“Best pay around. Hands down.” Trainees were emphatic about the rewards on offer at Texas-headquartered Vinson & Elkins.
In the firm’s most recently disclosed financial results (2018-19), revenue climbed by 2.7% to $747.2 million (£620 million). Equity partners also cashed in, with PEP rising by 6.6% from $2.361m to $2.517 million (£2.08 million). These results weren’t as impressive as 2017 or 2016 but still mark the third consecutive year of growth in revenue.
The firm’s Texas roots reach back to 1917, when it was founded in Houston. The London office was later established in 1971 to service clients involved in the North Sea oil boom. Consequently, the London office has a strong focus on the energy sector. There are around 60 fee earners in London (about 10 trainees and 17 partners) but most of the firm’s lawyers are based in the US (557). There are a few small offices in the Asia pacific and Middle East.
In line with most American firms with small intakes, trainees are “given a great deal of responsibility” and “everyone is quite keen to give you constructive feedback to actually make you a better solicitor.” There is “not much in the way of formal training” but rookies were able to learn “by actually doing”. There were reports of “good client exposure but not enough substantive legal work”. Partners and associates “take their training roles very seriously”.
Trainees have a good deal here, being allowed to work “on multi-billion dollar deals since day 1 with the firm”. A trainee even said they “had personally dealt with clients”. Rather than the traditional seat rotation, trainees get experience in different departments all at once. The quality of work is high, with junior associates undertaking “very complex and sophisticated” work. The work “can be fun at times” but can also “be repetitive”.
The heavy workload invariably led trainees to ask themselves “what is daylight” when slogging away on one deal, and also led one to think “I am as valuable to this firm as a desk plant” when they had less on their plate.
The workload led another trainee to philosophise, “what is life?” The trainees were nothing if not candid, reporting that “brutal hours are an understatement” and the “small intake makes this deadly” as you can be the only trainee working on a deal. However, trainees realised that they were well compensated for this, with “absolutely top of the market pay” which was so good it was “genuinely embarrassing”.
The social life is “fairly good” as there are “a lot of in-house drinks” and activities such as “softball matches, cycling and ski trips”. There is “something for everyone” and “generally people are up for lunch and drinks”. However, “being a small firm, you likely will not be hanging out with your colleagues on weekends”. Who does?
Since trainees are chained to their desks, it’s a good job these desks are based in “very fancy digs in the Walkie Talkie with Warhol prints on the walls and lots of white marble!” Vinson & Elkins’ office is on the 24th floor of the building. Boasting panoramic views of some of London’s most iconic sights, it is “only a few floors down from the Skygarden so the view is pretty amazing”.
There is no canteen, “just a café that sells snacks” and a “communal kitchen to eat food in”. Perhaps this is to encourage trainees to eat at their desks?
Secondments are on offer, to the firm’s HQ in Texas or the Middle East. Trainees reported jetting to Houston and Dubai for six months, which one trainee described as “a good experience” as it was “interesting to stay away for a bit” but “definitely good to be back”.
The firm offers little in the way of tech with senior lawyers being “dinosaurs in many ways” but trainees do get “an extra screen and docking station”. Unfortunately, joked one insider, the purpose of this was “so you can work at home over the weekend”. At least energy levels are kept high by “free coffee syrups to go with fairly nice free coffee” which “keeps you awake”.
The culture was reported to be healthy and supportive. The “vast majority of the associates are a fab group and close friends” although there are the inevitable “couple of bad apples”.
Trainees reported that as a small intake “we are close and we all help each other out”. As for the partners, trainees “really felt that there is an open-door policy” and that seniors within the firm “genuinely appreciate if you ask questions”. Despite being an elite US firm, “almost everyone is easy to talk to and happy” fresh-faced trainees in their development. Trainees get the support of an associate mentor, to whom they can go for advice and support.
The firm is likely to continue its lateral growth strategy this year. The firm snapped up three leveraged finance partners in 2018 from a competitor, gaining partners from Jones Day and Sidley Austin. One trainee joked that the firm is “running short on space due to all the new hires”.