Stellar revenue growth has focused this US firm's gaze on its office in London town, where “everyone knows everyone.”
West Wacker Drive might sound like a David Lynch film, but it’s actually the Chicago homestead of litigation powerhouse Winston & Strawn. Our sister publication Chambers Associate has been writing about the firm’s US offering for years, but the London office only opened its doors to aspiring UK lawyers a few years back. “The aim is to replicate how we have grown in New York and really develop our brand name in the London market,” insiders announced.
If the firm's recent success is anything to go by, the London office should have some momentum behind it. 2017 was a particularly strong year for the firm, with global revenues rising by a whopping 19%. One particular triumph saw the firm secure settlement from ABC News over a defamation claim: the firm represented meat manufacturer Beef Products when the news channel labelled their 'Lean Finely Textured Beef' product 'pink slime'. Awks. A Dallas office also sprung up in 2017 and, despite still being pretty small, the London office pulled off the fifth fastest growth of any US firm in the City, up 24% from 25 lawyers to 31 in 2017. As one of five trainees in a very select group put it: “It's an exciting time. The best part is being a junior here, because they really need you.”
“It’s not like going to a huge firm where there are millions of options."
“The firm has always been a litigator’s paradise,” sources explained, “but now we’re focusing on the corporate and transactional side.” As it stands in London, the only practice recognised by Chambers UK is aviation finance, but lawyers work on litigation, international arbitration, corporate, finance (including projects), and competition. Seat allocation was relatively informal for the trainees we spoke to. This didn’t bother interviewees, who told us: “It’s not like going to a huge firm where there are millions of options.” With only five choices “you do get a say but you’ll end up doing all but one seat whatever happens.” A similarly casual approach is taken to qualification: “It's just based on a couple of chats.” In 2018 the firm's single qualifier was not retained; four trainees are due to qualify with the firm in 2019.
Is this the wheel life?
Winston’s corporate team handles a load of M&A and private equity work, but also covers IPOs and bond issuances. Lawyers recently advised US private equity firm Argand Partners on acquisitions worth £138 million, one of which saw the firm snap up UK carpet maker Brinton Carpets, which has supplied Buckingham Palace. The group also represented Superior Industries, a North American maker of aluminium wheels, in its $715 million acquisition of Uniwheels, a German company listed on the Warsaw stock exchange. “All the work is international,” said sources, “which is great because trainees have to co-ordinate with their counterparts in the US offices.” Rookies added that “the good thing about corporate is that you get responsibility right from the beginning. Because it’s a small team it's hands-on – you’re not stuck doing only due diligence. I was drafting reports and getting face-to-face client contact.” Tasks included updating data rooms, drafting contracts, answering client’s questions and a fair amount of due diligence.
The disputes team covers commercial litigation, contentious regulatory matters, investigations and international arbitrations. International arbitration lawyers recently represented Rolling Vista Ventures, a Hong Kong vehicle of a private equity company located in Dallas, in an arbitration centred on an investment it made into a Chinese real estate project. The firm also represented Bulgarian football club CSKA Sofia in an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport over UEFA’s decision to exclude the club from the Europa League. It's a seriously varied seat: there is also “a white-collar partner focused on representing individuals.”
Trainees reported that they'd sampled “a really varied breadth of work. At other firms you’d be siloed into white-collar crime or property, but here you’re involved in all sorts.” Trainees had also worked on regulatory cases involving the Financial Conduct Authority, as well as the Department of Justice in the States. They listed tasks including “preparing injunctions, compiling documents, drafting witness statements, taking verbatim notes and assisting with huge filings.” Others added: “Because the cases are so big there’s limited client contact – that's the nature of the beast – but whenever the opportunity arose I was also taken along to lunches, dinners and meetings.”
“At other firms you’d be siloed into white-collar crime or property, but here you’re involved in all sorts.”
Sources in competition told us how “most of the instructions come from the US, especially when it comes to international investigations and merger control.” The team advises reinsurer XL Catlin on EU sanctions, and on a similar front, it also advised Russia’s largest retail bank, Sberbank, on its application to remove EU sanctions against a number of Russian banks. Trainees described an “intense” seat, saying they’d worked on submissions to the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority), international cartel investigations and “miscellaneous regulatory issues.” They added: “It’s quite daunting because you have to evidence everything you’re saying using market research, like Nielsen data. You have to be prepared to answer questions and get up to speed on commercial and legal issues very quickly.” Others described how “the discussions within the team are more academic because there’s no strict formula to follow. A lot of the work is debating and discussing a memo before presenting it to a client.”
The finance team works on leveraged finance, aviation finance, project finance and more. The department is split into sectors, with trainees assigned to one – however, sources told us “there’s a lot of movement in finance, so depending on business need you might end up doing work for other teams.” Clients here include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and investment manager Barings Finance. Lawyers recently advised Cathay United Bank on a $35 million loan to the Bank for Investment and Development of Cambodia, while the firm’s aviation finance team advised BNP Paribas as the security trustee on the lease of two A350s to Qatar Airways.
