In London, Californian king Paul Hastings blends an “English law firm feel” with “American optimism and entrepreneurialism.”
US firms have not only been surviving in the City, in recent years they’ve been thriving, and California native Paul Hastings is no exception. “The overall strategy in London is to replicate the considerable success the firm has had in the US in the UK,” explains training principal Arun Srivastava. “The office is growing; the firm appreciates that we need to have a substantive footprint in London.” Paul Hastings has been putting its money where its mouth is in the past couple of years and has made a spate of lateral hires (one of them being Srivastava himself) from competitors such as DLA Piper, Cooley, Hogan Lovells and Baker McKenzie. In doing so, London’s revenue in 2018 grew an impressive 14%, continuing the office’s growth from the previous year.
“Finance-heavy areas of law.”
Despite the evident push for growth, trainees were attracted to “the fairly small intake” that means “not being one of 100 trainees.” Sources elaborated: “At smaller UK firms, there's usually a lesser level of work, but at American firms you’re working opposite magic circle firms, but within smaller teams.” Many seek out US firms for this reason, but trainees also hastened to the firm for its “transactional focus” and “finance-heavy areas of law.” The firm wins pretty much all its Chambers UK rankings in high-finance areas, being recognised for high-yield debt, securitisation, real estate finance, payments law and hotels/leisure work.
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Seat allocation is “really informal” at Paul Hastings: “You go in for a chat with HR and normally give them one to five preferences.” Fourth-seaters get priority, while first-seaters are usually just allocated their seat without a say. While we heard that “the only difficulty is that there’s no definitive list of all the seats available,” most sources appreciated “the opportunity to speak to HR one-to-one so they can see the reasons for your choices – you know your concerns and ambitions are being taken into consideration.” Although there are seats with contentious elements, most trainees end up doing a short litigation course to fulfil all SRA requirements.
The corporate team covers private M&A, public M&A, private equity M&A and some venture capital work. The team recently advised portfolio company Saba Software on its acquisition of HR software company Lumesse, and represented Monaco Telecom during its €260 million acquisition of Cypriot mobile operator MTN Cyprus, acting opposite Freshfields. The trainee role often includes handling research, due diligence and ancillary documents, plus any corporate governance work that crops up like “appointing and removing directors.” Some had also taken “cracks at shareholder agreements or share purchase agreements,” but this was relatively uncommon. Generally sources reckoned that “there’s a mix between some grunt work and higher responsibility tasks.”
“A mix between some grunt work and higher responsibility tasks.”
Corporate real estate was described as “an M&A seat, but for real estate assets.” The team recently represented US investment firm Starwood Capital on its disposal of 12 hotels with a purchase price of $1.1 billion, and represented UK investment manager LRC in its acquisition of nine Mercure hotels across the UK for £118 million. “Trainees get the chance to work on the core documents, not just preparing checklists and bibles,” one source revealed of this seat. Checklists and board minutes are still part of the ride, but trainees also get “a lot of drafting experience on share purchase agreements, initial agreements and engagement letters.” Interviewees were pleased with this responsibility. “I'm doing more than just observing,” one said. “I've had the chance to learn so much.”
Over in real estate finance, trainees found the firm is “typically acting for lenders as opposed to borrowers.” Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are all clients. The work essentially revolves around organising loans to various developers or others who want to buy property assets “like care homes, shopping centres or hotels.” The team also deals with “the refinancing of hospitals and property restructurings – working alongside our restructuring team.” The team recently advised German property lender Aareal Bank on £149 million of financing to help two investment firms buy Cannon Bridge House in the City. The team also counselled Bank of America Merrill Lynch on an $87 million loan for a French real estate fund to buy a number of portfolios of commercial properties in France. “It’s quite a small team so you really progress over six months,” we heard – there are around 15 lawyers in the department. “You start with ancillary documents and the conditions precedent checklist, but as you move through the seat you start looking at bigger documents.” One interviewee had “drafted a facility agreement from scratch on one deal.”
The London restructuring practice has grown in recent years and handles both contentious and non-contentious matters. The team advised New Look and its South African owner Brait on the creditors' voluntary arrangement for all its occupational leases, and advised Indian mobile company Reliance Communications on its restructuring of a $300 million bond issue. “I was involved in one scheme of arrangement and one administration proceeding while I was in the seat,” a source recalled. A lot of the time trainees are “drafting documents to proceed with a restructuring” or conducting “research on new banking regulations.”
