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 London training contracts.
The firm is currently enjoying the robust financial growth of many of its US peers, too. V&E’s most recent financials show revenue up 6% to $792 million (£606.2 million) while profit per equity partner enjoyed an almost 7% hike to $2.79 million (£2.14 million). Revenue per lawyer, meanwhile, stands at an impressive $1.2 million (£918,000).
The firm’s origins reach 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. The firm also has a few smaller offices in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions.
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.”
The smaller intakes also mean closer-knit trainee ranks. “We are close and we all help each other out,” says one of the cohort. 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.” Trainees also get the support of a mentor from the firm’s associate ranks, to whom they can go for advice and support.
Overall, insiders report trainees have a good deal at V&E, with being allowed to work on multi-billion dollar deals from day one a particular highlight. One 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” assignments.
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.”
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 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, 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.
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.”