As this US firm continues to grow, trainees say now is the perfect time to join the ranks.
Grow forth and prosper
Morgan Lewis is in growth mode. The firm is now one of the top-ten largest firms by headcount in its native US, having swelled its numbers by snapping up hundreds of lawyers from Bingham McCutchen's break-up in 2014. Much of the firm’s recent expansion has targeted Asia: Singapore opened in 2015, followed by Shanghai in 2016, Hong Kong in 2017 and, most recently, Abu Dhabi in 2019. There are now a grand total of 31 offices worldwide, and over 2,200 legal professionals.
Changes have come in the London office too. Trainees had a “real sense that the firm’s doing well internationally, and now there’s a focus on boosting London. When I started, I was struck by how many empty offices there were. Now there’s not a spare room in sight.” Look back to our 2016 edition, and you'll see the capital hosted 67 lawyers (including trainees); now that figure is 89. Among them, those lawyers cover a mix of finance, structured transactions, investment management, litigation, competition, corporate, energy, employment and tax – however, only the firm's securitisation efforts are ranked by Chambers UK. The firm's not yet on the level of some of its American counterparts with larger presences in London, but it shows plenty of promise. 2018 has seen lateral hires bolster the firm's finance and employment teams, while 2017 saw the firm's white-collar work boosted by two partners jumping across from Norton Rose.
For the moment then, Morgan Lewis' London team should be seen as an office on the up – it's not quite the heavyweight that it may soon become, but its role as part of a huge international law firm meant trainees had “the best of both worlds: a lot of fantastic cross-border work in a smaller office.” Those wishing to join the party early may get more of a chance in the coming years. Outgoing training principal Matt Howse told us: “The plan would be to continue to grow the class size hand in hand with the growth of the office.”
In addition to the six to eight seats available in London, there are overseas stints in Dubai and Brussels (sojourns to the firm's Asia bases may be back on offer soon). First seats are decided purely by business need, but for subsequent seat rotations trainees meet with HR and give them two choices for a London seat and up to two for an international one. Sources reflected that “most people get their first choice for third and fourth seats.” Due to the class size, most seats can be a solitary affair, but departments like corporate and litigation often take on more than one trainee at each rotation.
The Ronan Keating experience
Morgan Lewis' litigation department comprises commercial disputes, international arbitration and white-collar investigations, all of which have the potential to throw up international matters from the likes of Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, the United States, Eastern Europe and Africa. Recently the team advised investment manager Manning & Napier in a $200 million claim against Tesco over its 2014 accounting scandal. Trainees got a lot of work in arbitration, which entailed “bundling, research tasks, preparing and attending client meetings, and helping with the disclosure process. That would involve liaising with the client and experts throughout the day.” On that note, trainees emphasised “you’re not kept in the back office preparing documents all the time!” But that admin isn’t going to take care of itself, and such tasks fell to the trainees: “I didn’t get a lot of experience in some meatier skills, like drafting. To some extent that’s part and parcel of litigation, but they could give trainees a chance to hone some of the more technical skills.” With the white-collar team in its infancy, our interviewees saw less of this area. Those who’d dabbled said “the quantity of documents is enormous and deadlines are tight, so trainees will be doing a lot of doc review.”
“I was asked to prepare 200 documents in 24 hours.”
Over in corporate and business transactions, Morgan Lewis handles M&A and private equity work. Clients here span many industries, including energy, financial services and technology – the firm likes to keep the best-known confidential, but you'd certainly recognise a few. In trainees' own words, clients stretch “from high-profile retailers and football clubs to high net worth individuals. You're often working in quite exciting industries – I dealt with a large cruise liner acquisition.” To give some scale, the firm recently represented Pantheon International in the reorganisation of its £1.2 billion private equity fund. Compared to litigation, corporate trainees described “a culture of being thrown in head first, pretty much from day one.” Here's one of many tales: “I was managing the disclosure process almost single-handedly within six weeks of starting, which was scary but ultimately very rewarding. The client took us for an expensive lunch and gave us all gifts!” Elsewhere, “I was asked to prepare 200 documents in 24 hours for a closing, which was a bit mental because I’d never done one before! I was up until 4am, but I got everything done. It was like a roller coaster – I was scared to death at the time but by the end I wanted to do all over again.”
Trainees should prepare to get knee-deep in capital markets during a stint in the structured transactions team, which focuses on securitisation. Clients here include Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. Trainees “checked the prospectuses of big deals, ensuring all terms were defined and that there were no spelling mistakes.” With such complex work, some admitted “it felt like a Chinese lesson.” This could be a drawback: “Trainees can only do so much. There is lots of sitting in meetings writing notes.” In a recent example of the firm's wider capital markets work, London lawyers advised the Republic of Tajikistan on its $500 million note offering.
The big names on the employment team’s client list – Amazon, Amnesty International, Wells Fargo – reflect the group’s global prowess. Recent work includes defending Australian streaming service Guvera against a £10 million claim by 80 former employees of its UK subsidiary Blinkbox Music, and advising medical instrument manufacturer Integra LifeSciences on the employment law aspects of its $1 billion acquisition of Codman Neurosurgery. Trainees had exposure to tribunal cases and work concerning the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR), a piece of FCA regulation. On the SMCR, trainees “updated clients about what the law means in practice – I helped write a couple of memos.” Other matters were research-heavy: “The client wanted to implement one whistle-blower policy in different countries. We created a marked inventory of laws across 30 countries.”
At dawn trainees ride
“When people think of US firms they sometimes think you’ve sold your soul, but the hours have been better than I expected.” As you know, such opinions are highly subjective. Here are the facts: litigation and employment were more consistent than transactional seats, but busy periods in any group could mean 12-hour days and weekend work. People could start to head off after 6pm – on the quiet days, that is. When busy, “there were a couple of weeks I was existing on little to no sleep.”
Culturally, the London office “feels like its own little hub,” but trainees said, “it’s clear the US is the ultimate decision holder.” For starters, the US must sign off on any qualifiers. Other than that peculiarity, the qualification process is informal: “You can speak to partners to get a sense of whether a team’s interested." In 2018 the firm retained four of five qualifiers.
“I’m yet to come across the stereotypical scary American partner!”
A US influence comes in elsewhere. “Any training is led by a very smiley, enthusiastic American, rather than a more sombre Brit.” For trainees specifically though, learning is primarily done on the job. Fortunately, “people are incredibly willing to take the time to explain. One very senior partner took 20 minutes to talk me through a matter. I’m yet to come across the stereotypical scary American partner!”
The social scene was one area trainees thought “English firms might have it better.” Still, the firm does provide a budget for monthly trainee socials – “usually dinner or drinks, but next time we’re going to crazy golf.” The office is in a good spot for post-work bevs, being opposite St. Paul’s, and trainees enjoyed “beautiful views.” Some even had their own offices, but that’s on its way out due to, you guessed it, growth.
This year the firm set up ‘mentor circles’ to help encourage networking across departments.
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How to get a Morgan Lewis training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 15 July 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
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.”
Morgan Lewis in the US
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
5-10 St. Paul's Churchyard,
- Partners 34
- Associates 38
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 30
- Graduate recruitment team, 020 3201 5000
- Training partner: Lisa Cargill
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-8
- Minimum required degree grade: High 2.1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 15 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £47,000
- Second-year salary: £52,000
- Post-qualification salary: £105,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Brussels, Dubai
Main areas of work
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 Brussels and Dubai 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.
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 31 January 2019.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)