Vinson & Elkins RLLP - True Picture

Vinson & Elkins is a Texas titan and an energy aficionado where trainee responsibility flows thick and fast.

Fired up, ready to go!



Vinson & Elkins was one of of the very first US firms to brave the Atlantic and set up shop in London, in 1971 to be precise, so its trainees felt assured that its “reputation is well established.” While the London office remains decidedly petite, V&E's status as a elite global energy law firm makes its presence in London a natural one: London is a leading global forum for international disputes and arbitration, and arbitration is the preferred choice of dispute resolution within the energy sector. All this means that “everything is super international,” and that “you’re often working on matters related to emerging markets in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.” The firm’s Chambers UK rankings reflect its specialisms, as the firm is top-ranked for oil and gas work, with additional tips of the hat for its projects and construction arbitration teams. Interviewees were also keen to highlight the firm’s trajectory, pointing to “significant growth in our transactional practices: it’s being communicated very clearly that we want a stronger presence in the private equity and restructuring spaces.” The corporate team has apparently quadrupled in size over the past three years.

“Everything is super international.”

While V&E still has a traditional four-seat training contract, sources described it as “a  flexible system – you still complete four seats but you aren’t restricted to that seat’s work.” In practice this means you can “carry work over from a previous seat, so you can see a matter through from start to finish. In addition, by the end of your training contract you will have sampled a lot more work, which gives a more rounded CV.” However, trainees also saw fit to advise caution: “If you are coming into the game clueless you will struggle. You have to know what work you want to do and have the initiative to go find it. It won’t do to just go around asking who needs help either, you need to show your interest and press the point.” Anotherinterviewee verified: “People become quickly aware of how capable you are. If you a deliver a good piece of work without mistakes they will come back to you with more. It’s good preparation for associate life but does mean there is a lot of added pressure.”

Seat options: international arbitration; energy transactions and projects; tax; M&A; finance

Oil's well that ends well



In the energy transactions and projects seat, trainees can encounter M&A, regulatory and finance work related to the energy sector. Clients tend to be oil and gas producers from an eclectic mix of countries. The team recently advised Norwegian energy company Equinor on its $2.9 billion acquisition of a 25% interest in Brazil’s Roncador oil field; it advised a subsidiary of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) on the proposed development of a gas processing plant and petrochemicals facility; and it assisted Uzbek state oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz on the construction and financing of a gas-to-liquids project in southern Uzbekistan. “When a country wants to build a plant, there are many sets of negotiations between the state, contractor and sub-contractors,” a trainee explained. “I attended all of those meetings, where we discuss ways to incentivise early completion, penalties if things are late, as well as mechanisms for compensation – all of which have to take all kinds of things into account, like the weather. Often trainees are in charge of marking up all the documents involved that go to the other side and handling all the correspondence.”

“There are many sets of negotiations between the state, contractor and sub-contractors.”

If there's a dispute over an energy project it may well end up in the hands of V&E's commercial disputes department. “There are two main focuses,” sources explained. The first is investor-state and commercial arbitration, “usually a dispute arising out of a breach of investment treaty laws. For example, a country might decide that land a company has invested in is actually on a greenbelt, making the investment worthless.” V&E recently acted for a group of US investors in a dispute with Costa Rica about the suspension of the investors’ environmental permits, shutting down designs to build a beachfront villa project. The firm has also been representing the Iraqi oil ministry and its oil marketing agency in the arbitration of a $250 million dispute with Turkey about unlawful exports of oil by the Kurdistan Regional Government via the Iraq–Turkey pipeline.

