At this private equity powerhouse, having a strong will is key if you want to go farr...
Willkie Farr & Gallagher training contract review 2024
Many a US firm have taken the plunge onto London’s legal scene over the years, but few come along with a private equity practice and an equally as strong litigation team. That is, until Willkie entered the picture. “Willkie is one of the only ones that do it properly,” one trainee quipped. Indeed, the firm is top of the pile for both practices over in Chambers USA. But the London office also receives recognition for its corporate financial crime and competition litigation (private enforcement) practices in Chambers UK. It is also regarded nationwide for insurance work (non-contentious).
Though Willkie is no stranger to the City, the firm’s training contract is very much the new kid on the block. Welcoming just three trainees to its inaugural training contract back in 2021, this has since doubled this year to six. Notably, it’s not the largest of cohorts, so what does it take to become a Willkie trainee? Recruitment manager Gemma Baker tells us that “it’s a hard-working environment, so it’s important people understand that our people work hard, but it is also a collaborative environment.” Training principal Jane Scobie further reveals that the sort of person who thrives at the firm is “someone who is enthusiastic and wants to be seen, it is not for everyone!” Though, if that does sound like your cup of tea, the firm is the perfect environment for this: “If you want to take on responsibility and do more work, we will provide that,” Scobie adds.
Trainees get to put three choices down prior to seat allocation, but trainees have to sit in private equity and corporate insurance, as well as the standard contentious seat. Over the course of the training contract trainees sit four seats of six months. Allocation is said to be “quite informal based on open lines of communication with Gemma.” While not everything is on offer, trainees had glowing reviews for Gemma Baker’s work during the whole process: “Gemma is good at being transparent about it and she’s really in your corner!”
Willkie’s private equity practice is the hallmark of the firm, and not just because it is a compulsory seat. Tellingly, big venture capitalists dot the client roster like Searchlight Capital Partners, Levine Leichtman Capital Partners & Atlas Holdings. One source revealed to us that “the team does a few buckets of work, but it is mainly fund formation. So, this is closing funds and managing funds as well as secondary transactions.” They added that, “there’s also funds existing where an investor has an interest in and wants to sell that interest to another investor. They close at the end of quarter so there are four big deadlines which generates a lot of work.” Other sources weren’t shy either about the volume of work in this department, one interviewee noted that “private equity is a spurt of business. There are more sharp bursts, so then you get reward of finishing something quicker.”If you’re wondering what keeps a private equity trainee so busy, another source helpfully explained that “transaction management is a big part of it, keeping on top of things like documents list and who holds the pen on what.” But not just that, another insider revealed that “due diligence is also an important part of the work in this department”, as well as “drafting corporate governance, board resolutions and reviewing contracts.” The hard work obviously pays off, as recently Willkie advised a consortium on a high-profile acquisition of Bournemouth Football Club.
“Our day-to-day trainee life was the golden ticket you’d want as a litigator.”
Though transactional seats are plentiful at the firm, Willkie’slitigation seat was the star of the show for some of our sources. As a compulsory seat for trainees, it offers a very different experience from the rest of Willkie’s departments. We heard that the whole contentious group comprises of litigation regulation, enforcement, compliance and arbitration. In the core seat itself, trainees were kept bust with “legal research tasks, drafting correspondence letters to court and on the other side drafting pleadings of claim.” For a few lucky interviewees, they joined the team when a twenty-week trial was ongoing. “Our day-to-day trainee life was the golden ticket you’d want as a litigator” one source beamed. Adding that, “we were exposed to so much,” getting the opportunity to go to court and work with partners and counsel. Another source reflected that “I never felt I was a trainee bolt on, I felt like I got to see the entire workstream going on, being on email chains with partner, it was very rewarding!” Though this work isn’t guaranteed for all trainees, one source did concede that the type of work “depends on what time you go into it and what the team is occupied with at that moment.” Nevertheless, the work the team does is guaranteed to be engaging. Case in point, the team acts for Nopporn Suppipat, a Thai businessman, regarding a $2 billion suit in the Commercial Court surrounding a claim that his shares in his energy company were fraudulently taken from him in a scheme to strip his company of its assets.
Willkie’s finance team is “mainly focused on leveraged finance, working together with the private equity team,” and dealing with clients such asSearchlight Capital Partners, CVC Capital Partners & Stanley Capital Partners. What this means in practice is “whenever a private equity company wants to buy, they need a loan from the bank, so this is what the leveraged finance team helps arrange.” Upon joining the group, one trainee revealed they’re put to work on tasks such as “running checklists and making sure it is up to date,” but on some occasions newbies did have the odd chance of “speaking to clients directly and pushing case along in condition precedents.” As trainees progressed through the seat, one source revealed the tasks turned to more “drafting documents, resolutions, director certificates and any smaller ancillary docs.” Evidently, the responsibility can be quite high in this department, one source indicated that “they can give you whatever you ask for, as a trainee I was able to work on a senior agreement!” Though you should caveat this with the fact that “they do test waters in the beginning!” The source explained that “responsibility is not something automatically given to you as you have to prove you can manage things. But they give you a good opportunity to hit the ground running.”
