Latham & Watkins - True Picture

It’s the world’s second largest law firm by revenue, and Latham's appetite for growth in London isn’t satisfied yet.

Numbers talk

“When first looking at where to train, I was largely going on what came up when I googled ‘top firms in the City’ and by word of mouth.” That’s an admission from one of our interviewees, and we’re sure many of you are familiar with their approach. To their credit, it’s a good way to start for those “looking to practise law at the highest level.” A veritable titan of the legal world, Latham & Watkins was one of two firms to first announce revenues exceeding $3 billion back in 2017, the other being rival US giant Kirkland & Ellis. “There is definitely a friendly rivalry between the firms,” sources admitted. In London, the two firms jostle for the position of highest-grossing US firm in the City. Kirkland may have clinched the title this year, but keep an eye on those rankings in future because in the last year Latham London has outpaced the firm's global revenue growth, increasing 20% in 2019. 

Its partner headcount has also increased 35% since last year's guide was printed. Trainees confirmed that “the number of people has skyrocketed. They’ve had to open up new floors to accommodate the growth.” Indeed, the firm has been a magnet for laterals in the past year, luring talent from the likes of Hogan Lovells, Cooley, Sidley Austin, Jones Day, Clifford Chance, and Linklaters. Sources were well aware of the anxieties that “the aggressive lateral hiring strategy” might impact the prospects of the firm’s homegrown talent,but they were also adamant that Latham “had got the balance right,” citing the fact that “the firm's retention rates have always been very good.” True enough, the firm has kept on at least 85% of its trainees in the past eight years and this year proved to be another strong one: 95% of qualifiers were retained. Qualification, by the way, is pretty straightforward: qualifying trainees need only submit two preferences to HR and there are no interviews.

“They’ve had to open up new floors to accommodate the growth.”

Those retention rates are even more impressive when you consider the size of the firm’s trainee intake. Latham’s training contract shares many of the typical characteristics with that of a US outfit operating in London (high trainee responsibility, big qualification salaries, and long hours), but it distinguishes itself with a much larger trainee intake than most – currently taking on about 24 trainees each year. “It’s small enough so you feel like you're an individual presence,” one source reflected, “but large enough so as not to always feel like you’re under the spotlight."

Latham has a total of 29 offices worldwide covering key legal markets such as New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai and Hong Kong. Collectively they earn the firm six prestigious top rankings from Chambers Global for banking and finance, capital markets (both high-yield and equity), corporate M&A, private equity and projects and energy. Its banking and capital markets capabilities are similarly top-ranked in London by Chambers UK, as is its high-end private equity prowess in the UK as a whole. It’s no surprise then, that deals often operate in the billions rather than millions. For example, Latham’s corporate team recently represented J.P. Morgan as financial adviser to Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals on its £46 billion acquisition of Shire, a biopharmaceutical company based in Ireland. The firm also advised British company Virgin Galactic on its merger with California-based Social Capital Hedosophia to create the first publicly traded and owned commercial spaceflight company.

Deal or no deal 

Trainees agreed that Latham’s training contract has “a transactional slant” overall. Just under half of the most recent intake did four transactional seats and completed a litigation course to satisfy SRA requirements. All trainees are required to complete a seat in both banking and finance, but can otherwise submit three preferences ahead of each seat rotation, with most finding out where they’d be placed “about a month and a half before moving.” A number of international secondments are also available: previous destinations have included Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York. Nearly all our interviewees had managed to secure one of their top preferences and were happy with the system, although some begrudged the lack of secondment opportunities to the USA, noting that “there have been limited options in the last two years.”

“Nothing I have worked on has been London-centric. You’re mainly dealing with mainland European, Middle Eastern and American jurisdictions.”

Matters in banking are “typically high-value leveraged finance deals covering multiple jurisdictions,” one interviewee summarised, adding that “nothing I have worked on has been London-centric. You’re mainly dealing with mainland European, Middle Eastern and American jurisdictions.” The team recently represented Credit Suisse on financing the acquisition of rose farm Afriflora, and its subsequent merger with flower and vegetable supplier Flamingo. Trainees typically work on two to three main deals which they often see from start to finish. “Day-to-day you’re the one with eyes on the conditions precedent checklist and chasing people for documents,” sources explained. “It requires good email management,” another added. “I’ve had 200 emails come in this morning! At first it’s scary but you quickly get better at prioritising and responding.” Trainees also reported on “opportunities to handle some of the tangible financial documents such as drafting security and loan agreements.”

