White & Case has grown rapidly in London of late, increasing the number of training contracts it offers from 30 to 50 in recent years as it bids to go head-to-head with the magic circle. The financials are looking rosy too, with the corporate finance-focused US giant boosting turnover this year by 7.1% to a new record high of $1.63 billion (£1.31 billion).
$290 million (£232 million) of this figure came from the firm’s London office, up from $280 million (£224 million) last year, underlining the importance of the UK to White & Case. Certainly, working here is a very different experience to one of the many US firm London offices that offer just a handful of graduate places.
As it has grown White & Case has built out its London training infrastructure. Nevertheless, the lighter supervisory touch approach associated with American firms still applies to a certain extent. “I often get to both figure out and execute tasks all by myself – the responsibility is both scary and really good practice,” one W&C trainee tells us.
The work is “generally good and interesting”, and those who prove themselves find it’s a virtuous cycle. Reports another rookie: “If you show you are capable of completing simple tasks, associates will try and give you more responsibility with interesting work where possible.” However, slightly envious glances are often made towards UK firms with low cost centres. “There are some tasks which are not very interesting which it feels like could be done by a support team, if W&C had the infrastructure in place,” we are told. Technological improvements could fill this gap. A trainee reports: “We’re getting there. Not pioneers but increasingly recognising and seeking out technology that can make work more efficient.”
What those UK firms with support teams elsewhere certainly don’t do is pay their London trainees as much money as White & Case does. Newly qualified salaries rose to an eye-watering £105,000 in 2017. The trade-off is long hours that include some work that other firms may outsource, alongside the more complex tasks. In order to fit it all in, don’t expect to get out of the office much before 9pm if you are in a corporate or banking seat. For other departments the hours are less intense. One insider sums it up like this: “[Work-life balance] depends on the department, some parts of the office will be dead by 6.30pm whilst others are bustling until 2am.”
Another adds: “The long hours are part of the expectation. Weekends are generally free but time in the week outside of work is limited.”
Perks are up there with the magic circle. There’s a focus on wellness, with a health allowance and rewards programme called ‘Wellness Works for Me’, subsidised yoga, massages and even weekly therapist sessions. Free meals from a canteen that puts on regular “street food pop-ups” and free taxis for late night workers “all help ease the pain when the going gets tough”
Another big White & Case pull factor is its huge international network, with 43 offices in 30 countries. All rookies are given the opportunity of doing a secondment, with some great destinations available. Current London trainees have spent time in, among other places, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid and Singapore.