“There is an incredibly broad practice” in the capital markets team. But the group predominately covers private M&A, public market, cat bonds and high yield bonds as well as working on SPAs. Much like the private equity seat, trainees revealed there was “a lot of transaction management” as well as compiling signature pages. “They are a really impressive department,” one newbie enthused. They added that, “I really broadened my view on how businesses work and what people can do.” As is the trend in many Willkie teams, the lean structure affords a good level of responsibility, “you can take more control as you get through the TC, I could churn out different things and you can progress bits of drafting here and there”. The second half of the capital market seat covers insurance matters. Trainees noted that it is still very corporate: “insurance is very transactional and involves lots of insurance M&A, it is a corporate seat for insurance clients.” The difference though, is that insurance is a highly regulated industry, so “there are lots of regulatory aspects to the work, there is an element of being mindful and working towards processes.” So, trainees had lots of transactional management to do as well as “maintaining document checklist and working with New York teams.” In a recent case,Willkie acted for Prudential Financial as a reinsurer in an $8.1 billion transaction with Barclays Bank.
Much like the clients the firm services, we were told that “Willkie has a fun start-up vibe in the office.” Covering three floors, trainees are expected to be in three days a week, so there is plenty an opportunity to socialise. In fact, one source enthused that “they try to mix different departments and each floor has around two to three teams occupying it.” Another interviewee mentioned that “as we rotate as trainees it is nice to see the cohesion going on, the office is very sociable.” There are also plenty of events to blow off some steam after a busy day, as there are football and netball events at the firm. Not to mention the “IGs” aka informal gatherings in the hub every month, departmental summer parties and a European retreat every two years.
But despite all that social interaction, trainees reported there is no facetime culture at work: “when it is busy, the associates will work and when it is quieter and you want to go to gym at lunchtime or network and have coffee, it is completely respected.” But as is the trend with most transactional seats, hours tended to be longer than in litigation. One source mentioned that “transactional is more up and down and the days range from 5- 13 hours. Contentious seats are much more stable, so you can expect the standard 9-10am starting time and 8-9pm finish time.” But all that hard work is rewarded with a generous pay packet. The firm pays a gigantic £55,000 to first-years, £60,000 to second-years, and then shoots to a towering £150,000 for NQs.
When it comes to supervision, trainees are overseen by a partner two associate mentors for the duration of the training contract and then another supervisor in each seat they sit in. Overall, trainees were very pleased with the supervision. One interviewee mused that “I wasn’t treading on eggshells working with other colleagues more experienced.” They reflected that “it was good to sit in same office as them and learn by osmosis. They put their calls on loudspeaker which was super useful for me.” There are two appraisals during the seat, one informal one mid-way through and a formal one at the end. Then in terms of general training, the majority is on a department level but there is also trainee specific sessions too.
“I was shocked at how diverse the office was for such a small number.”
The firm was highly rated by trainees for its efforts in diversity & inclusion. “I was shocked at how diverse the office was for such a small number,” one trainee confessed. They added that “you have huge mix of people, like those who speak different languages and also a strong LGBTQ mix as well.” Much praise was given again to the firm recruiter Gemma Baker, “working with her on vac schemes, you see that access and social mobility is not overlooked and is something Willkie really looks for and pushes for, to make sure they hire best of the best. It’s so rewarding!”
This year has been particularly exciting for the firm, as they welcomed their first NQs through qualification. Though it is a new process for everyone, it’s understood that it’s an informal one. “I think it should be fairly smooth” one trainee reassured. This confidence is echoed through the fact trainees were very knowledgeable about the process. A final year trainee informed us that “it begins in June and there is no interview process, we put down our top choices.” Even before it begins, we heard “departments have been informally approaching us regarding our choices.” This confidence was well warranted, given that the firm retained all three qualifying trainees this year.
Rainbow Migration: One of the firm’s big pro bono initiatives is working with a charity supporting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in the UK.
How to get a Willkie Farr training contract
- Vacation scheme deadline (202): 20 December 2023
- Training contract deadline (2023): All trainees are recruited through the vacation scheme
Willkie Farr receives over 1,000 applications a year for its vacation schemes, which also doubles as its application for a training contract at the firm.
There are four stages to each application. The first, the online application form, has “two questions: Why law? Why Willkie?” explains graduate recruitment manager, Gemma Baker. The application also includes “space for people to include their extracurricular activities and positions of responsibilities, as well as the standard work experience/employment and academic sections.” The important thing, warns Baker, is not to copy and paste from applications to other firms – which is sensible advice no matter what firm you’re applying for. Willkie reviews applications on a rolling basis but will not fill up places before the deadline. Baker emphasises “it is our strong recommendation that candidates only submit your application when they feel it is ready rather than submitting it as early as possible.”
