From Allen & Over-the-pond, this magic circle member is planting seeds to take the US legal market by storm.
Today, Allen & Overy's associates criss-cross locations from Hong Kong to Brazil, but this firm started out its days in a rather humble fashion in little ol’ England. Fast forward almost a century, and it’s got a travel history to match its globe-trotting attorneys. “I have an international background, and I was looking for a firm that had an international presence,” one associate noted. A&O certainly fits that bill, with its 44 offices spanning 31 countries – a scope that sees it sitting comfortably among the British legal sector’s equivalent to the Royal Family, the prestigious ‘magic circle’ firms. Speaking of royalty, here's a fun historical tidbit for you: A&O's co-founder George Allen advised King Edward VIII during his abdication from the British throne in 1936. Today, the firm continues to make the front pages for its “international footprint, expansion prospects, and cutting-edge transactions,” a proud associate told us.
There’s a certain charm that one holds in a foreign country, even if it's long had a presence in the US. “A lot of the other firms were American American, and that was not my vibe,” a source recalled when explaining their decision to join A&O. So, if your vibe is transnational law or you have the desire to practice in different jurisdictions, you’re reading the right feature.
The firm’s US presence covers six offices spread across Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and DC. These six offices alone garner the firm 21 Chambers USA rankings, most notably for national corporate crime & investigations and agency financing expertise. The firm’s nationwide capital markets securitization, derivatives, environmental, PPP (public-private partnership) projects, and renewables work also receive high praise. And we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on A&O’s prowess. In Chambers Global, the firm receives just shy of 300 rankings across a multitude of jurisdictions. Most notable is its work in banking & finance, capital markets, dispute resolution, projects & energy, and tax. Head over to chambers.com for the full list (and if you’ve got an afternoon to spare…).
Strategy & Future
The planned merger with Shearman & Sterling is certainly the biggest story here. The combination of the two firms is valued at $2.7 billion, making it one of the biggest legal mergers in history. It's a massive deal, but the news isn't really a surprise when you consider A&O's long-time goal to grow in the US. Prior to the announcement, US senior partner Tim House told us: “We’re not thinking as a US firm, but as a global law firm that wants to build greater capabilities in the US. We’re known for our work with financial institutions, specifically in private equity and bonds, and we’re also big in projects, energy, natural resources and infrastructure (PENRI),” he adds. “Finally, tech and life sciences are the other big sectors we’re focusing on.”
Over the past three years, the firm has tripled its US presence and hired over 40 lateral partners – “We had twelve in 2022 alone!We map our sectors with offices,” he adds, explaining that “Los Angeles focuses on renewables, San Francisco focuses on tech, while in Boston the firm brought in a large team of patent litigators from Goodwin to focus on life sciences.”
So, how do associates wind up in their practice areas? “There’s a rotation system and you’re asked to rank the practice areas you want,” an associate explained. Most first years tend to undergo two rotations, which allows newbies to test the waters in different areas. The majority of practice groups have work allocation managers who ensure associates have “an equitable distribution of work,” and are points of contact for those who want more experience in a specific area. This set-up was a hit among our interviewees, who appreciated “not feeling the pressure to find cases in order to hit your billables.” Work assignment also happens organically once relationships are built with partners: “After around six months you can rely on partners asking you to join deals based on the work you’ve previously done with them.”
“What do you do when a huge hedge fund is calling you?!”
Banking work at A&O is divided into general lending, leveraged finance, and projects, and associates have exposure to all areas. “There’s a lot of depth on what we’re able to tackle,” a junior explained, from renewables matters to tax equity financing deals on both the investor and debt sides. The projects side of banking work at the firm covers agency financing, energy & renewables, and public-private projects (PPP); the team is equipped to “do all parts of the project,” serving as a one-stop shop for its VIP clients. Day-to-day, newbies in this group are kept busy with “the classic due diligence review, and drafting memos, reports, ancillary documents, and guarantees,” and “keeping everyone organized, especially with specialized teams that could be internal or external.” Reflecting on the nature of the deals, a source explained: “Tax equity deals can be a bit repetitive as there’s not much room for creativity, but for those who like a clear structure, the deals are quite nice!”
Banking clients: Bank of America, Barclays, Goldman Sachs. Advised Morgan Stanley in connection with a $1 billion secured loan to supply chain provider Savage Enterprises.
A&O’s corporate department tackles a range of public and private M&A work and is also equipped to handle the transactional side of antitrust, tax, environmental, regulatory, employment/benefits, and IP matters. Juniors here get stuck into due diligence, drafting, and running checklists. “Senior associates and partners are looking at the bigger picture, so they sometimes don’t spot what’s missing. It’s up to us to flag it,” one junior told us. No pressure. Newbies also get involved in client advisory work where they’re often a direct point of contact: “At first, when clients called me directly, it was scary! What do you do when a huge hedge fund is calling you?!” We were assured that “bit by bit, you learn how to answer questions” with support from senior associates and partners.
Corporate clients: Bridgepoint Capital Group, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, British video game holding company Sumo Group. Advised Singaporean cryptocurrency trading company Altonomy on the sale of its over-the-counter and trade execution business subsidiary to Blockchain.com.
