Philly spread: the petite London office of this US giant is a grower, not a shower.
Morgan Lewis – or more specially, its London office – is proof that you need to see the full jigsaw to appreciate each individual piece. The firm as a whole is a global giant that made more than $2 billion revenue in 2019, has offices in 15+ countries (including 17 in the US alone) and scores upwards of 30 rankings in Chambers Global. You’d struggle to guess any of this based on the firm’s modest London presence. The office houses almost 100 lawyersand welcomes fewer than ten trainees a year; Chambers UK awards the firm one ranking in securitisation. “Historically this was an American outpost,” trainees admitted. “But we’re no longer just backup lawyers in London and this is a genuine office in and of itself.”
While the UK base does take an auxiliary role on US-led deals, that’s not the whole story, and Morgan Lewis’s commitment to the London office is clear: in 2020 the firm added a four-person investment funds team from Morrison & Foerster, building on last year’s high-profile lateral hiring spree of three corporate partners and two tech lawyers. “We’re growing quite quickly and effectively,” one trainee mused. “I don’t see any signs of things slowing down.” The firm’s trainee intake has also nearly doubled within just five years.The appeal for new arrivals came down to a small intake, and big starting salary: £115,000 for NQs. “I think they’re very generous,” one deadpanned.
“We’re growing quite quickly and effectively. I don’t see any signs of things slowing down.”
These are common themes among US firms, so what helps Morgan Lewis stand out? “It interested me more than other US firms as it wasn’t just finance and banking,” according to one source. Other practices like antitrust and labour and employment are fully-fledged departments “rather than mere support for the corporate teams.” Trainees do four seats of six months apiece and “by the time you’re done, you know most of the partners in London.” There are no mandatory seats, trainees simply submit first and second preferences to HR. “It works well,” a source said, “I’ve always got what I’ve asked for.” International secondments are available at Morgan Lewis, but destinations change yearly and the uptake varies as (perhaps surprisingly) “they’re not always highly sought after.”
Morgan Lewis’s corporate group – aka corporate and business transactions – is a “broad umbrella” with tech transactions, life sciences and investment management nestled underneath. Trainees are “drafted onto discrete matters” in M&A, private equity, outsourcing, projects and more. The firm has represented General Motors, Grosvenor Capital and We Soda – recent projects include advising Russian tech giant Yandex NV on a restructuring and Abercrombie & Kent on the acquisition of the world’s oldest travel company Cox & Kings. Londoners often handle the UK elements of US deals and we heard of trainees getting stuck into drafting board minutes, share purchase agreements and term sheets, as well as document review and due diligence. One found themselves grappling with “Russian law nuances for New York-specific documents,” while another “drafted the due diligence report for a small venture capital investment. They were giving me a lot of real responsibility.”
The finance department tends to act lender-side for banks and large lending institutions like HSBC and Wells Fargo, though Morgan Lewis does advise some borrowers too. Asset-based lending is common: “We work on a lot of security-backed facility documentation for lenders,” trainees said. The firm advised the European Bank for Restructuring and Development on a loan to Chinese company Universal Energy, financing construction of a new 30-megawatt solar power plant in Kazakhstan; and investment adviser Cyrus Capital on £110 of million working capital facilities for beleaguered airline Flybe. Trainees dipped into such varied projects as music and film finance, project finance in Europe and Asia, and sovereign bond financing. We got insight into how Morgan Lewis operates: “All the documents have to be in a certain font. If not, partners won’t read them.” That may sound ridiculous, but the trainee said: “You suddenly realise it’s indicative of their consistency and attention to detail.”
“You suddenly realise it’s indicative of their consistency and attention to detail.”
There’s also a structured finance practice that focuses on capital markets and securities, structured transactions, and warehousing for formidable clients like BlackRock, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. “A small, partner-heavy team” means trainees get “lots of associate-level work, though it’s very document-heavy. Confirming 16 different documents may sound dull, but it feels quite important.” In a mega matter, Morgan Lewis advised JPMorgan on the establishment of a $20 billion collateralised commercial paper programme targeting US and European investors.
