Autonomy, responsibility, long hours and a lucrative pay package — Vinson & Elkins (V&E) offers the quintessential American firm experience for ambitious British future lawyers hoping to snag one of its six annual London training contracts.
The firm has cooled off a little after enjoying four years of continued financial growth, with revenue down 1.3% from $792 million to $782 million (£564 million). That said, profits saw some improvement and profit per equity partner enjoyed a 5% hike to $2.94 million (£2.12 million). This minor growth stunt should be seen in light of V&E’s refusal to do any furloughs, or make pay cuts and redundancies during the pandemic, underlining that partners were happy to shoulder the burden.
The firm’s origins go back to 1917 when V&E was founded in Houston, Texas. A long while later, the London office was 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 75 fee earners in London, around 16 of which are partners, but most of the firm’s lawyers are based in the US. As well as London, the firm also has offices in Dubai, Riyadh, and Tokyo, but closed outposts in Beijing and Hong Kong in 2020.
In line with most American firms with small intakes, trainees are given little structured training. One rookie says: “There is minimal specific training. We very much learn on the job as we are set work beyond our level of experience.” Though this may seem daunting, another trainee stresses: “I’ve found that even early on in my training contract I felt comfortable interacting directly with partners and they were eager to give feedback and really train you as a potential member of their team.”
Trainees highlight the non-rotational structure of the second year of the training contract, where, rather than the traditional seat rotation, trainees get experience in different departments all at once. This apparently offers newbies more flexibility and “allows a trainee to gain knowledge and experience that would not be possible within one six-month period”. All in all, the training experience amounts to “high levels of responsibility, opportunity to work with market leading experts on top calibre work, plenty of client contact, lots of variety”. Insiders report that trainees are able to work on multi-billion dollar deals from day one.
The smaller intakes also mean closer-knit trainee ranks. “Due to the smaller trainee class size, the trainees are all very good friends and there is slightly less competitiveness than you might see at other firms,” one rookie told Legal Cheek. Another added, “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 it if you ask questions”. Trainees also get the support of a mentor from the firm’s associate ranks when they need some advice. One summarised his experience with members at the top of V&E: “I’ve always felt comfortable popping my head into a partner’s office to ask a question about work they’ve given me and I’ve found the partners are very committed to the training programme and in making sure the trainees turn into valuable associates.”
Of course, high levels of responsibility and remuneration normally mean plenty of late nights in the office. “When you sign up for a legal career in the City, you know it’s going to be hard work,” says one trainee candidly. “That being said, it’s more manageable than you’d think, and my peers are extremely appreciative of the time we put in.” Another echoed the supportiveness of their colleagues when the going has gotten tough: “I find often a whole team will be working late which is supportive and there is always a lot of appreciation for doing long hours or weekend work.
The social life, meanwhile, 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!” V&E’s office is on the 24th floor of the building. Boasting panoramic “views to die for” of some of London’s most iconic sights, it is “only a few floors down from the Sky Garden” which V&E’s London lawyers have access to. “It’s got that wow factor. Easily the best office I’ve seen,” commented one insider.
But 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, although these have been temporarily put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic. Trainees reported jetting to Houston and Dubai for six months, which one described as “a good experience” as it was “interesting to stay away for a bit” but “definitely good to be back”.
V&E also seems to have made strides on the tech front. “We recently upgraded our time recording software to some of the latest available, so that’s been very welcome,” reports one insider. 24/7 IT help desks have also smoothed over the firm’s transition to home-working in light of the Covid-19 lockdown, which saw all the equipment needed couriered to trainees along with firm-branded water bottles and face masks.
And, of course, expect the standard array of great perks. One trainee lists: “Gym membership, cycle to work schemes, complete healthcare… plus the salary’s not to be sniffed at” with NQ rates rising to a market-topping £153,300.