This huge New Yorker takes on the City's big dogs in private equity and corporate finance.
Master of one
It's nice to be a jack-of-all-trades, dipping your toe, keeping multiple fingers in many pies. But sometimes that doesn't cut it. For firms looking to dominate all things financial in the City, a John Smith's, bomb-off-the-top-board, eat-all-the-pies-and-ask-for-more approach works wonders. That's what NY-founded Weil Gotshal has done in London. “This is a very focused firm," one newbie summarised. "Weil doesn't have the broadest spectrum of work. Instead it is excellent at what it focuses on, which is private equity and corporate banking." This boast isn't without basis. The UK office has only been around since 1996, but has managed to pepper its client list with big names like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, along with a slew of private equity firms. Of course, there are plenty of angles from which to approach private equity and finance, and Weil has a good go at many. It snags top marks in Chambers UK for its private equity work, but it's also recognised for banking & finance, capital markets, corporate and insolvency.
"... excellent at what it focuses on, which is private equity and corporate banking."
Trainees signed up specifically because of these specialities – but the small intake also caught their eye. "Magic circle firms can take on almost 100 trainees whereas we take ten to eleven each year," one source pointed out. "People know who you are so you can't really get lost in the system. It's easy to get noticed when you do something good. On the flip side if you do something bad then it's easy to get noticed as well." The London office has been doing something good of late: revenue grew by an impressive 33% in 2017. Should trainees be offered a place after qualifying, their financials will look equally impressive: the firm trumps most in the City by offering a £115,000 NQ salary. Where's the catch, we hear you say? American, finance-focused firm – the warning signs are all there. Some long hours lie in wait.
Keep your ear to the pound
Trainees must complete a seat in corporate and one in either banking and finance or structured finance. The mandatory contentious stint can be ticked off via a seat in litigation; IP; employment; business, finance and restructuring; or a short litigation course. Previously the job of a single partner, seats are now allocated by a new graduate recruitment panel. Trainees submit their top three preferences – that's clear – but when it comes to why who gets what, trainees drew something of a blank. “It would be nice if the process was a bit more transparent. You put down your options, send them through and very little is said thereafter." Nevertheless, a number of trainees had got all their choices and a few felt the process had improved since the introduction of the graduate recruitment panel. Third and fourth-seat trainees can also apply to go abroad on secondment to Hong Kong, Paris or New York. The application process is similar, except for the fact that if multiple people apply (as is very likely) a business case must also be submitted.
Corporate is Weil's largest department in London and handles a host of mergers, takeovers, disposals and joint ventures in sectors like finance, energy and telecommunications. These are frequently international. Recent clients include Goldman Sachs, General Electric and law firm RPC, and the firm also helped nuclear group Westinghouse Electric on its $4.6 billion sale to Brookfield Business Partners. Teaming up with their American colleagues, lawyers also played a role in the $17.8 billion bid by 21st Century Fox for Sky.
Trainees found themselves “involved in a lot of Companies House filings, drafting ancillaries board resolutions and doing a lot of proofreading and cross-checking.” But that was it. "Corporate is the most hierarchical department," judged insiders. "There are more set trainee tasks and the team is very deferential to a couple of partners at the top. That sets the tone for the entire team." As a result, trainees told us they spent less time developing their skills and more time "finding out my position in the hierarchy, working out who to talk and who not to talk to.” One common complaint was that trainees were often not copied in on emails, leaving them unclear on the bigger picture of deals.
“Weil is known for having its finger on the pulse.”
The private funds team advises fund managers across private equity, real estate and infrastructure on fundraising and other related matters. It advised Berkshire Partners on its private equity fund which raised $5 billion, as well as investor Actis on the development of an infrastructure fund which will attempt to raise $2 billion. For trainees, part of the work "was similar to corporate: processing a lot of investor comments, making sure everything was ticking over in the right time." However trainees were also tasked with a lot of "research into the market. Weil is known for having its finger on the pulse, so you provide support to the senior members of the team to ensure that when they are talking to the clients they're aware of what the market is saying."
The second largest department, banking and finance, deals with both leveraged finance and high-yield bonds. On the leveraged finance side it acts either for the lender (usually a bank) looking to finance a private equity firm, or for private equity firms (the sponsor) who need to finance an acquisition. Recently the team advised a consortium of lenders (which included Credit Suisse) on the financing of CVC Capital Partners' €1 billion acquisition of Zabka, a chain of convenience stores in Poland. Another piece of work had the firm advise private equity firms Advent International and Bain Capital on the $430 million financing of their acquisition of payments company Concardis.
