There’s no grey area at this American globetrotter: all trainees learn the ropes on massive finance and private equity matters.
There’s a stark contrast to draw between Boston-born Ropes & Gray’s HQ, which set up shop in the mid-19th century and now houses a 500-strong team of lawyers, and a London base that’s been open for less than a decade and is less than a quarter the size of Boston by headcount. Trainees felt that the youth of Ropes’ UK operation has instilled a sense of entrepreneurship: “The majority of partners have been lateral hires, meaning there are a lot of people with different ideas and no strict existing structure that everybody has to mould themselves to.” One insider suggested that it’s “almost like a start-up, or at least as close as a corporate law firm can get to one.” Please temper your expectations: few are the start-ups that can call on the “money and reputation” which come with the Ropes international network.
“It’s almost like a start-up, or at least as close as a corporate law firm can get.”
The best picture of R&G as a whole probably comes from Chambers Global, which applauds the firm for its corporate investigations, investment funds, life sciences and private equity work. That last practice is one of Ropes’ biggest calling cards; the London base scores highest in banking and finance and capital markets. “The private equity team is second to none in the City,” trainees boldly declared. “If you’re not interested in private equity then you shouldn’t come here because there’s a 99% chance you’ll see it.” A focus on such an intense area of law inevitably attracts a certain type of person: “The personalities who thrive here are people who enjoy working independently and being responsible. Working here is a great way to get commercial experience but it is very intense.” Four London partners who specialised in restructuring and real estate left the firm in 2018 as part of a doubling down in focus on Ropes’ core strengths.
Trainees' first seats are selected for them. A mid-seat email lets juniors know where they can apply to go next. Sources found that the process worked well overall, adding that “the firm prioritises second-years, which I think is fair.” The NQ process is similarly relaxed, and departments only interview if more than one trainee aims for the same job. Ropes retained four of sixqualifiers in 2019.
Learn while you earn
It’s only right we start by diving into the private equity department. Trainees here worked “on a mix of M&A transactions and portfolio company work where I had more responsibility. The pace is less urgent so I was able to draft documents as well as more typical ancillary work.” Newcomers are quickly able to sink their teeth into matters as large as advising Intermediate Capital Group on a £1.3 billion joint partnership investment into business software and services provider IRIS. Deals as large as this require a lot of manpower: “At one point I was managing a team of paralegals and secretaries to break out thousands of documents,” one first-year reflected. “I was exposed to things that were probably way above my pay grade.” Others described “helping to run a signing room, which was quite a mammoth task, as well as bibling at the end of the deal.” On the international front, the London team advised IT company Ensono during its $455 million acquisition of Indian tech multinational Wipro’s hosting business. “You don’t get much formal training but you learn a lot on the job” on these mega matters. “It’s intense, hard work but the upside is you’re set for whatever the next seat throws up.”
“I was exposed to things that were probably way above my pay grade.”
Private equity also rears its well-funded head in finance, which covers both lenders and borrowers. Clients here include Cable & Wireless, Virgin Media and telecoms company Altice; the team represented MV Credit on various financings valued from $50 million to €445 million, spanning jurisdictions from Sweden to the US. Insiders here told us: “The trainee role is very well defined. You’ll be managing ancillary documents on transactions, writing board minutes and running checklists and signatures.” They suggested that “if you take the initiative you can get more responsibility. I often found that I was corresponding with associates rather than trainees on the other side of a transaction.” It’s also worth noting that almost all matters are multi-jurisdictional so trainees often get to liaise with foreign counsel.
Interviewees who’d spent time in R&G’s antitrust team found the seat a “welcome break from the pace of private equity. I’ve really enjoyed the more advisory aspect.” Note that Ropes uses the American term antitrust in place of the UK standard competition – work for clients like Google, Pfizer and Bain Capital usually spans multiple jurisdictions including the US and EU. The firm recently secured clearance for medical tech company Medtronic’s $1 billion acquisition of surgical tech company Mazor Robotics in Israel and the States. “Clients come to us with the most bespoke questions,” sources explained. “When I’ve had to do legal research or answer a query it hasn’t been something you’ll find on the LPC, there’s no cheat sheet so it’s very challenging.” Trainees agreed that the nature of work is “less process-driven and more about tackling complex legal issues” compared to other seats. “I’ve been able to carry out ad-hoc analyses on multi-jurisdictional competition matters,” one declared. “I worked closely with a senior partner which was great for my progression.”
Ropes’ government enforcement group advises a mix of individuals and companies on investigations and enforcement actions; a seat here involves “looking into borrowers or lenders, doing background checks and making sure they’re not sanctioned or convicted of any criminal activities.” It’s no surprise that due diligence is a common early task. Trainees can also get involved in private prosecution matters, “preparing court bundles and dealing with internal investigations to check for whistle-blowing.” The seat’s been “very popular” in recent years and trainees have to be prepared to hop on an international flight at a moment’s notice.
Another popular travel option is a six-month secondment to the firm’s finance department in Hong Kong. Ropes also runs a programme which enables recently qualified associates to spend up to two years in one of the firm’s overseas offices.
White water drafting
Trainees get billable credit for pro bono work, if they can find time for it. Common cases include immigration applications linked to the firm’s collaboration with children’s charity KIND in the US, plus “setting up entities with charitable status and advising on donation agreements.” There’s also work with Lawyers Without Borders on offer.
“Incredibly international” Ropes comes “with very few egos” according to our insiders. “The fact that the firm is largely made up of laterals means we have a more diverse working environment.” Despite the heavy workload and long hours, sources felt that “there’s an informal atmosphere. You don’t feel like you have to wear a tie.” The firm’s also “super generous with events. Each team has offsite trips – next month the antitrust group’s going white water rafting.” R&G shows its American colours with a 4th of July party (there’s also a Christmas bash). There’s no canteen in the office, but trainees appreciated a generous Deliveroo allowance.
“If you’re here late the whole team’s here and in the same boat.”
Any firm that’s offering subsidised takeout will demand some late nights. One trainee reported leaving between 9.30pm and midnight on average, which was representative of most transactional seats. Others agreed that “you’ll work 11 and 12-hour days and when you’ve got a closing it’s worse, but no worse than at comparable firms. Generally if you’re here late the whole team’s here and in the same boat.” Trainees also confirmed that “there are no billable targets” prior to qualification.
We’ve already mentioned that R&G trainees tend to get most of their – well, training – in the thick of it. Some felt that private equity and finance offer “more developed training programmes because they’re larger departments.” Associates give presentations at the start of seats; we also heard about seminars and “contextual training like taking you through an investment agreement. You wouldn’t normally do that until you become an associate but it’s useful to have that knowledge.” Sources concluded that the programme “changes all the time. They’re always looking for feedback and I get the sense that they consider trainees important to the firm.”
Ropes increased its NQ salary to a mouth-watering £120,000 early in 2019, outmatching magic circle rivals by tens of thousands.
Ropes & Gray LLP
60 Ludgate Hill,
- Partners 23
- Associates 74
- Total trainees 13
- 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: 261
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 3 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong office
- Client secondments: These are available on an ad hoc basis at the client’s request
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)