Norton Rose Fulbright - True Picture

A passion for all things banking and a guaranteed overseas seat shine a spotlight on international heavyweight Norton Rose Fulbright.

Continents of confidence

Norton Rose Fulbright’s presence spans all continents except Antarctica, with more than 50 offices around the world. A string of mergers in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017 was followed by calmer years in 2018 and 2019. Trainee development partner Dan Metcalfe tells us that this firm’s “always got its eye open for the next opportunity in terms of global mergers and combinations – but for now we’re in a period of consolidation.” Don’t expect NRF to slow down for long though – the firm has its sights set on expanding its African platform and moving into India should the country open its doors to international firms – “nothing’s off the agenda. We’re just waiting for the right time.”

NRF gets top rankings from Chambers UK for a whole bag of banking and finance practices: it's recognised for areas such as asset finance, capital markets, energy, financial regulation and insurance, as well as for contentious areas like employment, construction, financial crime and commercial litigation. Globally the firm is quite something: areas where's it's ranked top include mining in Russia, shipping in Greece, real estate in Morocco, and projects in the US, Africa and India. The firm's also ranked as one of the top global players for agribusiness, mining projects, rail finance and shipping finance.

“I've dealt with so many clients around the world.”

This international prowess was a huge draw for our trainee interviewees. “I'd love to see and live in a different part of the world,” one said, “so the global aspect of the firm really appealed to me.” International secondments are all but guaranteed for those that are interested, though “people don't always get to go to the exact location they ask for.” Availability changes each rotation, but the common destinations are Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Sydney, Athens, Paris and Moscow. One interviewee felt: “Because I've dealt with so many clients around the world, I'm used to it – going anywhere wouldn't be an issue for me!”

To get an overseas seat, trainees submit a CV which is sent to an overseas office which then “goes through the CVs, picks someone they think is suited to their office and lets London know.” One source commented: “It's all quite political – if there's a seat you really want to do that’s in high demand, HR might say, 'Take a seat you don't want to do and in return you’ll get to go to Singapore.'” Singapore and Hong Kong are the most popular gigs, while Dubai and Paris have a reputation for their less-than-supportive partners. For seats at home in London, trainees complete a form at the end of each rotation to show HR their preferences and “your motivations behind applying to each seat.” Over the course of the contract, trainees are expected to do at least one seat in banking and one in corporate.

Trainees also have to complete mandatory attendance at Croydon Law Centre, covering consumer, housing and employment matters – “it’s great to see the kind of cases you can help out on which have a more personal side to them.” Work is distributed by a resource manager, which trainees found “really helpful – you say what interests you and they find it for you.”

I'm inter-cash-'n'-all

NRF’s banking team contains four subgroups: project finance, asset finance, derivatives and capital markets, and general banking. Some teams, like asset finance, have further sub-teams like aviation – “that’s potentially a bit too niche, a bit too quickly,” was one interviewee's view. General banking covers the work that doesn’t fit into the more specialist teams: that includes asset-backed lending, acquisition finance, restructuring and refinancing. Clients range from BP and BMW to AT&T and AIG – and that's just the first two letters of the alphabet! The team recently advised Standard Chartered on a $700 million Islamic finance loan to the government of Pakistan, guaranteed by the World Bank. It also helped Trinity Mirror with a £126.7 million loan to buy Northern & Shell, Richard Desmond's publishing company which owns the Daily Express. Trainees rated the team as “very nurturing – they guide your hand from day one and progress your workload to handle bigger things.” Trainees start out with tasks like proofreading, drafting emails and managing conditions precedent (CP) checklists. By the end of the seat, they’re drafting security documents, insurance contracts warranties and indemnities contracts. New software to keep track of CP checklists has helped improve the trainee experience. “It’s a lot more efficient for everyone, there’s less room for confusion and it’s even colour-coded!” one source smiled.

