McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP - True Picture

In the world of private client work, this Chi-town legend is the MC.

McDermott training contract review 2024

The Firm 

Somewhere nestled within the black and white photos of hectic streets full of droves of traders heading out for a hard day’s work in 1930s Chicago, Edward McDermott and William Emery were plotting their move to set up their own business venture. Starting off as a law firm with a focus on tax law, McDermott has not looked back since those days, having amassed over 1,000 attorneys in 22 offices across the globe. In Chambers USA, McDermott is now known for far more than just tax work, as it excels in areas such as healthcare, IP, tax, labour and employment work, to name a few. It’s also well-known for its private client matters, as Chambers High Net Worth dishes out top marks for work with private wealth law and disputes.

“High-profile work in an international setting.” 

McDermott’s London residence initially began as a small boutique operation too. But the recent jump to the City’s second tallest skyscraper (22 Bishopsgate), is telling of how this office has taken itself to new heights over the years. Chambers UKcan vouch for this, as the firm is noted for its work in areas such as employment, healthcare, and tax. With European bases in Milan, Munich, and Paris, in addition to one Asia-Pacific centre in Singapore, its London trainees were very much drawn to the “strong element of internationalism on offer at the firm.” One source told us that they were after the “high profile work in an international setting,” coupled with fact that “there were some interesting practice areas on offer.” Securing a place on McDermott’s training contract is no mean feat, as the firm’s cohort is in the single figures. Though, this comes with the benefit of having a close-knit group to fall back on: “We are a good little trainee circle, even though there’s only a few of us!”

The Seats 

Seat allocation was described as “a pretty informal” affair. Though the firm pre-allocates everyone’s first seat, trainees are asked for their preferences going forward. Trainees just speak to the training principal, Nicholas Holland, to discuss where they’d like to sit. There’s no reason to stress about the that either, as Holland was described as “very friendly and easy to talk to!”  As teams are generally small at the firm, trainees' preferences are usually met. 

Given that teams are small, trainees singled out the fact there’s a lot of flexibility between seats on the training contract and help out where needed. Explaining the process, one interviewee said: “The way the firm works is that if another team needs you, they’ll email you and ask for help.” They added that, “I was on the trial team for my first seat. But it was essentially a split seat between litigation and private client.” The latter had trainees working on both contentious and non-contentious matters, and one source told us that typical tasks on that team include “research and will witnessing. This team is more client facing, so I was meeting clients and interacting with them.” Though as the name suggests, examples of work in the private client seat must stay confidential as the team represents high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals from around the world. McDermott’s London base has also seen growing traction for its employment work. This team focuses on “drafting employment contracts and the clauses that form them.” Clients in this seat included the likes of engineering and professional services firm WSP and biopharma and life sciences company Marken.  

Trainees in the litigationteam got involved with a solid range of projects and clients. A case in point, the team recently acted for Crescent Petroleum, in a gas supply claims against the National Iranian Oil Company. We learned that trainees get tasked with “early disclosures, the removal of documents, drafting letters to courts, in addition to communicating with courts to initiate proceedings.” Another trainee added that “as you progress through the seat, you’ll begin to look at documents in more detail.” Noting that, “I’ve been tasked with rigorous information research where I’m bundling never-ending litigation tasks!” One source quipped that “sometimes I’ve had five or six clients on the go! I’m called upon to help out constantly which is great if you want hands-on experience and exposure.” Not a bad deal when the group deals with big ticket clients such as Amnesty International and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of the Republic of Albania. 

The firm’s restructuring department has been quite busy in recent times, as “lots and lots of companies currently need help legally.” Dealing with “distressed situations where businesses are looking to reorganise and restructure,” there is “a lot of interesting work” going on in this team according to our sources. It was described as quite a fast-paced seat, and typical trainee tasks included “liaising directly with clients and commenting on documents.” Newbies also had the chance to attend some fun events such as award ceremonies since everything in this department is client facing. Supervision was strong in this seat too, and one insider said they felt totally at ease thanks to “the detailed guidance and instructions they provide on the work I need to do.” To highlight the sheer value of the work the team is doing, they recently represented debt administration service provider GLAS over the restructuring of Ukrainian energy company DTEK, in a deal estimated to be in excess of $1billion.  

Trainee Life 

Our sources had a very good sense of the culture at the firm, and people were all described as friendly and approachable. One interviewee explained that “you can go into a partner’s office and just ask them questions. The teams we have here are relatively small compared to other magic circle firms, so you don’t have to go through several layers to speak to people.” Trainees had great things to say about supervision too, as they typically sit with them in the office.” My supervisor would also come and check to see how I am and that I’m not feeling overwhelmed, and generally I don’t feel that there’s anything I couldn’t talk to them about,” stated one trainee. Another highlighted that “I always receive instant feedback and have formal feedback sessions every three months on top of an end-of-seat evaluation.”

“We oversee the entire skyline, The Gherkin is right below us, and the kitchen looks out at all the London skyscrapers!” 

The office space also received some rave reviews. “It’s absolutely beautiful – that was my initial reaction,” beamed one source. “I was like wow! It’s on the 46th floor, the views are amazing. It really is a showstopper when you first walk in!” The views in questions? “We oversee the entire skyline, The Gherkin is right below us and our kitchen looks out at all the London skyscrapers,” one insider noted. Another newbie highlighted “the really nice set up” of the office, which has “huge monitors, keyboards and stand-up desks.” Trainees are expected to show their face here around three days a week, though some of our sources found themselves coming in more often: “I usually come in four or five days a week – we have a nice office so why not!”

