Energy, finance and technology are at the centre of this US outfit’s compact London base.
A golden slate
Things are looking good at the London arm of San Fran-founded Orrick: the office's revenues rose by 16% over 2017 and since 2016 11 partners have been added to its ranks (four were promoted internally in the first month of 2018 alone). Recent laterals have joined from Bird & Bird, Reed Smith, Vinson & Elkins, legacy KWM and Watson Farley & Williams, boosting practices like M&A, venture capital and technology. The blighty base has also – rather ironically – benefited from the 2018 closure of Orrick’s Moscow office, as its corporate head Konstantin Kroll has relocated to London to head the firm’s Russia desk. It all amounts to a buzz that was palpable among our interviewees: “At one stage, we had a new hire almost every week – it definitely feels like we have some real momentum.”
“it definitely feels like we have some real momentum.”
Orrick’s focus on the energy sector is certainly reflected in the Chambers UK rankings for the London office: it picks up nods for its energy trading expertise, as well as for its renewables and alternative energy capabilities. The office is also well regarded for its venture capital work, which involves assisting a range of technology companies on matters like financings and IPOs. Our trainee sources had an interest in the firm’s three sectors, but also targeted Orrick for a training contract because, like this interviewee, they “wanted to go to a US firm with a big global reach, but also a London presence that allows you to work in small teams.”
Sources also noted the perks of the firm’s six-seat system: “You can more or less get to see the whole of what's on offer; everyone eventually gets the seats they want; and you get to experience some of the smaller departments like employment, which you might not have seen otherwise.” Repeat seats are quite common, however, as most trainees tend to complete a second seat in the larger corporate department, and for their final seat return to the department that they wish to qualify into. In 2018 the firm retained four of its six qualifiers.
Deals with wheels
The corporate team takes on four trainees at every rotation and is broadly split into three main areas: there’s a technology companies group (TCG), which covers venture capital and financing work; an energy-focused M&A group, which handles a lot of solar-oriented deals; and a team that “does more traditional M&A and capital markets work, like shopping centre deals, for example.” It’s “up to us to seek out the work we want to do,” said trainees, who emphasised that “more so than in other departments you’re involved in lots of different deals at different times, so it can be a bit of a juggling act!” Shorter timeframes and higher responsibility levels made venture capital deals appealing: “For the most part, you're working with smaller start-ups and entrepreneurs, so as a trainee you can take on much more of a leading role. I've had direct client contact from the start of the seat.”
On the M&A side, the trainee role tends to veer more towards project management, as the deals are “larger, more complex, and have more moving parts.” Work highlights of late include advising Federation Internationale de l'Automobile – the world governing body of motor sports – on Liberty Media Corporation’s $8 billion acquisition of Formula 1’s parent company; investor NextEnergy Solar Fund on the acquisition of UK-based solar power projects worth over £150 million; and JD.com – China’s largest retailer and e-commerce company – on its $397 million investment in a London-based luxury online retailer called Farfetch.
"If someone is acquiring a solar farm in the middle of the countryside, we would do all the due diligence."
The real estate department takes on two trainees at a time and is split into two main areas of focus: “There’s the traditional commercial work which covers the likes of retail sites and hotels, and then there’s the corporate support side, where we assist with the real estate aspects of the M&A and finance deals that are taking place.” The team have been busy advising key client intu Properties Group – one of the largest owners of shopping centres in the UK – on many deals, including one that involved a £73 million development at the client’s existing Lakeside site in Essex. Lawyers here also assisted on the NextEnergy Solar Fund deal that we highlighted above.
On the corporate support side, trainees found themselves “drafting certificates of title, and reviewing specific clauses and finance documents from a real estate perspective." With solar plants, wind farms and even biomass power stations on the cards, the land being acquired or sold for development is often remote: "If someone is acquiring a solar farm in the middle of the countryside, we would do all the due diligence on the land and look at how to resolve any potential issues. Often you find land that hasn’t been registered, which needs to be flagged and considered when drafting the acquisition documents.” Sources got to grips with “lots of leases” on the retail side, and described this element of the seat as “very fast-moving, with lots of small pieces of work to complete.”
