If a Mayer Brown training contract were a cake, it would be a base of big-ticket transactions and sweet deals, a thick frosting of litigation, a blob of fast-paced learning, and a cherry on top of a guaranteed client secondment.
Can’t make your mind up between litigation and transactional law? As the classic meme would suggest… why not both? Trainees described international giant Mayer Brown as a “half and half firm, with both a strong transactional and litigious reputation.” True-dat, according to Chambers UK’s rankings: the firm scores well in London for banking, capital markets, construction, corporate, employment, pensions, professional negligence disputes, and real estate alike. The Mayer Brown of today was formed from a 21st century merger between three firms dating back to the 19th based in Chicago, London and Hong Kong respectively. With 27offices lining the "backbone of the global economy,” it’s also worth highlighting the firm’s 11 worldwide Chambers Global rankings spanning capital markets, immigration, outsourcing, projects and more.
TOP READ: Becoming a Finance Lawyer: Mayer Brown has a significant focus on finance in its London office. We asked lawyers at this global firm to tell us what working in finance law involves day to day.
Mayer Brown recruits around 15 trainees a year in London. That’s fewer than some comparable US giants, but with a training contract lineage stretching back decades to before the merger, it would be a mistake to dismiss this as a satellite operation. The firm has recently grown its headcount in the City with lateral partner hires into its finance practice. Trainees were full of love for their colleagues: “It’s not just about the friendly lawyers, I love the kitchen staff too,” one declared. “The partners realise that we need to be relaxed in order to do our best possible work – it feels like we mix American passion with a more jovial English side.”
“Both a strong transactional and litigious reputation.”
Trainees get some say in each of their seats, from first to last. They all submit three ranked preferences before each rotation; if too many have similar destinations in mind, grad recruitment will conduct negotiations. “The process is pretty transparent, and it’s been useful having one-to-ones with grad recruitment,” sources said. All trainees must do at least one transactional seat and one contentious seat. “Around 95% of trainees will also do a client or international secondment,” we heard. “International seats aren’t readily available, which is a bit crap; the firm are definitely trying to cut back on those and are pushing for more client secondments.” Others told us “the ratio is transparent when signing up: 60:40 client secondments to international.”
Most interviewees spoke highly about their client secondments. Corporate and commercial, insurance, employment and commercial real estate options may be on the table at each rotation; previous examples include large consumer goods and financial data companies. “I would say my secondment was the time I learnt the most by far as a trainee,” one said. “You’re essentially treated as an associate, working on around 15 matters at a time and acting as the primary communicator with clients.” International seats change regularly but have previously included stints in Chicago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Paris. “Although the prospect of flying overseas as a trainee might sound amazing, it isn’t that simple, because you form ties in the UK,” interviewees clarified. One suggested: “You’ll have the opportunity to travel as an associate, but the learning experience of a client secondment is invaluable.” It’s worth considering too that trips abroad may be limited further by the Covid-19 pandemic.
London’s corporate team advises on M&A, funds and corporate finance for clients in the financial services, consumer goods, private equity, energy, telecoms, tech and media sectors. Names you might recognise include Unilever and Entertainment One; the team advised the latter during its $4 billion acquisition by toy giant Hasbro. Mayer Brown is also a major player in the mining sector, recently acting for Sumitomo Metal Mining on the $1.2 billion acquisition of a 30% indirect interest in the owners of the Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project in Chile. Trainee tasks in corporate include due diligence, drafting board minutes and resolutions, as well as “physically assisting with signings in our office. We prepare a schedule of documents, set up the signing table and meet the clients.” Insiders told us they got “opportunities to work with other departments such as finance, employment and pensions. There’s also good potential for cross-office work: I’d find myself helping partners in New York or assisting clients in Asia with investments in the UK.”
“If you have a certain interest, the firm has the flexibility for you to pursue that.”
