Allen & Overy LLP - The Inside View

Equipped with “the resources of a global behemoth, but the culture of a much smaller firm,” A&O's got the 'magic' formula.

BUDAPEST, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing... We can name eight exotic A&O locations beginning with the letter 'B' alone. And while you're entertaining your dinner guests with this fun fact, you might also point out that flag-planting alone doesn't make a law firm great. Numerous firms can claim international credentials, but for this British-born giant, “international work is not just a recruiting gimmick," insisted the associates we spoke to. "It's a way of life at A&O – it's 80% or 90% of our work.” Consider this: a staggering ten practices at A&O are ranked top-tier in the Chambers global-wide rankings, and the firm is awarded the third spot in the Chambers Global Top 30.

Allen & Overy is one of London's mega-prestigious 'magic circle' of law firms, but its Stateside offices in New York and Washington, DC are cozier than many US-headquartered peers. Though “A&O does not have the same name recognition in New York that big local firms have, it's really investing in US associates for that reason,” one junior felt.The US drive in recent years has yielded strong Chambers USA rankings in areas including project finance, commercial litigation, antitrust, real estate and environment work.

The firm is awarded the third spot in the Chambers Global Top 30.

The Work

In New York, incoming associates submit a list of preferences to the firm, which rotates them through two practice areas for a six month stint in each, though “there is the option to stay where you are if there's room and everything went well.” The main options are project finance, banking, real estate, corporate and litigation. Rotation was popular as “people think they're interested in one area, then end up going down a completely different path. You get to work with as many people as possible and naturally find what you're most interested in.” Contrastingly, in the smaller DC office “you're technically assigned to an area, but float around and keep working with lots of different groups. Day to day work can greatly vary.” Insiders revealed that “the class coming in this year will be put into a pool system, and not assigned to a group at all.”  DC newbies will, however, still rank practice areas to give an indication of their interests.

TOP READ: Allen & Overy's leveraged finance lawyers explain their complex practice.

The project finance team “works for a lot of big banks, private equity and hedge funds.” Associates saw “a lot of due diligence – I don't mind, it's really great exercise in drafting. After about six months you get more involved in negotiating substantive documents: operative credit agreements, process agent letters, legal opinions.” Less popular were “lots of closing and post-closing tasks – somebody has to do it, that's just life. It's very important, but very tedious.” Though associates “would love more renewable energy and power work,” they enjoyed “directly answering client queries, with plenty of oversight. Direct client contact is culturally very normal.”

“Direct client contact is culturally very normal.”

A&O litigators reported “a fair amount of document review, drafting advocacy work and research assignments for senior associates and partners. Days can be incredibly varied and unpredictable.” The work is “primarily investigation,” and because both offices are “leanly staffed, you do a lot more sub-drafting and procedural work.” Juniors thrived in the high-responsibility environment. “On one conference call other firms only had partners talking; here they allowed me to do the call myself.” Workload was seen as “manageable. I don't want to work 70 hour weeks, and I don't, but it's enough to keep you busy.”

Most practice areas feature “a big international dimension, constantly working with people in other offices.” Interviewees worked with “a lot of overseas clients, and on most projects you need to coordinate with people in multiple different timezones. International harmonization is very important.” In addition to liaising with colleagues in other offices, there are ample opportunities to spend a bit of time abroad. “The international secondment program is pretty regular. They're typically from third year on, earlier than that you need more experience,” so don't book your flight just yet.

TOP READ: Allen & Overy's DC lawyers give us a glimpse behind the scenes in their antitrust team.

Training & Development

Converging on New York, all incoming attorneys attend a week of orientation followed by department-specific training. Beyond that there's “lots of learning by doing, and really good workshops for things like depositions. We're certainly not struggling to meet CLE credit hours.” An annual performance review “provides junior and mid-level criteria, showing what you should be striving for,” though in the rotational first year this is less rigid. Interviewees reported inconsistent levels of on-the-job assessment. “Feedback isn't part of your job description,” quipped one associate, but most felt “people are very willing to share feedback that facilitates our ability to grow.”

Culture & Diversity

Upon arriving at A&O, newbies were relieved to find “everybody speaks to each other as a human being, and it makes a huge difference liking the people you work with. It turns it from a job into a profession.” Though culture “differs from group to group, there is a British influence in that everybody's extremely polite.”  New Yorkers reported “going across groups for drinks all the time,” as well as socializing within teams. One “had a cooking party – all the partners came along,” while “people could bring their kids and significant others to a Hallowe'en event” in DC. “Everybody in the office can still fit into the break room” for “weekly happy hours,” after which people tended to head home for some family or relaxation time.

“If there's anything you want to know you can ask.”

“There isn't a weird super-intense hierarchy” between partners and associates, regardless of “enormous respect for people up the chain.” Juniors felt they were “at the forefront of senior attorney's minds, entrusted with important work and made to feel like I'm playing an important role.” Washington sources praised their managing partner for being “very transparent, if there's anything you want to know you can ask.” Not to be outdone, Big Apple associates enjoyed “a good sense of transparency from what the firm shares internally about our goals, and growing a presence in New York.”

Interviewees acknowledged typical BigLaw diversity issues, particularly concerning ethnic minorities, but “secondments from different offices bring not just ethnic, but national diversity.” The firm's 'A&Out' forum signifies “a good presence of LGBT attorneys,” and there's a '20:20' drive to increase the female membership of Allen & Overy's global partnership by 20% by 2020. US managing partner David Krischer tells us “in the US we're already at 20% women partners, the US offices are at the forefront of the diversity program.” Associates admitted that “there's recognition across the firm that more has to be done. Multiple female attorneys have recently made partner, and you witness a lot of people emphasizing the importance of diversity.”

