US titan Latham & Watkins may be a big fish in the proverbial legal pond, but its trainees don’t feel out of their depth.
Latham & Watkins training contract review 2024
Good things come to those who wait, and that was clearly the case for LA-born Latham & Watkins. Rising through the ashes of the Great Depression, Dana Latham and Paul Watkins initially set their sights on the labor and tax market in LA. Keeping a low profile through the early years, the firm entered the 60s with just 19 employees. But then came the 70s, and Latham was rewarded with a growing roster of offices and an ever-expanding list of practice area coverage. This growth has seemingly kept on rolling, as today Latham is a full-service firm with around 3,000 lawyers globally, in offices across Europe, the US, the Middle East & Asia. If that wasn’t enough, the firm has the second largest gross product of law firms worldwide (over $5 billion) and is just shy of a mighty 200 ranked departments in Chambers Global – talk about main character energy!
“It's not just a satellite office of the US.”
Nevertheless, the firm’s London base is a beast of its own, and trainees were clear that “it's not just a satellite office of the US.” This branch houses nearly 500 lawyers and scores points in Chambers UKfor its work in corporate, banking, capital markets and private equity. Our interviewees were all drawn to the “high profile work” this office has to offer, in combination with the US-style “lean deal team structure.” But like many US firms operating in the UK, Latham’s cohort is modest. So, prospective trainees should be comfortable with getting “a lot more exposure than you would at magic circle firms with lots of trainees.” It’s also worth keeping in mind that most newbies have completed the firm’s vacation scheme prior to joining, though there are a good few that come through direct training contract applications.
Upon joining, trainees get to rank up to four seat preferences. Allocation starts about three months before the beginning of the seat and trainees meet with graduate recruitment to “chat about qualification aims and what your interests are in.” Though,there is an overarching rule that trainees will do one corporate and one finance seat as “they're the bread and butter of the firm.” When it comes to secondments, there are internationalopportunities in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong & D.C. On the client front, the choices range from banks and private equity houses.
Given finance is a requisite seat, we got to speak to a lot of banking trainees. One told us that “leveraged finance takes up the majority of this practice.”So, you can be on anything from“closing and wrapping up a matter or you might be on the earlier stages of the bid process, where the lenders have not been decided yet. It is a huge range!” Latham’s clientele on the lender side includes the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan & Citigroup. On the sponsor side, the firm advised 888 Holdings on the €2.26 billion acquisition of William Hill. The trainees we spoke to were exposed to a wide range of tasks that ranged from “drafting survey documents on legal opinions” and then towards the end of the seat even “possibly leading sessions by yourself.” The key to success in this department was simple, “show you are competent and that you can do the basics.” The source added that, “if you can show that, there is no ceiling on what you can do.”
“the in-person interaction with clients was really fun."
Another big group at the firm was the corporate department and trainees here were definitely kept on their toes. One source quipped that “there’s no shortage of work in corporate!” This department covers a bunch of subgroups from private equity to M&A and “you can do any of those things, it is a broad church.” Typically, the team advises large companies on strategic acquisitions and mergers and common tasks include “lots of signature packs and signing, swapping docs with opposing counsel, then on larger matters it involves working with foreign counsel.” Clients are big names like online retailer Farfetch, GlaxoSmithKline and the London Stock Exchange. The firm also acted as lead counsel to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital Group on its acquisition of Chelsea Football Club. Reflecting on their time in this group, one trainee surmised that “the in-person interaction with clients was really fun as I did a few signings as well as running some of those processes on my own.”
Next up was the firm’s projects & infrastructure team. Specifically, the team works on large energy projects and “you're either working in the oil and gas space or with renewables.” One insider was quick to note that this is “more of a financial department.” Some key clients include HSBC, European Investment Bank & Allianz Global Investors. So, there are many similarities to banking work like the drafting of financial documents and project management of the deal. But trainees can also expect to do research tasks which one rookie highlighted as “interesting, as I haven't seen much of that in banking.” Another source added that “a lot of the time you're working in quirky jurisdictions and there are challenges with that, given the complexity and technicality of the work.” There is also little room to hide in this group as “it’s a much smaller team, so you get lots of responsibility like drafting complex and hefty documents that might not be the case in larger teams.” To sum it up, one trainee described it as a “great seat for anyone with an interest in energy and infrastructure and who is keen on working on matters in emerging economies,” such as advising Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation on the financing of a 614km gas pipeline development project.
