Davis Polk & Wardwell is one of the original ‘white shoe’ US firms, a grouping that is broadly analogous to the UK’s magic circle. The phrase derives from a type of shoe that used to be popular at Ivy League universities in the 1950s. Founded in New York City in 1849, the firm quickly gained some rising star clients, including John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan’s businesses became JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, which to this day remain clients of the firm. Today, Davis Polk is best known for its high-end capital market, M&A and financial regulations teams.
With the most recent financials showing revenue at $1.77 billion (£1.29 billion), Davis Polk is roughly the size of a top 10-20 UK firm, but its profitability is much higher. Davis Polk’s latest profit per equity partner (PEP) figure stands at $6.35 million (£4.62 million) – a whopping 40% uptick on the year before. Previous deal highlights include advising Ocado Group on its £1 billion share offering and the $6.8 billion (£5.08 billion) transatlantic tie-up between intellectual property management companies CPA Global and Clarivate.
Unsurprisingly, training at the firm’s London office focuses on the corporate and credit practices. Trainees also have a chance to spend time in a more specialised seat such as tax, financial regulation or antitrust. Information from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey suggests that the training is less structured than in other firms. This is in line with the broader US firm culture where junior lawyers are expected to “learn on the job” rather than being coddled. “The practical training you receive is excellent”, one mole tell us, “largely due to the fact that you are given increased levels of responsibility compared to peers at other firms.”
A trainee intake of just four suggests a close-knit group of trainees and junior lawyers. But the lack of a wider group of peers can result in quite a serious atmosphere. While supportive of each other, Davis Polk’s young are quite focused on their own work. This goes in hand with US law firm culture where expectations of trainees are in line with those for other junior lawyers. However, one insider does tell us that there is a “friendly culture across all levels in the London office”.
The firm, on the whole, took Covid-19 in its stride. Rookies report receiving an “additional budget” to set up a “comfortable” home-working set-up, while another claims the “deals have flowed surprisingly efficiently” during lockdown. The firm has also been reported to reward employees for their hard work during the pandemic, offering a range of gifts including “ski bundles (GoPros and ski passes)”, as well as “travel bundles (hotel gift-vouchers and cases)” and “wine bundles”, amongst other things.
You’ll work hard at Davis Polk. Those partner profits don’t come from nowhere! Busy days get even busier once the New York office gets going around 4pm UK time. The average time trainees leave is after 9pm. “You do not make plans for a weekday”, says one insider.
The firm’s “spacious and comfortable” office is located between St Pauls and Barbican Tube stations, and just a stone’s throw from the Museum of London. It’s your typical grid of stainless steel and glass, and is shared with banks including BNP Paribas and Nordea Bank. Lawyers have shared use of the building’s 18th floor cafe with views across London.
The social life at Davis Polk isn’t a major focus of the firm. A trainee notes that “there are very few social events” while another adds “generally not a lot of perks in terms of socialising”. As with many US firms in London, the main perk is the eye-watering salary: NQs at Davis Polk trouser £147,500. Another major appeal of the firm is that all trainees have the opportunity to spend six months of their training contract in Davis Polk’s head office in New York, pandemic permitting. Students who fantasised about becoming a lawyer after watching Suits, take note!