Trainees were happy to learn the ropes at this finance-focused US import with plenty of pro bono and female role models.
Ropes & Gray training contract review 2022
What do you want to be when you grow up? For most of us, the answer to that changes multiple times over the course of our lives. “Someone on my team released a single, some used to be dancers and a partner used to be an RAF pilot,” a trainee at Ropes & Gray told us, impressing upon us that this isn’t a stereotypical finance-focused firm of legal drones. Other sources were excited to see Ropes’ London office “constantly growing,” one saying they “saw that as an opportunity to exhibit personality beyond law and grow with the firm.” Five partners and a counsel had joined the team in the ten months prior to the time of writing. Three of those specialise in asset management – good news for the trainees we interviewed who “wanted to join a firm that had a private equity focus.”
“The firm is proud of having all-female teams."
Alongside a nationwide private equity buyouts ranking, Chambers UK recognises the firm in London for banking and finance, capital markets, financial crime and tax. One trainee felt the Ropes & Gray culture is also “very impressive, vibrant and dynamic,” describing their colleagues fondly as “a gregarious bunch.” Others celebrated the firm’s D&I credentials: Ropes is among the top firms for female and BAME partners in the UK according to our survey. “The firm is proud of having all-female teams," an insider declared. "I’ve been on a call with someone who was mansplaining, and the partner handled it really well.”
More experienced trainees get priority at seat allocation, but our interviewees got their first choice around 60% of the time. “HR asks everyone where they want to go for each rotation and if there’s a seat you really want, they’ll make a point of trying to give you it.” Pre-pandemic the firm offered a regular secondment to Hong Kong and it looks like this option will be restarting when circumstances allow. Trainees are likely to complete seats in private equity and finance.
"I think of it as if the deal’s a building site and I’m the one with the clipboard."
Private equity“is a great place to start because it’s such a large part of what we’re about.” The firm’s carved a niche in healthcare private equity, a big slice of the Ropes US pie. Closer to home, the firm advised Europe’s biggest healthcare investment fund GHO Capital in its $750 million acquisition of a majority stake in scientific communication company Envision Pharma. Trainees start off with more straightforward tasks like due diligence and ‘Know Your Client’ – preparing info packs for investors about their clients. Picture a private investigator’s report, but without the dodgy back-alley meetings. Drafting and transaction management come later in the seat: “Trainees need to know which stage each document is at. I think of it as if the deal’s a building site and I’m the one with the clipboard; partners often turn to me for where bits and bobs are in the deal, so I definitely felt like I added value.” Others coordinated in-person closings, “which was definitely an adrenaline rush!”
Projects in asset management “go on a lot longer than in private equity, where I’d finish one deal then move on to the next. It’s also more advisory than transactional.” This relatively new seat is divided into derivatives, regulatory and funds sub-sections. Trainees work across all three branches: “Each team does such different work, it’s like doing three different seats.” Ropes’ investment clients include massive names like UBS and Blackstone; Averna Capital recently called on R&G when forming a new asset management firm. Regulatory work offers chances for trainees to improve their research skills, investigating topics like anti-money laundering regulations then “applying them to clients’ situations. There’s a lot of legal learning involved because we have to understand complicated structures.” Funds is a small but busy group so “good work is passed down to trainees,” including drafting and attending commercial negotiations.
“There aren’t any due diligence tasks in this seat… well there are, but the US guys do it.”
A finance seat is a good place to hone transaction management skills, thanks to the mammoth conditions precedent checklists. “I was the one chasing clients and the other side,” a source said. Private equity firms are frequent clients here too, alongside telecoms titans – the team advised Virgin Media and O2 on a £5.7 billion-equivalent bond and loan secured financing on the eve of their combination. Trainees worked with their US colleagues pretty regularly, either on the same matter or by sorting out English elements of US transactions: “There aren’t any due diligence tasks in this seat… well there are, but the US guys do it.” How very kind of them.
Competition is known by the American term antitrust, and the team grapples with some of the biggest transactions in the US: “The exposure is interesting because the types of clients and the profile of their products are so broad,” according to interviewees. Healthcare firms and tech giants like Google are on the client list, and international is the name of the game in antitrust: Ropes recently obtained CMA clearance for UK-based Wright Medical’s $4 billion agreement to be acquired by US medical device manufacturer Stryker. Trainees are responsible for competitive assessments: “We have to find out what will and won’t be an issue if a client wants to buy a competitor.” According to one, antitrust “is completely different from other seats because of the high-level academic research into abstract issues.” That’s necessary to put together an assessment of jurisdictions and their merger control regimes – “partners call me for updates, it’s like being in a uni seminar. I loved it but it can be quite time-pressured.”
