Move over HP, trainees are feasting on PH sauce: brewed in California and on the rise in London, it’s seasoned with juicy finance work and an “entrepreneurial” tang.
“I was looking for a US firm with a smaller trainee intake,”one of our interviewees began. A solid start to a law firm dating profile; so why did they end up swiping right for Paul Hastings? “You get high-level work from the start here,”they suggested. “I wanted to hit the ground running.”Born in California, PH has expanded its empire to 22 offices worldwide; the London base is squarely focused on all things finance. This clear vision for the practice was also appealing for trainees; the firm’s Chambers UKrankings in capital markets, real estate finance, restructuring, and hotels and leisure law sweetened the deal.
Following several years of expansion and lateral hires from the likes of DLA Piper, Cooley, Hogan Lovells and Baker McKenzie, the Paul Hastings London crew outgrew its previous two-building office space. In 2019 the team relocated to 100 Bishopsgate, filling the 36th and 37th floor.Interviewees were chuffed to bits about the move: “It has greatly improved our culture, we’re all now physically one team,” they reasoned. “Now we’re all in the same office, the socials are much better attended, and we truly work and operate as one.”
“I got to run with the transaction. I was instructing local counsel and I was on calls to the client every night.”
With just over 100 lawyers in the London digs, Paul Hastings recruits fewer than ten trainees each year. The firm directly allocates first seaters into a department; trainees get more say over where they’re going next the longer they’ve been with the firm. Sources picked up on an unwritten rule that trainees should do a corporate and a real estate seat; because Paul Hastings is so finance-focused, many end up doing a short litigation course to fulfil SRA requirements. Split seats and client secondments were also not unheard of, but “the lack of an international seat was a little disappointing to some.”Despite the quite small intake, there can be some competition between trainees for popular seats, especially following the firm’s expanded London presence. “Build a relationship with the partner in the team you want to join, and they will then push for you,”insiders advised.
Paul Hastings’ leveraged finance practice advises on bank and bond financing transactions for lenders, sponsors and borrowers. With the likes of NatWest, Barclays and Goldman Sachs filling up its client list, the firm helps move some big money: PH advised those banks and more in arranging a $3 billion financing package for British market research business Kantar. Working on loan deals, trainee sources waxed lyrical over the level of responsibility they received because of the firm’s lean staffing model. “I got to run with the transaction. I was instructing local counsel and I was on calls to the client every night,”one source said. Other common trainee tasks in this seat include managing the conditions precedent process and drafting ancillary documents, creditor agreements and notice letters.
The real estate finance seat also includes some fund finance work. This department dedicates their efforts to corporate, finance and tax for real estate, regularly advising on both sell and buy-side joint ventures. For trainees, that meant mostly working on CMBS (commercial mortgage-backed securities): “They’re large-scale real estate loan agreements – to purchase a skyscraper, for example.” Paul Hastings recently advised Deutsche Bank on a £142.5 million CMBS for a loan backed by the Intu Shopping Centre in Derby. Trainees who dipped into the fund finance side tackled financings for hedge funds: “The client was lending to a big fund in Ireland and there were 12 borrowers within the structure. I had to make sure everyone signed the documents, it was pretty intense.”PH’s big name clients include AIG and JP Morgan. Trainees here also handled conditions precedent, amended facility agreements and drafted non-disclosure agreements.
“There were a few late nights, but it was all good fun.”
As well as CMBS, structured financelawyers at Paul Hastings specialise in RMBS (residential mortgage-backed securities) transactions, fund-linked products and collateralised loan obligations (CLOs, which get their own seat). The practice involves big finance clients once again: PH advised Citigroup as the arranger and placer on a €478 million CLO. Trainees in the structured finance seat were mostly busy with RMBS deals. Hectic closings come with long hours, but big responsibility too: “There were a few late nights, but it was all good fun. My role was to finalise about 100 legal documents with all the parties involved; I then spoke to accountants to get the cashflow sorted and money transferred to the lenders.”Uncle Ben would be proud.
That’s not all for capital markets – trainees can also do a credit fundsseat including tax and CLOs. This is “one of the busiest seats”as it’s a fast-growing area at Paul Hastings. The firm advised Fairfield Real Estate Finance on all its loan-on-loan (LOL, funnily enough) facilities totalling £100 million. Credit funds deals are often private, but the clients tend to be the same large financial organisations that crop up time and again. Trainee responsibilities are similar too – those we spoke to spent their days drafting procurement policy note (PPN) documents and most-favoured-nation (MFN) agreements, and managing conditions precedent. “I’m constantly on the phone to clients,”a source boasted. “It’s a small team so you get to do lots of drafting, and the team is happy to give you responsibility once you’ve built some experience.”
“We get a lot of responsibility to run deals,”interviewees agreed. “It can be both stressful and challenging. We get to work on high-profile matters which means we naturally have more work.”With more work comes more takeaway-fuelled late nights: 8pm finishes meant “a good day,” but our sources were still in the office at 10pm, midnight and even 3am when matters reach their peak. “It is quite gruelling at times, and during some seats I took a taxi home every day,”an especially tired trainee reported. “I worked back-to-back 2ams for a couple of weeks.”Busy periods come and go, and like its fellow American titans, Paul Hastings compensates its hard-working team very well indeed. An impressive £133,000NQ salary will pay for as many Ubers home as you could need.
