firm also has 1,800 lawyers across its 20 offices in Europe, Asia and the US, and recently opened an Abu Dhabi office. Sperotto emphasises that the Middle East has been a focus of growth for the firm in the past year, with an additional six lateral partners joining Gibson’s Dubai office. Although Dubai has been a location for international secondments in the past, the firm is looking to add further international opportunities in the Middle East for trainees. Evidencing the firm’s international strength, the firm has earned itself a number of accolades in Chambers Global, including top-tier rankings for antitrust and international investigations and enforcement.

Despite its firm footing on the other side of the pond, Gibson’s London base is certainly not a satellite piggybacking off any exciting work that makes it across the Atlantic. The office has been strong and steady here for more than 40 years and now houses over 160 lawyers. Chambers UK recognises its UK-wide work on commercial and investor-state international arbitration and energy and natural resources (in oil and gas). In London, Gibson’s ranked in equity capital markets, competition law, tax and real estate finance. Sperotto explains how Gibson Dunn is a unique London-based US law firm as its disputes and transactional practices are equally strong: “We have an almost 50/50 split. What that means for trainees is that, when sitting in either group, they’re getting top-quality experience and an insight into that side of the law in a level that’s unrivalled in the market.” 

“You can get to know everyone and become not only colleagues, but friends.” 

The London office only takes on a handful of trainees each year, and interviewees were grateful for this as it made it easier to become part of the firm. “I didn’t want to be a cog in the machine,” expressed one trainee. “From a very early stage, you’re encouraged to reach out to lots of different lawyers and try to get involved in their work if you like the sound of it.” Being from the west coast sets the tone for the culture, with trainees explaining that “the friendliness debunked my initial thoughts about US firms!” Others were grateful that “you can get to know everyone and become not only colleagues, but friends.” 

The Seats 

Interviewees described the seat allocation process as largely informal. Trainees are free to repeat seats so long as they try out disputes and corporate: “If you want to do a specific seat, you’ll do it for sure at some point during your training contract,” which is good news for those who don’t get their top choice each time. Client and international secondments are especially popular, and the firm offers the chance for trainees to complete a six-month stint at one of the firm's international offices following a successful interview. The destination and practice area change year on year depending on availability; this year's lucky trainee was flown out to Hong Kong.

Gibson’s corporatedepartment is incredibly broad, with trainees getting the chance to dip their toes in M&A, private equity, capital markets and ESG advisory work. Clients here include American Airlines, Gamma Biosciences and private equity company, The Carlyle Group. The department recently advised property developer Related Argent on its joint venture with Invesco relating to an £8 billion development at the new Brent Cross Town in North London.  Although much of the work trainees end up doing depends on their supervisor’s specialisms, a newbie was clear that, “just because your supervisor does x type of work, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck on that.” In fact, the department follows a free market system, where trainees can seek out opportunities they're interested in. Although trainees might get different experiences of the seat depending on what’s hot in the market, there are plenty of international deals to get involved in. The department also works across teams, so trainees in finance and employment might assist with due diligence, for example.

“I felt I could add value to the team I was working for.” 

Interviewees explained how “you’re a bit of a project manager in corporate as you need to know what needs to be done and when.” Being organised is a key part of the seat, especially since deals are leanly staffed. Trainees explained they regularly lead due diligence, whilst any admin work “isn’t just photocopying. You’re using your skills to push a transaction ahead.” Sources were generally pleased at the level of client contact and responsibility which increased once they proved they were capable: “I felt I could add value to the team I was working for.” Another trainee explained: “On a few deals I was running entire processes where I was the only person who was totally familiar with the case.” Typically, trainees can expect to be kept busy with drafting, proofreading and process management. 

The disputesteam works on a variety of commercial litigation matters, such as competition and employment litigation. White-collar investigations and enforcement make up a significant part of the work, alongside a new sanctions and trade practice. Sources described this seat as “intellectually engaging” and “very research-based,” with the chance to work on some big matters going to trial. For instance, Gibson Dunn has been defending UBS in the UK High Court against a high-value claim that it allegedly colluded with five other banks to manipulate the foreign exchange market. On matters such as these, interviewees explained that “your main duty as a trainee is case management and making sure all the pieces are organised.” Tasks consist of more than just prepping bundles and, aside from attending hearings, trainees also draft, help prep witnesses and deal with client requests. 

Gibson's London office takes on its fair share of international arbitration work - it's an exciting practice for those who’ve tried it out. Sources were wowed by the “impressive partners, as well as other great solicitor advocates and barristers.” The group has been involved with various high-value matters across the globe, often working on disputes in the oil and gas sector. Recently, Gibson represented the National Aviation Services Afghanistan in a multimillion-dollar claim against Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority, the Afghanistan Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation, and Ariana Afghan Airlines. Trainees can get involved in such large-scale matters – tasks might include monitoring developments and helping prep for hearings. 

