When it comes to stellar energy work, this Houston heavyweight is firmly in the saddle.
Vinson & Elkins training contract review 2024
Sometimes in life you have to take your chances, and US giant Vinson and Elkins knows a thing or two about that. Setting up shop in the City some 50 years ago, it was one of the first of its compatriots to break ground on the London legal market. Rewind a bit further, and you’ll find the firm made its name off the back of the Texan oil boom of 1917, and this work is what V&E still excels at today. In Chambers Global, it really is one of the Lone Stars, taking the crown for Oil and Gas projects. This is backed up by a stream of top billings in Chambers USA for its oil and gas work across all transactional, regulatory and litigious matters. But V&E is much more than just an oil and gas firm, as one trainee asserted that “we are also growing our transactional projects.” Chambers USA paints a similar picture, with V&E also earning top prizes for energy transition, and transactional power and renewable projects work.
“High quality work and headline grabbing clients.”
Its US roots are undeniably why many trainees in the London office wanted to join in the first place. “I wanted an American law firm with a small trainee intake. I liked that they wouldn’t spoon-feed me, and I wanted the responsibility to shape my own career,” one trainee told us. Though unlike its US counterpart, training principal Scott Stiegler acknowledges that “the London office may not be full service, but we are top of the field in the practice groups we operate in: disputes, energy transactions and projects, M&A, capital markets and tax.” Indeed, in Chambers UK, V&E is highly regarded for its projects, energy and natural resources work in oil and gas, and international arbitration in the construction space. All of which produce “high quality work and headline grabbing clients,” as one trainee put it.
The cherry on top? Sensational office views. V&E is in the Walkie-Talkie building so trainees are treated to “panoramic views of London. Canary Wharf is on one side and St Paul’s on the other,” one marvelled. Of course, a great view should be matched by an equally good working environment, and the firm seems to have this covered. Stiegler tells us how “our people are our strongest asset, so it's important to us to hire carefully so that our culture continues to allow everyone at the firm to flourish."
The firm’s training contract is a little different to most as it operates as a semi-non-rotational contract. Trainees are assigned their first two seats in a specific department; for the final two, trainees are still put in a department, but can work outside of it in a more flexible way. Second year trainees also have the chance to nab an international secondment in Houston, Texas or Dubai, though one source indicated that “Houston is more popular because trainees want to go to the firm’s roots.”
Sources tell us the complex commercial litigation team is a busy one. This seat focuses on arbitration and commercial litigation, and trainees were not boxed into one particular task. Insiders noted there was a whole host of things to do, such as drafting pleadings, defences and witness statements. There was also some liaising with experts, barristers and dealing with admin tasks like getting visas together for clients. Other admin work included document review, legal research to present to clients, as well as taking client calls. In addition to getting some exhibit and hearing preparation, we also heard that some have done cross work with the Dubai team. Clients include the Panama Canal Authority and the Republic of Iraq, in which V&E represented the Ministry of Oil in two matters regarding the operation of the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline (ITP). One trainee shared their top tip for this seat: “you need to be very familiar with all the documents, sifting through what is relevant and what is not.” The upside to it all, is that in this team “you get to work with phenomenal lawyers in the arbitration sector.”
“…Some people like the adrenaline rush and the down time that comes after.”
The M&A and capital marketsseat is a mix of capital markets work dealing with high yield bond issues, as well as private equity, it also covers M&A in the energy sector. One insider added that “the M&A team is linked to our energy transactions team, and they work on a couple of big sales of oil and gas assets.” In one example, V&E advised ADNOC Drilling on their asset acquisitions of existing and newbuild offshore jack-up drilling rigs, and onshore drilling rigs from multiple sellers. Once again, trainees got a chance to get stuck in with lots of different tasks such as drafting termination agreement letters, doc review, conducting due diligence, marking up ancillary documents and interacting with clients. The volume of work in this practice was said to be “up and down because deals are quicker.” Specifically, “high yield bonds are like three weeks. Some people like the adrenaline rush and the down time that comes after. The firm allows you to do research and fill the time any way you see fit.” Trainees also “locate precedence and assist with drafting and offering memorandums. They also review, amend and incorporate comments for when bonds are issued.” One interviewee mentioned that the work was quite exciting as it “involves different jurisdictions and liaising with people in different parts of the world while collating documents.”
