Norton Rose Fulbright - True Picture

This Rose in the concrete jungle takes its finance-focused brand to the far corners of the earth.

Norton Rose Fulbright training contract review 2021

The Firm

“On one deal I worked on, there were seven jurisdictions involved,”one of our trainee sources recalled. “We worked like one big machine, as if we were all in the same time zone – it really struck me how seamless everything was.”It’s a good thing the firm is such a well-oiled operation: with 50+ offices globally from Austin to Brussels to Cape Town (and most of the rest of the alphabet), NRF is about as international as the law can get. “I’ve never worked on a domestic transaction… ever,”another trainee in the corporate department realised during our call.

ESSENTIAL READ: The post-carbon economy with Norton Rose. Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today and its impact will be felt across every industry and legal sector. Understanding this is critical for the next generation of lawyers.

Worldwide, the firm's greatest strengths lie in infrastructural finance and large-scale investment projects. Chambers Globalrecognises the firm as a worldwide leader in projects and shipping finance, and the firm amasses numerous strong rankings around its core of finance expertise. Beneath that umbrella, juniors find opportunities in a lot of interesting specialist areas like climate change, energy, agribusiness, asset finance, aviation, commodities, insurance and mining the London office is the nerve centre of all of this world-class expertise. “Norton Rose Fulbright has a reputation as one of the strongest firms in the City,”trainees said of their motivation for joining. “They’ve got real strength in the banking sector, so they’re ideal if you want to specialise in that.”

Beyond all the transactional and financial work, trainees can get stuck into disputes too. Unsurprisingly, the firm is in its element in cross-border disputes and investigations, for which Chambers Global ranks the firm. The firm also has a growing presence in the tech sector.

“I’ve never worked on a domestic transaction… ever.”

The long list of international secondment opportunities was another attractive notion. Popular destinations are “becoming more and more competitive to secure,”according to interviewees. Overseas seat options vary with each rotation, but common locations include Hong Kong, Athens, Moscow and Singapore; there are also popular seats in project finance in Sydney, and asset finance in Paris. The latest addition to the menu is New York, following an office move for London’s global head of trade finance to the Big Apple. To get an overseas seat, trainees submit a CV that’s passed on to their office of choice; the decision is relayed back to London on whether the trainee is a fit for the type of work on offer. “It’s always good to get in touch with a partner in the overseas office and build a connection prior to applying,” sources advised.

As for the process in London, trainees complete a form at the beginning of the contract and then at the end of each rotation. Each trainee ranks their top three preferred seats and supervisors. All trainees are required to do a seat in banking and a seat in corporate, plus two optional seats (possibly including a secondment).Veterans of the process told us: “The more senior you are, the more say you get. The trainee development team do their best to accommodate everyone but there will always be negotiations and compromises made.” Trainees also complete mandatory attendance at Croydon Law Centre, handling pro bono consumer, housing and employment matters.

The Seats

NRF’s banking department consists of four subgroups: project finance; asset finance; derivatives and capital markets; and general banking. Everything’s mapped out “in a huge leaflet which trainees receive before they start, explaining exactly what each team does.”In the general banking practice you’ll find asset-backed lending, acquisition finance, restructuring and refinancing, advising clients in industries ranging from energy and infrastructure to life sciences and healthcare. You’ll recognise names like Shell, JP Morgan and Coca-Cola, whose bottling company HBC called on NRF when extending its €800 million revolving credit facility. The firm advises both borrowers and lenders, acting for Wells Fargo during its £20 million asset-based facility for Laura Ashley. Trainees in banking generally “manage and run the conditions precedent checklists” while also getting to draft “insurance and indemnities contracts, warranties and security documents.” Sources who did a general banking seat in the Dubai office found “there is a lot more responsibility here as opposed to London, as the team is much smaller. I would do a lot of background work for associates in London, but in Dubai it would sometimes just be me and the partner.”

A high-flying aviation practice is the engine of the asset finance team, which also tackles rail and shipping matters. Lawyers here advise on all aspects of aircraft sale and purchase transactions, including manufacturer purchase orders. easyJet, P&O Ferries and Société Générale are some of the clients here; Norton Rose recently advised the transportation finance division of DZ Bank on the $6.4 billion sale of its aviation finance group to Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. Trainees have the opportunity to work in all three areas of asset finance, and this is “an excellent seat for training as we do a great deal of transaction management.” Typical tasks range from drafting security documents to CP checklists and marking up client comments on documentation. “We also often visit ship registries around London to do signings in front of the registry officials,” a source told us. “It’s really great to get out there.” The airline industry has had a rough time that’s only got worse following the global Covid-19 pandemic – this might lead to opportunities for NRF’s contentious aviation practice. 

