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Working as a lawyer at a global law firm

London senior partner Sean Connolly introduces the firm and explains why you might want to join it
Where to work

Today, global law firm Mayer Brown has 21 offices across Asia, Europe and the US and an association with one of the largest law firms in Brazil, Tauil & Chequer Advogados.

It's also a law firm with history. The three main legacy law firms that make Mayer Brown today can each trace their roots back to the late 19th century.

In 2002, a shared desire for an international presence united UK firm Rowe & Maw and US firm Mayer Brown & Platt (as it was then known). In 2008, Mayer Brown finalised another huge merger with the largest law firm in Asia - Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM).

As a trainee in the London office, you could find yourself working on transatlantic matters as varied as corporate finance, construction, insurance, energy & natural resources, or dispute resolution.

According to Sean Connolly, senior partner in London, the kind of global reach Mayer Brown offers is important for today's top law firms - "it's what the clients are looking for." As a trainee at Mayer Brown your clients will be some of the world's biggest corporations - the firm's client list includes companies in the FTSE 100 and Fortune 500.

And if you fancy yourself as a finance buff, then around half of the world's largest banks are clients of the firm. This kind of high-profile work is a core part of what lawyers at Mayer Brown do.

"It's very exciting to work with clients that are front page news. They're absolutely integral to the world's economy," says Sean. Recently, Mayer Brown real estate lawyers advised the Silvertown Partnership on the high-profile £1.5 billion regeneration of Silvertown Quays in Docklands.

It's not all about law

Their work has a strong international dimension, as they advise clients on cross-border matters, and international travel is part of working life here.

Offering legal advice to such huge clients is about understanding the business challenges they face, as well as the legal nitty gritty.

"We aspire to be our clients' trusted advisors," explains Sean. He adds, "it's very important trainees think about the commercial realities of their advice as well as understand black letter law."

It's about knowing how you can help your clients achieve their objectives, while making sure they follow legal procedures correctly.

For example, when Mayer Brown lawyers advised Genel Energy on its $4.2 billion (£2.7 billion) merger with Vallares, they helped the oil and gas company research Vallares before proceeding with the merger to establish whether the deal was the right business decision for the company.

For Sean, Mayer Brown is a firm you join "because you want that international dimension." Recently, Mayer Brown has made international and client secondments a key feature of its training contract.

There are seats available in Hong Kong, New York and Paris, and there are also opportunities for travel abroad as you progress as an associate. "I've been fortunate to have been able to travel and work all over the world during my career," says Sean. "It really has been a tremendous adventure."

It goes without saying that working at Mayer Brown, and at any other international law firm, you'll need a decent suitcase and a good playlist on your iPhone.

Challenging expectations

When it comes to selecting trainees, Sean insists that there is no Mayer Brown "type". He uses his own background as an example: "I grew up in the East End of London. My father was a construction worker and my mother was a nurse."

Sean joined Rowe & Maw in 1982 and became partner there in 1989, eventually becoming part of the team that co-ordinated Rowe & Maw's merger with Mayer Brown & Platt, and subsequently the Asian firm JSM. Sean has served on the global management committee for ten years, and in 2007 was made Mayer Brown London's senior partner.

"Social mobility is a matter which is really close to my heart," Sean explains. "When I first worked in the City there were very few people from working class backgrounds who became law firm partners. Now that picture is very different."

While things have changed since Sean qualified as a lawyer, he admits, "the legal profession is still challenged when it comes to social mobility and diversity. We're making progress, though, and I would really encourage all students to look to the City firms."

Nurturing talent

Mayer Brown London has an American-style can-do attitude towards clients coupled with a supportive culture and approach within the office that's very English.

"At Mayer Brown London, training continues at every level in the organisation," explains Sean. "It's very important that you continually develop - whether it's legal, business or professional skills."

Even though he's now at a very senior level, Sean is still open to professional development: "In 2011, I spent a week at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford on their Strategic Leadership Programme."

In addition, Mayer Brown is known for its tight-knit teams and its friendliness, and for Sean, being in this kind of environment is important to succeeding in the legal profession.

"At Mayer Brown, we're a collegiate firm and we look after our people well." He adds: "One of the reasons I've been at the firm for 30 years is because the lawyers at Mayer Brown are a great bunch of people to work with."

Asked if he has any final thoughts or advice about working at Mayer Brown and other global law firms, Sean chuckles: "Don't underestimate the fact you need a good sense of humour. Take your work seriously, and yourself perhaps a little less so."

Key features of a global law firm

Worldwide offices

The firm will have offices in many locations, usually leading markets around the world.

No one centre

They may not have an official headquarters, reflecting the fact that they have an equally strong presence in several continents.

Big deals

They work with the biggest companies, financial institutions and governments on the most important international deals.

International work

Their work has a strong international dimension, as they advise clients on cross-border matters, and international travel is part of working life here.