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.
It was this mystery, but also the Firm’s reputation in litigation (e.g. defending Apple in their litigation with Samsung), that led me to apply to Gibson Dunn for a vacation scheme. Having spoken to lawyers in the USA, I quickly came to appreciate the special position that Gibson Dunn fills in the legal industry.
In the USA, 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 to get the job done. 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 made of 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. One of the concerns that other 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 130 people. From the moment I applied to Gibson Dunn, my point of contact at the firm was Katy Edwards, our Graduate Recruitment Manager. Any concerns or question I had were directed to her. Having listened to friends calling up other firms and being passed around huge graduate recruitment departments, I appreciated having one voice at the end of the line who always understood my position and kept me in the loop. This was the first benefit of working with a smaller firm.
What was the Gibson Dunn interview like?
When I arrived for the interview, I was interviewed by the Chair of the London Corporate Practice and Partner, Charlie Geffen. Hearing Charlie’s ambition for the firm, and the expansion plans for the office, suggested there was no better time to be involved and to help shape the future of the firm. 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. There are few lawyers at the firm who would be described as ‘Senior Associates’ or mid-level lawyers. 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 silly assessment tasks, just a truly meritocratic process judged by expert lawyers. This traditional approach to recruitment was personal but also rewarding and hard to come by in the legal recruitment industry.
What is a vacation scheme at Gibson Dunn like?
Gibson Dunn run one, three-week long summer vacation scheme each year for around 20 students. The three-week scheme was tastefully accompanied by well-planned socials, such as: drinks and canapes on the London Eye, a pizza night at ping pong club Bounce, and dinner at a local Indian restaurant.
I was (un)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 a birthday cake arrived out of the blue during our Indian dinner.
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. One minute you would be speaking to a Senior Partner, who was working on an exciting deal with a household name client. The next minute, you would be socialising with a secretary or the café assistant. Everybody in the office is a part of a single team, and it is shocking 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?
The scheme is planned so that students split their time between a contentious and a transactional seat. For me, this meant spending time with associates in the Corporate and Employment departments. I was struck by the willingness of my supervisors to make me welcome in their respective departments. Within a few days, I knew which issue each lawyer was working on and had amassed a few tasks to get stuck in to.
The advantage of working in a smaller team is that the variety of work that comes across your desk greatly increases. 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’ is more true than ever before. 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 ring up the ladder’.
What are the other benefits of working at Gibson Dunn?
The myth about salaries at American firms is certainly true at Gibson Dunn, with the vacation scheme paying £500 per week. This is the highest in The City, and reflects the premium which is also afforded to trainees’ and lawyers’ salaries. Certainly, having a salary paid in American Dollars is not a bad thing at this point in time.
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.
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:
The ambitious growth plan being implemented by the management committee mean there is no better time to join Gibson Dunn’s London office. I was struck by the rapid expansion of the London office, which comes as part of a wider, unstoppable invasion of American law firms in London. Clients are less looking for the British ‘one stop shop’ magic circle approach, and are increasingly looking for specialist advice from industry experts. The top level advisory legal work is increasingly being given to firms in their specialism. Firms which adopt a ‘jack of all trades’ approach are being given the more menial transactional work.
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.
The unique position Gibson Dunn holds in the legal market. Resulting in a steady flow of advisory rather than executory legal work. The work which is advised upon is truly unprecedented and requires the best brains in the business to forge new solutions to problems.
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.
The meritocracy and diversitypolicies of the firm. Having completed a vacation scheme at Gibson Dunn, you truly felt like you had earnt your 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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