The small London intake at this huge US firm win big with exposure to international work.
Morgan meets the eye
In the good ol’ US of A, Morgan Lewis needs no introduction: it’s the fourth biggest firm nationally by headcount and the eighth biggest by revenue. You certainly wouldn’t be able to tell all that from its London base, home to fewer than 100 lawyers and taking just a handful of trainees each year.
Size is relative though, and the big story is how Morgan Lewis' London office has been slowly building up in size, from 33 lawyers in 2014 to 89 in 2019. Recent additions include three new corporate partners pinched from Herbert Smith Freehills and a pair of tech lawyers from US rival Pillsbury. The ranks are swelling at the bottom too: trainee numbers have nearly doubled in the past five years. “It feels like controlled growth,” trainees confirmed. “There’s a constant sense of looking to expand strategically.”
“We’re constantly working with the US or Singapore.”
Asia and the Middle East are clearly important to that strategy globally: since 2015 the firm’s set up shop in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and most recently Abu Dhabi. “London definitely feels like an international office,” according to trainees – “we’re constantly working with the US or Singapore.” That’s not just hot air – the firm’s only Chambers UK accolade is for capital markets work, but it’s got more than 30 rankings in Chambers Global.
New arrivals can now express preferences for their first seat destination; following that it’s down to “regular meetings with HR, at which it’s like putting together a jigsaw.” At each rotation trainees submit two London seat preferences and a favoured international secondment. That’s right, every trainee is very likely to go overseas. It was surprising then that “not many people openly wanted to go,” and competition for an overseas seat wasn’t fierce among our sources, but that might change as the trainee intake grows. Dubai is a common destination, and a Singapore seat’s newly up for grabs. Previous trainees have spent time in the Brussels office, and the firm tells us it's looking to introduce new locations in the future.
Do as I say, not as I due diligence
Trainees told us that a corporate seat at Morgan Lewis involves “everything that we can get through the door, and a lot of it is handling the UK elements to US deals.” For example, London lawyers worked with colleagues in the US and Russia representing Russian search engine Yandex in a deal with Uber to combine their ride-sharing businesses in 127 cities.Private equity is taking up more and more space on the plate – the firm recently acted for private equity firm Digital Colony in acquisitions of two mobile phone tech companies totalling £50 million. The new partners from HSF have brought in more commercial contracts work, and energy is growing to be “one of the biggest subsections.” For trainees due diligence is unavoidable, but interviewees also got to draft board minutes and shareholder resolutions, plus manage closings and conditions precedent checklists. We heard that “if you’ve already done a transactional seat they’ll take account of that with your responsibilities,” and insiders felt they got “very clear progression in task complexity” over the course of the seat.
The finance team acts for “lots of leading banks and lending institutions,” and mostly but not exclusively does lender-side work. Clients include US bank Wells Fargo, the Netherlands' ING, and Russia's Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank. Lawyers organise “lots of standard credit facility agreements,” and trainees get stuck into “the big bunch of ancillary documents that come when big institutions borrow lots of money.” They described the seat as “largely similar to corporate but with more documents to deal with,” and noticed a trend towards more refinancings.
The structured finance team does capital markets and securities-related work, handling international matters such as advising J.P. Morgan on the creation of a $20 billion collateralised debt programme for US and European investments. There's some hefty UK-based work too: Morgan Lewis recently represented BlackRock on the issuance of £325 million worth of residential mortgage-backed securities in the UK. Trainees encountered “a mix of clients asking about small regulatory issues and large transactions.” Rookies “work very closely with partners, drafting and listening in on negotiation calls.” Property work is also on offer here for trainees willing to seek it out.
“You get to work with everyone on the team.”
The disputes practice “touches on all sorts of litigation, arbitration and investigations – you get to work with everyone on the team.” Clients include huge multinational companies and banks. Trainees spend their time “carrying out risk analysis and research” as well as “going to court and drafting letters to clients.” Arbitration cases can get all-consuming and sources got “heavily involved, with lots of client contact.” We also heard that the firm is “branching out to do more white-collar investigations,” an increasingly important area for many US firms.
