Californian MoFo has no shortage of European work coming through. “That’s the beauty of being tech-focused: it permeates so many more practice areas than people think.”
One lucky MoFo
A big name in the technology sector, Morrison & Foerster (MoFo is its official nickname) is a San Fran-HQed firm that’s known in the US for its IP, TMT and data protection prowess. “We are a US firm in London, but we regard ourselves as MoFo in Europe,” London co-managing partner Alistair Maughan says, “and the strategy is to continue to act as the gateway into Europe for the firm's global clients.” One recent work highlight illustrates this: the London team advised Japanese tech giant SoftBank on its acquisition of Cambridge-based smartphone chip designer ARM for a cool £24 billion. Not too shabby for a 50-lawyer office. Other well-known clients include Standard Chartered, Just Eat, Toshiba, Novartis and Panasonic.
“The best of both worlds.”
The London office continues to bolster its size, doubling the headcount in the past few years. Recent laterals have come from the likes of Clifford Chance and Latham. “They're adding partners every other month!” one trainee exclaimed. “We have new departments, like funds and derivatives, that we didn't have when I applied, which is really encouraging.” The London office wins Chambers UK rankings for its capital markets, outsourcing and IT work. Trainees felt MoFo offers “the best of both worlds: I knew I wanted to be at a smaller American firm in London, and MoFo stood out as being a West Coast firm with a relaxed vibe.”
MoFo fo' shoes
We heard trainees are typically allocated to corporate, TMT or litigation as their first seat, while “second-years typically get funds or finance because they're trickier.” Trainees are asked for their seat preferences midway through each one, and while we heard TMT is in high demand, one insider pointed out that “the funds seat is very popular because the two partners are brilliant.” Trainees also submit their preferences for client secondments and overseas seats, but sources found allocation in this respect to be “a bit unclear... things tend to be decided based on a combination of performance and discretion.” The firm tells us that a range of factors are considered when deciding which trainees get to experience these opportunities, as spaces are limited.
The corporate seat offers a raft of transactions to get involved with, spanning private and public M&A, venture capital and corporate reorganisations. We mentioned the SoftBank-ARM acquisition the firm worked on above – that was the biggest deal to be announced since the Brexit vote. Since then, the team has also advised US-based clothing retailer Cherokee on its acquisition of Essex-founded hiking boots maker Hi-Tec Sports for $96 million. And London lawyers teamed up with corporate and capital market colleagues in Tokyo, Berlin, Brussels and New York to advise Toshiba on its $2.4 billion divestment of smart meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr. Trainee tasks include “drafting ancillary documents for larger transactions, drafting resolutions and drafting disclosure letters.” Another insider attended “several meetings with CEOs of large businesses,” as well as “helping associates in other teams with random queries and drafting board minutes or filings for Companies House.”
The capital markets team advises banks like Barclays Capital, Scotiabank and Ally Financial on organising a range of structured products, hybrid offerings and international financings. The team also has experience advising clients in the life sciences, energy and technology sectors. A recent highlight saw the team advise Merrill Lynch on updating a $65 billion European bond programme for Bank of America. A trainee reported: “I did a lot of drafting – and not just of ancillary documents, but also of structured notes and purchase agreements coming out of New York and Tokyo.” Due to the small size of the team, “I'll often be working side by side with a partner," one interviewee said. "So I’m expected to call clients and liaise with the other side.”
MoFo's sizzling reputation for technology transactions makes this seat a popular destination for trainees. “The firm calls it technology transactions, but it's the same as TMT really,” one newbie clarified, meaning the work covers both corporate and commercial stuff. Big names like AIG Europe, Novartis and Fujitsu all come looking for help with licensing, outsourcing and e-commerce agreements. The team recently advised Panasonic on the rights associated with open source software licences in the UK and Japan, as well as assisting Outlier, the blockchain ventures company, on its collaboration with Imperial College London. “I was drafting IP licensing agreements and transitional services contracts,” one insider reported. Trainees may also work with certain clients again and again, “because they've got us on retainer, so there's a constant stream of work. I was making amendments to the contracts with global suppliers, and at one point I was dealing with over 50 countries which was madness!”
