Jet-setting trainees described NRF as a "big friendly giant."
Norton hears a who
With over 60 offices around the world, this international heavyweight has been continuing its rapid expansion of late through a series of mergers. In 2017 the firm announced its combination with US firm Chadbourne & Parke, just a few months before merging with Aussie firm Henry Davis York. Trainees at this global giant told us: “I think the plan is to consolidate the Chadbourne merger now. I haven’t heard about any more plans to expand but we are an ambitious firm so you never know.”
It’s no surprise that interviewees were drawn to the firm’s international clients and work with emerging markets, but sources were pleasantly surprised to find “a warm and welcoming environment, which is hard to come by at a corporate law firm.” Others found that “even though we’ve grown a lot the firm is still able to harness its resources in a creative and flexible way.” More on how these “resources” affect trainees later.
Boost your commercial awareness by reading our feature on Globalisation and the law prepared with the help of Norton Rose Fulbright.
NRF gets top rankings from Chambers UK for its asset finance, energy and natural resources, insurance and trade finance efforts. It also gets honourable mentions in London for its construction, white-collar crime, litigation and big-ticket real estate work. Globally, the firm is quite something: it's ranked top for shipping and rail finance, as well as projects and energy in the mining and minerals sectors, with high scores in insurance, construction, aviation finance and climate change.
Trainees were keen to flag up the fact that NRF is “predominantly a banking and finance firm. Around half of trainee seats, including secondments, are in the banking department.” Indeed, most of our interviewees had kicked off their training contract with one or two banking seats. Most had also completed a client secondment or overseas seat, citing this as another element of NRF’s appeal: “It’s more or less guaranteed if you express an interest,” we learned.
“You’re likely to end up with two banking seats.”
Over the course of their contract, trainees are expected to do at least one seat in banking and one in corporate. A disputes seat used to be obligatory too, but isn't anymore. Within these categories, trainees rank their preferences. “You’re likely to end up with two banking seats,” said trainees, “but the graduate recruitment team does their best to cater for people’s preferences. I never got anything out of the blue.” Those who want to undertake a secondment submit a CV, covering letter and application form directly to the client or international office they want to work in. The current overseas seat options are Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Frankfurt, Milan, Athens, Paris, Johannesburg, Moscow and Munich. Client secondments can be done at banks (HSBC, Barclays), insurers (QBE, AIG) and oil giants (BP, ExxonMobil).
The proof is in the (Yorkshire) pudding
NRF’s general banking team covers the work that doesn’t fit into the more specialist teams: that includes corporate lending, acquisition finance, restructuring and real estate finance. A cross-border team working across London, Johannesburg and New York recently advised the world's third largest mobile operator Cell C on a complex $1.28 billion restructuring of its recapitalisation. The team also advised a joint venture led by Deutsche Finance International and Yoo Capital on the £296 million financing of their acquisition of the Olympia London Exhibition Centre in Kensington.
Trainees enjoyed the range of work on offer, noting that “transactions in banking are quick, so you get to work on them from start to finish.” Typical workloads included CP (conditions precedent) checklists, organising closings and drafting ancillary and security documents. We heard the work was “very process-heavy,” but that there was still “a lot more technical training than other seats.” Sources added: “You’re not shoehorned into one area of work and the team is very good at listening to what you want to try.”
“You’re not shoehorned into one area of work.”
The team over in asset finance recently advised Lloyds Bank and a group of syndicate lenders (including Bank of China and BNP Paribas) on providing a credit facility of up to $350 million for Virgin Atlantic Airways. It also advised Société Générale on the €1.3 billion financing of the acquisition of two Vista class cruise ships for MSC Cruises, a Swiss-based cruise line. The team mainly covers shipping, aviation and rail finance and acts for both lenders and borrowers. Trainees told us: “The nature of asset finance is that you repeat transactions, so you’re able to run matters by yourself.” Juniors had held closing calls, sat in on negotiations, checked documents before a closing and corresponded with insurance companies. Sources reflected: “After a few weeks I was able to liaise directly with clients, draft my own documents and manage CP checklists.”
