Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Vinson & Elkins RLLP

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

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘The vacation scheme is unique in the sense that it is a mock week as a trainee’; ‘for its focus on the energy industry’; ‘the size of the firm and the non-rotational training contract’; ‘the type of work we do; the people that work here and the work environment (open-door policy, etc)’; ‘the oil and gas work’

Best thing about the firm? ‘Strong US presence which assists in bringing in top-quality work but London is not a satellite office’; ‘its culture of open doors and collegiality’; ‘the people are very friendly and supportive’; ‘the lawyers are really good at assessing your work and figuring out when to push you and trust you with bigger, more significant tasks’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Some of the departments have a slightly hierarchical nature’; ‘the hours and the unstructured TC approach’; ‘there are fewer trainees so when it’s busy you have to be around to cover’; ‘the limited HR support for trainees and lawyers’; ‘the free snack cupboard doesn’t open until 6pm’; ‘the size of the office and the issues around space’

Best moment? ‘Seeing several deals through from start to finish’, ‘reflecting on my first seat and realising how much I have improved. The learning curve is extremely steep at this firm which is very rewarding’; ‘being able to take ownership of my workstreams on a deal and feel like I was a valued member of the team’

Worst moment? ‘Learning how to juggle competing workloads’; ‘all-nighters’; ‘discovering I’d made a significant mistake late at night. The team were very supportive though and we dealt with it without lots of finger pointing’; ‘a long run of extremely late nights’; ‘finding out that the free snack cupboard doesn’t open until 6pm’

The Lex 100 verdict on Vinson & Elkins RLLP

The firm: Vinson & Elkins’ London office opened in 1974, making it one of the oldest of any US firm. Its clients are predominantly in the energy, finance and infrastructure sectors and the London office specialises in M&A, private equity and special situations, construction, project development and finance, international arbitration and litigation, corporate and structured finance and tax.

The clients: Equinor; Saudi Aramco; SOCAR; Helios Investment Partners (including Helios Towers Africa); TPG Sixth Street Partners; KKR; Macquarie; Saipem; Apollo.

The deals: Advised STAR Rafineri AS, a subsidiary of the state oil company of the Azerbaijan Republic, and its sponsors on the financing and development of a US$5.65bn greenfield oil refinery in Turkey on the Aegean Sea; advised The Panama Canal Authority in relation to the construction and engineering aspects of the £3.4bn Panama Canal Expansion Program in Panama; advised Africa Oil Corporation in relation to its US$1.4bn acquisition (and related financing) of a 50% ownership interest in Petrobras Oil and Gas BV; advised Goldman Sachs on the acquisition of a portfolio of finance assets secured on shipping vessels from Oakhill Capital and Varde Partners; advised Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund and its portfolio company, Empark, on the group’s €575m high-yield issuance and €100m super senior revolving credit Facility.

The verdict

Recruits at Vinson & Elkins have the benefit of ‘working in a small office, but still being part of a big American firm’. By no means just a satellite office, London trainees undertake work which is ‘complex and challenging – this firm does not do straightforward transactions’. The V&E training contract is non-rotational, which means that ‘often you end up doing work from all over the firm even though you are technically sat in one particular department’. Thanks to the small cohort, trainees benefit from ‘more acknowledgement of our work and contact time with all members of the team, from associates to counsel to partners’ who ‘make time to develop you as a lawyer’. Four Lex 100 Winner awards have been secured by Vinson & Elkins, among which are job satisfaction and international secondments. Elaborating on the latter, respondents particularly enjoyed seats in the Houston and Dubai offices. Training is ‘less structured,’ meaning that ‘you have to be more outgoing, confident and seek out work for yourself’. The upside of this proactive approach is that trainees ‘tend to do work more likely to be undertaken by first or second year associates in other firms’. The downside is that ‘workloads can be uneven’. Another pitfall is that a ‘lack of support staff late at night can leave you doing time-consuming printing jobs or other administrative tasks’. Although there can be long nights at the office, on the whole trainees consider ‘the work challenging enough to to justify the hours when it gets tough’. Research Vinson & Elkins if you want to be ‘surrounded by lawyers that are excellent at their job but are also fun, interesting people’.

Life as a trainee… Afzaal Abidi, trainee, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Afzaal Abidi, Vinson & Elkins RLLP

Departments to date: Complex Commercial Litigation; Energy Transactions and Projects

University: University of Nottingham University of Kent

Degree: Senior Status LLB, 2(1), American Studies, 1st

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, with most, if not all, of our trainees being hired through the scheme. The firm prides itself on its collegiality; finding the right fit in terms of culture is therefore vitally important, and the vacation scheme provides an invaluable opportunity to do so. More importantly, the scheme gives participants the chance to establish whether or not the firm is right for them. There are numerous opportunities to do so right from the get go, with participants quickly being engaged on substantive client work across different departments, and regular drinks events and lunches interspersed throughout the week.

How is the training programme structured at Vinson & Elkins?
The unique structure of Vinson & Elkins’ training programme was, for me, one of the strongest draws. The first year is structured much like the ‘traditional’ training contract – trainees sit in two different departments for six months each, working only for their respective department. Things get a bit more interesting in the second year; trainees are non-rotational, and may pick up or carry forward the work that most interests them. This is a fantastic opportunity to tailor your training contract, and offers the chance to develop a deeper understanding of each practice area as you experience deals and disputes from cradle to grave. International secondments are also available to those who express interest, with trainees having been seconded to the firm’s Houston, Tokyo and Dubai offices in the past.