For those who are selected, the next stage is a video interview. This interview provides candidates with a chance to further demonstrate their “genuine interest in Willkie, as well as their interest in the commercial world,” says Baker. Baker emphasises that it’s important to be able to show your motivation and interest in the business of law. .
If you impress there, you’ll be invited to do a written exercise, which “is marked anonymously by at least two different associates from Willkie’s London office.” Baker explains that as part of the firm’s initiatives to make the process as inclusive as possible, “neither marker would have seen, and will not see, any applications or video interviews and each exercise is marked on a completely anonymous basis (i.e. candidate names/universities etc. are not given to the marker).”
Those who get past this stage are invited to an “interview with a partner and a senior associate,” which are “conducted on a CV-blind basis,” Baker tells us, and “take place either over Zoom or in person.” That interview focusses “on motivational questions and a commercial case study.” Baker adds, “we are real advocates of Rare’s contextual recruitment system, which we actively use throughout the screening process. We also make adjustments to each stage of the process upon request.”
The vac scheme
The firm runs two vacation schemes a year, in spring and summer, and both are two weeks long. Candidates sit in two different teams, with a partner and an associate, and, says Baker, “gain hands-on experience of live work, giving them the opportunity to undertake real, meaningful work and showcase their potential.”
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP
Willkie is an international law firm of approximately 1200 lawyers spread over thirteen offices in six countries. We provide innovative, integrated legal and business solutions to companies and individuals across a wide spectrum of business areas, countries and cultures.
We provide English and US legal advice to UK, US and international market-leading public and private companies, investors and financial services institutions.
Willkie’s London’s office was founded in 1988 and is widely recognized as one of the leading transactions and disputes law firms in the UK.
Our team has grown to more than 130 partners and lawyers and regularly handle some of the most high-profile and complex international transactions and disputes in the market. Many of our lawyers are recognized as leaders in their field by the leading legal directories and third party publications and bring decades of experience to our clients’ businesses. Working closely with our colleagues in Europe and the U.S., we are committed to using our knowledge of the law to promote or defend our clients’ interests in the UK and beyond.
Main areas of work
Our principal areas of work in London are: asset management; business reorganization & restructuring; capital markets; competition & antitrust; competition litigation; litigation, investigations & enforcement; corporate insurance; finance; international arbitration;mergers & acquisitions; private equity and tax.
We recruit approximately six future trainee solicitors from our spring and summer vacation schemes.
We are looking for those who can start their training contract in September 2026. We are looking for people who have a genuine interest in Willkie and our clients. Our people work in small, nimble teams on high quality matters, so it is important that you are motivated, collaborative and able to pick things up quickly as you will receive a great breadth of work from the outset. Willkie London has grown by 161% since 2017, and over 51% from 2020 alone. With this in mind, we are looking for self-starters who want to contribute to a dynamic, growing workplace.
We welcome applicants from all universities and degree disciplines. We are looking for consistently strong academic achievement, with a 2.1 at undergraduate level.
Our training contract provides an environment where junior lawyers can excel and be challenged, in a supportive environment. You will sit in four different practice areas, with a mix of partners and associates. We take your training seriously, and you will work alongside our partners and associates in small teams on real matters from day one. Our people work in small, nimble teams on high quality matters, so it is important that you are motivated, collaborative and able to pick things up quickly as you will receive a great breadth of work from the outset.
We were delighted to be named winner of ‘Best law firm for quality of work’ at The Legal Cheek Awards 2022. We were also finalists for in the following categories: partner approachability, perks, working from home and law firm of the year.
We are proud of our vacation scheme, which fully integrates candidates into working life in the London office.
We have up to 20 places (in total) on our paid spring and summer schemes. During your two weeks with us, you will share an office with a partner and an associate. You will undertake real, meaningful work and we will provide training that will enable you to showcase your potential. We hope that by the end of the two weeks, you will have met most of our people at our vacation scheme-specific workshops, seminars and social events.
You will be supported throughout your time with us, both by a partner mentor, your supervisors, a trainee buddy and our graduate recruitment team.
Our benefits include: 25 days’ annual leave, Cycle to Work scheme, employee assistance programme for employees and their families, employer pension contribution, eye test, health & well-being allowance, income protection, interest-free season ticket loan, life assurance, private dental insurance, private medical insurance and technology programme.
Sponsorship & awards
We offer full sponsorship of both the GDL and SQE, which covers your course fees in full, as well as a £17,500 maintenance grant per academic year.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 5)
- Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 5)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Secondaries (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: £500 million and above (Band 4)