Written by Sana Ayub who is an Associate in the Technology Transactions Group (TTG) and a Cambridge alumni.
When it came to choosing a law firm at which to complete my training contract, I had a ‘wish list’: I wanted great clients, perhaps a precocious amount of responsibility, and the collegiate atmosphere that I had grown so accustomed to during my time at Magdalene, Cambridge. I also didn’t want to sacrifice so much of my free time that I would be unable to appreciate everything else that the City had to offer.
I had assumed that this set of priorities would factor out any and all U.S. firms, which often have a reputation for the most intensive hours and a cut-throat culture. However, Morrison & Foerster had a stellar U.S. reputation coupled with a relaxed, West Coast vibe, which is hard to find in the City. This combination of working for a renowned San Francisco-headquartered firm in its smaller London office allows trainees to gain early exposure to world-class clients, increase contact with partners, and work in small, focused teams which harbour a truly collaborative, rather than competitive, environment. Working for major corporations on high-profile matters sometimes means unpredictable hours. Despite that, I have still managed to fully enjoy London life, and feel that I am able to have a healthier work/life balance than friends who work at other leading firms.
While the firm is perhaps best known for its work in the technology and life sciences sectors, its London office has a wide range of capabilities, with strong practices in areas such as corporate, litigation, private placements, capital markets, finance, and insolvency and restructuring. The firm places an emphasis on cross-departmental co-operation, which means that clients don’t get assigned to a particular partner, but are rather seen as clients of the firm as a whole. This helps to foster a genuine sense of cohesion across both offices and practice groups.
The firm’s London office takes on a very small number of trainees – around three or four per year, depending on business need – which means that the training contracts are competitive, but by no means unattainable for bright and focused candidates. The small intake means that you build close relationships with the other trainees, and there’s no chance of getting lost in a sea of faces – everybody knows you from day one (yes, even the partners), and goes out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome. Under the firm’s rotational training contract, trainees can undertake up to four different six-month placements, known as ‘seats’, with the possibility of doing a seat in one of our international offices. The small office and the big-ticket clients together present a unique opportunity for trainees to get involved in tasks that are otherwise reserved for associates at other firms. While proofing and bundling seemed to be the bread and butter of my trainee friends at other firms, I found myself running the due diligence aspects of three separate M&A deals within my first few months in the corporate department. This really tested my project management skills, as I was required to co-ordinate with different departments and offices, draft due diligence reports, keep my superiors up-to-date and participate in regular client calls.
Once I had proven myself to be a safe pair of hands, I was trusted to manage my own work and was given less mandatory supervision. I progressed through my seats and gained more experience, becoming more comfortable with drafting and negotiating a range of commercial documents, and leading both internal and external client calls. I was also given my own pro bono clients to run with, which I retained during the course of my training contract, and which now regularly return to me with additional work. The firm has a strong commitment to pro bono work, which is reflected by the fact that pro bono hours count towards billable targets.
While the firm affords its trainees a high level of trust and responsibility, it also ensures that they are exceptionally well supported. Regular training sessions are hosted internally, ensuring that trainees are constantly developing and maintaining the highest professional standards. On a more informal level, the partners operate very much on an open-door policy, and both partners and associates alike are known to be approachable and friendly.
All in all, Morrison & Foerster provides its trainees and juniors with an unrivalled opportunity to be in the thick of the action from the get-go – to feel like a valued member of a team from the moment you set foot in the office, and to learn from some of the most knowledgeable, yet approachable, practitioners in the industry. For those who don’t shy away from responsibility, this is a U.S. firm that is cut from a different cloth – here, there are no sharp elbows; only sharp minds. And, if nothing else cinches it for you, our games room might, which comes complete with air hockey, pool, table tennis and foosball facilities!