“…the money maker at Norton Rose, which is why it’s the busiest seat.”

Trainees suggested that project finance is “known as the money maker at Norton Rose, which is why it’s the busiest seat.” A mammoth list of sectors fall in here: power, renewables and nuclear, oil and gas, mining, petrochemicals, water and waste, social infrastructure, and telecoms. Trainees have the option of spending three months doing more ‘pure’ projects work, and the other three on the financing side: “I was able to deal with the start of a power purchase agreement project, which was great experience,” one said. “Although there’s a lot of admin work involved such as managing the conditions precedent, the firm started giving me more client access as I began to build confidence.” Some of the largest recent projects with NRF’s name attached include the Beatrice offshore wind project in Scotland, for which the firm advised a consortium of lenders on a £4.1 billion refinancing; and the Canadian capital Ottawa’s Stage 2 Light Rail Transit Project (the city’s government is the client).

Our sources described the derivatives and capital markets seat as “very technical, and not so popular” as a result. The department splits off into securitisation, derivatives, bonds and trustee subgroups, but though “there are four separate units, the new head of the team is keen for us to operate as one team and make sure trainees get as much variety of work as possible.” Norton Rose advises both debtors and creditors, often on international projects like the Republic of Kazakhstan’s double-tranche €1.15 billion international bond issuance. Trainees had the chance to work on the bonds team on issuances for sovereigns. “I really enjoyed going through the consistencies, cross-checking figures, corresponding with the Financial Conduct Authority, drafting announcements and compiling signature packs for the bond issue documentation,” one such source said. Trainees who sat with the “smaller securitisation practice” were quick to praise the level of supervision as well as the opportunities available to “see and gain experience in the more technical areas of law.” The firm recently advised AIG as the insurer on receivables sold by Manchester-based direct debit system operator FastPay into a securitisation structure, with a first tranche valued at $80 million.

“…gain experience in the more technical areas of law.”

Norton Rose’s corporate department is carved up by client type rather than practice – one team handles M&A and equity capital markets for a range of businesses, while the other solely advises financial institutions. Big banks like HSBC, Lloyds and Santander fill out the roster – NRF acted for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs as financial advisers to private equity firm Advent during its £4 billion acquisition of UK defence and aerospace manufacturer Cobham. Trainee tasks in the corporate seat range from “basic day-to-day document lists and making sure large corporate transactions are all up to date,” to more demanding “drafting of outsourcing agreements and managing service agent agreements.” There’s also an insurance side to the practice. “We see a lot of portfolio business transferring from one insurer to another. That comes with a combination of corporate and litigious elements,” one trainee explained. “I was revising and drafting court documents, preparing bundles and occasionally sitting in on sanctions hearings.”

The dedicated disputes seat comes with litigation, commercial arbitration and investigative cases for clients in tech, mining, commodities and a host of other industries. Trainees are tasked with contacting counsel and communicating between parties, preparing data rooms, legal research, due diligence and interaction with government entities. “The tasks aren’t as high-level due to the nature of litigious work,” a source suggested. Norton Rose’s litigation clients include HSBC and the Gwynt-y-Mor offshore wind farm, which sought assistance with an Ofgem judicial review valued at £14 million. The department also acted for Spanish construction firm Sacyr in ICC arbitration and English court proceedings defending $900 million claims brought by the Panama Canal Authority following the canal’s expansion.

Trainee Life

Throughout each seat, sources appreciated the trainee development team keeping communication channels open and providing transparency wherever possible, especially during the 2020 lockdown: “Given the current economic climate, those phone calls have been so reassuring.” Norton Rose asked lawyers and staff to volunteer to reduce their working hours by up to 20% in response to the pandemic. “The decision was taken by an optional vote with widespread approval,”we heard. If anything, trainees were less impressed with the firm’s efforts prior to lockdown, with a few grumbling that “the trainee development team isn’t as organised or helpful as it could be. It can be really frustrating when that delays us finding out about seat rotations.”Some also bemoaned “inconsistency in how we receive feedback,”and some departments did better than others at work allocation. Corporate seemed to be the best performer in that sense; capital markets drew the most criticism.

Supervisors were generally praised for their attitude towards trainee hours and workload: “There’s no face-time pressure, and my supervisor actively tells me to leave when there’s no work to be done.”Trainees in most seats got started at 9am and could finish up by 7pm, outside of some extremeexceptions. “There were some 5.30am finishes when I was working on bond issuances,”a trainee in capital markets yawned. Uncertainty around “when to start and stop”can creep in during remote working periods, but “it isn’t horrific, it’ll just take time getting used to.”

