It may be the first time the firm has welcomed trainees, but Fried Frank warrants serious consideration for those searching out exciting funds work in a small intake.
Funds specialist Fried Frank is the latest of the elite US outfits to open its doors to success-hungry trainees. Following the spectacular collapse of KWM's entire European legal arm, a host of trainees were left with no place to go and Fried Frank was one of those to swoop in and lend a helping hand. The firm fast-forwarded its original plans, and initiated its own training programme by taking on three stranded juniors.
The move didn't seem to have affected our interviewees too much, who reflected that, “arriving here, it very much felt like an elite firm, so we were chuffed to get the offer.” They also took reassurance from the firm's position in the market. “It's definitely one to watch. When Graham White [who has since retired] was appointed as the head of the London office a few years ago, he came with an agenda to give it an overhaul.” Part of said overhaul included luring three funds partners over from Kirkland & Ellis to establish the firm's asset management team. More recently the firm brought in two real estate partners from Ashurst. These moves are part of a strategy to align the firm's European practices with its US core practices.
“It feels like we have new people starting every day.”
Encouragingly, the wider firm is growing fast: in early 2018 it announced a revenue increase of 14.1% to $634.9 million (its third increase in a row) and the overall head count also increased by 11.6%. In London, the asset management, leveraged finance and litigation practices fared particularly well. “It feels like we have new people starting every day,” sources relayed. “There are always emails going around welcoming someone new to the firm. The asset management team is constantly growing and we just set up a new real estate group.”
Yet despite all the growth, Fried Frank's London base remains a compact operation, and newcomers won't find heaps of seats on offer. For the trainees we spoke to, it was quite the opposite: “You have your whole training contract allocated before you start as currently there are only four departments taking trainees.” However, “being such a small intake, there is scope to be flexible. If there was a particular desire for someone to sit in another department, they could arrange that.”
Small and mighty
The asset management team's five partners handle fund formation for a range of institutional clients including international private equity firms, financial institutions and hedge fund managers. “People are aware of there only being one trainee so they make a real effort to ensure that you have a rounded experience,” sources explained. “Depending on what stage of a transaction you're at, you could be involved in anything from onboarding clients for fundraising, to liaising with fund administrators later on.” While most work was generated in London, trainees also had frequent experiences working with their counterparts across the pond. “If a big fund that was being led out of the US had some European investors, that's when they would consult the London team. As a trainee you might be given a sweep of subscription documents that need to be checked from a UK perspective.” One trainee even found themselves “running a fund closure. I acted as the daily point of contact to the client.” For scale, consider that the firm has worked with Blackrock, the world's largest asset manager. One of the team's bigger deals of late had it representing Bain Capital on the formation of its buyout fund, Bain Capital Fund XII, which raised $9.4 billion in loan commitments.
The private equity team specialises in acquiring and investing in businesses on behalf of equity funds. For example, the team recently advised 3i Infrastructure, a London-based public investment firm, on its £700 million acquisition of a portfolio of assets from EISER Global Infrastructure Fund. Those assets included Belfast City Airport and East Surrey Pipelines. The team also advised Goldman Sachs on its $35 million investment in beqom SA, a compensation management company. “Initially you might be doing cross-referencing, proof reading, or red-lining documents but your responsibility grows fairly quickly,” trainees explained. “Further down the line you might be made responsible for a small subset of an M&A deal, such as handling all the correspondence with foreign lawyers and counsel. Because you are actively involved in the deals you're not given passive tasks – you have responsibility for keeping on top of all the important milestones.”
“Russian stuff is always going to be more exciting.”
The litigation group has two partners: one deals with large commercial banking and financial services disputes, and the other with cases involving corruption in Russia and former CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries. The latter made up the majority of our interviewees' workload. “It's mostly individuals who get into disputes in Russia and air their grievances in the London court,” trainees explained, adding that “I think the Russian stuff is always going to be more exciting, especially in light of the developing politics, and the UK's proposed plans on Unexplained Wealth Orders.” One source told us of their involvement in “corporate raiding cases, a phenomenon in Russia where various companies and individuals try to illegally take over other companies.” Bundling and copying crops up for trainees, but sources emphasised that “you're also assisting in the production of submissions. Having done six months in corporate it's a completely different experience. Being able to draft arbitration filings, letters and witness statements is great exposure and very interesting work.” Furthermore, “once you build up knowledge of a case, you tend to be working heavily on one or two cases. You're not floating around seven cases, feeling as though you're disposable.” The client list here includes plenty of high net worth individuals, such as RusPetro CEO Alexander Chistyakov, whom the firm defended against breach of contract and deceit claims initiated by Russia's richest woman, Yelena Baturina.