Project finance encompasses quite the roll call of critical sectors: power, renewables and nuclear; oil and gas; mining; petrochemicals, water and waste; social infrastructure; telecoms; and transport. The team advised Norwegian chemical company Yara Dallol on the financing and development of a new billion-dollar potash mine in Ethiopia, the first successful international project financing in the country. They also advised Marubeni, a Japanese trading and investment business, and Jinko Solar, a Chinese solar panel titan, on the financing and development of what will be the largest solar PV power plant in the world, based in the UAE. Again, sources described “more typical trainee tasks like CP lists and administrative tasks.” Some had been able to take a stab at first drafts of ancillary documents, as well as witnessing signings and closings. All of the work in the banking seats had an international element, and trainees told us that hours were particularly long in their project and asset finance seats.
“In corporate you get more of a sense of clients’ commercial considerations.”
The firm’s corporate team covers public and private M&A, public offerings, joint ventures, private equity, and technology and telecoms work. Lawyers in London and Montréal recently advised the Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin on the acquisition of project management consultancy company WS Atkins, for a tasty £2.1 billion. It also advised Nomad foods on the €240 million acquisition of Yorkshire pudding heroes Aunt Bessie’s. Trainees told us: “In corporate you get more of a sense of clients’ commercial considerations and a better insight into the business side of things.” While many of the deals are multibillion-dollar cases, trainees told us that on smaller deals they were able “to take on responsibility in drafting ancillaries and board minutes.” Otherwise, trainees recalled “reviewing articles of association, working on due diligence projects and preparing bibles electronically.”
The disputes team covers litigation, arbitration and investigations. The team recently found itself acting in a heated dispute between arch foes Russia and Ukraine regarding an alleged loan of $3 billion between them. Norton Rose Fulbright represented The Law Debenture Trust as the trustee of the bond. The team also represents Carl Rogberg, the former finance director of Tesco, in the ongoing Serious Fraud Office prosecution into accounting practices at the supermarket giant. Our interviewees agreed: “Because there’s so much room for error there’s less responsibility in disputes.” There was a lot of research and bibling involved, but some sources attended mediations and visited court with their supervisors. Trainees added: “You often do discrete pieces of research that need to be submitted in a memo, but generally there’s less client contact. Nevertheless it was still interesting to see those major cases unfold.”
Hey now, you’re an Enstar
The tax team recently assisted on the negotiation of a reinsurance agreement for Bermuda-based insurer Enstar when it successfully bid £834 million for liabilities (old books of business) from multinational insurer RSA. Trainees in employment meanwhile described a variety of work including tribunals, commercial transfers and “run of the mill employment queries.” They added: “There’s a lot more work on the business development side of things like presenting on certain cases, getting quotes from local counsel and project management.” NRF’s employment team’s clients include BP, Dolce & Gabbana, McLaren and BMW.
Trainees are aided in their workload by ‘resource managers’, which are essentially “gatekeepers who allocate work and keep track of your capacity to ensure you’re not getting shafted.” Most agreed “management makes a real effort to ensure you get the best training and tasks possible,” although their responsibilities could still differ significantly from matter to matter. “Sometimes it can be frustrating to go back to doing something more administrative.” Now would be a good time to get back to that point in the intro: trainees had noticed the firm trying to streamline the way work is done by utilising “different locations and improving the network, as well as introducing more flexible working for associates.” The London office is supported by a hub in Newcastle, which we heard does “legal process work using AI programs to help with things like due diligence and board minutes.”
“You’re managing the work-stream, which is more like associate-level work.”
And trainees had seen some of the effects: “In short it’s made working as a trainee more interesting. If you’re liaising with the hub you’re managing the workstream, which is more like associate-level work.” Others agreed: “It’s taken some of the process out of the work. You have more research tasks and can be more creative, which is exactly what you want as a lawyer.” The hours were still long however: finance and corporate seats tended to be the worst, with trainees regularly leaving between 8pm and 10pm. Trainees also reported “periods of a couple of months where you’re finishing work after midnight and coming back at 8am.” Seats like tax and pensions had more steady working days of 9am to 6pm.
Spurn the churn
Sources described a “supportive atmosphere,” attributing this in part to the fact that trainees usually share an office with a senior associate or a partner. “When you have that easy contact and chat with senior lawyers daily it makes them much less scary,” trainees informed us. Trainees also judged that despite the firm’s ambitious growth it’s maintained a “small-firm mentality where you don’t feel like you’re just on a conveyor belt of trainees being churned out.” There are a variety of networks for support: WIN, a women’s network, puts on things like morning yoga, breakfasts and visits from experts “on everything from nutrition to setting up a savings account.” The firm also recently introduced ‘Breathe’, a network to support the mental health and wellbeing of partners and employees.
