Baker McKenzie’s got as many offices as your nan’s had birthdays. Trainees in London celebrate the benefits of joining the biggest in its network.
Are you ready to cross-border?
“Baker McKenzie is well known for its spread across the world,” one trainee told us with pride. “They say they have an office everywhere – and they pretty much do!” In fact, you’ll find a Baker McKenzie base in 46 countries, and such a reach isn’t just for show – a respectable 65% of the firm’s revenue comes from cross-border matters in which the firm is acting for clients in five countries or more. To give you an example, the firm recently advised Japanese conglomerate Hitachi on its $11 billion acquisition of Swiss engineering group ABB, spanning over 100 jurisdictions – just imagine juggling those time differences! It’s no surprise that those with a burning desire to get exposure to an “international footprint” were drawn to Baker McKenzie: “Not only does it keep deals varied and fresh,” they told us, “but you’re also engaging with lawyers of different backgrounds and educations, which is stimulating.” Trainees also immediately “loved the fact that at any point I can pick up the phone to colleagues across the globe.”
Although it was founded in Chicago, London is the firm’s largest base (and out of a total of 78 offices, that’s a pretty impressive feat). It garners top rankings from Chambers UK in commercial contracts, outsourcing, telecommunications, IT, and employment, as well as a further plethora of high rankings for IP, pensions, construction, civil fraud, product liability, and media and entertainment. And since the start of 2019, the firm has also been on a something of a lateral hiring spree. In 2019, six partners lateralled to Baker McKenzie in the space of seven months from a number of top firms including White & Case, Allen & Overy, Sidley Austin and Ashurst. Many of these hires demonstrate the firm’s dedication to its strategy of growing its transactional practices in major jurisdictions.
Some breadth for the table?
Trainees do four six-month seats, though some can be split into two three-month stints – this usually happens if trainees do an international secondment. Each trainee has a ‘priority seat’ which is pretty much guaranteed. Mid-way through each seat, trainees have a meeting with HR to discuss “plans and development goals” before ranking and submitting their preferred seats for the next rotation. Trainees admitted: “Half my seats have been amazing, but the other half have been completely not what I want to do.” Sources reckoned business needs plays a large part in seat allocation but added that they felt the process was “as transparent as it can be.”
Over the course of the training contract, it’s usually compulsory for trainees to sit in either banking or one of the corporate seats. The corporate department is split into seven different seats: corporate re-orgs; M&A; private equity and funds; tax; corporate finance; energy, mining and infrastructure; and environmental markets. Despite this distinction, sources reckoned that “at the junior level those lines get quite blurred, which means you get to experience more breadth.” The department has a broad focus on the consumer, industrials, TMT and pharmaceuticals sectors. The M&A team recently advised consumer goods company Unilever on its €4.6 billion acquisition of the Health Food Drinks portfolio from pharmaceutical company GSK in India, Bangladesh and 20 other Asian markets. The private equity team meanwhile recently advised Platinum Equity on the $1.4 billion sale of aviation company World Flight Services through an auction.
“The time difference will kill you.”
Across the different corporate seats, trainees had dabbled in both private and public M&A, as well as everything from private equity work to carve-outs (when “big companies spin off part of the business they no longer need”). There was also a bit of corporate advisory work and business development thrown in. Sources reckoned that “corporate has the highest amount of contact with the rest of the firm, so it’s a really good way to see what the whole firm does.” Day to day, interviewees found there could be quite an “administrative nature” to the tasks they did. We heard trainees were responsible for drafting board minutes and resolutions, as well as prospectus editing and step plans (“a list of every single step that has to happen across the world!”). They also described co-ordinating with local counsel for multi-jurisdictional deals: “You have to be careful about working with Japanese and US clients at the same time because the time difference will kill you.”
The banking team covers the likes of real estate finance, leveraged finance, acquisition finance and restructuring. The team recently represented UK Export Finance and Standard Chartered Bank as lenders on the financing of a new runway for the international airport at Kabaale, in Uganda. The team also assisted private equity company Platinum Equity with its purchase of Global Mail Production from technology company Pitney Bowes. Sources mentioned working on “pre-insolvency work on special situations of high-risk lending,” while others had worked extensively with real estate funds or other private equity funds. “The department was so busy that the sky was the limit for tasks,” sources recalled. “I did everything from simple proofreading to drafting ancillary documents. Last month I drafted a subordination agreement, so it’s not just corporate authorisations or legal opinions.” There was also a hefty amount of client contact: “I was the main point of contact with opposing counsel as well as the client and the lender or borrower.” As such, sources reckoned there’s “a lot of room to grow” in this seat.