Ropes buys into the learning-on-the-job approach to training but runs structured sessions too. Our sources were happy with the balance and gave the firm top marks on the topic: “The standard of training is extremely high. All the way up to partner level, people are keen to help develop your skills.” Pro bono is a golden opportunity to do just that: “We get to do the work that associates ordinarily do on billable matters,” trainees explained. As at many US firms, pro bono is “absolutely huge” at Ropes and counts as billable for the associates and trainees; trainees had worked with the Family Law Clinic, Kids in Need of Defence and anti-corruption charity Transparency International. The firm has also partnered with the Home Office to help get compensation for Windrush victims.
US firms are also notorious for long hours, and Ropes definitely lives up to the stereotype: trainees had put in whopping 60-hour weeks, longer than even some American rivals. Sources cited the pandemic as one reason for longer days: “Now we’re working remotely, I get the sense the firm thinks we can just log back on if need be. When we were in the office nobody would email you once you’d gone home.” Others said there’s “now more flexibility to take breaks in the day. Across the City, there’s no such thing as free time when you’re offline.” The good news? Ropes is one of the highest-paying law firms in town, with NQs earning a tasty salary of £130,000.
“The people here are very high achievers whose standards are perfection.”
It might look like loose change next to that, but a £30 wellbeing allowance “which can be used for everything from candles to new gym leggings” is a nice added touch. The firm also runs weekly mindfulness and yoga sessions, but our sources felt more could be done to address mental health, especially during remote working. Those who’d started their training contract working from home were relieved to find “people made it clear they were available to chat, and we had regular catch-ups and socials. They’ve made sure the pre-Covid culture continues through remote working.” How would trainees describe their colleagues? “The people here are very high achievers whose standards are perfection,” one said. “People can be snappy if they’re stressed and you don’t send them the most accurate draft, but I never worry that someone will scream down the phone at me.”
Sources found their designated mentors supportive: “My supervisor video-calls me out of the blue asking if he can help,” one noted. The qualification process is “just about reaching out to partners in the group you want to qualify into. As long as there’s space, you’ll probably get a job.” Retaining all its 2020 qualifiers, Ropes then held on to all five qualifiersin 2021.
Ropes & Glory
The firm launched a joint London-Tokyo training contract for Japanese speakers in 2020. It involves completing a seat in Tokyo as a trainee, and then relocating to that office after a couple of years practising as a qualified solicitor in London.
Get hired at Ropes & Gray
The application process
Ropes & Gray hires exclusively through its vac scheme, receiving around 600 applications each year. Director of HR Beverley Sorsby tells us that the firm is impressed at this stage by work experience – and not just legal. This can be experience that candidates acquire “in any sector or industry, whether that is working in a shop, pub or other business.” The firm is looking for evidence of being “motivated, committed and having a good work ethic.” It's also on the lookout for communication and client-facing skills, and it openly welcomes second-career applicants. “We encourage candidates to think about which skills they have gained from each role and how they can effectively transfer or apply them to being a trainee solicitor,” Sorsby tells us. This includes things such as charity work, travelling, developing a hobby or getting involved with university extra-curriculars.
Applicants don't need a minimum level of experience, just “a passion for business.” If candidates are invited to an assessment centre, they’re asked to complete a Watson Glaser test beforehand. Ropes & Gray uses Rare Recruitment and employs a blind-selection process when looking at applications and marking assessments.
Five assessment days are run in March, with around 14 candidates in each. This consists of an interview, a written exercise, a negotiation exercise and an ‘elevator pitch’ scenario. “The scenarios are designed to assess key competencies like motivation and commercial awareness, as well as oral and written communication and negotiation and presentation skills,” Sorsby explains. Interviews are conducted with a partner and senior associate or HR representative: panelists know nothing about the candidate until they walk into the room. This “ensures consistency,” and promotes inclusion. “All candidates are asked a similar set of questions surrounding motivation and commercial awareness.” Sorsby advises candidates to think of a few interesting questions to ask panelists ahead of time.
Overall, Ropes & Gray are looking for “future lawyers in the making, so we’re impressed by candidates demonstrating a keen eye for detail, excellent written and oral communication, an entrepreneurial spirit and a real interest in the commercial world.”
The vacation scheme
A two-week long vacation scheme is run in both spring and summer, with around 10 students attending each. The students are paid a juicy £400 per week.
Vac schemers are assigned an associate supervisor to “support them and offer guidance through the scheme.” In order to get a feel for the culture of the firm, students “have the opportunity to network and socialise with partners, associates and trainees.” Before Covid-19, events such as drinks in and out of the office, bowling, ping-pong and crazy golf were put on. All of R&G’s trainees arrive via the vac scheme, and training contract decisions are based on candidates’ overall performance at the assessment day and on the vacation scheme.
Diversity in hiring
As well as using industry-standard diversity-based recruiting practices, Ropes & Gray tells us that “we believe recruiting from a diverse pool of applicants is not only simply the right thing to do, but also the best way to attract top talent.” Overall, “our trainees come from a variety of different backgrounds, universities and careers as we believe there is no typical trainee at Ropes & Gray.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 6)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)