Truly the land of the free and home of the brave, this American-born global giant affords trainees the liberty to pick their own path.
A standing innovation
You'll need strong thighs if Jones Day is your firm of choice – seats are nowhere to be found. In place of the traditional model is a fluid, non-rotational training contract which allows trainees to duck and weave between departments as they please. The ones we spoke to felt they'd “gotten to know the firm as a whole” and were eager to provide other reasons why the Jones Day system trumps the norm. The training contract could be “tailored to what I was most interested in,” said one. “If you choose to, you can gain two years of experience in an area – unlike someone rotating, who might only be there for one seat.” Trainees must ensure they complete a variety of work to comply with SRA requirements, but beyond that “Jones Day wants you to take charge of your own destiny.”
The firm spans 18 countries and five continents (it opened a Melbourne office in 2018 too) and the slogan 'one firm worldwide' is splashed across the firm's website homepage – so you'd expect the training contract to have an international reach. A six-month trip to Dubai is the only international secondment on offer, but trainees spend “a week in DC early on, meeting lawyers from across all the firm's offices. You're encouraged to keep in touch.” Better still, matters are frequently international. It varies from practice to practice, but finding yourself in a transactional team will mean getting very comfortable calculating timezone differences. We heard from trainees who'd worked with offices in the US, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore and more besides.
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Though one interviewee pinned the vibe as “a mid-size English firm nestled within an American blanket,” London is the largest office outside the US, and plays an important role in the global network. Brexit looms large and some trainees felt “a bit worried about retention,” but outgoing training partner David Smith offers a reassuring outlook: “We haven't seen an awful lot of downturn – if anything we've seen an uptick in real estate clients investing in Europe and the UK.” The office is strongest in mid-market M&A and civil fraud, garnering top marks from Chambers UK for both. Other notable practice areas include real estate finance and restructuring. To get a better idea of the firm's international standing, it's worth looking at the lengthy list of Chambers Global rankings over on chambers.com.
Seize the day
“People who come here want to push themselves,” sources candidly told us. “There's a real emphasis on taking responsibility and you're expected to know how to approach things from day one.” Trainees must choose and seek out their own work, rather than waiting for a carefully managed caseload to land on their desk. This model relies on building and maintaining relationships – it isn't for everybody. The firm only recruits through its vac scheme, and it's a useful way to test the waters. “You're told to approach partners and associates to ask for work,” trainees reminisced: “You're thrown in at the deep end, but it gets you used to life as a trainee.”
Asked what kind of person suits the system, sources suggested “somebody independent who gets on well with people, because you spend a lot of time communicating with peers.” It's also crucial “to be able to say no. If you're not upfront about your time constraints you'll take on too much and struggle.” Managing their workload was an added responsibility, but it added to a sense of trust in trainees, who felt the lack of hand holding made them “better prepared to be associates. Lateral hires tell us they were mollycoddled on their training contracts. We're used to taking client calls and drafting – that has a huge benefit.”
“You're not just running round every department on day one.”
New arrivals often fall back on the relationships they've forged on the vacation scheme to get started. Though insiders were “pushed quite quickly into knocking on doors to get work,” they stressed “you're not just running round every department on day one looking for something. All the partners know a new trainee intake has arrived and are quite willing to talk to you, but if you just sit in your office waiting for work it won't come.” Newcomers will often work on multiple projects at once, juggling disputes and transactional matters on a daily basis. Some partners send out capacity emails to find trainees with time on their hands, but that's “less common by the second year, when it's expected you'll have bedded into an area.” To guide them in their hunting, every newbie gets a second year and partner mentor.
Praising the system, sources pointed to its flexibility. “If you find an area you love you can continue to work there; if there's something you hate, you don't have to stick with it. It's possible to work on big projects from start to finish, and see them from the perspective of different departments.” Conversely, some aggrieved voices felt “pressure to decide quite early which department I'd like to specialise in.” Those who painted the system in a more negative light perceived that “this system is more open to becoming a likeability contest” where certain trainees can cut to the juiciest work quicker than others. Others advised that “it's great if you want to be a generalist corporate or litigation lawyer, but if you like specialist areas, that is more challenging.”
