This US-firm serves a strong brew of full-on international matters, sweetened with a spoonful of Britishisms.
Lord Mayer of London
Mayer Brown is a US firm with a City office. So far, so predictable. It's a Chicagoan, originally, but is now recognised as a truly international powerhouse across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US, whose reach extends to a new Tokyo office, opened in 2018. International work, expectedly, comes by the bucket-load. Very impressive, and exactly what many people are looking for in a London training contract – but there are similar firms, with similar appeal. But wait, our trainee interviewees have sussed out a key difference: “Mayer Brown in London has a real British sensibility. I wouldn't call us an American firm.” Born out of an international merger with City outfit Rowe & Maw in 2002, trainees felt “the office combines the core elements of the entrepreneurial spirit of a US firm, with the traditional, collegiate British values of a UK firm, like an open-door policy and drinks on a Friday.”
Find out more...
Sources pointed to the fact that “some partners have been here since the 1980s" to explain this cultural melting pot. It's a new partner, however, who seems to be making a big impact. Sally Davies became senior partner in London in 2017, and trainees judged that “she has done a good job in breaking down boundaries between teams. She also introduced a casual dress-code which I really appreciate.” One jubilant source explained: “I just wear jeans and a t-shirt to work – which is probably the opposite of what you think a City lawyer would look like!”
“It opened my eyes to the other side.”
And the list of differences continues. We'd add the work: a mixed bag that stretches beyond the corporate and finance strengths most commonly associated with its US compatriots. Sure there's the clean sweep of borrowing and lending, buying and selling of companies, and capital markets – all international, all concerning mind-boggling sums – but the firm wins it best Chambers UK rankings elsewhere. Specialisms in construction arbitration and professional negligence on the contentious side, plus mining-related corporate and finance matters, provide more niche mandates.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning secondments. Be it with a client or in an international office “they say it's mandatory. But they will work with you if you really prefer to get more experience within the firm.” Client secondments are “mostly corporate or finance based,” and the likes of Unilever, Thomson Reuters and insurance broker Marsh accept Mayer Brown protégés. “Even if you don't like transactional work, it's great to be in a completely different environment – it opened my eyes to the other side.” International secondments are less readily available, but the firm offers spots in Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Chicago.
Roger, roger Mayer
Before each seat rotation, juniors submit three seat preferences and meet with HR to discuss their motivations. “Second-years get priority, but they do their best to accommodate your preferences. By your fourth seat you're almost guaranteed to get your top choice.”
The corporate team handles a mix of M&A, corporate finance and funds deals, with clients hailing from sectors that include financial services, energy, telecoms, tech and media. The team recently advised Hong Kong LKK Health Products Group on its £1.3 billion purchase of the holding partnership that owns the 'Walkie Talkie' skyscraper. Working alongside their international colleagues, the London team also advised US-listed Sparton, an electromechanical company that creates products for the military, on its $235 million acquisition by Ultra Electronics. One insider explained that “the department changes quite quickly in terms of work, so you get a nice mix.” Some trainees had worked on a lot of corporate real estate, others on oil and gas work. One source recalled “being involved in a hostile takeover. I was working on verification, checking facts so that the shareholders could vote to authorise the takeover.” While trainee tasks involve “a lot of project management,” juniors also worked on closings and “had the opportunity to do a fair amount of drafting board minutes and resolutions.”
Over in banking and finance, the team is split into a host of subgroups which cover things like project finance, real estate finance and securitisation. Our insiders clarified that “you are a trainee for the whole of the department, so you don’t get pigeon-holed into any particular subgroup and you get to do a huge mix of work, which is great.” It has a particularly strong asset-based lending arm, and boasts big-name banking clients like Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Wells Fargo, plus private equity firms, alternative credit providers and fintech firms. One recent highlight saw the team advise Citigroup Global Markets and BAWAG (a large Austrian bank) on their £242 million loan to refinance the acquisition of a portfolio of UK care homes by Lone Star, a private equity firm. The firm's securitisation team meanwhile recently advised Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation on a €175 million residential mortgage-backed securitisation.
“I got to see how the business of law is done.”
One banking trainee reported “working on a big, West African project finance deal. It was multi-jurisdictional, and that meant the closing was exciting because there were lots of moving parts. I spent a lot of time liaising with local counsel in some funky jurisdictions.” Trainees on other projects had hit the phones to talk with contacts in Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Turkey and Israel – funky. Again, trainees' role included “project management, to keep things moving. I was reviewing a lot of the underlying contracts – it's the standard trainee task of checking and cross-referencing.” Trainees were also taken along to client meetings: “I didn't say anything of use, but I took notes and it meant I got to see how the business of law is done.” In securitisation, a source explained that “the life of a deal consists of two weeks to a month, so you're always working towards a deadline. It means your day goes by very quickly, and you're never really bored.” Trainees emphasised that “although when you think of 'City law', you don't think of working on a Senegalese mining deal, it's not unusual to be doing something completely left-field like that. That presents its own set of challenges.”