Closely linked to both these seats is the tax team, which largely supports the M&A, transactional and arbitration teams on any tax issues. As such, the work is research orientated: “We look at recent decisions and changes in tax law and how they affect clients,” one trainee clarified. The tax seat at V&E is a little different from other seats because “if you work for the tax team, the responsibility is small because it is a specialized practice. The seat requires a level of knowledge trainees don’t have. The whole point is that you are not given a lot of responsibility, but it allows you to work for other teams.”
Trainees also did some cross-seat work in the energy, transactions & projects team. We heard the group has a particular focus on Africa and the Middle East. For example, V&E advised CPChem, a petrochemical company, on its agreement with QatarEnergy to proceed with construction of a $6bn integrated polymers complex in Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar. As projects work is known for being long-term, the work involved some joint venture, asset based and ESG matters. Like other seats at the firm, trainees draft, proof, amend agreements and track changes between negotiations, while also undertaking due diligence and client calls. This group’s clients range from the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan, private equity company Apollo Global Management and Origem Energia, a Brazilian energy company.
It seems not even London is immune from a bit of Southern charm, as everyone in the office was described as “friendly and hospitable. We draw on our Texan roots and that does come across!” Another source added that “we are a close-knit firm, everyone knows each other, and you’re encouraged to form relationships with everyone.” On the social side of things, there is the usual Christmas and summer parties, but “each team will have its own events.” Insiders mentioned charity bike rides from London to Brighton, a party at partner’s house and trainee dinners.
“We get on-the-job training rather than formal classroom style."
Interviewees observed that when it comes to training, a good balance is struck by “people being there to help but also prepared to let you find your own feet.” As such, “we get on-the-job training rather than formal classroom style, and you learn by osmosis.” There are some more ad hoc sessions too, which are partner led on specific practice groups. Trainees also share an office with their supervisor, which is said to be quite informal: “they are happy to discuss whatever, whenever” – cue Shakira! Formally, trainees get feedback through “an appraisal and review at the end of every seat.” The source reflected that “we get pretty good feedback from everyone we’ve worked with. They tell us the points of improvement and congratulate us on what we did well.” In addition to this, there is a monthly checklist trainees and supervisors go through together “to champion development and tick off skills gained.”
V&E has recently moved to a four day in-office schedule, and Stiegler explains how "our culture of teamwork and collaboration, and the development of our talent, is stronger when we're together in-person. With everyone in the office more often, trainees will get even more one-on-one time with partners and associates." Recruitment manager Aman Khaira also mentions that coming in everyday has proved helpful for trainees in “creating more relationships through one-to-one interactions with peers.”
With that much office attendance, you might be eager to know how much time you can expect to be spending there. Insiders told us that litigation hours tend to be consistent, around 50 hours a week, whereas transactional is “much more variable.” But with first years earning a handsome £60,000 a year, and NQs taking home close to a whopping £174,000, our interviewees had nothing to complain about.
But before the salary jumps to that enormous sum, trainees must get through the qualification process. Luckily, as the London branch is quite small, this is said to be informal. How it loosely rolls is that “you indicate to HR and the supervising partner where you want to qualify in your third seat," to help structure the fourth seat. In terms of how the firm makes a decision, we were told “if there is an issue, the partner in charge will let you know." In 2023, the firm retained five out of six trainees.
Helping others achieVE their best:
Trainees work with GCSE students at a school in Shadwell, helping them with CVs and life skills: “We run mock trials, invite them to the office and order pizza!”
