“Everything is 100% international” at this elite US outfit’s London base.
The training contract review 2020/21: White & Case
“It’s not just marketing spin, White & Case is genuinely international,” one trainee affirmed, echoing the comments of many another we spoke with on the phone. The evidence? First, “it isn’t a firm where half the trainee intake is competing to complete a seat abroad – everybody is guaranteed an international secondment.”Second, “it’s becoming increasingly common for associates to qualify into other offices too. In the last round, associates qualified into offices in the Middle East, New York and Singapore, while one remained on secondment in Moscow for an extended period.” Third, sources highlighted the work, which is “always cross-border; matters nearly always require you to work with different teams from across the firm’s network.” For example, the firm’s London and Tokyo asset finance teams recently represented leading German financial institution Deutsche Bank on the financing of 12 Embraer E190 aircraft, which were to be leased to airlines based in Africa, Spain and Mexico. “Read theFinancial Times, and there’ll always be companies mentioned that you are working with,” one junior boasted.
“It’s becoming increasingly common for associates to qualify into other offices too.”
To look at what the firm has achieved in global clout, White & Case is moving in the same circles as the magic circle. Our trainee sources had sought “a firm that was well established in the City” when looking for a training contract. W&C “has been on the scene for decades” unlike some other US outfits in the capital – indeed, the firm opened shop in London in 1971, so it’s nearing its 50th anniversary in the city. W&C is also one of the biggest US outfits in the city, especially when you look at the number of trainees it takes on. With size comes some enhanced capabilities, and the firm has a plethora of Chambers UK rankings to its name. In London, it’s recognised for the strength of its banking & finance, capital markets, restructuring, and construction practices among many others. On a UK-wide basis, its arbitration, energy, private equity, and projects teams are all highly commended. Chambers Global similarly rewards the firm with top marks for its arbitration, construction and projects know-how, on top of a whole host of other rankings. Go to chambers.com for the full list. Given the firm’s global outlook, trainees felt that “speaking a second or even third language is a great string in your bow. However, it’s not essential by any means, as English is the global language of business.”
Trainees submit three seat preferences before their training contracts starts and continue to do so two months before each subsequent rotation. At least one seat must be a finance seat. While our survey results revealed some grumbles from trainees about their current assigned seat, generally our interviewees agreed that “you’re very likely to get one of your top three preferences most times.” Sources also felt it was important for future trainees to know that for those who put down real estate as an option, “you’re either placed into the real estate team or real estate finance team, there is no distinction made between the two.”
Overseas secondments are usually reserved for the final seats. Trainees are provided with a full list of secondment options, “from which you are required to rank your preferences by practice area, along with a covering letter explaining your interest.” In that letter, they can outline their interest in a specific office. Past seats have included Singapore, Dubai, Paris, and Beijing. Although it’s true all trainees are guaranteed a spot, some sources suggested there was some competition to secure a spot for “the more glamorous locations,” with one adding sassily: “Who wants to go to Frankfurt?” Ouch. Frankfurt sounds good to us. Our insiders also pointed out that “providing you know where you want to qualify, you’re able to complete both a client and international secondment.”The former are available on an ad hoc basis.
Arbitration and litigation are the two main groups that comprise W&C’s disputes umbrella. Trainees are typically placed within one of the two groups, though sources pointed out to us that “often you might work for both groups.”Within the litigation group you’ll find further subgroups including commercial disputes, regulatory enforcement, white-collar, and technology disputes. Clients include Goldman Sachs, Toshiba and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). The department recently advised Ukrainian conglomerate System Capital Management throughout litigation/arbitration proceedings spanning London, Cyprus and Holland; the dispute revolved around the purchase of a Ukrainian telecoms operator and the many issues stemming from it, including fraud allegations, injunction relief and arbitration award enforcements. W&C ultimately secured a settlement. Trainees largely perform the same role in both arms of the disputes practice. “There’s an awful lot of proofreading and bundling,” one source said, but we also heard of trainees taking on more substantive tasks and “juicy work” such as preparing witness statements and conducting research. For example, one of our interviewees was kept busy with “research into how cryptocurrencies are interpreted around the world,” while another had looked into “the viability of bringing an arbitration claim to the UK.”In summary: “There is a lot of grunt work but a lot of intellectually stimulating research too.”
