With a flexible training contract and small annual intake, this Texan titan offers a V&E’s whirl through energy, corporate law and more.
Vinson & Elkins training contract review 2022
Houston-born Vinson & Elkins opened a London base all the way back in 1971 to help service clients during the North Sea oil boom. The firm had plenty to celebrate on its 50th anniversary in the City, not least impressive Chambers UK rankings for oil & gas, international arbitration, construction and projects. With 11 more V&E offices across the globe (eight of which are in the States), there’s plenty of scope for London trainees to get their hands on international work. “There is a lot of collaboration between the London offices and others,” sources told us. “Our matters often involve the Middle East, New York, Houston and Boston.”
"This training contract model allows us to really deepen our experience."
A global footprint isn’t unusual in big City law firms, but Vinson & Elkins does differ from most rivals in its partly non-rotational training contract. Everyone’s first seat is picked for them, and they get a say over the next – things get really exciting in second year, when there’s more flexibility and trainees can continue or pick up the work that most interests them from any practice.Trainees found the non-rotational second-year model “very attractive,” citing the potential to “start as an NQ with multiple years’ worth of experience in your chosen practice area.” One reckoned they “did essentially three seats’ worth of work in my area of interest, while still getting the breadth that comes with a training contract.” In short, “this training contract model allows us to really deepen our experience. We have more opportunities to see deals and disputes through from cradle to grave.”
Energy is certainly the big cheese practice at Vinson & Elkins, albeit not the entire cheeseboard. The energy transactions and projects (ETP) group handles M&A transactions, financings and disputes, contractual, commercial and regulatory aspects of big energy projects. Oil and gas giants including BP, Africa Oil Corp and Woodside Petroleum pump work through the department. M&A typically involves “companies buying energy assets like oil rigs. I’ve worked with clients looking to develop an oil field.” Trainees on such deals spent their time “liaising with counsel, keeping track of checklists, drafting board resolutions and proofreading.” A focus here on industry sector rather than practice could lead to some varied task loads. The firm advises some huge projects internationally, including the $6.3 billion STAR Rafineri in Turkey.
"I’ve worked with clients looking to develop an oil field.”
Over in complex commercial litigation (CCL), energy is a common theme too: Vinson has a particularly well-established presence in the construction and oil & gas sectors. According to one trainee’s estimation, “90% of the time you’re working on international dispute resolution involving big energy companies. It could be a dispute over oil fields or solar farms.” The firm’s recent arbitration work includes representing the Ministry of Oil of the Republic of Iraq, and the Panama Canal Authority; for the latter, V&E handled multiple construction disputes totalling more than $4.5 billion in potential liabilities. A trainee explained their role on mega matters like this one: “I took on a fair amount of bundling work and document preparation and attended hearings remotely.” Covid-19 restrictions notwithstanding, the firm offers overseas seats in Dubai and Houston, but client secondments are not typically available until post-qualification.
“Often you'll have more questions than answers, especially if the deal spans more than one country.”
‘MACM’ at V&E stands for M&A and capital markets.The firm’s carved out a profitable niche in high-yield bonds work and advises household name clients such as J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Saudi Aramco. Trainees who’d worked on capital markets financings explained that high-yield bonds offer a potentially more lucrative return for investors: “Our focus is allowing companies to access that method of finance. We’re involved in getting that bond to market and primarily act for the issuer.” Private equity giants like KKR and Peninsula Capital can also be found here: trainees working on PE deals described exciting-sounding projects like “the acquisition of towers in Africa and the Middle East.” Due diligence is a traditional trainee role in corporate law. “It’s a very important task and can be difficult,” sources suggested. “Often you'll have more questions than answers, especially if the deal spans more than one country.” On one such matter, Vinson & Elkins advised First Quantum Minerals in a $1.5 billion notes offering with 15 different jurisdictions involved. High-yield bonds was another popular area for trainees to dig into, but they warned that the hours can be “either non-existent or horrendous” in the ebb and flow practice.