Trainee life 

People are very keen to find out your interests outside of work and have a genuine interest in who you are as a person,” an insider was glad to say on the firm’s culture, adding “we see ourselves as a team, not competitors.” To instil the team spirit, the firm hosts a range of social events, from a Star Wars-themed day to regular happy hours. Sources also appreciated the more west coast-inspired lack of hierarchy, noting “the partners have a lot of respect for the associates and trainees. No one’s scared to ask them questions.” Regular trips out to the US complete the experience – Gibson hires a resort so lawyers from around the world can have a nice time together, network and attend sessions hosted by the firm. Running with the west coast theme, this year's destination of choice was California.

These perks are matched by high trainee pay and a massive salaryhike after qualifying. As expected, this can come with a few late nights, but trainees were clear that “even when it’s busiest, I’ve never felt unsupported. Everyone’s in it together.” Typically, the hours vary at any law firm but, according to our survey, trainees reported working anywhere from 37 to 50 hours a week. Work can trickle into the wee hours,“butyou don’t need to be sat in the office; there’s no culture of sitting around just to show face.” 

Supervisors offer further one-to-one support for trainees and “are really happy to take time out of their days to sit down with you and go through anything you don’t understand,” according to interviewees. Insiders also praised the informal training, with one finding that “on-the-job training helps you see how a lot of the legal work isn't done exactly by the book and can’t be learned passively.” That said, there’s still formal training on the calendar, with disputes and corporate running sessions to get trainees up to speed with the legal nuts and bolts. Newbies are also eased in with up to two-week-long induction trainings prior to each seat, in addition to business communication sessions.

“I’ve been able to prioritise pro bono over chargeable matters.”

Like several US firms, Gibson’s got a lot of pro bono going on, which is a great way to develop key skills and take on more responsibility. There’s no billable cap for qualified associates,and trainees “have been able to prioritise pro bono over chargeable matters when there’s been a deadline. That’s always respected.” There are regular opportunities with clinics, on topics including domestic violence, prisoners’ advice, family law and housing. Recently, the firm has been working with Afghan refugees and on cases following the conflict in Ukraine. 

Although there’s still improvement to be made across the industry, trainees were happy to see diverse representation improving. Interviewees attested to Gibson’s “active efforts.” Among other initiatives, the firm recently hosted an insight day for students from underprivileged backgrounds which included various networking and mentoring activities, and lunch! The DEI and wellness committees run regular informative sessions and trainees are welcome to partake in global events hosted by affinity groups across the firm’s network of offices. Examples here include wellness breakfasts, massages, and seated yoga at their desks, as well as unconcious bias training and an eight-week-long wellness course. On the gender side, sources noted that, although there are more male than female partners, one of the co-partners in charge of the London office and Gibson’s global managing partner are women. 

In 2023, Gibson retained all its qualifiers. Interviewees understood that “the firm doesn’t want you to go elsewhere so the qualification process is as accommodating as possible.” Trainees chat about their preferences withgrad recruitment who publish the job list after talking to the partners. Qualification decisions are then made based on performance and commercial need.

Hotel California

First-seat trainees are invited on the New Lawyers’ Retreat to California, which ensures any necessary initial team bonding is Dunn and dusted before returning to London, with the Saturday night dedicated to karaoke.

How to get a Gibson Dunn training contract


  • Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 16 January 2024
  • Training contract deadline (2026): 16 January 2024
  • Open day deadline (2022): 16 November 2024
  • First-year insight deadline (2023): 18 March 2024

Initial applications

Gibson Dunn's London office welcomed its first batch of trainees in 2015, and the programme has developed and grown successfully since. Up to nine training contracts are offered each year, for the annual September intake. The majority of trainees are recruited via the summer vacation scheme, so those interested in a training contract should apply for a place on the three-week summer scheme. 

The firm’s application form covers academic and work experience, though the cover letter section is a key part of the application. This is an opportunity for candidates to share anything they would like to about themselves, including noteworthy achievements or interests. As the relatively free structure of the section allows an applicant's personality to shine through, it provides a “real feel for the person.”

For the summer vacation scheme the firm receives over 800 applications and around the top 10% are invited in for an initial interview with the Graduate Recruitment team, followed by two second-stage 45-minute interviews with a partner and an associate. The first part of the interviews is spent exploring the application form and the second part centres on a discussion about a topical news article that candidates are asked to read just before the interview starts. The emphasis is 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.

