A firm that gets things Dunn: Californian globetrotter Gibson’s small London base comes with an “entrepreneurial vibe.”
All Dunn up
On a rainy day in Blighty, it can be tempting to start California dreaming – and if you’re a law student, you might start fantasising about a training contract at one of Cali’s biggest firms. Gibson Dunn’s London office unfortunately doesn’t come complete with West Coast sunshine, but it’s now an established force in the City: the firm opened its doors in London several decades before doing so in New York and DC, though it only began recruiting trainees in 2015.
Gibson Dunn’s best known stateside for massive litigation cases. It recently represented CNN in a lawsuit against President Trump after reporter Jim Acosta’s White House clearance was removed; and defended Facebook during the litigation that followed alleged misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica. The firm’s recognised by Chambers Global as among the best in the world for corporate investigations and anti-corruption, and scores hearty recommendations in dispute resolution, competition and investment funds. GD isn’t quite as celebrated (yet) in London but does pick up Chambers UK rankings for international commercial arbitration and real estate finance.
“You’ve got to go out there and find the magical opportunities.”
One wistful trainee told us that Gibson Dunn is “like an enchanted forest – you’ve got to go out there and find the magical opportunities.” One such opportunity is international travel – there’s currently only one trainee secondment to Hong Kong on offer but the firm’s network of 20 offices across ten countries left trainees “excited to see where I can travel once I’m an associate.” The Hong Kong seat has historically been “a breeze to get as the class size is so small,” but competition in 2019 prompted the firm to conduct video interviews to decide who could go.
On their first day at the firm, trainees find out what seat they’ll start in. Following that, the process is “simple – a couple of months before seat change they email you asking about your preferences.” Most sources were happy with their assigned seats as “even if you don’t get your top choice, they try give it to you next time around. The small intake means that the process is organic.” In keeping with the firm’s “more entrepreneurial vibe,” trainees get work through a free market system where “you can go and find whatever suits you and chart your own course.” The downside of this is that “when lots of people ask for your help, sometimes it’s tough to find a way to politely say no.”
Who Dunn it?
Gibson’s dispute resolution team has three branches: High Court litigation, international arbitration and investigations. Trainees are technically assigned to one subgroup but some end up dabbling in all three. The team does a fair amount of UK-specific litigation, recently defending Asda against thousands of claims brought by store workers who contested that they should be paid the same as distribution centre staff. Sources described investigations as “particularly sexy” – Gibson advised a global investment bank in parallel criminal insider-dealing investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. “It was interesting to see the early stages of something that might descend into massive litigation.” Trainee tasks in disputes include legal research, attending witness interviews, bundling, and, inevitably, document review. “I like doing it because there’s always a chance that you’ll come across the smoking gun,” one Sherlockian source declared. Arbitration cases call for citation checks and preparation of filings.
Trainees described the corporate seat as “very generalist – I’ve done a mix of private M&A, funds work and a bit of public M&A.” High-end cross-border deals are the norm: Gibson represented Canadian online gambling company The Stars Group in its £3.5 billion acquisition of Sky Bet, creating the world’s largest publicly listed online gaming company. Other clients here include Royal Mail, Kraft Heinz and Investcorp. Sources reported that “if you want a lot of international work, corporate is a good fit – it’s always interesting from a co-ordination standpoint.” Typical tasks include running checklists; amending share purchase agreements; due diligence and writing up reports from it; and occasional drafting opportunities.
“There’s always a chance that you’ll come across the smoking gun.”
Finance is also a “very broad seat – we do debt, restructuring and everything in between.” Property finance is a big chunk of the practice: Gibson recently assisted shared workspace provider WeWork with financing for its acquisition of Devonshire Square, a 620,000 square foot collection of 12 London buildings. The UK and US teams advised IT service company iPayment on the financing of its acquisition by Paysafe. Finance is one of the smaller teams and we heard that partners are “great at giving trainees substantial responsibility.” Tasks commonly include drafting agreements and security documents – “the partner will say, ‘Here’s a couple of templates, figure out what goes where then I’ll take a look at it.’” There’s also a fair amount of client contact on offer, typically in the form of document checking over email.
