It's all go all the time for trainees at Californian export Paul Hastings, whose petite London offering has a focus on finance.
In, out, shake it all about
Paul Hastings is best known in London for its high finance and capital markets expertise, and it is by Chambers UK for capital markets, real estate finance, investment funds, financial services, and hotels and leisure. The London operation has grown in recent years but remains fairly small with a trainee cohort of around a dozen. “Paul Hastings has just the right number of people on the ground here,” interviewees felt. “We're not a satellite but we're not too big either. What's great is we work with America all the time.” Training principal Arun Birla tells us: “Trainees get involved in cutting-edge deals on a global basis.”
“The firm seems to be pushing forward in London.”
As well as being compact, the London team is pretty fluid, as trainees said: “There are new faces here all the time,” and noted “a decent amount of turnover.” Paul Hastings lost its payment law team to Allen & Overy in 2018, killing off a seat that's previously been popular with trainees. But there have also been new arrivals: lateral partners joined from Linklaters, DLA Piper and Cooley in May 2018, and in June a new financial regulation hire from Baker McKenzie helped fill the payment law void. To make room for the new arrivals Paul Hastings is upping sticks to new City premises in 2019. Everybody we spoke to was pleased “the firm seems to be pushing forward in London, which is nice to see given Brexit.”
With only a few trainees to shuffle around, seat allocation is “really relaxed, and there are no forms to fill in. It's based on an informal chat with HR about your preferences.” There's an unwritten rule that trainees should do a real estate seat, but this could mean a stint in corporate real estate, real estate finance or structured real estate. Some desired “more transparency” given there's no official list of what's on offer, but trainees generally appreciated that “as you progress you learn what you're good at and factor that into your preferences.” Qualification is a similarly easy-peasy process, with fourth-seaters chatting to HR about where they'd like to end up. Many had “already approached partners in the department I wanted to join beforehand. That is acceptable.” Again we heard grumbles about opaqueness and some confusion that “there might not be places in the departments we'd spoken to privately.” In the end, four of six NQs stayed on.
Yo' place in the sun
The M&A and private equity deals lawyers in London work on range in value from a few tens of millions to several hundred million. They are typically cross-border and many involve the US. A trainee told us: “There's some public M&A but it's mainly private. There's no real industry focus, and we work on all different kinds of deals.” Lawyers recently acted for Madison Energy, the energy subsidiary of Chicago holding company Madison Industries, during its acquisition of Devon-based engineering company Centek. Other clients range from engineering firm Jacobs to debt purchase group Cabot, which the firm represented in three UK acquisitions in three years. Trainees in corporate do “lots of due diligence highlighting the key issues for the purchaser” before running through ancillary documents and completion conditions. Once the deal's done, it'll be them filing Companies House updates.
“I was liaising with Paul Hastings' overseas teams constantly.”
The corporate real estate team also works on M&A, but the assets involved are properties. Hotels are Paul Hastings' speciality – the firm advises owners, operators and funders. The firm has advised US investment firm Starwood Capital on a number of hotel deals recently: the acquisition of a 30% stake in hotel chain Yotel; the €230 million sale of four beachfront hotels in Spain; and the acquisition of a Holiday Inn in Manchester. “Deals are super hectic and demanding,” according to our interviewees, even more so than in the regular corporate team. “One particular matter involved a lot of cross-border work,” another source added. “It spanned Germany, France and the Netherlands. I was liaising with Paul Hastings' overseas teams constantly.” Trainees are also “involved heavily in the due diligence process” of these larger deals and handle some of their own smaller property deals with values in the £10 to £15 million range. On such projects “you're much more involved, as you're dealing with disclosure letters and the share purchase agreement.”
We heard that in the real estate finance department “deals have short time spans, so during your seat you'll see four or five from start to finish. It's repetitive so you learn really quickly.” The team works on loans for entities buying up property portfolios, such as Morgan Stanley's £250 million financing facility for Blackstone's European commercial real estate debt fund. The deal was a nifty piece of legal-financial wizardry as it used New York law to govern a transaction to finance loans, organised under English law, to borrowers in Europe; all to mitigate US bankruptcy law issues. Responsibility levels for trainees tend to “grow over time. By the end of your seat you're getting your teeth in the main documents.” Usual trainee tasks include drafting ancillary documents, reviewing certificates of title, and taking charge of the conditions precedent checklist. “If you're working on the lender side of the deal you're responsible for chasing up that checklist, while on the buyer side you're negotiating and drafting,” an insider explained.
PRIParation is key
At Paul Hastings, structured products sadly doesn't mean LEGO – it means the wonderful world of securities and derivatives. The work might include “a finance deal connected to a project in France and Italy” or “an energy finance project.” The firm has recently handled various matters for the Kensington Mortgage Company (which is owned by TPG and Blackstone) including a £630 million residential mortgage-backed security. Financial arrangements like this have very complex structures, so understandably there's plenty of “more advisory” work and “research into very niche areas of law.” Plus you'll need to memorise a fair few acronyms: there are packaged retail investment products (PRIPs), commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBSs) and collateralised loan obligations (CLOs). These are all different types of loans or packages of loans which can be sold on. “You have to get to grips with quite complicated products,” reflected one trainee, “and there's a lot of late-night work with short deadlines.”
