Read about our current and future employees, as they share their experiences within the firm.
My First Few Weeks at A&O…
Life as a first seat trainee is dynamic, exciting, fast paced and, at times, a little bit complex! My first six weeks were fantastic; they gave me the opportunity to familiarise myself with the work done here and to get to know the team around me. Since my last post, I have been busy to say the least. Here at Allen & Overy, your responsibility is very much driven by how much you can take on and, as a first seater, I have found myself meeting so many different people, all of whom carry out a broad variety of work. Every day has brought a new element to a deal, which in itself brings a new challenge.
I have many memories of sitting in LPC classes and whenever the word ‘derivative’ would come up everyone would frown slightly and turn to the teacher with a puzzled look. The DSF department is sometimes seen as the ‘Google’ of Allen & Overy, and having spent three months here now, I can definitely see why. The people are at the forefront of the derivatives field and the work is truly cutting edge. What’s also interesting though is the range of hobbies that people in this department get involved in outside of work. During my time here, I have met a partner who is a keen marathon runner, a senior associate with a real passion for the guitar, and individuals with interests ranging from politics to drama to golfing. It’s a really interesting group.
The level of responsibility I have has risen since my last post, as we enter a busy ‘update’ season for the structured finance team. I have been given the task of running with several submissions to various listing agents, alongside updating and drafting supplements and amendments to base prospectuses for the issuance of securities, which has been exciting and at times nerve-wracking! My trainer is of the firm belief that the best way to learn is by doing, and I have certainly been testing out that theory.
What’s more, my vocabulary has definitely expanded: I’m quickly becoming familiar with the technical jargon of securities law, abbreviations such as PoA and CLOs which are no longer foreign words, but everyday technical terms which I catch myself using.
It’s not all work, however, as we have our vacation scheme students in the office at the moment. Lots of social events have been organised to welcome them to the firm, and this evening I will be at a bbq hosted on our lovely terrace. Our trainee ball was also an event not to be missed. It was held in the beautiful venue of RSA house, and this setting combined with delicious food and refreshments made it a night to remember. All in all, DSF has been a fantastic experience and one I would highly recommend.
Fiona Joe Sin Yeoh
A&O First Student (Future Trainee)
My A&O First Experience
A&O First gave me a sneak peek into the life of a trainee solicitor at the firm. Even as a potential applicant, A&O has exposed me to high quality training through the Think! Business Challenge and a negotiation exercise to develop my soft skills. Besides that, I was assigned my trainee buddy, David, who helped me understand the various practice areas and day-to-day role of a trainee. I was also given the opportunity to meet many other trainees, associates and partners in various departments who kept in touch with me throughout the year. The support network that I experienced enabled me to feel inclusive in the firm and truly reflects the collaborative and supportive culture that the firm has. Moreover, under the A&O First programme, I had the opportunity to work as the firm’s Campus Executive at UCL, which has allowed me to get to know the Graduate Recruitment team even better.
When it came to my Training Contract application, A&O First helped me to prepare as I participated in webinars and skill sessions. It really helped me with the online application questions and also for the two interviews.
On the Assessment Day itself, I did not have to worry about getting lost on the way to the office as I have already been there numerous times. Seeing familiar faces from Graduate Recruitment and meeting my trainee buddy for coffee afterwards, helped me to relax and enabled me to build rapport quickly with my interviewers. Furthermore, having been in contact with A&O for almost nine months, speaking about why I want to work in A&O has become second nature to me and I was able to articulate my reasons well and support them with my participation in A&O First.
Getting a phone call with my Training Contract offer on Monday morning the week after my interview felt like my whole journey on A&O First ended on a high note. The best part came in terms of drafting countless thank-you-emails to the many people I knew from A&O who have helped me through my application process. I am comforted by the fact that if I were to accept this Training Contract offer, I would already have friends in the firm.
My First Impressions
My name is Jess and I joined A&O as a trainee in September 2014. Since then I’ve completed my first seat in the Banking department and I’m now a couple of months in to my second department, which is the General Securities Group within the International Capital Markets practice.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this department. I researched the capital markets before joining and I remembered some terms, such as the ‘Prospectus Directive’ from the LPC, but besides that, ICM GSG seemed like a whole new world!
