Allen & Overachieving: this 'magic circle' global leader offers associates a cosmopolitan experience and all the hands-on responsibility of a smaller office.
“MOST of our matters have a true international nexus.” We hear this kind of comment from many a BigLaw associate, but everything is relative: we know A&O has very few real peers on the global stage. This member of the British elite 'magic circle' has built a formidable network across global economic centers. In banking, capital markets, projects and disputes, Chambers Global fixes A&O at the very top of the international market.
Size and scale is an important point: within this giant firm, the bases in DC and New York are compact. This contrast makes the firm relatively unique in the US; a small intake of first-years is met with huge deals at "a top-rate firm and they get close interaction with partners,” but also “a level of camaraderie” that is hard to imitate. This formula was attractive to every associate we interviewed. Managing partner Dave Lewis explains his long-term vision for A&O: "With the importance of the US economy and law in the global legal financial world, our five-year vision is to be substantially larger in the US."
Newbies get to sample two practice groups where “you’re treated as if you're a full-time associate in that group, even though each rotation only lasts six months.” Depending on the firm's needs and the associate's performance, juniors can move on to a second rotation, and in the rare case that associates are still undecided, they can sample a third area. DC is less formal with the work allocation than New York but both encourage an “organic specialization process.” Banking, project finance, international capital markets, leveraged finance, tax, restructuring and litigation are all options, as are the corporate subgroups: antitrust, employment and benefits, environmental regulatory and general M&A. Across the groups, work distribution is generally free market, “it’s not like you have a cookie-cutter set of assignments.”
“it’s not like you have a cookie-cutter set of assignments.”
A&O’s International Capital Markets (ICM) group, specializes in both securitization and regulatory work. The ICM group has discrete subgroups – securitization, regulatory, derivatives, and structured finance – to which first-years are assigned. “90% of your work will come from your assigned subgroup unless it is extremely quiet in your area.” Associates suggested that the subgroups “allow you to become specialized more quickly.” The securitization group based in the New York office “is one of the shinier practice groups with high-end work from big financial institutions such as J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs.” Sources mentioned a lot of collateral loans obligations (CLO) work with domestic and international clients. One source thought “the fact that there is a lot at stake and the work is fast-paced and technical makes it more interesting.” Since it’s a small team, juniors “essentially have no choice but to take on a lot of responsibility from the get-go. The first few weeks are dealing with ancillary documents, but after that you deal with everything from the beginning of a deal, to the end.” Those in securitization seek inquiries with the ICM Regulatory team in DC – “we work seamlessly together.”
ICM securitization clients: BNP Paribas Securities Corp, Bank of Nova Scotia, The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD). Represented BNP Paribas Securities Corp as counsel to the initial purchaser on the $512.11 million Chenango Park CLO.
The ICM regulatory team situated in the DC office coordinates advice across the US and Europe. For example, there are instances where “a foreign financial institution wants to sell securities to the USand they’re concerned with the broker-dealer regulatory issues. We then advise them on how to do this without triggering regulatory requirements.” The firm draws on its deep global expertise and connections with financial institutions, asset managers, broker-dealers and regulators, and emerging fintech clients are keeping associates busy: “We’re eager to see what they can do in the US and it’s exciting to see how we can apply decades-old regulations to new products." Juniors hit the ground running on a whole host of compliance matters. These include investment regulatory, employment, tax and health right procedures. The work of the office's political law practice – "which has ongoing relationships with businesses and particular investment advisers" – also overlaps with the ICM regulatory group.
ICM regulatory clients: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Morgan Stanley. The firm advised SIFMA (a financial services trade association) on the Financial Industry Regulatory Association's new pay-to-play rule when it was brought into effect in 2017.
A&O’s project finance group is “very respected in the market," and, perhaps unsurprisingly, we heard "it's a very internationally focused team.” The department reflects the firm's broad capabilities worldwide, bringing together infrastructure, natural resources, and energy expertise, topped off with the firm's trademark finance capability, but here in New York, the firm's PPP expertise wins particular acclaim from Chambers USA. Associates might work on cases like the $9.7 billion JFK terminal redevelopment or a $50 million Chilean wind farm financing. Juniors reported decent exposure and responsibility, such as interactions with government entities, “adding a new layer of interest to a typical transaction.” It's common in projects work for there to be a very steep learning curve, and we found that at A&O too: “It takes longer to get to speed in our practice since there’s so much going on and there’ll be several parties in one transaction.”
