This “lean, mean private equity machine” and finance fiend is celebrating ten years in London.
It may feel as though several centuries have passed since 2010, but it was a mere decade ago that Ropes & Gray set up shop in little old London. “It still feels new, dynamic and exciting,” said trainees, but “we’ve now established our foundations in the market.” Finance and funds are key strands of work, but trainees singled out private equity as the office’s “central core,” with one declaring: “We’re a lean, mean private equity machine!” Private equity is a major focus for Ropes & Gray worldwide (the firm is highly ranked in Chambers Global), so a word of advice: “If private equity doesn’t interest you in any way, don’t apply!”
Trainees were tuned in to “the prestige that comes from the Ropes & Gray name, which is so big in the US,” especially in its native city, Boston. Sources felt the London office “leverages that prestige while setting our own direction – we’re not a satellite office.” According to trainee recruitment partner Ruchit Patel, the firm expects to grow its asset management, restructuring and antitrust in the next few years. He adds: “We’re attacking the elite financing work, elite private equity mandates, and elite work for strategic firms – all work that should provide trainees with a rich and rewarding experience.” Currently, Chambers UK notes the firm’s high-end private equity capabilities nationwide, as well as its mid-market banking and finance, high-yield capital markets, and corporate financial crime work in London.
Ruchit Patel continues that as the firm grows, so will the intake size. “Historically we’ve taken about six or seven trainees a year,” he says. “Looking forward, we’re thinking the intake will be close to ten or more.” The firm’s current intake size combined with an “entrepreneurial atmosphere” made trainees feel “part of the firm’s business development.” For example, “you can just chat with the managing partner about business and suggest ideas.”
Trainees usually submit their seat preferences in a “five to ten-minute informal chat with HR,” but one guarantee is that everyone will sit in private equity at least once –“maybe twice!” The team is known for its buyout capabilities, handling mid-market deals all the way up to “massive deals with huge clients” like TPG Capital. Trainees saw a lot of work with clients in the healthcare space – for example, it recently advised Baring Private Equity Asia on its $1 billion acquisition of medical device maker Lumenis. “The standard of work we’re exposed to is wonderfully exciting and very complex,” enthusiasts told us. On the larger deals, trainees are “a long way down the pecking order doing process-driven stuff,” but on smaller transactions, “they let us get our hands on a lot – at times you’re treated like an NQ.” As well as conducting “strange and bespoke research tasks,” trainees got to draft minor transactional documents.
The finance team works on multibillion-dollar transactions in sectors such as energy, healthcare and tech for “big dogs” like Virgin Media, which the firm recently advised on a $4 billion loan and refinancing. Trainees described three “reasonably distinct” strands of work. The first is high-yield bond transactions “that come directly from the US.” Second, “if a private equity client has a big acquisition, we’ll do all the financing work.” And finally, there’s the “pure, big-ticket” finance matters that partners bring in directly. Working on big deals was “exhilarating” for trainees, “as you feel really involved. Even unglamorous tasks are valued!” These might include looking after checklists, liaising with local counsel, drafting letters, and lots of “process management responsibilities.” One lucky trainee per rotation can also apply to do a finance secondment in the Hong Kong office.
The antitrust team works with a lot of tech and pharma companies including big names like Google and Pfizer. “It’s so, so cool!” trainees praised. “Some of these huge companies have internal antitrust counsel, but they outsource the most complex and cutting-edge work to us.” The department mainly handles two types of work: merger reviews and investigations. On merger reviews trainees are in charge of due diligence and merger analysis. “It’s more exciting than it sounds,” they assured us. “You’re having to become an expert on something you previously had no concept of.” One trainee recalled drafting “a whole suitcase full of files” to submit to the European Commission.
Asset management is the new seat in town – and interviewees said: “It’s been really busy!” Trainees here get involved in regulatory enforcement, private investment funds and derivatives. On the regulatory enforcement side, the team works with “private equity houses that are marketing their fund in the EU.” Trainees might get a go at drafting marketing applications “and all the appendices to file to the local regulator.”
“We’ve always been encouraged to do pro bono.”
As is common in US firms, pro bono is an important fixture at Ropes & Gray. “We’ve always been encouraged to do pro bono,” trainees told us. “There’s not a strong distinction that pro bono hours are less important than client billables.” In fact, everyone has a 20-hour target. Some of the pro bono work is connected to private equity and finance, such as assisting “a private equity fund that wants to set up a semi-charitable arm.”
Given that the office has only been around for ten years, “we’re only just starting to see people that trained here become senior associates.” Most current partners joined Ropes from other firms, “which means there’s no fixed way of doing things,” trainees said, elaborating that “you don’t have to fit into an archaic machine. It’s less hierarchical and more inclusive.” Trainees were “proud” to see a lot of women partners in the London office – the latest data from the firm shows that 46% of partners in London are women. We also heard that the firm has placed a lot of emphasis on work related to Black Lives Matter in recent months.