“...James Bond-like with their laid-back and humble personalities. People are extremely clever.”

Our interviewees pointed to the firm’s flex scheme and general support during the troubles brought by Covid-19 as evidence of a supportive and globally in-sync culture. “The response wasn’t just taken at management level and passed down; everyone was consulted about it and had a say,”they said, using this as an example of Norton Rose’s standard way of doing business. Looking around at their peers, one trainee described colleagues as “James Bond-like with laidback and humble personalities. People are extremely clever, but everyone is very down to earth.”Presumably they've never seen the Roger Moore Bond films. Where NRF definitely differs from 007 is in dress code, as “there’s a strongrespect for individual and personal interests, as well as work/life balance. Having a life outside of work is strongly encouraged and attitudes towards clothes and expressing your individual personality are relaxed.”

Looking at the global picture, another trainee told us that “having a very diverse group of people helps ensure the international culture of the firm is prevalent,”and vice versa. Working with colleagues all over the world understandably promotes an inclusive mindset. Trainees reckoned the firm is “best at ethnicdiversity,”though still with room to improve there and in gender, LGBTQ+ and other respects. Conversations around mental health and wellbeing have become more common in the current climate. “The global head of financial institutions, James Bateson, sponsors the Breathe Network, which distributes a newsletter with articles on how to monitor and maintain your mental health while working from home,”we learnt. “There are also daily emails to remind us of the trainee development mental health first aiders, and there are counselling sessions available.”

To avoid competition between trainees, NRF doesn’t publish a jobs list before the NQprocess begins. Trainees can submit applications to up to three departments and don't need to have completed a seat there. “Although there’s been uncertainty, I don’t think anyone is too concerned – the firm is keen to keep their trainees on.”Once the process concluded, and above-market 34of 41qualifiers stayed on at Norton Rose Fulbright.

Early blooming Roses 

The firm runs a partner mentor scheme for new trainees, who also get a third or fourth seat mentor “from the start of the LPC, to gain useful insight before joining and build an ongoing relationship throughout your training contract.” 


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How to get into Norton Rose

Vacation scheme deadlines: 1 November 2020 (winter); 22 November 2020 (spring); 17 January 2021 (summer)

Training contract deadline (2022): 13 December 2020 (finalist and graduates from law and non-law backgrounds) or 11 July 2021 (penultimate year law undergraduates)

Solicitor apprenticeship programme application deadline: 6 June 2021 (apply here)

Trainee profile

Norton Rose Fulbright requires prospective trainees to have obtained a minimum AAB at A-level and a 2:1 degree, though like many firms it takes extenuating circumstances into consideration. Senior graduate recruitment senior adviser Philippa Wilson tells us that a global mindset is highly valued: “We really want people who would like to complete a secondment, either internationally or at one of our clients – a flexible approach is important.”

The firm targets 15 UK universities each year: while typically the firm works closely with university careers services and societies on targeting careers events, most of these had to be virtual in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vacation scheme

The firm runs four vacation schemes each year: two two-week schemes in the summer, and one seven-day scheme in the winter. There are up to 50 places available across the three schemes, and candidates are paid £450 per week. Around 2,000 people apply for the vacation scheme every year. We're told somewhere between 65% of the most recent trainee intake have completed the scheme.

Applications for the vacation scheme begin with an online form that allows applicants to fill in their work experience and academics, accompanied by a covering letter. “We're looking at the skills and qualities which an individual can bring to the practice, along with a genuine interest in and awareness of commercial issues,” our trainee recruitment sources say. “Accurate spelling and grammar are essential too.”

After an initial screen, candidates who impress will be invited to complete an online psychometric test, and if they pass this they will then be invited to a telephone interview, all prior to the assessment day.

Vac schemers spend their visit in one department, sharing an office with an associate or a partner. They're also assigned a trainee buddy. In the past, attendees have completed drafting assignments, attended meetings, sat in on conference calls and undertaken research tasks. “Get to know as many people as you can here – the partners in particular,” advised one of the firm's current trainees. Covid-19 has affected future plans; the firm has confirmed it will run its 2020 winter vacation scheme virtually.

The training contract application process

Around 1,000 people apply directly for Norton Rose Fulbright's training contract each year. The form is exactly the same as the one for the vacation scheme.

