Mayer Brown gives trainees “a mix of the American and the English,” with big-ticket international work and a culture of trainee camaraderie.
Mayer the force be with you
Mayer Brown as we know it today was born of mergers between three firms established in the late 19th century: one in Chicago, one in Hong Kong and one in smoggy London. A lot has changed since the 1890s (not the smog though) and the firm now holds dozens of Chambers UK rankings under its hefty belt. With gold stars for areas such as professional negligence, construction and energy/mining, plus nods for big-ticket real estate, mid-market M&A, pensions litigation and contentious insurance, the firm can certainly offer trainees a broad remit of work. And two new recent lateral hires are also seeing the blossoming of a white-collar practice in London. It’s also worth noting that the firm gets worldwide recognition in Chambers Global for 12 areas including outsourcing, insurance, construction, capital markets and aviation finance.
The London office's origins lie in an early 2000s merger of a US firm and an English City outfit, leaving trainees with “a mix of the American and the English,” rather than a simple City firm or US-firm-in-London culture. It's one of the larger American firms in London by headcount. “The American side brings transactional expertise while all the legacy partners from the original London firm are great litigators,” one trainee said. “That makes the firm a great choice for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do yet.”
“You’re pushed to be a generalist as a trainee.”
Trainees are pushed to do one transactional seat, one contentious seat and a secondment, either overseas or to a client. (More on secondments later.) Rookies submit three ranked preferences to grad recruitment, who give an indication of availability based on business needs and over-subscription if trainees have similar preferences. “Everyone’s been pretty transparent and my conversations have been easy,” one trainee said, and “if you put forward a niche seat you might not get it now, but they’ll try to help you get it later on in your training contract.”
Say your Mayers
The corporate team handles a mix of M&A, funds and corporate finance deals. Clients hail from a number of sectors including financial services, energy, telecoms, tech and media, and you'll find clients like British Land, Unilever, Universal Coal, Mitie and Entertainment One gracing the books. Recently the team helped Swiss asset managers Emasan with its €1.9 billion sale of fibre network operator Interoute to GTT Communications. Lawyers also advised Japanese mineral mining company Sumito on the purchase of a 30% $1.2 billion stake in a Chilean copper mine owner. Insiders told us the department is “well set up for a trainee to gain exposure to different types of work – you’re pushed to be a generalist as a trainee.” Trainee tasks include due diligence, conducting company search reports, drafting board minutes and resolutions, plus “more interesting stuff” such as drafting preliminary offers of intent and open offers.
“A hell of a lot of bundling.”
Those looking to satisfy contentious cravings will find solace in the firm's construction litigation, commercial dispute resolution (CDR), insurance litigation and international arbitration teams. The four teams come under a single department umbrella (litigation dispute resolution), meaning that “if your group is quiet, you can do different kinds of work with other teams.” The CDR team boasts expertise in pensions litigation alongside more standard M&A, shareholder, contractual debt and technology disputes. Lawyers recently represented the pension trust of US farm machinery manufacturer Massey Ferguson in proceedings before the Pensions Ombudsman about retirement provisions. Meanwhile, corporate clients include HSBC, the Panama Canal Authority, Unilever and Société Générale. The team recently advised the latter on appeal after proceedings in Turkey over the misappropriation of $500 million of gold by the counterparty. Trainees can expect to draft court orders, take attendance notes on calls, conduct legal research and do “a hell of a lot of bundling.” Most trainees in CDR go to court at least once in their seat.
In insurance litigation trainees reported working mainly on insurer-side defence work in coverage claims related to warranties, indemnity coverage and financial lines. The department also handles professional indemnity claimant work for professionals such as solicitors, barristers, accountants and pension trustees. The group also helps the finance practice out with trade credit insurance for banks, insuring credit in large deals, and insuring future payments such as pensions. Major insurer clients include Chubb, QBE, Zurich and Liberty Mutual. Trainees “dive right into client contact” and take on tasks like drafting witness statements, putting together instructions for disclosure, writing meeting notes and drafting letters – unlike their counterparts in CDR, insurance trainees tend to skip the dreaded bundling. It’s worth noting that insurance also has a transactional side, so trainees can expect to do a bit of drafting policies for credit agreements, conducting due diligence and other coverage-related tasks.
Over in construction three trainees at a time handle contentious work and one handles non-contentious work. On the litigation side, the group covers matters such as breach of contract, unsafe working environment and surveyance work such as cladding-related matters. The team recently defended construction engineering company Costain in litigation arising out of design failings in composting facilities in Manchester. Trainees found the work “interesting – you do a different type of drafting here.” Experiences include drafting letters, mediation statements and communication with opposing counsel. Trainees also do some bundles and proofreading, as well as large pieces of research.On the non-contentious side, the group works on a variety of confidential construction contracts, refurbishments, development projects, relocations and procurements.
All the fun of the Mayer
The banking and finance department consists of nine subgroups, which handle things like real estate finance, capital markets, project finance and asset-based lending (a particular strength of the firm). The group recently advised US tech private equity firm Francisco Partners on the £221 million financing of its acquisition of smart locker company ByBox. The team is apparently “growing and expanding – we’ve hired a lot of cool people of late.” Trainees also mentioned a booming US securitisation practice “which means in London you get to work on really big international deals into the tens of billions.” For example, the group recently advised UK investment manager Northcross Capital on the structuring and documentation for £10 billion of EU and US bonds backed by financing from J.P. Morgan Securities. Trainees can expect to run conditions precedent calls with dozens of people on the line at once – “that can be daunting!” They also draft security documents and legal opinions and add comments to main finance documents.
