Spreading its wings from the Windy City, W&S lifts a select flock of fledgling lawyers into its practice mixing aviation with core corporate and litigation.
How good are you at remembering names? For trainees joining megafirms with hundreds of colleagues, it’s an essential skill. There is an alternative – firms like US-born Winston & Strawn, with an international practice but a small enough UK headcount that Dory the fish could probably get by. “Having a small intake and familial culture” in the London office is exactly what attracted interviewees to complete a vacation scheme with Winston and make their way in. Trainees advised that “applicants need to understand they won’t be joining a massive firm. You’ll be a big fish in a small pond and it’s essential to make waves earlier on in your career to then help you progress.”
Winston’s London office may be on the petite side, but its global operation is anything but: the firm boasts 15 offices worldwide including nine in the US alone. The Chinese arm of Winston had a shakeup recently: the firm closed its Shanghai office and began a partnership with local firm YuanDa. Here in Britain, W&S is perhaps best known for its aviation finance department, the sole practice to score a ranking from Chambers UK – it’s important enough to get its own dedicated seat available to trainees. Winston London is small but growing, thanks to lateral hires like the recruitment of tax partner Ed Denny in April 2019 from US rival Orrick.
“You will be a big fish in a small pond and so it’s essential to make waves earlier on.”
Our trainee sources all completed seats in disputes, corporate and competition and picked between the general finance or specialist aviation finance department for their last. The firm hinted there may be some more flexibility and options in the future: for example, litigation work increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. The small office lends itself to an “informal NQ process, there isn’t really an incentive to have a structure in place. You simply make your preference known to HR and the department of choice and then it depends on cost and availability,” sources explained. W&S retained its solo qualifier in 2020.
Trainees described starting Winston’s signature aviation financeseat as “jumping into the fire. This seat is so intense because deals are being churned out every week.”The quick deal flow results in a higher level of client contact and responsibility for trainees: “We just have to get on with it and quickly reach out to clients to get all the signature pages and chase up any missing items before closing. Day-to-day tasks would also include drafting documents, monitoring conditions, connecting signature pages and putting together bibles.”The nature of the department’s work – funding international travel – means “each aviation deal has a cross-border element” to it. BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and the Development Bank of Japan are on the client list; Winston recently advised the Aviation Capital Group on the recovery of aircraft and engines that were on lease to Thomas Cook, following its insolvency. Trainees said aviation finance is a good first seat as “it may not be the most academic in terms of content, but it’s a seat which teaches all the necessary skills you need as a trainee to then do well in other seats. It’s heavy on project management and you have to be methodical in your approach.”
A disputesseat covers litigation, regulatory, white-collar investigations and international arbitration. Trainees tend to be “mainly involved on arbitration matters as well as some general commercial litigation.”Winston’s international arbitration work includes a mix of investor-state disputes and commercial matters for clients like real estate investment firm Century Bridge Capital and breast implant manufacturer Sientra. Trainees must keep abreast of research and “standard”admin tasks; those we spoke to noted that “trainees are expected to get fully on board, whether that’s drafting a memorandum or researching entire areas of law for partners who need to draft their particulars. We’ve been expected to give our opinion on client calls and send direct emails on the smaller arbitration matters.”Winston’s commercial litigation practice often takes on an international flavour; here too you’ll find “standard trainee tasks including drafting holding letters and responses, filing court applications and researching discrete legal issues,”according to our interviewees.
“This seat is so intense that deals are being churned out every week.”
The competition department in London may be small, but it works for big names like Hitachi Metals and Sberbank, a Russian retail bank that required advice for an application to the General Court to remove EU capital market access sanctions. “Alongside competition, the team also does general regulatory matters and data protection,” insiders revealed. The trainee role here is “much more research-based. We’re investigating points of EU or antitrust law, putting together case summaries and helping to draft filings and answers to relevant competition authorities.”
Winston’s corporate team focuses on mid-market M&A deals for listed and international companies, with a specific focus on US-based clients investing in the UK. On the books you’ll find Groupon, Mind Gym and financial data company Morningstar, which the firm advised on its $669 million acquisition of credit rating agency DBRS. The team also works on UK deals like the Blenheim Estate owners’ acquisition of Pye Homes. Trainees may also get to see IPOs and bond issuances. Their role on deals starts with “obvious admin tasks such as drafting corporate summaries and filings to corporate houses, editing documents, researching client enquiries and responses, and drafting corporate finance documents such as letters of relief.”Despite having to start at the bottom of the ladder, our sources “thoroughly enjoyed” working with the partner-heavy corporate team as they had the opportunity “to see the full corporate spectrum and gain exposure to multiple different transaction types.”
“We speak with the US offices on pretty much every single deal we do,”insiders explained. “Some departments like litigation are also very well connected to the firm’s European offices.”The London office culture“definitely isn’t Americanised, it’s its own place,” they suggested, even if the firm hosts a big Thanksgiving lunch and cupcakes on 4 July. Sources argued that “if there’s an opportunity to celebrate something and feed people, then it will happen!”More ‘British’ social events include breaks for strawberries and cream during Wimbledon, and bingo and darts evenings. One source recalled a minor culture clash when colleagues from the US came to deliver a training session: “Let’s just say they realised that elevator pitches just wouldn’t work with a British person. That was very amusing.”
One very positive influence that’s survived the trip over the Atlantic is a dedication to pro bono. All partners, associates and trainees have a minimum target of 35 hours to meet each year and “the uptake is generally pretty regular.”We’re told that one of the trainees is typically in charge of sending out weekly emails listing pro bono opportunities for everyone to ‘bid on’. These range from providing free legal advice at the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau and Battersea Legal Connect to volunteering at soup kitchens and charity drives.
“Because the work is so international, there’s never a moment in the day when someone isn’t online.”
If that makes you think trainees have plenty of spare time on their hands, we’re afraid you’re quite wrong. An average day for our interviewees ran from 9am to 7pm; aviation finance seaters worked the “most late nights. Because the work is so international, there’s never a moment in the day when someone isn’t online – the email traffic is always coming in.” Despite having to commit to 3am closings, sources appreciated that “partners always acknowledge the late nights and thank us. Everyone is really good with not worrying about face-time and they’ve made it clear that if there is no work to do, we can leave.”
As a Winston trainee, “you pretty much just get on with it. We had around two hours of ITtraining on the first day and a brief chat with the training principal and that was it.”Although this style suited trainees, we did hear some suggestions for the firm to introduce “refresher sessions on the fundamental concepts of the seats.”The firm recently hosted an aviation-focused session following the Thomas Cook administration – more may be needed in the wake of Covid-19, which has devastated the industry.
Grab a cup of covfefe
If you make it to the Winston vacation scheme, be prepared to explain to an alien “how Donald Trump became president” – it was a question when our sources completed interviews.
How to get a Winston & Strawn training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 15 January 2021 (opens 1 October 2020)
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 eight 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 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 15 January 2021
- 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, 2020
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)