EIPAF is W&C’s energy, infrastructure, projects and asset finance group. Sources explained that “it depends on your supervisor what range of work you’re exposed to; some trainees work exclusively within one area such as mining or rail, whereas others work across all the areas.”Other strands include oil and liquified natural gas (LNG). On certain projects, the trainee role could be very process-driven, as this source explained: “Preparing packs for sponsors; proofreading; collating and printing documents for signing; checking all the documents had been signed; and collating the signature pages.” Recently, the department has acted on projects ranging from the $20 billion (plus) financing of a gas liquification facility in Mozambique; a hybrid project financing (including a sovereign guarantee) worth $2.3 billion for a subsidiary of Uzbekistan’s national oil and gas company; and the implementation of a public-private partnership for a new highway in the Czech Republic.
For their compulsory finance seat, trainees can choose from real estate finance, asset finance, banking & finance, and leveraged finance. On the banking & finance side, the team represented CVC Capital Partners and its Finnish healthcare portfolio company, Mehiläinen, in relation to its €380 million public offer to acquire a company operating in the same sector. W&C’s asset finance lawyers, meanwhile, have been busy advising Brookfield Infrastructure and its partners on the $8.4 billion acquisition of Genesee & Wyoming, which has a portfolio of railways operating across North America, Europe and Australia. Collectively, the seats scored poorer than other transactional seats in our survey, particularly when it came to how interesting the work was perceived to be and whether trainees would be happy to qualify in the area. One interviewee reasoned that “it’s not a reflection on the firm, but more on finance law” and explained that “the work is often repetitive and highly procedural” – this is often the case for trainees in finance seats at many firms. In banking, classic trainee tasks include managing conditions precedent (CP) checklists as well as “drafting and duplicating many of the minor documents.”Real estate finance only takes on one trainee per rotation, which means “responsibility is quite high,” while in asset financesources found themselves “working closely with the partners for clients such as airlines, debtors and banks. There are similar structures in finance documents, but here the process is different, which makes it unique.”
“I’ve been able to run calls independently when a client has rung up and asked for advice.”
The corporatedepartment is split in two areas: private equityand M&A. The latter has tended to focus on private M&A in the past, but in recent years more public M&A work governed by the Takeover Code has found its way into the group as a result of lateral partner hires. The team covers both regulatory and transactional matters and a variety of deal types, including those occurring in the oil and gas, pharma and hotel sectors. Recently, the team advised a Nigerian oil and gas business, Seplat Petroleum Development Company, on its £382 million cash offer for AIM-listed Eland Oil & Gas, which has assets in Nigeria. Sources indicated that “there were more drafting opportunities and a lot more client contact compared to the finance seats.”One added: “On some calls with partners, I would just be taking the minutes. However, there were also times where I’ve been able to run calls independently when a client has rung up and asked for advice.”
Starting a new job can be scary, especially if it’s your first one straight out of university, and especially if it’s one with a prestigious law firm. However, our interviewees stressed that W&C is a “friendlier and less intimidating place than you would think. People are eager to talk to you and it doesn’t feel stuffy.”That’s good to hear. As with many firms, we did hear one or two reports of “some partners who you want to avoid as they seem to only speak with other seniors,” but most sources put this down to the realities of working in any large organisation. For the most part, interviewees agreed that partners “were very approachable and down-to-earth.”
“It’s a friendlier, less intimidating place than you would think.”
There’s no sugar-coating the fact that trainees at W&C work long hours– a reality underpinned by the international nature of the firm’s work. “Especially in the transactional world, your hours are ultimately dictated by wherever the client is in the world,” one source stated. Detailing the pressures that come with the job, another added: “If we receive a document at 9pm from a client, it is expected that it will be fully reviewed, analysed and returned by 9am, even if that means working very late.” Most trainees tend to be in the office until around 7.30pm most nights, with only occasional opportunities to leave at 6pm. At the later end of the spectrum, “it’s not unheard of to be working until 4am too.”Another source added: “I haven’t had too many long periods working past midnight. As you progress, you get better at prioritising and anticipating work more efficiently.” We also heard that “most people take lunch away from their desk and don’t tend to start working until 9.30am.”
