White & Case spins its world wide web in 37 countries and promises its trainees a piece of the action.
When you work for a firm with 44 offices dotted around the planet, “you get to work with colleagues in multiple jurisdictions, and the clients themselves are international.” Of all the US-founded firms in the UK, White & Case’s London base is one of the oldest and largest. Having crossed the pond in 1971, it pre-empted the first major wave of migration by US firms in the late 80s and 90s, which means that nigh on 50 years later “it’s very much ingrained in the UK in its own right.” And Chambers UK recognises that, bestowing top rankings on the firm’s capital markets, restructuring, aviation, energy, construction, infrastructure, private equity and projects practices.
"You get the sense there are opportunities to move between offices around the world."
Chambers Global recognises the firm’s presence and prowess on the world stage too, awarding it fifth place in its top 30 list of global law firms. This reputation is what attracted trainees: “You get the sense there are opportunities to move between offices around the world – a lot of associates are on secondment.” But even before qualification, “one of the USPs is the overseas seat.” White & Case’s guaranteed fourth-seat secondment sees trainees whizzing off to New York, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Stockholm, Geneva, Frankfurt, Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
It makes sense that W&C attracts those with international backgrounds and language skills. Trainees reckoned half their intake was at least conversational in another language, with Spanish, Italian, Hindi, German and Japanese speakers all in the mix. “There were lots of foreign language contracts on this private equity deal I was working on,” one source shared, “so I was able to point to the right information.” However, the firm told us recently it now receives applications from a large number of foreign language speakers (more than it needs). So while those with language skills are still welcome, recruiters are especially keen to hear from law and non-law students from other disciplines. Language skills are by no means a prerequisite.
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Seat allocation has trainees list their top three preferences along with “a little blurb” explaining why. Those nearing qualification used to be prioritised, but now “everyone is equal,” which left some more senior trainees “disgruntled.” But even though the firm has around 75 trainees, “most people get something they want.” In their third seat, trainees rank practice areas followed by locations for their secondment in the final seat. They’re also asked to submit a business case as to why they want to join that specific group in that specific location. “You gear your application mainly to a department,” we heard, “but if you wanted, say, Stockholm, you could put things in the application to indicate why you particularly want to be there.” And remember: “You're going for work rather than on holiday for six months!”
The capital markets team tackles debt, equity, high-yield offerings, structured finance and derivatives, with trainees taking work across all areas as needed. Recent work includes representing Italian telecoms company Wind Tre on its €7.3 billion issuance of high-yield senior notes; acting for J.P. Morgan in a €1.6 billion bond financing for the construction of an Italian toll road; and representing several investment banks on a $12.5 billion sukuk sovereign bond issuance by Saudi Arabia. What do trainees do on these deals? “I helped draft some of the disclosure in the prospectus, read credit reports and prepared a summary of the past couple of years,” one source reported. Working on IPOs is common and “good for trainees, because the client’s management team has no idea why you have to do half the stuff you do! So you have to prepare a few memos explaining what they have to do to become a public company and why.” Trainees can expect “some exposure to every aspect of a deal,” and maybe even some international travel. “I went to Africa for a due diligence meeting,” one source shared.
“Camping out at the client’s office for two weeks.”
In private equity “you get worked very hard, which may or may not be a good reason to pick it!” The team handles high-value private equity transactions alongside portfolio company advisory work. Investor Bridgepoint has been a key client in recent years: its acquisitions of vehicle leasing businesses Zenith and Contract Vehicles were worth $2 billion in total. W&C also advised Bridgepoint and Nordic Cinema Group on the latter’s $929 million sale to AMC Entertainment. In the energy sphere, the firm represented private equity firm EIG on the $3 billion sale by Shell of a portfolio of North Sea oil and gas assets.
On one energy deal, a trainee reported, the disclosure process “involved practically camping out at the client’s office for two weeks to meticulously go through all the warranties.” Trainees also help with portfolio management work: “On my second day I was asked to draft a suite of documents for an equity subscription.” Trainees thought this was “one of those teams where if you show you can do the work, they give you responsibility.” On a property deal, one source reported, “I started with doc review and a few diligence tasks in the data room. As I progressed I got to do more complex drafting.”