The ICM department provided us with a week of intense training at the beginning of the seat, which was a great way to learn the basics of capital markets law and begin to understand the regulatory requirements. It acted as a useful introduction into the type of work we would be doing, such as drafting base prospectuses and running the signing of programme updates, as well as providing an opportunity to meet the other trainees and associates in our teams.
Since then I’ve learnt so much. The general securities group is split into several smaller groups, with one or two partners overseeing each one. The two partners in my group are both called Jonathan, which makes it easy to mix them up every now and again! The group is very welcoming and warm. We often go for team lunches and everyone helps out if someone is particularly busy and. I tend to ask lots of questions about the markets and the trades we are working on, and I’ve found that this is always well received by the associates and partners. My experience is that there is no such thing as a stupid question and the training I’ve received has been fantastic as everyone, my trainer Stephanie in particular, consistently takes the time to explain the mechanics of the deal and our role.
In terms of the work, we focus on setting up trades, updating programmes and helping to publish supplements to trades. This involves numerous stages including drafting documents, submitting documents to the relevant stock exchanges and then running the signings and closings. Trainees get involved in all aspects, and I’ve even had the opportunity to run my own updates, which were challenging but really interesting. There is lots of direct communication with clients and other research tasks to get involved in too. So there is plenty of work to keep you busy!
Speaking of being busy, the work-life balance in my department is really good. The days are busy but you can leave at a reasonable hour most nights. Generally the timetables are set in advance and it’s possible to and manage your own workload accordingly. Obviously some times are busier than others, but that is part of the job and can make it quite exciting! Overall though, there is a general sense that work-life balance is important and you’ll often see people heading off to a spinning or running class for an hour in the middle of the day.
I’ve really enjoyed my first couple of months in this department and I’m eager to learn and get involved in much more over the next few more months! I will keep you posted.
Studied Law at City University, London
I chose to apply to Allen & Overy for three main reasons. Firstly, I found the firm’s culture both friendly and diverse. A&O was always present at the law fairs/recruitment events I attended across London. I was always given the opportunity to meet trainees and members of the Graduate Recruitment team. After which, I became certain I will be training within a collegiate environment. Secondly, being from Jordan, I wanted to work at a firm with a strong presence in the Middle East. A&O’s ability to handle complex transactions in the region distinguished it from others. Opening one of its first international offices in Dubai back in 1978 evidenced the firm’s pioneering presence and experience there. Finally, the Training Contract seemed to be a little more tailored than others I had looked at, and there was more scope to gain exposure to areas that really interest me. At A&O, I was able to tailor my own Training Contract to gain the exposure I want.
I have a genetic condition called Albinism, which has resulted in me being partially sighted. As a result, I need to use magnifiers and have other modifications to my desktop to support me whilst I’m working. After submitting my application for the Winter Vacation Scheme, I was invited for an interview. I disclosed the nature of my visual impairment on my application form, and specified the reasonable adjustments I require. A&O provided everything I asked for. The materials were printed in large font, and extra time was provided.
Since joining A&O, I have been well supported. Working in a fast-paced environment can be daunting at first, but learning to use the resources available, and with the right technology, I found it easy to cope. At A&O, the focus is on the quality of the work and not the speed. Initially, I had my fears that I might be taking longer to complete tasks, but with time, I was reassured that that was not the case. I never felt that anyone here regards my visual impairment as something that could stand in my way. The firm is great when it comes to me finding alternative ways of completing tasks; Documents can always be accessed digitally, and so far, I have not been given a task I could not do.
I am in my third seat and there have been lots of highlights so far. I assisted on several multi-jurisdictional deals in Corporate, attended lots of client meetings in Banking and done interesting research in Arbitration. But for me the deal breaker has been the firm’s culture. Everyone here is so friendly – even at times of stress, people are still a pleasure to work with. You can always ask questions and get the help you need.
Associate, Leveraged Finance
Studied Law at Leicester University
Following my Training Contract, I qualified into Leveraged Finance, which is part of our Banking practice. Leveraged Finance helps companies, particularly Private Equity groups, to raise large volumes of cash to buy companies (amongst other things). As a trainee in this area you are more involved with ancillary documentation, for example, the documents allowing companies to enter into the loans. Now that I’m qualified, I play a more active role in leading the transactions, liaising with counsel in different jurisdictions and making sure that the lenders are comfortable with how they will be repaid – and what they can do if the transaction doesn’t go to plan further down the line.