What does a typical day as a trainee at Vinson & Elkins consist of?
I am currently sat in energy transactions and projects, where our lawyers are equally at home advising across project development, project finance or energy M&A matters. As such, the work is incredibly varied; an M&A deal may see me liaising with counsel in Equatorial Guinea in relation to the acquisition of offshore exploration and production assets, whereas projects work may involve drafting contracts for the engineering and construction of a major waterways project in Central America. Recently I’ve been getting involved with the firm’s diversity council, too – we’ve got some really exciting initiatives on the horizon, so keep your eyes peeled!

How much involvement do trainees have in the deals and transactions they are assisting on at Vinson & Elkins?
Our deals and disputes are generally staffed in a lean fashion, which means that trainees play an integral role in each team, and are actively encouraged to take on meaningful work. This could be anything from drafting documents, conducting research, attending meetings or interacting with clients. It’s exciting to feel like you’re making a real contribution, and to have the opportunity to work closely with everyone from associates to partners. The learning curve can be steep at times, but I’ve never felt unsupported, and I’ve enjoyed getting progressively more responsibility as I’ve advanced through each seat.

What is the culture like at Vinson & Elkins?
We’ve got the best of both worlds at Vinson & Elkins: the opportunity to get involved in multi-jurisdictional deals and disputes with some of the best lawyers in the market, coupled with the collegiality and intimacy of a smaller office. It’s clear to see how our Texan roots have shaped the firm’s values; the sense of community and support are apparent as soon as you set foot into the office. Everyone’s down to earth, and it’s a very open environment, with associates and partners always willing to take time out to talk through complex issues or walk you through their work. Hours can be long, but there’s a fantastic sense of camaraderie, and people are always appreciative of the time you put in. There are plenty of opportunities to blow off steam, too, with social events held throughout the year, and of course the famed Christmas party. Last year we booked out Nobu, after which most of the firm took over the local karaoke bar – where things probably went on longer than they should have done!

About the firm

Training principal: Andrew Nealon

Managing partner: Alex Msimang

Other offices: Austin, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston (Head Office), London, New York, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Tokyo, Washington.

Who we are: Vinson & Elkins is a leading US-based international law firm with more than 700 lawyers located in 12 cities across the globe.

What we do: Vinson & Elkins advises clients that are predominantly in the energy, finance and infrastructure sectors and the London office specialises in M&A, private equity and special situations, construction, project development and finance, international arbitration and litigation, corporate and structured finance and tax.

What we’re looking for: We are looking to recruit ambitious individuals with exceptional academic results, 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.

What you’ll do: The firm operates a partially non-rotational training system; during their first year trainees work primarily within the departments in which they sit and during their second year trainees work across all practice areas and have more freedom to tailor their training.

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

Sponsorship: We pay GDL and LPC fees and stipends of £8,000 per annum where eligible.

Diversity and inclusion

 Louise Woods
Partner, Complex Commercial Litigation (CCL)
V&E Diversity Council Co-Office Lead
Co-Chair of London Women’s Initiative
CCL Talent Lead

At V&E, our inclusion commitment starts with our chairman, Mark Kelly and managing partner, Scott Wolfe, who oversee our firmwide diversity and inclusion initiatives. I am one of the partners who hold an office lead role for a number of the firm’s diversity initiatives to ensure participation and progress in London, as I believe strongly in the work we are doing in the effort to achieve equality — inclusive of diverse interests, backgrounds, perspectives, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, and physical ability.

We recognise that being a more diverse firm with a truly inclusive culture will help drive our long-term success, both in retaining our top talent and in serving our clients’ needs. We have made most progress in London with our entry level trainee recruitment over recent years and we want our partnership to one day look like our incoming trainee cohorts, but that is not achievable overnight. We are committed to sustaining our focus on diversity and, in particular, the retention of our diverse lawyers and to do so we must ensure our initiatives permeate our structure, policies and programmes.

As a trainee in London you have access to, and the opportunity to be involved in, the majority of our programming. We have an active Diversity Council you could join who are responsible for the running of our annual diversity focused events, our schools outreach mentoring programme (launching in the autumn of 2020) and our book club which is focused on thought-provoking texts designed to educate and promote frank and honest discussions with colleagues. I also co-chair the Women’s Initiative in London which works to create and sustain a variety of programmes that support the recruitment and retention of our women lawyers, nurture their development, and promote their advancement to all levels of leadership within the firm. The initiative benefits all of our lawyers as the programming includes business development training, mentoring programmes, and family-friendly initiatives. Other V&E diversity initiatives include our LGBTQ+ alliance and our new parent mentoring programme, which have both seen a rise in members in our London office.

We are determined to continue our efforts with our entry level recruitment. Our participation in diversity-focused career fairs and recruiting programmes allows us to identify top-notch legal talent. We hope you too will make the time in your schedules to attend and look forward to meeting you, even if only in a virtual forum this year!

Louise

For further information on V&E’s commitment to equality please see our dedicated page at https://www.velaw.com/about-us/diversity-inclusion.