The Legal Cheek View
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is one of the go-to law firms for giant American companies. The firm’s client base features some of the most notable US players including Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), Intel, Kraft, NBCUniversal and Walmart. This impressive pedigree has served Gibson Dunn well: it has an unbroken streak of 26 years of growth. The most recent financial results, released in April 2022, are no different: the firm’s global revenue grew from $2.16 billion (£1.79 billion) in the previous year to $2.48 billion (£2.06 billion), while equity partner profits jumped from $4.12 million (£3.42 million) to $4.4 million (£3.65 million).
The firm has come a long way since its early days. Founded in Los Angeles in 1872 by a 34-year-old lawyer called John Bricknell, Gibson Dunn grew across the US before expanding overseas in the 1970s, opening in London in 1979. In total, it has 1,600 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide. These days the firm’s London office handles headline-generating cases. It advised Facebook in the probe into its data protection breaches following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
On the pro bono side, Gibson Dunn’s London solicitors worked for Gina Martin to make upskirting a criminal offence. The London office also recently set up an environmental committee. Firmwide, Gibson Dunn lawyers made a huge effort to assist Afghans at risk from the Taliban takeover following the collapse of the government in Kabul, providing pro bono legal services on evacuation efforts, immigration, resettlement and other legal needs. The firm is also providing pro bono services to displaced individuals and non-profits navigating the sanctions regime resulting from the Ukraine conflict.
The firm has been taking London trainees since 2015. The programme has been a success, one of the main selling points being the small size. Unlike trainees at other City firms which work on similarly big cases, trainees at Gibson Dunn have a greater opportunity to get involved with those matters due to its small intake of just eight.
But the training is not particularly structured. Trainees rotate around four six-month seats with the opportunity to spend time in corporate, finance, dispute resolution, employment, tax, competition and funds teams. Those who get a chance to be involved in litigation may meet a rather notable partner: Charlie Falconer QC, ex-Lord Chancellor under the Blair government.
Trainees can expect minimal formalised training and to mostly learn on the job. They are encouraged to get involved with as many matters that interest them. This fluidity has its advantages, as one rookie points out: “What is great is the amount of flexibility you are given and control over your own work.” Additionally, trainees share a room with a partner or senior associate and can discuss queries they may have about work.
They are also encouraged to engage in business development with clients, and given a $1,000 (£830) per annum BD allowance.
Counter to its harsh US cut-throat image, trainees at Gibson Dunn support each other and maintain close relationships. “We’re a very close group,” one rookie tells us. It helps that they get to know one another during Gibson Dunn’s trip to California for the ‘New Lawyers Academy’. The firm has flown lawyers from all 20 offices to the luscious Palm Springs — quite an experience! Partners and superiors are generally approachable and, according to one insider, “My colleagues are genuinely some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
Aside from this and the retreat, there aren’t a huge number of perks at the firm except for the substantial pay: NQs earn a very hefty £161,700. For this generous salary trainees are expected to earn their keep. The average leave time for trainees and junior lawyers is quite late, typical hours ranging from an alarming-sounding 9am-11.30pm to a relatively gentle 10am-7.45pm, but as with most City firms this can fluctuate greatly: “I have had very busy seats, and I find myself working on weekends and late at night more often than not. There are however nice periods that are quieter”. The work-life balance at the firm is poorly rated, one insider putting it: “Fridays and weekends tend to be ok, but when it’s busy, it’s really busy and work spills over.”
Fortunately, the firm’s location next to some of London’s finer pubs makes for great catch-ups on days that trainees finish early.
The office — an impressive Grade II listed building overlooking the Thames — is between Blackfriars and Temple, near the Royal Courts of Justice. Next door is Temple Gardens, a nice spot for an office break or meet-ups with any barrister chums (many chambers are located around the gardens). For those with itchy feet, the firm offers a six-month secondment to Hong Kong (which one trainee extended to a year). Trainees can also do a client secondment: one trainee, for example, recently did “a banking client’s litigation team for six months as my final seat”.
We’re told the tech is “on par” with rivals and when the firm transitioned to remote-working in the wake of the pandemic, it was “seamless”, with “no expense spared”, and support was described as “superb”. Lawyers are “given screens for a homeworking set up and can expense table/chairs to our book budget”.
Expect more from Gibson Dunn in London over the years ahead. It doesn’t provide a breakdown of financial results for the UK office, but the word on the street is that business is booming.