The second type of work the disputes team does is construction arbitration. It's been handling a series of arbitrations worth $4 billion for the Panama Canal Authority with a consortium of European and Panamanian companies hired to build the third set of locks for the canal's expansion. “You have to do a lot of spreadsheet management in construction disputes,” a trainee reported. “A lot of the disputes concern whether any changes made to the project fall within the scope of the original contract. You have to look very closely at the flow of pre-claim correspondence and whether any the hundreds of potential changes made fall under the original terms.” Trainees have extensive opportunities to brush up on their drafting skills. “I worked on one case which was an indemnity and warranty dispute involving over 47 claims,” one source relayed. “My role was to draft the pleadings, witness statements and letters to counsel.” Bringing it back to the benefits of the flexible seat arrangement, another source noted: “I’ve been lucky enough to have seen around five arbitrations that have gone to a hearing.”

V&E’s corporate team covers M&A, capital markets and private equity work. “As a trainee, you’re free to sample all the areas,” sources confirmed. “A lot of the work is still quite energy-focused, but you’re also able to engage in work related to the telecoms, infrastructure and healthcare industries.” For example, corporate lawyers recently advised a Dutch commodities and energy trader and a London private equity house on the $1.98 billion IPO of their joint venture Vivo Energy on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges. The team also advised Swedish infrastructure investor EQT Infrastructure on its €500 million sale of an offshore communications network. Trainee responsibilities tend to be administrative in nature – “emailing counsel for feedback and completing verification.” That said, we also heard of trainees getting involved in client discussions and racking up drafting experience in the form of board resolutions, newly incorporate companies’ articles and share purchase agreements.

Howdy partner



Around the office, trainees were keen to highlight the influence of the firm’s “Texan roots – our culture’s all about Southern hospitality.Compared to New York firms where everything is hyper intense, here everything is more laid back and open.” Another chimed in: “There’s a big, cheesy emphasis on family. I know the names of all my colleagues’ children and they sometimes come in to work. The partners host summer parties at their houses and we all celebrated Texan Independence Day with a big barbecue.” One source jokingly contested the Texan narrative, countering that “the office has been swamped by Aussies!” Either way, sources agreed that it’s “a benefit working with lots of different people from around the world!”

“Ridiculously busy.”

Despite all the niceties about Texan hospitality, make no mistake: V&E remains an elite American outfit and trainees put in the hours in support of that reputation. “I would say the typical hours are 9.30am to 8pm,” one source estimated, while another provided a more detailed breakdown: “In a six-month period, I've left at 7pm a third of the time, 10pm for another third, and then been ridiculously busy for another third.” The takeaway is: you’re going to be eating a lot of takeaways. Rookies also have to get used to the prospect of working weekends, though sources pointed out that it doesn’t mean “waking up and logging on straightaway. As you progress you soon learn which emails you need to action immediately and which ones can wait.”

Moreover, trainees are well rewarded for their efforts. Along with fellows US titans Akin Gump and Kirkland & Ellis, V&E NQs are the highest-paid in the City, taking home an eye-popping £147,700 a year on qualification. We can also confirm that V&E's offices aren't too shabby either. Up on the 29th floor of the Walkie-Talkie building, trainees can enjoy views of some of London's most iconic landmarks including 'HMS Belfast', Tower Bridge and The Shard.

Qualification “is a very informal process” and NQ retention is usually pretty decent. In 2019 three of four qualifiers stayed on.

How to get a V&E training contract

APPLY HERE

Get Hired

Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

The vac scheme route

The best way to score a training contract with Vinson & Elkins is to get onto a summer vacation scheme and treat it as an extended interview. According to training principal Andrew Nealon, V&E places a great emphasis on its vac schemes, with something like 75% of all trainees completing one prior to joining the firm.

Landing a placement entails passing an interview (to which approximately 80 candidates are invited) in which applicants can expect to be asked why they're applying to a firm that specialises in energy – specifically what they find exciting or interesting about the sector.

In the end, the firm typically accepts around 25 participants onto its vac schemes. Each week-long scheme aims to confirm that both sides – the firm and the applicants – are happy with the fit. Afterwards, further interviews to decide who gets a training contract are rare. “The firm makes decisions purely based on how the placement went,” Nealon tells us.