Nine subgroups make up the banking and finance department, including real estate finance, capital markets, project finance and asset-based lending. “As a banking and finance trainee, you’re there for the whole department, bouncing around multiple matters at once. If you have a certain interest, the firm has the flexibility for you to pursue that.”Mayer Brown advises large international banks and private equity houses; US-based PE firm Francisco Partners called for advice on multiple deals including the 3.7 billion Danish kroner acquisition of Scandinavian software firm EG. Trainees here largely take an administrative role by handling conditions precedent checklists, amending documents and acting as contacts for clients on smaller deals. The real estate finance practice was popular as “there’s high-quality training, so it’s fantastic for a first-seater.”Interviewees saw full deal life-cycles “from initially responding to the client query, to developing the advice and product before the billing process and closing.”HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Canary Wharf Group are real estate finance clients; the firm advised Bank of America on the first-ever student housing-backed commercial mortgage-backed security (CMBS) in Europe, valued at £664 million.
Contentious fare comes in four teams – commercial dispute resolution, construction and engineering litigation, insurance litigation, and international arbitration – which all fall into the broader litigation dispute resolution practice. Trainees have the flexibility to move between the four groups when they have room on their plate. Commercial dispute resolution(CDR) includes M&A disputes, shareholder quarrels, contractual debt, white-collar crime, tech disputes and even pensions litigation. The firm has advised in litigation for UBS, P&O Ferries and Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund, as well as eOne during its High Court clash with foreign exchange group Monex Europe over currency trading commissions. Responsibilities for trainees in disputes include drafting court orders, bundling and legal research. International arbitrationcomes with similar tasks; sources there “really enjoyed the lean team, as it allowed for incredible responsibility and exposure to substantive work. I’d be working on an entire arbitration from the commencements to the post-hearing briefs.”
“It can be scary as hell, but you sure do learn fast and help is always available.”
Trainees in insurance litigation spent most of their time helping insurers defend during coverage claims on warranties, indemnity and financial lines; clients range from financial institutions and real estate consultancies to other lawyers who’ve got into sticky situations. Big-name insurers on the books include Chubb, Liberty Mutual and Zurich. In a recent professional negligence case, Mayer Brown represented two partners at accounting firm BDO in c. £250 million proceedings after the administration of the One Blackfriars development. “It’s a very autonomous seat,”according to trainees who had mixed feelings about their independence. “It can be scary as hell, but you sure do learn fast and help is always available. I’d definitely recommend the seat as the team are very kind and they take time out to support you.”Workloads for the self-starters here included drafting witness statements, putting together instructions for disclosure, drafting letters and meeting notes. “We also get opportunities to lead certain client calls and, unlike CDR, trainees in insurance can get away from the bundling.”One-nil to the insurance team.
There’s a mix of disputes and non-contentious matters up for grabs in the constructiondepartment.Among the biggest clients here are UK national giant Wates, which has been on Mayer Brown’s roster for most of the 21st century, as well as SSE and British Land. International arbitration in the construction sector can also be found in this department. Compiling bundles, preparing for trial and taking attendance notes, trainees in this seat “also research anything and everything by taking a trip down to the firm’s information centre, which is staffed with full-time research staff.”Telling us they felt “invested”in the practice throughout their time here, our sources proudly described themselves as “a genuine asset to the team.”How very modest of them.
Fledgling lawyers’ first two months at Mayer Brown comes with a structured trainingregime; throughout the whole two years, “training is always frontloaded in each seat. This helps you build up a good body of notes before you dig into the meaty bits.” The finance department follows “a university course structure. We’d have sessions on getting to know the background of securitisation or learn what derivatives and leveraged finance are; we then learn how to build on that knowledge in more practical terms.” During the 2020 lockdown, trainees took part in ‘zoominar’lectures as well as optional talks by barristers on topics like “how to measure human rights regulations in corporations, or generally assess the development of certain laws during the pandemic.”
“It’s natural to have late nights, but everyone will be punching in and out together.”