“At one point I was dealing with over 50 countries which was madness!”
Over in banking and finance, trainees have a crack at acquisition finance, real estate finance, corporate banking and derivatives. Clients include Bank of America, Standard Chartered and mobile advertising company Fyber. The team also advised Just Eat on a loan to support its potential £200 million acquisition of Hungry House and Skip the Dishes, as well as representing Barclays on a cross-border revolving loan facility for clothing retailer Boden. “The team is really busy,” one insider shared, “so there's a constant churn of deals.” Another reported that “you're not there to push paper around and manage comments – the partners take you to all the client meetings and show you how it's done.” Trainees are at those meetings to take notes, listen and learn.
At the time of our research, the only overseas seat option was a six-month stint in Singapore. “It was a really awesome experience,” one insider cooed. “They put you up in a super-swanky apartment. It's really high up and stunning, bang in the centre of the town.” The Singapore office holds around 15 lawyers, and a trainee here might work on “client alerts, publications, guides and large transaction documents.” In the past, overseas seat options have also included Hong Kong and Tokyo. While New York is not currently an option, the firm is looking for an English-qualified supervisor for Big Apple secondees.
When it comes to hours, trainees noted that the occasional all-nighter is required. In banking an average working day is 9am to 8pm, and one insider shared: “I did stay until 6am once, because the client was extra demanding.” Over in capital markets, we heard a similar refrain, with an average day lasting from 9am to 10pm. Less stringent hours can be found in tech transactions, where a typical day spans 9am to 7.30pm. “The hours in the corporate team are longer and more consistent than in other seats,” we heard, with average days balancing out as 9am to 10pm. A source reported: “There have been occasions where I've been in till 3.30am every day for a couple of weeks because of a deal closing.”
"There's definitely a cool techy approach going on.”
Located in Moorgate, “the London office isn't the flashiest place on earth like the offices in Tokyo and Singapore." Sources pointed to MoFo's California roots when asked about firm culture – "there's definitely a cool techy approach going on and it's incredibly friendly here.” Interviewees said MoFo works hard to maintain its culture. “That's why we only hire through our vacation schemes,” one newbie announced, “because we want to make sure you'll fit in well." Rookies really get into the Cali groove after qualification, when the firm sends all NQs to San Francisco for a week of training.
“We get on really well and like to go out for one or two drinks on a Thursday,” interviewees said of their colleagues, with the Rack and Tenter and Refinery pubs taking preference. The London office also hosts fortnightly cheese and wine nights which are “always well attended.” In addition, trainees get a budget every quarter to socialise. “We'll organise dinners and do something special to catch up,” a source reported. There's even time to kick back a bit during the working day, as the office has “a games room with air hockey, snooker and ping-pong, so it's not uncommon to catch people having a 15-minute break in there.”
We heard that the NQ process is “quite fluid, so if you're interested in qualifying into a particular team, you're encouraged to voice that quite early on. Most people tend to get their first choice.” While there is no formal jobs list, trainees are invited to have an informal chat with the training principal during their fourth seat to discuss preferences. In 2018 the firm kept three of four qualifiers.
The firm will be increasing its trainee intake to six for 2021.
How to get a Morrison & Foerster training contract
Apply for 2021 training contracts via the firm's 2019 vac scheme
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, head of legal talent and 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 of the initial 1,000 applicants are invited for a first-round interview in March or April. This takes place with McCall 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 at the end of April 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. In 2016 candidates were invited to take a position on either the junior doctors' strike, the use of tax havens or the refugee crisis. 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 eight and 12 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 and tasked with organising a themed cheese and wine evening. "The students can have a bit of fun with it but it is also an opportunity to evaluate how they work together in a team and how they manage their time," McCall explains.
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.
US firms in London
Morrison & Foerster (UK) LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners 19
- Associates 28
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 16
- 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 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 6 January 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 3 September 2018
- Summer vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 6 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000
- 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 2018
• University of Cambridge, 18 October 2018
• Warwick University, 23 October 2018
• University of Oxford, 3 November 2018
• University of Manchester, 13 November 2018
• Durham University, 20 November 2018
• King’s College London, 24 October 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)