Compared to banking, sources described their time in financial regulation as “much more cerebral. It’s a new team but the work feels very modern and topical – there’s a real political edge.” By way of example, one of the team’s biggest matters at hand recently was advising the Central Bank of Egypt on a complete reformulation of the country’s banking regulatory regime. Part of the task involves creating an Egyptian financial services ombudsman, as well as promoting Egypt as a leading hub for fintech in North Africa and the Middle East. “Unlike other seats where you only have a few things on your plate, here you can be handling over ten matters at once – it can be exhausting!” one source explained. “A typical task could be looking at where a bank could open a branch in a European country, and the restrictions they might face doing that.” That’s exactly what the firm did on behalf of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which it advised on establishing a subsidiary in Paris in connection with complications around Brexit. Another trainee reported conducting research into bonus cap regulations, while another’s time was taken up dealing with the implications of EU legislation called MiFID II, which aims to regulate the trading of financial instruments.

Wagamama mia!

You can find some of the firm’s beefiest deals within the corporate team, “which is broadly divided up between private equity and M&A.” The group also operates over a range of sectors. For example, it recently represented healthcare company Demant in connection with its multimillion-pound acquisition of Vision RT, a UK-based 3D surface imaging technology company. It also represented private equity firm Duke Street in connection with its sale of Wagamama to The Restaurant Group (let’s hope the katsu curry stays on the menu). Trainees often act as the central exchange between the parties on a deal. For one, this meant “co-ordinating between the management of a company and our internal specialists to prepare the due diligence report,” while another was “responsible for generating and maintaining a list of the personnel involved in the project. You’re basically there to make sure everything is flowing steadily,” they confirmed. In addition, sources also reported on some opportunities to draft disclosure letters and share transfer forms.

“You get to help conduct witness interviews and draft them into a defence.”

Latham’s disputes department has grown significantly in the past year and is broadly split between litigation and international arbitration. On the latter side, the team recently represented Austrian construction company STRABAG in the first ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes) arbitration brought against Libya – the case raises questions relating to damage to the property of a foreign investment during a civil war. The firm has also represented oil and gas company Shell in two group actions brought by thousands of residents in the Niger Delta. The allegations include pollution and human rights impacts from onshore pipelines. “Face-to-face interaction with clients” was flagged as a highlight of the seat here for trainees. “There’s less day-to-day interaction compared to corporate, but if feels more substantive when you get to help conduct witness interviews and draft them into a defence,” trainees remarked. The more standard litigation tasks such as bundling, doc review, and conducting disclosure exercises also fell on trainees’ shoulders.

Latham’s capital markets group represents a wide range of clients including funds, private equity houses, banks, issues and other major financial institutions. Some of the biggest names on the firm’s books include Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. “At the time, I was the only trainee in the group, so I think my experience was closer to that of a junior associate,” one source reflected. “I was often the first hand marking up something or taking a stab at the first draft.” Elsewhere sources’ responsibility resembled the standard corporate role: tracking documents and managing email flows. The team recently advised JPMorgan Chase on the first time high-yield bond issuance by digital marketing services provider Yell, and Deutsche Bank on the $2.5 billion new issuance by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

Take care of your own

“Someone described the firm as being similar to Cersei from Game Of Thrones,” said one self-confessed non-watcher. Powerful? Awe-inspiring? Partial to a glass of merlot? “Scary from the outside, but someone who really takes care of their own.” Fans of the show will be hoping that trainees don’t share the same fate as Cersei’s children. Reassuringly, sources on the inside said: “There is nobody you are afraid of” at Latham, “nor is there a culture of being fearful of your colleagues.” Still, sources also warned of the perils of a “meritocratic environment,” for those who prefer a lot of structure and close guidance. “Unlike magic circle firms, there are less resources and formal training,” trainees elaborated. “It can be stressful, but having to figure things out for yourself helps you develop your confidence and skills as a lawyer.” Another added: “It puts us in better stead when we become associates.” Qualifiers go on to receive training in their first, third and fifth years as associates.

“If I leave before 8pm, that’s a good day.”

Stress levels could be compounded by a culture of working long hours. As summarised by one trainee: “If I leave before 8pm, that’s a good day. There are also plenty of bad weeks, maybe one in three, where I will be working past midnight.” Chances are then, you’re going to miss a lot of Love Island working at Latham. Trainees don’t have formal hours targets but associates are expected to bill 1,900 hours annually, which sources acknowledged “is at the higher end of the market.” However, trainees also hit back at the stereotype that US firms have it the toughest, remarking that long hours “isn’t a Latham thing or an American thing – it’s a top firm thing.” Moreover, trainees were keen to emphasise that “we are not treated like robots. There’s a fair degree of realism from partners if you’ve worked hard. They’re good at saying, ‘Take some time off now and you won’t be bothered.’” The number of pro bono hours associates can use towards their billable hours target is uncapped. We heard reports of trainees attending legal advice centres, even getting involved in cases with the Centre for Criminal Appeals.