“There are many benefits to a small intake,”a source posed. “There aren’t as many faces to learn on the first day.”It’s also super helpful when you also have colleagues all over the world to get friendly with; trainees told us that the firm’s international nature is immediately apparent and that the firm is “essentially one unit. We don’t really see a difference between the offices since we work together regularly and it’s very seamless.”Operating on a global scale usually means long hours, and Mayer Brown is no exception. “The hours in finance, corporate and occasionally litigation are awful,”interviewees admitted. “It can go one way or the other: you can either leave at 6pm or you’re not finishing until 11pm.”Well aware of the high expectations in advance, sources agreed: “It’s natural to have late nights in banking and finance but everyone will be punching in and out together; it’s nice to know you’re not stuck on your own.” Real estate and employment seats tend to come with friendlier 5.30 or 6pm finishes. “There’s no face-time pressure and I’ve definitely been told to go home more than I’ve been told to stay,” a happy chappy concluded.
As part of their hours demands, trainees have an annual 20-hour pro bonotarget. “We love pro bono,”one who’d breezed past the goal said. “We get awards if we do 100 hours and there were around four trainees who hit that last year.”Trainees can get involved with external organisations like the Islington Law Centre and Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, advising clients pro bono on housing benefits. “It’s so worthwhile and enriching knowing that we can help change people’s lives.”
“It’s so worthwhile and enriching knowing that we can help change people’s lives.”
Our sources were similarly impressed with Mayer Brown’s approach to diversity and inclusion: “I think they are excellent.Alongside having the support of Sally Davies as UK senior partner, there are also active affinity groups” including a Women’s Network, an LGBT+ network, the Fusion Network for BAME lawyers and the Work&Me family group. While the Black Lives Matter movement swept the globe and protests erupted in London, the Fusion Network organised an internal viewing of Mellody Hobson’s TED Talk, followed by a discussion on the topic of race and discrimination. “Around 90 people attended, and the head of litigation sent out a reminder to the whole department without a prompt from us to ask people to spare an hour in their day and join in,”one source told us. Another recalled they “saw people on the call I wouldn’t expect to be interested talking about racial justice and equality. It was incredible to see them actively take part.” As a follow-on, the firm’s chairman in the US circulated weekly progress updates; Mayer Brown also ran its first Black History Month Event, “a big success with around 200 clients attending.”
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the start of 2020’s qualification process by six weeks, but insiders said “there weren’t any nasty surprises”once it got going. Conversations start during the third seat, with graduate recruitment gauging trainees’ preferences and preparing a business case for the management committee. “Despite the initial worry, we’ve been told that the hiring ethos hasn’t changed, and the firm is still aiming for maximum retention,”insiders declared. Mayer Brown went on to retain 11 of 15 qualifiers in 2020, with one on a fixed-term contract.
Mayer of London
During the height of lockdown, trainees felt that Mayer Brown stepped up their game when it came to mental health and wellbeing: "The firm is hot on mental health. There’s been a big push by management to overcommunicate, and we have daily check-ins with our supervisors and catch-ups with HR.”
How to get a Mayer Brown training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021 (spring and summer, opens 1 November 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 January 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)
Mayer Brown runs three vacation schemes each year: two in the summer and one in the spring. There are 10 places available on each two-week programme, and the firm generally receives around 1,200 applications for its vacation schemes.
A covering letter is an essential part of the online application. The box for this is left entirely blank so candidates can express themselves, though be careful not to waffle. Mayer Brown wants to see applicants structure this letter well and demonstrate excellent spelling and grammar. “A well-written application is important,” explains graduate recruitment partner Dominic Griffiths, “as writing and using the English language constitutes 70 to 80% of what we do.” Applicants also have to pass online verbal reasoning and situational judgement tests, have a telephone interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team and attend an assessment day to secure a vac scheme place.
Vac schemers split their time between two departments. “They try to accommodate your preferences as to where you'd like to go,” a current trainee said. Griffiths tells us the overall aim of the placement is to give candidates “a feel for being a trainee at Mayer Brown. We ensure they get good quality work that's typical of what they'd be doing as a trainee.” Our trainee sources backed this up, with one telling us: “I got to go to the High Court during my visit. It was great to feel like I was helping out the team on something valuable.”
Alongside vac schemers' work comes various social and networking opportunities. “It's important people get to know a firm in its entirety – all the employees who make the cogs work, as well as the partners and solicitors,” says Griffiths. A day trip to the firm’s Paris office is also part of the placement.