Liberté, égalité, partay
Everyone loves a bit of office drama, but our interviewees were adamant that “there is no bitchiness or gossip-mongering here.” So how is this kept in check? “Partly I think it's because people are too busy to focus on anything petty. Everyone gets on well because the calibre of lawyer is very high. Looking round, I'm never thinking 'how did they get this job?' – everybody is pulling their weight.” And they do pull a lot of weight. “Being a US firm, there is definitely a bigger focus on billable hours: the [informal] target is 2,000 hours for NQs,” sources explained. “Corporate hours can get very long and unpredictable,” another confided. “As a trainee it can be hard to plan your life. Essentially you're always on call and what looks to be a reasonable day, can quickly turn into a 2am finish.” Indeed, stretches of consistent 11pm finishes and plenty of “Deliveroo dinners at the desk” await trainees, though things do tend to calm down in litigation: “The emails coming into your inbox are massively reduced, everyone is calmer and you have a much more stable six months.” And, unlike the offices in the States, sources pointed out that “we get 25 days holiday and everyone takes it.” Putting a positive spin on it, our interviewees interpreted their long working days as an indication of a healthy business – a refreshing experience for them, given their descriptions of how “everything went tits-up at KWM.”
“We socialise very democratically.”
Sources later reiterated how the firm's size was one of its greatest assets. “It's not large enough to feel anonymous and you can't help but be roped into things – we socialise very democratically. From the partners to secretaries, nobody is precluded from social events.” They added that “we don't have that big bureaucratic feel other firms in London have. I know everyone at the firm by their name so communication is never a problem and, as a junior, getting recognition from partners goes a long way.” This open line of communication also extends to HR and graduate recruitment “who are trying to gather as much feedback from trainees as possible.” Trainees made use of this when they expressed a desire for a “more structured training programme, more formal training and more feedback.” The firm has since “brought over senior people from other firms that are looking to bring the training up to scratch.” In its first go at retaining its NQs, the firm took an informal approach, managing to keep both qualifiers.
Upon qualifying, all NQs are flown out to the firm's New York office for a week.
You may also be interested in...
How to get a Fried, Frank training contract
Application and trainee profile
Ambitious growth has motivated Fried Frank to open its doors to trainees and “while a lot of that growth has been achieved through lateral hiring, we are also very much committed to organic growth,” corporate partner and training principal Jons Lehmann tells us. "Our training programme, launched two years ago, ensures that we will have home-grown talent in our pipeline to promote over the years, helping to cement the firm's culture.” While the London office currently takes on two trainees at every intake, “that may well change depending on how the firm and our practice areas develop,” Lehmann affirms.
With around 150 applicants for two spots, places are naturally very competitive. Those willing to defy the odds can find the firm's application form on its website. It currently requires candidates to submit a cover letter and contains a few questions on subjects such as commercial awareness, personal achievements and the potential challenges facing the firm in the next 18 months. In addition to this, applicants are also required to complete a Watson Glaser critical reasoning test online. The firm currently doesn't offer a vacation scheme, so applicants should take care to make sure their applications are top-notch!
“The first round of interviews are really there to gauge the applicants’ interest in pursuing a career in law with the firm,” Lehmann explains. This is followed by a commercial group exercise - “typically a discussion surrounding an aspect of a corporate transaction.” The whole process takes “a few hours,” Lehmann estimates. Around 8-10 candidates are invited back for a second interview which is conducted by two partners. “Specifically, candidates need to be aware that a smaller office environment entails less spoon-feeding and a lot more responsibility than one might have at a larger firm.”
Chairman David Greenwald tells us: “We are looking for lawyers who work hard, are dedicated, proactive and have the ability to solve problems. In addition, the law is constantly changing and we look for individuals who are excited to continue to learn, and be resilient in the face of inevitable career challenges.”
Interview with training principal Jons Lehmann
Chambers Student: How has the firm performed in the past year?
Jons Lehmann: Fiscal year 2018 was another strong year of growth for the firm. We remain focused on serving our clients’ most challenging and complex matters, and this focus drives everything we do. Globally, our strategy has been to grow our core practices – asset management, M&A, private equity, real estate, capital markets, finance, tax and litigation. Most recently in London we added a corporate real estate team to our offering, which is also now a seat option for trainees.
Over the past year, the firm provided counsel on several significant matters. London highlights include representing Bain Capital Private Equity in the formation of Bain Capital Fund XII, which closed with $9.4 billion in aggregate commitments; Permira and Permira Debt Managers on several fund raisings and financings; CVC Capital Partners in relation to its sale of Wireless Logic to Montagu Private Equity; Sberbank in a successful challenge against an application made to the High Court by the International Bank of Azerbaijan; and Invesco Real Estate on two retail transactions in the UK. Additional key clients of the London office include AEA, Ascential, BlackRock, BlueBay, Centerbridge, Cerner, Francisco Partners, Goldman Sachs, Madison International Realty and Perrigo.
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
- Partners 15
- Associates 43
- Total trainees 4
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 3
- Graduate recruiter: Kayleigh Fearon, [email protected] 020 7972 9186
- Training partner: Jons Lehmann, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2
- Applications pa: 150
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £131,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000
Main areas of work
If you are interested in joining an international firm with quality work and training, please apply by completing our application form, located on our firm’s careers website. Once complete, please return your form to [email protected]
Work [lacement/internship programme
Our internship programme details and application form can be found on our careers website. Please note that applications for our internship programme are separate to those for our training contract.
• Employee assistance programme
• Subsidised gym membership
• Life assurance
• Group income protection
• Cycle to work scheme
• Mortgage advice
• Group personal pension
• Pension advice
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 3)