Four of this year’s intake are set to qualify into one of Latham’s US offices. “It’s not common,” said trainees, “but the firm is very open to considering international opportunities for trainees.”

You may also be interested in...

Our overview of US firms in the UK

These US firms with a relatively large trainee intake (more than 10 pa):

• Baker McKenzie

• Cleary Gottlieb

• Shearman & Sterling

 Sidley Austin

• Skadden

• Weil

• White & Case

>> A-Z of firms

How to get a Latham & Watkins training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 5 January 2020 (spring and summer)

Training contract deadline (2021): 13 July 2020 (opens 1 April 2019)

Applications, interviews and assessments

Bagging a training contract at Latham requires a minimum 2:1 degree and at least AAB at A level. 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.

The firm does not recruit on a rolling basis and will be in touch with all applicants once deadlines have passed.

Applicants whose online applications stand out are invited to complete a video interview, consisting of around five questions. Those who are successful at this second stage are invited to an assessment centre, which is the last stage of the process and includes an interview. The interview focuses on an applicant's academic history, work experience, why they want to work for Latham, and their motivations for looking to work in the city as a commercial lawyer.

Vacation schemes

Latham strongly encourages trainee hopefuls to apply to its vacation scheme; on average approximately 70% of its trainees have completed a vacation scheme with the firm. The firm runs a one week scheme in December as well as its two-week schemes 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 bag 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. They're also asked to complete a group exercise during their time on their scheme. 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 it’s 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

99 Bishopsgate,

  • Partners 93
  • Associates 280
  • Total trainees 48
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Riyadh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tokyo, Washington, D.C.
  • Contact 
  • Graduate recruiter: Zoe Washington, [email protected] Training partner: Deborah Kirk
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 24
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 60
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: April 2020
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 13th July
  • 2020 Vacation scheme applications open: Late September 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 5th January 2020
  • [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
  • Open day deadline: See website for more details
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £46,000
  • Second-year salary: £50,000
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa:£8,000 per course
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Singapore, Hong Kong
  • Overseas seats: Decided on business need, previous seats have included Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, LA, Boston, New York, Madrid, Brussels, Paris etc
  • Client secondments: Yes, based on business needs

Firm profile

Latham & Watkins has more than 2,700 fee earners in offices across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia. Our non-hierarchical, collegiate management style and one-firm culture makes Latham & Watkins a unique place to work. Over 70% of the firm’s transactions involve five or more offices and the collaborative atmosphere is strengthened by the firm’s diversity.

Described as a ‘Top Legal Innovator’ by the Financial Times’ 2018 report of the most innovative law firms, our award-winning London office is home to over 400 lawyers and recognised for its work advising some of the world’s leading corporates, financial institutions and private equity firms on their most significant transactions, disputes, and regulatory matters.

Main areas of work

Our leading finance practice in London 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.

Our highly regarded London disputes practice boasts renowned litigators who focus on international arbitration, banking litigation, complex commercial cross-border disputes, competition, and white collar crime and investigations.

Between 2000–2018, our lawyers provided approximately 3.5 million pro bono hours globally in free legal services to underserved individuals and families and the nonprofit sector valued at approximately US$1.6 billion.

Trainee opportunities

Latham offers a training contract with real responsibility combined with supervision from the best lawyers in their field. In addition to a sophisticated training programme offered throughout the training contract, trainees also benefit from a core three week trainee foundation designed to bridge the gap between law schools and practice. In addition to the three week induction, there is also training in each seat After induction trainees complete four, six month seats. Two of these will be in corporate and finance. Trainees also have the opportunity to apply for a secondment on either their third or fourth seat. The firm recruits trainees with a view to retaining them upon qualification and average retention over the last five years has been 95%.

Vacation scheme

We run three vacation schemes over the academic year – Winter, Spring and Summer. Our vacation schemes are an exciting opportunity not only for us to get to know you, but also for you to get to know us. During the course of two weeks (one week for the Winter vacation scheme), you will sit in two practice areas. You can expect to be involved in client calls, court visits, Q&As and training, as well as group work and social events. You will also have the opportunity to interview for our training contract.

Open days and first-year opportunities

We have designed our open days to give you an insight into life at a commercial law firm and the culture at Latham. Please see our website for more details on opportunities and deadlines.
• Penultimate year law students, all final year students and graduates: November/December 2019
• First and second year students: February/March 202

University law careers fairs 2018

We visit campuses across the UK. Look out for us at law fairs, 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, Queen’s Belfast, Cardiff, Trinity College Dublin.

Social media

Twitter @lathamwatkins

Facebook @lathamwatkins

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: High-end Capabilities (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: High-end Capabilities (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 4)
    • Competition Law (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 5)
    • Public International Law (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Projects (Band 2)