To ensure trainees get enough variety in their diet to satisfy the SRA, they complete a checklist for at least three different departments of their choice. One must be litigious, and one transactional. It's up to trainees to manage their workload to complete the requirements.
Most of the trainees we spoke to picked corporate as one of their checklist options. Takeovers, disposals, joint ventures and M&A deals are all covered by the department, which handles both mid-market and high-end transactions. Matters of an international variety are a particular strength. General Electric, Goldman Sachs and RPC are on the books, alongside various real estate, life sciences, industrial and defence clients. Trainees recalled experiencing “share issues, mergers, fund investments and major acquisitions.” In one recent example of the latter, Jones Day represented LetterOne's investment arm L1 Retail on the £1.77 billion acquisition of high-street health-food utopia Holland & Barrett. The firm also advised building materials company Owens Corning on the €900 million acquisition of insulation producer Paroc Group. Mega deals like this require that trainees do “a lot of due diligence and working on disclosure schedules, but we sometimes do more document and checklist management.” Where the cash was less mega, sources “got a lot of responsibility talking to clients.”
Global disputes is a broad church: within it sit business and tort litigation, securities, international arbitration, insolvency litigation and civil fraud (a Jones Day speciality). Cases are, again, often jurisdiction-busting. Mastercard called on the firm to defend against more than €2 billion's worth of damage claims brought by retailers across the EU over the questionable legality of certain fees. “There's no guarantee early on that you'll get the specific work you want,” one source noted: “It takes some persistence to get to the meaty stuff.” But trainees were thankful for “getting to see cases through from the start all the way to the hearing. A traditional training contract wouldn't give you that opportunity.” Getting involved in international arbitration means regular contact with the DC office, but the nature of disputes in general means “there's less client contact available – you have to defer certain things.” Instead, trainees locked into proofreading, research, drafting witness statements, case management and some bundling.
“A traditional training contract wouldn't give you that opportunity.”
In a system where trainees can pick and choose, interviewees declared real estate “a great department; they take pride in looking after you and treat you as one of the team.” Some were surprised to find that “it's one of London's real bread and butter areas.” Property developers, investment funds and trusts make up the clientele, and recent high-profile projects include acting for CBRE Global Investors during a £1 billion joint land acquisition with logistics property developer Prologis, and handling a £49 million acquisition for The British Land Company of 70,000 square feet on London's Ealing Broadway. “Everything from drafting purchases and leases to legal research” falls to trainees, several of whom took on “bits and bobs” for the team to supplement their bigger projects in other departments. Those who got more heavily involved found that “real estate is really good for getting meaty work early on. They give you smaller files you can largely run on your own.”
Jones Day's more niche departments are also strong options for trainees seeking autonomy. White collar investigations had several interviewees involved with the firm's probe of BHS directors' actions following the retailer's collapse in 2016. That meant spending “quite a few hundred hours on the case, preparing for employee interviewees and analysing potential claims.” Other investigations with an international dimension can lead to occasional trips overseas. Competition also has hefty responsibility up for grabs. Having drafted submissions, taken part in client meetings and more, a source there exclaimed: “You do an awful lot! But it's what we're here for, and partners are not shy about letting you step up if you're happy to do it.” Neither are senior lawyers across the firm afraid to get stuck into the nitty gritty – we heard of “a case where a partner was doing bundling, because it needed to be done. The attitude is very much that we're a team.”
Things certainly seemed tight-knit. “If you fancy going out on Friday night there'll always be people at the Harrow pub,” said trainees, who could also attend regular firm-organised socials. “Each department hosts its own Christmas party,” and because trainees are invited to all of them, “we can judge which is best!” The firm's 21 Tudor Street office (a short stroll from Blackfriars) boasts an on-site canteen appropriately named Café 21, a handy outlet for regular hobnobbing. Though the name above the door is American, “the London office definitely has its own identity. The stereotype of US firms being full of jocks definitely doesn't apply.” Each trainee shares an office with another in their class – an arrangement widely liked. “You can ask your office mate any stupid questions, and there's no face time culture because nobody's watching.”
