New York firm Weil had an “exceptional year” in the City in 2018 – the secret to its success? A clear focus on corporate finance and private equity.
Strike Weil the iron is hot
This New York native set up shop in the City in the 1990s, and ever since its office has gone from strength to strength. Not only is Weil now one of the best firms in the UK for private equity and investment funds work, Chambers UK also commends its expertise in banking and finance, capital markets, and high-end corporate M&A. And as Weil’s firm-wide revenue rose 5% in 2018, London turnover rose 14%, proving London really is doing exceptionally well and helping fire up the firm as a whole. Graduate recruitment partner Tom Richards notes that “across the board, 2018 was a really exceptional year. Our revenue is up, and that is very satisfying because our growth has come from more work from new and existing clients rather than increased partner and associate numbers.” That said, internal promotion is still strong: three of Weil’s 11 partner promotions in 2019 were in London.
“...famous for private equity and restructuring.”
For trainees, what attracted them to the firm was less the fab financials, and more “the balance between the quality of work offered – like at magic circle firms – with a smaller intake, because I didn’t want to be a small cog in a big machine.” This was a common theme, but we'd add that the actual day-to-day tasks Weil's trainees do are pretty similar to those of trainees at big English City firms. Still, being one of two dozen trainees as opposed to one of 50 or 100 or 200 will make some difference, even if it's just more chances to learn by osmosis. A specific interest in the firm's laser-focused expertise was also a factor that drew in many: “I knew I wanted to go down the corporate/finance route, and Weil is very famous for private equity and restructuring.”
Trainees must complete one compulsory seat in corporate and one in 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. The first seat is allocated to trainees, then going forward they can list three preferences with “two or three sentences to explain why you’ve listed them.” Informally, trainees are expected to speak to partners and associates in the departments they're interested in. One observed: “It is quite opaque, but I think graduate recruitment are open to talking about why you got what you did.”
“A pressure-cooker department.”
Corporate is Weil’s biggest department in London and covers cross-border M&A, joint ventures, takeovers and carve-outs. Trainees either work on the private equity side or the real assets side (which has been growing in the past few years). Sources described the seat as “a pressure-cooker department,” because “it’s leading in what it does, and things move so quickly!” Trainees recently got involved in the firm’s work advising Bain Capital on its £1.2 billion acquisition/take-private of UK insurer esure. Lawyers also advised General Atlantic on its sale of weather forecasters MeteoGroup to private holding company TBG. The team also handles corporate reorganisations like “incorporating new companies and changing directors.” Sources found the team to be “very structured,” which means “you know your role.” For trainees, this means tasks like due diligence and managing all the documents, though some had also been able to “help draft acquisition documents.”
Banking is London’s second largest department. The team deals with both sponsor and lender side work on leveraged finance and high-yield bonds matters. “Trainees are usually involved in lots of deals at once, so you have to be organised,” one source advised. Recent matters have included advising private equity group Advent on a $1 billion loan to finance its $1.65 billion take-private acquisition of electronics and tech business Laird, and acting for Barclays on €130 million of financing for the acquisition of foam manufacturer Vita. Trainees mentioned “sitting in on calls with your supervisor, which teaches you negotiation skills,” but their main task is running the conditions precedent (CP) process. Many found “banking is very busy with a lot of work going on,” meaning that “the hours are very long.”
Veni vidi VINCI
The structured finance team handles numerous collateralised loan obligations (CLOs) and other “exotic securitisations.” Trainees also encountered “really interesting” work on non-performing loan deals – those are deals related to debts which aren't being repaid as expected. The team recently advised construction company VINCI on its £2.9 billion majority investment into Gatwick Airport, and has worked on numerous CLOs for private equity giants Carlyle, Blackstone, BlackRock and Oaktree. “There are huge documents that need to be processed here,” one trainee reported. “As a trainee, you are responsible for organising them, taking on comments from various parties and inputting them.” Others had also got stuck into drafting ancillary documents and – again – managing CP checklists. Some found the seat to be “process-driven,” which means “more typical trainee tasks.”
“You tend to support what’s going on.”
The business finance and restructuring practice is split between litigious and transactional sides, and trainees have the chance to get stuck into both. Some had experienced “very high-profile matters where our Google Alerts were buzzing every day – it was very exciting!” At the other end of the spectrum, sources had also worked on more typical matters like the restructuring or administration of companies. The team recently advised helicopter leasing company Waypoint on the restructuring of its debt obligations, and acted as restructuring counsel for Westinghouse Electric in its US bankruptcy proceedings. Trainees said the seat involves “technical work which is hard to do at a junior level, so you tend to support what’s going on.” Interviewees reported “drafting board minutes, drafting appointment documents for companies, and attending meetings with companies in distress.”
The private funds group chiefly represents private equity and investment clients – both small and mid-sized – sponsoring and setting up new funds. For example, it advised London-based Astarte Capital Partners on establishing its $200 million flagship fund. The team covers both the commercial aspects of fund-raising and the regulatory side – “advising on antitrust and competition clearance.” Trainee tasks include “co-ordinating the fund-raising process, but also reviewing fund documentation and having the first go at drafts of certain documents.” One source admitted: “There’s a fair amount of admin trainees are expected to help with, like maintaining checklists and tracker documents.” That said, interviewees were pleased to find they were “dealing directly with clients and investors all the time.”