Competition is another contentious option, though you’re less likely “to do substantive drafting as a trainee – it’s a very technical area so instead there’s more research into particular points of law to support associates.” The team has all kinds of big businesses as clients from AstraZeneca and Procter & Gamble to the London Metal Exchange and Tata Steel. Morgan Lewis made waves when it secured victory for Sainsbury's in a Court of Appeal declaration that Visa and Mastercard’s imposition of ‘swipe fees’ went against EU competition rules.
Anybody torn between litigious and transactional work might find employment is just the ticket. “I did a really good mix of employment litigation and corporate due diligence support,” one trainee told us. “I also conducted global surveys, contacting local counsel in 30 or 40 jurisdictions.” Morgan Lewis assists big names including Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amnesty International and publishing giant Simon & Schuster. Trainees were especially happy with their responsibility in this seat: “You manage your own workload and have to prioritise certain tasks.” There’s been an uptick in sexual harassment investigations post-#MeToo, for which trainees interview witnesses. The firm also represented pharma giant Allergan in discrimination proceedings brought by a senior employee.
“The hours are long,” said one trainee, “but not as bad as some would make out.” For the lucky an average day wraps up at 7.30pm; that slips to 8.30pm in busier seats and “when matters are US-dominated we work according to their time schedule. That can be annoying when you’re doing a conference call at 9pm – but it’s part and parcel of working here.” Mammoth office stints (the latest we heard of a trainee staying was 3am) are made less horrifying by a £47,000 first-year salary and “the feeling that we’re all in this together – when I’m staying late a partner is too.” Trainees share an office with their supervisor and reckoned there was a less obvious hierarchy than at larger UK and US firms.
“A conference call at 9pm... part and parcel of working here.”
At the rate Morgan Lewis is growing it might catch up to bigger rivals, but trainees appreciated that growth is being matched with more support for trainees. The firm recently launched a firm-wide ML Well health and wellbeing initiative, inviting speakers to deliver stress management talks and opening an online portal for employees with concerns. “Mental health was emphasised a lot during Community Impact Week,” we heard – that by the way is a Morgan Lewis tradition which also acts as a highlight of the social calendar. More generally, some felt that “there’s not much of a social element” to life at Morgan Lewis, although the firm does provide trainees with a budget for social events. Others told us that the social life varies between department. The firm as a whole also runs a summer party at a rooftop bar, plus Christmas festivities.
Trainees also noticed that “the firm’s started to deliver more training as it’s expanded, and departments are doing more presentations about what they’re doing.” Other sessions include grammar and soft skills tutorials. One source suggested: “The firm is invested in developing our client-facing abilities, as hopefully we’ll be future partners!”
That’s a way off though – the more immediate concern of qualification is also “a lot more formalised than when the trainee intake was smaller.” Fourth-seaters must now make a written application to a department, and then interview with a panel. Retention at Morgan Lewis is usually pretty solid and in 2019 the firm retained five of seven qualifiers.
Every lawyer at Morgan Lewis has a 20-hour pro bono target and “people often exceed it – the projects on offer are really interesting and trainees can get as involved as they like.”
How to get a Morgan Lewis training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 15 July 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
Morgan Lewis' eight available training contracts are split across two intakes, and applications start off as most do – with an online application form. The firm typically receives between 250 and 300 applications, and selects 20 to 25 for a short phone interview with HR, usually in the second or third week of August. The second stage is an assessment centre, which includes a partner interview, group activity, written exercise and discussion panel with partners. There is also the opportunity to have an informal lunch with some of the partners. Current trainees told us these interviews focus on “getting to know you, why you've chosen law and what your interests are. There aren't any off-the-wall questions.”
Litigation partner Peter Sharp set up the traineeship in 2012. He tells us: “We investigate their personality and look for evidence of a genuine interest in business. They also need to be able to collect their thoughts and speak clearly.” After their interviews, candidates have a Q&A session with the current trainees and are given a tour of the office.