But trainees didn't sugar coat their working hours: “They can be really brutal.” One set it out: “At lighter times you can leave promptly at 6:30pm; in busy periods I might be here until 6:30am.” Another calculated that “9:30am to 7pm would be the closest thing to a 'normal day'.” Second years also noticed their home times moving later into the night after twelve months or so. While a few voices suggested that “certain people only work 4 or 5am stints because they're taking on too much,” others pointed to a lack of inter-departmental communication around workload as the source of their woes.
“The stereotype of US firms being full of jocks definitely doesn't apply.”
There are a few morning or lunch training sessions held by different departments through the week, which are compulsory in the first year. Because of the non-rotational system, “the training isn't necessarily linked to what we're doing a lot of the time, which affects how much you retain. It can be quite piecemeal.” Sources had similar feelings on their six-monthly appraisals, which involve feedback forms both for the trainee to evaluate themselves, and to let the firm know how it could improve. While appreciating “the reciprocal process,” some nevertheless complained that “the timing of appraisals is never consistent. I would have liked more structure, or just a nod of assurance early on so you know you're on the right track.”
A year in, by trainees' second appraisal, they should theoretically have an idea which department they want to qualify into. JD's qualification process is quite informal: trainees are typically spared an interview, they instead send an e-mail to the training partner explaining where they'd like to apply. “There is a lack of transparency when it comes to how many spaces there are in each department,” complained trainees. Sources were generally unsure of the protocol around competition for spots, but the vast majority we spoke to in 2018 hoped to stay on, and in the end 13 of 18 did.
The firm recruited its first apprentices in 2016 and aims to hire four more in 2018.
How to get a Jones Day training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: 26 October 2018 (winter); 14 December 2018 (spring); 10 January 2019 (summer) - all open on 1 September 2018
Apply for 2021 training contracts via the firm's 2018/19 vac schemes
Jones Day recruits almost exclusively from its work placements (a.k.a. vacation schemes) in the winter, spring and summer holidays, so anyone gunning for a training contract with the firm is advised to apply for a placement in the first instance. The firm offers approximately 20 training contracts each year.
According to recruitment partner Emily Stew, the application process is “as simple as possible to give as many candidates as possible a fair chance. There are no video interviews, psychometric tests or assessment centres – not even additional questions specific to the firm to answer on the application form; we just ask students to provide an online CV and a covering letter.”
She continues: “We are looking for somebody who has done a lot with their life so far, beyond just good academics. We're never blinded by the fact someone's gone to Oxbridge or another top university, and we do give some latitude to people whose results aren't perfect if they show other potential.”
Applicants are required to have a 2:1 on their degree (or be on track to achieve one). Beyond that Jones Day has integrated Rare's contextual recruitment system into its recruitment process in order to better understand an applicant's potential in the context of their school's average student attainment. When such potential is spotted, the firm has, for example, recruited graduates without A levels and with Open University degrees.
When it comes to the covering letter, the trainees we spoke with advised “using it as an opportunity to explain why you want the job and a future at Jones Day. Look at how Jones Day operates, the way it trains and the work it does, and link its practices to your interests. You can learn a lot from chatting to Jones Day trainees and other lawyers at their 'Question Time' events and London open evenings, which anyone can attend – just sign up via the website.”
Applicants who pique the firm's interest are invited to an interview with two senior lawyers, followed by coffee with a current trainee. “Mine was a chat rather than a grilling,” recalled a trainee. “They use your CV to lead you into a conversation you're comfortable with as they feel that will get the best out of you.” Another relayed how “they asked for my opinions on the Six Nations because I'd mentioned I was a rugby player. There aren't any of those out-of-the-box questions like, 'What fish would you like to be?'”
The firm runs a series of placement schemes throughout the year during the winter, spring and summer vacations. Each placement is two weeks long, and there are around 70 places up for grabs across the schemes. Jones Day received some 1,800 applications in total for its four placement schemes in 2017/18.
Placement candidates shouldn't expect a carefree fortnight of drinks receptions and lunches. “It's set up very similarly to the training contract,” a trainee told us. “There are a few talks from different practice areas and an introduction to the online systems, and then they put you in a 'hub' with four or five other candidates and tell you to knock on some doors. It's terrifying in those first moments, but everyone knows the position you're in, so they're incredibly friendly and give you some work.”
