Allen & Overy offers global work and the camaraderie of a much smaller firm.
WHAT kind of law firm do you want to work at? One that does BigLaw quality work for BigLaw quality clients? How about a global behemoth that has the tight-knit atmosphere of a smaller firm? Perhaps you want to be in regular contact with colleagues and clients overseas, with the chance to spend some time in another office? If your answer is 'all of the above', then consider Allen & Overy. It's a member of London's 'magic circle' of elite law firms, and its US attorneys are plugged into a worldwide network of offices that give them access to big, meaty cross-border transactions. At the same time, A&O's two smallish US offices – nearly 120 in NYC and 30 in DC – give it a more intimate feel here.
In the US, A&O is particularly known for its project finance work, but it also picks up Chambers USA rankings for areas including general commercial litigation, M&A, real estate, regulatory and capital markets. The associates we spoke to felt that while A&O was still growing in the US, it had the edge on most American firms when it came to international work. “Home-grown firms are starting to look globally,” explained one source, “but A&O is so far ahead of most competitors internationally that it'll be a struggle for another firm to match us.”
Allocation varies between New York and the smaller Washington, DC office. In the latter “you're assigned to a general group, such as banking, and the expectation is that you'll get most of your work from within that group,” explained a junior in the capital. In New York, incoming associates submit a list of their preferences to the firm, which rotates them through “at least two, but sometimes up to three, different departments.” Management “guarantees that at least one rotation will be your first choice,” we're told. The associates we spoke to appreciated being able to try before buying “I came in thinking I wanted to work in one area of law,” explained one, “only to find that what I thought was my first choice wasn't my first choice at all.”
"The deals can span two, three or even four jurisdictions."
“A lot of people come here wanting to do project finance work,” said one associate. “It's the sexy group.” Juniors reported taking charge of closings, where “there's a lot of drafting, a lot of conditions precedent to monitor, and a lot of documents in play. Your job is to keep track of them all.” There's also the opportunity to “look at the legal opinions that have to be delivered.” After completion, associates can find themselves “reopening the finance documents to see if they permit borrowers to do something.” When this happens, it's the younger associates who are in charge of “combing through the paperwork, targeting the relevant provisions and doing the initial draft of any amendments or waivers.”
The work frequently crosses borders, but our sources were at pains to stress that the US offices were far from just outposts. “We have our own clients, independent of London,” said a New Yorker. “In capital markets deals can span two, three or even four jurisdictions, so you'll be in constant contact with your colleagues abroad,” said an associate in that department. “In litigation, where you're in a jurisdiction practicing before a court, there's less interaction.” In addition to liaising with colleagues in other offices, there are ample opportunities to spend a bit of time abroad. “Secondments tend to come about two years after qualification,” said a source, “but recently a first-year got to spend six months in London.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates are expected to bill 2,000 hours a year. There were mixed feelings on the target: “I had no problem hitting it,” said one associate, “but some of the people in my class did.” With different patterns of allocation in different departments, and much of the work cyclical, some juniors struggled to do enough billable work. “We do a lot of non-billable work, which takes up more time than people think.” It certainly isn't fatal if you fall a little short though: “2,000 is the target, but I've known people who've billed below that and still received a full bonus.” Salary is market rate, and there were generally no complaints, especially regarding hours worked. “I get paid the same as other lawyers in New York, but I probably work better hours.”
"I don't think I could have asked for a better work-life balance."
So the hours are good, then? “Yes-ish,” replied a New Yorker. “This isn't A&O's fault, it's a BigLaw-wide problem, but they expect you to always be available, and this does affect quality of life.” In fact, people we chatted to spoke highly of the firm's commitment to work/life balance. “I don't think I could have asked for a better work/life balance,” said one, while another described the firm as “as good as it gets among BigLaw firms in New York.” Of course, you shouldn't expect to work nine to five: average days tend to begin around 9am and, depending on the department, usually end anywhere between 7pm and 10pm.
A&O's standout diversity initiative is called '20:20', a firmwide drive to increase the female membership of the firm's global partnership by 20% by 2020. Associates described this as a “sincere and concerted effort to increase the female percentage of the partnership.” Overall, our sources thought that there was a “good split between males and females” at associate level, and a few mentioned that “there's a lot of diversity in terms of national origin.” That said, our sources weren't able to identify any other diversity initiatives, and there was agreement that the firm could do more to reach out to ethnic minority candidates.