Commercial litigation, arbitration and white-collar investigations all appear in the disputes department. Typical clients include huge multinational companies and banks; insurance is a growing niche. Trainees’ experiences vary by who their supervisor is, but they’ll typically be preparing trial bundles, completing factual and legal research or taking notes in hearings. One got to interview witnesses in Eastern Europe, “which was fantastic experience.” The competition group has a “European focus” rather than American leanings – sources noted a split between investigations, merger control and competition litigation. Sainsburys, Procter & Gamble and Tata Steel are all competition clients, and Morgan Lewis played a role in the landmark Court of Appeal ruling that multilateral interchange ‘swipe’ fees infringed EU antitrust rules. Common tasks for trainees here included bundling, proofing submissions and advising companies drafting supply and commercial agreements.
Amazon, McDonald’s, Deutsche Bank and Oxfam are some of the mega clients in employment. Combine a global scope with the unprecedented effects of Covid-19 and you get “an incredibly interesting time to be in employment law.” Trainees dealt with ad hoc company queries, grievances, tribunal disputes, data protection, redundancy claims and the “employment aspects of corporate deals.”
The firm enforces a mandatory 20-hour minimum pro bono commitment. “100% of fee earners meet it,” trainees confirmed, warning us: “You’ll be chased if you don’t bill those hours.” Some of their favourite projects were assisting food banks; domestic violence and non-molestation cases; and collaborating with the Amicus charity to help US death row prisoners. With so much on offer, trainees need not stop at 20 hours: “I’ve done 178 this year,” one declared. Love for pro bono aside, Morgan Lewis has “never had that stereotypical US corporate office vibe,” sources insisted. They were more likely to highlight the firm’s international outlook, especially as “the chair of the firm is amazing at fostering a global feeling of unity between the offices.”
“The chair of the firm is amazing at fostering a global feeling of unity between the offices.”
Here in the UK, the social scene varies by team. “We have some groups that are super social, and others that really aren’t,” a trainee suggested. There’s a budget for the intake to spend on events – a comedy club trip was one highlight in 2019 – but socials “spring up more naturally” alongside formal seasonal parties and month-end internal kitchen drinks. Sources reckoned more could be done on the diversity front, acknowledging it is “taken seriously. The issue with smaller offices like ours is they might not have the same resources as larger ones, or staff specifically dedicated to diversity.” They pointed to the firm’s US efforts as proof of a commitment to the cause: Morgan Lewis has a 25% female equity partnership in the States, far higher than average. As for London, interviewees championed the annual community impact week, links with underprivileged local schools, and a new diversity task force as evidence of progress.
“The US firm ‘up all night’ reputation hasn’t really proven true,” a grateful source noted. “The hours can be really long, but not nightmarishly so.” Teams differ – a seat in funds can be “quite taxing,” as can competition. Transactional departments typically finish later, but “a 12-hour stretch would be considered a fairly normal, long day”across the firm as a whole. Weekend work plagued some, but it wasn’t common. “It’s a huge positive that we’re so busy,”one source enthused. “People hate having nothing to do more than they hate long hours.”That’s the spirit… Trainees were less chuffed with qualification, lamenting that “it’s not transparent at all. That’s one thing that needs improving.”In 2020, the firm retained fiveof eightqualifiers.
Where there’s Well, there’s a way
Morgan Lewis runs a firm-wide ‘ML Well’ health and wellbeing initiative, inviting speakers to deliver stress management talks alongside an online portal for employees with concerns.
How to get a Morgan Lewis training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021 (opens 8 October 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 14 July 2021 (opens 8 October 2020)
Morgan Lewis' eight available training contracts are split across two intakes, and applications start off as most do – with an online application form. The firm typically receives between 250 and 300 applications, and selects 20 to 25 for a short phone interview with HR, usually in the second or third week of August. The second stage is an assessment centre, which includes a partner interview, group activity, written exercise and discussion panel with partners. There is also the opportunity to have an informal lunch with some of the partners. Current trainees told us these interviews focus on “getting to know you, why you've chosen law and what your interests are. There aren't any off-the-wall questions.”
