“Outstanding training” and access “to some of the biggest transactions in the world,” is what's on offer at this magic circle titan.
Asda la vista, baby
“The first deal I worked on was the £15 billion Sainsbury's-Asda merger,” one trainee revealed. “I’ve just finished working on Takeda's £46 billion takeover battle of Shire,” another shared. If you speak to enough Linklaters trainees you'll find that this kind of headline-dominating, billion-dollar, border-busting work was high on their wish-lists. “The prestige is a big part of it,” our interviewees agreed. “If you train at a magic circle firm, you can do anything you want after” – this is the timeless appeal of these five elite firms. But why did they pick Links? “Whereas A&O pushes banking and Freshfields pushes corporate, Linklaters bridges the two areas,” some reasoned. True enough, Chambers UK bestows top rankings to Links for its borrower-side banking, and high-end M&A work – an accolade shared only by Slaughters and Freshfields.
Telling the magic circle firms apart is perhaps easier if you look at the stories they create overseas: already a leader among China’s international firms, Links just became the first magic circle firm to secure Chinese law capability following a long-awaited tie-up with best friend firm Zhao Leng. The firm has 30 offices worldwide strewn across financial centres. In Asia and Europe, Links is a market leader, showing its true value to clients on cross-border deals. Firm revenue came in at a cool £1.31 billion, soaring 10% upwards in 2017/18. These figures place Links among the world's top ten grossing law firms.
“The first deal I worked on was the £15 billion Sainsbury's-Asda merger.”
In the City, the smaller US firms are attempting to move in on the magic circle-bound talent. We asked our sources for their views on them, and the Links trainees felt most US firms lacked “the infrastructure and resources you get here.” They pointed to the firm's “outstanding corporate and finance training” as evidence, which includes “multiple lectures on every stage of a transaction” and access to an “absolute wealth of know-how and precedents on the firm's internal systems.” Our interviewees also wanted to highlight the firm’s training in diversity and inclusion: “We're not just taken through stagnant PowerPoints,” trainees emphasised. “The firm uses software where you can anonymously cast votes based on a variety of virtual scenarios – there's real efforts made to help tackle things like unconscious bias.” Links' commitment to diversity is reflected in the make-up of its trainee roster. Over 31% come from ethnic minorities and our sources praised “the variety of educational backgrounds” among them. Trainees felt it would be hard to top their office, which has all the amenities of a small town, right on the doorstep of the Barbican.
The Links package is certainly attractive. But for all those starry-eyed graduates envisioning themselves closing multimillion-pound deals with CEOs every other day, our sources felt the need for caution: “There's a hierarchy. Don't get me wrong, it's great doing work that is on the front page of the FT, but it's impossible to get around the reality that you're a trainee. The huge amount of co-ordination and admin needed to be done on these deals will always fall to you.” We should note here that thisis common to all powerful City firms – there’s an unavoidable trade-off. Of course there are “plenty of circumstances where the proverbial waterfall has been cut out,” sources added, highlighting the firm's paralegal centre – a helpful resource if you have a “big meaty due diligence report to tackle.”
Blue chips and gravy
Trainees submit four preferences for their first seat, then midway through that seat submit a further six preferences for their second and third seats. There's plenty to choose from, but sources cautioned that “if you're looking to just do niche seats, such as employment and IP, this might not be the firm for you.” Indeed, the vast majority of our interviewees had completed at least two of their seats under one of the firm's banking, corporate and capital markets umbrellas. “There are people who have modelled their contract on the more specialist departments,” one source vouched, but conceded “they are harder to secure and leave you with a lot more limited qualification options.”
Trainees’ fourth seat is left open, partly because an overwhelming majority opt for an overseas seat. We heard that Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo were the most popular, where “appraisals, grades and feedback may be taken into consideration when allocating.” A variety of client secondments are also available, including pro bono ones to the Mary Ward Legal Centre, Plan International and FRU.
Links' mammoth corporate department has a third of the FTSE 100 companies on its books, including Unilever, RBS and the National Grid; for the latter, the firm advised on the £13.8 billion sale of part of its gas distribution network in the UK. The department is “in theory” divided into four groups covering public M&A, energy, general corporate and private equity, but sources agreed that with the exception of private equity “there isn't actually much distinction between them.” Deals are big, so the work can be administrative, which some trainees found “quite prescriptive and menial,” although others saw its merit, especially as a vital training ground for them: “Being able to give a quick and straight answer when senior associates are asking where we are at on any given deal is very satisfying and is a skill worth mastering as a trainee.” Another remarked: "There's not a lot of law and I feel it's suited to those who are mathematically minded. You're managing a ridiculous number of documents and have to keep track of how they all change and how that change might affect the process. I was running a 130-page checklist and had 200 emails coming in every day.” Others reported "producing large due diligence reports that required me to liaise with contacts from countries around Latin America.”