Projects clients: The United States Department of Energy, Cubico, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC). A&O advised the Department of Energy on the initial structuring, EPC negotiations, technical and restructuring risk, governance and equity structuring of a $737 million Nevada solar plant project.
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About a fifth of associates end up in litigation, where work is largely split into civil litigation and investigations, and again the work has a "really wide geographic scope.” A source summarized:“Our practice is definitely known for our criminal white-collar investigation work, but we also do large-scale commercial disputes." Securities Act and insider trading investigations are typical subject matter for associates on the investigation side. Civil litigators tend to write cross-examinations, and the opening and closing of arguments presented in court, and we heard from some who got to attend trials.
Litigation clients: Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase. A&O represented Sheldon Silver, a member of the New York State Assembly, in the retrial of corruption charges.
Associates thought that there was a formula that supported their growth: “If you look at the intake of summers per partner, the ratio is much closer – and so they’re naturally more invested in keeping associates on and training them to produce midlevels.” The A&O staffing formula also means immediate on-the-job learning for associates, who "get stuck in and contribute from the very beginning." The firm runs a program called ‘Make your Mark,’ held in New York annually, for juniors to develop their practical skills, and “understand the business models and hone client development skills.”
“A real effort in making sure female associates are supported.”
D&I gets attention within the training package. The Women’s Committee at the firm holds events such as career coaching sessions spanning three days. “These help us navigate the pitfalls that we as women may face in the workplace," a source explained.
"We don’t feel like a small outpost,” an associate told us. This is an important point: the New York offices are perched in a swanky tower overlooking the Rockefeller. The firm is in every respect in the thick of the action, say associates: “What helps influence A&O’s pleasant culture is the feeling of being connected to the global network." There's a culture of doing overseas placements more so than most Manhattan firms, and our sources find this gives them a leg up both in their development but also their working environment: “I can email a dozen different offices around the network, asking for favors and advice; whether it’s Italy or Indonesia, everyone is willing to jump in and help out.”
“Whether it’s Italy or Indonesia, everyone is willing to jump in and help out.”
A&O’s social butterflies partake in events ranging from weekly happy hours and the usual Christmas and summer parties to Billy Joel concerts to hosting fajita parties on a farm in Virginia. Both in New York or Washington, juniors agreed that they felt the environment was inclusive and supportive and the partners “motivate you with commitment and consistency, rather than by fear and shame.” One interviewee described how the independent and laid-back nature of the firm allows associates to take control of their careers. “I can openly speak with my compass mentors about potentially spending time in government, as a regulatory lawyer, and they encourage me to take opportunities if they pop up.”
Diversity & Inclusion
The firm continues to work toward reaching its goal of 20% female partners by 2020. “I think when we had a push to increase female partners, A&O realized that the pipeline of partners was not what it needed to be.” Litigators agreed that the department needs more female seniority as well as more representation of minorities across the board. “It’s pretty white in the office – that’s one big downside,” sources in Washington relayed. However, the New York office’s diversity initiatives are perhaps a bit more visible; “the people who they’ve brought in at junior level are way more diverse now than when I started – it’s more obvious here in NYC in terms of diversity.”
On the whole, A&O has initiatives in place firmwide to raise awareness of this diversity gap. Examples include the creation of ethnic affinity groups, such as the Asian group, Latin American focus group and events, such as a recent MLK Day panel discussion. One source reassured us that “there is a constant effort to make sure there is a broad understanding of issues by exchanging dialogue and discussing racial issues.” The firm’s ‘A&OUT’ initiative for the LGBTQ community is also active within the offices, with a “giant wall in the office allowing people to write messages of support for the community and to help them with the process of coming out.” These efforts are paying off for A&O, who attract higher numbers of LGBTQ lawyers than most firms in our survey.
A&O’s hiring partners are also making an effort to recruit conscientiously. “Having been involved in the recruitment process, I’m aware that out of the 40 callbacks we did, there was a serious effort to increase recruiting on both the gender front, as well as minorities. The staffing for the interviews was also decided with diversity in mind.”
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Associates aim to hit 2,000 billable hours each year. The target is “pretty informal” as senior management doesn’t “control your work flow as a junior,” and juniors expressed how “they’re more lenient with first-years as you’ve only just started learning.” Sources found the bonus structure to be generally transparent; they receive an email explaining the bonuses for each class year. If associates fall short of the billable ‘target,’ “but show that they did everything to get the work done and were active to seek out work and volunteering opportunities, then the firm tends to be understanding.” Bonuses will still be handed out.