While most trainees in our survey expected to qualify with W&C, our interviewees did highlight that “the level of churn increases when you’re on the associate track.” It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that a desire for a better work/life balance was singled out as the most deciding factor in determining W&C trainees’ future career moves in our survey. Indeed, sources confirmed that “a lot of people opt to go to a smaller firm or in-house later on.” Positively, trainees praised the firm for being proactive in addressing mental health, with “a tonne of resources available.”For example, the firm runs a series of monthly training sessions to support trainees' mental health. The firm also offers free counselling sessions and has trained several mental health first-aiders in the office.
Lawyers at the firm may work hard, but they are partly rewarded with many a firm-backed social activity. The highlight of the year is the White & Case World Cup, which sees lawyers from around the globe get together in office teams for three days of football, volleyball and – for those who favour a less physically jarring activity, like us – a barbecue. In 2019, it all kicked off in Madrid. Anyone who wants to attend is whisked away for the three-day celebration and they don't need to take annual leave to get involved. Back at base, sources felt that “some departments are more social than others,”with disputes being flagged as among the liveliest. “We also try to arrange informal trainee drinks most Fridays,” one source informed us.
The qualification process kicks off three months before the end of the fourth and final seat. HR reach out with a list of NQ options, from which trainees can select three to apply for. “Typically, you also reach out to the team you’re applying to,”a trainee explained. “Some departments require additional tests on top of looking at your reviews.” Trainees might also need to interview; it just depends on the department. In 2020, W&C retained 32 of 41 of its trainees, with two fixed-term contracts.
The guaranteed overseas seat might see trainees jet off toAbu Dhabi, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm, or Tokyo.
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How to get a White & Case training contract
Open day deadline: see website
Vacation scheme deadlines: 4 November 2020 (winter); 15 January 2021 (spring and summer)
First year insight scheme: 31 March 2021
Training contract deadline (2021): 15 July 2021
The firm holds open days in November, with 30 spaces available on each. The open days are for second year students, penultimate-year students, finalists and graduates. The purpose of the open days is to provide participants with a useful insight into the firm and the training on offer. During the open days, there is an introduction to the business and an opportunity to hear about the role of a trainee from some of the current intake. Participants get to chat with many people over lunch before receiving practical tips on applications and interviews, and have the opportunity to put their decision-making skills to the test in an interactive decision-making game. The day finishes with another opportunity to speak with a variety of people about life at White & Case over drinks.
First-year two-day insight schemes
In May White & Case will be holding two-day insight schemes specifically for first-year students, with 30 places available on each. These schemes are designed to help introduce participants to the many areas of law, the different types of firms, and help confirm or dispel any myths associated with becoming a lawyer. Participants will receive guidance on how to strengthen their applications and will get to meet different members of the firm informally over lunch and drinks. Participants will also spend time work-shadowing a White & Case trainee, offering insight into the day-to-day role of a trainee solicitor at White & Case.
To apply for an open day or first-year two-day insight scheme, applicants need to submit an online application form, which is a condensed version of the one used for training contract and vacation scheme applications.
The recruitment process
Aspiring trainees need to have achieved, or be on track to achieve, a solid 2:1. The firm also expects AAB at A level and predominantly As at GCSE or equivalent. In addition to a good academic record, the firm is on the lookout for ambitious trainees with a desire to gain hands-on practical experience from day one. They should have an understanding of international commercial issues and an interest in working on big-ticket, cross-border work.
The firm asks applicants to provide details of extracurricular activities and work experience on their application forms. Both are important for demonstrating that you're well rounded. Head of graduate resourcing and development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Christina Churchman, explains: “If we haven't already had the opportunity to meet an applicant on one of our vacation schemes, then we expect to see evidence that they have taken steps to find out what it is like to work in a law firm. This can be demonstrated by work experience or vacation schemes undertaken at either similar firms or with an in-house legal team at a large corporate or financial institution.”
A lot of attention is paid to the accompanying cover letter, which should “detail why applicants want to work at White & Case, and highlight the specific characteristics of the firm that attracted them to us, such as our training programme, our clients, or the type of work that we do,” Churchman says. “It's an opportunity for them to show they've done their research and understand where we sit in the market.”
