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Leonnie Gilpin joined Gibson Dunn as a trainee solicitor in September 2021. She studied law at the University of Liverpool and completed the LLM and LPC at BPP University in London. She has just completed integration training and is currently sitting in Finance and Restructuring.

Why Gibson Dunn?

There are as many myths surrounding American law firms in The City of London as there are law firms. This combination makes choosing where to apply for vacation schemes, and ultimately training contracts, a very tough choice.

I was first introduced to Gibson Dunn at a Diversity Careers Fair. After speaking to the Graduate Recruitment team and lawyers from the London office, I decided to apply for the firm’s Open Day.

I quickly came to appreciate the special position that Gibson Dunn fills in the legal industry. Gibson Dunn is known for chartering new territory in international litigation. When other law firms are at a loose end, or clients have litigation that is of crucial reputational or financial importance, it is Gibson Dunn that they turn to in order to get the job done. The firm’s range of exciting clients includes Apple, Facebook, Intel, Kraft, NBCUniversal and Walmart.

The vacation scheme is the best opportunity to see the true colours of any law firm, so I applied to Gibson Dunn to see what the firm was really like with an open mind.

What was it like working for the London office of a US firm?

Before I arrived at the vacation scheme, I had a good taste of the personality of the firm from the recruitment and selection process. I had also attended the firm’s Open Day. One of the concerns that friends completing training contracts at ‘magic circle’ firms often have is that they will be a small, unrecognisable cog in a big wheel. Such a problem doesn’t exist at Gibson Dunn, in an office of around 150 people including a trainee intake of 7 per year.

Since starting my training contract this year, my main point of contact at the firm has been my supervisor – who is a Senior Associate – and Sarah Harte and Rowina Chakkar from Graduate Recruitment, all of whom have been supportive from day one. Having listened to friends calling up other firms and being passed around huge Graduate Recruitment departments, I appreciated having the familiar voices from Graduate Recruitment at the end of the line who always understood my position and kept me in the loop. This was one of the first benefits I experienced working with a smaller office.

What was the Gibson Dunn application process like?

When I arrived for the interview, I was interviewed by a Senior Partner and Associate, where I was provided with an insight into the firm’s expansion plans for the office.

Gibson Dunn operates under a hierarchy which is hourglass shaped. The firm has a large team of Partners, and an expanding base of junior lawyers and Trainees. This brings many benefits, the first being that you are interviewed and assessed by senior lawyers who are truly experts in their fields.

There were no video interviews, no tedious assessment tasks, just a truly meritocratic process. This approach to recruitment was personal but also rewarding, and is now hard to come by in the legal recruitment industry.

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What is a vacation scheme at Gibson Dunn like?

Gibson Dunn runs a three-week long summer vacation scheme each year for around 18 students. The scheme was tastefully accompanied by well-planned socials, including: Escape Rooms, drinks and sushi at Sexy Fish, an exciting treasure hunt around St Pauls and a firm-wide summer party.

I was fortunate enough to have my birthday fall on a working day during the vacation scheme. Whilst initially disappointed not to be on a sunny beach, I got another taste of the firm’s warm personality when the disputes team surprised me with a Colin the Caterpillar cake during my second week at the firm!

On the first day of the vacation scheme we had an informal drinks reception with lawyers and staff from across the office. Being a small office, the vacation scheme is a real highlight of the year, and this was reflected by the turnout at the drinks reception. Everybody in the office is a part of a single team, and the turnout of lawyers and staff from across the office demonstrates how inclusive it really is.

The firm’s non-hierarchical approach makes a positive imprint on the office culture. Every now and then, throughout the vacation scheme, I got a taste of just how invested the firm was in getting to know us and choosing the best candidates for their training contracts.

What kind of work did you take on during your vacation scheme?

During the scheme, participants split their time between a contentious and a transactional seat. For me, this meant spending time with Associates in the Corporate and Energy departments. I was struck by the willingness of my supervisors to make me feel welcome in their respective departments. Within a few days, I knew which issues each lawyer was working on and had amassed a few tasks to work on.

The advantage of working in a smaller team is that there is always a variety of work that comes across your desk. Furthermore, as a Trainee, knowing what sort of work each lawyer in the firm is doing, and knowing them personally, makes it incredibly easy to seek out the type of work you want to do. The cliché phrase ‘two days are never the same’ could not be truer at Gibson Dunn. When you combine the small team with the high proportion of Partners, the result is that a training contract at Gibson Dunn involves shadowing and learning from the industry experts rather than someone ‘one rung up the ladder.’

What are the other benefits of working at Gibson Dunn?

The reputation that American law firms have for impressive salaries is certainly true at Gibson Dunn, with the vacation scheme paying £500 per week. This is one the highest in The City, and reflects the premium which is also afforded to Trainees’ and lawyers’ salaries.

Something that struck me about the firm was their commitment to diversity and inclusion. In many firms, diversity is just another buzzword. However, at Gibson Dunn I was impressed by their progressive attitude and the firm-wide efforts to harbour a diverse and inclusive atmosphere for all staff and lawyers. Notably, the firm has partnered with Aspiring Solicitors, InterLaw Diversity Forum and PRIME, which target applicants from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Why did you choose a training contract at Gibson Dunn?

Here are the top reasons I chose to accept a training contract at Gibson Dunn:

  1. The firm is currently expanding its transactional practice which means that there is no better time to join Gibson Dunn’s London office if you are interested in this area.
  2. The smaller office which results in a more personal training contract, greater exposure and responsibility and allows you to really get to know the other lawyers and staff. This in turn leads to flexibility in personalising your own training contract.
  3. The unique position Gibson Dunn holds in the legal market which means it attracts a steady flow of advisory rather than executory legal work. The issues which are advised upon are truly unprecedented and require the best brains in the business to forge new solutions to problems.
  4. The strength of the litigation team and the quality of talent. The transactional practice is made up of second to none lawyers, but for anyone interested in contentious work, no other firm has such a strong weighting towards litigation.
  5. The meritocracy and diversity policies of the firm. Having completed a vacation scheme at Gibson Dunn, I truly felt like I had earnt my training contract fairly. This is a refreshing change to other firms where contacts and networking play a greater role than the ability of the candidates.
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