Trainees in the IT & communications seat got involved in matters like “telecoms transactions, media work, advertising, and data privacy work.” Firm clients include big names such as Google, Three UK, and Harley-Davidson (though the specifics of the work are confidential in nature). Even as trainees, sources found they were “in charge of smaller agreements with vendors and negotiating them.” Other common tasks included drafting privacy policies for companies, working on outsourcing agreements, reviewing agreements and “making sure clients’ advertising complied with regulations.” One also recalled a more unique task of “implementing a loyalty programme” for a client. Sources found it to be a pretty busy department but enjoyed “working with a real range of people on a range of matters.”
And on the side...
Structured capital markets was described as “a highly transactional department with highly technical work.” Sources recalled working on “some large debt capital markets deals” as well as “some derivatives-side work.” A number of pretty high-profile banks rely on the firm for its expertise, including Citigroup and French group BNP Paribas who required transaction counsel on the issue of £402.8 million worth of notes by Turbo Finance 8. The team also acted for NatWest and HSBC as joint arrangers and co-funders of a £500 million consumer credit receivables financing. Interviewees also mentioned “acting for trustees a lot, whether for securitisations or other finance deals.” Due to the nature of these matters, trainees reckoned “a lot of the work is on the sidelines of the deal, like proofreading, checking large agreements, doing some research and sometimes sitting in on calls.” Occasionally, some had taken “the first go at drafting account agreements and deeds of trusts.” Sources appreciated the variety of work and also praised being able to “interact directly with clients under supervision.” Interviewees noted that the team has changed a lot in recent times: “When I was there it was small and a bit understaffed, but in the past two years they’ve invested a lot of time recruiting for that department.” As part of the firm’s overall strategy, the team has recently taken on lateral partners in London from the likes of Sidley Austin and White & Case.
"...in the past two years they’ve invested a lot of time recruiting for that department.”
The dispute resolution practice is broadly split into three buckets: litigation, arbitration, and investigations. The firm recently acted for courier company FedEx in an arbitration and related litigation over a breach of contract by their former delivery and transport services provider in Saudi Arabia. The investigations practice handles both “internally facing work in terms of ensuring regulatory compliance, as well as externally representing clients in front of regulators.” For example, the team recently conducted an internal investigation for global food services company Bidcorp alongside representing it in £45 million civil proceedings. There’s a lot of legal research for trainees to get stuck into in this seat, as well as the typical disclosure exercises and a bit of doc review. That said, some sources were also able to “take a crack at drafting witness statements, which isn’t necessarily a typical task.”
In previous years, client secondments have generally been more common than international secondments. This year’s interviewees had spent time at big names like Google, Standard Chartered Bank and BP. On the international front, sources believed that “a high number of trainees do international secondments” (usually in their fourth seat for three months), and a lucky few had even done both a client and an international secondment. Overseas stints included offices like New York, Dubai and Singapore. Trainees also noted that “the firm rolls with the punches; sometimes another international office will require English-law trainees.” Overall, trainees reflected that “everyone went to a client or abroad, apart from those who didn’t want to.”
My compliments to the Baker
“It’s a very sensible culture,” sources reflected. “They take a logical approach to things – for example, just because someone is more senior, it doesn’t mean they know how to do a junior task better than a junior.” As such, trainees appreciated being “respected by people more senior than you – it creates a real sense of collaboration.” One source recalled “sharing an office with a head of department, and even though she was incredibly busy, I could always ask questions if I had them.” Overall, trainees reckoned that “as long as you’re enthusiastic and friendly, people will take the time to teach you.”
The good-natured relationships trainees had cultivated also extended to the social side of the firm: “As a department, we’re going for a barbecue at a partner’s house next week.” Alongside departmental shindigs, there are a few firm-wide events too: “The firm has a tradition of putting ‘Baker’ in front of a word, like ‘Baker Mingle’ which is a social that cuts across departments.” The firm also holds an annual Christmas party which “is always good fun” and summer parties that are “normally themedaround events like Wimbledon or the Olympics.” Sources described the trainee cohort as “quite a strong community” and noted that “on a Friday night you’ll find the majority of the trainee population at the pub just outside the office, with a fair number of associates and occasionally partners.” Interviewees also added that the size of the trainee intake coupled with the size of the firm “has meant better access to quality work, better supervision, and good retention.”
“On a Friday night you’ll find the majority of the trainee population at the pub just outside the office.”
Qualification is a relatively simple process: trainees fill out a form in which they can apply to two departments. These forms go to the management committee and department members, who decide on which jobs to offer. “They really try to keep everyone,” interviewees reckoned, “and they try to allocate qualifying trainees according to their preference as much as possible, but it also depends on performance.” The only small grumble we heard was that the “process was quite late – a lot of other firms had found out the outcome by then.” In 2019, the firm kept on 25 out of 32 qualifiers.