When I first applied to A&O, I was sure to let them know that I would need some additional support due to a condition I have. I suffered from bone cancer in my teens and had to have my leg amputated. The firm have been very supportive and have been great at letting me know how they could do to support me, but letting me guide them on what I need: that they didn’t want to impose anything on me. For example ,my prosthesis needs maintenance or repair sometimes and that can take me out of the office; the firm has always been very supportive, giving me whatever time I need for this. I remember once I had an emergency appointment which came at a very busy time in our team, but the emphasis was still very much on supporting me – maybe I shouldn’t snap it in future!
A lot of firms stress the value they place on hiring people who have interesting and active lifestyles and A&O is no different in that respect. I love the outdoors and being active: I ski, play football, hike and climb. A&O has a great approach towards inclusion – there are so many different initiatives and other team members are so supportive. I’ve been through some difficult times to get to where I am now and the resilience and positive attitude that experience engenders is something I feel that the firm values. The firm’s ethos is to be the best , and that encompasses being a great place to work and having a strong culture. We know that our clients (and other members of the team) value building relationships and establishing trust with people from all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences, and that means we have to be diverse ourselves. It’s something the firm does really well and I’ve really appreciated that since the day I started.
Studied Pharmacology and completed a PhD at The University of Manchester
During the course of my PhD I reached a point where I’d run out of love for the lab, so I decided to research careers outside of my field and considered where I could use the skills I’d developed. I was attracted to law as an opportunity to apply my research skills to a complex and evolving career. I attended a number of law fair presentations and found out quickly that I could relate to the people I met from A&O – they spoke with passion and also seemed to really enjoy the work.
I think what impressed me most when I first started as a trainee was the sense that I was working with people performing at the highest level. There’s also an appetite to ask questions and to keep finding ways of doing things better; ideas are welcomed no matter what level they come from and so even as a trainee, I know that I can contribute. A&O doesn’t have a hierarchical environment, and so it’s really easy to speak with partners and learn from them.
I’m currently sat in corporate M&A, which is my third seat. I’ve really enjoyed the involvement I’ve had with the clients, from small private companies to large listed companies, and I now have a much better understanding of how a number of different businesses operate. I started my training contract in banking and then moved into intellectual property litigation in my second seat. The breadth of experience has been fantastic and has given me such a great insight into different areas of both the law and A&O.
I’ve received a lot of support from the firm throughout my training. The culture is very open, people across the business are approachable so you can always ask questions – even the ones you think have an obvious answer! – and pick up the phone to someone who can help. There’s a lot of online know-how you can access too, for example, I was recently given the task of putting together the first draft of an asset purchase agreement. I was able to find examples of how to structure the document and advice on when you might include certain provisions based on the client’s business. It means you’re rarely starting from scratch and it’s then down to using your judgement and knowledge of the deal to include the relevant information. As a trainee these resources are invaluable and it means that you can take advantage of the firm’s experience and try to reach a solution independently before discussing with your trainer.
Some of the most challenging work I’ve done so far was in litigation. I had to get up to speed with a complex matter very quickly and understand the fine points of law so that I could prepare for a hearing in a pharmaceutical patent case. I was involved in drafting and collating documentation which would go before the judge, liaising with solicitors for the other party and assisting counsel in their preparations. It was really great to be in the hearing and see the pieces come together.
As a trainee you are usually working on several matters simultaneously so you need to be confident in your prioritisation and organisational skills. A key part of the training process is analysing the changes people have made to your drafting and, for your own development, understanding why those changes have been made. Trainers and associates are always happy to discuss these, which makes the learning process a lot easier.
The best advice I can offer is to make the most of the skills you have picked up along the way but also try to develop new ones, particularly in areas that will make you stand out. Taking on roles that involve co-ordinating a team or organising an event is a great starting point and will pay dividends as a trainee, and beyond.
Studied Law at Cambridge University
I want a career that provides a constant intellectual challenge and allows me to continue to learn and develop a range of skills.
