US firm Goodwin’s London office continues to grow with a focus on private equity and investment funds.
Good-win some, you lose some…
… as the saying goes. Well not quite, in this case. For Goodwin – both in London and across its ten other offices – 2018 was all about winning. Global revenue grew 16% to nearly $1.2 billion, while turnover in London was up by a stonking 58% to $67 million following a 64% increase in headcount. What's the secret to this success? In a word: laterals. The firm took on a bunch of lawyers from collapsed firm KWM in 2017 and also brought in folks from Dechert and Taylor Wessing. Goodwin's newly minted trainees have been part of the success story too: the firm launched its traineeship as recently as 2018 on the back of those KWM hires (which included some trainees too). As a result, our sources said, the firm is now “a hybrid of everyone in the London market,” and home to “a huge blend of people.” One commented: “We’re still ambitious and growing as a group, and it’s exciting to be part of that.”
“We’re still ambitious and growing as a group, and it’s exciting to be part of that.”
That ambition seems to be paying off so far: the firm is ranked by Chambers UK for mid-market real estate and investment funds work and also has lawyers ranked for private equity, real estate finance and life sciences – the latter is a particular strength stateside.
So how do trainees feel about being part of a brand-new training contract inside a growing office? One source noticed the traineeship is “not as established or set in its ways,” while another suggested: “There was an informality to the training contract when I started, but in my time here I've seen it become more formalised.” Indeed, the training contract has taken on a pretty typical structure: each trainee must do four six-month rotations, expressing preferences for what’s next during mid-seat appraisals. As the firm doesn’t offer a contentious seat, trainees are instead required to attend aweek-long training course. And while no seat is mandatory, the firm “wants everyone to try funds and private equity.” Work-wise there's still some fluidity. “One of our aims is to integrate as many prongs of our work as possible,” noted one source, for instance by “acting on a private equity fund's formation, its acquisitions and then its financing – that's the Holy Grail!”
Boston, Bahrain, Berlin
Goodwin’s private equity team covers fund formation, venture financing, buyouts, mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and more. Trainees reported working on mid-market M&A deals and “for private equity houses looking to buy or sell portfolios.” Clients include mid-market English private equity firms like Ampersand, Graphite and Inflexion.Deals are typically worth tens or hundreds of millions, and sometimes edge over a billion. The team recently advised Boston-based private equity firm TA Associates on the €400 million acquisition of kitchen design tech company Compusoft from its founder. “With multiple deals going on, trainees often manage the process during each stage,” one source told us. “You join all the calls and get involved in the disclosure and transaction documents, for example drafting lengthy reports.” The size and scope of some of the deals means “the real skill you need is balancing everything to get half a dozen things out the door so people are happy.”
“I felt my input hadn’t just been nominal.”
The investment funds team is responsible for helping clients “structure new funds looking to raise money from third-party investors.” For example, the firm recently advised an arm of Australian investment bank Macquarie with structuring and fund-raising for an infrastructure fund, raising €2.5 billion from over 40 investors. In addition lawyers from across different teams advised Bahrain-headquartered global investment manager Investcorp on a $1 billion deal to house some of its European private equity assets under a new fund. The department also handles work for real estate funds, and trainees get exposure to both. One interviewee told us gleefully about their role on a fund-raising: “I was on the structuring calls, responsible for document list, calling all parties, and updating the limited partnership agreement and transaction documents.” Other trainee tasks include drafting board minutes, side letters, plus other ancillary documents, and “then occasionally being let loose on the limited partnership agreement.” It’s worth noting that funds have a long gestation period – “you’re never seeing things from start to finish, so the work often feels piecemeal.”
The firm’s real estate offering encompasses both finance and more conventional real estate stuff. This means work for “funds involved in real estate directly” and also “smaller property-based transactions.” On a smaller deal – say the acquisition of a portfolio of holiday homes – a trainee will see “every stage of the process.” Whether they're drafting ancillary documents, running the data room or doing “an awful lot of due diligence and pulling together different documents,” trainees responded warmly to their role on such deals. One found: “I felt my input hadn’t just been nominal – I got a real rush from playing such an integral part in the deal.” The team handles bigger transactions too – for example advising an investment manager on financing for a 252,000 square foot office building in the City of London, and advising a US real estate investment trust on a €1.6 billion joint venture with a French wealth manager, which involved the 50:50 split of a portfolio of 71 hospitals in Germany. On such biggerdeals, trainees noted their less pivotal role: “A trainee is more in the background, more document-focused, with partners wanting you to organise and mark up documents.”
Qualifly with me
“It’s the best of both worlds,” one source said of Goodwin's culture. “There’s an American sense of purpose, power and money, but you really don’t have that terrible American brash culture.” We'll admit that's not a particularly positive or fair verdict of our US cousins' defining qualities, but it's illustrative of both how our sources viewed their workplace, and the stereotypes that informed their expectations. “I was scared that it’d be red braces and power breakfasts with people effing and blinding, but that’s just not the case,” one source said. “People are genuinely empathetic and understanding, recognising the need for a strong work/life balance.” Moving into the quotidian, it seems people are all rather nice to one another. “Everyone’s quite social,” we heard. “Someone might send an email out to everyone saying, ‘There’s sweets in the kitchen on floor x.’” We’d like that email too!
“We’re getting to the size where you might not know everyone.”