Trainees’ hours varied pretty substantially depending on practice: those with largely transactional training contracts found their hours to be “very up and down.” Sources reckoned corporate wasn’t “that bad – two thirds of the time I left at 7pm, while the other third was about 10.30pm – but that was only when it was really needed.” Trainees found banking to have “the biggest variance” in terms of hours: “I could finish at 6pm one day, then past midnight the other!” On the plus side they found that “when you’re working long hours, someone else is doing it as well – it’s not all dumped on you.” On most client secondments, there was a trend of mostly “lovely” hours of 9am to 5.30pm.
In July 2019, Baker McKenzie followed in the steps of other City firms by upping NQ salaries to £90,000, bringing them almost in line with the magic circle.
How to get a Baker McKenzie training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 1 December 2019 (spring); 1 January 2020 (summer)
Training contract deadline: 1 April 2020 (finalists & graduates); 1 July 2020(penultimate year students)
Winter open day deadline: 8 October 2019
Spring open day deadline: 21 November 2019
First-year programme deadline: 1 February 2020
The application process is the same for both vacation scheme and training contract applicants, and begins with an online application form and a 'focused' cover letter. “Candidates should focus on their motivations for joining a commercial law firm and Baker McKenzie in particular,” Nicola Stanley – graduate recruitment & development manager – tells us, adding that spelling the firm's name wrong, referring to it as American, or using a stock cover letter are all big no-nos. "The application form provides you with an opportunity to tell us about your experiences to date, and show case why you have the relevant experience to join the firm. We are also interested in those who have met one of our representatives at an event, so always include your personal experiences with the firm."
Interviews and assessments
After applying online, successful candidates are asked to complete an online situational judgement and verbal reasoning test. This is followed by a strengths-based video interview.
From here, those who make the grade – vacation scheme and training contract applicants alike – attend an assessment day which consists of three exercises, including a group exercise, and candidates are interviewed by both partners and associates. “We interview as many non-law as we do law students, so there's not a lot of focus on legal terminology,” Stanley assures us. “Rather, the day is focused on your commercial awareness and ability to work with others.”
Baker McKenzie runs two vacation schemes in the summer and one in the spring. The spring scheme lasts two weeks, while the summer ones last three. Participants visit two practice areas during their placement; these are chosen based on their preferences submitted beforehand. The vacation scheme includes talks from each department, networking lunches with partners and associates, and a Q&A session with the management committee, plus social outings like bowling nights and pizza-making classes.
All vacation schemers have an interview with a partner at the end of their visit. This takes the form of “a discussion about what they've been doing and how they found the placement,” according to Stanley.
International vacation scheme
Baker McKenzie also runs international vacation schemes, which is unusual among law firms, even big international ones. These can run for eight to 12 weeks, and are split equally between London and one of the firm's international offices.
To gain a spot on an international scheme, candidates must highlight their interest on the application form and secure a place on one of the regular spring or summer schemes and subsequently accept a training contract place. Candidates then meet with Baker McKenzie's graduate recruitment partner to discuss why they are keen to go abroad as part of their vacation scheme. The firm organises flights and accommodation for participants.
Open day and 1st year schemes
In addition to its vacation schemes, Baker McKenzie runs four open days during the year for both law and non-law graduates and undergraduates. The day includes skills workshops, a networking event and lunch with a group of lawyers. The firm has also launched a programme for first-year students that sees them shadow lawyers, participate in workshops, network and attend sessions with the graduate recruitment team.
Coming soon: interview with training principal Arron Slocombe
100 New Bridge Street,
- Partners 109
- Assistant solicitors 276
- Total trainees 66
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 76
- The graduate recruitment team: 020 7919 1000
- Training partner: Arron Slocombe
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 33
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 45
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open, 2022 start: 1st February 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 1st April 2020
- First Year Insight Scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
- First Year Insight Scheme deadline: 1st January 2020
- Spring vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
- Spring vacation scheme deadline: 30th November 2019
- [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
- Summer vacation schemes applications open: 1st November 2019
- Summer vacation schemes deadline: 15th January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £48,000
- Second-year salary: £52,000
- Post-qualification salary: £90,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC tuition fees: Yes
- GDL tuition fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong, Brussels, San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo and Washington DC. Changes each rotation.
- Client secondments: Yes, confidential
Main areas of work
•Spring Vacation Scheme: 30th March - 9th April 2020
•Summer Vacation Schemes: 15th June - 3rd July 2020, 13th July - 31st July 2020
Open days and first-year opportunities
First Year Insight Schemes: We offer ten places to spend two days in the firm on 20th and 21st April 2020. There will be a number of skills sessions and each student will spend a day in a department of their choice. Applications open in October.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking Litigation (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 1)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 4)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Infrastructure Recognised Practitioner
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Projects Recognised Practitioner
- Retail Recognised Practitioner
- Tax: Contentious (Band 3)
- Telecommunications (Band 1)