Derivatives and capital markets is home to securitisation, derivatives and debt capital markets sub-teams. Work here includes bond issuances, receivables and “acting for insurers providing insurance to companies dealing with projects in risky situations,” for instance in the energy sector. The team acts for both issuers and creditors and does international work, meaning “you get to see securitisation from different angles.” The team recently represented HSBC, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank as participants in a $3.8 billion loan to the Central Bank of Egypt in exchange for sovereign bonds. Lawyers also advised J.P. Morgan on a securities and swaps transaction with BlackRock and helped HSBC with a £270 million securitisation for a European mobile phone provider. The technical nature of the work means it can be “quite overwhelming at first. There are a lot of terms you’re not familiar with. But the team is great at breaking it down for you.” Trainees start by reviewing comments and flagging points for associates, and end up liaising with clients, working on agreements and GDPR, and running closings.

The asset finance team is big on planes: it recently advised SAS on financing for 28 aircraft, helped easyJet with the sale and leaseback of ten Airbus A319s and helped cargo airline Volga-Dnepr on financing for a Boeing 747. There are also shipping and rail subgroups. Unsurprisingly the work is very international – “it’s common that some of the security documents aren’t governed by English law.” We heard that the clients are “generally quite demanding, so you have to work at a certain pace – they expect a lot of you.” Tasks include preparing security documents and facility agreements, proofreading, preparing CP checklists and deal management.

Earth works

Project finance deals with quite the roll call of critical sectors: power, renewables and nuclear; oil and gas; mining; petrochemicals, water and waste; social infrastructure; telecoms; and transport. Trainees see “big project deals for governments with lots of banks and jurisdictions involved, which is quite fun.” The firm recently advised mining project Yara Dallol on the financing and development of a new potash mine in Ethiopia. Trainees told us that “it’s interesting to see projects announced in the news and the next day lawyers in the team scrambling to deal with that same thing.” Tasks include due diligence, drafting diligence reports, answering client queries, inputting comments, “lots of little bits of drafting” and – once again – running CP checklists. There’s also a fair amount of facetime with clients.

“I ran a board meeting too, which was cool!”

Corporate at NRF has two sub-teams: “one does corporate M&A and equity capital markets for basically every type of client you could think of; the other does the same work but only for financial institution clients.” There is however “quite a fluid divide” between the subgroups, and it’s not uncommon to pick up work from both during your seat. The group recently advised Rothschild and RBC Capital Markets as financial advisers to engineering acquisition company Melrose on its £8.1 billion hostile offer for aerospace company GKN. The team also works on energy, mining, insurance, fintech, start-up, private equity and investment fund matters. For investment fund launches, trainees can expect to work on “verification, drafting little bits of prospectuses and due diligence. I ran a board meeting too, which was cool!” Apart from that, trainees can expect to draft board minutes and resolutions plus communicate with all parties on a deal and do proofreading. All the while, “a huge element of the job is thinking on your feet, responding quickly to situations and being creative.”

The disputes team covers litigation, arbitration and investigations. The group recently counselled steel construction company Alfasi as claimant in an arbitration with Hyundai in Singapore over delays and cost overruns in the construction of the International Convention Centre in Sydney. The general litigation practice sees disputes related to areas like financial regulation, insurance, transport and banking. Lawyers recently defended Shell against a $183 million breach of contract claim brought by the liquidators of a former Dutch tech subsidiary of the oil giant. Typical trainee tasks include contacting counsel, communicating between parties, preparing data room documents, legal research, due diligence and contacting government entities. Interviewees also had the chance to draft witness statements and memos. “And of course there’s a lot of bundling and indexing,” one trainee sighed, “but if you can do it efficiently enough, it doesn’t take up too much of your time.”

Ruling the waves

Trainees currently sit in an office with their supervisor, though open-plan is set to be phased in over the next few years – “the whole office is excited about it. There’ll be much more junior-senior interaction.” Sources rated their supervisors as “really accessible - there are no barriers between juniors and partners. They’re invested in trainee development and advise you on things like how to approach clients or how to get started on drafting.” Though their grasp isn’t too tight: “No one tries to impose their approach and preferences on you.” Departmental training often takes place, though we heard sometimes “it came a few months into the seat! It was still useful though.”