During the second week of the scheme, candidates face a 25 minute interview with two partners who will ask about their understanding of the role of a City solicitor and why they're interested in Mayer Brown, along with questions testing their commercial awareness and business acumen. The majority of the firm's trainees are recruited through the vacation schemes and the firm stresses that it welcomes vac scheme applications from final-year students and graduates too.
In 2018 the firm received over 600 direct training contract applications. Those who impress on the application form and online assessments are invited for a telephone interview with graduate recruitment followed by an assessment day. This involves a fact-finding exercise designed to see if you can “think on your feet,” a written exercise and a group task. The day also includes a lunch with some of the firm's trainees plus a “quite rigorous” competency and strengths-based interview with two partners.
According to Griffiths, “grades are important, but there's always some flexibility on this front – we decide on a combination of factors.” He tells us candidates need to demonstrate they're keen on law, and on Mayer Brown in particular: “We want to see a sense of passion for working here. We don't always know in interviews if someone will be a brilliant lawyer, but we can judge their enthusiasm and dedication to the profession.”
He goes on to reveal he's “a great believer in work experience. Pure legal work is all well and good, but I do like to see people with a diverse range of experience as well. It shows they're inquisitive about their career and have thought deeply about it.”
Apprenticeships for A-level students
In 2015 Mayer Brown introduced the articled route to qualification which offers aspiring solicitors an alternative path into the profession. From September 2018, Mayer Brown will move from the articled route programme to the Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship, which offers candidates the opportunity to qualify by combining work and part-time study over a period of six years. During that time, participants also gain an LLB. The legal apprenticeship is a great alternative for those wishing to pursue a career in the legal profession, without the huge financial burden incurred by fees and student loans. The minimum entry requirement is AAB or equivalent at A level.
Mayer Brown International LLP
- Partners 85
- Associates 140 in London
- Total staff 473 (London)
- Total trainees 30
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 26
- Graduate recruiter: Mark Dubes Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager, 020 3130 8621
- Training partner: Stuart Pickford
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 1,500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
- Training contract deadline 2023 start: 31st January 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2020
- Vacation Scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Open day deadline: 31st January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £51,000
- Post-qualification salary: £90,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Several across the USA, Asia and Europe
- Client secondments: Several clients in London
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2020
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
At Mayer Brown, we aim to cultivate a work environment in which we embrace, respect and value inclusivity and diversity. By demonstrating respect, both within and beyond our workplace, we support and celebrate our differences, while strengthening the productivity, creativity and effectiveness of our firm.
Creating and maintaining a more inclusive and diverse work environment is one of our key priorities, and this has spurred many of our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives. We drive these initiatives through our recruitment, training, mentoring, promotion, allocation of work and opportunities, expanding and developing our diversity networks and setting diversity targets. In our London office we have four employee networks for race & ethnicity, families & wellbeing, LGBT+ and women and we have recently set up a working group to concentrate on social mobility. Our next focus will be to set up an employee network in relation to disability. Our networks regularly hold events and recent highlights include a talk and panel discussion on colour blindness vs colour braveness, a panel event on supporting trans people, a women’s health event, and a speaker discussing life with Asperger’s. We are a sponsor of the Lord Mayors Appeal – Power of Inclusion events which focuses around social mobility and we recently hosted a panel event on Social Mobility – Culture and Belonging.
To heighten awareness of unconscious bias and influence positive change, we have designed and implemented an interactive training workshop on unconscious bias. We have launched several initiatives focused on employee mental and physical wellbeing, which is vital to create an inclusive culture. These include a global wellbeing month and a global mental health week. We have introduced a weekly Pilates class to promote healthy living and we have an on-site counsellor to support mental health. Recognising we can all help to eliminate the stigma associated with poor mental health, we have a team of mental health first aiders and we hold a range of events and seminars to promote mental health, such as an eight-week mindfulness course, suicide prevention training and talks on financial wellbeing, beating the winter blues, pushing past anxiety and on creating optimal sleep.
We work with PRIME, Sponsors of Educational Opportunity, Aspiring Solicitors (AS) and City Solicitors Horizons to provide students from under-represented groups with training, mentoring, networking and work experience.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 2)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 4)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Pensions Litigation (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)