Experiences with hours may vary, largely by department. M&A was said to be among the most demanding practices, along with high-yield bonds, while litigation is more consistent than other departments. Trainees in less busy areas typically worked from 9.30am to around 6.30pm. In the more taxing seats, twelve-hour days can be necessary, and some felt the pandemic had made longer hours feel even more exhausting. “It’s a product of working from home: not physically leaving the office means usually my laptop is on before I go to sleep,” one revealed. They and others made it clear that everyone’s in the trenches together: “If you’re up late, you know everyone else is online and messaging each other. There is a real sense of camaraderie, especially when hours are stressful.” The firm puts on yoga and meditation classes to encourage the wellbeing of trainees, and certainly pays them well for their time: Vinson & Elkins sits alongside fellow US giants in London at the top of the market when it comes to compensation, paying NQs a whopping £153,300 a year.
“There is a real sense of camaraderie, especially when hours are stressful.”
V&E resembles its American cousins in some other respects, including a relatively relaxed dress code. Trainees did stress that “there are differences with more ‘typical’ US firms,” crediting these to the firm’s Texan roots. “People are friendly, open and down to earth. We take the work seriously, but don't take ourselves too seriously.” One perceived the famed Southern hospitality as a route to authenticity: “We are not just lawyer-robots, but real people.” The small size of the London office meant our trainee sources got to work with and chat to people of all seniorities, and we heard “partners are very approachable. Associates and partners are always willing to take time out to explain issues on deals or catch up with juniors." Pre-pandemic social calendars came with plenty of nights out for trainees; recently they’ve got stuck into virtual events like pasta and dumpling making classes.
Each trainee shares a room with a senior associate or partner, and new starters receive mentors when they arrive – especially helpful during the pandemic era, when room sharing has been impossible. Juniors, mid-level associates and partners all attend D&I training, which was recently conducted by a specialist Harvard professor: “Everyone attends training to educate us on implicit bias and other ways people may feel discriminated against.” Trainees told us: “Diversity is only getting better, there has been a real push from leadership. Something I have noticed is that we have more ethnic minority trainees coming through.” As of October 2021, 17% of V&E's trainees were ethnically diverse. Affinity groups include the Women’s Initiative and new LGBTQ+ alliance. “The women's group is active, but gender diversity hasn’t quite translated to partner level yet,” sources agreed. V&E hosts a weekly physical and mental wellbeing bootcamp open to lawyers, staff, friends and even pets! Anyone up for hamster yoga?
The firm recently introduced a new external coach to discuss and guide trainees through the qualification process, which remains relatively informal at V&E. “There's no interview or exam... it’s a simple ‘yes I'd like to be considered for this department’,” interviewees told us. “The partners then vote, and you are told if it’s a yes or no.” All our survey respondents had some degree of long-term ambitions to stick around at Vinson & Elkins. The firm tends to hold on to the vast majority of qualifiers and retained five outof sixin 2021.
Once at associate level, the hours associates spend on pro bono are taken into account when allocating bonuses.
Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 14 January 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)
Training contract deadline (2023): 30 June 2022 (opens 17 January 2022)
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 scheme, with something like 95% 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 amongst a range of other questions why they're applying to a firm that specialises in energy – specifically what they find exciting or interesting about the sector, in particular if this has been listed as a key attraction in their application form or equivalent questions relating to arbitration and/or private equity.
In the end, the firm typically accepts around 30 participants onto its vac scheme. 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 based on how the placement went coupled with their subsequent performance at their exit interview,” Nealon tells us.
Those applying directly for a training contract face two rounds of interviews, which take place between September and October however only take place if there are still offers available after the summer vacation scheme. 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 600 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.”
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 2019/20 trainee group contained graduates of Durham, Exeter, St Andrews, Nottingham, Sheffield, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE 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.
Vinson & Elkins RLLP
20 Fenchurch Street,
- Partners 19
- Associates 47
- Total trainees 10
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Austin, Dallas, Dubai, Houston, London, Los Angeles, New York, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington DC.
- Talent manager: Grace Gibson-Venner firstname.lastname@example.org
- Training partner: Andrew Nealon, email@example.com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4-6
- Applications pa: 550
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30 approx
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 15 January 2022
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 30 June 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2021
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 14 January 2022
- Open day deadline: 1 November 2021 – 4 February 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000 (2021)
- Second-year salary: £55,000 (2021)
- Post-qualification salary: £153,300 (2021)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- 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
Main areas of work
The firm currently offers 4-6 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).
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2021
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Projects (Band 3)