Some training contracts are offered off the back of Morgan Lewis' vacation scheme, which takes place in the summer. Obtaining a spot requires an online application followed by a telephone interview with HR and then a partner interview. The firm tends to receive over 200 vac scheme applications each year.
Attendees are assigned to a practice group, but also take part in seminars and workshops to explore other areas. They're given a supervisor to keep them on the straight and narrow, but have license to roam at social events where they'll rub shoulders with the office's bigwigs.
Training contracts aren't offered purely off the back of a successful vac scheme. “If they've made an impression, then they'll be invited to interview like the others,” says Sharp.
“There's no such thing as a standard Morgan Lewis person,” says Sharp, “but I'd say the starting point is strong academics.” Indeed, entry into Morgan Lewis requires a high 2:1 plus AAB at A level. “That said – and this may sound negative – the candidate whose only calling card is strong academics is not likely to be of interest to us,” Sharp continues. “Candidates also need that 'extra dimension', whether it's a degree in a related discipline, previous work experience or language skills.” Speaking of the latter, it's worth noting that many of the trainees we've spoken to had international links or were able to speak multiple languages.
Legal work experience “always helps,” Sharp adds, “as it's evidence that someone is committed to a legal career and has made their choice based on solid experience.” He points out that “this can come from anywhere, from a small general practice firm to an in-house legal department.” Non-legal work experience “is also appealing in the cases where it gives people greater commercial awareness and a realistic insight into the business world. At the end of the day, our clients are businesses, and we are a business firm. The trainee candidate who wants to be a human rights specialist is great and all, but we won't be for them – they'd be barking up the wrong tree.”
Interview with training principal Lisa Cargill and graduate recruitment and development advisor Alexandra Reddington
Chambers Student: What have been the most exciting stories at Morgan Lewis in recent times?
Lisa Cargill: Firstly, there’s been the expansion of our corporate department, with a team of three new partners joining from Herbert Smith Freehills. Their focus on private equity has greatly expanded the capability of our corporate practice and it’s now fairly large for a US non-niche firm in London. From a trainee perspective that’s been very well received, as they’re now able to do a much broader range of work.
Secondly, a little over a year ago a partner, counsel and three associates joined from Reed Smith. They focus on asset-based lending, which tacks onto our existing offering and has definitely increased the range of finance work that trainees can be exposed to.
CS: How would you differentiate Morgan Lewis from other top US firms with offices in London?
LC: One thing Morgan Lewis has firm-wide is a relatively low leverage: our ratio of partners to associates is small. Other firms have a similar model but the result of that here is that groups tend to be intimate and even trainees work directly with partners. I have a trainee in my department now who deals exclusively with us partners all the time. There’s no typical pyramid structure where trainees only ever see junior associates, who only ever see mid-level associates and so on.
Morgan Lewis also has a very strong culture and ethos which I like to describe as a small firm environment within a big firm context. Big firms tend to be impersonal and trainees in a large cohort can feel quite anonymous, but this firm has a very personal touch to it. Vacation scheme students and people who get actual exposure to the firm come away feeling very impressed with the culture.
CS: The office has grown substantially in the past few years – do you expect that to continue going forward?
LC: It’s opportunity-based, there’s no strategy to grow for growth’s sake. The team coming from HSF was a great opportunity; partners will join individually but across the firm you’ll often see whole teams move across. Our attitude is that always we’re on the lookout for good opportunities and want to grow but not just for numbers’ sake,
CS: Trainee numbers have also been on the up. How has the firm ensured it maintains a quality training contract experience?
LC: It’s quite easy because we’re leanly staffed for associates and we really need our trainees, they’re not just sat around proofreading. We’re still at the stage where we’re increasing trainee numbers but while may have three or four in corporate, there are seven or eight partners there with them. The trainee in my department is currently acting in a first-year associate role.
CS: We heard that the firm has formalised the training contract application process. How does the new process work?