Sources found the banking seat to be "extremely fast-paced, so you have to be extremely reactive when people ask you a question." Generally "the role of the trainee is to do the heavy lifting," which meant "keeping on top of the conditions precedent checklist. There are a whole bunch of procedures you need to follow, and tasks that need to be completed before a bank will lend money. It's the trainees task to draft that checklist and run that process."
The structured finance team is best known for its collateralised loan obligations practice. “I found it very interesting,” said one source. “It's technical and hard – which I liked – you can learn a lot." Trainees' work involved "thinking through the legal process on how you structure transactions. That involved reading legislation, writing up memos to the client and negotiating term sheets." It's a challenging area of law, requiring a lot of tutelage from trainees' supervisors. When that relationship prospered, trainees "really enjoyed the seat. There was very much an understanding that it is an incredibly complicated department. One useful resource was a consultant professional support lawyer. If you had particularly technical points you needed to understand, he would be able to talk you through the nuances." The clients are asset managers, and include Barclays, BlackRock and Deutsche Bank. When the UK government executed its plans to sell off student loans for the first time, the team completed a structure for Barclays to facilitate the £1.7 billion securitisation of that sale.
Weil's litigation team was one of many to pick up work from the much-publicised 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal. The team represented the development company in arbitration against a claim by the International Petroleum Investment Company that certain assets had been misappropriated. But a focus on tax in London meant it also advised both retailer Littlewoods and Ingenious Investments in their separate tax-related battles with HMRC.
When our interviewees had sat there, however, they found that the team “wasn't amazingly busy.” Trainees were therefore drafted in to support the restructuring and corporate teams, and took the opportunity to work on pro bono. Trainees picked up research tasks and drafted witness statements, and one trainee observed that litigation offered a slightly slower pace. “Court deadlines are much more spread out, so you're working towards much longer deadlines and your relationship to the client is different. In transactional seats the client drives the deal whereas in litigation they are very much relying on you to drive it."
“The work was both commercial and intellectually rigorous.”
Sources in the aforementioned business finance and restructuring team (BFR) found that the often technical work involved "more legalese and required more legal research compared to corporate or banking." One source described how “the work was both commercial and intellectually rigorous. You had the excitement of a transactional pace, but you would also be doing long research tasks.” Restructuring is the firm's best-known speciality in the US. The firm worked on the infamous Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, and related work has trickled through to London. Elsewhere the London team assisted their Stateside brethren on the English law elements of US offshore drilling company Paragon Offshore's restructuring, and helped LEGO navigate the Toys R Us bankruptcy. The busy and complicated nature of the department prompted one source to warn that "you need the base understanding of a lot of concepts. The work is very difficult if you don't know them.”
Stay a Weil
As with many US firms there is a "big push to do pro bono work, and our pro bono side of things is exemplary." Partner organisations include the NSPCC, Oxfam, Reprieve and Stonewall. Sources also told of attending the Mary Ward Legal Centre and a weekly opportunity to go down to the Bar Pro Bono Unit. The work "teaches you a lot of soft skills rather than technical skills. It is excellent for learning how to handle all kinds of people." Pro bono work now counts as billable time too. "On average we do about 50 hours of pro bono work a year so that has been welcomed across the board."
“You are expected to take the initiative.”
But pro bono is only a sliver of trainees' substantial workload. Hours tended to fluctuate, but every interviewee had found themselves slogging it out during pretty regular busy periods. That meant leaving between 10pm and the early morning. "At the start the hours were very difficult!" said one insider. "But once you've done it for a few weeks your body just adjusts!" Another commented: "On weeknights you inevitably end up cancelling plans sometimes.” Overall it's an environment suited to those with certain characteristics. “It has a reputation as an intense place, and to some extent that is true.” Sources stressed that "we are not fighting each other to prove ourselves," but we also heard that “everyone is a go-getter.” Or, put another way: “With a lot of things you are expected to take the initiative.” The best example is training. As one source explained: "There is no formal training as such, so development depends on the capabilities of each trainee." This also meant that your "experience is really influenced in a big way by who your supervisor is in each seat" and while "supervision has mostly been good, it's something that varies. The firm needs to work on standardising that.”