“We expect to see some legal work experience from our training contract applicants,” says Wilson. “You don't have to have completed our vacation scheme or one at another firm, but you do need to show commercial experience.” She goes on to explain: “We're client-facing and place a huge emphasis on teamwork, so if you've taken part in something like sport, drama or volunteering, we want to hear about that too.”

The firm invites the strongest applicants to an assessment day that involves an interview with two partners, a written assessment and a group negotiation exercise. The interview aims to test an applicant's motivations for joining Norton Rose Fulbright, their commitment to the law and their commercial knowledge. Meanwhile, the assessment and exercise aim to measure critical thinking and writing skills, and how well someone works as part of a team. The written assessment in particular is “more focused on what we do as a business,” Wilson explains.

In normal circumstances the day includes lunch with the current trainees and a tour of the building; this was of course impossible in 2020, but the other elements of the programme remained in place. “It is quite a full-on day, but we've deliberately designed it to be like that,” our sources tell us. “We want to give people a real impression of what we're like as a business, and we want to see how they respond to that.”

Norton Rose Fulbright

3 More London Riverside,

  • Partners: 1,100+*
  • Assistant solicitors: 3,700+*
  • Total trainees: 86
  • UK offices: London, Newcastle
  • Overseas offices: Over 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.
  • *denotes worldwide figures
  • Contact:
  • Graduate recruiter:
  • Training partners: Dan Metcalfe and Claire O’Donnell
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: Up to 45
  • Applications pa: 3,000+
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB at A-level or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 50
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract, 2023 start: Apply 26 Oct – 13 Dec 2020 (finalist and graduates) Apply 31 May – 11 Jun 2021 (Penultimate law)
  • Winter vacation scheme 2020: Apply 14 Sep – 1 Nov 2020
  • Spring vacation scheme 2021: Apply 5 Oct – 22 Nov 2020
  • Summer vacation scheme 2021: Apply 16 Nov 2020 – 17 Jan 2021
  • Solicitor apprenticeship programme: Apply 5 May 2021 – 6 June 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • 1st Year: £48,000
  • 2nd Year: £52,000
  • Post Qualification: £85,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes - £10,000
  • GDL fees: Yes - £8,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London

Firm profile

We provide the world’s preeminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have more than 3,700 lawyers and other legal staff based in Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.

Main areas of work

Recognised for our industry focus, we are strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare. Through our global risk advisory group, we leverage our industry experience with our knowledge of legal, regulatory, compliance and governance issues to provide our clients with practical solutions to the legal and regulatory risks facing their businesses. Wherever we are, we operate in accordance with our global business principles of quality, unity and integrity. We aim to provide the highest possible standard of legal service in each of our offices and to maintain that level of quality at every point of contact.

Training opportunities

There’s no progress more vital than what you’ll experience on our training contracts. Over two years – broken into four six-month seats – you’ll hit all kinds of new firsts with us, big and small. You’ll explore new areas, for instance. Each seat will take you through different sectors and practice areas, with at least one seat in each of corporate, banking and litigation. One of your seats will almost certainly be on secondment too – your first encounter with working in a new country, or maybe six months spent working in a client office. As you move from one milestone to the next, you’ll have a sizeable team at your back. A partner mentor to turn to and to learn from. A trainee buddy to teach you the ropes. And the whole trainee development team, to keep you on track from day to day. An impeccable academic record and intellectual rigour are prerequisites. We expect successful candidates to have at least AAB at A level (or equivalent) and be on track for a 2:1 (or equivalent). You’ll have an enquiring mind, strong interpersonal skills, and the motivation to make constant progress. You’ll never stop pushing yourself forward, grasping every opportunity – both at home and abroad – that our firm has to offer. You’ll be interested in business too, and keen to build relationships within a firm that’ll help you make progress with purpose.

Vacation schemes

Finding the place you want to start your career is a moment you’ll always remember, and that’s exactly the kind of insight we offer on our vacation schemes. Whether you’re with us virtually or in person, we pack a lot into these four schemes.. You’ll network with colleagues. You’ll present group projects on legal issues. It’s a lot of new ground to cover, but if you want to understand what it’s really like to work here, nothing else comes close.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Everyone remembers the first day they walked through the doors of their future firm. For many of our lawyers, that happens on our open days and first step programmes. First Step caters to first-year undergraduates, while our open days are designed for undergraduates, graduates, first years and career changers of all degree subjects. Either way, it’s the opportunity to step through our doors, make a first impression, and use our packed schedule of interactive sessions to discover whether law is right for you. For more information and to apply please visit our website.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 5)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 5)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 1)
    • Aviation (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 1)
    • Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Projects (Band 2)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Shipping (Band 4)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)

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