“I think the firm genuinely values pro bono work,” felt one associate, “and you can pretty much do anything you want to.” Others were a little more hesitant: "They support the idea of pro bono, but partners won't stop assigning billable work just because you're doing pro bono,” explained a project financier. This is borne out by the fairly low figure of 14 hours' pro bono associates did on average in 2015. There's certainly a lot of choice in the kind of matters associates can get involved in – one of our sources used the word 'menu' to describe the range of options on offer, which include everything from representing Russian LGBT people in asylum cases to providing tax advice. The firm is also open to associates 'bringing in' new pro bono work; we heard of one associate who brought some wrongful conviction appellate work with them from law school. Associates can count 50 pro bono hours toward their billable hours target of 2,000.
Pro bono hours
Our sources described A&O as the sort of place “that attracts people who want to work hard but who respect others.” Overall, people are “kinder and nicer than your typical New York firm,” an associate told us, adding wryly “it was a bit of a culture shock for me.” In the New York office “nobody closes their door unless they're on a call,” and “we don't have any screamers.” One source in Washington described that office as having an “entrepreneurial culture,” something they put down to the fact it's small but growing. With regular contact between branches in different countries, people felt there was definitely an A&O-wide culture. “People are quite worldly, with international backgrounds.” Departments tend to socialize together, and naturally some are more active than others, but there are bi-weekly happy hours, monthly get-togethers for food and annual summer and holiday parties.
"...people who want to work hard but who respect others.”
New York is the larger of A&O's US offices. It's situated in plum Manhattan real estate in Midtown and is “connected to the Rockefeller Center concourse, so it's theoretically possible to go shopping without ever seeing the outside world.” DC is smaller and newer, and our sources there described it as “much nicer than New York.” We'll let them settle this between themselves, but both offices benefit from central locations and that close-knit, small firm feel we mentioned earlier. “We're scattered over three floors of a building,” said someone in the city that never sleeps, “but I'm still very close with the people I summered with.”
Whichever office you go to, one of A&O's big attractions is the opportunity to spend time in one of the overseas offices. Twice a year the firm sends an email around all its offices, and each office lists available secondment opportunities. There's also the chance to do some-on-the-job training in an overseas office. Some groups take their newbies to London for two weeks of training at the home office. Departments also hold offsites where the entire worldwide practice group descends on a chosen city for a few days of training.
Training & Development
All incoming attorneys attend two weeks of orientation followed by department-specific training. Orientation takes the form of a series of nine-to-five days, and includes internal presentations about each of the departments and their work, general information about the firm, and administrative stuff. “I find the more intermittent CLE training more useful,” admitted a junior, “but at the end of the day, you do need to know how the computers work.” There's also a formal appraisal system in which “you can nominate anyone you've worked with to evaluate you,” but associates found the informal, off the cuff feedback delivered by partners and associates they had worked with to be the most helpful. “It's entirely dependent on the person,” a source in projects found, “but in my group there are some very talented associates who are always willing to lend a hand.”
"Talented associates who are always willing to lend a hand.”
Strategy & Future
If associates were drawn to how many borders Allen & Overy crosses, then so too are clients, US managing partner David Krischer tells us. The US is a tough nut for Brits to crack but A&O thinks its global reach gives it the edge. “It's not the world's biggest secret that New York is an incredibly competitive market,” admits David Krischer, “but clients who deal in multiple jurisdictions are beginning to realize the benefits of a one-firm approach.” Of course, simply planting flags everywhere isn't enough. There are no plans in the immediate future to open other US offices, but there is a big push to grow both New York and Washington. “We need to have high-quality people at all levels, and we're very keen on promoting our associates to partner,” says Krischer, contrasting A&O with other firms where “partnership opportunities are more limited.”
Because of all the different markets the firm operates in, recruiters look for the ability to think a little differently: “Of course we want bright, skilled people who are willing to work hard and put in the time, but that's what everybody wants,” US MP David Krischer explains. To stand out, candidates need to show that they're “intellectually rigorous enough to grapple with a number of legal systems bumping up against each other.” He also advises law students to keep an open mind about their futures: “It's almost trite to say that the profession is changing, but it is.” New starters should “stay flexible about the kind of law they want to practice, while spending their first few years getting in the best possible training.”
"They don't want someone who's going to treat the firm like their own plane ticket."
