Debevoise & Plimpton

The Legal Cheek View

“It’s pretty cool,” one Debevoise & Plimpton trainee reflects, “seeing deals in the news and knowing that it’s something I’ve been working on.” Recent Debevoise-flavoured transactions in the business pages include multi-billion dollar mergers tying up Discovery and WarnerMedia, and Covea and Partner Re (the latter being the biggest insurance deal of 2021). For light relief, the New York outfit has also been known to act in UK Supreme Court cases such as the landmark decision about Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

Human rights appeals don’t represent a typical day at the office, needless to say. Core business in the London office of this American-headquartered firm are the likes of private equity, insurance, M&A, finance and tax. Headed by former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC, the 27-partner strong office is the firm’s second largest. 10% of the London partners are dual-qualified in both the US and UK, presenting an exciting training opportunity for rookies.

High-profile London litigation includes advising GoDaddy on the acquisition of important domain extensions, representing Victor Pisante in a successful deceit claim in the High Court, and advising Rolls-Royce on a £500 million agreement with the Serious Fraud Office concerning alleged bribery and corruption as well as the latest Leniency Agreement concerning the same claims negotiated with Brazil’s Office of the Comptroller General. This is “big money commercial litigation work”, as one Debevoise insider puts it.

Globally, Debevoise hosts nine offices across the US, Europe and Asia. Two further offices — in Tokyo and Moscow — were shut in 2021 and 2022, the former following an evaluation of client needs and the latter in response to the Ukrainian war. These closures have been countered by a new office in San Francisco, from which the firm hopes to service its increasing number of tech company clients based in the region.

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Debevoise was founded in the Big Apple in 1931 and still boasts of its “strong New York roots”, while insisting that the London office “has its own voice and culture”. The firm’s name, incidentally, isn’t Frenchified as some might think — it rhymes with “noise”, like Theydon Bois on the Central Line. Grads who make it at Debevoise won’t need to consider living that far out ever again: with trainee salaries starting at £55,000 and NQ wages rising to £145,800, this is one of the highest-earning gigs in legal London. Pay packets are increased in “lockstep” with other lawyers in the same qualifying year, and at the giddy heights of partnership the money positively cascades in.

Firmwide, Debevoise is in good financial shape. Profit per equity partner rose by 10% in 2021 to more than $5 million (£4.14 million) for the first time in the firm’s history. While Debevoise did not achieve the meteoric growth experienced by some firms in 2021, the trend of solid and steady growth has continued. This is best exemplified by the London office — despite revenue only climbing from $170 million (£140.54 million) in 2020 to $173.9 million (£143.77 million) in 2021, City-generated revenue has grown by a much more impressive 60% over the past five years as a whole. Global revenue increased by a healthy 8.5% in 2021, to $1.33 billion (£1.10 billion).

As with all megabucks US outfits, you lose in downtime what you gain in filthy lucre. While the workload is “seasonal and depends on the team”, the hours of the fabled litigation team “can be absolutely brutal” — and this seat is mandatory. “It’s never going to be a 9-6 (or even 7) job”, warns one insider, but you might at least get some flexibility: “The general attitude in my team is super laidback — come in when you want, if you want to do something in the evenings, that’s fine — so long as the work gets done. It does sometimes mean getting to a dinner and working afterwards until quite late, but I’d rather that than miss out on all my social commitments.” Another rookie provides this advice for Debevoise-hopefuls: “Make sure you stick around supportive friends and family who can help you when you’re working hard.”

The rise in home-working has only “blurred work/ life boundaries”. As one trainee remarked: “The culture of the firm requires you to be extremely responsive, and so there are fewer safe evenings and weekends compared to when we were in the office.” Generally, the firm’s WFH set-up is said to be “pretty good”, but there is apparently “not enough financial support for juniors to get WFH setup”.