The litigation team is "unusual in that it doesn’t have much crossover with the other departments," trainees explained. "The partners are good at sourcing their own work, and a lot comes from the Big Four accountancy firms." Indeed, Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG are long-standing clients, but also on the client roster you’ll find high net worth individuals, like James Seddon, who the team represented against his former employer, the investment management business Marathon – Marathon filed a £15 million damages claim against Seddon for the alleged copying of confidential files, but in the end the judge ruled that Seddon would only have to pay the nominal sum of £1.
Sources felt that timing was everything in this seat: "If you come in during a trial, it's a really good seat. Some trainees have gone straight into an eight-week trial at the High Court and had a glamorous experience. If you come in and the matters are at the pre-trial or pre-action stages then you can be doing a lot of doc review, bundling, checking that lists and indexes are correct...” On the rosier side, other interviewees reported attending client meetings and assisting with witness statements.
Orrick's London base is situated in Cheapside, close to St Paul's Cathedral. The office's lawyers are split between two floors: the corporate and energy & infrastructure teams occupy the eighth floor, while the finance, litigation and real estate groups hang out on the floor below.
“We have the rugby lads on the one hand and the detail-focused Oxford choir singers on the other!”
Sources didn't find that the divide prevented collaboration between the teams, but they did identify a different vibe in the corporate team: "Corporate feels very US-orientated compared to the other departments, which feel more like teams in a traditional English firm. Groups like real estate and litigation are much more heads down, do your work and leave – the social side isn't promoted as much. Corporate has a more dynamic edge; it's fast-moving, social and commercially minded." As a result, trainees agreed that “casual Friday is definitely more observed on the eighth floor." However, its US feel also meant that corporate was flagged for having the most demanding hours. “You can be regularly doing 14-hour days for the length of a deal,” one trainee revealed, putting their average leaving time during their seat at around 8.30pm. Elsewhere, “you can be doing 9.30am to 7.30pm – nobody gets out at 5.30pm! On the flipside the firm is quite considerate when you have stuff to do – people do take ad hoc half days to work from home, for example.”
More broadly, sources agreed that there wasn't an “Orrick type,” and emphasised that “our trainee intake is quite varied: we have the rugby lads on the one hand and the detail-focused Oxford choir singers on the other! The variety here is refreshing and we all get along.” The trainees do therefore get together for “impromptu drinks,” but other social highlights include a Christmas ball (most recently held at the Honourable Artillery Company's Garden in Moorgate), as well as quarterly office-based events and drinks trolley gatherings on the occasional Friday afternoon.
Orrick became the first large international law firm to open an affiliated office in Abidjan, in Côte d'Ivoire, in 2014. We even heard reports of one trainee being sent to the country to help negotiate a gas agreement!
You may also be interested in...
These US firms with small London trainee intakes:
How to get an Orrick training contract
Open day deadline (2019): 8 February 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 May 2019
Orrick’s recruitment team usually attend between six and eight law fairs each year. In 2018 they're at Warwick, Nottingham, Cambridge, York, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Exeter, Durham and BPP.
The firm doesn't have a vacation scheme, but does run three or four open days each year; the application form for these is the same as that for a training contract. Orrick has recently increased the number of training contracts on offer each year from six to eight.
Applicants have to list all their academic achievements to date, from GCSEs all the way up to GDL and LPC grades if applicable. Grades for each module studied at degree level are also expected. Director of administration Halina Kasprowiak tells us: “We don’t have any kind of automatic sifting criteria.” She goes on to say that a 2:2 degree isn’t a deal-breaker, but such an application must stand out in other ways, and supporting academics (A levels or GDL scores, for example) must be impressive.
