Chicago-born Winston & Strawn wingmans its trainees with a high-flying client base in a tight-knit environment.
Maverick and Iceman
Sometimes it’s good to be small – it’s never hurt Tom Cruise’s movie career, after all. Much like that famous TC, a training contract at Winston & Strawn packs a lot of action into a small space (and with much less scientology weirdness). The Chicago-founded firm only started welcoming trainees through its doors a few years back and still houses only five or so trainees alongside 32 qualified lawyers in London. Plucky interviewees were drawn by the prospect of “interacting with partners directly without being spoon-fed. Winston’s office is growing and evolving.” The firm made its first London lateral hire for two years in March 2019, bringing in corporate partner Anthony Riley from US rival Orrick.
“Interacting with partners directly without being spoon-fed.”
At present, the London team’s only Chambers UK-ranked practice is aviation finance. Lawyers here also work on litigation, international arbitration, corporate, competition and other areas of finance including projects. Winston’s a much more established name back home in the States, where it earns top Chambers USA rankings for energy, employment, white-collar litigation and shipping. “We’re doing international work in coordination with the US offices,” interviewees confirmed. “You get that in a smaller office than UK-based firms, with less formal training.” In other words, wallflowers may want to think twice about applying here.
Because there are only five seats on offer at Winston, “you’re probably going to do most or all of them.” Most spend time in corporate, competition and disputes departments; they can normally choose between a seat in finance or aviation finance. The qualification process is similarly informal: “Once you get an indication of where there are spaces available, you need someone to sponsor you and back you in the process. There aren’t any interviews and you don’t need to submit a CV.” Two out of four trainees stayed on in 2019.
You've Lost That Bundlin' Feelin'?
Team corporate handles plenty of M&A and private equity work but also covers IPOs and bond issuances. The team recently represented learning and development company Mind Gym on its £145 million Alternative Investment Market (AIM) listing on the London Stock Exchange. Other clients here include Groupon and private equity firms Kainos and General American Capital Partners; Winston advised the latter on its €160 million acquisition of M6 Metropole Television’s stake in football club Les Girondins de Bordeaux. Trainees enjoyed the opportunity to see matters “from the first term sheet to completion” in close-knit teams which are often comprised of one trainee, an associate and a partner. Responsibilities include “trying the first cut of diligence reports, helping to prepare transaction documents and drafting board minutes.” Others described working on director resignations, assisting with closings and managing conditions precedent checklists.
Both litigation and international arbitration are on offer in the disputes seat along with contentious regulatory matters and investigations. Our sources worked on “a mix of English litigation, international arbitration and white-collar crime across the course of the seat.” Winston’s clients vary from property developers like Berkeley Homes and Telereal to financial services groups including Russian state-owned Sberbank. There’s an international flavour to many of the disputes here – the firm represented Nigerian oil and gas company SEPCOL in a £150 million Commercial Court clash with a syndicate of African banks. “I got a remit to run with one matter and come up with a plan to solve the client’s query,” one source recalled. “You’re not spoon-fed and expectations on trainees are high.” The firm also takes on debt recovery matters.
“A mix of English litigation, international arbitration and white-collar crime.”
Winston’s international arbitration practice spans commercial, private and investor-state disputes. Interviewees told us that contentious work in general means “getting assigned more research tasks. I was helping with filings and deadlines, as well as organising bundles – that’s less fun but still very important.” Because arbitrations can last several years, trainees end up “jumping in on different documents at whatever stage the case happens to be in.” On white-collar investigations they’re more likely to get stuck into due diligence, compliance audits and reports on action items.
Most of our interviewees had completed a seat in the firm’s high-flying aviation finance group. The “intense” seat is characterised by small deal teams and acting as “the go-to person for associates and partners. This is definitely one of the seats with the highest workload, it was a bit of a blur!” Winston acts for a mix of financial institutions like Deutsche Bank and MUFG Bank, lessors, equity investors and airlines including Finnair. “There’s a month of settling in, but once you know how transactions work you’ll be liaising with the other side.” Some reckoned that “because you won’t know the intricacies of leasing aircrafts you’re more involved on the organisational side. It’s a less academic and more administrative style of working.” Document review and conditions precedent checklists are part of the trainee’s role; some felt “you’re churning out documents without much insight of the bigger picture,” attributing this in part to the lack of support staff and paralegals.
You’ll find leveraged and project finance in the finance department. Long-time client Hiscox called on Winston & Strawn for a recent $800 million refinancing complete with Brexit plan implementations; the firm also represented the Bank of Ireland in a $70 million credit facility for education firm Infobase.
Work in competition is international by default: insurers XL Catlin and Liberty Special Markets are on the books alongside Hitachi Metals, which called on Winston for its General Court appeal as part of the European Commission’s power cables cartel investigation. Trainees described this as “more academic” than other seats: “There are more opportunities to draft advice and liaise directly with clients. You get less actual client contact but what you do get is more meaningful.” The department offers exposure to EU and UK competition law, merger filings, and GDPR sanctions – some of our sources were “doing research for sanctions queries andmarking up documents to make them GDPR-compliant.” There’s no hand-holding here: “Nobody sits you down and explains competition law. It feels like you’re thrown in the deep end but the team’s open to you asking questions.”