But the firm holds its trainees' hands in other ways: “In the office we have a dry cleaning service, physiotherapy, massages, shoe polishing, and there's a cake trolley on Thursday, which is a highlight. I've never used the sleeping pods, but they are available.” Weil doesn't pack its social calendar to the brim, but trainees get the usual Christmas and summer parties and we heard there's also a "quiz in May and some smaller charity things like a charity bake-off." Within departments "how sociable people are varies quite a lot. Banking and litigation are really sociable and BFR puts on drinks every two weeks." Meanwhile a corporate source described how they felt “very well rewarded here. We went to the National Gallery and had a private tour and dinner in the central hall.”
The process of qualification is "fairly informal. It's about talking to partners, expressing your interests and keeping in touch." This did leave sources feeling that "the process is quite opaque. Nobody really knows what's going on. Some departments don't take anyone and they don't say so early on. You have to keep asking to find out." Despite offering every NQ a place, the firm only kept 50% of trainees in 2017. It had retained 100% of trainees in the previous two years. This blip was put down to those places not being in the desired departments. In 2018 the firm kept on 11 out of 14 qualifiers.
Weil makes it into the top 25 on Chambers Global's list of the most capable global law firms.
How to get a Weil training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (open 1 January 2019)
Applications and interviews
Weil’s graduate recruitment team attends law fairs at universities across the UK including Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, King’s, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, UCL and Warwick. They also organise various skills sessions, workshops, partner-led presentations and insight days throughout the year – check Weil's events calendar for details.
Students interested in a training contract with Weil can apply for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract.
Applications for both vacation scheme and training contract positions are made via an online process. All applications are reviewed by Weil’s graduate recruitment team and a partner. The best of the bunch progress to the next stage, where candidates undertake a multiple choice critical reasoning test. Applicants that pass the test are then invited to submit an online video interview, which is reviewed by a partner.
Those that impress are offered a first-round in-person interview with a partner and an associate, and are then asked to complete a written exercise. This stage is geared toward finding out more about a candidate's background, motivations and career aspirations, but recruiters will also be assessing technical and commercial knowledge. Human resources project manager Lisa Powell tells us successful candidates are the ones who demonstrate “an understanding of our practice areas thoroughly enough that they can hold a conversation about them” and, of course, “a keen interest in Weil.” She advises candidates to “put some thought into our business and how it differentiates itself from competitor firms.”
“It’s formal in as much as any interview is,” Powell continues, “but we hope candidates feel at ease when they meet partners. It’s challenging, but we’re not looking to catch anyone out. It should be enjoyable.” Successful applicants are then made vacation scheme offers. For candidates applying directly for a training contract, there is a second-round interview with two partners before offers are made.
Weil runs three two-week vacation schemes: one in the spring and two in the summer. There are 30 places available across all three. Students spend each week in a different practice area and are required to complete assessments during the programme, including a group negotiation exercise and a group pitch presentation.
According to Lisa Powell, “those who perform really well are the ones able to juggle different tasks – people who can balance the preparation necessary for their assessments with the work they’ve been asked to undertake for their supervisor. These are the skills they need as a trainee at Weil.” She adds that the vacation scheme is not only a chance to test such skills but “to assess a candidate’s enthusiasm and attitude towards their work.”
'Social darts' (like darts, but more fun), ping-pong tournaments and dinner at the swish Kensington Roof Gardens have featured in previous vacation schemes. Participants are also invited to informal drinks with the graduate recruitment team and trainees on their last day. The vac scheme also culminates in an interview with a few partners, and if students impress at this stage they'll be offered a training contract.
Private equity explained
Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP
110 Fetter Lane,
- Partners 31
- Associates 100+
- Totaltrainees 26
- UKoffices 1
- Overseasoffices 17
- Graduate recruiter: Laura Nelson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 15
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB (or equivalent)
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 January 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 14 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL - £8,000, LPC - £10,000
Established in 1996, Weil’s London office is the largest of its European offices and the hub of its European practice. The office is a leading player in the UK legal market and is consistently regarded as one of the most successful London offices of a US-based law firm. The firm supports a varied client base of European, US and global private equity houses, corporates and financial institutions on domestic and cross-border matters.
Weil’s strategy is focused on long-term investment in recruiting and retaining exceptional talent at all levels. The firm’s people celebrate diversity and inclusion, and its award-winning pro bono programme is deeply ingrained in the firm’s culture.
Main areas of work
The majority of the firm’s work involves multidisciplinary teams across the specialist fields of tax, competition, IP, IT and data privacy, employment, management incentives, real estate, corporate governance and compliance, leveraging the expertise of its full service capabilities for its clients.
You will be paid £400 per week.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)