Trainees also rated their peers as an effective support network: “I feel so supported and my work friends are my real friends. We can call each other if we’re stressed and everyone still has massive lunches and 4.30pm tea breaks.” Trainees socialise regularly and we heard rumours of a boat party on the horizon. Day to day in the office “there are always people congregating and having chats during the day.” Trainees told us NRF puts “an emphasis on creating an atmosphere where people can be themselves – this naturally leads to a more diverse and inclusive working environment.” Diversity was almost unanimously rated as “very strong – there are people from all different races, religions and backgrounds.” We heard the firm has a focus on “promoting gender parity – Supreme Court President Lady Hale came to speak recently, and our chair is a woman. We have a lot of talks from women partners to show the progression to the top and how they're willing to mentor anyone.”

“I've had periods with early morning finishes.”

Most trainees found their average working day to last a solid ten to 12 hours, with deviations to an early (6pm) or late (3am) finish scattered around. “I've never personally had it bad for a long period,” one source reflected on their hours, “but I've had periods with early morning finishes for a week and then the work calms down again.” To help with the hours, NQs and above tend to work from home one day a week – but there's no formal firmwide policy. We heard that even though the hours can be long, “everyone is grateful when you do stay, and the work is interesting enough to make it a rewarding experience.” There were a few grumbles that “the firm has US-level expectations in terms of hours, but pays a UK salary. The NQ rate is not worth working 24 hours a day for."

NRF doesn’t publish a jobs list before the NQ process begins – “not showing us a list of openings stops competition, so there’s no backstabbing. The idea is that they try to take people wherever.” After trainees specify where they’d ideally like to qualify, HR communicates with the teams to see if there’s a spot for them. In 2019 20 of 26 qualifiers stayed on. Trainees reckoned that at NQ level, “a lot of people don’t hang around very long – within a year or two a decent amount of people have gone.”

NRF recently launched a new graduate scheme focused on innovation and legal tech. Find out more by reading our full interview with Dan Metcalfe in Bonus Features.

How to get a Norton Rose training contract


Vacation scheme deadlines: 8 November 2019 (winter); 12 January 2020 (spring); 31 January 2020 (summer)

Training contract deadline (2022): 12 January 2020 (finalist and graduates from law and non-law backgrounds) or 12 July 2020 (penultimate year law undergraduates)

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. Graduate recruitment senior advisor 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 22 UK universities each year: it attends law fairs, hosts drinks receptions and organises various negotiation competitions and skill sessions as well. Wilson advises students to engage with the firm if it visits their campus “to get the best out of us.”

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 40 places available across the three schemes, and candidates are paid £360 per week. Around 1,500 people apply for the vacation scheme every year. We're told somewhere between 50 and 60% of each trainee intake has 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 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.


The training contract application process

Around 2,000 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,” say 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 (or a partner and a senior associate), 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.

The day includes lunch with the current trainees and a tour of the building. “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.”


Interview with graduate recruitment partner Dan Metcalfe

CS: Are there any highlights from the last year you think are important to mention?

Dan Metcalfe: It’s been another great year for Norton Rose Fulbright. In previous years we were always talking to Chambers Student about expansion or a combination that’s happened. That’s not the case this time, as following the combination with Chadbourne & Parke, Henry Davis York and Bull Housserin 2017 we have had a year of consolidation and ensuring that the global platform we have built is working better and more effectively for ourselves and for clients. The more we work together across the network, using our different offices and presenting our global strength to clients, the more we are reaping significant rewards. Our deals are increasingly global, on a huge scale, and it’s really interesting and often innovative work – it’s a fantastic time to be at the firm and an amazing time for students to be joining the firm too!