The litigation team serves several of the firm’s financial clients, with matters ranging from general commercial litigation to foreign discovery and regulatory investigations. Newbies can expect to be carrying out “a lot of legal research on specific questions, reviewing documents, taking client calls, and responding to clients’ questions.” For those who enjoy an adrenaline rush, we heard “legal research can be interesting, especially when you’re on a deadline.”
Litigation clients: The London Stock Exchange, Samsung, Conrac Newark Airport. Represented the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in Californian federal court in relation to the LIBOR benchmark reference rate.
To help newbies find their bearings, A&O equips all associates with Compass – a real-time feedback platform where partners log 1-2-1 meetings with their mentees, replacing the traditional annual review process. Coupled with a vast array of events, legal training sessions, and business development programs, our interviewees reckoned the firm actively demonstrates its “resolve to continue developing us.” What’s more, associates undergo a two-day training program, called Making Your Mark, where the firm invites outside speakers to discuss “how to build your brand outside A&O, whether it’s client interaction or business skills.” The program is aimed at “helping second and third years bring in clients, something which is often only set aside for senior associates,” a source explained.
But it’s not all about the formal training. “Everyone’s doors are open and if you email partners to ask a question, they respond!” one interviewee shared. “I could pop into someone’s office with a quick question that turns into an hour-long conversation because there’s so much to learn,” another added. The topic of partnership also often crops up during these conversations. “The firm has a lot of homegrown partners,” one associate noted. “They’re transparent about the process, so it doesn’t feel out of reach.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“Even though our numbers are great, we can do better,” a source noted of the firm’s diversity stats. “We’re never finished on this journey,” House echoes. “We’re looking at client engagement, recruitment, and developing a US specific D&I pathway with clients. We’re bringing it together in a holistic way through our internal development under the direction of Dennis Quinio,” – the firm’s chief DE&I officer. House adds: “This year has seen the most diverse class of summer associates and we know that we are making a difference at entry point, however, we are not yet where we want to be at with retention.” Our associate sources all felt this push was noticeable. “When I joined in 2020, they wanted to make sure the gender ratio at partnership was equal,” an associate recalled. As things currently stand, women make up 23% of the partnership.
With a minimum requirement of 50 pro bono hours each year, and no restrictions thereafter, “any hour of pro bono you do will count as billable work.” Juniors find out about opportunities through a central pro bono team that sends out weekly emails to ask for participants. Matters range from various initiatives supporting efforts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, to criminal defense cases. For the latter, “the stakes are very high. It’s humbling to help someone who faces very serious consequences,” a source shared. Associates also spoke of work done to aid small businesses and partnerships with non-profits like Her Justice, which provides legal justice to women in need of assistance.
The amount of pro bono work juniors engage in “depends on the appetite of the associate,” a source explained. While some of our interviewees eagerly shared that they were currently staffed on three pro bono matters, others found it tricky to slot pro bono in among their client-billable work. “It’s not a structural failure, rather it’s about me trying to keep up with what I already have on my plate,” one associate relayed.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,980
- Average per US attorney: 31
Hours, compensation & culture
Billable hours: No target
“As long as you’re doing good work and not turning work down, that’s all they can ask of you,” explained one source when considering the lack of billing target. Working hours per day were reported to vary depending on practice group, the stage of the matter, and the partners that associates were working with. For our sources in litigation, this meant logging on at 9am and logging off at around 9pm. “I’m not working non-stop during those hours, it just means I’m available for anything,” the interviewee explained. For juniors in the transactional practices, “on a good day, you’re logged off at 7pm. On a bad day, you log off at 3am.”
However, when the hours get tough, there is support available. “It comes down to how comfortable you are raising your hand to say you’re under water,” one associate reasoned. “The one time I found myself drowning, I asked, and I got help immediately.” Compensation may also be another crutch supporting this lot through their 50-to-60-hour work weeks. With lockstep salaries at market heights, there were “no complaints!”
One thing to keep in mind: the firm’s high volume of international work means juniors often find themselves navigating time-zones and pinging off emails later in the evening, too: “We work with the Sydney and London offices, so sometimes I’m answering questions until late.”
“You can talk about FERC energy regulation without judgment; it’s nice having people to geek out with!”
As for firm culture, “it’s the firm’s strongest aspect!” one associate declared. “Regardless of their position, I’ve been able to talk to and hang out with everyone here. There’s no sense of barrier, and no dismissive behavior,” they added. What’s more, “people are unafraid to be themselves.” By way of example, “you can talk about FERC energy regulation without judgment; it’s nice having people to geek out with!” And if FERC energy regulation doesn’t do it for you, we heard stories of conferences in Vegas which ended in entertainment arcades...
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 568
Interviewees outside OCI: 11
Allen & Overy is committed to identifying top talent, regardless of its source. A&O conducted OCIs at 22 schools in 2022. The number of students per school varies. Additionally, the firm collects resumes from regional and local schools where we have offices, and encourages interested students to submit their application directly to our US Law Student Recruitment Team. A&O also attends job fairs like the Northeast Black Law Student Association, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Interview Law Program, and National Law School Consortium.