During lockdown, some interviewees appreciated “team bonding sessions via Zoom every evening.” One felt it reflected the overall culture of “making sure people don’t feel left behind.” Beyond the limitations of lockdown, the firm throws Christmas and summer parties, and sporty Ropers can get involved in football, running and cricket. Some wanted to see more socialising across teams. “Trainees are often the link between everyone,” one said. “We know the lay of the land better than the senior people!” Trainees themselves often lunch together and get drinks on a Friday. “We’re all mates, which is good when you want to have a good old moan!”
“When the hours are long, all the bubble baths in the world won’t help!”
And here’s where the going gets tough. “On busy days, you’re not leaving the office,” one warned. “In my first few weeks, I saw a couple of people who’d done all-nighters with frazzled looks on their faces like, ‘Is it daylight already?’” Among our interviewees, some clocked off around 8pm while others “rarely left before midnight.” At the firm’s office on Ludgate Hill, “we have an amazing rooftop terrace with really beautiful views, but no one uses it because everyone’s working all the time!”
Trainees get support from their supervisor, who’s usually a senior associate: “If you’re going away for the weekend, they make it known that you’re not to be bothered at all.” Newbies also get buddied up with a second-year trainee, who for one was “the first person I call if I ever have a problem.” The firm also doles out a monthly wellness allowance of £33 to help soothe the sting of long hours. “I spend mine on candles, bath bombs and self-help books,” said one self-care guru. Not everyone was sold on the concept, with one commenting: “When the hours are long, all the bubble baths in the world won’t help!”
How about a mighty salary then? The firm recently upped the first-year trainee salary to £50,000, while NQs can build up a beautiful bath bomb collection with £130,000. Ropes’s qualification process is usually “super informal,” which means it “favours confident people who can have frank conversations with partners.” This year’s process – in the midst of lockdown – had to be “a bit more formal.” There are always nerves around qualification time, but interviewees here found it “much less scary when you know the firm wants to develop homegrown talent.” In 2020, all five qualifiers were kept on.
During lockdown, the private equity team hosted a haiku contest. “It’s brought out competition in me I never thought I had,” one tortured poet told us.
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Get Hired at Ropes & Gray
The Application Process
Ropes and Grey hires exclusively through their vac scheme and receive around 300 applications for their vac schemes each year via their website. Head 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.” They’re also on the lookout for communication and client-facing skills, and they openly welcome 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.
The firm has no minimum level of experience needed to apply, 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 utilises RARE Recruitment’s contextual tool and employs a blind-selection process when looking at CVs and assessments.
Three assessment days are run in March of around 14 candidates 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. Interviews are structured and 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.
Students 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, vac schemers “have the opportunity to network and socialise with partners, associates and trainees.” Before Covid-19, the vac scheme held events such as drinks in and out of the office, bowling, ping-pong and crazy golf. 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.”
Ropes & Gray LLP
60 Ludgate Hill,
- Partners 24
- Associates 85
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 11
- Graduate recruiter: Katherine McAteer, [email protected], 020 3201 1607
- Training partner: Rohan Massey, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 305
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2020
- Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £130,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong office
- Client secondments: These are available on an ad hoc basis at the client’s request
The London office’s government enforcement group regularly counsels a premier global client base concerning compliance with broad and impactful international statutes, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and UK Bribery Act, while the office’s litigation lawyers develop effective strategies for advocating on behalf of clients in various jurisdictions.
High-quality international transfers and lateral recruits make up the London team, which collectively speaks 17 languages and represents 13 nationalities. We are market insiders with a strong reputation within the UK and European business community and we have longstanding relationships with leading local firms in all major European and Asian jurisdictions.
We are looking for people with an entrepreneurial approach to dealing with clients and business development. Direct client contact is taken for granted and not just at senior levels – all our lawyers are encouraged and supported in playing their own part in active business development. This is balanced by an open door policy ensuring candidates will have the support needed to build a successful career.
Trainees who join us receive the best training available. This is reflected in the standard of both the in-house ‘Trainee Training Programme’ and the practical training overseen by a supervisor. The small number of trainees we take on means we’re genuinely able to offer early responsibility and challenging work.
During the two-week scheme you will complete practice group and client work at trainee level. You will also be mentored and supported by your trainee ‘buddy’ and will be invited to an evening event with all of our trainee cohort. You can also expect to meet lawyers from each practice group, attend workshops, and you will have the opportunity to interact with our employees at social networking events.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Diversity is part of the fabric of Ropes & Gray and the firm is committed to attracting retaining the very best talent regardless of background. In London, we are proud that 46% of our partners, 46% of our associates and 50% of our trainees in London are female.
We focus on our employees’ wellbeing and offer such benefits as 25 days holiday, dental insurance, emergency and virtual GP services, emergency assistance programme, life assurance, private medical insurance, pension scheme, season ticket loan, wellbeing allowance and wellness screening.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- 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)