Alexandra Reddington: Previously it was just a two-stage process: first a telephone interview with the then HR manager, then a face-to-face interview with a partner. Last year we introduced a more formalised process starting with an online application form. We still have a telephone interview, then the next stage is an assessment centre. We’re looking at a much more varied set of skills and knowledge than we could in a simple interview. The assessment day includes a partner interview; a case study combining written exercise and panel discussion; and a group exercise. The candidates also get the opportunity to have lunch with some of our partners in a more informal setting. It’s crucial that applicants understand what each assessment is assessing and what skills they need to demonstrate.
LC: That’s the direct route – alongside that, our vacation scheme now takes place over two weeks. It’s great for applicants because they get to work in two different departments and get exposure to them over a long period. The summer scheme students are assessed for a training contract whilst attending the scheme and that also involves an interview, a group presentation and an assessment on a piece of written work. We’ve expanded the direct application process so that we can compare candidates from the two routes. It’s hard to compare a summer student to someone who’s only doing a 30-minute interview.
CS: Proportionally how many successful applicants go through each route?
AR: Looking over last the few years it’s pretty much 50/50 but that does vary year on year: in our most recent intake only one came from the vacation scheme, but the year before over that over 75% of trainees did. It varies greatly and we don’t have a set quota that we must take from either route; it completely depends on the calibre of the candidates coming through.
CS: All Morgan Lewis trainees are eligible to go overseas. What experiences can trainees get from an international secondment?
LC: Overseas offices tend to be smaller so it’s probably a more varied experience to having a seat in one practice in London; in Dubai, for example, you’ll be working across departments and helping where you can so it’s an opportunity to get a broad-base experience in a completely different environment and culture. There’s also the benefit of being taken out of your comfort zone, that’s a great learning experience.
AR: Trainees also get six months experience living and working abroad, in a different culture and environment. We are one firm but each office will have its own distinctive nuances. Being able to understand differing working cultures builds a network for when you qualify, and you’ll continue building those relationships throughout your career at Morgan Lewis.
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about the culture of Morgan Lewis and what kind of person would fit in here?
LC: It’s a very flat culture as opposed to a hierarchical one, this is an open-door office and trainees come in and out of partner’s rooms all the time. Obviously, this is an American international law firm and hours are important but they’re certainly not extreme, there definitely is a work/life balance that you wouldn’t get in some of the more aggressive US firms.
AR: There’s no face time requirement and if a trainee finishes at 6pm they can go home without worrying about waiting around for something. Having worked at other US firms myself, I do see a big emphasis on balance here which filters down from the very top.
LC: Another indicator of the culture here is that second year associates onward are eligible to work two days a week from home and partners are genuinely happy for them to do so.
As for the type of person that fits here… definitely someone who’s confident and prepared to roll up their sleeves and work hard. Because it’s a small office and you’re working directly with partners you have to be prepared for things to be a bit unstructured, and you need to have the confidence to take something on and give it your best shot, distilling it down to basic principles. The environment’s probably not as rigid as a lot of the big UK firms with very structured training and know-how programmes, where if you want to draft a document there’s a lot of precedent to work from. We do have that but it’s not used for everything in every department. People at Morgan Lewis have to be prepared to come across new things, tackle them from scratch and not be spoon-fed. We also choose people we’d like to work with!
AR: Trainees get a lot of responsibility early on, so they have to be confident enough to be able to speak to clients. Supervisors and peers are there to support them but trainees need to be confident enough to step outside of their comfort zone and not be afraid to ask questions. They also need to be resilient enough to take on board any constructive feedback they receive. It’s a sociable firm too with a wonderful community spirit; we recently completed the London Legal Walk and have a social committee who run a number of events throughout the year, including the summer and Christmas parties, , a cheese and wine night, pub quizzes etc. The London managing partner also hosts a drinks evening at the end of each month.
CS: The firm recently launched an ML Well mental health initiative. What new resources are now available to trainees?
