Public-private partnership isn’t just a cool tongue twister, it’s also an exciting and fast-growing area of work for lawyers in the US. Enter Ashurst…
P1 is a hybrid supercar, made by British racing legends McLaren; P2’s a low-budget horror movie with a rubbish Rotten Tomatoes score. As for P3, that can only mean public-private partnerships between government bodies and private developers. It’s P3 that globe-spanning Ashurst primarily deals with in its New York office. The firm’s Big Apple base stands out from others in the city thanks to its “unique” focus on transportation P3. “Not a lot of firms specialize in it,” according to juniors. “It’s more tangible than other practices – you can see we built a bridge or an airport – and that makes it exciting and fun.” ChambersGlobal recognizes Ashurst for its projects expertise, as does Chambers USA for the firm’s P3 practice.
Ashurst boasts 28 offices globally, but until recently only had a US presence in New York. That changed in 2020 when the firm set up shop in Los Angeles – the tiny team there has already started working with big clients like the Los Angeles, Honolulu and Sydney Metro systems. Cross-office staffing is so common at Ashurst that both US offices are home to large numbers of UK and Australian nationals. “I think it’s great they bring people from our network to come from overseas rather than only hiring newcomers, especially when they have more experience in P3 from their own countries,”a source said.
Strategy & Future
Though they were clear that the New York office “has no intention to become a full-service giant,” juniors noticed “a lot of focus on growth.” Recruitment runs from bottom to top – the firm’s hired more juniors and recently brought in two partners that specialize in Latin American finance, and municipal bonds and public finance respectively. “Expanding anything related to a corporate practice is also of interest – M&A and real estate might be options.” Real estate is also a growth option in Los Angeles– the team there hopes to reach ten attorneys by the end of 2020.
“…no intention to become a full-service giant.”
New York takes the majority of juniors, but Los Angeles will also be welcoming some as the office there grows. Most join the projects practice – one or two a year end up in the global loans group. “There’s not really a work allocation system to speak of,” and associates get most of their work directly from partners; given Ashurst’s small US headcount, secondments to clients or other offices are common, which sources considered “a really brilliant way to build relationships and find your feet.”
Most of the time, Ashurst’s team is working owner-side on P3 projects, “so our clients are government agencies working with a private partner to build a piece of infrastructure. We see it from the bidding stage all the way through to completion and beyond.” The firm also represents some lenders and underwriters. Infrastructure is the focus (airports, toll roads, rental car facilities, rail and metro were all mentioned in our interviews), but associates may get to work on energy projects or social infrastructure like community centers, hospitals or sports centers. “What’s cool is that by focusing in on infrastructure, you actually end up being a generalist,” associates reasoned. “I get to handle all the different facets of projects in that field.” As the New York office is so small, “we don’t have the same staffing and paralegal capacity as other firms. Even as a third year I’m still doing cross-reference checks.” Juniors were also inputting comments, conducting document review and managing “countless moving parts” during closings, “making sure it all gets where it needs to go.” Responsibility does come “once you’ve demonstrated your know-how – then project agreements and predevelopment agreements will become your thing to handle.”
Projects clients: Georgia Department of Transportation, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, City of Los Angeles. Advised the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation on a $1.5 billion rail project.
“You can have direct face time with the clients.”
The global loans group “collaborates regularly with offices in the UK, Europe and, recently, Australia,” fully justifying the ‘global’ in its title. Fewer than ten attorneys are permanently staffed in New York; associates work on a dozen or so projects at a time. Most are lender-side deals for “big banks” including NatWest and UniCredit. Ashurst’s team works on a lot of security components for large lending matters elsewhere in the world; that makes up at least half the workflow, but the group also handles NYC matters, which sources described as “fun – they’re a lot more hands-on and you can have direct face time with the clients.” Practice group head Michael Neary is “super organized and knows exactly who’s working on what at all times because we touch base weekly.” Juniors here conducted document and certificate review; made checklists; communicated with opposing counsel; and drafted security documents, facility agreements and “all the different filings that go into securing the loan collateral.”
Global loans clients: Campari, Shagang, Allianz Global Investors. Advised ING on a $65 million revolving loan facility to healthcare private equity firm Quadria Capital, the world’s first sustainability performance-linked fund financing.