NRF’s London office is just off Tower Bridge – an “amazing area which is very different from being in the thick of it in the City.” In the summer lawyers can enjoy the outdoor amphitheatre known as ‘the scoop’ which holds events such as a viewing of Wimbledon with afternoon tea. The balcony on the ninth floor also serves as an excellent spot for some al-fresco drinks.
Trainees have mid-seat and end of seat appraisals throughout their contracts, although “generally supervisors give you feedback as you go and make sure you’re on top of things.” There’s also a trainee mentor system which is “a really good sounding board to have.”
Following some gripes from previous intakes about the firm’s qualification process, trainees now find out “around two and a half months into the last seat whether they’ve got a job.” Sources added: “They give you a timeline for job application and are very clear about how the system works.” The firm doesn’t publish a jobs list, instead trainees are simply reassured that “if you’re good the department will find a spot for you. Some people don’t like the lack of certainty, but it works out for most.” Those hoping to stay on must choose three teams and submit an application for each, with some highly subscribed options requiring an interview. In 2018 48 out of 55 qualifiers were kept on.
Stints in international offices don’t have language requirements, and the firm offers free language lessons with the option to continue via Skype once trainees are abroad.
How to get a Norton Rose training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 13 January 2019 (finalist and graduates from law and non-law backgrounds) or 14th July 2019 (penultimate year law undergraduates)
Norton Rose Fulbright requires prospective trainees to have obtained a minimum AAB at A level and a 2:1 degree, though like many firms it takes extenuating circumstances into consideration. Trainee recruitment team member Kesh Kularatne tells us that a global mindset is highly valued: “We really want people who would like to complete a secondment, either internationally or at one of our clients – a flexible approach is important.”
The firm targets 22 UK universities each year: it attends law fairs, hosts drinks receptions and organises various negotiation competitions and skill sessions as well. Kularatne advises students to engage with the firm if it visits their campus “to get the best out of us.”
The vacation scheme
The firm runs three vacation schemes each year: two three-week schemes in the summer, and one seven-day scheme in the winter. There are 40 places available across the three schemes, and candidates are paid £360 per week. Around 1,500 people apply for the vacation scheme every year. We're told somewhere between 50 and 60% of each trainee intake has completed the scheme.
Applications for the vacation scheme begin with an online form that touches on an applicant's academic history, work experience, business knowledge and interest in Norton Rose Fulbright. “We're looking at the skills and qualities which an individual can bring to the practice, along with a genuine interest in and awareness of commercial issues,” our trainee recruitment sources say. “Accurate spelling and grammar are essential too.”
Those who impress go on to complete an assessment day similar to the one outlined in the section below, and from here the firm chooses its vac schemers.
Vac schemers spend their visit in two departments, sharing an office with an associate or a partner. They're also assigned a trainee buddy. In the past, attendees have completed drafting assignments, attended meetings, sat in on conference calls and undertaken research tasks. “Get to know as many people as you can here – the partners in particular,” advised one of the firm's current trainees.
At the end of the scheme, an interview with two partners determines who gets onto the training contract.
The training contract application process
Around 2,000 people apply directly for Norton Rose Fulbright's training contract each year. The form is exactly the same as the one for the vacation scheme.
“We expect to see some legal work experience from our training contract applicants,” say Kularatne. “You don't have to have completed our vacation scheme or one at another firm, but you do need to show commercial experience.” She goes on to explain: “We're client-facing and place a huge emphasis on teamwork, so if you've taken part in something like sport, drama or volunteering, we want to hear about that too.”
The firm invites the strongest applicants to an assessment day that involves an interview with two partners (or a partner and a senior associate), a written assessment and a group negotiation exercise. The interview aims to test an applicant's motivations for joining Norton Rose Fulbright, their commitment to the law and their commercial knowledge. Meanwhile, the assessment and exercise aim to measure critical thinking and writing skills, and how well someone works as part of a team. The written assessment in particular is “more focused on what we do as a business,” Kularatne explains.
The day includes lunch with the current trainees and a tour of the building. “It is quite a full-on day, but we've deliberately designed it to be like that,” our sources tell us. “We want to give people a real impression of what we're like as a business, and we want to see how they respond to that.”