“I was running a 130-page checklist and had 200 emails coming in every day.”
Links' equally reputable banking department also splits into four seats: global loans (which covers real estate finance); financial restructuring; leveraged finance; and restructuring and insolvency. You'll find all the expected heavyweights here, such as J.P. Morgan, Barclays, and The Carlyle Group. Comparing to corporate, our sources felt banking seats “were good for trainees as the nature of the deals means there are smaller processes that you can really get your teeth into.” One gave an example: “You might be running the process of taking a security in a new jurisdiction, so that would involve liaising with local counsel, drafting legal opinions and drafting securities.” Lately the group has advised a consortium of debt and investment entities on their $375 million bankruptcy financing of Toys R Us. They also acted for Glencore in its $9.1 billion joint sale with the Qatar Investment Authority of a stake in Rosneft (Russia's huge state-owned oil and gas concern) to an entity controlled by CEFC China Energy.
"I was surprised coming out of corporate how much responsibility I had,” reflected a trainee in litigation. “I was able to prepare cost statements, ask questions to barristers and regularly attend high-level discussions in meetings about the case.” We also heard reports of one trainee being flown out to conduct dawn raids, where they got to plan all aspects of the trip, including the interviews and drafting case summaries. Not everything about this seat was as high-octane, however. One trainee spoke of the perils of paginating a 900-page exhibit to a witness statement, while another source estimated that around “90% of my time was spent doing bundling and doc review.” Although dispute resolution has “no formal subgroups, there are clearly informal divisions,” sources explained, adding that “you will typically end up working on around one to three cases for whoever you sit with." Recently the group advised Fal, a Saudi Arabian company, in a $6 million dispute against Greek defence company Miltech, concerning the supply of military equipment to the Royal Saudi Land Forces.
In larger transactional groups there was that familiar story that trainees “barely spoke to partners at all,” but in the smaller advisory financial regulation team sources reported a “much more open dialogue across the group. You're often working with small teams of a few people including a partner, which is fantastic experience for trainees. I've participated in calls with partners, ready to pass them all the relevant documents for when a client asks any question.” Many of those questions concern Europe's recent MiFId II regulations and “FCA rules surrounding how firms can market securities.” This opens up lots of opportunities for trainees to conduct discrete research tasks and have a shot at drafting advice memos. The seat also offers work with a contentious aspect, principally in the form of FCA investigations.
High achievers will find their natural habitat at Linklaters, so what effect does filling a building with go-getting perfectionists have on the firm culture? “It's competitive but not too unduly competitive – it's definitely not Darwinian!” one source was adamant. “I've had situations where people have stayed an extra hour to help me out.” Moreover, trainees explained that “when you step away from the office, there isn't the same hierarchy and people mingle across the groups. Obviously you get some trainees who are still trying to brown-nose but most are happy to just have a chat.” Interviewees told us that at social events "the barrier between partners and trainees does soften" and that "when you close a big deal people will say 'let's have a drink or do dinner'." The firm spares no expense on its annual departmental retreats, whisking trainees away on weekends to places like Dubrovnik and Monaco.
“It's competitive but not too unduly competitive – it's definitely not Darwinian!”
Of course you don't get rewarded with these perks without putting in some serious hours. Incomers can expect to watch many sunsets from the office and even the odd sunrise. “At least once or twice a week you will be in the office past 10pm,” one trainee estimated. A seat in private equity was unanimously flagged as the most gruelling: “It can be very unforgiving working until 4am for a few days straight. On some deals it can feel like you're chasing your own tail trying to keep on top of all the emails. I went on a two-week holiday once, and I came back to over 2,000 emails!” But outside of peak periods “there are also low times where people will tell you to go home at 4pm.” Other seats such as real estate and financial regulation are deemed less demanding. As one source explained, “I didn't have dinner at the firm once during my seat in real estate.” Ultimately our sources considered that “at points, yes you are going to be tired but never to the point of being unhealthy or unsafe.”
Trainees are well prepared when qualification comes around: “You have a dialogue throughout the whole training contract about whether the department is right for you. You submit four preferences to HR and the idea is that they manage and moderate the process as much as possible so people don't get multiple offers. I think overall most people know where they stand.” Links has historically good retention rates, with the last four years being over 80%. This year proved no different as the firm kept on 86of its 110 qualifiers.