Associates told us there’s not a lot of formal training on offer “besides the usual CLEs.” Learning comes “on the job,” which our interviewees dubbed “a positive – it’s better to learn from partners sitting down and explaining things to you. Formal training is easily forgotten, whereas on the job it seems to stick really easily.”
“I’m definitely an Ashurst lifer – in it for the long haul.”
“As you move up, everything’s really open” when it comes to aiming for the partnership. “I’m definitely an Ashurst lifer – in it for the long haul,” more than one interviewee said. They felt the firm “wants to keep as many of us as they can. Not everyone wants to make partner, but they try to keep us happy and here for at least a while.” US associates may have a distinct advantage as “a lot of the Australian and British lawyers don’t stick around in New York indefinitely.” If US associates don’t want to stick around themselves, Ashurst is “more than willing to relocate you within the network. It’s really, really awesome – they let you live the life you want without having to leave the firm.”
Culture & Diversity
“We have such a unique culture,” juniors suggested. “Part of it has to do with having people from all over the world – lots of Americans, Australians and Brits – all in one place. It makes it a more interesting place to be on day-to-day basis.” Getting your head around all the different accents might be challenging, but interviewees adored their small office: “I love that I know everyone. We all get to hang out, and the associates in particular are quite close. We hang out even when we’re not forced to!” Though the New York office has “exploded in terms of attorney headcount” over the last few years, interviewees reckoned Ashurst has “managed to keep the family atmosphere. I find people to be very patient, supportive and nurturing; everyone’s positive and part of the team, without getting stressed.”
Growing headcount was one reason behind the recent office move from Times Square to hotly-tipped Hudson Yards. “We updated our technology and moved to an open floor space plan,” insiders revealed. “It’s a lot to happen at once, so there are some kinks that need working out.” Fortunately, firm-led weekly happy hours have survived the move. The Los Angeles office has a conventional setup in Santa Monica (happily, there is a beach view).
“…managed to keep the family atmosphere.”
“Diversity gets a lot of attention here,” according to juniors. “A lot is driven by the associates, but partners are totally on board to help too.” Official action comes in the form of events like an International Women’s Day panel talk on unconscious bias. “They did a simulation of different situations to get the audience involved,” we heard. “It was a very cool, interactive event.” The newly rejuvenated D&I Committee holds weekly lunches, quizzes and “events for July 4th, Thanksgiving and heritage days to learn the true history behind celebrations and create more awareness.” We heard a lot of praise for Ashurst’s commitment to female partners: “They just reached 100 firm-wide. Management made it a big deal and put it in our email signatures.” That said, associates admitted “there hasn’t been as much of a focus on racial diversity – that could definitely use some improvement.”
There were few complaints about Ashurst’s pro bono work: a coordinator circulates opportunities each week, including some global projects. “It’s a great network. We worked with an Australian charity that goes around in a van giving showers and clothes to homeless people,” a source told us. “Ashurst helped them incorporate and set up a US branch.” The firm’s American work includes charity incorporations, sponsorship and tax exemption arrangements as well as some immigration and domestic violence cases. As juniors in New York are all in transactional practices, they were relieved to find that pro bono mostly follows suit: “We’ve had some litigious options, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable – I don’t know what to do and I wouldn’t want to mess up someone’s life!” They suggested senior attorneys “take pro bono seriously,” and while not all our interviewees had done pro bono work, those who had averaged 70 hours. Associates can count up to 100 pro bono hours toward the billing target.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 12,000
- Average per (US) attorney: 33
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 minimum
Following a change in policy in 2018, 1,900 hours earns associates 60% of a market bonus; they can get 100% if they hit 2,200 hours. Most of our interviewees had billed around 1,800 in the past year. Several said the bonus policy change “didn’t go very well. There have been talks to change things again." The firm confirmed that the structure will remain the same, with the potential to compensate associates above market. Despite these complaints, sources were largely happy with their lot: “Being paid a New York market salary is a really big deal considering Ashurst really isn’t an NYC-style firm.”
“It’s not miserable, it’s sustainable.”
Typical working hours were hard to pin down: “There have been times when I’ve worked after midnight for three weeks straight,” a source said. “There have also been times where I’ve left at 4pm for a week, but I eat dinner at the office more than I don’t.” The saddest stories came from juniors who’d worked multiple 14-hour days, but even they insisted their lifestyle was “manageable, because we’re all consistently working a lot. It’s not miserable, it’s sustainable.” Busy all the time is perhaps better than jarring ups and downs; there’s also a flexible working policy, and some of our interviewees did indeed work a day or so a week from home.
