Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Vinson & Elkins LLP

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Vinson & Elkins LLP

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘Open, friendly and non-hierarchical culture’; ‘top-quality work in a small office’; ‘flexibility to work for lots of different lawyers’; ‘I felt incredibly comfortable during my vacation scheme and liked the fact that everyone in the office seemed to know each other and be very approachable’

Best thing about the firm? ‘Interesting work and supportive colleagues’; ‘I feel like a valued member of the team’; ‘friendly and welcoming environment’; ‘quality of work’; ‘colleagues are willing to take the time to train you’; ‘energy focus and international work’; ‘in-depth industry knowledge’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Rigidity when it comes to assigning work to people you know rather than to distribute work evenly. This means some people are constantly snowed under while others have nothing to do’; ‘work/life balance’; ‘occasional lack of resources due to its small size’

Best moment? ‘Receiving a thorough and thoughtful appraisal’; ‘seeing a deal from start to finish’; ‘working on a rather intense M&A deal where I got to have a first run at some of the draft agreements’; ‘having a lot of client contact in meetings and attending client dinners’; ‘being invited to the annual arbitration ball and the construction lunch’; ‘six month secondment to Houston office’

Worst moment? ‘Being told that the admin work I did on a case all by myself was unnecessary’; ‘every single all-nighter I had to do (which, luckily, have not been many)’; ‘a particularly busy period’; ‘feeling overwhelmed with my workload’; ‘occasionally having to cancel plans with friends’

The Lex 100 verdict on Vinson & Elkins LLP

The firm: Vinson & Elkins’ London office opened in 1974, making it one of the oldest of any US firm. The firm has particular strength in oil and gas, energy projects and global telecoms deals, and advises corporates, private equity investors, service providers and financial institutions. Vinson & Elkins’ network of offices is spread across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

The deals: Advised STAR Rafineri A.S. a subsidiary of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, and its sponsors on the financing and development of a US$5.65 billion greenfield oil refinery in Turkey on the Aegean Sea; advised HTA Group Ltd on its US$600 million issuance of senior high yield notes, in connection with its pan-African portfolio of telecoms assets; advised The Panama Canal Authority in relation to the construction and engineering aspects of the £3.4 billion Panama Canal Expansion Program in Panama; advised a consortium consisting of Africa Oil Corporation, Delonex and Vitol Group in relation to the successfully signed US$1.4 billion acquisition of a 50% ownership interest in Petrobras Oil and Gas B.V.; advised Goldman Sachs on the acquisition of a portfolio of finance assets secured on shipping vessels from Oakhill Capital and Varde Partners.

The clients: Equinor; Helios Towers; KKR; Macquarie; Saipem; Saudi Aramco; SOCAR; TPG Sixth Street Partners; Vitol Group.

The star performers:
(Top-ranking departments according to The Legal 500 – see legal500.com for more details) Corporate tax; International arbitration; M&A: Upper mid-market and premium deals, £250m+; Oil and gas

The verdict

Trainees feel comfortable at Vinson & Elkins as it’s ‘very open, friendly and non-hierarchical’. Renowned for its ‘international work’, trainees were impressed by the ‘predominantly international client base and the firm’s expertise in energy and construction’. Recruits emphasised that there is ‘no hand-holding’, noting that in comparison to similar US firms ‘it is more flexible and you have to be much more proactive and responsible for your own workload’. The firm is a Lex 100 Winner for salary, approachability and job satisfaction. The ‘high-level work’ trainees perform doesn’t go unnoticed either, as many were pleased that their ‘work is appreciated and valued by fee-earners’. Although the ‘office is much smaller than most international City firms, the work is equal’. This does, however, sometimes create an ‘unpredictable workflow’ and there were some concerns over the ‘structure of the training programme’. However, ‘the enthusiasm with which people go about their work’ was welcomed by new recruits, who appreciated working with supportive colleagues who will ‘take the time to explain the context of the work to you’. As many thrived off responsibility, it is unsurprising that ‘attending a one-month hearing in the US’ and ‘helping draft witness statements’ were best moments. Comparatively ‘balancing multiple last-minute deadlines’ worried some respondents, while others were frustrated by the rare occasions where you ‘miss out on social events with friends’. Vinson & Elkins also entices trainees with international seats and ‘the opportunity to lead on pro bono work’. To benefit from high-value international work in a ‘friendly environment’, apply to Vinson & Elkins.