The bank finance group acts for borrowers, lenders and sponsors – trainees got exposure to deals from all three sides. Major clients include giant banks such as Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Nordea. The team recently advised a Polish mobile network operator as borrowers on a €1.65 billion loan, and acted for the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation on a regasification project in the Ghanaian port city Tema. On the lender side the firm advised Barclays, Jeffries and others on private equity investor Leonard Green’s £420 million bridge and revolving loan for the acquisition of PureGym. At the start of a deal “you do Companies House research into borrowers,” before moving on to “running the conditions precedent checklists and liaising with local counsel.” Sources said trainees get as much to do as they can handle: “I managed a whole accession process on my own. It’s like a mini deal – if the borrower owns any additional entities, there are ancillary documents those entities need to agree to.”
Some of our interviewees felt that across the transactional seats the tasks trainees get to do are “more administrative.” But sources also said mid and end-of-seat reviews were the antidote to this problem: “They were responsive to the fact I wanted work from a different area.”
There was a clear hotseat at W&C: “Everyone wants to do disputes.” A seat here is “fluid” as trainees tend to “dip into” both litigation and arbitration work. The group routinely advises banks, financial institutions, multinationals, and oil and gas companies in high-value disputes. Lawyers continue to act for Turkish conglomerate Çukurova in a decade-long $2 billion dispute with Russia’s Alfa Group over the ownership of Turkish mobile phone company Turkcell. Assisting on a case like this involves “mundane but important tasks like bundling and proofreading our counsel submissions.” There is the chance to help with drafting: “We were analysing a shipping contract with an incomplete arbitration clause. I helped an associate draft a memo providing an interpretation and gave advice as to the viability of a claim.”
The international arbitration team handles commercial matters – like representing Toshiba in three ICC arbitrations relating to the sale of its $18 billion memory business – as well as investor-state arbitrations, acting for both investors and states. It has a particular focus on arbitrations arising from corporate transactions connected to Russia and the CIS. The firm recently represented Russia as it resisted the enforcement of the enormous $50 billion Yukos arbitration award. And we heard of one trainee who had to travel to Minsk for arbitration work. Another told us: “I got to help with drafting some of the proceedings.” Several trainees had worked on an “enormous filing – there were 40 submissions! We’d take turns working over the weekend.”
“I billed an 80-hour week.”
Trainees across departments were not short of work. “That’s the downside,” said a disputes trainee. “I billed an 80-hour week and was working on two hours of sleep. My supervisor was very understanding and sent me home.” An average day is 9am to 8pm, and “the latest I've stayed was till 4am,” one source shared. In employment and construction trainees might filter out between 6pm and 7pm, but most sources experienced “very late hours in all four of my seats.” Upon qualification “the pace continues but you become more efficient.”
The hardy fourth-seaters who decide they can hack it as an NQ at the firm send an updated CV to the departments they’re interested in. “They say there’s space for everyone, but it depends if the department you want has the need,” sources agreed. In 2018 the firm retained 34 of 41 qualifiers.
As trainees wait to find out if they've been retained, they have “the blessing of being on the other side of the world” on secondment. New York is “always popular,” while Paris is the disputes hotspot. Singapore was home to more secondees than any other location at the time of our calls (four), followed by Hong Kong and Paris. Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, New York and Stockholm each had a single trainee. Some noticed a bump up in responsibility on secondment: “You’re treated more as a junior associate. I’ve closed three transactions and for each one I’ve been responsible for overseeing the signing and closing processes. In London you don’t run that yourself.” The firm offers trainees 30 hours of language lessons before they jet off: “It’s definitely useful, but it can be difficult to find the time!”