“Quite a lot of the work involves reviewing documents and inputting comments.”
Trainees can do two capital markets seats: structured products and derivatives or tax, CLOs and credit funds. Trainees reported work on “bespoke fund structures” as well as commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) – these complex financial instruments are among those which caused the 2008 financial crash, so it pays for lawyers to be on their toes. The firm represented Citi, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo as arrangers of the first ever euro CLO for New York's Goldentree Asset Management. The team also advised debt and equity investor Alcentra on the formation of an innovative new $500 million EU and US fund which provides the company with money for a rainy day if anything goes wrong with its CLOs. For trainees “quite a lot of the work involves reviewing documents and inputting comments.” Some also mentioned “managing the execution of documents,” while others had researched and written articles on various regulations for complicated financial instruments like packaged retail investment and insurance-based products (PRIIPs).
Together at last
At the time of research, Paul Hastings’ London presence was split across two buildings. “One office is in the same building as Allen & Overy, and the other is in the same building as Mayer Brown,” we heard – both are in close proximity to Spitalfields Market. “As a trainee you usually do at least one seat in each building,” sources said. Some felt that “it does affect the culture as it feels almost like two firms,” but others didn’t notice the divide so much: “When we do drinks, people from the other building come over.” Not that it will matter for long, as the firm is set to move into brand-new premises at 100 Bishopsgate in October 2019 to “bring everyone together.”
“Everyone is happy to help and supportive of one another’s learning.”
Regardless of which building they were in, sources noticed that “everyone is happy to help and supportive of one another’s learning.” Interviewees found it helped being in a smaller office because “you know everyone – people don't feel intimidating when you’ve worked on the same corridor as them!” Of course, niceties aside, “you’re expected to work hard, and the hours can be pretty gruelling sometimes.” Working hours can ebb and flow depending on what’s on: “If a deal closes, it will be quiet after that and people can leave at half five. You take advantage of that until the work picks up again.” At the other end of the spectrum, some of our interviewees were “consistently working until midnight or 1am for about three months.”
Qualification is “much like the seat allocation process – very informal.” Second-years usually speak to the teams they’re interested in to gauge whether they're hiring, then have a chat with HR. HR then “works out where there’s business need” and goes to the US for final hiring approval, before getting back to trainees a couple of weeks later. In 2019, the firm kept on three out of four qualifiers.
Despite its network of international offices, Paul Hastings does not currently offer overseas seats, but it does offer occasional client secondments.
How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
The recruitment team at Paul Hastings attend six law fairs each year: Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Kings, Exeter and LSE are usually on the list.
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 a 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. Put it this way: if you've already completed six vac schemes with City firms, it's unlikely you'll land an offer.
Paul Hastings receives up to 250 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 20) 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. When it comes to work experience, the firm “likes to see a variety, not just law firm vac 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 has 15 years' worth of experience as a practising lawyer, “and I bring that to bear when I'm recommending candidates to put through to the interview stage,” she says. “Once someone's satisfied the academic criteria, it really comes down to getting a feel for the candidate. We're seeking people who are well rounded, resilient and mature. I know which characters and personalities will fit in well here.”
Approximately 20 applicants make it through to the first interview, which takes place with Croucher and training principal Arun Srivastava. “It's very informal and an opportunity for us to find out more about their background – how they think and why they are interested in our firm,” Croucher reveals. “We help them relax so they can speak honestly about their experiences.”
Around 12 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 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, resilience and ambition. 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 are high.”
Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP
Ten Bishops Square,
- Vacancies: 7/8
- Partners 30
- Associates 71
- Total trainees 15
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices 22
- Graduate recruiter: Yvette Croucher, [email protected]
- Training partner: Arun Srivastava; aru[email protected] com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7 - 8
- Minimum required degree grade minimum: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 July 2020
- 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: £10,000
- GDL fees: £10,000
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Potential
Who we are
We are client-focused professionals with a commercial mindset and a collaborative approach to delivering value in everything we do. We work with the organisations who get the most value from our high quality, premium advice. 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. It is 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
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 offer an extensive and instructive training programme for our trainees, spending six months in four practice areas including the opportunity for a secondment to a client.
We offer informal work placements over the summer months and applications should be made by the beginning of January.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)