- Ashurst has canceled its 2020 summer program.
- Would-be summers will receive a stipend.
- The firm has not confirmed if its summer hires will be made full-time offers for 2021.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: N/A
Interviewees outside OCI: 6
Ashurst does not participate in OCIs and instead take direct applications for their summer associate program. Applicants undergo an initial phone interview, which determines whether they get through to the next round.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 4
Callback interviews are conducted by the firm’s recruiting committee, which is a group of eight to ten partners, counsel and associates. Candidates interview with various members of the committee on the day, including several 30-minute one-on-one interviews and a group lunch with two or three associates. Executive director for the Americas, Nicole Lancia, tells us that because the firm does not participate in the OCI process, questions at this stage “typically are around candidate's interest in the firm and whether they would be a good fit with Ashurst.”
Top tips for this stage:
“I really liked the people I interviewed with, many of whom are still here and now colleagues of mine.’” – a junior associate
“We advise candidates to research the firm and interviewers before in order to ask thoughtful questions..” – executive director for the Americas, Nicole Lancia
Lancia tells us that the firm strives to provide a “comprehensive and realistic experience during our summer program so that summer associates can feel what it's truly like to be a junior associate at Ashurst.” Summers are paired with associate and partner mentors, who, along with a work coordination team, help “assign relevant work and provide essential feedback.” There are weekly social events and trainings, and summers are encouraged to go to coffee or lunch with partners, counsel and associates. Summers returning as junior associates end up in the practice area that they “matched with the best” during their time at the firm, which is most often either global loans or projects.
Top tips for this stage:
“Get to know the team, be proactive and ask for guidance if you're unsure.” – executive director of the Americas, Nicole Lancia
Becoming a PPP lawyer
We partner up with Ashurst to go public with how to become a PPP projects lawyer.
London Fruit & Wool Exchange,
1 Duval Square,
55 Hudson Yards,
- Head office: London, UK
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 26
- Worldwide revenue: £641 million
- Partners (US): 10
- Associates (US): 25
- Main recruitment contact: Alexandra Pecora firstname.lastname@example.org
- Recruitment website: www.ashurst.com
- Diversity officer: Matthew Tague
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 1
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1
- Summer salary 2020: $190,000
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
Main areas of work
Our offices in New York and Los Angeles provide comprehensive legal services to US and global financial institutions and corporations. Our US Projects team advises on all aspects of project financings in the US and coordinates closely with our offices in London, Sydney, Madrid, Paris, and Tokyo on delivery of world class market knowledge to our transactions. Our award-winning practice focuses on public-private partnerships (PPP) in all sectors including rail, road, airport, student accommodation, courthouses, water and waste and have worked on ground breaking transport and social infrastructure projects across the nation. Our Global Loans practice is recognized by our clients within the industry to be one of the most innovative and solution orientated legal practices. We provide seamless coverage on a wide range of US and cross-border lending transactions, including leveraged and acquisition finance, corporate lending, lending to funds and lending to the insurance sector. We frequently provide advice to banks, financial institutions and funds who are themselves leading players in the market.
Ashurst is an elite global law firm with over 400 partners and a further 1,400 lawyers working in 28 offices across 16 countries. Unlike many other firms, infrastructure as an industry and an asset class is central to our global strategy and practice. We offer the international insight of a global network combined with local market expertise and knowledge. Our vision is to be the most progressive global law firm. For us, ‘progressive’ is a mindset, an approach to how we do things. We instinctively take a fresh perspective on situations, exploring whether there are better ways of delivering practical, commercial solutions to the challenges our clients face in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020: We recruit for Summer Associate positions through a resume collect. We post jobs at Columbia, NYU, Fordham and other top ranked schools.
Recruitment outside OCIs: We recruit for Summer Associate positions through a resume collect.
Summer associate profile: At Ashurst, we strive to provide a stimulating and rewarding experience for our summer associates. By working on top-quality transactions, it is our goal to present a realistic picture of life as a junior associate. Summer associates will be exposed to multiple practice areas during the summer program, including, but not limited to Projects and Global Loans. Our summer associates will also have exposure to both US and global deals and partners.
Summer program components: We are looking for enthusiastic candidates who are eager to learn and grow with our US practice and offer competitive salary. This position is open to 2L students.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
USA - Nationwide
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)