From a graduate recruitment perspective at the firm we’ve had tremendous year. We have continued with our summer and winter scheme programmes for graduates and undergraduates, and held our first spring scheme too, which was a great success. They’ve been a real highlight, as it’s always a fantastic opportunity for the students to see what we’re really like and for us to take a closer look at what they can bring into the firm. The standard of applications and students attending open days and vacation schemes has been outstanding, and even more pleasing the numbers accepting our offers has been excellent. We’ve also been out on the road visiting universities and hosting a vast number of event; it’s been great to meet with huge numbers of keen and talented students and to see how engaged and interested they are in Norton Rose Fulbright.

CS: Tell us about the new graduate scheme the firm’s put in place.

DM: Earlier this year we launched a business and legal operations graduate scheme which essentially runs similarly to a training contract. We’re hiring people that really want to focus on the technology, operations and business side of the legal industry. They will have four six-month rotations in business solutions, innovation, commercial management, resource management, pricing, legal project management, giving them the option to select what they do – just like a legal training contract.

It’s born out of the focus of clients on technology and innovation and the need to deliver smarter and more efficient ways of working. This side of the business is as important as the more traditional law advisory aspects. Our hub in Newcastle is also growing from strength to strength and continually expanding in numbers. The innovation team is focused on finding new and better ways of working and developing the technology to help us with that and works with the paralegal team, which applies that technology and a process methodology to support the global business in delivering legal work. All of this gives added value in terms of the tools we bring to clients to help them in different ways beyond traditional routes. The launch of the new graduate scheme this year is a flagship moment for us. We were very excited to roll out the scheme!

CS: What is the firm’s relationship with innovation and tech like at the moment?

DM: AI and tech is coming at an ever-increasing pace, bringing in different ways of working. We’re making the most of AI and tech, developing our own products and working with partner organisations to enhance our offering.  Technology and AI is integrated throughout our global business, but we also have specific hubs around our network that are focused specifically on this aspect of the business. In England that is Newcastle, and we have also launched our London based graduate scheme for technologists. It’s an amazing time to be a trainee as this only enhances the trainee experience.

CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm?

DM: There’s much more regulatory work for banks and corporates who’ve got operations in the UK and across Europe. We’re helping them with strategy and scenario planning to help them be ready for the various potential eventualities around Brexit.

Deals of all shapes and sizes are still happening, both in M&A and in banking. In some sectors it remains slightly slower because of uncertainties about Brexit – but when you balance that off with the additional regulatory work around Brexit, it’s a busy time for us.

CS: What is the firm's business strategy going forward?

DM: Overall the strategy remains one of consolidating our position as one of the elite global law firms with a strong industry focus.  For now, we are looking at ways to further maximise the enormous opportunity that our platform offers – there are places that you simply can’t ignore, like India, China and Africa; each have their own nuances, and we are always keeping a close eye on what might be possible. We are also focused on keeping at the forefront of technological developments in the law – the use of innovative products, process management and technology will only continue to increase and we are determined to be leaders in that field. We are also determined to be leaders in advising our clients on risk issues; we have a global risk advisory practice which allows us to leverage our extensive industry experience and provide in-depth knowledge of legal and regulatory challenges that face our clients and their businesses.  

Norton Rose Fulbright

3 More London Riverside,

  • Partners: 1,100*
  • Assistant solicitors: 4,000*
  • Total trainees: 87
  • UK offices:Overseas offices: London, Newcastle Over 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa. *denotes worldwide figures
  • Contact:Graduate recruiter: [email protected] Training partners: Dan Metcalfe and Claire O’Donnell
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: Up to 45
  • Applications pa: 2,500+
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 40
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 12 January 2020 (finalist and graduates); 12 July 2020 (Penultimate law)
  • Winter vacation scheme 2019: 8 November 2019
  • Spring vacation scheme 2020: 12 January 2020
  • [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
  • Summer vacation scheme 2020: 31 January 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • 1st Year: £46,500
  • 2nd Year: £50,500
  • Post Qualification: £87,500
  • 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 4,000 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.

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 spend 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 for one week or two, we pack a lot into these schemes. You’ll do real work, for real clients. 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, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
    • 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: Purchaser (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 2)
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 3)
    • 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 2)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
    • 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: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
    • Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 4)
    • 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 3)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)