Trainees told us: “I got to do the first cut of drafting ancillary documents and was there from the get-go, so I got the full 360-degree view of the matter.” Others added: “I was drafting things like lease extensions and terminations for aeroplanes. There was work on the lender and borrower side.” Insiders described the seat as “a steep learning curve” but viewed this as a positive: “You’re doing new things and facing new challenges every day.”
Jumping for joy
“You can always hear laughter in the corridor,” smiled trainees when we asked about the culture at Winston. “Everyone’s friendly and supportive – that translates into the busy times when trainees from different departments come together to share the work equally.” When asked just what made the atmosphere quite so amiable, sources reflected: “It’s the fact you’re actually valued and listened to. The big dogs from Chicago and New York regularly come over and have meetings with associates for feedback, and trainees are always included.” Associates also get to visit their US counterparts as part of ‘Winston University’. Trainees all get together for events, including a recent jaunt to a trampoline park (also attended by future trainees), and we were also told about an upcoming trip to the New Forest for a teambuilding weekend.
“You can always hear laughter in the corridor.”
Trainees described their average working day lasting roughly from 9.30am to around 8pm, while “70–80 hour weeks are the norm.” One trainee commented: “I haven’t found it overwhelming because it’s the kind of place where you can talk to people and manage your workload. Nobody puts ridiculous expectations on you.” Trainees sit with supervisors in a shared office, “which is nice because there’s always someone there.” Nevertheless training was flagged as an area for improvement. “You're loaded up with responsibility but you won't get formal training on the ins and outs of a cartel investigation, for example. You have to pick it up yourself.” However, sources did note “the right noises were being made,” and following trainee feedback, lunchtime training sessions had been implemented.
As it's relatively fresh “the training contract is flexible.” Trainees felt that “when we have reviews, things will actually be put into action faster. It's nice to know that the firm will respond.”
How to get a Winston & Strawn training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 4 January 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Winston and Strawn hires solely through its summer vacation scheme, which lasts two weeks. To gain a spot applicants must submit a CV to recruitment. With over 200 applications received and only twelve spots available, it’s important to stand out. Training principal Paul Amiss tells us he’s looking for applicants with “a strong academic record, highlighting what they’ve gained from their experience so far and what sets them apart from the pack.”
Successful applicants are then invited for an interview, which are typically held with a senior partner and an associate. Amiss explains: “In what is a conversational and organic interview, we seek to evaluate candidates’ intellect, drive and interpersonal skills. Suitable candidates will demonstrate versatility, lateral thinking and strong leadership. Successful candidates must be passionate about working with Winston to achieve legal excellence and a high level of client service.”
During the two week vacation scheme, applicants are rotated between one contentious team and one transactional department. Vac schemers share an office with a solicitor, and also complete a number of projects and presentations on a variety of practice areas alongside their day-to-day work. Regional director of administration Alexandra Wooster describes the vacation scheme as a “two week job interview in which applicants are assessed throughout.” Wooster adds that vac schemers "get exposure to high level work and partners straight away. Associates build the research and project tasks based on real-life experience that we’ve adapted for the program.” There’s a healthy dose of socialising too, with reports of karaoke, ping pong and networking lunches from previous vac schemers.
The vacation scheme ends with a 45 minute interview with a partner and associate for those interested in starting a training contract. Wooster explains: “We want to make sure that applicants want to be considered once they’ve been immersed in the environment and culture at the firm.”
Paul Amiss tells us the qualities Winston is looking for in trainees include “flexibility, communication skills, the ability to cope under pressure and being prepared to put in the extra effort.” Finally, he adds that the firm is looking for “self-starters and fast learners.” Current trainees described the ideal Winston applicant as “someone who is capable and hardworking but also friendly and easygoing. You have to be prepared to be flexible with your schedule and be a good team player.”
Winston & Strawn London LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners: 14
- Associates: 18
- Total trainees: 5
- UK offices: London
- Overseas offices: 15
- Graduate recruiter: Alexandra Wooster, [email protected] 020 7011 8777
- Training partner: Paul Amiss, [email protected] 020 7011 8778
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2 (average)
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Trainee offers made subsequent to participation in vacation scheme
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 4 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,500
- Second-year salary: £47,500
- Post-qualification salary: £90,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days (5 carry over)
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000 in London/£6,000 outside London
We are proud of the many accolades we have received over the years – a tribute to our lawyers’ creativity, flexibility, depth of experience, and commitment.
Winston’s London office serves high-profile, multinational clients on a distinctly international level. When it comes to our employees, our goal is to maximise individual potential with professional development opportunities, emphasise the firm’s culture, and contribute positively to the community.
Winston has approximately 1,000 lawyers in a number of practice areas across 16 offices.
Main areas of work
We accept vacation scheme applications from:
• Penultimate-year and final-year law students (law students on a four-year course should apply in their third year of study)
• Final-year non-law students
• Any other graduate wishing to commence a training contract in two to three years’ time
We use our vacation scheme to identify and recruit future trainees.
Remuneration £400 per week.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 3)