How to get a Linklaters training contract
Winter vacation scheme deadline (2018): 25 October 2018 (open for applications now)
Spring vacation scheme deadline (2019): 8 January 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Summer vacation scheme deadline (2019): 8 January 2019 (1 October 2018)
First-year pathfinder programme deadline (2019): 11 February 2019 (opens 7 January 2019)
Training contract deadline (2021): 8 January 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Linklaters recruits from a wide range of universities and accepts applications from both law and non-law students. The proportion of law to non-law graduates is 60:40. Alongside visits to many UK universities, recruiters are also sent to South Africa, India and Australia to interview overseas candidates. The application form for a vac scheme is the same as the one for the training contract. Be sure to check your form for any silly errors and avoid regurgitating the firm’s own marketing material. Extracurricular activities, academics, work experience and languages are all particularly valued in applicants.
Alongside the application form, applicants will be invited to complete an online Watson Glaser critical thinking test. You'll be doing yourself a favour by having a stab at a practice test, which can be found online.
Assessments and interviews
Successful applicants – for training contracts and vac scheme places alike – attend one of many assessment days held each year. The day involves a case study and two interviews. The case study is a hypothetical example of work a trainee might face. Candidates will have time to read and review the material and are then asked to write about some of the issues they spotted.
The first interview takes place with graduate recruitment, who will be looking for examples from interviewees which demonstrate you have the qualities in their 'mindset framework' such as leadership and excellence. Recruiters say “you can use examples from work, your hobbies and interests, or your studies – it’s up to you."
Then there's an interview with a partner and managing associate; they’ll discuss your case study, and ask a few more questions about you. Again, they will be looking for a candidate to demonstrate qualities in their 'mindset framework,' such as intellect, commercial thinking, resilience and teamwork.
During the assessment day, candidates get a chance to tour the building and have lunch with the current trainees – a good chance to ask questions and find out more about working at the firm. From here the firm makes its offers.
The vacation scheme
Around 70% of Linklaters' vac schemers go on to train with the firm. The firm runs winter, spring and summer schemes – these are open to law and non-law students in their penultimate-year and final-year of study, as well as graduates and postgrads.
Vac schemers visit one or two practice groups during their visit and can state preferences for these beforehand. Each attendee works alongside an associate who acts as a formal mentor and provides both guidance and feedback. A buddy from the trainee group stands in as a more informal point of contact.
Over the course of the vac scheme there are presentations on core practice areas, a talk from the managing partner about the firm’s strategy, and an advice session on how to conduct yourself at an interview. Vac schemers also participate in a hypothetical client pitch and a mediation exercise.
Those who complete the scheme are automatically allotted a final interview for a training contract. This takes place with a partner and managing associate and lasts an hour.
Interview with graduate recruitment partner Alison Wilson
CS: Does the firm plan to match the salary increases for junior lawyers introduced by US firms?
Alison Wilson: Salaries are always a challenging subject but our position remains to pay our junior lawyers competitive overall packages to ensure we get the best talent through our doors. However, we have always viewed our competitors as other magic circle and UK firms, not the highest-paying US firms.
The most important thing to consider is: what are the real advantages of training here over a US firm? We see ourselves as having a very different model and training proposition. First, we employ a much higher number of junior lawyers – our trainee intake is in fact the highest in the city meaning you have a ready-made cohort and support network. Secondly, I would highlight the importance we place on training. The Linklaters Law & Business School offers bespoke training designed to equip our lawyers with all the skills needed to progress through every stage of their career. Our junior lawyers also receive more support and have a lot more resources at their disposal, so in that respect I think we have a much more compelling story to tell. On the lateral market, and in my experience as an interviewer, you see the benefit of that more rounded experience later in an individual's career.
CS: What would you say to those students who may be worried about spending two years as a 'cog in a wheel?'
AW: On some transactions, though the end goal is more interesting and high-profile, inevitably the size and scale means the role you play as a trainee might be narrower. That said, what we always aim to do is identify the potential in people and give them as much responsibility as they can cope with. Moreover, I believe that even though they may not be running the deals, they are still learning a great deal working under senior practitioners who are the best in their field.
But I do think it's horses for courses. Some people prefer a small intake and the feeling they have complete autonomy, whereas others will want more of a trainee social life, structured training and more guidance.
CS: Do you believe there are any significant differences between the magic circle firms?
AW: It's a good question and it's one we ask all of our trainees when they interview with us. There are a few areas I feel we are genuinely different, and two examples are our cultural mindset, particularly around agility, and our story on innovation.
There are many strands to our innovation strategy and they say a lot about who we are. First, there arethecultural game-changers that we are using such as our home-grown AI tool: Nakhoda. It's a flagship AI machine-learning tool that we have used on a large number of projects for automated contract generation and analysis of non-disclosure agreements. We have a dedicated team which continues to work on developing that tool, made up of lawyers, computer scientists, machine-learning specialists, and coders.
