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
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)