Direct applications

Those applying directly for a training contract face two rounds of interviews, which take place between September and October. These are relatively informal and in the past featured either making presentations or providing interviewees with theoretical scenarios and asking them to give basic legal advice.

Vinson & Elkins gets around 400 applications each year for 6 training contracts. Competition, naturally, is fierce. Grades-wise you'll need at least a 2:1 and AAB at A level to land an interview, but what then? “If you've made it into the interview, you're obviously a good candidate on paper,” says Nealon. “What tends to elevate people is self-confidence without arrogance, as well as the ability to make a connection with people. I will be asking myself, 'If I hired you, would I want to share an office with you?'” Trainees agreed: “I think it’s heavily based on seeing how you interact in the office and seeing if you can hold a conversation, rather than what’s on paper.”

Getting your personality across can also help you stand out. “Typically we ask candidates: 'When you are not studying, what do you do to have fun?' Some people can struggle with this straightforward question, but it allows us to find out a bit more about a candidate and it gives them a great opportunity to show some personality. A candidate once told us they were a baking enthusiast: this sparked off a discussion about signature bakes and the ever-popular TV baking contest. It doesn’t matter what the candidate is interested in as long as they can talk enthusiastically about it – then they have a chance of capturing our attention.”

Ideal candidates

Both Nealon and our trainee sources agreed V&E's training contract lends itself to self-starters. “You need to be willing to take responsibility and have a go, but you also need to use your common sense,” Nealon clarifies, adding that the latter “is actually quite a rare quality, despite the name.” Trainees agreed: “Education will get you far here but common sense and hard work will get you further.”

He goes on to tell us the firm is pretty open when it comes to trainees' university backgrounds – the 2018/19 trainee group contained graduates of Bristol, Durham, Exeter, St Andrews, Nottingham, Sheffield and UCL, for example – and that excellent academics are a must. While legal work experience is generally preferable as it “demonstrates a genuine interest” in the law, the firm also considers those with relevant non-legal experience – so make sure you don't leave that six months you pulled pints in the student union off your CV. “We recognise this can provide you with useful skills, like business planning or people skills, and it shows a willingness to get involved and juggle various competing demands,” explains Nealon.

 

How to get a V&E training contract



APPLY HERE

Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

The vac scheme route

The best way to score a training contract with Vinson & Elkins is to get onto a summer vacation scheme and treat it as an extended interview. According to training principal Andrew Nealon, V&E places a great emphasis on its vac schemes, with something like 75% of all trainees completing one prior to joining the firm.

Landing a placement entails passing an interview (to which approximately 80 candidates are invited) in which applicants can expect to be asked why they're applying to a firm that specialises in energy – specifically what they find exciting or interesting about the sector.

In the end, the firm typically accepts around 25 participants onto its vac schemes. Each week-long scheme aims to confirm that both sides – the firm and the applicants – are happy with the fit. Afterwards, further interviews to decide who gets a training contract are rare. “The firm makes decisions purely based on how the placement went,” Nealon tells us.

Direct applications

Those applying directly for a training contract face two rounds of interviews, which take place between September and October. These are relatively informal and in the past featured either making presentations or providing interviewees with theoretical scenarios and asking them to give basic legal advice.

Vinson & Elkins gets around 400 applications each year for 6 training contracts. Competition, naturally, is fierce. Grades-wise you'll need at least a 2:1 and AAB at A level to land an interview, but what then? “If you've made it into the interview, you're obviously a good candidate on paper,” says Nealon. “What tends to elevate people is self-confidence without arrogance, as well as the ability to make a connection with people. I will be asking myself, 'If I hired you, would I want to share an office with you?'” Trainees agreed: “I think it’s heavily based on seeing how you interact in the office and seeing if you can hold a conversation, rather than what’s on paper.”