Applicants are asked to flag any language skills and detail their work experience. “We're open about that,” says Kasprowiak. “You could have worked for a high-street solicitor or spent time at a set of chambers; it doesn’t have to be experience in a City practice, or even specific legal experience. Having worked in a pub or a shop doesn’t mean you don't have transferable skills relevant to a City practice.”
The form also includes a covering letter prompted by a few open-ended questions. “We pay particular attention to the covering letter,” says Kasprowiak. “We’re looking for people who have really thought it through, who write well and get their points across succinctly.”
Orrick's four open days take place in March and April and there's space for up to nine candidates on each. Applications should be made online via Orrick's graduate recruitment website.
The day kicks off with a presentation on life as a solicitor at the firm, but also involves a drafting exercise; a Q&A session with the current trainees; a lunch with a cross-section of lawyers and paralegals; a business negotiation exercise; and a first-round interview for a training contract. After a jam-packed day, Orrick puts on some drinks in the evening.
Open day participants are observed throughout the day and not just in the interview. Kasprowiak and her team look out to see whether candidates have remained engaged during all aspects. When it comes to the negotiation exercise, the firm is “looking to see how candidates work together as a team – have they divided up the exercise so that each person has had a chance to speak?” Kasprowiak's top tip? Don’t be the one person hogging the limelight.
Those who make a good impression are invited back within a few weeks for a final-stage interview with two partners. In 2018, 36 candidates attended open days and 15 were invited back for a second interview.
Kasprowiak tells us that from this year's intake of six only one had done an open day but typically around a quarter of incoming trainees complete one.
Orrick invites around 30 direct training contract applicants to a first-stage interview in the summer. In addition to graduate recruitment staff, a senior associate or an of counsel will be present in the first interview.
Interviewees are given 30 minutes to read a letter and draft a response. In one previous year, the letter took the form of a complaint from a company alleging that its IP rights had been infringed by another company’s product. “They weren't writing as a lawyer but as this respondent company’s owner,” says Kasprowiak, adding: “We gave them an overview of IP law and what certain terms meant.” She tells us the exercise is intended to assess a candidate's commercial awareness and writing ability, not their legal knowledge.
Interviewers discuss a candidate's response “so we can understand their thought process and hear about the next steps they would take from a commercial standpoint.” There's also a discussion of the interviewee's application form plus some competency-based questions.
Around ten to 15 of these interviewees are invited back for a second interview. This sees candidates given 45 minutes to prepare two discussion questions: one has traditionally been a situation one might face as an NQ, though we're told this is subject to change. “A client phones – says they want to buy a hotel and need help. The candidate has to figure out what questions they need to ask the client, what things will need to be discussed at the first meeting, and which colleagues they will be asking to get involved and why,” Kasprowiak explains. The second question asks candidates to tackle a provision from an agreement that has ambiguities and mistakes in it: they need to spot the errors and reformulate them to make the clause more accurate.
Two partners then interview candidates on these before moving on to standard fare like ‘Why law?’ and ‘Why Orrick?’, plus some current affairs questions. At the end, interviewees have a chance to ask their own questions, something Kasprowiak recommends: "You should always have at least one question to ask to demonstrate that you're truly engaged and interested.”
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
- Partners 30 (London)
- Associates 54 (incl of counsel) (London)
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 24
- Graduate recruiter: Hannah Jackson, [email protected], 020 7862 4600
- Training partner: Jinal Shah
- Method of application
- Online at www.orrick.com/careers/ london/graduate-recruitment
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-8
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Min 3 at A & B
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 12th October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31st May 2019
- Open day deadline: 8th February 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Second-year salary: £44,000
- Post-qualification salary: £95,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £8,000, LPC: £9,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: None
Main areas of work
Open days and first year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Employment: Employer Recognised Practitioner
- Social Housing Recognised Practitioner
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)