The employment team is relatively small and mostly plays a supporting role to the transactional teams. For instance, it advised on the employment, benefits and pensions aspects of the sale of Westinghouse Electric's nuclear business as part of the bankruptcy proceedings mentioned above. In addition, “there’s a lot of employment due diligence on private equity deals,” trainees said. This means lawyers work on the employment-related sections of transaction documents or things like director appointments and resignations. The work can also be advisory in nature, and occasionally contentious matters crop up too, though “that’s not very common.” One source reflected: “Most people don’t come to Weil to do employment, but it’s good to see corporate matters from a different perspective.” Trainee tasks include drafting service agreements and settlements, handling due diligence, and reviewing documentation.
For those who wish to do an overseas seats, there are a few conditions attached: trainees must do the equivalent seat in London first and there is “a certain expectation that that will then be the department you qualify into.” Trainees can spend six months in either New York or Hong Kong (or Paris, for those who speak French). To apply, trainees must submit a business case as to why they should go, outlining “why you would be a good representative of the firm and what you’re going to learn.”
Weil You Were Sleeping
Despite the firm hailing from the US of A, sources stressed that “we’re not a satellite office run out of New York; we’ve been in London for 25 years, and while there are US contingents to most of our matters, we also have work based out of London.” Although London clearly holds its own, some common US tropes do still hold true: Weil has a relatively small headcount compared to big UK-born firms (with around 130 qualified lawyers and a trainee intake of 15), plus “you have to willing to work hard. If you are that type of person you will thrive here.” Sources highlighted that “people will give you what you’re willing to take on,” and emphasised that “they'll appreciate you knowing your limits – it’s on you to know if you can take on more or if you need support.”
“No one joining a US firm expects the hours to be nine-to-five, and they haven’t been.”
US firms are notorious for their long hours, and Weil is no exception: “No one joining a US firm expects the hours to be nine-to-five, and they haven’t been.” Corporate and banking were flagged as having particularly long hours, with busy stints lasting a couple of weeks and wrapping up post-2am. Trainees take advantage of the quieter times to make sure they get out the door at 6pm when work allows. The firm tries to make working late as easy as possible: trainees mentioned being able to get taxis home after 9.30pm, plus free dinner after 6.30pm. The firm has sleeping pods too, which are occasionally used – not for lazy afternoon naps, you understand, but in case you've been working till the early hours and know you'll need to be at your desk first thing in the morning to keep working. They're not like something out of TheMatrix by the way, but rather “they're like little hotel rooms with a toothbrush, deodorant and razors – very glam!”
“The pro bono culture here is absolutely amazing,” sources also highlighted. “I wasn’t aware of how much it's encouraged before I started.” Everyone at Weil is expected to do 50 hours of pro bono (it counts as billable for associates) and gets “monthly updates with where our hours are.” Emails with pro bono opportunities are circulated, though sources cautioned that “if you wait five minutes to respond, the places are already gone!” Sources had got stuck into matters including work for the Innocence Project, providing advice at the Mary Ward Legal Centre, and working with small businesses run by women.
Second-years can submit one or two preferences as to where they'd like to qualify, which are sent to practice group heads. That said, “everyone usually speaks to the partners in departments they’re interested in beforehand.” The rest of the process is pretty informal. Weil's retention rates are usually pretty high though there was a bit of a blip in 2017. In 2019 the firm kept on ten out of eleven qualifiers.
Weil is not for the fainthearted: a love of finance and ability to work hard doing long hours lead to success here.
How to get a Weil training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 17 January 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
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, 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 critical reasoning test. Applicants that pass the test are then invited to submit an online video interview.
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. Graduate recruitment and development assistant Laura Nelson tells us successful candidates are the ones who demonstrate “a keen interest in Weil. If you are able to discuss our practice areas and relevant market awareness it shows you have genuine reasons to work for Weil in particular, rather than applying to everyone.” Successful applicants are then made first-year scheme or 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 Laura Nelson, “those who perform really well are the ones who show enthusiasm for the work and assessments provided. The vacation scheme is aimed to mirror the work you get on a training contract, therefore it really demonstrates this is the career you want.”
Crazy golf, ping-pong tournaments and dinner on the roof terrace of City restaurant Madison 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 and negotiation exercise and if students impress at this stage they'll be offered a training contract.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP
110 Fetter Lane,
- Partners 31
- Associates 100+
- Totaltrainees 25
- UKoffices 1
- Overseasoffices 15
- Graduate recruiter: Lara Machnicki, 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 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st June 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st July 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 12th September 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 17th January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £130,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL - £8,000, LPC - £10,000
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
We offer a number of open days throughout the year. Please see our website for dates and how to apply. We also run a one-week paid Fast Track scheme for first year law students and second year nonlaw students.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: High-end Capabilities (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 5)
- Infrastructure Recognised Practitioner
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)