Getting your personality across can also help you stand out. “Typically we ask candidates: 'When you are not studying, what do you do to have fun?' Some people can struggle with this straightforward question, but it allows us to find out a bit more about a candidate and it gives them a great opportunity to show some personality. A candidate once told us they were a baking enthusiast: this sparked off a discussion about signature bakes and the ever-popular TV baking contest. It doesn’t matter what the candidate is interested in as long as they can talk enthusiastically about it – then they have a chance of capturing our attention.”

Ideal candidates

Both Nealon and our trainee sources agreed V&E's training contract lends itself to self-starters. “You need to be willing to take responsibility and have a go, but you also need to use your common sense,” Nealon clarifies, adding that the latter “is actually quite a rare quality, despite the name.” Trainees agreed: “Education will get you far here but common sense and hard work will get you further.”

He goes on to tell us the firm is pretty open when it comes to trainees' university backgrounds – the 2018/19 trainee group contained graduates of Bristol, Durham, Exeter, St Andrews, Nottingham, Sheffield and UCL, for example – and that excellent academics are a must. While legal work experience is generally preferable as it “demonstrates a genuine interest” in the law, the firm also considers those with relevant non-legal experience – so make sure you don't leave that six months you pulled pints in the student union off your CV. “We recognise this can provide you with useful skills, like business planning or people skills, and it shows a willingness to get involved and juggle various competing demands,” explains Nealon.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Alexander Msimang, London office managing partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP 

Chambers Student: How has the London office performed in the last year and what role does it play in the wider V&E network?

Alexander Msimang: The London office is an absolutely core part of our network, and the hub of our international practice. After Houston, it’s our second oldest office, and we believe also one of the oldest of any US firm in London. We’ve been very much on a growth trajectory over the past few years and this year has been another record one in terms of revenue. Along with New York, London is central to our expansion plans. We want to remain in key central hubs rather than be a firm that’s opening offices everywhere.

CS: How is that growth materializing in terms of headcount?

AM: The London is the largest it has ever been. Our total headcount of people is now over 100, of which around 75 to 80 are fee-earning lawyers.

CS: The energy sector and arbitration have always gone hand-in-hand. Is that part of the reason it’s important for the firm to have a presence in London, which has always had well-renowned arbitration courts?

AM: Arbitration yes, tends to be the dispute resolution mechanism of choice in the energy sector, which has always been a big part of our practice. Part of the logic behind our moving to London in the early 70s was to capitalise on the market surrounding North Sea oil with non-UK actors coming in buying up those assets.  But the office does a lot more than energy these days: there’s a much broader practice of corporate transactions, finance, tax, and disputes. We’ve also been very busy in other sectors such as transport and infrastructure, having had the chance do work on huge projects recently such as the Panama Canal expansion.

CS: There’s been a lot of discussion recently regarding the need for countries to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. What are the implications of that for you as an energy firm? Does it require any restructuring or change in thinking?

AM: No,I don’t think it requires any significant restructuring as the reality is, we have always had a very broad energy practice anyway. We’ve always done oil and gas, power, and renewables including solar projects and wind projects, so I don’t think it’s something that is new to us or something that requires a dramatic change in approach. But yes, inevitably over time there will be a shift in emphasis, and we are starting to see that as our clients start to look at more renewables and new technologies.

CS: How far ahead is the firm looking when considering this transition?

AM: We try to look as far ahead as we can but often our clients have a good idea of these timescales before they even engage with us. When they are investing in something with five, seven- and ten-year horizons, it’s a pretty good indicator that the thing they are investing in is going to be big. That’s what we have been seeing in a lot of the renewable sectors with the improvement in the economics around things like wind turbines for example. We have been doing wind projects for decades and we’ve seen them move away being very dependent on government subsidies and state support to becoming increasingly self-sustaining as those costs have come down.

CS: How quickly has this change occurred?