Being a solicitor at Allen & Overy is exactly that. A&O’s scope of work includes commercial, economic, political and international dimensions across a range of industries, which has made both my A&O training contract, and my experience as an associate in the corporate department very varied. As a trainee, I worked on deals and matters involving media, corporate governance, the regulation of the UK’s financial sector, renewable energy, and oil and gas before going on an international secondment to the firm’s Paris office.
A big part of my role, both as a trainee and an associate, is to quickly develop an understanding of our clients’ business: what direction their sector is moving in, what pressures they are facing, how their particular industry is changing. Being able to advise our clients often requires having an understanding of the law as well as being able to analyse how the law can be applied to solve problems, resolve situations or capitalise on opportunities particular to their industry.
As a trainee I worked very closely with a supervisor in each seat who spent a lot of time supporting and guiding me. Alongside that, each department provides a variety of training sessions, such as fortnightly team meetings or presentations of recent deals and transactions, where experts in a particular field provide updates on recent legal and commercial developments. [These training sessions and meetings also give us an insight into the experience of the firm’s network and who we could contact for advice on a particular issue ; in a global firm such as A&O that person could be sitting at the desk next to yours, in another department or on the other side of the world.]
During my training contract I was given the opportunity to spend 6 months’ on an international secondment to A&O’s Paris office, working in the Banking and Project Finance department[, which was an area I’d worked in as a trainee in London]. I was living in Paris, acting mostly for French banks and companies, providing advice and assistance on English law governed transactions. As a trainee, this could include advising on points of law and working closely with our clients and the deal team to ensure that the transaction process [from the initial negotiation of the legal documents to the signing of these documents] is managed efficiently. As a fourth seat trainee, I was able to take on more substantive work and so, from a development perspective, my time in Paris definitely pushed me to learn new skills and competencies.
A&O takes great care of its secondees while on international secondment. I was able to live in a centrally located apartment 10 minutes from the office and was given weekly language lessons before and during my secondment. My French wasn’t great before I went, and whilst I woudn’t now say I’m fluent, I definitely saw an improvement!
I had a great time living and working in Paris and was able to explore the museums, galleries and enjoy the French culture, while also developing an understanding of A&O’s wider global network. As one of a number of international secondees based in Paris, I developed strong friendships with the other trainees and associates based in Paris and I am still in contact with colleagues I met whilst there.
For me, working and living in Paris was a highlight of my training contract. It was fantastic to live and work in such a vibrant European city, and it’s definitely something I’d recommend to anyone joining A&O.
Associate, Banking, Financial and Regulatory Litigation
Studied a Bachelor of International Studies and a Bachelor of Laws at University of New South Wales.
I worked in another firm in Sydney, Australia for three years before I began to get itchy feet and wanted to experience something new; relocating to the UK and working in a London firm was a perfect opportunity to do something new. As soon as I got to know A&O I felt at home – the firm is so down to earth and I immediately felt it was a good fit for me.
My experience as a gay man – and one who is very much out and proud – has been unbelievable. I expected the firm to be quite conservative but thats simply not been the case. I’ve felt nothing but warmth from my colleagues and completely accepted for who I am.
When I arrived here the LGBT network, A&Out, was languishing a little so I have been heavily involved in the rebranding of our network along with other members and the diversity & inclusion team. Some of the best advocates for change are those outside the LGBT community; if you can get them supporting LGBT and other diversity issues then you can make better progress quickly. So, I have worked closely with the network and the D&I senior manager to establish a place for allies in the network, to show support for A&Out and LGBT colleagues.
We had Ben Cohen, the former England rugby star and leading campaigner for LGBT inclusion, at our A&Out launch event. We’ve also had support from Wim Dejonghe, the new senior partner, who, through a broadcast to the whole firm spoke about our global focus and commitment to our LGBT community through A&O’s global diversity strategy. It states that our LGBT colleagues should feel welcome, know that they are valued and be confident that they will not be excluded or held back in any way. Whether you identify as LGBT or not it is recognised that we are all responsible for making this happen.
Having supported the relaunch of the network, I’m now looking at ways of supporting other LGBT colleagues in our offices around the world.