Winston’s London office is small enough that “everyone knows everyone. When you move seats you already know who you’ll be working with, so you don’t feel like you’re having your first day here all over again.” A source told us they’d “worked with basically every single person in the office whether that’s on pro bono or just helping people out ad-hoc.” Like many US firms, Winston is very pro-pro bono: there’s a 35-hour yearly requirement for all fee earners and the firm circulates opportunities each week. Trainees had worked with charities to “update articles of association and on applications to become a charitable incorporated organisation.”
Speaking of the firm’s American roots, trainees assured us that London “doesn’t feel like a satellite office. We have a lot of training sessions through videoconference with colleagues in the States and when partners visit from the US offices they’ll give a talk on the bigger picture at the firm.” There’s not so much in the way of London-based training: “Beyond what we get on the job, there’s not much structure. We do have lunchtime sessions – recently they covered upcoming changes in the SRA code and termination provisions for contracts.” Trainees reasoned that “because there are so few trainees it doesn’t pay off to have an extensive training programme.” NQs told us that “the firm is good at providing opportunities to attend external training courses” after qualification.
“When you move seats you already know everybody.”
Hours at an international firm can vary wildly, and Winston is no exception: on average our interviewees were in the office between 9am and 7pm. During busy periods some went through “weeks of being in the office from 8am to 1am every day,” but they assured us such stints weren’t the norm. Trainees agreed that the corporate and finance groups came with the scariest hours, whereas in dispute resolution they were usually finishing at “around 8pm.” Sources added that despite the full-on workload “the firm is good at recognising your effort and pushing you to be the best you can be. After an intense period, partners will send out emails thanking you for your contribution, and that really makes a difference.” Winston also keeps morale high through “lots of” social events including an annual summer party, Independence Day celebrations for the Americans and “watching football in the library with some drinks.” Sounds good – ours is a Chicago Cocktail…
Winston recruits solely through its summer vacation scheme, so getting a spot on it is essential if you want to train here.
How to get a Winston & Strawn training contract
Trainee offers made subsequent to participation in vacation scheme
Winston and Strawn hires solely through its summer vacation scheme, which lasts two weeks. To gain a spot applicants must submit a CV to recruitment. With over 200 applications received and only twelve spots available, it’s important to stand out. Training principal Paul Amiss tells us he’s looking for applicants with “a strong academic record, highlighting what they’ve gained from their experience so far and what sets them apart from the pack.”
Successful applicants are then invited for an interview, which are typically held with a senior partner and an associate. Amiss explains: “In what is a conversational and organic interview, we seek to evaluate candidates’ intellect, drive and interpersonal skills. Suitable candidates will demonstrate versatility, lateral thinking and strong leadership. Successful candidates must be passionate about working with Winston to achieve legal excellence and a high level of client service.”
During the two week vacation scheme, applicants are rotated between one contentious team and one transactional department. Vac schemers share an office with a solicitor, and also complete a number of projects and presentations on a variety of practice areas alongside their day-to-day work. Regional director of administration Alexandra Wooster describes the vacation scheme as a “two week job interview in which applicants are assessed throughout.” Wooster adds that vac schemers "get exposure to high level work and partners straight away. Associates build the research and project tasks based on real-life experience that we’ve adapted for the program.” There’s a healthy dose of socialising too, with reports of karaoke, ping pong and networking lunches from previous vac schemers.
The vacation scheme ends with a 45 minute interview with a partner and associate for those interested in starting a training contract. Wooster explains: “We want to make sure that applicants want to be considered once they’ve been immersed in the environment and culture at the firm.”
Paul Amiss tells us the qualities Winston is looking for in trainees include “flexibility, communication skills, the ability to cope under pressure and being prepared to put in the extra effort.” Finally, he adds that the firm is looking for “self-starters and fast learners.” Current trainees described the ideal Winston applicant as “someone who is capable and hardworking but also friendly and easygoing. You have to be prepared to be flexible with your schedule and be a good team player.”
Winston & Strawn London LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners: 14
- Associates: 18
- Total trainees: 5
- UK offices: London
- Overseas offices: 15
- Graduate recruiter: Alexandra Wooster, [email protected] 020 7011 8777
- Training partner: Paul Amiss, [email protected] 020 7011 8778
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2 (average)
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Trainee offers made subsequent to participation in vacation scheme
- Vacation scheme applications open: 15 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 15 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £48,000
- Second-year salary: £52,500
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days (5 carry over)
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000 in London/£6,000 outside London
We are proud of the many accolades we have received over the years — a tribute to our lawyers’ creativity, flexibility, depth of experience, and commitment.
Winston’s London office advises high-profile, multinational clients on their cross-border and international needs. When it comes to our employees, our goal is to maximise individual potential with professional development opportunities, while emphasising the firm’s culture and contributing positively to the community.
Main areas of work
• Penultimate-year and final-year law students (law students on a four-year course should apply in their third year of study)
• Final-year non-law students
• Any other graduate wishing to commence a training contract in two to three years’ time We use our vacation scheme to identify and recruit future trainees. Remuneration £400/week
Remuneration £400 per week.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)