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 businesses including Apple, Meta (formerly Facebook), Intel, Kraft, NBCUniversal and Walmart. This impressive pedigree has served Gibson Dunn well: it has an unbroken streak of 27 years of growth.
The most recent financial results, released in February 2023, are no different: the firm’s global revenue grew 10% from $2.48 billion (£1.95 billion) in the previous year to $2.74 billion (£2.15 billion), while profit per equity partner (PEP) hit $4.93 (£3.87 million) – an 11% increase on the previous result. It doesn’t provide a breakdown of financial results for the UK office.
To provide some context to the financial muscle; PEP at the top performing Magic Circle player sits just above the £2 million mark. Managing partner Barbara Becker described 2022 as an “extraordinary year” for the firm, pointing to continued growth in areas including finance, M&A, cyber and private equity.
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 1,800 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. Meanwhile, in the US, standout work includes securing victory in a $3.4 billion judgment for Nike and Converse in a huge counterfeit case and the dismissal of a $1.1 billion lawsuit brought against US power giant General Electric.
On the pro bono side, Gibson Dunn’s London solicitors worked for Gina Martin to make upskirting a criminal offence. The London office also 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. In addition to all this, Gibson Dunn provided pro bono services to displaced individuals and non-profits navigating the sanctions regime resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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 nine.
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 KC, ex-Lord Chancellor and first Secretary of State for Justice under the Blair government.
Trainees can expect to mostly learn on the job, although we’re told “there are regular training sessions that are offered which are very helpful for the day-to-day tasks trainees do during our training contracts”. Rookies are encouraged to get involved with as many matters that interest them. This fluidity has its advantages, as one insider 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. All new lawyers in London – not just trainees – are assigned a “buddy” to ensure their integration into the firm is as smooth as possible.
Juniors are also encouraged to engage in business development (BD) 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 have an incredibly close trainee cohort which socialises outside of work when we can,” one rookie tells us. “We always pitch in to help each other out where required!” 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! And the supportive vibes are spread across senior levels of the firm too. Partners and superiors are generally approachable and, according to one insider, “My colleagues are genuinely some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” Another source agrees: “Partners really want you to get as fulfilling a training experience as possible and I learn a lot from them.”
There aren’t a huge number of perks at the firm except for the hefty pay: NQs earn over £160,000. For this generous salary trainees are expected to earn their keep. “I have had very busy seats, and I find myself working on weekends and late at night more often than not,” one weary rookie reports. “There are however nice periods that are quieter.” Another source offers this more detailed overview. “Work/life balance varies. In some seats I’ve been consistently busy but have not had to work weekends and finished most nights at 7-8pm whereas in other seats it’s been much more up and down with some quiet weeks and some very hectic weeks where I’ve worked until the early hours of the morning and sometimes weekends.” That said, the source goes on to explain that the “firm is very supportive of people maintaining hobbies and interests outside of work and I have been able to go to twice a week hockey sessions pretty much every week since I started by communicating this with my team and ensuring the work is done thereafter.”
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. Trainees can also do a client secondment: one trainee, for example, spent time in the litigation team of a bank as part of their TC.
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 home-working set-up and can expense a table/chairs”.