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 revenue standing at $1.18 billion (£944 million) it’s roughly the size of a top 10-20 UK firm, but its profitability is much higher. Davis Polk’s most recently disclosed profit per equity partner figure stands at $3.75 million (£3 million). Recent work highlights from Davis Polk’s team on this side of the pond include advising Comcast on its $31 billion (£25 billion) takeover offer from Sky and acting for Natura on its €1 billion (£916 billion) acquisition of the Body Shop from L’Oréal.
Unsurprisingly, training at the firm’s London office focuses on the corporate and credit practices. Trainees also have a chance to send 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. As only seven of them are recruited (an increase from four last year), trainees are given significant responsibility from early. On the whole the work that trainees engage with is “very varied.” Expect the quality to be mixed too with some “very dull work” and some “very interesting work.”
The small trainee intake 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 “everyone who works here is extremely friendly.”
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.
The firm’s office is located between St Pauls and Barbican Tube stations. It’s your standard 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 salary: NQs at Davis Polk take home a whopping £135,000. 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. Students who fantasised about becoming a lawyer after watching Suits, take note!