Californian MoFo offers a lucky few souls a techy training contract with a global outlook.
“We are a fairly broad international firm, and that West Coast ethos definitely rubs off,” reflects co-managing partner Alistair Maughan. Morrison & Foerster (MoFo being the corporate-endorsed nickname) traces its roots back to San Francisco, where its largest office can still be found. The firm's London office is relatively smaller, and trainees here were drawn to the firm’s “reputation in the life sciences and tech sector, and having the opportunity to work with large clients in an international setting.” Maughan jumps in: “Whilst tech is a strong part of MoFo, it isn’t everything that we do.”Chambers UK praises the London office for its capital markets, outsourcing and IT work. The firm has built an impressive footprint in the Asia market (particularly out of its Tokyo office) and Chambers Global lists MoFo as a worldwide leader in techy and scientific sectors.
With the London office moving premises and an increase in the trainee intake and lateral hires, MoFo is in growth mode. “At the end of 2017 we had 50 fee earners, by the end of 2018 we had 70, and by the end of 2019 we hope to have a total headcount of over 90, including the new trainee cohort,” informs Maughan. Trainees expressed their “excitement to see what comes,” and believe “it’s a good time to be at MoFo. Even with the growth and pace of change, our culture isn’t changing.”
“Whilst tech is a strong part of MoFo, it isn’t everything that we do.”
Trainees are asked to rank their preferences for seat allocations a month and a half before each rotation, and the “majority get their first, second or third preferences.” Second-years get preference and first-years “choose from whatever is left over.” Although there are no compulsory seats, trainees informed us of how “everyone does a seat in corporate, as well as a litigation seat.” Trainees can also submit their preferences for overseas seats which tend to take place in the third or fourth seat, but the allocation of these depends on factors such as individual performance in evaluations and the firm's business needs. Trainees figured “it’s a question of making your preferences known from early on,” and revealed that “Singapore is the overseas seat that's currently offered."
MoFo no dodo
MoFo’s corporate team deals with private and public M&A, venture capital and corporate reorganisations – tech especially lends itself to an abundance of start-up work. Newbies described the teaching style of corporate as “a seat where you’re expected to get on with things and run matters, but always have the support if needed.” The corporate team made a splash representing SoftBank, a Japanese multinational tech and telecoms holding company, on its $7.7 billion primary and secondary investment as part of a $9.3 billion sale of stock by Uber. The firm also acted for Vonage Holdings, a cloud communications services provider, on its $350 million acquisition of NewVoiceMedia and $35 million acquisition of Telefónica Digital. Trainee tasks include “drafting numerous disclosure letters, drafting ancillary documents, filings for Companies House, breaking up board resolutions and minutes, managing deal progression and managing the virtual data rooms.” One interviewee welcomed the level of responsibility and not “feeling backed into a corner.”
The capital markets seat is split between dealing with financial regulations and the other half being private placements. The firm is active on both the debt and equity sides of capital markets, advising issuers, underwriters and agents on private placements, IPOs, 144As, Reg S offerings and structured products. The team frequently liaises with the New York and Tokyo offices. “We speak directly with the partners in both offices and since the teams are lean, we get a lot of responsibility” – this will be a theme at MoFo and other smaller US firms in London. A glance of the client base sees the team advising the Bank of America, The Royal Bank of Canada and the University of Edinburgh. A recent highlight saw the team acting as counsel to the issuer, J.P. Morgan, in Japan on its ¥13 billion private placement of senior notes. Trainees in this seat were asked to help “draft amendment agreements, draft the note purchase agreement, help the New York office on their structured notes, look at securitisations, do closing checklists and powers of attorney and work on a lot of collateral loan memos for Tokyo clients.”
MoFo’s technology transactions seat handles commercial contracts and technology-based projects with bits of IP property licensing. The team recently advised UPS on a whole host of issues such as a shipment of wine, compliance issues and data protection advice. The team also advises Ubitricity, a mobile electricity charging provider, on its contracts with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on the installation of electric vehicle charging points. “As well as having a techy life sciences client focus, we also provide general support for the firm as well,” one insider reported. Newbies tend to draft IP licensing agreements and transitional services contracts.
Over in banking and finance, trainees can gain experience in acquisition and leveraged finance, corporate banking, derivatives, debt trading and investment, and restructuring. Clients include Just Eat, Standard Chartered and Space Systems. The team advised Just Eat on the amendment and restatement of its £200 million revolving credit facility. On the restructuring side of things, newbies found themselves “drafting letters and drafting the tracking companies in distressed situations.” On the funds side, “we draft board minutes, ancillary documents and assist with the entire life cycle of a deal.”
“We aren’t abandoned on late nights.”
Litigation is one of the most popular seats, and is split between investigations and civil litigation. “I was basically a junior associate,” reported one trainee. Our sources reported a real mixed bag of activities: “I got to manage a team of contract attorneys, attend court, track documents, process data, help prepare interview outlines, draft memos, and deal with requests from overseas offices to help on an aspect of English law.” A recent work highlight saw the team acting for the liquidators on the complex $9.2 billion liquidation of Saad Investments Company. The team also acted for the trustees in the bankruptcy of Muhammad Al-Ansari in a £25 million fraud case.
“Every trainee would have had late nights – it’s inevitable.” Trainees noted their average hours being 9.30am to 7.30pm under normal conditions, if such a thing as normal exists, and it can fluctuate by department. “Capital markets can be a massive flurry of deals at one point and so the hours are hard to predict.” Trainees will see the clock tick past midnight more than once during their contract, and evenings will regularly be constricted. Fans of The Chase will have to watch on catchup. Corporate trainees voiced their grievances on the long hours: “There were a couple of weeks where I was consistently finishing late.” Our sources reassured us that “despite having to work late, we aren’t dumped a whole load of work at the last minute, and our supervisors stay with us so we aren’t abandoned.”