The employment team deals mostly with issues arising from the finance, corporate and litigation practices including internal investigations, discrimination and data protection. In one example, a partner and associate advised on employment aspects of Bruin Sports Capital’s $127 million cross-border acquisition of tech business Massive Interactive. Trainees here are in charge of “fact finding, going back and forth with the client and doing lots of research into more niche and unusual questions.” Other tasks include reviewing policies, drafting agreements from templates and drafting witness interview questions. Outsourcing matters sometimes pop up – GD assisted medical device company DJO Global on the UK employment law aspects of outsourcing for various projects.
Trainees can also sample pro bono work: interviewees got stuck into human rights litigation, helping charities with joint ventures agreements and managing non-profit incorporation. Gibson Dunn also helps at legal clinics for family, housing and domestic violence matters. Our sources considered their experience with pro bono “horizon-broadening. It helps us learn skills we otherwise might not have exposure to.”
A Dunn deal?
Each year the firm runs a New Lawyers Academy retreat to California for all new starters worldwide. Hosted in a West Coast resort, the three-day programme includes talks, presentations, networking and training sessions. “I initially thought it was one of those over-enthusiastic American things, but I enjoyed it,” a trainee recalled. “It serves its purpose – to connect you to the global network.” The small London office makes connection easy: “Everybody knows everybody, by and large. People are friendly here and there are no sharp elbows.” Trainees sit in a room with just their supervisor, who tend to be “hands-on – they’re constantly pushing you but offer support and don’t just throw you into things.” There’s also a buddy system which pairs trainees up with someone in the year above and below. “It’s helpful to have someone to answer your questions about seat choices and the basics.”
“I initially thought it was just one of those over-enthusiastic American things, but I enjoyed it.”
Interviewees described diversity as “a big focus” at Gibson Dunn. The firm invites professionals in to provide unconscious bias training: “We’re having a modern conversation around diversity. It’s about all the ways unconscious bias takes place rather than basic level ‘don’t be racist’.” There’s currently a “pretty poor” number of female partners in London but trainees were hopeful that “things will organically get better in the next ten years with a generation shift.” The firm is doing more than simply waiting for this change to come, but will have to remain proactive on this front. As for the firm's social scene, there’s “no massive push” to get involved. Our sources had, however, partaken in “chilled” drinks, mini golf, spa trips and theatre outings on the buddy scheme budget.
Speaking of budget, some found that the trainee salary “isn’t competitive enough compared to the wider market – we’re lagging.” That's one way of looking at it; the other is to point out that only a handful of fellow American firms pay more in London and NQs are paid well north of £100,000. That context leaves less room to complain. Other trainees were less demanding, finding that compensation is “worth it for the number of hours you put in.” Starting their day at 9am, an 8pm finish was the average. The harder hours you'd expect of a US firm were present too. One trainee told us: "25% of the time I stay beyond 9pm, and I've had one 5am finish." The office-wide hours target of 1,950 a year doesn't apply to trainees. "Nobody’s even ever mentioned it to me.”
Interviewees told us that the qualification process changes each year due to the training contract’s relative youth: “It’s a little frustrating but it’s just a teething phase. Everything’s very relaxed.” Gibson Dunn has historically enjoyed 100% retention – that slipped to four out of seven trainees staying in 2019. “They were offered jobs but left of their own accord as they wanted to qualify into teams that are small here,” insiders revealed.
London associate Ryan Whelan worked with activist Gina Martin to make ‘upskirting’ a criminal offence in the UK.
How to get Gibson Dunn training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 1 February 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
Open day deadline (2019): 24 November 2019
First-year insight deadline (2020): 12 April 2020
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.”
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
2-4 Temple Avenue,
- Partners 32 (London)
- Associates 60 (London)
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Dallas, Denver, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, Washington DC
- Graduate recruiter: Kathryn Edwards, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager
- Training Partner: Mark Sperotto
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7-8
- Applications pa: 650
- Minimum required degree: grade 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA, AAB, ABB or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 July 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 1 February 2020
- Open day deadline: 24 November 2019 (General Open Day); 12 April 2020 (First-Year Insight Day)
- Hong Kong training contractMethod of application: Online Vacancies: 1-2 (2020/21 start) Summer interns: 4-5 per scheme Please visit our website for more information or send enquiries to Kathryn Edwards at [email protected]
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- 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
Main areas of work
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.
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
• Applications are welcome from those who are eligible to apply for our summer vacation scheme.
• First-Year Insight Day - 23 April 2020
• Applications are welcome from students of any discipline in their first year of undergraduate study.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)