Clients in the world of finance are demanding and the work is very complicated, so trainees' hours are looooooong. “Right now things are a bit quieter so I'm leaving at 7pm to 9pm,” reported one trainee without batting an eyelid, before adding: “When there's more to do I'll stay later.” Corporate and corporate real estate are seats where the hours are “very intense.” One beleaguered source realised when talking to us: “I could count the number of times I've left before 10pm on one hand.” With these hardcore hours comes a hardcore pay cheque and a six-figure NQ salary. “It's generous so we can't be too grumpy,” said one trainee.
Another thing trainees observed is that – in line with many US firms in London – when it comes to formal training “there isn't much.” Trainees said this suited them: “It works for me as I'd much rather just be getting on with it.” It probably helps that “the teams are very close-knit” and their small size means it's easy to get to know people. Sources suggested “size definitely matters” in helping everyone get along: “Turning up to the Christmas party you won't be looking around for somebody you know.”
Smaller firms do have their drawbacks on their social side as “if a few people can't make it to an event you really feel it.” Paul Hastings does lay on things like a summer barbecue, Friday drinks trolleys, and trainee socials which future recruits are invited to as well. “We'll often have one drink at the firm on Friday evening then all go out for beers,” one source told us. Our interviewees were also keen to stress how supportive trainees are of one another when the going gets tough.
“If someone asked me 'should I join Paul Hastings?', I'd say only if you want to grab the opportunity by the balls and go for it.”
How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
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 Birla. “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.”
Interview with training principal Arun Birla and talent acquisition & development manager Yvette Croucher
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?
Arun Birla: We had a record-breaking year here in London and have made some amazing hires from Cooley, Baker McKenzie, White and Case and Linklaters across technology transactions, regulatory, private equity, investigations, M&A and restructuring. It's been a case of building on our previous growth.
CS: Last year we heard the firm was looking to become increasingly global. How has that progressed?
AB: We've always been global in our outlook; I work with colleagues overseas virtually every day. Synergising our strengths in the US with London is nothing new, and we've seen amazing results from our strategic way of working.
CS: As the firm grows, what additional opportunities will there be for trainees?
AB: Our international footprint is key to that. Trainees get involved in cutting-edge deals on a global basis and we've never been shy about giving them high responsibility. If they're willing to do something, we'll let them get on with it under supervision.
Yvette Croucher: Trainees take a lot of responsibility for their own training, and we encourage them to build their own skill sets as much as possible. They have some say in the seats they move into, and while there are no international seats we think the work they're doing in London is global in nature.
AB: We're also moving into a larger new office space, in a landmark building where we'll take up at least two floors. The plan is to leave space for us to grow to perhaps twice the size we're at now, which is very exciting.
CS: What approach does the firm take to supervision? Are supervisors encouraged to be hands on/hands off?
YC: It's very much hands on, we choose supervisors carefully to ensure they're interested in developing trainees' careers. They also get training at the outset. Trainees can use their supervisors as sounding boards and as gatekeepers – supervisors are actively encouraged to help trainees prioritise their workloads.
CS: The high profile work the firm does can mean late nights. What mechanisms are there for trainees to deal with the stress that comes with that?
YC: Trainees tend to have a very open relationship with their supervisor and are encouraged to ask them for help if needed. I personally oversee the training programme and I meet the trainees once a month to talk through any issues they might have. My door is always open. It's a very small and intimate working environment here so trainee cohorts are always very close.
AB: During Mental Health Awareness Week we had mindfulness training programmes, and all the time we're aware of the need to ensure our attorneys are happy and feel supported.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
YC: So far the discussion surrounding it has been quite loose, and we'll have to think about things in more detail once we know more. Realistically I think any changes will affect trainees from around 2021 onward. Nothing will dramatically change our hiring policy, though we will have to think about the training process in new ways. We'll be able to react nimbly when change does come; for now it's business as usual.
CS: Above all, what makes a Paul Hastings training contract distinctive to those offered by other firms?
AB: The trainees here tend not to be your run of the mill law students – we look for that extra bit of maturity and life experience.
YC: We treat trainees as grown ups from day one – it's all about them rising to new challenges, and not being wrapped up in cotton wool. Everybody here is ambitious and we provide the support structure to help them get where they want to go. We're all very like-minded individuals who are unafraid to learn on the job and get on with it, and that approach comes with fantastic trainee work experience and levels of responsibility.
AB: We genuinely believe that we provide the best trainee development globally. Our Business Development Academy is an innovative way to help trainees think about developing business early on, and demonstrates they're an integral part of our business model.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?
YC: We’re obviously not one of the larger firms in the UK, but watch this space. New people are coming here in droves and we're now reaching the level we want to be at to make an impact.
Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP
Ten Bishops Square,
- Partners 27
- Associates 55
- Total trainees 12-14
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices 21
- Graduate recruiter: Yvette Croucher, yvettecroucher[email protected]
- Training partner: Arun Birla, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6 - 8
- Minimum required degree grade minimum: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £129,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 day
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Potential
Main areas of work
Facebook:Paul Hastings LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 1)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 4)