Though not a rule, a contentious seat is something most trainees will do. So the litigation seat was a common choice amongst our sources and covered areas such as “arbitration, white collar and defence, along with plenty of subgroups.” Clients are usually financial institutions and corporate companies with a slight focus on life sciences and tech work. A recent example being a transatlantic Latham team represented GRAIL, a company focused on multi-cancer early detection, in its sale to Illumina, and against competition authorities in a French court. The firm also has solid international arbitration capabilities, representing a wide range of republics such as Ukraine, Colombia & Croatia. When joining this department, newbies have two supervisors, “you get one in litigation and one in arbitration” and you can catch litigationtrainees putting in a lot of reading hours as “it is very research heavy, and you also do certain drafting tasks.” Also be prepared for the fact trainees are “given less of a free reign in litigation as opposed to transactional seats”, so the scope for responsibility is a little more limited here. One source elaborated that it is “definitely more predictable, and the workload was lighter and more defined.”
The social scene at Latham had plenty to offer. Trainees spoke of ski trips, banking retreats to Barcelona and a drinks trolley every Thursday in the office that trainees are charged with stocking. Indeed, for some, the cultureis “what makes me want to stay here the most.” One source happily told us that “everyone has a different story, and no two people are the same personality.” But the key descriptor was that L&W trainees are “entrepreneurial.” An interviewee explained that “you're expected to do the work and if you do well, you'll get more work. So, you're able to make of your training contract what you make of it.” Though it is also true that “people go out of their way to provide good feedback and put on social activities, so it is not as hard edged and aggressive as some purport US firms to be.”
In fact, a few trainees were keen to dispel some of the myths around US firms. Some noted that these firms tend to have a bad reputation for having little training, but “though that may be true for some firms it is not here, they understand there are certain things you need to be told in order to do your job.” Another quipped that “there’s training coming out of your ears!” but also that “they’re not holding your hand or spoon feeding you throughout your work, so there is a happy medium.” Latham trainees had plenty of great things to say about their supervisors too. Some even fostered close-knit relationship with theirs: “My supervisor and I went for a spin class together and towards the end of the seat it transitioned more towards friends/colleagues.” Another highlighted that theirs really helped them with “technical expertise. It was also great to just have someone to turn to and chat to.”
Supervisors also have a role to play in how many days trainees are expected to come into the office. While there is no official remote working policy, “if a supervisor asks you to be in five days a week you’ll have to come in.” In reality, it ranged from three to four days a week in the office across the trainees we spoke to. Trainees couldn’t complain about this setup, given the office in Bishopsgate is “very modern and aesthetically nice.” So, it was unsurprising to hear that newbies enjoyed coming in, especially as there is a “work hard, play hard” culture at the firm. But pay attention to the former, whilst average hours amongst our sources ranged vastly depending on department, the caveat is that “what happens with Latham is you never log off,” asone insider put bluntly. Some of our sources noted there were days where they worked up till 11pm when it was crunch time at work.
“It's one of the highlights of my training contract so far."
But it’s not all stressful deals, as trainees and lawyers at the firm are encouraged to do 20 hours of pro bono per year, “it's one of the highlights of my training contract so far”one source raved. Trainees also appreciated the nice touch of receiving a snazzy guardian of justice badge in doing so. We heard that some teams like litigation have their own initiatives, like working with the Royal Courts of Justice, but the firm covers a wide range of issues such as LGBTQ+, domestic violence and asylum cases. Last year, the firm revealed that 92% of their lawyers participated in pro bono last year, giving around 240,000 hours of their time to it.
For the trainees edging closer to qualification, it all begins in their fourth seat where they submit their preferences. The firm doesn’t hold any interviews, but “you will be expected to speak to the team you want to qualify into.” To be frank, “the onus is on you to express an interest with certain departments” and trainees can submit a personal statement per department, if they choose.There was no particular team more competitive than the other, as this all changes with every cohort and it also depends on the NQ positions on offer at the time. This hasn’t appeared to have affected opinions amongst trainees, as 97% of our survey respondents said they expect to remain at the firm on qualification. The firm didn't disclose its 2023 retention figures.
DE&I at LW: Over 65% of the firm’s lawyers firmwide are members of at least one of their ten affinity groups.
How to get a Latham & Watkins training contract
- Vacation scheme deadline: Sunday 10 December 2023 (Spring & Summer Vacation Schemes)
Applications, interviews and assessments
Bagging a training contract at Latham requires a minimum 2:1 degree and at least AAB at A level (or equivalent). All candidates – whether they're applying for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract – complete an online application form that asks about work and academic history, as well as their motivation for wanting to join the firm. “We're looking for well-structured, concise answers on the application form – answers that show a clear understanding of – and drive for – Latham's training contract,” a member of the graduate recruitment team told us. The firm also prefers applicants with some relevant work experience, whether legal or commercial. After submitting their application, all candidates are invited to complete a Latham & Watkins specific, Situational Judgement test which will be reviewed alongside the candidates application form.
Those who are successful at this stage are invited to an in-person assessment centre, which is the last stage of the process and includes an interview and case study exercise. Applicants can expect the interview to be primarily motivation and competency based.