The social scene at McDermott’s had a decent amount going on too. “Generally, things on the social side are quite department-specific, such as litigation drinks or private client dinner,” mentioned one interviewee. But cross-firm quiz nights and casual after-work meet-ups were on the agenda too: “We also have a summer party which we had in June, and a Christmas party. They even invite prospective trainees to this which is cool! This really helped on the first day where people would be like – oh, I remember you!” Trainees were also pleased with the firm’s efforts in diversity and inclusion. One trainee told us that “we have a women’s network where we invite female leaders both from within and outside the legal sector to come and speak.” The office was also described as “very diverse in terms of race and gender.” Part of the firm’s fabric is that “we are very proud of the fact we have many people with very international backgrounds, as well as a diverse range of clients,” expressed another source. 

Every single interviewee mentioned that hours fluctuate, and it all “depends on the volume of work and who else is in.” One trainee explained that “I have stayed till midnight before, but then again I’ve also left semi-regularly at 5.30pm,” and another confirmed this: “the busiest days are 14–15-hour days, but that could be directly followed by a seven-hour day.” Weekend work is sometimes required on those busy weeks, but that also comes in “peaks and troughs.”  But with that comes the salary, and trainees are paid a hefty £53k in their first year, which bumps up to £58.3k in their second. Following the heights of other American firms, NQs earn a hefty £147.5k which is, as one trainee put it, “nothing you turn your nose up at!” In further US fashion, pro bono was said to be a “big deal” at McDermott, and trainees touched on projects like helping African charities, pet financing, and working with Envision – a social action programme designed to build skills in schools and local communities. 

As for qualification, this was said to be another informal process: “We’re such a small group, so you just speak to the Training Principal and indicate where you’d like to go.” Conversations then happen behind the scenes with the partners and from there, available positions are determined. One insider indicated that “you’ll start to have these conversations around the end of your third seat, and you’ll probably know where you’re going in the middle of the fourth.” We heard that there are no formal interviews, and the firm will do everything they can to accommodate preferences, though it’s never a dead cert trainees will end up with exactly what they want.

In 2023, McDermott retained four out of five of its trainees.

How to get a McDermott Will & Emery training contract 

Applications and interviews 

Between 200 to 300 applicants aim for a place at McDermott every year through the online platform. As with many training contract applications, the online application consists of an in-depth questionnaire, and, says the firm, applicants must also submit a cover letter. 

“We like to see that people have challenged themselves in some way,” says training principal Nicholas Holland. “Just to be clear we are not looking for people who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. We are looking for people who saw an interesting opportunity and pursued it properly.” For those worried that this means having past experience as a successful entrepreneur a la Sir Richard Branson, Holland reassures that “it does not have to be an expensive or even highly unusual opportunity.”  

Interestingly, the firm focusses on mistakes, in particular “people who dealt with their mistakes or issues properly and well and learned from them. We want people who have tried and failed and tried again (even if it was something else),” explains Holland; so, think resilience and think wisdom. “We want people who can admit their mistakes and learn from them.”  

Those who shine online are invited for an interview and Holland tells us that it’s normally about 10 people, who are interviewed by a panel of three partners. However, despite the firm’s focus on mistakes, this does not mean the firm is aiming to trip you up during the interview process. “Our goal is to make our applicants shine,” Holland confirms. “We want to see your best and not your worst. We aim to make our process as human and humane as possible and to treat our applicants fairly. We will also try to be funny, but the operative word is sadly often ‘try.’” 

Assessment days 

Assessment day involves a Q&A session with partners and associates and a written test, based on a given scenario. Participants are divided into two groups, with one group taking part in the Q&A session, while the other does the written assessment, in the morning and then swapping over in the afternoon.  

McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP

110 Bishopsgate,

Firm profile

McDermott Will & Emery partners with leaders around the world to fuel missions, knock down barriers and shape markets. Our team works seamlessly across practices, industries and more than 20 locations to deliver highly effective—and often unexpected—solutions that propel success. More than 1,200 lawyers strong, we bring our personal passion and legal prowess to bear in every matter for our clients and the people they serve.

If you’re looking to join a truly global law firm, then McDermott is the place to start. Many of our clients are multinational corporations or domestic companies with operations, investments and customer relationships worldwide.

To help clients address emerging business, industry and regulatory developments wherever they do business, we have established offices in major commercial centres across the United States, Europe and Asia. Our offices in Europe are staffed with highly respected lawyers who serve as legal, business and civic leaders in their home countries while also working closely with international colleagues.

Founded in 1998, our London office brings a prestigious and full-service city practice to Europe and complements the Firm’s capabilities in France, Germany, Italy and Brussels. The firm has around 85 lawyers at present in London, the majority are English-qualified.

Main areas of work

Employment; Tax; Private Client, Litigation; Healthcare; Private Equity, Structured Finance & Restructuring

Training opportunities

The firm is looking for the brightest, best and most entrepreneurial trainees. Candidates will need to demonstrate commercial awareness and a genuine understanding of the firm. The primary focus is to provide a practical foundation for your career with the firm. You will experience four seats over the two-year period and a deliberately small number of trainees means that the firm is able to provide a degree of flexibility in tailoring seats to the individual. Trainees get regular support and feedback.

If required, the firm will sponsor you through the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) with the University of Law.

Other benefits

The firm provides a comprehensive range of benefits which includes private medical and dental insurance, life assurance, permanent health insurance, pension, season ticket loan, gym membership discounts, ride to work scheme, employee assistance programme, employer sponsored back up care, long service awards, 25 days’ holiday.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 6)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)