“We're always honest in our recruiting in that we allow candidates to see what it's like working in our firm and training in our system,” Stew explains of the decision to eschew a more standardised placement scheme. “Participants don't just do workshops throughout their two weeks; they're given tasks they can have a stab at so that they know what the training contract will be like and whether it's the right fit for them.”
As a trainee source pointed out: “You have to be confident enough to source your work, manage your time and supervise yourself to succeed – they look to see this in action since these aren't things the firm can test just through an interview.” Indeed, Stew confirms the programme “attracts students who want some flexibility, responsibility and control when they come into the training contract. It suits people who are confident and ambitious, though it's important they have a bit of humility as well.”
Toward the end of their placement with the firm, candidates complete another interview, again with two partners, in a final bid for a training contract.
More on the non-rotational training contract
As we mentioned in the main True Picture feature, Jones Day eschews a traditional seat system in favour of a non-rotational one in which most trainees start by taking work from several areas and eventually use that experience to choose one area they want to specialise in. “At first it's common to do work with the people whose offices are near yours, especially if you aren't sure what area you're interested in,” said a trainee, but eventually rookies venture further from their desks to seek out work in an area of their choosing. Another interviewee explained: “I spent my first year meeting new people and getting a taste of the work in different departments. By the second year, I knew which kind of work I enjoyed and gravitated towards those groups.”
What you think of JD's seatless system “really depends on the type of person you are,” reflected one trainee. “If you're not the kind of person who's happy to go out there and introduce yourself to others, it will not suit you.” Our other sources concurred: “You need to be quite bold, as you're essentially dropped in the deep end and get a lot of responsibility very quickly.” Still, we can't stress enough how much JD's trainees appreciate the firm's lack of formal seats. “I absolutely love it,” one gushed. “If you actively throw yourself into it, it's 100% a brilliant system.”
You might think Jones Day's non-rotational training contract is something to do with it being an American firm. But you'd be wrong. Actually up until about the early 1980s most UK law firms had non-rotational traineeships. Seat rotations were introduced after regulatory changes to ensure that trainees (called articled clerks at the time) still got exposure to a variety of work in increasingly specialised firms. But City firm Gouldens (which went on to merge with Jones Day in the early 2000s) was having none of it: it decided to stick to the old non-rotational system while making sure its trainees were extra-thorough at keeping a diary of the work they'd done. The Law Society (which regulated traineeships at the time) was reportedly impressed with the results and the firm has stuck with the system ever since.
Another hallmark of JD's training contract we should mention is the extensive cross-office and international nature of the work. “People think international work is cool and sexy, but so much of our work is international that it would probably be considered sexier to work on a domestic deal!” one trainee quipped. The firm doesn't offer formal overseas seats – “it would basically contradict how we do things around here if the firm decided to have fixed overseas seats”– but trainees do occasionally travel abroad for work, and the firm sometimes sends some to its Dubai branch for a brief stint (usually between four and six months). Client secondments are available on an ad hoc basis if clients reach out to JD to request a helping hand from trainees.
Becoming a lawyer in litigation
21 Tudor Street,
- Partners approx 60
- Associates approx 100
- Total trainees approx 40
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 42
- Rose Taylor, graduate recruitment manager
- Emily Stew, recruitment partner
- Adam Brown, training partner
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 20
- Applications pa: 1,800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 70
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 September 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 10 January 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 September 2018
- Vacation scheme, 2019 deadline: 10 January 2019
- Salary and benefits (2018)
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £57,000
- Post-qualification salary: £105,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Overseas offices: Continental Europe, Asia, USA, Latin America, Middle East, Asia Pacific
- Overseas secondments: Dubai
Main areas of work
In our rare and distinctive, non-rotational system of training, you will seek and receive work across all departments at the same time, to provide flexibility, responsibility, faster development of potential and the opportunity to compare and contrast different disciplines alongside one another. Your work will vary from small cases which you may handle alone (under the supervision of a senior lawyer) to larger matters where you will assist a partner or an associate solicitor. The firm runs a structured seminar programme to support the practical teaching you receive from associates and partners with whom you work. A rotating six-month secondment to the Dubai office for one trainee is also available. .
Final deadlines are 26 October 2018 (winter scheme); 14 December 2018 (spring scheme); 10 January 2019 (summer scheme and training contracts).
Opportunities to meet us
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 5)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 4)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)