White & Case receives 4,000 applications for its vacation schemes each year, and a similar number for training contracts. Those who impress on the application form are asked to complete an online video-interview assessment. Applicants are asked to respond to a few questions and record their responses. Churchman adds that the video assessment “gives candidates an opportunity to bring their application to life and show us more of their personality.”
Following the video interview assessment, successful applicants are invited to attend a face-to-face interview with an associate and a member of the graduate resourcing team, as part of the interview applicants are also asked to complete a written exercise. Following this, the firm makes vacation scheme offers; meanwhile training contract applicants who impress go on to attend an assessment centre involving an interview with an associate and a member of the graduate resourcing team, a written exercise and a group exercise “We're looking to challenge applicants,” says Churchman. Around 50% of candidates then make it through to the final stage interview which takes place with two partners. This includes a presentation on a commercial topic which applicants are asked to prepare in advance. Churchman tells us candidates should expect to be “challenged a little more in this interview and questioned on a broader scope of areas, especially when it comes to gauging their commercial knowledge and interest in White & Case.”
The firm offers 50 training contracts each year, more than any other US-headquartered firm in London. Trainees start in either March or September.
It's worth bearing in mind that 80% to 85% of trainees complete a vacation scheme with the firm before starting. White & Case runs three two-week vacation schemes over the winter, spring and summer holidays. Each vacation scheme has 25 places, but everyone on a scheme can receive a training contract offer. Vac schemers can submit departmental preferences before arriving.
During their placement vac schemers sit with an associate. “They can take on as much as they are willing to,” says Churchman, adding: “We are looking for participants to be proactive and to seek out work from as many people as possible so that they have the best chance of understanding the work we do and integrating themselves within the team.” Sitting in the corporate department during the vac scheme presented just such an opportunity for one current trainee: “My supervisor had a new matter come in on the day I started, and we sealed it off as I was leaving. It felt good getting involved on a mini project.” Churchman goes on to tell us that White & Case is “looking for people who have a deep understanding of the firm – it's impressive when a vac schemer already has an idea of the type of work the department does and the deals it's working on.”
On the social side White & Case hosts welcome drinks on the London Eye, plus a vac scheme social; previous activities include sushi making, mini golf and a dinner hosted by the firm’s partners. Vac schemers are also invited to the firm's summer party, which in 2019 was held on the rooftop of St Paul’s Sky Bar , complete with a band and canapés.
White & Case's restructuring and competition seats
Trainees in the restructuring team need to have a keen eye for “monitoring the health of a company’s financials and looking at where they might become distressed.”One trainee told us that they liked “the technicality of the seat. It can feel very academic when you’re analysing a lot of legislation and related materials.” Another felt there were dimensions to the work that gave a wider sense of satisfaction: “You’re not just making money for a private equity firm; you’re also helping to prevent the loss of jobs or a pension fund from going bust.” On the books of late was UAE water utility company Utico and financial services provider EmiratesNBD Capital; the team advised both on the $2.2 billion restructuring of entities within the Hyflux Group, a Singaporean sustainable solutions company.
Just one trainee sits within the competition team at any one time and is “typically working alongside just one partner and a senior associate, which means it’s a good seat in terms of responsibility. You get involved in a hands-on way, which is positive.” The group tackles a range of contentious and non-contentious work including Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigations and merger-control issues. Sources noted that there’s “a lot of synergy with the Brussels office too.”Clients here include pharmaceutical outfits Alvogen, Karo Pharma and Pfizer; the team recently advised the latter during its appeal against an £84.2 million fine issued by the CMA for excessive pricing.
White & Case LLP
5 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 102*
- Associates 203*
- Total trainees 80*
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 43
- Graduate recruiter: Gemma Barns, Graduate Resourcing & Development Manager
- Training partner: Inigo Esteve
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 50
- Applications pa: 4,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A Levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 75
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline 2023: 15th July 2021
- Winter vacation scheme deadline: 4th November 2020
- Spring and summer vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 15th January 2021
- Open day deadline: Please visit website
- First-year insight scheme deadline: 31st March 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First year: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £130,000
- LPC Fees: Yes
- GDL Fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL £7,500
- LPC £10,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm, Tokyo
Main areas of work
White & Case Virtual Learning Programme
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 2)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 6)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 2)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 1)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 3)
- Projects (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)