US player Covington & Burling has attracted some of the giants of American business: Apple, Bank of America and even managing to slam dunk the National Basketball Association. Despite being smaller than some other US titans, Covington’s most recent revenue was a respectable $950 million (£747 million) and profit per equity partner $1.5 million (£1.18 million).
The firm’s London office is based on the Strand within spitting distance of the Royal Courts of Justice. It has seen revenue increase by 16%, passing $80 million (£63 million). Covington has considerable caché in life sciences, representing pharma-bosses Merck, Novartis and AstraZeneca, alongside great work in the technology and media sectors: for example, the firm was instructed by video-on-demand service FilmFlex Movies during a recent software contract dispute.
Having a laser focus on life sciences means dealing with complex regulatory questions so trainees are expected to keep on top of regulatory matters and may find themselves with quite hardcore legal research. However, rookies see this work as preferable to the traditional trainee stamping ground of bundling.
Due to the small trainee intake – up to only eight in each year – juniors get decent levels of responsibility: they might draft witness statements and even deal directly with clients. The other plus side to limited numbers means that rookies “are very close and supportive of each other”. However, this atmosphere doesn’t appear to apply vertically across the firm: “there can be a bit of a divide between trainees and associates/partners” observes one trainee, “with some clearly looking down at you, while others are lovely.” Another interviewee added “most senior lawyers are very approachable […] with some notable exceptions”.
Training at Covington is similar to other US firms – there is not much structure and more of a ‘learn on the job’ mentality. So although there are regular training sessions which trainees are encouraged to attend, there isn’t a rigorous training programme. Feedback on your work will vary: “it is very dependent on supervisors – some give great feedback, while others give none until you finish your seat where you find out you’ve been doing one thing incorrectly the whole time.”
Perks are minimal with trainees lamenting “we don’t even get a fruit basket any more, and heaven forbid you’re caught by the office manager eating a biscuit from a meeting room outside of a meeting!” However, there is a firm-wide integration event in Washington DC, the firm’s heartland, which trainees get to go to at the beginning of their second year. It also goes without saying that the salary is a significant perk. Although not as high as other US firms, Covington’s NQ earn a substantial £100,000.
The hours at the firm are comparable to other City firms with trainees clocking off around 8:30pm on average. Although there is a generous trainee social budget, such hours make it difficult to make plans, as one insider points out: “the trainees try their best, but a lot of the time things get cancelled due to work.” Fortunately, the firm puts on a few events including bi-monthly drinks in the office and a summer barbeque.
Despite its US origins, international secondments at Covington only extend to its Brussels office where trainees work with the EU competition law practice group. Lucky trainees may occasionally get to go on short trips abroad: one rookie has been to Dublin twice, Stockholm and Washington DC. More attractive perhaps are client secondments which come with high praise from insiders. One interviewee described their six months at a pharma company as “AMAZING – brilliant team, outstanding experience across a wide range of areas, lots of responsibility on exciting global projects and fantastic people. I learned so much and would 100% recommend it.”