Unsurprisingly, training at Debevoise adheres to the norms of a US firm: “You learn by doing.” “While there is no formal training, supervisors and other lawyers are almost always available to take the time to explain things thoroughly,” explains one rookie. “Realistically, the lack of formal training is a blessing.” Moreover, insiders report that senior colleagues are always available for support: “Debevoise has an open door policy, meaning everyone should feel comfortable walking into other people’s rooms (at an appropriate time) and asking for support. This principle is practiced well — I have never felt awkward or uncomfortable approaching my superiors, even the most senior partners.” Knowing when to approach superiors for help is a sentiment mirrored in other trainees’ responses, with another summarising that partners are “often very approachable, but you need to catch them when they aren’t busy”.

The work at Debevoise is described as “generally stimulating”; however, the right to more interesting work does have to be earnt, with one newbie explaining: “You get a lot of responsibility early on once you’re trusted.” But trainees who make the grade have enjoyed “client work for major British and American private equity sponsors”. That said, the lack of paralegals in some departments means “you can get stuck doing long administrative jobs”. On balance though, rookies consider it a good deal, with one summarising, “while there is some routine work to do as a trainee, it’s worth it for the work you get to do on a fast-moving transaction”.

Debevoise “places a big emphasis on hiring trainees who get along”, one new arrival says, and small intakes mean the trainees are tight-knit once they have bonded — “You need to learn to pursue a good relationship with your peers, but they are very supportive once that is established”, one insider tells Legal Cheek. The firm advises that it “recruits all of its trainees from vacation scheme students”, so trainees are encouraged to apply for that as the firm doesn’t accept direct training contract applications.

Perks include a “tech allowance to buy a laptop or tablet”. That comes in handy, as the kit in the office — not open plan, in case you were wondering — is nothing to brag about: “Monitors are great, but desk phones and software are ancient”. Outside of this, the perks are said to be “minimal”, with one junior lawyer complaining that “everything is billed back to you”. Good Deliveroo allowances and virtual social events did, however, raise morale amongst the trainee ranks during the pandemic, with the former being described by one rookie as “all I need”. Back in 65 Gresham Street, the canteen is said to be decent for the size of the office (around 130 lawyers).

International secondments are typically a strong point, with not far off half of trainees doing one in normal times. This is an aspect which seems to have failed to recover yet, but given how international the firm is, secondments should return soon. Over the past few years, trainees spent time in New York, as well as the firm’s Moscow and Hong Kong offices. It’s also worth noting that all trainees usually travel to Debevoise HQ in New York for three weeks at the beginning of their second year. Don’t think this is completely a holiday though — during this time, trainees complete a ‘mini-MBA’ at Columbia Business School, which makes a pretty cool addition to any junior lawyer’s CV.

Deadlines

Open Days

February/March 2023
Applications open 03/10/2022
Applications close 02/01/2023

Spring and Summer Vacation Schemes

Spring and Summer 2023
Applications open 03/10/2022
Applications close 02/01/2023

Insider Scorecard

A
Training
A
Quality of work
A
Peer support
A*
Partner approach-ability
B
Work/life balance
D
Legal tech
B
Perks
B
Office
C
WFH
B
Eco-friendliness

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022-23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.

Money

First year trainee salary £55,000
Second year trainee salary £60,000
Newly qualified salary £145,800
Profit per equity partner £4,140,000
GDL grant £10,000
LPC grant £10,000

Hours

Average start work time 09:27
Average finish time 20:08
Annual target hours Undisclosed
Annual leave Undisclosed

Average arrive and leave times are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022-23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.

Secondments

Chances of secondment abroad 0%
Chances of client secondment 0%

Secondment probabilities are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022-23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK. Please note that due to COVID-19 secondment probabilities are lower than in usual years.

General Info

Training contracts 9
Latest trainee retention rate 80%
Offices 9
Countries 8
Minimum A-level requirement 144 UCAS
Minimum degree requirement 2:1

Diversity

UK female associates Undisclosed
UK female partners Undisclosed
UK BME associates Undisclosed
UK BME partners Undisclosed

The Firm In Its Own Words