AM: It’s taken a few years, although to some extent it’s geography-specific. What I mean by that is that each country has its own system of subsidies and support regimes which dictates both how quickly people will invest, and how quickly research and development will happen to progress the industry. There are other factors to consider too – if we are talking about offshore wind, for example, it can be very expensive because of harsh conditions restricting the period in which construction can take place, plus you have to consider factors like the impact of salt water causing structural corrosion. It certainly isn’t a one size fits all, blanket picture.

CS: In many people’s minds, dealing with the energy sector means coming into contact with politically dubious regimes. Is that something that is hard to reconcile as lawyers?

AM: Most of our clients are highly-regulated, well-managed Western businesses, whether UK, European or US based. The reality is that they are super cautious and super thorough in doing their due diligence and working out where they’re willing to do business, and who with. The situation may not be as exotic or exciting as you may think!

CS: Should the drive towards greener industries result in more regulations on industry in the West, do you anticipate an increasing shift to less developed economies? 

AM: To some extent. However, when we talk about those kinds of industries which are most impacted by issues like emissions regulations, it is not necessarily easy to shift around. Let’s take power generation for example. We could say people aren’t excited about coal and oil fired power generation in the UK anymore due to high emissions regulations. Does that mean someone is going to generate power in other places with lax regulations? It’s not as easy at that - they can’t simply build a 2000-mile electricity cable to transport the power to where it’s being consumed in London.

That being said, there is certainly an increasing interest in those emerging, frontier markets, but not necessarily because of loose regulations. That’s because loose regulations come with both advantages and disadvantages. They might work in your favour if you are trying to escape some particular target or emissions regulation, but generally robust financial regulations, developed tax structures and predictable legal regimes are often a requirement for business and investment. That’s why when the economy of these emerging countriesbegins to grow, you see regulations develop with that, reflecting a desire to give certainty to future investors.

CS: What are your thoughts on the Green New Deal being proposed?

AM: I’m not a close follower of all the nuances but conceptually it’s similar to what what we have been talking about throughout; that is the absolute need to do something about climate change. Now, whether that is done within the package of a green new deal or by businesses for commercial reasons is up for debate.

I think the danger with packaging up those things in initiatives, like the Green New Deal, is that in not being driven by industry they can become politicised. The problem when something becomes politicised is that whatever its contents, it is inevitably objected to by the opposition. From my stand point, talking about sustainability and climate change is not a political issue, it’s an environmental ecological necessity that everyone needs to get behind. I feel that once politicized, it becomes impossible to present a united front on the cause.

CS: One of the things I’ve noticed about when discussing Brexit, is that US firms and many of the largest firms in the City don’t seem particularly concerned about its implications. What are your thoughts on this?

AM: I think we at V&E probably fall into same camp. In terms of looking at the long-term fundamentals, I don’t think the sky is falling in. From our standpoint as a firm, when you look at where many of our clients are investing and where the deals and major projects are, it’s not necessarily continental European but often it’s Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We also have an advantage in terms of our own internal structure; operating from a small number of key hubs means that we don’t have the headache of having to rearrange people and capital across multiple offices.

CS: Going back to what we said earlier, do you think London’s status as a leading seat of arbitration will be compromised at all?

AM: When you consider the primacy of English law for international deals and disputes, it isn’t because we are members of the EU or the Treaty of Rome – it’s because English law works well, is stable, and has been carefully developed over the past 200 years. From a standpoint of fundamentals, I can’t see why that would change a whole lot.

CS: Do you see any potential opportunities from Brexit?

AM: Nobody can say for certain what energy or any other regulations will look like in five years’ time if we aren’t tied to the EU, but there are huge opportunities from the inevitable structural changes that will take place as clients lean on us to navigate the new legal systems.

CS: Especially given the ambitions of some to turn UK into a deregulated tax haven!