Trainees opting for a seat in litigation have the chance to dive into one of the firm's three subgroups: commercial dispute resolution (CDR), construction or insurance litigation. Litigation lawyers recently represented UBS in its $320 million trial against KWL, the water authority of Leipzig in Germany, a complex case involving the sale of derivatives, and an underlying bribe paid by one of UBS' advisers. “I really like the variety here,” one newbie said of CDR, “because one day you could be looking at a simple debt claim for a European airline, and the next you're doing a Middle Eastern dispute with a major retail chain regarding proceeds of crime.”
Insiders also reported working closely with colleagues in locations like New York and Paris on a variety of project management responsibilities, “which meant I got to talk to colleagues and regulators in loads of different jurisdictions and try to understand how their operations differ.” High-flying work aside, one source did point out that “there's a lot more bundling than I expected, and I haven't done as much drafting as I would have liked, although you do get the odd piece of research.” Unusually, the CDR team also holds pension litigation expertise.
In insurance litigation, trainees explained that “they do a lot of professional negligence work, defending other law firms and accountants, surveyors and trustees. I've also defended high-profile banks against claims of negligent valuations.” Big insurers on the books include QBE and Chubb, and areas of expertise included political risk, energy, directors and officers' liability and warranty and indemnity claims. “I got good responsibility in terms of running disclosure exercises,” recalled one trainee. “I also helped draft a number of settlement offers.” Work for the construction litigation team includes advising UK construction company Wates, British Land and the Panama Canal Authority. The team recently advised Costain on a dispute with Viridor Laing, the operator of a waste facility in Manchester built by Costain, which was suffering losses and design problems.
“We'd jump on the plane, have a client meeting for an hour or so, and then we'd head back.”
Trainees getting whisked away to MB's international offices reported “high levels of responsibility because a lot of the offices don't have trainees out there. You're treated as an associate and you're expected to step up to the plate.” Time with Chicago's finance team could also mean “getting to fly to New York for a meeting. It can be fairly manic, but it's very doable. We'd jump on the plane, have a client meeting for an hour or so, and then we'd head back.” As for the client secondments, one trainee remembered: “You do get a lot of responsibility very quickly – people trust you to review agreements and to make amendments. I was also involved in negotiations where you have to be much more commercially minded – you have to make the decision whether something is worth arguing.” As another trainee put it: “You need to get something done quickly, and get that deal over the line, whereas lawyers are paid to get things 110% right, and to be more analytical.”
Those looking for a nine-to-five job won't find it at Mayer Brown. “My average hours in litigation were 8.30am to 8pm, although I did have a few late nights when a trial was on.” Corporate “tends to be more erratic” – a fairly normal day would be 9am to 8.30pm, but horror stories loomed large. “I once did an all-nighter and worked till 5pm the next day. It felt all right at the time because of the adrenalin, but I felt terrible after I finally stopped working!” Trainees in finance reported regular days of 9am to 9pm, with one insider admitting: “I left at midnight every day for a month because of a big deadline, but you can see it coming, so you brace yourself for the blow.” The upside? Hours are similar at top US and magic circle firms, and client secondments often offer some reprieve. Trainees are also expected to complete a minimum of 20 pro-bono hours per year.
“A healthy blend of work hard and play hard.”
With work like this, our sources were pleased to report a resultant “atmosphere that's a healthy blend of work hard and play hard.” Sources reckoned that “relations between the partners, associates and trainees are pretty great. I don't know too many other firms who chat and hang out as much as we do.” Even better, partners are “fairly level-headed and remember what it's like to be a trainee – so they don't set impossible tasks.”
A smaller trainee intake meant trainees found that “we're all quite close, and we're relatively easy-going, which is cool because we're so different in terms of the countries and universities we come from.” In terms of organised socialising, “the firm doesn’t do much for us, which is a shame, but we make our own fun – there aren't many of us so it's not a huge ordeal to co-ordinate.” Regular gatherings take place in the White Horse pub in Shoreditch, while more formal affairs take the shape of annual summer and winter parties, and more department-specific events. “There are almost too many socials around Christmas time – there's a period of two or three weeks where there's something almost every other night.” A few of our sources also participated in the Shoreditch Powerleague five-a-side football with a handful of associates every Monday.