Junior interviewees flagged “language skills” as something the firm looks favorably on, although they noted that the lack of them isn't a deal breaker. Similarly, while “moot court and law review experience would definitely be welcomed,” they aren't essential. “They were interested in me as a person, rather than just as a set of exam results,” recalled one interviewee. “Questions focused on what I could bring to the business, rather than a set of grades.” An interest in the firm's international work was a recurring theme raised by the associates we interviewed, but they warned against overdoing it. “Interviewers like to hear that you're interested in the international aspects of working here,” explained one, "but they don't want someone who's going to treat the firm like their own plane ticket.”
Allen and Overy's connection to the British Monarchy
Allen & Overy is generally known for its commercial acumen, but it was a divorce that gave the firm its big break. Specifically, the divorce of Wallis Simpson, American socialite and mistress to King Edward VIII. In 1936 Edward announced his intention to marry Mrs Simpson as soon as her divorce was finalized. He would be husband number three. The idea that the head of the Empire (and the established Church of England) would marry a twice-divorced commoner so scandalized the conservative British establishment that in the end the King had to quit.
Unfortunately for Edward and Wallis, abdicating the throne isn’t as simple as giving notice. In the end, Edward had to issue 15 different abdication notices, and his removal had to be approved by the British parliament as well as those of self-governing countries within the Empire like Canada, Australia and South Africa. Fortunately, Edward had A&O founder George Allen on hand to help him navigate the choppy legal waters.
Allen and fellow Roney & Co partner Thomas Overy had founded their namesake firm in 1930, but it was an older friendship, one forged on the battlefields of World War I, that landed Allen his role advising the King. During the war, Allen saved the life of English litigator Sir Walter Monkton, who would go on to become one of the King’s key legal advisors during the crisis. This was to pay dividends for Allen, who soon found himself part of the King’s inner circle. While he had initially been recommended as someone who could be trusted to competently handle property and probate matters, found himself grappling with everything from the wording of the legislation that would allow the King to abdicate to whether the government could legally bar the ex-King from Britain (answer: no). In the end, Edward abdicated and married Wallis, and his brother Albert (father of Elizabeth II) became King George VI. The British Monarchy was secure (we don't have space here to debate whether that was a good thing), and so was A&O's future.
Allen & Overy LLP
1221 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 42
- Partners (US): 41
- Senior Counsel (US): 9
- Associates (US): 118
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $3,100/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,100/week
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, we run parallel summer associate programs in New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Washington DC. Occasionally, summer associates have spent time in other international offices with US capabilities (such as Paris, Milan and Frankfurt)
- Summers 2016: 24 (NY, LN, DC, HK)
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 27 offers, 21 acceptances (NY, LN, DC, HK)
Main areas of work
Banking, corporate, international capital markets, litigation, project finance, financial restructuring and insolvency, real estate and tax.
We are one of a group of truly international and integrated law firms with approximately 5,000 people working in 44 cities in 30 countries. This network has allowed us to become one of the largest and most connected law firms in our peer group with a global reach and local depth that is simply unrivalled. As more than 65% of our work involves more than two countries, our US practice—which operates principally from offices in Hong Kong, London, New York and Washington DC—is fully integrated with our offices in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa. We believe we have a special culture at Allen & Overy, which is founded on quality work, excellent working partnerships and collegiality.
• Number of 1st year associates: 16 (NY/DC)
• Number of 2nd year associates: 11 (NY)
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
American, BC/BU, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Lavender Law, Michigan, NEBLSA, NLSC, Northwestern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Stanford, St John’s, Texas, UC Berkeley, UVA, Vanderbilt, Yale
Summer associate profile:
At Allen & Overy, we operate in a dynamic, challenging environment which fosters creativity as well as professionalism. Our attorneys handle the most sophisticated and complex domestic and cross border transactions and cases for our clients. The ideal candidate should possess determination, vision, creativity, strength and breadth of character. He or she should be committed to working as part of an international team. One of the best features of the Allen & Overy team is the strength of the personal and professional relationships formed between colleagues. We maintain strong camaraderie around the world.
Summer program components:
We recruit on campus for all 5 summer programs (New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Washington, DC). We typically host around 13-15 summer associates in New York, 3-4 in London, 2-3 in Hong Kong/Singapore, and 3-4 in Washington DC. Summer associates are treated as full-time associates and we make a point of offering considerable responsibility, working on top-quality transactions in various areas. We place great value on feedback and go to great lengths to match individual preferences with the work we assign. Summer associates can expect to receive ample partner attention and to gain invaluable experience. We take mentoring and development seriously and both are fundamental aspects of our program. We also expect our summer associates to have fun and plan social events to integrate them into our firm culture.