Interview with banking partner Dan Metcalfe
Chambers Student: How has the recent merger with Chadbourne & Parke affected the London office?
Dan Metcalfe: It can only be a good thing. The primary drive was for US expansion: the merger significantly enhanced the New York office and achieved new strengths and depths in places like Mexico and Sao Paolo. That’s all part and parcel of our international offering in London, we are absolutely a global platform and so the merger benefits us as a global firm.
CS:Where do you see the firm heading over the next five years?
DM: We’ve had a phenomenal period of growth and although it’s appeared very quick it’s been incremental through a number of additions and mergers. We’ve got that bench strength and global offering, now it’s just a matter of consolidating that and making the most of the platform we’ve created.
CS:How would you describe the ideal NRF candidate?
DM: It goes without saying that you need to be intellectually smart, but we’re also looking for commercial awareness. The days of black letter lawyers are gone and we need to compliment how the clients themselves are organised. Providing the best offering we can means understanding businesses and the sectors and wider world they operate in. Candidates also need to be team players and have a hunger and an ambition to succeed.
CS:Trainees have mentioned innovations like the hub in Newcastle – could you tell us a bit more about this?
DM: That’s at the forefront of what we’re doing. The world is changing in how we provide services and how technology helps us improve our offering while facing increasing cost pressures. There’s a program called Transform – a global change and innovation program that helps us to deliver clients services and increase our market share. We’ve got about 35 paralegals and 15 business service personnel. We use paralegals to do more process-driven aspects of transactions, like due diligence in corporate or dispute resolution or conditions precedent work on banking. However, our headcount is growing because like trainees they develop skills and new ways to work. We also use Newcastle as a technology hub to pilot AI initiatives and test them out before we implement them.
CS: What sets a training contract at NRF apart from other firms?
DM: When I was a trainee I remember doing a lot of grunt work, but trainee roles are becoming more cerebral with advancements in AI and technology. Trainees are also able to delegate and work with the hub, which helps them develop into associates. Some may consider these advancements a threat but it’s actually a phenomenal opportunity.
CS: What advice would you offer students who are considering a career in law?
DM: My first piece of advice would be to think very careful about it and only go for it if you’ve really done your research and have a passion and a willingness to work hard. It can be stressful so it’s not something to fall into. Another thing is to do your research on all firms, talk to people and go on vac schemes; there’s no substitute for getting a view of the culture and the human side of a firm. Another thing is being interested in the world and having an awareness of the commercial side. If you want to be a black letter lawyer it’s probably not for you, but if you’re interested in the world and travel and business you’re a long way towards being successful.
We have an incredible culture here that’s very collaborative and supportive. People matter to us and we’re looking for the stars of the future. We work hard to make sure the quality of work, mentoring and supervision is excellent, and to make sure the firm is a diverse and rounded place to work.
Globalisation and the law
Boost your commercial awareness by reading our sponsored feature on globalisation and the law prepared with the help of Norton Rose Fulbright.
Norton Rose Fulbright
3 More London Riverside,
- Partners 1,200*
- Assistant solicitors 4,000*
- Total trainees: 106
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East.
- *denotes worldwide figures
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]com
- Training partners: Dan Metcalfe and Claire O’Donnell
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 45
- Applications pa: 1,500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: Apply by 13 January 2019 (finalist and graduates from law and non-law backgrounds) or 14 July 2019 (penultimate year law undergraduates)
- Winter vacation scheme 2018: Apply by 31 October 2018
- Spring vacation scheme 2019: Apply by 13 January 2019
- Summer vacation scheme 2019: Apply by 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary: £77,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes (£10,000)
- GDL fees: Yes (£8,000)
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work
An impeccable academic record and intellectual rigour are prerequisites. We expect successful candidates to have at least AAB at A level (or equivalent) and be on track for a 2:1 (or equivalent). You’ll have an enquiring mind, strong interpersonal skills, and the motivation to make constant progress. You’ll never stop pushing yourself forward, grasping every opportunity — both at home and abroad — that our firm has to offer. You’ll be interested in business too, and keen to build relationships within a firm that’ll help you make progress with purpose.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 4)
- Banking Litigation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
- Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 1)
- Aviation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 1)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 3)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Projects (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 3)
- Telecommunications (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)