In London, the office recently upgraded its “school canteen” cafeteria. “Everyone eats there now,” said trainees. “They fitted it out with nice little booths and there’s a coffee area.” The office is in one of the older buildings in the City: trainees typically sit in an individual room with their supervisor, and internal offices and small windows mean “there isn’t much natural light.” Fortunately the working atmosphere was more here-and-now. “We allow individualism and flair,” said one source. “There are some partners who still like the idea of a 1980s-style culture, but that really is dying out rapidly – as are the people who’re imposing it.” As you can tell from that comment W&C trainees are not backward in coming forward.
“You work with the European offices fairly regularly.”
With “people constantly popping in and out” from other offices in the W&C web, trainees had a “sense of its internationality – even for London!” Sources pointed to the New Associate Conference as evidence of the firm’s international outlook: every September, new juniors from W&C’s offices in Europe, the Middle East and Africa congregate in a European city. London’s lot accounted for around half the attendees, and “because we aren’t qualified lawyers, we’re seen as the babies of the group!” Some of the events at the conference are a bit like something off The Apprentice. While in Hamburg recently, “lawyers played a game simulating what it’s like managing a law firm. We also hired film crews to help us script and shoot adverts for the firm to get us familiar with the brand.” Trainees appreciated meeting their international counterparts: “You work with the European offices fairly regularly, so it’s nice to know who you’re talking to in Stockholm or Prague.”
Another opportunity to do this is at the White & Case World Cup, which sees lawyers (“mainly the youngsters”) from around the globe get together for three days of football, volleyball, and – for those who favour a more sedate pace – an open bar. Frankfurt played host most recently. A few of our interviewees were too swamped to attend, but we spoke to some aspiring players and other attendees. “I went as a supporter” – the free booze had nothing to do with it, we’re sure.
The firm has a 20-hour pro bono target for all lawyers. One trainee recently gave advice to the Yazidi community on how to get recognition of their minority rights in the UK.
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How to get a White & Case training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (winter 2018): 6 November 2018 (opens 1 October 2018)
Vacation scheme deadline (spring and summer 2019): 15 January 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
First year insight scheme: 31 March 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
The firm holds two open days per year, with 20 spaces available on each. The open days take place in November and are for second year students, penultimate-year students, finalists and graduates. The purpose of the open days is to provide participants with a useful insight into the firm and the training on offer. During the open days, there’s an introduction to the business and an opportunity to hear about the role of a trainee from some of the current intake. Participants get to chat with many people over lunch before receiving practical tips on applications and interviews, and have the opportunity to put their decision-making skills to the test in an interactive decision-making game. The day finishes with another opportunity to speak with a variety of people about life at White & Case over drinks.
First-year two-day insight scheme
In May White & Case will be holding a two-day insight scheme specifically for first-year students. The scheme is designed to help introduce participants to the many areas of law, the different types of firms, and help confirm or dispel any myths associated with becoming a lawyer. Participants will receive guidance on how to strengthen their applications and will get to meet different members of the firm informally over lunch and drinks. Participants will also spend time work-shadowing a White & Case trainee, offering insight into the day-to-day role of a trainee solicitor at White & Case.
To apply for an open day or first-year two-day insight scheme, applicants need to submit an online application form, which is a condensed version of the one used for training contract and vacation scheme applications.
The recruitment process
Aspiring trainees need to have achieved, or be on track to achieve, a solid 2:1. The firm also expects AAB at A level and predominantly As at GCSE or equivalent. In addition to a good academic record, the firm is on the lookout for ambitious trainees with a desire to gain hands-on practical experience from day one. They should have an understanding of international commercial issues and an interest in working on big-ticket, cross-border work.
The firm asks applicants to provide details of extracurricular activities and work experience on their application forms. Both are important for demonstrating that you're well rounded. Head of graduate resourcing and development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Christina Churchman, explains: “If we haven't already had the opportunity to meet an applicant on one of our vacation schemes, then we expect to see evidence that they have taken steps to find out what it is like to work in a law firm. This can be demonstrated by work experience or vacation schemes undertaken at either similar firms or with an in-house legal team at a large corporate or financial institution.”
A lot of attention is paid to the accompanying cover letter, which should “detail why applicants want to work at White & Case, and highlight the specific characteristics of the firm that attracted them to us, such as our training programme, our clients, or the type of work that we do,” Churchman says. “It's an opportunity for them to show they've done their research and understand where we sit in the market.”
