Keeping its PH levels balanced through a growth phase, this finance-focused American outfit offers big City work to a small trainee intake.
Paul Hastings training contract review 2022
“I wanted to do the same kind of work as trainees at magic circle firms, but with the benefits of a smaller cohort,” one of our sources announced. Unrealistic? Perhaps not – US-headquartered Paul Hastings moved its London team into the top floors of the 100 Bishopsgate building in 2019, signalling intention to – literally – rub shoulders with the magic circle (specifically Freshfields). With comparable work on offer, it’s possible that the seven or so trainees hired by PH each year can have their cake and eat it too – but don’t bite off more than you can chew. “There are just too few people to be a passenger,” sources acknowledged. “They couldn’t afford to keep you working on bland trainee tasks.”
“You get the sense that you are going places, and that the firm is going places in London.”
Over the last five years, Paul Hastings’ headcount in London has doubled, and insiders told us the growth isn’t slowing: “We get emails every day which start with a list of new hires, and it’s a fairly regular occurrence that some hot-shot has been brought in from another firm.” Even in the global chaos of 2020, PH made high-profile lateral partner hires from Ashurst and Shearman & Sterling. With overall firm turnover growing a huge 16% that year, trainees felt like “you get the sense that you are going places, and that the firm is going places in London.” Showing no signs of stopping heading into 2021, the firm has continued its run of lateral hires from competitors like Proskauer Rose and White & Case.
Much like the City as a whole, the Paul Hastings operation in London revolves primarily around all things finance. The firm’s Chambers UK rankings span banking and finance, capital markets, real estate finance, restructuring and insolvency, and hotels and leisure; it’s built an impressive reputation working for clients like City Football Group, Barclays and McLaren. “I was drawn to the profile of the firm’s clients, and their finance team in particular is market-leading,” a trainee shared.
Trainees have no say over their first seat but get more influence over where they’re headed as the training contract goes on. Expect a finance-heavy experience; the majority of trainees also do a real estate seat, but it's not mandatory.As a general rule, responsibility levels for trainees depend on the size of the team: “In smaller groups you have more exposure, but in the larger departments there are usually a lot of associates in between you and greater responsibility liaising with clients.”
One of the largest divisions at Paul Hastings, corporate is “more like something you’d expect to find in an English firm,” one trainee reckoned. That means “a large number of partners and a more hierarchical approach to work allocation compared with other teams.” M&A, debt financing, corporate restructurings and venture capital can all be found here. Recently the firm advised Keysight in its $330 million acquisition of software testing and monitoring company Eggplant; and Monaco Telecom on its €250 million agreement for Vodafone Malta. Those that spent time with the team quickly learnt that “trainees are often parachuted in to deals with little to no context,” but suggested this need not be a disadvantage as it can mean a very varied seat. “The private equity side was particularly busy” in 2020 (true of the market as a whole), but one source reported on “a real diversity of work ranging from corporate governance to restructuring and joint ventures.”
“We reserve the right to grumble, but from a growth and development perspective the experience is second to none.”
Trainees described structured finance as “a small team, but with high-value work.” The firm advises global finance titans like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs in this area and has carved a strong reputation for work on RMBS transactions (securities that pay out based on interest from a pool of residential mortgages). Trainees can expect to spend their time working on deal-closing documents, which inevitably leads to later nights: “There are periods where logging off at 2am is a good result, but you are not left with mundane tasks” in structured finance. “We reserve the right to grumble, but from a growth and development perspective the experience is second to none.” You might also see groundbreaking deals – Paul Hastings recently advised Goldman on the €411 million refinancing of a CBO (collateralised bond obligation), the first ever of instance of this. Crossover with other teams is possible for trainees, and one told us that “if you want more responsibility – and you are trusted with it – you can always go out and get it.”
Lenders and borrowers alike seek advice from the real estate finance group at Paul Hastings – commercial mortgage-backed securities, structured financings and joint ventures are some of the deal types flowing through here. “Most of the deals I worked on were just me and my supervisor, which meant long hours and significant responsibility,” according to one source. The firm advises large banks, developers and pension funds. Deals tend to be valued in eight figures – PH recently advised real estate financier Fairfield as the borrower on an £80 million refinancing of a loan-on-loan facility from J.P. Morgan.
"You are entrusted to find answers and solve your own problems."
Still hungry for more finance? Credit funds is a growing area at the firm spanning tax restructuring, CLOs (collateralised loan obligations) and more besides. London-based loan agency Mount Street is one big client, recently taking advice from Paul Hastings on a £750 million CMBS (commercial mortgage-backed security) linked to Westfield Stratford City. Trainees began the seat “working on first cuts and side letters, and speaking to clients about amendments,” and found their responsibility grew nicely over six months, especially when it came to client contact.
At a senior level, the Paul Hastings London operation is built largely from lateral hires rather than partners born and bred at the firm. Our sources told us this makes for a culture of drive and entrepreneurship, but one that can be a shock to the system. “The classic big English firms take on a large cohort and train them,” a trainee explained. “At Paul Hastings, you are entrusted to find answers and solve your own problems,” with the emphasis very much on learning by experience rather than through formalised training. We also heard that certain elements are “very much governed by the US overlords” – it’s common for American outfits in London to need sign off on budget and other aspects of firm life.
