In New York, Debevoise is one of Wall Street's elite law firms. In London, lawyers work with colleagues across its network on areas ranging from international dispute resolution to investments funds.
Playing Deb's advocate
“London has been a tremendous success story for the firm,” training principal Patrick Taylor asserts. Since crossing the Atlantic in 1989, Debevoise has grown its London office to be the firm's second largest (after the Big Apple HQ). It's ranked by Chambers UK for a couple of areas, both contentious (like international arbitration and financial crime) and non-contentious (private equity, insurance and investment funds).
Debevoise is one of New York's top corporate law firms – its prestige highlighted, for example, by repeated references in The West Wing. But the London office ploughs its own furrow. “We feel like part of the whole," says Patrick Taylor, "but are also self-sufficient. That is reflected in our approach to the training contract too: we recently had our first London trainee come up through the ranks and make partner.”
In the States, Debevoise is known for the genteel and polite character and the sharp minds of its lawyers. Trainees in London identified similar qualities. Pointing to the firm's disputes practice and its desire to "preserve the more academic idea of being a lawyer," one interviewee was attracted to “the idea that it's a halfway house between a barristers' chambers and solicitors' firm.” This may be stretching things a bit, but the London office does employ a couple of barristers and is led by a barrister, former deputy High Court judge and Attorney General Peter Goldsmith QC.
Trainees usually have their first seat chosen for them based on need. For each following seat, trainees can submit two preferences. “On the whole, most of us got our first or second choice throughout,” sources reflected. Trainees can also complete an overseas seat in either Moscow or Hong Kong.
The disputes practice covers international arbitration, commercial litigation and white-collar crime investigations. Lawyers work on both commercial and investor-state arbitrations. In one example of the latter, lawyers represented Dutch investment company Nova in a claim against the Romanian government at ICSID, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The trainee role usually involves a hefty amount of case law research, as well as bundling and referencing. Some rookies progress on to do “the first draft of minor filings” or “drafting some pleadings,” especially on pro bono matters (more on that later). Interviewees described an “advocacy-led approach” in disputes and while trainees are unlikely to undertake their own advocacy, many enjoyed “getting to see hearings live, and feed notes to the partners doing the advocacy.” We heard that one trainee had even got to “go to a hearing in Amsterdam” and was “sat at the defence table next to the other lawyers.”
On the commercial litigation side, the team defended Shell and its Nigerian joint-venture subsidiary (the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) against pollution claims brought in London on behalf of residents in Nigeria. Lawyers also defended Russian steel company NMLK in a dispute arising out of an M&A deal that turned sour. Trainees get involved with instructing experts, the disclosure process – including “writing up disclosure statements for court” – and more analytical tasks like “looking through witness statements and pulling out any inconsistencies.”
The firm’s white-collar lawyers handle large-scale fraud and corruption cases, plus internal investigations into clients' companies. A recent matter saw the team advise Rolls-Royce in its deferred prosecution agreement with the Serious Fraud Office over bribery allegations. Interviewees had “drafted sections of memos, cease and desist letters, and answers to specific questions from tribunals.”
“Putting together trackers and conducting market research.”
Trainees who'd sat in corporate had mainly focused on “M&A for insurance companies – working with big insurers as well as other key players in that market like private equity companies.” The team acts for US mega-insurer AIG on its local and global sales agreements, providing UK, European and US regulatory advice. Trainees reported “putting together trackers and conducting market research,” as well as “dealing with local counsel across the world, dealing directly with the client, and drafting insurance notifications and memos.” Trainees who earn the trust of the team may be given more complex work, but the demands are high. “You learn by being thrown in the deep end,” one source reflected, “but if you do start sinking, people will notice and offer help.”
The funds team advises both on the formation of private investment funds, and counsels investors on investments into said funds. The team also covers alternative capital raising and regulatory advice. Recently it advised Metric Capital on fundraising for a special opportunities fund focused on investments in European mid-market companies. Other clients include alternative investments firm EQT, private debt manager Apera Capital, and private equity firm Exponent. Trainees “run trackers and organise checklists of key documents,” “deal with local counsel,” and may attend closings. Interviewees found the team to be supportive: “We came out of a complicated conference call and the partner said to me 'let's talk through what you've learnt from that and if you have any questions.'”
Competition is one of the London office's smallest teams, and lawyers here often work on matters with their New York counterparts. A recent collaboration saw the team work on securing global merger control approvals for Discovery's acquisition of Scripps Networks for $14.6 billion. There's more of this kind of corporate merger control work in the seat than litigation, and trainees said background research was a big part of their role. “We need to understand the market our clients are operating in, and to understand where the potential overlaps are,” a source reported. “We look into a lot of case law so we can understand how the European Commission has looked at things previously.”
Love in an Elevator
“It's a very hard-working firm – people aren't really able to coast here,” trainees noted. At the same time they praised the “remarkably friendly” atmosphere, with one elaborating: “I've worked in a few different organisations where there were always a few people you wouldn't want to be trapped in an elevator with. There's no one here I'd have that with.” Some did feel that the social side of things “is an area we could improve,” though they noted that “the firm has been trying to host more events recently.” Firm-wide events usually take place in the summer and wintertime, and there's something called 'Bootleggers' where “an associate can call 'Bootleggers' and the firm will put money towards people going out in the evening.”
On top of these social events, trainees highlighted that “lawyers here are keen to mentor you. They don't have to be your official supervisor to be willing to teach.” This kind of on-the-job training is more common at Debevoise than formal sit-down training. There are firm-wide training sessions on Thursdays at lunchtime, usually “on a topic of interest or a particular theme,” and some departments run their own training or put on workshops. But interviewees noted: “There's not much training focused on trainees.” Some preferred this, as “the intake is small, so the training from supervisors one on one can be excellent,” while others noted “if you're someone who needs booklets or to sit in a group and discuss training points, you might struggle.”