Latham strongly encourages trainee hopefuls to apply to its vacation scheme; most of Latham & Watkins’ trainees have completed a vacation scheme with the firm. The firm runs a two-week scheme in Spring and Summer, and accepting around 20 successful candidates onto each. The schemes are open to law and non-law graduates and undergraduates.
Candidates who secure a place on one of the vacation schemes spend time in two practice areas. The firm does its best to accommodate preferences for each of these stints. Scheme attendees sit in an office with their supervisor: “It's just like a miniature version of the training contract itself in this regard,” a trainee reflected. In addition to helping their supervisor with their day-to-day work, attendees will be given a research task tied to each practice area they sample. Throughout, “your supervisors will help ensure you get a good insight into Life at Latham, and you’re encouraged to be proactive and reach out to people to learn as much as you can about the firm and its work, as well as trainee life” explained a member of the graduate recruitment team. “The firm is interested in seeing how you can work alongside others and have the potential to contribute to the firm in the future.” The vacation schemes also give attendees a chance to attend practice area talks and social and networking events.
Towards the end of each of the schemes, attendees are invited to an interview for the training contract. Feedback from the interview – as well as from assigned work and general performance during the vacation schemes – is taken into account when training contract decisions are made.
Latham & Watkins
A career at Latham & Watkins will give you the opportunity to do some of the best work of your life. With more than 3,000 lawyers across our 30 offices in Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia, the opportunities are boundless. Over 60% of the firm’s significant transactions involve four or more offices; our diversity fuels our understanding and innovation.
Latham provides the perfect balance of entrepreneurial spirit and career development support. The firm offers world-class training, where graduates and trainees can follow their intellectual curiosity to explore the firm’s market-leading practices before choosing a department, practice, or industry focus.
It is our unique collegiate and non-hierarchical culture that sets us apart. Our Associates Committee – boasting equal numbers of associates and partners – manages associate reviews, bonuses, and promotion to partnership and counsel, which leads to a remarkably transparent environment.
We are proud to be a world leading pro bono law firm. The firm gives billable hour credit for pro bono work, and doesn’t cap the number of pro bono hours that can be applied toward the billable hour target. Here, you are encouraged to bring your own unique perspective, and supported to take on pro bono matters of personal interest.
A career at Latham is an investment in your development and your future. It begins with you.
Main areas of work
Our award-winning London office is home to nearly 500 lawyers and recognised for its work advising some of the world’s leading corporates, financial institutions and private equity firms on market-shaping transactions, disputes, and regulatory matters.
Our leading finance practice has earned an exceptional reputation in the market, regularly advising on all types of leveraged, acquisition and project finance work. We have market-leading experience in M&A, debt and equity financing, high yield, restructurings, recapitalisations, divestitures, data privacy and cyber security, and outsourcing. We also offer comprehensive tax and environmental advice for complex multi-jurisdictional transactions and disputes.
We are one of the few firms capable of providing clients with immediate, high-quality legal expertise anywhere in the world, whether our clients’ needs are local or international.
We are committed to giving back to the communities where we live and work, with a longstanding pro bono programme as well as many community service initiatives. Over the last two decades, our lawyers have provided more than 4 million pro bono hours in free legal services to underserved individuals and families and the nonprofit sector.
Latham & Watkins recruits students with incredible legal minds who are also incredible people; the firm values transparency, respect, innovation, collaboration, and diversity. As a meritocracy, Latham seeks out candidates who have demonstrated they can contribute to the firm’s culture through their initiative, communication skills, complex thinking, willingness to assume responsibility, resilience, and judgment.
A Latham training contract combines real responsibility on global matters with supervision from world-class lawyers who foster professional development. In addition to a sophisticated training programme, our trainees also benefit from a core three week trainee foundation designed to bridge the gap between law schools and practice, as well as training in each seat. After induction, trainees complete four, six month seats - two of which will be in corporate and finance. Trainees have the opportunity to apply for an international secondment on either their third or fourth seat.
We run two vacation schemes over the academic year. These are an exciting opportunity not only for us to get to know you, but also for you to get to know us and be immersed in our unique culture. Over the course of your vacation scheme you will gain insight into two practice areas, participating in client calls, court visits, Q&As and training sessions, as well as group work and social events. You will also have the opportunity to interview for our training contract, taking the first step towards a career at Latham & Watkins.
Open days and first-year opportunities
We’d love to get to know you, and have designed our open days to give you an insight into life at a commercial law firm and the unique culture at Latham. Visit lwcareers.com for more details on opportunities and application deadlines.
University law careers fairs 2023
We visit campuses across the UK. Look out for us at law fairs, virtual events, in your careers services and working with your law societies. This year we are visiting: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, King’s, Leeds, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, UCL, Warwick, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Cardiff.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 2)
- Environment & Climate Change (Band 1)
- Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: CLOs (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 3)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: £500 million and above (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 3)
- Projects (Band 1)
- Public International Law (Band 3)
- Sanctions (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 6)
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