How to get a Vinson & Elkins training contract
- Spring/Summer Vacation scheme deadline 2024: 12 January 2024
- Autumn/Winter Vacation Scheme for Late Submissions: 30 June 2024
- Open Day discoVEr – Event Date: 23 April 2024. Applications open 1 November 2023 and close 2 February 2024
Vinson & Elkins only offers training contracts to those who have completed a placement with the firm. “During the course of the one week that candidates spend in our London office, they will experience firsthand what it is like to be a trainee at the firm”, says training principal Scott Stiegler. Client led tasks – such as research projects, drafting documents, participating in internal strategy discussions, joining calls and meetings with clients and opposing counsel – as well as mentoring and support help candidates feel confident in deciding whether V&E is for them. Not only will a candidate share a room with an associate or partner, they will also have the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of different practice groups during the week.
To land a placement, applicants must first pass an interview (to which approximately 80 candidates are invited) where they can expect to present to a panel of interviewers on one out of three topics which are provided in advance. They will also be asked a range of other questions, such as why they've chosen to apply to a firm that specialises in energy and what they find exciting or interesting about the sector, especially if it has been listed as a key attraction on their application form. If candidates list other practice specific interests, e.g. disputes, interviewers will likely ask about that.
The firm typically accepts around 30 participants onto its vacation scheme. Each week-long scheme aims to confirm that both sides – the firm and the applicants – are happy with the fit. Towards the end of the week-long placement, candidates will be invited to a final training contact interview with the graduate recruitment panel. “The firm makes decisions based on how the placement went coupled with their subsequent performance at their training contract interview,” Stiegler tells us.
Training Contract Application Process
The deadline to submit an application to complete a vacation scheme in the Spring/Summer is 12 January 2024. There will be an opportunity for those who miss the deadline to submit an application to complete a vacation scheme in the Autumn/Winter season, however these only take place if there are still positions available after the Spring/Summer vacation scheme.
Vinson & Elkins gets approximately 600 applications each year for the four to six training contracts that it offers. Competition, naturally, is fierce. Grades-wise, applicants will need at least a 2:1 and AAB at A level to land an interview, but what comes next? “If you've made it into the interview, you're obviously a good candidate on paper,” says Scott. “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 interviewees 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. Many candidates talk about sporting achievements, but we have had candidates tell us about more unique hobbies ranging from hang gliding to poetry. 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 Stiegler and our trainee sources agreed that 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,” Stiegler 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 current and future trainees contain graduates of Durham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Warwick, 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. “Work experience allows people to develop transferable skills, such as communication and teamwork”.
Open Day – discoVEr
Students in the ﬁrst year of their degree who would like to learn more about Vinson & Elkins may be interested in attending the firm's Open Day, discoVEr V&E, which will be held at its London office on 23 April 2024. Applications for the Open Day will open on 1 November 2023 and close on 2 February 2024. This will provide an opportunity to:
- Learn more about V&E and its London office
- Join an illustrative case study of a deal
- Participate in a commercial awareness workshop
- Hear from the associates on diversity, equity & inclusion at V&E
- Get practical tips on how to do well in applications
- Attend a trainee and graduate recruitment Q&A panel
- Network with partners, counsel, associates, and trainees in a relaxed environment over refreshments
Vinson & Elkins RLLP
20 Fenchurch Street,
We opened our London office in 1971, making Vinson & Elkins one of the first U.S. law firms to operate in London. Since then, we have built a dynamic office, undertaking work that has gained the respect of clients around the world.
Main areas of work
Our London office regularly serves as the coordinating hub for much of the firm’s international and cross-border work and the team has amassed a wealth of experience working on projects for clients in almost every country on the map. We are accustomed to working not only in well-defined markets, but also in less familiar and more challenging environments, under developing local regimes or those with evolving communications and infrastructure. We know how to adapt to local customs, cultures and laws, enabling us to handle matters quickly and effectively.
Whilst being based in London, trainees often take secondments in our other offices (particularly our offices in the Middle East and Houston), and travel is a likely part of any training contract with us. Trainees will have the support of an associate mentor to provide an extra, and hands-on, port of call for support and assistance.
Vinson & Elkins looks to recruit from the best candidates, and we believe our training contracts reflect this — both in quality of training and work, as well as in the highly competitive salary and benefits. We believe that by hiring the best lawyers and giving them every opportunity to develop their practice in a supportive environment, they will flourish, and so will our firm.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Projects (Band 2)