Litigation partner Peter Sharp set up the traineeship in 2012. He tells us: “We investigate their personality and look for evidence of a genuine interest in business. They also need to be able to collect their thoughts and speak clearly.” After their interviews, candidates have a Q&A session with the current trainees and are given a tour of the office.
Some training contracts are offered off the back of Morgan Lewis' vacation scheme, which takes place in the summer. Obtaining a spot requires an online application followed by a telephone interview with HR and then a partner interview. The firm tends to receive over 200 vac scheme applications each year.
Attendees are assigned to a practice group, but also take part in seminars and workshops to explore other areas. They're given a supervisor to keep them on the straight and narrow, but have license to roam at social events where they'll rub shoulders with the office's bigwigs.
Training contracts aren't offered purely off the back of a successful vac scheme. “If they've made an impression, then they'll be invited to interview like the others,” says Sharp.
“There's no such thing as a standard Morgan Lewis person,” says Sharp, “but I'd say the starting point is strong academics.” Indeed, entry into Morgan Lewis requires a high 2:1 plus AAB at A level. “That said – and this may sound negative – the candidate whose only calling card is strong academics is not likely to be of interest to us,” Sharp continues. “Candidates also need that 'extra dimension', whether it's a degree in a related discipline, previous work experience or language skills.” Speaking of the latter, it's worth noting that many of the trainees we've spoken to had international links or were able to speak multiple languages.
Legal work experience “always helps,” Sharp adds, “as it's evidence that someone is committed to a legal career and has made their choice based on solid experience.” He points out that “this can come from anywhere, from a small general practice firm to an in-house legal department.” Non-legal work experience “is also appealing in the cases where it gives people greater commercial awareness and a realistic insight into the business world. At the end of the day, our clients are businesses, and we are a business firm. The trainee candidate who wants to be a human rights specialist is great and all, but we won't be for them – they'd be barking up the wrong tree.”
Interview with training principal Lisa Cargill and graduate recruitment and development advisor Alexandra Reddington
Chambers Student: What have been the most exciting stories at Morgan Lewis in recent times?
Lisa Cargill: Firstly, there’s been the expansion of our corporate department, with a team of three new partners joining from Herbert Smith Freehills. Their focus on private equity has greatly expanded the capability of our corporate practice and it’s now fairly large for a US non-niche firm in London. From a trainee perspective that’s been very well received, as they’re now able to do a much broader range of work.
Secondly, a little over a year ago a partner, counsel and three associates joined from Reed Smith. They focus on asset-based lending, which tacks onto our existing offering and has definitely increased the range of finance work that trainees can be exposed to.
CS: How would you differentiate Morgan Lewis from other top US firms with offices in London?
LC: One thing Morgan Lewis has firm-wide is a relatively low leverage: our ratio of partners to associates is small. Other firms have a similar model but the result of that here is that groups tend to be intimate and even trainees work directly with partners. I have a trainee in my department now who deals exclusively with us partners all the time. There’s no typical pyramid structure where trainees only ever see junior associates, who only ever see mid-level associates and so on.
Morgan Lewis also has a very strong culture and ethos which I like to describe as a small firm environment within a big firm context. Big firms tend to be impersonal and trainees in a large cohort can feel quite anonymous, but this firm has a very personal touch to it. Vacation scheme students and people who get actual exposure to the firm come away feeling very impressed with the culture.
CS: The office has grown substantially in the past few years – do you expect that to continue going forward?
LC: It’s opportunity-based, there’s no strategy to grow for growth’s sake. The team coming from HSF was a great opportunity; partners will join individually but across the firm you’ll often see whole teams move across. Our attitude is that always we’re on the lookout for good opportunities and want to grow but not just for numbers’ sake,
CS: Trainee numbers have also been on the up. How has the firm ensured it maintains a quality training contract experience?
LC: It’s quite easy because we’re leanly staffed for associates and we really need our trainees, they’re not just sat around proofreading. We’re still at the stage where we’re increasing trainee numbers but while may have three or four in corporate, there are seven or eight partners there with them. The trainee in my department is currently acting in a first-year associate role.
CS: We heard that the firm has formalised the training contract application process. How does the new process work?