Vacation scheme

The vacation scheme has up to 22 places and runs for three weeks from 24 June 2024 until 12 July 2024. Students who successfully bag a spot on the 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. The firm ensures that students get involved in 'live work' and gain a realistic understanding of what it's like to train at Gibson Dunn. Assessed exercises include a group presentation in the final week, which allows students to showcase their team-working skills: the students research a given scenario and present for ten minutes in front of a panel of Gibson Dunn lawyers. The firm evaluates whether the students thrive in a group, how they divide up tasks and support one another, as well as their ease when responding to panel questions.

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, and receive feedback after the task, to help students learn and develop.

'Coffee conversations' are also on the itinerary. These are informal chats over coffee and biscuits with partners and 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.

One of the highlights of the vac scheme is a discussion with Lord Falconer KC, a partner at the firm. Falconer talks to the group about his career, which included working alongside Tony Blair as Lord Chancellor. The inspirational session encourages the students to examine what they want from a legal career, what their goals and aspirations are, and how they can use their skills in the future.

On the social side of things, past events have included a creative team-building art class, thrilling axe-throwing, plenty of impromptu drinks, plus a summer party at a stunning roof terrace at a top London restaurant.

Trainee profile

How much work experience do successful candidates need? There's no set amount. Each application is reviewed individually and different paths are welcomed, though seeing more legal work experience from someone who was not a law student does demonstrate their commitment to a legal career and shows they've investigated whether commercial law is truly for them. Valuable experiences like attending court or working in a commercial institution in the City or in the service industry are all relevant, and the firm understands that it is easier for some students to get relevant and interesting work experience than others. The key is for candidates, regardless of their level of experience, to have thought outside the parameters of their particular role, for example considering the commercial aspects of the organisation for which they have worked. The firm encourages curious individuals!

Any final tips for candidates? The firm encourages candidates to be themselves. They should not just repeat things at length which they’ve read on the firm’s website or say things simply because they think that’s what the interviewers want to hear. Applications will stand out if they are well considered and a true reflection of the candidate’s achievements and ambitions.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Telephone House,
2-4 Temple Avenue,

Firm profile

Gibson Dunn is one of the top law firms in the world with a London practice established over 40 years ago. We work on a fully integrated basis with our other offices around the world, offering full service capabilities on a wide range of business issues to listed companies, large private companies, investment banks, private equity firms, start-up ventures and many other organisations with international operations and ambitions.

Main areas of work

The London office handles all aspects of corporate work, including public and private M&A, private equity, finance, capital markets, financial regulatory, tax, commercial real estate, energy, funds and restructuring and insolvency. The office also has an extensive dispute resolution practice, handling commercial litigation, regulatory investigations, international arbitration and employment and competition law disputes.

The Hong Kong office provides an extensive range of U.S., Hong Kong and English legal advise to global and Asia-based clients. Major practice groups in Hong Kong include: capital markets, competition, compliance and investigations, energy and infrastructure, finance, funds, litigation and dispute resolution, M&A, Privacy cybersecurity and consumer protection, private equity, financial regulatory, strategic sourcing and commercial transactions and technology.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Dubai office is located in the financial center of one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Our Dubai office is dedicated to servicing the needs of clients in the Middle East and Africa as well as those from the United States, Europe and Asia doing business in the region. Our clients include sovereigns, sovereign wealth funds, financial sponsors and family offices.Gibson Dunn has represented many of the largest companies and financial institutions doing business in the Middle East for more than 40 years. Our Dubai office opened in 2007 to serve our existing client base, solidifying our presence in the region. As a Gibson Dunn trainee, you will work alongside some of the most talented lawyers in the Middle East, Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Based in the UAE, trainees frequently work on international transactions and cases with our colleagues and clients overseas. The firm is also able to offer trainee secondments to overseas firm offices, as well as with clients.

Training opportunities

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. Some trainees will have opportunity to partake in 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.

London Vacation scheme

• 24 June 2023 – 12 July 2024
• Pay: £750 per week

Hong Kong Summer Internship
• 5 June – 23 June 2024

Dubai Vacation Scheme

• June 2024 dates tbc (this could take place in London or Dubai)

Deadline: 16 January 2023

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 or also the PCLL course for the Hong Kong Internship. 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.

Other benefits

Full range of benefits including private medical insurance, corporate rates at a gym/fitness chain, life assurance, income protection insurance, travel insurance, pension, employee assistance programme and emergency back-up care. You will also benefit from individual annual book, client development and professional development allowances, attendance at US firm retreats and extensive Professional Development, Diversity and Pro Bono programmes.

Open days and first-year opportunities

• General London Open Day – 7th December 2023 Applications are welcome from those who are eligible to apply for our summer vacation scheme.
• First Year London Insight Day – 25th April 2024 Applications are welcome from students of any discipline in their first year of undergraduate study.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Competition Law (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 6)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)