LEADERS IN LAW
“When we consider taking on undergraduates, we don’t just want the students who have joined a university club – we are interested in the students who set the club up in the first place,” says Jonathan Wood, a Partner in Private Equity at US law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
Weil (as the partnership is better known) has approximately 1,100 lawyers in 20 offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The London office, Weil’s second-largest outside the US, is the hub of its European practice. In 2014, Weil was named Best Legal Employer and ranked top for employee satisfaction among law firms globally by Legal Week magazine. It also ranked among the top three law firms globally for mergers and acquisitions by transaction value by Thomson Reuters M&A Review.
The London office provides clients with legal expertise at the highest level across private equity, mergers and acquisitions, funds, banking and finance, structured finance, restructuring and dispute resolution. Weil’s London transaction specialist lawyers provide cutting-edge transactional and advisory support across all legal specialisms. Wood is closely involved in the demanding selection process that sees up to 15 elite students taken on annually in London. There is keen competition to become part of a firm that has a reputation for industry innovation and for nurturing talent from the outset through mentoring and tailored training.
An appetite for progress
The recruitment process is rigorous and begins at undergraduate level. “We filter online applications and then invite candidates to an assessment day,” says Wood. “Successful candidates are offered a place on one of our two-week vacation schemes, during which they see exactly what it is like to work with us. Our schemes are designed to be informative, interesting and challenging, with candidates balancing trainee level work with assessments. We are looking for people who are front-footed, quietly confident and have a passion for learning, as well as the appetite to push things forward. We also want candidates who have done their diligence on us and who want to join us for all the right reasons.”
The working environment at Weil is fast-paced and challenging. The firm’s sophisticated, high-quality work can demand long hours, but trainees report that the prestige and excitement that comes from working on headline deals makes the long days worthwhile.
From day one, graduates can expect to be a valued member of the team, taking on meaningful work. “Ensuring that trainees feel integrated and have real responsibility early on is very important,” says Wood, “and that includes contact with clients.” Weil takes an innovative approach to bringing talent on fast, supplementing the core Legal Practice Course (LPC) with small tutorials. These might include speed-reading courses and tutorials on negotiation and presentation skills, which complement the on-the-job learning.
Graduate recruits are expected to develop a thorough understanding of the firm’s culture and work before they join. A year before taking up their new role, graduates enter a LPC mentoring programme, teaming up with a current trainee associate. Once at Weil, graduates are allocated a Trainee Responsible Partner for the duration of the two-year training contract.
The culture at Weil is meritocratic and collegiate, and is based on regular reappraisals of working practices, testing whether there are smarter ways to work. Regular team meetings look at, for example, cross-departmental collaboration or how deals are engineered. “Across the firm,” says Wood, “we take our collective experiences and refine them to focus on what people will be doing day to day, and how they could do it better. It creates the kind of environment that encourages change and creative thinking.”
To meet clients’ demands and remain in the vanguard of legal excellence and innovation, Weil needs to recruit a particular type of graduate. “We are looking for ambitious, interested people with enquiring minds,” says Wood. Not mere joiners then – more like potential leaders.