AM: Well, exactly. Change tends to be good for us, because people need to understand the new laws and regimes. The negatives for me are not about the details of what a particular trade deal or VAT rate might look like – it’s the uncertainty. People just don’t know what’s going on or when its going on so that creates a tendency for people to withdraw from investment commitments. You also have to consider the secondary impacts such as unpredictable and fluctuating exchanges rates. Collectively it makes everything incredibly hard to predict.

CS: The last thing I want to talk about is burnout culture. American firms have a stereotype for working especially long hours. Do you think it is sustainable and should the industry be doing more to combat it?

AM: I do think it is sustainable and the idea that American firms are different in some way is false. There is hard work and long days inherent in law but that is driven by kinds of deals, time zones, geography and types of clients. If there are billions of dollars at stake and tight deadlines to meet, then of course that will come with long hours. But it’s not about where the head office is; there isn’t somebody somewhere in the US with a whip making people work longer for the sake of it.

I would add that we are very focused on wellness and wellbeing, something the legal industry is generally getting better at. And I would even say in that regard, US firms are ahead of UK ones.

CS:Many trainees talked about the firm’s ‘Texan culture.’ What does that mean to you?

I’m glad they mentioned it. I think the Texan culture does trickle down to rest of firm and I think there is a respectful, collegiate way of operating which is I hope is very noticeable. Some people mistake it as a laid-back culture which isn’t accurate, as to me that implies laziness. But there is a great deal of humour, helpfulness and positivity in our approach to work. It’s certainly not the kind of law firm where kicking the filing cabinet and screaming at each other is tolerated.

 

Vinson & Elkins RLLP

30 Fenchurch Street,
24th Floor,
London,
EC3M 3BY
Website www.velaw.com

  • Partners 19
  • Associates 47
  • Total trainees 10
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices Austin, Beijing, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston, London, New York, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington DC.
  • Contacts 
  • [email protected] 
  • Talent manager: Aidan Connor [email protected] partner: Andrew Nealon, [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 5
  • Applications pa: 400
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 25 approx
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1st November 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 July 2020
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
  • Open day deadline: Open now until 7th February 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £50,000
  • Second-year salary: £55,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £147,700
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £8,000 for GDL and LPC
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London
  • Overseas seats: Middle East, Houston
  • No. of seats available abroad pa: 2

Firm profile



Vinson & Elkins RLLP is one of the largest international law firms and has been repeatedly ranked as the world’s leading energy law firm. Founded in Houston in 1917 (and with an office in London for 46 years), Vinson & Elkins currently has over 700 lawyers with offices in Austin, Beijing, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston, London, New York, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington, DC.

Main areas of work



Cross-border M&A, private equity, corporate finance and securities advice (including London Main Market and AIM listings and international equity and debt capital markets), banking and finance, international energy transactions, construction, project development and finance transactions, litigation and arbitration and tax. 

Training opportunities



The firm is looking for ambitious individuals with strong academic results, sound commercial awareness and rounded personalities. The ability to think laterally and creatively is essential, as is a need for common-sense and a willingness to take the initiative and assume responsibility from day one.

The firm currently offers five training contracts commencing each September. Trainees will gain wide experience in many different areas, working with a wide variety of associates and partners from across the firm. V&E is proud of the fact it has won several LawCareers.Net awards for the quality of its training with a further seven nominations.

Whilst the trainees are based in London, the firm is currently regularly seconding its trainees to other offices (particularly its offices in the Middle East and Houston).

Vacation scheme



We view vacation placements as a key part of our recruitment process. For summer 2020 apply by 31st January 2020, by way of online application form.

Other benefits



Private medical and dental, pension, season ticket loan, discounted gym membership, travel insurance, life assurance.

Open days and first-year opportunities



Open day18th March 2020 for first year law students or second year non-law students. Apply by email to [email protected] with your name, university, A-level results and stage of education. Deadline is 7th February 2020. 

University law careers fairs 2018



Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, Bristol, LSE, Durham, LawCareersNetLive, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Warwick.

Social media



Twitter @VECareers

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Projects (Band 3)