Alexandra Reddington: Previously it was just a two-stage process: first a telephone interview with the then HR manager, then a face-to-face interview with a partner. Last year we introduced a more formalised process starting with an online application form. We still have a telephone interview, then the next stage is an assessment centre. We’re looking at a much more varied set of skills and knowledge than we could in a simple interview. The assessment day includes a partner interview; a case study combining written exercise and panel discussion; and a group exercise. The candidates also get the opportunity to have lunch with some of our partners in a more informal setting. It’s crucial that applicants understand what each assessment is assessing and what skills they need to demonstrate.
LC: That’s the direct route – alongside that, our vacation scheme now takes place over two weeks. It’s great for applicants because they get to work in two different departments and get exposure to them over a long period. The summer scheme students are assessed for a training contract whilst attending the scheme and that also involves an interview, a group presentation and an assessment on a piece of written work. We’ve expanded the direct application process so that we can compare candidates from the two routes. It’s hard to compare a summer student to someone who’s only doing a 30-minute interview.
CS: Proportionally how many successful applicants go through each route?
AR: Looking over last the few years it’s pretty much 50/50 but that does vary year on year: in our most recent intake only one came from the vacation scheme, but the year before over that over 75% of trainees did. It varies greatly and we don’t have a set quota that we must take from either route; it completely depends on the calibre of the candidates coming through.
CS: All Morgan Lewis trainees are eligible to go overseas. What experiences can trainees get from an international secondment?
LC: Overseas offices tend to be smaller so it’s probably a more varied experience to having a seat in one practice in London; in Dubai, for example, you’ll be working across departments and helping where you can so it’s an opportunity to get a broad-base experience in a completely different environment and culture. There’s also the benefit of being taken out of your comfort zone, that’s a great learning experience.
AR: Trainees also get six months experience living and working abroad, in a different culture and environment. We are one firm but each office will have its own distinctive nuances. Being able to understand differing working cultures builds a network for when you qualify, and you’ll continue building those relationships throughout your career at Morgan Lewis.
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about the culture of Morgan Lewis and what kind of person would fit in here?
LC: It’s a very flat culture as opposed to a hierarchical one, this is an open-door office and trainees come in and out of partner’s rooms all the time. Obviously, this is an American international law firm and hours are important but they’re certainly not extreme, there definitely is a work/life balance that you wouldn’t get in some of the more aggressive US firms.
AR: There’s no face time requirement and if a trainee finishes at 6pm they can go home without worrying about waiting around for something. Having worked at other US firms myself, I do see a big emphasis on balance here which filters down from the very top.
LC: Another indicator of the culture here is that second year associates onward are eligible to work two days a week from home and partners are genuinely happy for them to do so.
As for the type of person that fits here… definitely someone who’s confident and prepared to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Because it’s a small office and you’re working directly with partners you have to be prepared for things to be a bit unstructured, and you need to have the confidence to take something on and give it your best shot, distilling it down to basic principles. The environment’s probably not as rigid as a lot of the big UK firms with very structured training and know-how programmes, where if you want to draft a document there’s a lot of precedent to work from. We do have that but it’s not used for everything in every department. People at Morgan Lewis have to be prepared to come across new things, tackle them from scratch and not be spoon-fed. We also choose people we’d like to work with!
AR: Trainees get a lot of responsibility early on, so they have to be confident enough to be able to speak to clients. Supervisors and peers are there to support them but trainees need to be confident enough to step outside of their comfort zone and not be afraid to ask questions. They also need to be resilient enough to take on board any constructive feedback they receive. It’s a sociable firm too with a wonderful community spirit; we recently completed the London Legal Walk and have a social committee who run a number of events throughout the year, including the summer and Christmas parties, , a cheese and wine night, pub quizzes etc. The London managing partner also hosts a drinks evening at the end of each month.
CS: The firm recently launched an ML Well mental health initiative. What new resources are now available to trainees?