Hours & Compensation

Sources reported “very deal specific working hours,” ranging from standard 9.30am to 6.30pm days to “nights working until 2am or 3am, though that's not regular.” They agreed that “you do have time for a private life. It's tricky during the weekdays, by nature of being a junior, but weekends are pretty free.” Officially the billing target is 2,000 hours, but “it's not a hard minimum and it's never been mentioned” – one associate only found out “reading about it in Chambers Associate!” Washingtonians were particularly optimistic about hitting the 2,000, as “not being locked down to one practice means you're never worried about work slowing down.”

“If they know you're doing a good job you'll get your bonus.”

“It was important” to associates that A&O matched the new Cravath pay scale, as “you want the firm to be attractive to new hires. I think it would have said something about the health of the firm if they hadn't.” Bonuses match market level but aren't directly correlated to the hours target – associates weren't certain how the system works, but were confident that “if partners know you're doing a good job, you'll get your bonus.” Juniors also get 20 days' vacation a year, five of which can roll over, though “taking it is a bit of a learning curve. It's your responsibility to bring it up, but everybody encourages it.”

Pro Bono

Weekly lists of opportunities advertize “everything from child custody and tenancy disputes to global immigration cases.” Associates can count 50 pro bono hours toward their billables target, and sources “would be surprised if anybody wasn't hitting that.” Those we spoke to felt A&O was “very welcoming of pro bono, I've never seen any indication the firm wouldn't want you to do it. I emailed a partner about it and she said 'yes, we all need to do pro bono'. Nobody struggles to meet the bar.” Though some were “slammed with billables, and would love to do more,” others took on a broad range of cases. These include “a massive pro bono undertaking in international sex trafficking, looking at global regulations to find loopholes” and, on a smaller scale, “working on establishing a local non-profit.” The firm elects a global charity partner in London to oversee pro bono worldwide.

Pro bono hours

  •   For all US attorneys: 5,611
  •   Average per US attorney: 31

Offices & Strategy

Associates described the New York office as “really cool, right in Midtown. Because it's connected to the Rockefeller concourse, you can literally take the subway into the work building.” From years one to three, attorneys typically share offices, “which is great – you can use your senior roommate as a mini mentor and informal resource for questions,” before getting their own room around their third or fourth year. DC's office was “planned with growth in mind, so there's lots of space.” Though “people are constantly going between US offices,” some practice areas including restructuring saw less of this. Twice a year the firm sends an email around all its offices listing secondment opportunities across the globe – for example, “there have definitely been some Dubai placements.” Some groups take their newbies to London for two weeks of training, “a crash course in financial law. Lots of time is spent not just on training, but talking about firm strategy.”

“There have definitely been some Dubai placements.”

Speaking of strategy, A&O is pushing forward a plan to boost its IP practice internationally, and a US IP litigation offering is in the works. Recent successes have left attorneys optimistic: “We're in a sustained period of profitability here in the States. We're showing that we're a good investment, and being as busy as we are is a good thing for justifying expansion.”

Get Hired

As attractive as Allen & Overy's international network is, the firm is “looking for people who are interested in doing cross border work, not looking to be a tourist.” Unsurprisingly, “coming in with a foreign language is a huge plus, it comes up in work a lot,” though associates we spoke to confirmed that a language is not essential. “An international background is helpful, but the most important thing is to have a good reason for why you want to work at the firm.” Beyond the allure of foreign shores, candidates often find that “the rotation system is a huge selling point. While most people may have an idea about what they want to do, they don't really know until they start, and it's really nice to have the opportunity to do something else.”

A&O associates who'd peaked behind the curtain at OCIs revealed that “alot of work goes in ahead of time to identify candidates with a good academic standard to be able to intellectually do the work, but in interviewing everybody takes their own perspective. For me, the firm really wants people who buy into the culture. Some people are happy to be locked away working in their office, but that's not going to work well here.”

Those who'd been through the interview process had this advice: “For your career it's crucial to have a good relationship with the other lawyers at the firm. That's more important than some nebulous ranking. Law is a profession, something people care about, it's important to find a place where you feel comfortable.” One DC source suggested that “it takes a specific personality to work in this office. Learning over the shoulder isn't something you'd succeed at so well here, you need to be a person who thrives when pushed.” A New Yorker similarly suggested, “it's important to think about the size of the office you work in and the difference it will make on your work. You get a lot more investment in you individually in a smaller office, and in OCIs and callbacks a lot of people don't stop to think about that.”

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,
New York,
NY 10020

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 42
  • Partners (US): 48
  • Senior Counsel (US): 9
  • Associates (US): 115
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: N/A
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,500/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 and Washington DC. Occasionally, summer associates have spent time in other offices with US capabilities on a case by case basis
  • Summers 2017: 20 (NY, LN, DC)
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 23 offers, 21 acceptances (NY, LN, DC)

Main areas of work

Banking, corporate, international capital markets, litigation, project finance, financial restructuring and insolvency, general lending, leveraged finance and tax.

Firm profile

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.

Recruitment details

• Number of 1st year associates: 18 (NY/DC)
• Number of 2nd year associates: 16 (NY)
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:

American, BC/BU, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law, Michigan, NEBLSA, NLSC, Northwestern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Stanford, St John’s, Texas, UC Berkeley, UVA, Vanderbilt, Yale

Summer details

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 3 summer programs (New York, London and Washington, DC). We typically host around 13-15 summer associates in New York, 3-4 in London and 4-5 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.