A modern glass office gave PH trainees the chance to take collegiality to the next level: “The other day I was waving to my colleague through my office window while he was out for dinner.”There’s also a heavily-discounted gym downstairs and “amazing meeting rooms”to charm clients in. Paul Hastings doesn’t run many formal socials, leading to one unforgettable complaint: “We don’t have big balls like they do at other firms.”Make of that what you will. When they had evenings to spare, trainees also enjoyed a casual drink every so often.
“I called the associate on the deal while they were on holiday... I woke them up, but they were more than happy to help.”
Matthew Poxon took on the role of training principal in March 2020, and strengthening care and support for trainees has been at the forefront of his priorities. Interviewees were full of compliments for supervisors: “My last partner was really supportive, especially for junior female lawyers and trainees,”one said. “I had a query of how to react to a situation at work; she instantly gave me a call and talked me through it.”Associates also had trainees’ backs, sometimes a bit too enthusiastically… “I called the associate on the deal while they were on holiday,”a source recalled in guilty tones. “I woke them up, but they were more than happy to help!”We’re sure they were.
With the Los Angeles HQ calling the shots on a global scale, some trainees felt London can be left out of the loop on firm-wide decisions. That’s an issue come qualification time, as HR in the UK seeks final hiring approval from the States before making offers. Before then, trainees declare an interest in a chosen practice area to qualify into, but many weren’t sure when they’d get the good news (or not). “Some intakes are approached early on in their fourth seat; others have found out they are qualifying one or two months beforehand,”we heard. Paul Hastings did not wish to disclose its retention figure in 2020.
Yin to my Yang
The firm recently launched the PH Balanced initiative, a platform that provides support on the topic of work-life balance. The group hosts discussions and programmes addressing mindfulness, mental health and stress management.
How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
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.”
Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP
- Vacancies: 7/8
- Partners: 30
- Associates: 71
- Total trainees: 14
- UK offices: 1
- Overseas offices: 22
- Graduate recruiter: Yvette Croucher, [email protected]
- Training partner: Matthew Poxon [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7-8
- Minimum required degree grade: minimum 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023: 31st July 2021
- Apply – online: www.paulhastings. com/office/london/trainingcontracts
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £133,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 day
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000 per course
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Potential
With lawyers serving clients from 22 worldwide offices, we provide a wide range of services across Europe, Asia and the US. Who we are We are client-focused professionals with a commercial mindset and a collaborative approach to delivering value in everything we do. We combine business acumen, industry knowledge and deep legal expertise. We think and act creatively and proactively to meet the needs of our clients. As well as being client-centric, we are people-centric. We value each individual and their unique perspective. Paul Hastings is not for the hierarchical or the entitled but for the inclusive, creative and entrepreneurial. We hire smart people from diverse backgrounds who are the right fit for our collegial, client-centric and future-focused culture.
Main areas of work
Our London office focuses on corporate M&A, private equity, leveraged finance and private/credit funds. There are also opportunities to gain experience in other practice specialisms, including real estate finance, securitisation, corporate and structured finance, tax, payment systems, financial services and regulation, fintech, data privacy, employment, litigation and corporate crime.
What we do
We advise clients on matters that are of the highest value to them. We help them maximise opportunities, create and protect value, and nimbly manage risk in a dynamic, uncertain marketplace. We always play to our strengths. We don’t offer ‘products’ or ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions. Each client is unique and each challenge demands a tailored approach. We can deliver creative solutions because we are leaders in our chosen practices and industry sectors.
How we do it
We pride ourselves on the strong relationship we develop with our clients. We invest time in understanding their businesses and what it takes to make them even more successful. We encourage and reward entrepreneurial flair, original thought and new ideas. Our people have the confidence, experience and expertise to question and to continually sharpen our thinking and the solutions we offer our clients. We empower our people to deliver those solutions and because of this, our teams can move mountains to provide exceptional client service.
We offer an extensive and instructive training programme for our trainees, spending six months in four practice areas with opportunities for a client secondments.
We offer informal work placements over the summer months and applications should be made in January.
Standard benefits to include private medical, pension, life insurance, employee assistance programme and active wellbeing plan (monthly allowance for gym/wellbeing activities).
Open days and first-year opportunities
Spring 2021 and open to second/third year undergraduates. Apply from January 2021.
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Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
At Paul Hastings, we are committed to acting with integrity, valuing knowledge, and embracing diversity. We have a strong global diversity and inclusion program that focuses on recruiting, retention and development, addresses our brand and upholds our commitment to improving wellbeing of our attorneys and staff.
We are committed to the professional development and career aspirations of our people. We hire great people and provide development programs to help associates reach their goals, whether a path to partnership, in-house with a client, or other organisations. Our goal is to foster an inclusive work environment where diverse perspectives and ideas are not only embraced, but are considered critical to creating innovative solutions for our clients.
Recent initiatives in the London office include hosting a Wellness week in January to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace; the introduction of our Active Wellbeing Plan benefit (offering a contribution towards employee’s choice of ongoing sport, fitness, health, and wellbeing costs); equalising and enhancing our parental leave benefit, which is now available to both birthing and non-birthing parents; and partnering with SupportLinc to offer a global Employee Assistance Program, offering practical information and counselling to all PH employees, partners, and their families.
Paul Hastings is also a proud signatory of the Mindful Business Charter, which is a set of best practices to reduce avoidable stress. The firm actively encourages all Partners and employees to keep these commitments in mind in order to promote a healthy work environment, allowing employees to perform at their best and deliver optimum client service.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- 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)