The firm is a real champion of diversity and inclusion. A&O also values individuality, so when you come to work you are expected to be yourself and the culture here is supportive of that aim. A&Out raises the profile of LGBT lawyers, so that people can choose to be open about who they are when they join the firm. When entering the corporate world, as much as 40% of LGBT students don’t feel they can talk openly about who they are and that is simply not the culture here at A&O.
Our A&O Together event recently was attended by over 250 people from around the firm and everyone was given a mug carrying the message ‘I support my LGBT colleagues’. If just one of those is on a partner’s desk during an office tour it will send a powerful message to any prospective trainee that the environment here is diverse and inclusive.
Of course, this is still a law firm, and I have a job to do, so all these activities fit in around a demanding workload, but ultimately I get a lot of encouragement to drive these initiatives.
Studied at Law at Westminster University
My first interaction with A&O was when I attended a workshop to introduce people to City careers. Initially I was sceptical about whether a job in the City was right for me as I have a genetic condition that means I’m subject to blackouts, severe joint pain and bone fractures. But I got talking to some people from the firm’s HR team and they reassured me that this shouldn’t deter me from applying. They were very positive and helped me to see that both the firm and I could adapt to accommodate my needs.
I’ve been given an electronic desk so that I can work standing up when I need to, and an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. If I need to I can work from home, for example there have been times when I was on my way to work and unable to get a seat on the train, which can be problematic for me as standing for long periods may cause a blackout. I got off the train and called my supervisor to let them know that I was going to work from home and they were fine with it. I’ve always found the firm to be flexible when it comes to my condition.
When I started the LPC, the firm was really proactive, introducing me to occupational health and health and safety professionals to make sure that I was getting everything I needed, and also that they understood how they could help me.
Everyone has always been very supportive. When I joined A&O, everyone in my team knew about my illness so that they could help me if I ever needed it. I’m in my third seat now and in my team only my trainer and my PA know about my condition. It’s certainly not seen as an issue in my work and when I have had a problem – like when I had a series of faints during my second seat – I’ve received a lot of support and kindness.
Having a disability gives you a different perspective and different perspectives are what this firm is all about. A&O has been very open-minded to disability and I think it’s important for disabled people to have the same level of open-mindedness when looking at the firm. It’s easy to discount yourself and to imagine problems that simply aren’t there. The firm is always looking for people who can bring something new – different ideas, different experiences.
I’m so glad I made the decision to apply. It’s given me so much confidence in my own abilities and I’ve learned and grown so much as a professional. The training has been incredible and I’m really looking forward to continuing that journey, through my fourth seat placement at an investment bank and then as a qualified solicitor.
Studied at Law at Leeds University
The A&O LPC (MA with Business) is an accelerated course; you do the full LPC and two thirds of a Masters in Business in six months. By virtue of the course being so short, this makes it more intense than undergraduate study, but it also helps to get you in the right frame of mind before joining the firm. The MA is initially split into two modules; Business Finance and Business Strategy, both of which allow you to gain a greater understanding of commercial issues a client may face.
The finance part covers funding structures, ways of raising finance and the various financial analyses and tools that you can use to understand how a company is performing, which provides an interesting perspective. For our assignment, we looked at two major pharmaceutical companies and compared their financials in order to produce a comparative analysis. For the strategy aspect, we had to conduct an in-depth SWOT analysis of a company of our choosing. ; This helps you to understand how to research and learn about an industry sector and provides a framework for focusing on an individual client’s commercial concerns. The final part of the MA, a Business Intelligence Project, is completed when you are a trainee, usually in your third seat.
The LPC is made up of the same core modules that you would do anywhere, but as we used A&O precedents during seminars, this helpfully shows what A&O documents look like and how to style them. You study at BPP Law School in Holborn and you have regular contact sessions with the firm during the LPC.. There were presentations on seat choice, the structure of the Training Contract, and frequent social events, which gave an opportunity to meet people at various levels who were currently at the firm. . As well as this, our intake set up a group on social media so we could arrange to do things outside of class.
It’s great to be able to get to know your future colleagues during the LPC.;it means you have a support network in place from your first day at the firm, and you will have already forged a number of strong friendships.