MoFo go loco
In the US MoFo culturally breaks free from the mould cast by the Manhattan firms – to an extent. “We don’t live the cliché, corporate-heavy, US culture here. We’re quite relaxed,” trainees reassured us. The Cali tech culture does seep through and there are certain Americanisms noted. Naturally they celebrate the London summer party on 4th July, and “we also get a lot of the US partners walking around the office to meet their UK clients; it’s a London office with US elements to it, but done in the right way.” NQs are also swept off to San Francisco for a week of training.
“Smaller teams tend to do more ad hoc socials and it’s common for juniors and trainees to go out together on a Friday night. There’s a family-esque feel to it.” The London office also “puts on a spread of wine and cheeses fortnightly, giving us the chance to mix with the firm’s other departments.” Those who ventured to Singapore claimed: “There isn’t a major culture difference between the offices. London’s wine and cheese Thursdays is Singapore’s gin & tonic Fridays.”
When asked about the NQ process, MoFo trainees repeatedly told us it was “flexible.” Juniors advise keeping an open dialogue with your preferred departments and the head of department, as well as with the firm's recruitment and development team, throughout your contract. The current cohort thought “the process is very much an informal chat to make your choices known. Overall, we’ve been happy with the process – the firm makes a real effort to house people.” In 2019 the firm kept on three out of fourtrainees.
MoFo's sharp new London office will be based in one of the capital's most striking buildings: The Scalpel.
How to get a Morrison & Foerster training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 5 January 2020 (open 3 October 2019)
Online application form
MoFo only recruits trainees through its vacation scheme and asks candidates to apply by completing its online application form on the careers section of the MoFo website. A 2:1 degree and As and Bs at A level are a must at this stage; any work experience is a plus, but not a requirement. When it comes to extracurricular activities, Director of Legal Talent & Recruitment, Lynnsey McCall tells us that “applicants who can demonstrate interests that reflect the firm's core areas, or its long-standing commitment to diversity and pro bono, also help an application to stand out.” McCall adds that “significant sporting, musical or charitable achievements can also provide evidence of focus, commitment and determination, which MoFo lawyers need to have.”
Forty out of the hundreds of applicants are invited for a first-round interview in January to February. This takes place with either Lynnsey McCall or Rebecca Nasskau (Senior Attorney Recruiting Coordinator) and two associates and covers the usual 'why law?' and 'why MoFo?' questions. There is also a straightforward legal question for those who have already studied law, as well as a question designed to ascertain commercial awareness. In addition, McCall tells us that “we'll ask quite open-ended questions about a candidate's application to get to know them better. Our trainees come from a diverse range of backgrounds so there's not one key trait we look for, but we do like to see an ability to get on with other people and evidence of a genuine interest in the law.” McCall continues: “Those who strike the right balance between being prepared but not having overly scripted answers tend to make the best impression.”
Twenty aspiring recruits survive to attend a two-stage second interview in March with MoFo's training principal, another partner and one current trainee. Firstly, candidates are tasked with creating a five-minute presentation on a non-legal topic based on current affairs. For example, in previous years, candidates have been invited to take a position on either the junior doctors' strike, the regulation on the use of drones or the rights relating to protesting. Interviewees are then quizzed on their presentation. Co-managing partner Alistair Maughan says: "You don't have to be right but being able to engage in a sensible and mature discussion is the mark of someone who will do well at MoFo." The second part of the process involves reviewing a non-legal case study and discussing it with two associates. “We are looking for people who can identify the key issues and discuss them in a logical way,” McCall reveals.
The vac scheme
Between twelve and fifteen candidates, make it onto either of the firm's two, fortnight-long vac schemes in June and July. Attendees sit in one department per week and tackle tasks which are usually given to trainees. "I was proofreading, researching and writing articles,” one trainee recalled. Students are also set an assessed research project at the start of the scheme, which assesses their ability to balance deadlines.
Throughout the fortnight, recruiters are keen to see students “building relationships across the whole office, demonstrating their initiative and enjoying themselves.” Feedback on performance during the vac scheme forms the basis of training contract offers. “We invite feedback from everyone in the office – not just partners and associates,” McCall says. So no sucking up to the partners while shoving past the secretaries.
Morrison & Foerster (UK) LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners 19
- Associates 42
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 15
- Graduate recruiters: Lynnsey McCall or Rebecca Nasskau, [email protected], 020 7920 4000
- Training Partner: Jeremy Jennings-Mares
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-7
- Applications pa: 400
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 15
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 6 January 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 3 September 2019
- Summer vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 6 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: None
- Overseas seats: Singapore
- Client secondments: From time to time subject to client requirements
In Europe we have a team of 120 lawyers in our strategic hubs of London, Berlin and Brussels. We work alongside our colleagues in the US and Asia, drawing on cultural, jurisdictional and market knowledge to deliver the best advice and client service with a global approach.
Dynamic technology companies, significant financial investors and financial institutions, leading consumer product companies and other market leaders come to MoFo for our expertise, knowledge, advice, commerciality, transaction support and individually tailored client service. We handle some of the world’s largest cross-border transactions and resolve some of the biggest disputes across multiple jurisdictions.
Our firm was built on and continues to succeed because of the talent of our lawyers and their innovative approach to the practice of law. We offer a collegial environment where we value teamwork and diverse perspectives and operate as one firm.
As our nickname suggests, we take our work seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2019
• University of Cambridge, 18 October 2019
• Warwick University, 23 October 2019
• University of Oxford, 3 November 2019
• University of Manchester, 13 November 2019
• Durham University, 20 November 2019
• King’s College London, 24 October 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)