"I’d be floored if I heard of anyone not receiving their bonus.”
Long hours are inescapable – this is BigLaw. Despite this, associates reassured that “the hours are typically manageable ten-hour days,” fluctuating during busy periods. ICELEX allows A&O’s associates to work remotely. “I think it’s worth noting that a lot of people work from home in this industry.” If you have any personal issue which requires you to be out of office, “the firm is very accommodating.” Pro bono billable hours were recently increased from 50 to 150, which delighted associates. “These hours aren’t treated as a concept of trying to meet a target. The group is so busy that if you are doing a good job, you’ll bill as many hours as you can.” There is an expectation of billing 50 pro bono hours minimum, but one associate explained how it’s beneficial for juniors to have additional hours as it keeps them in “good standing with the firm if they actively participate and look for opportunities.”
50 of the 150 pro bono hours associates are granted can be directed toward firm-sponsored community investment projects. A&O supports a different charity each year as its overarching theme of pro bono throughout the firm. War Child was the global charity last year which focused on “navigating displaced children in war-torn zones and helping them find new homes.” Other projects include “playing flag football games with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program.”
“Pro bono is totally great to do – but it is your responsibility not to neglect billable work duties.”
Associates receive weekly emails listing the different opportunities available. Examples include projects on attaining affordable housing in New York; asylum and immigration; matters tied to LGBT discrimination; child support and human rights cases with Her Justice. Some departments deal with specific cases such as “people in the funds practice helping a nonprofit establish a fund or helping UK-based NGOs to negotiate their contract with US affiliates.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 7746
- Average per US attorney: 56
Strategy & Future
Dave Lewis tells us that “Allen & Overy is a leading global firm. But we still have work to do to be the finished article." Interviewees gladly reported on A&O’s main strategy to grow a “strong US practice to balance out its Asian and European practices.”
“We have top-shelf offerings globally and all we’re missing is the scale.”
Trusting that their “associates won’t turn around and go spilling the beans to Above the Law,” partners deliver sessions to associates to inform them of the direction of the firm, finances and big client meetings. “There are also live podcast streams we can tune into, to know what’s going on at the micro level within our practice areas, and at the macro level with the strategy of the firm.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 487 in NY and 73 in DC
Interviewees outside OCI: 44 in NY and 0 in DC
Allen & Overy conducted OCIs at 17 schools in 2018, including Harvard, Penn, UCLA, Chicago, Georgetown, Howard, and Columbia. The number of students interviewed at each school varies. Outside of the OCIs, A&O also attends job fairs like Vanderbilt, Boston University, Cornell and Lavender Law, and also participates in resume drops across campuses. The firm encourages interested students from schools outside of those it attends for OCIs to submit their application to the recruitment department.
The OCIs are typically conducted by a partner or a senior associate. Hiring sources at the firm explain that questions are geared towards 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 will also be trying to pinpoint candidates who are honest in their responses, as opposed to those 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: 256 in NY and 34 in DC
Those who impress during the OCI are invited back for two 45-minute interviews, each conducted by a partner and associate pair. This is then followed by lunch or coffee with a couple of 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 are asked 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 sources at the firm
Offers: 92 in NYC and 5 in DC
Acceptances: 25 in NY and 2 in DC
The firm tells us that its summer program aims to allow summer associates to get a taste of everything. The work allocation committee, which is made up of associates, is on hand to meet with the summers to discuss ongoing projects and practice area preferences to make sure everyone gets to explore their areas of interest. 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.” Previous highlights have included concerts from Billy Joel to Beyoncé, sailing tours around Manhattan, cooking competitions, and rock-climbing adventures. 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 office 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.”
Interview with New York managing partner Dave Lewis
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Allen & Overy’s current market position?
Dave Lewis: Allen & Overy is a leading global firm. But we still have work to do to be the finished article. For us, our main strategic priorities are growing in the US and Asia, to ground our offering there as an elite global law firm. There are a couple of areas that are incomplete but we have plans to address them.