My advice about the LPC would be to treat it like a job from the outset. It’s a 12-month course condensed into six, so it is hard work, but it’s good to cultivate those habits early.
As for seat choices, I’d recommend to keep an open mind, and not to pigeonhole yourself into one type of practice area or to dismiss another. There’s so much variety and it’s best to go into it just wanting to learn and soak up every bit of knowledge that you can. Reaching this stage takes a long time but those last six months really fly by so make the most of the time and use it to prepare for your Training Contract.
Studied at Law at Leeds University
I came to the firm via an unusual route. I trained at another City firm and had started my career there, then moved in-house at Barclays before returning to practice with A&O. In that time, law in general has changed immeasurably. Lawyers used to be very highly specialised, but increasingly clients want a much more holistic view of law; they want to know about employment, data protection, regulatory, IP, and not just in the UK but internationally, and about how all those elements affect their global business. So there are more opportunities to diversify as a professional and enjoy a more wide-ranging career.
At the same time the working environment at A&O has also evolved. Any fee earner can now work flexibly thanks to our I-flex programme, which means that you have a lot more control over your diary. You have to let people know where you, for example, working from home, but it means you can have a lot of flexibility. For me, it allows me to leave early and see my children and then log back on later from home.
For trainees there is still a requirement to be in the office because they need that intensive learning environment, as well as the exposure to other professionals, but training is also much more sophisticated these days. Trainees are such an integral part of our deal teams and they are given so much responsibility and client exposure.
I joined the firm more than 10 years ago and even now I’m regularly surprised by the sheer quality of the people at the junior end of our business. They are so knowledgeable and articulate, and they present with such authority and confidence, but also without any complacency.
I have responsibility for our pro bono clinic so I’m very much involved with the trainees who staff it and I review the advice they give. It’s wonderful experience for them as it takes them into areas of law that lie outside our usual work but it’s also great for them to develop their soft skills – relationship building, listening, empathy.
I think to be a trainee here you really have to be motivated and hungry for experience. Get past any reticence you feel early so that you can dive into the job – that way you will get more interesting work and you’ll get more out of each seat. And be prepared to make mistakes – that’s how you learn.
When it comes to your application, you don’t have to be super-human. I had a trainee whose only previous experience was working in a shoe shop, but she showed that she had learned about customer service, relationship building and merchandising; it’s about showing what you’ve reflected on your experiences and learned from them.
Studied Liberal Arts at Yale then Architecture and Urban Design at Cambridge University
I applied for the winter vacation scheme and was on the programme in December 2015. It was such a valuable two weeks for me as a student coming from a non-law background, because I wanted to get some hands-on experience of what a career in the legal profession would look like, and also the culture of a large firm.
I had done other vacation schemes and open days but the A&O scheme stood out for two reasons: firstly, I learned so much about the industry and secondly, it was so much fun. I sat with a senior associate in Corporate Public M&A, observed his work, sat in on client calls and was able to complete some work which one of the trainees had been focussing on. I actually worked on a deal that I have since read about in the FT, so it was really exciting to know that would happen even at a junior level!
The scheme also includes some skills training and a client pitch exercise which you complete in teams. This was really interesting as it gave me an insight into the profession which I’d never really thought of before.
What surprised me most was the way everyone made time for me – on the pitch exercise I asked for help from at least six people and they were all happy to take the time to explain things to me and offer their support. I had expected people to be too busy for that, but they always took the time, which made such a difference.
Sitting in on a client conference call I was struck by how the A&O lawyers were so professional and efficient. If the client had a question, they would mute the phone, have a quick discussion and then get back on to provide an answer, or offer advice.
The scheme gave me a really good chance to see day-to-day life at the firm, and I especially valued the lunch I had with my trainee buddy; everyone is assigned a buddy and mine was very great. We were very well matched – she didn’t have a law background either – and I could ask her all the questions that I might not want to put to a supervisor, for example why she joined the firm, whether those reasons had been validated by experience, where she wanted to qualify. I learned so much from her.
When it comes to interview, it’s easy to try to fit into a perceived mould but I’d advise candidates to be themselves. The firm’s not looking for clones but for independent thought, different backgrounds and perspectives that will bring something new to what they can offer.