Secondly, we often talk about innovation on deals. For example, one of our most significant deals recently was the Bond Connect programme in mainland China. It's a landmark deal and represents another major milestone in mutual market access.
Thirdly, we are changing some of our systems, such as the work we are doing around predictive coding, making our doc review easier, and the policy changes we have introduced to make our workforce more agile. Everyone at every level is equipped with a laptop or tablet, as well as a headset and softphone so that nobody is tied to their desk. Then we have our ‘Ideas Pathway’. It's a forum designed for anyone who has a good idea, to help them bring that idea to life in the most effective way possible.
Finally, we are making incremental changes on day to day tasks, for example the use of legal project managers. We have a whole dedicated legal project management team which we are using on all our big deals and cases to make sure we are working as efficiently as possible.
CS: How has the firm performed in 2017/18?
AW: Our income is up 5.7% on the previous year with revenues of £1,520.8 million. We don’t as a firm break down those figures by practice area or geography, but all regions have improved across the last financial year with particularly strong growth in Asia and across continental Europe, including London.
There are two main reasons why we think it's been such a successful year. First, we have spent a lot of time focusing on deepening our existing client relationships. Secondly, I would point to the number of landmark deals we have been involved on. I mentioned earlier the Bond Connect deal in China but other examples include our work on the launch of the SoftBank Vision fund (the largest ever technology fund) and our work on the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique which is the largest ever project financing of infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa.
CS: Can you walk me through Links' five year strategy?
AW: We refreshed our strategy in 2017 when Gideon Moore became the firm-wide managing partner. It was a bottom-up strategic review focused on collecting input from client, partner and associate focus groups on what they thought the firm should be and represent. We also sought client feedback. What was articulated was the desire to be the best in class, so winning in all our chosen markets and practice areas. To that end, we are focused on three things: investing in clients, empowering teams and changing mindsets. We are not just trying to do the same things better but also looking at how to approach things in different ways.
CS: What opportunities do you believe technology can bring to the firm?
AW: Technology brings both challenges and opportunities. There is some concern among junior lawyers that their jobs will be replaced by AI machines, but I think in reality there is a lot of scope for AI to help them do their jobs better and free up time for them to engage in more meaningful work. A small number of them have being learning coding, and that’s not because we think all our incoming lawyers should know how to code, but we do think it's important to build up an awareness of how machine-learning works.
CS: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the firm and the legal sector as a whole?
AW: One of the greatest challenges is the war for talent. It's a very competitive graduate market and we are all looking to attract and retain the best people. In addition, almost every firm is looking to increase the diversity of its intake which makes the market even more competitive. And it's not just within law – we are competing with many more industries for talent. When you look at the latest Times 100 rankings, interestingly law as a career is currently less popular than other industries such as investment banking and jobs in the technology sector, and I want to challenge that.
CS: When would you expect to see a rough parity in female/male representation at a partnership level?
- Does the firm have any specific targets?
- How is the firm ensuring women are retained at a partnership level?
AW: In 2014, we were the first magic circle firm to introduce gender targets. We have a target for 30% of our executive committee and partnership board roles to be held by women. Our executive committee is currently 42% women and the board is 25%. To ensure we have a sustainable pipeline of senior women, we extended those targets in 2016 to include 30% of all management roles to be filled by women. We also have a target for above 30% of all new partner elections to be women every year. We are proud that this year we achieved 37%. .
In terms of creating an inclusive culture, we are part of UN Women’s HeForShe initiative because we are alive to the fact that gender equality is not just a women's issue. If you want to see real change, you need men to be invested in the careers of their female colleagues. We have a HeForShe network lead by our executive gender champion, Michael Kent and we have developed a career storyboard that maps a woman's career from recruitment through to partnership level, sharing data and stories to help men understand the different experiences women might have at different career stages. It was a great way to stimulate discussion and challenge unconscious bias, stereotypes and myths such as ‘women aren’t ambitious’ or ‘all women go on maternity leave’. We hope by challenging these causal observations we can induce a change in people's behaviour.
One Silk Street,
- Partners 490
- Associates 2,300
- Total trainees 230+ (London)
- Contacts Graduate recruitment
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 100
- Applications pa: 3,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications: Please see firm website for dates and deadlines
- 2019 vacation scheme applications: Please see firm website for dates and deadlines
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000-£55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000 + discretionary performance-related bonus
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: Yes
- International and regional
- International offices: Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Tokyo, Warsaw, Washington DC
- Overseas seats: Yes
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law career fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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