“Pensions law is very technical.”
“Even before we became Mayer Brown, our pensions practice was very highly regarded,” one trainee boasted, “so the legacy partners here are market-leading pensions lawyers.” Indeed – four of the team's partners are ranked by Chambers UK. The pensions department acts for trustees of “huge funds” setting up and amending schemes, and works on buy-in and buy-out transactions for pension schemes at major corporations like BT, Santander, Prudential and Ford. The team recently helped the trustees of three of Ford's pension schemes, worth £10 billion together, with the introduction of a 50/50 partial transfer option that allows employees to take half their pension as a lump sum and the other half as a secure pension. Trainee tasks include making amendments to scheme documentation, drafting appointments and removal documents and lots of research: “Pensions law is very technical – you need ten years’ experience just to understand some of the questions! It’s case law and legislation heavy, so there’s a lot of drafting research memos.” Interviewees said the department offers “slightly less client contact than other seats,” but the trade-off is that “there are no boring tasks at all!”
Trainees apply for client and international secondments like any other seat, but add on “what you think you’d get from it and how it’ll help your career.” This is then followed by a chat with graduate recruitment. There are many more client secondments than overseas seats. One interviewee who had done a client secondment said “it was nice to not have a supervisor on my back all the time,” adding: “The work's a lot slower. Maybe too slow. I hate the phrase, but I want to chase the deals more.” Some trainees come into the firm dead-set on doing an international seat, but realise that client secondments can offer “a huge amount in terms of business development and contacts working in industry. And you get to essentially do the same seat again but in a different place, so it makes you step up a lot. You can travel internationally once you’ve qualified – so I ended up wanting a client secondment during my training contract instead.” International secondments change each year but common options include Chicago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Paris. Those who had experienced an international seat said the work is “really high-level – you’re trusted with a lot of responsibility.” They also warned: “It’s not a six-month holiday – you’re going to be working hard!”
We heard there’s “a large focus on pro bono” at Mayer Brown in London, with lawyers having to complete 20 hours a year. Many trainees get involved with the Islington Law Centre and each group has a pro bono advocate who brings in individual projects that trainees can get involved in.
“Most trainees are very bright – not that we’re cocky or anything, but everyone’s quietly confident in their ability,” one trainee said. Mayer Brown’s clever clogs also told us that their colleagues “don’t take themselves really seriously,” a cultural staple that is helped along by a business casual dress code – interviewees spoke to us in chilled-out T-shirts and jeans. The contentious groups across a floor and “the partners are approachable and everyone’s very welcoming.” Head to where the transactional groups sit and the atmosphere gets “a little more intense – people work longer hours, and everything you do has a slightly tighter time scale. So people expect a lot and there’s more an attitude of things needing to get done right now.” Trainees reported a sense of camaraderie: “Friends will bring you a cup of coffee and a croissant after you've had a late night, and they’ll also stay late and double-check things with you. That trainee culture makes a huge difference, and it feels like we don’t have to compete with each other.”
By that rule, Mayer Brown must do a lot of good for the local boulangerie. “Finance is very up and down,” one trainee reported. “When it’s quiet, you’re leaving at 6.30pm... and then you have a few weeks of not leaving before midnight.” In seats like pensions and litigation trainees leave at 7pm on a good day. The busiest of interviewees we spoke to told us they “didn’t feel disregarded – the partners are looking out for your work/life balance,” and sometimes trainees get time off in lieu after busy stints.
“She’s very supportive and makes other people aware of their unconscious biases.”
Trainees held the firm’s commitment to diversity in high regard, though they did note “there’s a lot of work still to be done.” Having Sally Davies as UK senior partner is “enormously motivating – she’s aware of how it’s been harder for her to get to where she is. Because of that she’s very supportive and makes other people aware of their unconscious biases.” The firm has diversity networks that anyone can join including: Fusion Network for BAME lawyers, Women's Network, an LGBT+ network and the Work&Me group. The LGBT+ group recently hosted a comedy night and Fusion held an event for Ramadan, inviting everyone to fast for the day and break fast together in the evening.
There were some complaints of unnecessary admin and lack of transparency surrounding qualification, which is mostly based around interviews. One trainee told us what typically happens: “A couple times every seat, you check in with graduate recruitment. Halfway through your third seat, they’ll start asking about qualification and your initial thoughts. You then say what you want, and they’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you by having chats with department heads.” After a few years of bad retention rates in the early 2010s things have been better recently and in 2019 13 of 15 qualifiers were kept on.
A newly refurbished coffee area, ‘The Hub’, sees trainees socialising in their precious down-time.
How to get a Mayer Brown training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)
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 83
- Associates 160
- Total trainees 30
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 25
- Danielle White, graduate recruitment and 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 or equivalent
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2019
- Training contract deadline 2022 start: 31st January 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2019
- Vacation Scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
- Open day deadline: 31st January 2020
- 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 Americas, Asia and Europe
- Client secondments: Several clients in London
Main areas of work
We are looking for candidates who not only have a consistently strong academic record including a minimum of a 2.1 degree (predicted or obtained) in any discipline, but also who have a wide range of interests and achievements outside their academic career. Additionally, we would like to see innovative candidates who can demonstrate a drive for results, good verbal and written communication skills, and an ability to analyse, with good judgement and excellent interpersonal skills.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 2)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 2)
- 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 1)
- 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)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Pensions Litigation (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Projects Recognised Practitioner