Trainees drew attention to how the firm’s growth may impact life for future trainees. “We’re getting to the size where you might not know everyone,” one said. At the same time expansion has led to an overriding sense of optimism – “growth is a good sign overall.” What hopefully will continue are the regular ATP drinks (for associates, trainees and paralegals), an opportunity for frivolity away from the watchful eye of partners – “it’s always good to let your hair down without the partners there.” Regular all-firm charity nights, drinks trolleys and formal parties help further inculcate the “mission of togetherness” that the firm tries to maintain. To help promote this firm-wide as well as in London, there are often partners visiting from the US and Europe, and qualified associates can spend three weeks in two international offices as part of a global rotation programme.
We mentioned work/life balance above, but we'd be remiss not to say the hours can get pretty long here. While things tend to be “up and down,” trainees agreed that “it’s not horrible to be here late because everyone’s in it together.” Departmental differences do emerge though. In tax, for example, things are quite regular (usually an 8 or 9pm finish), whereas in corporate “it could be 6pm or four in the morning!” Across the board, everyone’s usually in around 9.30am, and 10pm would be considered a later night. If they find the time, trainees can also do pro bono work – activities are “still embryonic” in London and there's no requirement to do any, but the firm has worked with the California Innocence Project, an organisation dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions.
“We’re still the guinea pigs,” said one second-year when we asked about qualification – the 2019 qualifiers were the first to do their whole traineeship at Goodwin. There’s still informality surrounding the NQ process, and in 2019 two of three qualifiers stayed on.
While Goodwin’s training contract is pretty new the firm already runs a summer vac scheme.
How to get a Goodwin training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
The application and assessment
Candidates can apply to the firm via a CV and covering letter. When looking at a candidate's CV, Kerry Dawson explains “we're primarily looking at academics”: you'll need a 2:1 or above at undergrad and at least AAB at A level. Within the covering letter, Goodwin is looking for the classics: “We would like to understand additional achievements outside of academics, why they have chosen a career in law and why Goodwin.” Dawson adds “given the nature of our business, some exposure to the real estate or private equity environment is always helpful.” Those that pass the initial CV sift are invited to a first-stage interview with the lead graduate recruitment partner and another partner.
Successful interviewees are then invited to an assessment day. This involves an interview with HR, an interview with the other partners on the panel, and an interview with the firm's two office chairs. Dawson warns that candidates should “be prepared to be asked some relatively tough questions.” A popular test is seeing if candidates can explain the difference between a transactional and non-transactional lawyer: “That's an important one as we're a largely transactional office,” Dawson highlights.
Following on from the interview, there is usually acoffee or lunch, as well asa tour of the office with a group of trainees and associates. Assessments come in the form of a written exercise and group exercise, both based on the same case study. With the written exercise, the “emphasis is on assessing the candidate's technical skills” whereas the group exercise “looks at how they present, and how they work in a group.”
There are 14 spaces on offer for Goodwin's two summer vacation schemes. The application is the same as the direct training contract application, and it is assumed that vac schemers are applying for the training contract as well.
Students split their time between two different practice areas: “We try to make sure everyone sees one of the real estate teams, and one private equity team.” Students can expect to shadow associates, attend client meetings, and attend information sessions on the work of practice areas in the London office. On top of that, there are a number of social perks. The most recent bunch were treated to breakfast at the Skygarden, but there's a number of other more informal get togethers to meet partners and associates. “Our headline social for the vac schemers was the escape room,” Dawson tells us, “it was good to see them mix with the current trainees.”
“For our 2018 intake, we recruited one out of six from the vac scheme, then in 2019 it was the reverse – five out of six were from the vac scheme. We'll probably get to a point where we're recruiting 50/50 from the vac scheme and from direct training contract applications,” Dawson estimates.
There are six spots up for grabs, but with around 400 applicants in the first year of the training contract's existence, how can a candidate really stand out? “Those that stood out had really researched the firm and tailored their application to us. They had highlighted traits in themselves that matched our values,” Dawson reflects. These traits included “having an entrepreneurial flare – some vac schemers this year had previously been involved in their own businesses or with tech start-ups. It brings a different dimension to them, having that business mind-set.”
Dawson emphasises “the most important thing for us when we hire is the fit. We think it's unique and every person plays their part. We always think about whether we can see ourselves working with these people.”
- Partners 27
- Associates 85
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 9
- Graduate recruiter: Kerry Dawson, [email protected], 020 7447 4285
- Training partner: Ed Hall
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8-10
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 January 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 10 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:
- GDL: £8,000
- LPC: £10,000
Main areas of work
Students will witness first-hand the work we do for our clients by shadowing associates, attending client and business unit meetings, and attending information sessions focussed on the work of each practice area in the London office.
Students will leave our programme with valuable mentors and a large professional and social network. Goodwin will run two summer vacation schemes, from which we will recruit a proportion of our 2022 intake of trainees. We will be accepting applications for summer 2020 vacation schemes from 1st December 2019 through to 10th January 2020.
To apply please visit www.goodwinlaw.com/careers/people-and-culture
University law careers fairs 2019
• Nottingham University: 21st October 2019
• Cambridge University: 24th October 2019
• King’s College London: 23rd October 2019
• Oxford University: 9th November 2019
• London School of Economics: 22nd October 2019
• Durham University: 19th November 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 2)