White & Case receives 3,500 applications for its vacation schemes each year, and a similar number for training contracts. Those who impress on the application form are asked to complete an online video-interview assessment. Applicants are asked to respond to a few questions and record their responses. Churchman adds that the video assessment “gives candidates an opportunity to bring their application to life and show us more of their personality.”
Following the video interview assessment, successful applicants are invited to attend a face-to-face interview with a senior associate and a member of the graduate resourcing team. Following this, the firm makes vacation scheme offers; meanwhile training contract applicants who impress go on to attend an assessment centre involving an interview with a senior associate and a member of the graduate resourcing team, a written exercise and a group exercise “We're looking to challenge applicants,” says Churchman. Around 50% of candidates then make it through to the final stage interview which takes place with two partners. This includes a presentation on a commercial topic which applicants are asked to prepare in advance. Churchman tells us candidates should expect to be “challenged a little more in this interview and questioned on a broader scope of areas, especially when it comes to gauging their commercial knowledge and interest in White & Case.”
The firm offers 50 training contracts each year, more than any other US-headquartered firm in London. Trainees start in either March or September.
It's worth bearing in mind that 70% to 80% of trainees complete a vacation scheme with the firm before starting. White & Case runs three two-week vacation schemes over the winter, spring and summer holidays. Each vacation scheme has 25 places. Vac schemers can submit departmental preferences before arriving.
During their placement vac schemers sit with an associate. “They can take on as much as they are willing to,” says Churchman, adding: “We are looking for participants to be proactive and to seek out work from as many people as possible so that they have the best chance of understanding the work we do and integrating themselves within the team.” Sitting in the corporate department during the vac scheme presented just such an opportunity for one current trainee: “My supervisor had a new matter come in on the day I started, and we sealed it off as I was leaving. It felt good getting involved on a mini project.” Churchman goes on to tell us that White & Case is “looking for people who have a deep understanding of the firm – it's impressive when a vac schemer already has an idea of the type of work the department does and the deals it's working on.”
On the social side White & Case hosts welcome drinks on the London Eye, plus a vac scheme social; previous activities include sushi making, mini golf and a dinner hosted by the firm’s partners. Vac schemers are also invited to the firm's summer party, which in 2018 was held on the rooftop of Eight Moorgate’s private members club, complete with a band and canapés.
Firm spotlight: White & Case's international seats
Becoming a project finance lawyer
White & Case LLP
5 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 107
- Associates 249
- Total trainees 79
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 43
- Graduate recruiter: Christina Churchman [email protected], 020 7532 2899
- Training partner: Justin Benson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 50
- Applications pa: 3,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A Levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 75
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications deadline 2021: 31 July 2019
- Winter vacation scheme deadline: 6 November 2018
- Spring and summer vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 15 January 2019
- Open day deadline: 4 and 16 November 2018
- First year insight scheme: 31 March 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First year: £46,000
- Second year: £50,000
- Post-qualification: £105,000
- LPC Fees: Yes
- GDL Fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm, Tokyo.
Main areas of work
The training contract consists of four six-month seats, one of which is guaranteed to be spent in one of our overseas offices, including Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm, and Tokyo. The remaining three seats can be spent in any one of the firm’s practice groups in London. Receiving a high level of partner and senior associate contact from day one, our trainees can be confident that they will receive high-quality, stimulating and rewarding work. Trainees work in small, focused teams, so their colleagues trust them to perform tasks accurately and efficiently. White & Case is a ‘high-stretch, high-support’ workplace that celebrates individual excellence and team success. We actively encourage our trainees to take early responsibility, and there is a strong emphasis on practical training, with plenty of support and feedback. Alongside the training contract, our trainees are encouraged to get involved in all aspects of our globally-renowned pro bono programme, often working directly with clients and even managing small matters. White & Case recruits and develops trainee solicitors with the aim of retaining them on qualification.
Open days and first year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 2)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 1)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Projects (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)