“You learn about things like financial accounting and modelling, which is super useful.”
The firm does offer trainees one particularly fancy-pants training opportunity: all second-years are flown to New York for three weeks to take part in the 'mini-MBA' business education programme for US junior associates – “you learn about things like financial accounting and modelling, which is super useful.” Trainees are put up in a serviced apartment near the New York office for the duration and “get to meet US associates in your year from New York and DC.”
Another way trainees can hone their skills is through pro bono work. “Debevoise has a big emphasis on pro bono and trainees are very much encouraged to work on it.” Many had done work for legal advice clinics in Hackney and Dalston, and the firm also has ties with UnLtd (an organisation that provides support to social entrepreneurs) and has worked with the Centre for Reproductive Rights to address abortion bans in Latin America. “It's exciting because the cases are all around the world,” one interviewee cooed. If you get kept on as an associate, pro bono hours count the same as billable ones. In 2018 seven of eight qualifiers were retained.
Be prepared for some late nights at this hard-working firm: when it's not busy, trainees leave between 6pm and 7pm, though interviewees reported that during busy times there can be 4am finishes and the odd all-nighter.
How to get a Debevoise training contract
Vac scheme application deadlines (2019): 16 December 2018 (opens 1 October 2018)
Training contract application deadlines (2021): 15 July 2019 (opens 1 June 2019)
The process kicks off with a standard online application form. This includes a few questions that are tailored to Debevoise, with the purpose of “seeing how candidates think, and their interests and motivations.” Head of HR Philip Cameron says: “There isn't a right answer, but we do pay particular attention to the way people write when answering – the clarity of what they're saying, and how logically they may be arguing in those questions.” It may sound obvious, but “typos or misspelling of the firm's name is never good.”
In terms of qualifications, Cameron notes that “showing commitment to law is always a good thing, but it's about 50/50 as to whether candidates have a law degree. Legal experience is important, but it's just one factor.” However, when it comes to expressing interest in particular areas, Cameron warns: “There's nothing wrong with expressing interest in an area, but if a person is only interested in that area to the detriment of others, they wouldn't be people we are looking for. We're looking for well-rounded people who are happy to roll up their sleeves and are happy to maybe have their minds changed.”
For those that are successful in their initial application, the firm runs two ‘open days’ (assessment days really), to which around 48 to 50 people are invited. The day involves an introduction from the training principal, followed by a tour of the office (usually with a junior lawyer). There's also a networking lunch, followed by a short assessment and interview. Participants are given an article to read, then it’s discussed during the interview. Philip Cameron notes: “It will be an article where it doesn't matter if you've done a law degree. It's about how you assimilate information and how you present and analyse it.”
Around 24 successful candidates (give or take a couple) make it onto the vacation schemes. Debevoise runs three schemes: one in the spring and two in the summer, each lasting two weeks. Vac schemers are assigned a mentor for their time at the firm, but they are also encouraged to explore other parts of the firm – “if their mentor is in corporate but they want to do white collar, they are encouraged to get to know people in white collar,” recruitment advisor Romina Tsvetkova says. “All our vacation scheme students sit together, so they get the opportunity to work together as a team and socialise with each other.”
Candidates also have a number of assessments in their two weeks. There's usually a group white-collar crime exercise, as well as a pro bono project. “The most serious assessments are probably the interviews during the last week,” Tsvetkova reveals. These are interviews similar to the ones during the open days, plus add in a few more general questions too.
Finally, Philip Cameron advises: “We have a very small group of trainees, so it's important that people get on with each other and fit into the culture. We all work together and we don't like egos.”
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
65 Gresham Street,
- Partners 21
- Associates 104 (number of non-partner UK and US qualified lawyers)
- Total trainees 16
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 8
- Graduate recruiter: Romina Tsvetkova, [email protected]
- Training partner: Patrick Taylor, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 360 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20-25
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 June 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 15 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 16 December 2018
- Open day deadline: 16 December 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000 pa
- Second-year salary: £55,000 pa
- Post-qualification salary: £126,700 pa
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days vacation + bank holidays
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa £9,000 pa
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
Email [email protected]
Main areas of work
We look for students whose personal qualities, academic records and other achievements demonstrate exceptional ability, motivation and potential for growth. The vacation scheme is open to both law and non-law graduates. We are looking for individuals who have consistently high levels of achievements both at A level (or equivalent) and at university. Applicants should be expected to achieve a 2:1 in any degree discipline and have a minimum of 360 UCAS points at A level (or equivalent).
Apply online between 1 October 2018 and 16 December 2018 for spring and summer vacation schemes in 2019, and between 1 June 2019 and 15 July 2019 for training contracts beginning in September 2021. An online application form will be available on our website during these times. Anyone interested in a training contract with Debevoise is strongly encouraged to apply for a vacation scheme place.
Vacation scheme students are paid £500 per week.
- Life and Income Protection Insurance
- Employee Assistance Programme
- Group personal pension plan
- 22 days vacation
- Cycle to work scheme
- On-site subsidised café
- Interest free season ticket loan
- Discretionary qualification leave on completion of your training contract
Open days and first-year opportunities
On arrival, candidates will meet the graduate recruitment team and will spend time with a mentor who will show them around the office and answer any questions they may have. There will also be a short interview.
There is also an informal networking lunch during which time candidates will have the opportunity to meet current trainees and lawyers. The lunch is intended as much for candidates to get to know the firm as the other way around.
After the open day, candidates are notified if they will be offered a place on the spring or summer vacation scheme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Public International Law (Band 1)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Construction: International Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 3)