OCIs are typically conducted by a partner or a senior associate. Hiring sources at the firm explain that questions are geared toward understanding “the candidate’s strengths, interests and whether they would be a good fit with A&O. We look for intellectual curiosity, good communication skills, a collaborative nature, and international interests.” Interviewers seeks candidates who give sincere, thoughtful responses, as opposed to those parroting what they think they should be saying, or who “give a prepared sales pitch.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The best candidate has researched the firm and the interviewer, knows how to build rapport, and asks thoughtful and tailored questions.”– hiring sources at the firm
“I think what A&O focuses on is how affable someone is and whether or not they can get along with everyone, because we have such an international base.” – a third-year junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage interview: not disclosed
Those who impress during OCI are invited back for two 45-minute interviews, each conducted by a partner and associate pair. This is followed by a virtual coffee with 2 junior associates, which associates said “really helps students to get a good sense of the firm.” At this stage the firm’s interviewers want to get a sense of “a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and motivation for a legal career at the firm,” hiring sources at the firm explain, adding that questions “help to determine the key qualities most valued in our junior associates, such as resilience, organization, motivation, and innovation.” Candidates answer future-focused questions “based on scenarios they could encounter as a junior associate at the firm.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The candidate should ensure that they give equal attention to both interviewers, and to ensure that they ask the junior associates about their practice.” – hiring source at the firm
Offers: not disclosed
The firm tells us that its summer program aims to expose summer associates to all aspects of practice at A&O. In order to ensure that everyone is having the summer experience they seek, the Work Allocation Committee, made up of associates, meets regularly with the summers to discuss ongoing projects and practice area preferences. The program also includes “formal training programs, including weekly practice area briefings,” legal writing courses, and panel presentations covering topics such as working with in-house counsel and women in law.
A&O associates assure us that the summer vibe will be kept alive with “one big social event a week, alongside more informal events such as happy hours.” We’re told it’s rare for A&O summers not to return to the firm as first-year associates, but those who choose not to return may do so because they’re “joining another one of our offices, or doing a clerkship.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The summer program is catered to the individual getting as much diversified experience as possible, so make sure you try different things and listen to your feedback.” – a second-year junior associate
“The summer program is a great time to start building your network, so take advantage of the many social opportunities. On work assignments, be proactive, eager, and willing to work hard.” – hiring sources at the firm
The firm says: “Don’t hesitate to contact us! Our attorneys love talking to students about the work we do and our firm in general.”
Allen & Overy LLP
1221 Avenue of the Americas,
Main areas of work
Anti-bribery and corruption, antitrust, asset management, banking and finance, commodities regulation and enforcement, corporate and M&A, derivatives and structured finance, employment and benefits, environment, financial services regulation and investigations, leveraged and acquisition finance, litigation, projects, energy and infrastructure, real estate, regulatory compliance, restructuring and insolvency, sanctions, national security and international trade, securitization, and tax.
Allen & Overy is an elite global firm with a network of 2,950+ attorneys in over 40 offices across the world. This network makes us one of the largest and most connected law firms in the world, with a global reach and local depth that is simply unrivalled. Over half of our transactions involve three or more jurisdictions, and nearly three-quarters of the work we do draws on the resources of two or more of our offices. Our US practice is fully integrated with our offices in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa. Our culture at Allen & Overy is founded on quality work, excellent working partnerships, and collegiality.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022:
• American Washington College of Law
• Boston College
• Boston University
• Columbia Law School
• Cornell Law School
• Duke University School of Law
• Emory University School of Law
• Georgetown Law School
• Harvard Law School
• Howard University School of Law
• New York University School of Law
• Northwestern University Law School
• Stanford Law School
• The George Washington University Law School
• The UCBerkeley School of Law
• UC Davis School of Law
• UCLA School of Law
• University of Michigan Law School
• University of Pennsylvania Law School
• University of Virginia School of Law
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We participate in resume collects at the following schools: Albany Law School, Antonin Scalia Law School (George Mason), Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo Law School, Fordham Law School, Stanford Law School, UCLA School of Law, University of Chicago School of Law (on campus for London), Vanderbilt University Law School, Yale Law School (on campus for London)
Summer associate profile:
We seek candidates who are unafraid to go beyond their comfort zone, and want to work at the forefront of their profession. Candidates should be ready to embrace change, have a talent for problem solving, and strive to develop broad commercial awareness.
Summer program components:
A&O’s summer program is a great way to experience our cutting-edge work and collaborative culture, and to work on top-quality transactions across a variety of practice areas. Summers receive considerable responsibility on matters and gain real and valuable experience from day one working alongside partners and associates. We take mentoring, training, and development seriously, and all are fundamental aspects of our program. We offer formal training programs that provide broad exposure to our practice areas and supplement the summers’ day-to-day work. We also want our summers to have fun and build their network within the firm so there are plenty of social events to integrate them into our firm culture.
Recruitment website: www.allenovery.com/careers/united-states/en-gb/Pages/default.aspx
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Technology: Transactions (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Derivatives (Band 2)
- Energy Transition (Band 2)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 2)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)