In 2018 the firm kept on 12 of 14 qualifiers. To start the process, trainees catch up with graduate recruitment in their final seat: “They'll tell us which seats are hiring, and then we apply by filling out a form with our CV halfway through our final seat.” Trainees must then face a formal interview with their chosen departments to bag a spot.
“I like the blend of having a US-based firm with a very organic UK presence. It gives us a different atmosphere where it's not as aggressive.”
How to get a Mayer Brown training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
Mayer Brown runs three vacation schemes each year: two in the summer and one in the spring. There are 10 places available on each two-week programme, and the firm generally receives around 1,200 applications for its vacation schemes.
A covering letter is an essential part of the online application. The box for this is left entirely blank so candidates can express themselves, though be careful not to waffle. Mayer Brown wants to see applicants structure this letter well and demonstrate excellent spelling and grammar. “A well-written application is important,” explains graduate recruitment partner Dominic Griffiths, “as writing and using the English language constitutes 70 to 80% of what we do.” Applicants also have to pass online verbal reasoning and situational judgement tests, have a telephone interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team and attend an assessment day to secure a vac scheme place.
Vac schemers split their time between two departments. “They try to accommodate your preferences as to where you'd like to go,” a current trainee said. Griffiths tells us the overall aim of the placement is to give candidates “a feel for being a trainee at Mayer Brown. We ensure they get good quality work that's typical of what they'd be doing as a trainee.” Our trainee sources backed this up, with one telling us: “I got to go to the High Court during my visit. It was great to feel like I was helping out the team on something valuable.”
Alongside vac schemers' work comes various social and networking opportunities. “It's important people get to know a firm in its entirety – all the employees who make the cogs work, as well as the partners and solicitors,” says Griffiths. A day trip to the firm’s Paris office is also part of the placement.
During the second week of the scheme, candidates face a 25 minute interview with two partners who will ask about their understanding of the role of a City solicitor and why they're interested in Mayer Brown, along with questions testing their commercial awareness and business acumen. The majority of the firm's trainees are recruited through the vacation schemes and the firm stresses that it welcomes vac scheme applications from final-year students and graduates too.
In 2018 the firm received over 600 direct training contract applications. Those who impress on the application form and online assessments are invited for a telephone interview with graduate recruitment followed by an assessment day. This involves a fact-finding exercise designed to see if you can “think on your feet,” a written exercise and a group task. The day also includes a lunch with some of the firm's trainees plus a “quite rigorous” competency and strengths-based interview with two partners.
According to Griffiths, “grades are important, but there's always some flexibility on this front – we decide on a combination of factors.” He tells us candidates need to demonstrate they're keen on law, and on Mayer Brown in particular: “We want to see a sense of passion for working here. We don't always know in interviews if someone will be a brilliant lawyer, but we can judge their enthusiasm and dedication to the profession.”
He goes on to reveal he's “a great believer in work experience. Pure legal work is all well and good, but I do like to see people with a diverse range of experience as well. It shows they're inquisitive about their career and have thought deeply about it.”
Apprenticeships for A-level students
In 2015 Mayer Brown introduced the articled route to qualification which offers aspiring solicitors an alternative path into the profession. From September 2018, Mayer Brown will move from the articled route programme to the Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship, which offers candidates the opportunity to qualify by combining work and part-time study over a period of six years. During that time, participants also gain an LLB. The legal apprenticeship is a great alternative for those wishing to pursue a career in the legal profession, without the huge financial burden incurred by fees and student loans. The minimum entry requirement is AAB or equivalent at A level.
The deadline for applications in 2019 is 31 March, with the programme commencing in September 2019.
Becoming a finance lawyer
Mayer Brown International LLP
- Partners 75
- Associates 160
- Total trainees 30
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 25
- Danielle White, graduate recruitment and development manager, 020 3130 8621
- Training partner: Will Glassey
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 1,500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation Scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Open day deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary: £78,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes (BPP)
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000 (LPC), £7,000 (GDL, London), £6,500 (GDL, elsewhere)
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Several across the Americas, Asia and Europe
- Client secondments: Several clients in London
Main areas of work
We are looking for candidates who not only have a consistently strong academic record including a minimum of a 2:1 degree (predicted or obtained) in any discipline, but also who have a wide range of interests and achievements outside their academic career. Additionally, we would like to see innovative candidates who can demonstrate a drive for results, good verbal and written communication skills, and an ability to analyse, with good judgement and excellent interpersonal skills.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 4)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 2)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 1)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Pensions Litigation (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Projects Recognised Practitioner