White & Case has grown rapidly in London as of late, with the firm now offering 50 training contracts annually as it goes head-to-head with the magic circle. The financials are looking rosy too, with the corporate finance-focused US giant boosting turnover again this year, this time by 14% following a 10% rise the year previously, to a new record high of $2.05 billion (£1.69 billion).
$350 million (£288 million) of this figure came from the firm’s London office, up from $328 million (£270 million) last year, underlining the importance of the UK to White & Case. Certainly, working here is a very different experience to one of the many global firm London offices that offer just a handful of graduate places.
Another big White & Case pull factor is its huge international network, with 44 offices in 30 countries. All rookies are given the opportunity of doing a secondment, with some great destinations available. Current London trainees have spent time in, among other places, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Paris, Madrid and Singapore. In addition to international secondments, Legal Cheek understands that there have also been several client secondments on offer over the past couple of years, mostly to financial services companies.
As it has grown White & Case has built out its London training infrastructure. Nevertheless, the lighter supervisory touch approach associated with American firms still applies to a certain extent. “I often get to both figure out and execute tasks all by myself — the responsibility is both scary and really good practice,” one W&C trainee tells us. Happily, the firm has some of the most mutually supportive trainees around, with “always someone you can approach for tips, suggestions and help”. Partners, meanwhile, are said to be “much less terrifying than elsewhere”.
The work is “generally good and interesting”, and those who prove themselves find it’s a virtuous cycle. Another rookie reports: “If you show you are capable of completing simple tasks, associates will try and give you more responsibility with interesting work where possible.” However, slightly envious glances are often made towards UK firms with low-cost centres. “There are some tasks which are not very interesting which it feels like could be done by a support team if W&C had the infrastructure in place,” we are told.
Technological improvements are gradually filling this gap, as the firm adopts new efficiency-boosting tools — and pushes its lawyers to get trained on their use. A trainee reports: “We’re getting there. Not pioneers but increasingly recognising and seeking out technology that can make work more efficient.”
What most of those UK firms with support teams elsewhere certainly don’t do is pay their London trainees as much as White & Case does. Newly qualified salaries stand at £105,000. The trade-off is longer hours that include some work that other firms may outsource, alongside the more complex tasks. In order to fit it all in, don’t expect to get out of the office much before 9pm if you are in a corporate or banking seat. For other departments the hours are less intense. One insider sums it up like this: “[Work/life balance] depends on the department, some parts of the office will be dead by 6.30pm whilst others are bustling until 2am.”
Another adds: “The long hours are part of the expectation. Weekends are generally free but time in the week outside of work is limited.”
Perks are up there with the magic circle. There’s a focus on wellness, with a health allowance and rewards programme called ‘Wellness Works for Me’, subsidised yoga, massages and even weekly therapist sessions. The £500 worth of ‘wellness’ vouchers that are given to all trainees, and can be exchanged for exercise classes and massages among other things, are particularly appreciated.
The recently refurbished canteen also gets the thumbs up. Not only is the quality of the food apparently “often great”, but it’s now quite a “funky” environment. “Finally a place to take time out!” says one trainee. Let’s hope that there are a few years to enjoy it as the firm’s growth in London means its City office is pretty packed, with a move potentially on the cards if White & Case can’t get more space at 5 Old Broad Street.