Meet Weil Gotshal & Manges at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 4 November 2021
The firm that acted for Lehman Brothers on its world-changing 2008 bankruptcy has been one of the most adept riders of the ensuing business cycle and has enjoyed years of robust financial performance. Spearheaded by an uptick in pandemic-induced restructuring work, Weil Gotshal & Manges saw profit per equity partner soar 12% to $4.5 million (£3.2 million), while global revenue jumped 9% to $1.66 billion (£1.2 billion).
Currently the firm’s City arm is headed by its veteran London managing partner Michael Francies, who has seen Weil lure partners from the likes of Linklaters, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Ashurst, Sidley Austin, Akin Gump and Vinson & Elkins. Recent big moves include a rare Slaughter and May defection by the former corporate partner Murray Cox and Linklaters’ corporate star David Avery-Gee. Accordingly, Weil’s London office has strong growth with revenue rising 8.8% to about $201.3 million (£145 million).
The vibe in the London office can be intense, with smart and ambitious graduates thriving here but more laidback types sometimes struggling to keep the pace. Go-getters have enjoyed the “great practical experience” that Weil offers, with one rookie noting that “we are expected to take on a lot of responsibility from day one”.
Expect training that is “more hands on than formal”. A current trainee elaborates: “Some departments (e.g. banking and funds) are great at having regular department training, others (e.g. the smaller transactional specialist teams) less so. Corporate used to be in that latter category, but has recently had a big re-haul of its training programme, which is now a lot more comprehensive. That being said, Weil (as perhaps is the case with other US outfits) takes more of an ask-and-you-shall-receive approach to training — trainees are generally expected to get stuck into tasks and be proactive in asking for help/feedback.”
Partners, while “busy”, have made an effort to be more approachable. There were also reports that partners in some teams are “about as approachable as cacti”, but in others “are lovely and have a genuine interest in juniors and their professional development”. One Weil rookie reports: “I can’t say a bad word about the supervisors I’ve had in any of my four seats. I obviously cannot speak for any others, but at least in my personal experience most of my supervisors were perfectly lovely/approachable/reasonable people to work with.”
Where the trainee experience really stands out is quality of work. One describes it like this: “Very interesting work of the highest calibre. Inspiring practitioners working for some big-ticket clients.” Another reports: “Expect associate-level work from day one as teams are very lean. It is common for there to be just a trainee, senior associate and partner on a deal.”
Such staffing inevitably means some grunt work is required, a burden which isn’t helped by Weil’s so-so IT forcing it to rely “on less time-efficient and more costly methods”. One trainee complains, “in the seats I have done, the work has mostly been admin-heavy work of compiling signatures, running redlines etc. as opposed to more substantial drafting work”.
This partly accounts for the fairly long hours. But they’re “the same as other US law firms” who tend to come with the reward of a top-rate newly-qualified salary, which in Weil’s case sits at £145,000. As one junior put it, “you should expect your life to take a backseat to the demands of work. While there are times that it has been quieter, there is an expectation that you can and will be online whenever you are demanded to be online, whether that is the week, the weekend, on annual leave or the early hours of the morning”.
Drilling into the detail of the hours, here are a couple of insider accounts of what it’s like:
“Two of my four seats had very reasonable hours (average leave time of 7pm), the other two were pretty full on. As a US firm, we run a lot leaner deal teams so if you’re coming up against a deadline, it’s all hands-on deck for at least a week or two. While it can be common to stay past 10pm/11pm during peak times, at other times hours are reasonable and I’ve rarely had to work weekends. Perhaps the toughest part is the ‘always available’ culture — you’re expected to answer calls at ungodly hours or on days off — but hey, that’s what they pay you for.”
“This depends on the team you are in and the types of deadlines imposed by the clients. If you’re in corporate or leverage finance, you should expect 9am-11pm/midnight at the height of a deal. However, once a deal is complete, you could be leaving around 6/7pm. Meanwhile, in teams like structured finance and private funds the deals are much longer (one year/two years) and therefore you can expect more consistent hours. During busy periods you could work a regular 9am-9/10pm and during quieter periods you tend to work between 9-7pm.”
Though the hours may seem onerous, expect to be rewarded with some great perks, including free entry to a number of London art galleries and museums. “I skip all the queues at the Royal Academy and V&A,” a Weil rookie reports. There are also regular free tickets to football games, rugby and cricket matches, and gigs at the O2. One social is even said to have seen a group of Weil trainees use the firm’s private box at the O2 to watch a Drake concert.
And, while all industries are forced to adapt working practices in light of the Covid-19 crisis, Weil is among those responding well. “It’s been really supportive,” reports one insider on the firm’s attitude to home working. “They’ve given us grants to buy new monitors for our WFH set-up and IT has been super helpful in finding solutions to issues.”
Despite its large international network, the opportunity for doing a secondment at Weil remains few and far between. We are told that client secondments are not available at trainee level, but the fortunate few are known to undertake an international secondment to New York, Hong Kong, and Paris.