Life as a trainee… Louise Willneff, trainee, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Louise Willneff, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Departments to date: Energy, transactions and projects; international disputes

University: University of St Andrew’s

Degree: International Relations and Anthropology, first-class

How does the summer vacation placement programme link into the training contract process? The summer vacation scheme is an integral part of the recruitment process at Vinson & Elkins. In fact, almost all trainees have been recruited this way. The London office is fairly small, so it is crucial we get to know a potential trainee over the course of a week – but more importantly, that vacation scheme students get to know the lawyers they might be working with. All students are fully integrated into the normal workflow during their time at the firm. They are seen as members of the team, and will be assigned real and exciting work. The students also get to experience the social side of Vinson & Elkins, as various lunches and drinks are held throughout the week. And sometimes, they get to join in a soft ball game in Regent’s Park!

How is the training programme structured at Vinson & Elkins? The training programme has recently been revamped and a new structure was introduced last summer. The first year is now rotational – trainees sit in two different departments for six months each and get most of their work that way. Second-years are on a non-rotational system, which means they can ‘float’ between departments and work anywhere. This ‘best-of-both-worlds’ approach allows trainees to ease into the firm’s structure, while second-years can stay on cases/deals and work with the department they want to qualify into. Trainees also get the chance to go on international secondments, and in the past have been to the firm’s offices in Tokyo, Houston, Hong Kong and Dubai.

What does a typical day as a trainee at Vinson & Elkins consist of? I am currently sitting in the international disputes department so my day usually consists of helping with drafting pleadings and witness statements for court or arbitration hearing submissions, collecting documents and preparing bundles, and making sure that we meet the submission deadlines. Recently, I also got involved in a pro bono matter concerning a large corruption case in an African country, so yesterday I carried out research on international anti-corruption safeguards.

How much involvement do trainees have in the deals and transactions they are assisting on at Vinson & Elkins? Trainees are afforded a great deal of responsibility. Generally speaking, each case or deal is assigned at least one trainee as an integral part of the team. Associates and partners really expect trainees to stay on top of their game, take initiative and be reliable. This means a very steep learning curve from the get-go, but it is also incredibly exciting as we get to interact with clients from day one, help with drafting contracts or pleadings and stay on top of deadlines. Personally, I have attended various client meetings or participated in conferences and industry events.

What is the culture like at Vinson & Elkins? The culture is extremely friendly and one can definitely feel the firm’s Texan influence in London. All members of staff, from support to partners, interact on a daily basis – especially when it is someone’s birthday. Among the trainees, the culture is collegiate rather than competitive and we try to be supportive. Hours can definitely be quite long but there is a great sense of camaraderie. In the international disputes department, juniors often eat dinner together, and there are always plenty of social events going on which provide a nice break from the intense work schedule. We also have a social committee which has organised Game of Thrones or Love Island screenings and various pub quizzes in the past.

About the firm

Training principal: Andrew Nealon

Managing partner: Alex Msimang

Other offices: Austin, Beijing, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston, New York, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Taipei, Tokyo and Washington.

Who we are: Vinson & Elkins is a leading US-headquartered global law firm with approximately 650 lawyers located in 13 offices across the globe.

What we do: Vinson & Elkins advises clients in the sector’s most complex transactions, projects and disputes. We have extensive experience throughout the energy industry value chain: exploration, production, transportation, refining and marketing, petrochemicals, power and cogeneration, environmental, and regulation – in all major energy hubs and energy markets.

What we’re looking for: We are looking to recruit ambitious individuals with exceptional academic results (2(1) degree minimum and at least AAB at A-level or equivalent), sound commercial awareness and rounded personalities. The ability to think laterally and creatively is essential, as is a need for common sense and a willingness to take the initiative. Foreign language skills are an asset, but by no means a requirement.

What you’ll do: Vinson & Elkins operates a non-rotational training system and trainees work across our practice areas throughout their two years. This means that while trainees share offices with more senior lawyers and physically change where they sit every six months, they are available to receive work from all departments (and all our offices) at the same time.

Perks: Medical insurance, dental insurance, travel insurance, life insurance, Simply Health cash plan, subsidised gym membership, access to private GPs, employee assistance programme, pension and interest-free season ticket loan.

Sponsorship: We pay GDL and LPC fees and provide a stipend of £8,000 per annum whilst studying the GDL and LPC.