It would be remiss to say there’s no formal training at all, and trainees told us that in larger seats especially there are plenty of resources to get you up to speed. “The corporate team does offer training, and there is the option to sit in on this, but the team is unusual in this respect,” we heard. The extent to which trainees’ supervisors were available for advice and guidance was again seat-dependent, but some said that Paul Hastings does well to match trainees with good role models: “It’s no coincidence that the associates who become supervisors are generally those willing to proactively help and mentor their trainees.”
“It takes a particular kind of person to stay here for the long haul.”
Whether they’re rich in feedback or not, junior lawyers certainly aren’t lacking for compensation – the £50,000 first-year trainee pay packet and £141,750 NQ salary are among the highest in the City. High-paying firms typically have high hours demands and Paul Hastings is no exception. Trainees found this was especially true during the Covid-19 pandemic: “People don’t see you get up and leave the office, and so your availability is more or less constantly assumed.” Our survey respondents averaged 59 hours in the past week, among the highest in the market.
“It takes a particular kind of person to stay here for the long haul,” interviewees concluded. For those who want to, the first step is the qualification process. Trainees declare an interest in a chosen practice area to qualify into, and HR in the UK seeks final hiring approval from the States before making offers. The process is “very market-driven, so if the demand isn’t there in particular practice areas, opportunities will be few and far between,” sources warned. Paul Hastings retained fiveof sevenqualifiers in 2021.
You’ll die laughing
During remote working, Paul Hastings has conducted virtual socials including a murder mystery event and comedy night. “Obviously they're not as good as socials in real life, but I appreciated that they have still made the effort to organise things,” a trainee source noted.
How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
Opening dates for training contract applications (2024): 1 November 2021
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 July 2022
Vac scheme deadline: 28 February 2021
The firm doesn't run a formal vacation scheme, but it does offer up to 12 work placements each year, usually in late spring and early summer. These last one week each and are unpaid. Interested candidates should apply directly to Yvette Croucher, Talent Management, with a CV and cover letter.
Croucher informs us that she's more inclined to offer placements to those who might not otherwise get a chance to gain experience in a City practice and support the firm’s desire to attract diverse applicants. Put it this way: if you've already completed six vacation schemes with City firms, it's unlikely you'll land an offer.
Paul Hastings receives over 400 applications each year for its training contracts. Croucher tells us that the quality of applicants has “dramatically improved” in recent years, making the process of selecting a shortlist (of around 25) a difficult one.
Trainee hopefuls need a consistently impressive set of A-levels and GCSEs, and a good 2:1 degree. Yvette Croucher tells us the firm is on the lookout for those A and A* grades, and also reveals that many applicants have postgraduate qualifications like LLMs or other Master's degrees. But the firm takes a holistic approach to hiring and will look at candidates in the round and so encourages candidates to apply if they have not obtained the top grades. When it comes to work experience, the firm “likes to see a variety, not just law firm schemes,” she says. “Some of our applicants have legal experience – if they've worked as a paralegal, that's particularly good – whereas others have broader City or corporate experience, which also makes them more appealing.”
The application form is divided into four sections: academics, work experience, hobbies and interests, and finally a group of open-ended questions like, 'Why do you want to be a City lawyer?' and 'What can you offer Paul Hastings?'
Croucher had 15 years' experience as a practising lawyer before moving into talent management, “and I bring that to bear when I'm recommending candidates to put through to the interview stage,” she says. “Once someone's satisfied with the academic criteria, it really comes down to getting a feel for the candidate, their character and personality. We're seeking people who are well rounded, resilient, ambitious and confident.”
Approximately 25 applicants make it through to the first interview, which usually takes place with Croucher and training principal Matthew Poxon, or with two other partners. “The interview is quite informal and relaxed; we are keen to hear the applicants speak honestly about their personal experiences. The first interview is their opportunity to sell themselves, help us to get to know them and demonstrate their commercial awareness,” says Matthew Poxon.
Around 14 are invited back for a second interview, which lasts for a whole morning or afternoon. This takes place with two partners and is, according to Croucher, “very fluid – we have questions that we ask across the interviews in order to be consistent, but overall it's free-flowing and reactive to the candidate's responses.” The interview is accompanied by a written assessment that involves reading and analysing a legal document. This tests a candidate's ability to digest information in a short period of time, understand it and summarise it succinctly.
Performing particularly well on one part of the interview process doesn't seal a candidate's success. As Croucher stresses: “It's about overall performance and demonstrating that you have the qualities needed to thrive in a US practice.”
Among these qualities are maturity, sound judgement, drive and commercial acumen.. Candidates must also be confident and personable. “It's a small office, and we often end up working across practice groups, so you have to be able to get along with people,” Croucher says. “Personality is key, as is the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment where the expectations of our lawyers and the service we deliver to our clients are high.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)