AR: That focuses on a number of elements, not only looking at mental wellbeing but also reinforcing the intellectual, physical, emotional, and occupational health of our lawyers and staff, with an underlying emphasis on engagement and community. . It’s a multidimensional approach to supporting the well-being of every employee across the Firm, led by a team in the US.. In the London office, we’ve been running a number of sessions on topics such as managing stress and excelling under pressure. Most recently we ran a session introducing mindfulnessand the practical applications of it, and there’s another session coming in the next couple of weeks after we received really positive feedback. The firm is giving individuals the support they need to take a step back and take some time for themselves. The initiative only launched in March 2019 so there’s lots still to be rolled out over the next 12 months.
LC: At the moment it’s not a whole bunch of offerings that weren’t there before – it’s getting across that these topics are important and that there’s a culture here that fosters workplace wellbeing, the firm takes that seriously.
One of the things that’s quite a big feature of our firm is our chair takes pro bono very seriously, and everyone in the firm has to do a minimum 20 hours of pro bono a year. Everybody in our office really likes doing pro bono and candidates often mention it at interview.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
AR: Until we get results from the SRA’s pilots I don’t think there’s too much we can do to prepare for that! Once it’s embedded in, the SQE will likely become the new normal but until we have more information it’s just a case of wait and see.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who might want to apply to Morgan Lewis?
LC: Very often the themes that come out at interview are that applicants like the small office, they don’t want to be just a number and they’ve probably heard that they’ll get direct exposure to partners. Applicants also like that it’s an American office with international work on offer for trainees; there are opportunities for foreign placements but for a lot of people it’s more the flavour to the work itself that’s attractive. Morgan Lewis’ culture and pro bono are big reasons why candidates apply here and that seems to be a major distinguishing feature for this firm.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
5-10 St. Paul's Churchyard,
- Partners 40
- Associates: 58
- Total trainees: 17
- UK offices: London
- Overseas offices: 31, including London
- Graduate Recruitment Team, 020 3201 5000
- Training partner: Lisa Cargill
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Minimum required degree grade: High 2.1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 14th October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 14th July 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 14th October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Spring open day applications open: 1st December 2020
- Spring open day applications close: 28th February 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £47,000 pa
- Second-year salary: £52,000 pa
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000 pa
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days pa
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London Overseas seats: Dubai, Singapore
With 31 offices across North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, the firm provides comprehensive corporate, transactional, regulatory and litigation services to clients of all sizes across all major industries. The firm’s regulatory and industry focused practices help clients address legal, government and policy challenges. Founded in 1873, Morgan Lewis comprises more than 2,200 legal professionals.
Main areas of work
Morgan Lewis’ London office offers a wide range of business and commercial services, including: competition; corporate; debt and equity capital markets; finance and restructuring; labour and employment including employment litigation and immigration advice; investment management; structured transactions; tax; international commercial disputes; arbitration and white collar matters. Morgan Lewis is also strong in various business sectors, including life sciences, financial services and technology, where the firm’s leading regulatory and commercial lawyers provide a real insight into their industries.
Morgan Lewis’ London training programme is led by an experienced training principal. Other partners and our trainee supervisors also have broad experience of working with trainees. Following a full induction into the firm, the programme will provide you with consistently high-quality, challenging assignments, working directly with senior lawyers across a range of practices and industry groups on complex and frequently cross-border matters. Through this hands-on and varied experience, you can expect to build a thorough understanding of the firm’s business and of working with international, high-profile clients.
Over two years you will complete four, six-month seats with the opportunity to gain experience in at least three distinct areas of law. International secondment opportunities to our Dubai and Singapore offices may also be available. In addition to formal appraisals, the office environment allows regular contact with, and feedback from, the training principal, supervisors and other lawyers. Trainees will have the opportunity to actively participate in all in-house associate training sessions, and to take part in pro bono work and business development activities.
Morgan Lewis offer a limited number of placements during the summer each year. The aim of our placement scheme is to provide candidates the opportunity to gain an insight into life as a trainee at the firm. To apply for a place on our summer programme applicants should complete the firm’s online application form which is available on our website www.morganlewis.com. The closing date for applications is 31st January 2021.
Life assurance, private medical and dental insurance, long-term disability insurance, pension, season ticket loan, employee assistant programme, cycle to work scheme and NQ qualification leave.
University law careers fairs 2020
Birmingham, BPP, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, KCL, Leeds, LSE, Oxford, Warwick and York.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)