CA: What would you say are the US operation’s core practices? Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
DL: In the US we are a microcosm of what we are globally. Our finance and transactional practices are strong, and our litigation practice is particularly so. Our financial regulatory practices are a real reflection of our global strength as well. Anecdotally, three practices areas have stood out as having really stellar years: our leveraged finance practice; our CLO practice; and it has also been a very good year for our projects, energy and infrastructure practice.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
DL: Some of the really large global investigations have slowed down and some others are picking up. From our perspective, the trend of globally coordinated investigations into financial institutions and corporations definitely has an ebb and flow to it. I think that we seem to be in the later stages of an economic long-term boom cycle. That still has legs. The activity around financing capital markets and M&A is still there.
CA: What’s your long-term vision for Allen & Overy? What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
DL: There are always tweaks to it, but it has thankfully remained quite constant for the bulk of my career here. As I mentioned at the outset, we want to solidify our position as one of the few global elite firms and establish ourselves as one of the small handful at the top. It's a group that is getting more granular.
We want to be executing our twin strategic goal, which is bulking up in Asia and in the US. In the US, we now have 200 plus lawyers, as well as an additional 200 US qualified lawyers outside of the US. With the importance of the US economy and law in the global legal financial world, our five-year vision is to be substantially larger in the US.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
DL: The legal profession has evolved tremendously, but for much of my career the business of law, frankly, hadn't really changed much. Any changes were on the edges and were happening at a glacial pace. It frankly didn’t keep pace with the evolution of other industries. That started to change after the financial crisis of 2008. Now we have an industry that had to take a long hard look in the mirror and firms had to learn how to operate as businesses. Over the last decade we have had a real steppe change in how the business of law is conducted on a number of fronts. Very large firms like us, mid-tier firms and boutique firms all had to figure out their place in this new world.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
DL: I was always intrigued by the law since before university. I know not everyone likes us, but I am now a tax lawyer. Early on I thought that, as lawyers, we would always be arguing cases in front of juries. But once I was in law school, I started taking business law courses and began to appreciate and enjoy the practice of transactional law and ultimately that sealed the deal for me.
CA: What do you consider to have been your big break?
DL: The opportunity to join A&O in 2001 in the London office as a relatively junior associate.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
DL: The continued growth of A&O, globally and in the US. Also, continuing to help grow business here, but also bringing on board incredibly talented associates and helping them to grow and develop.
CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
DL: I think there is one thing that has taken me time to develop – and you learn this as you become a more senior lawyer. You will start out as an expert in the area you are practicing in, but – particularly for a junior lawyer – the client service nature of the profession isn’t something you focus on as much. The importance of client service within the business, the importance of understanding a client’s needs, to really understand their business and their position in a case – this is something that I think takes times to fully appreciate but I think that it is the key to achieving a successful career.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
DL: You need to understand law as a business, but you should also look at the practice of law as a great academic pursuit as well. I find myself challenged on a daily basis by the sophisticated nature of the transactions, disputes and issues that we are grappling with. It is tremendously rewarding.
Allen & Overy LLP
1221 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head office: London
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 42
- Partners (US): 47
- Senior Counsel (US): 10
- Associates (US): 128
- Main recruitment contact: Mary Alex Hudson, Senior Officer of Recruitment and Professional Development
- Hiring partners: Marc Ponchione (DC), Brian Jebb (NY)
- Diversity officer: Elizabeth Leckie, Partner
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 15 (NY); 2 (LN); 1 (HK)
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 25 (NY); 2 (DC); 3 (LN); 2 (HK)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: 1 NY/HK split; 1 NY/LN split
- Summer salary 2019: $3,654 per week (pro-rated first year salary - $190,000.00)
- Split summers offered? We allow splits between our offices with US capabilities on a case by case basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, we run parallel summer associate programs in New York, London, Hong Kong and Washington DC.
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 2,800+ attorneys across 44 offices in 31 countries. 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 – which operates principally from our 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.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
• Albany Law School
• Brooklyn Law School
• Cardozo Law School
• Columbia Law School
• Duke University School of Law
• Fordham 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
• UCLA School of Law
• University of Chicago Law School
• University of Michigan Law School
• University of Pennsylvania Law School
• University of Virginia School of Law
• USC Gould School of Law
Recruitment outside OCIs:
For a full list job fairs and resume collects we participate in please visit: www.allenovery.com/careers/united-states/en-gb/students-and-graduates/Pages/Events.aspx
Summer associate profile:
There is no such thing as a typical A&O candidate. We are open-minded and are interested in people who share that quality. We look for people who aren’t afraid 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 are given 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, 2019
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)