AR: That focuses on a number of elements, not only looking at mental wellbeing but also reinforcing the intellectual, physical, emotional, and occupational health of our lawyers and staff, with an underlying emphasis on engagement and community. . It’s a multidimensional approach to supporting the well-being of every employee across the Firm, led by a team in the US.. In the London office, we’ve been running a number of sessions on topics such as managing stress and excelling under pressure. Most recently we ran a session introducing mindfulnessand the practical applications of it, and there’s another session coming in the next couple of weeks after we received really positive feedback. The firm is giving individuals the support they need to take a step back and take some time for themselves. The initiative only launched in March 2019 so there’s lots still to be rolled out over the next 12 months.
LC: At the moment it’s not a whole bunch of offerings that weren’t there before – it’s getting across that these topics are important and that there’s a culture here that fosters workplace wellbeing, the firm takes that seriously.
One of the things that’s quite a big feature of our firm is our chair takes pro bono very seriously, and everyone in the firm has to do a minimum 20 hours of pro bono a year. Everybody in our office really likes doing pro bono and candidates often mention it at interview.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
AR: Until we get results from the SRA’s pilots I don’t think there’s too much we can do to prepare for that! Once it’s embedded in, the SQE will likely become the new normal but until we have more information it’s just a case of wait and see.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who might want to apply to Morgan Lewis?
LC: Very often the themes that come out at interview are that applicants like the small office, they don’t want to be just a number and they’ve probably heard that they’ll get direct exposure to partners. Applicants also like that it’s an American office with international work on offer for trainees; there are opportunities for foreign placements but for a lot of people it’s more the flavour to the work itself that’s attractive. Morgan Lewis’ culture and pro bono are big reasons why candidates apply here and that seems to be a major distinguishing feature for this firm.
Morgan Lewis in the US
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
5-10 St. Paul's Churchyard,
- Partners 37
- Associates 52
- Total trainees 17
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 31, including London
- Graduate recruitment team, 020 3201 5000
- Training partner: Lisa Cargill
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-8
- Minimum required degree grade: High 2.1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2019 Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 15th July 2020 Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019 Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £47,000
- Second-year salary: £52,000
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Dubai, Singapore
With 31 offices across North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, the firm provides comprehensive corporate, transactional, regulatory and litigation services to clients of all sizes across all major industries. The firm’s regulatory and industry focused practices help clients address legal, government and policy challenges. Founded in 1873, Morgan Lewis comprises more than 2,200 legal professionals.
Main areas of work
Morgan Lewis’ London office offers a wide range of business and commercial services, including: competition; corporate; debt and equity capital markets; finance and restructuring; labour and employment including employment litigation and immigration advice; investment management; structured transactions; tax; international commercial disputes; arbitration and white collar matters. Morgan Lewis is also strong in various business sectors, including life sciences, financial services and technology, where the firm’s leading regulatory and commercial lawyers provide a real insight into their industries.
Morgan Lewis’ London training programme is led by an experienced training principal. Other partners and our trainee supervisors also have broad experience of working with trainees. Following a full induction into the firm, the programme will provide you with consistently high-quality, challenging assignments, working directly with senior lawyers across a range of practices and industry groups on complex and frequently cross-border matters. Through this hands-on and varied experience, you can expect to build a thorough understanding of the firm’s business and of working with international, high-profile clients.
Over two years you will complete four, six-month seats with the opportunity to gain experience in at least three distinct areas of law. International secondment opportunities to our Dubai and Singapore offices may also be available. In addition to formal appraisals, the office environment allows regular contact with, and feedback from, the training principal, supervisors and other lawyers. Trainees will have the opportunity to actively participate in all in-house associate training sessions, and to take part in pro bono work and business development activities.
To apply for a place on our summer programme applicants should complete the firm’s online application form which is available on our website www.morganlewis.com. The closing date for applications is 31st January 2020.
Life assurance, private medical and dental insurance, long-term disability insurance, pension, season ticket loan, employee assistant programme, cycle to work scheme and NQ qualification leave.
University law careers fairs 2019
BPP, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Leeds, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, QMUL, Warwick and York
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)