All work and some pay: WilmerHale and its 38 per cent intern London office

The London office of US firm WilmerHale is now dominated by interns, with 30 out of its 80 lawyers on a placement programme. London head Steven Finizio reveals the benefits.

For anyone who has shuffled paper clips for shrapnel, an activity otherwise known as being an intern, you’re unlikely to recognise the following scenario. In a bid to woo top talent, US firms lavish summer associates with countless dinners, baseball games, sailing trips, beers and opera.

”There’s a competitive, wining and dining element to it,” admits WilmerHale London co-head Steven Finizio, whose firm is known to run sailing trips and host crab meat dinners for summer associates on the east coast of Virginia. “However, in a smaller, international office, you need to hire immediately and you need students that haven’t come out of the US education system.”

Indeed, Wilmer’s global arbitration practice – widely rated as one of the best in the world – is headquartered in the firm’s Park Lane office under international arbitration chair Gary Born. The group is by nature international, operating broadly as one-third English law, one-third civil law jurisdictions and one-third US.

The London-based intern programme is aimed at attracting people from around the world and for short bursts of intense work. The idea is to bring in a cohort of up to 19 interns – usually students, graduates or newly-qualified lawyers from jurisdictions outside of the UK – every three months.

Wilmer took on 53 interns from 22 different countries during 2013, and now has a record 30 squeezed in at Park Lane.

But this is not the beer swilling, sunset sailing sort of summer placement enjoyed by top law students in the US. These guys work for a living.

Do they get paid? The short answer is yes, with each applicant measured on a case-by-case basis. Sources say interns start on around £250 a week, a wad which can rise to that of a newly qualified associate after a three-month stint.

”There are levels to it, we customise the programme to suit peoples backgrounds,” adds Finizio. “If you’re qualified and have been with us for over six months, then your title might change to visiting foreign lawyer. If you’re not qualified but have been with us for a number of months, it might be graduate lawyer. We experiment with titles.”

Given the flexibility the firm can have over each applicant’s pay, it is obvious how this model benefits the firm’s pocket. But the personal (and paid) elements of the scheme also make it very different to the bog standard, tea-dunking programmes usually associated with the controversial internship model.

Is there a long-term pay-off? Finizio claims a fifth of London’s arbitration associates derive from the programme, with those on the placement assisting on multiple evidentiary hearings in London, Amsterdam and Vienna last year.

Each person is given an associate mentor to offer them advice – meaning of the firm’s 80 London lawyers, 60 of them are either in or mentoring on the programme.

In other words, it works. Just don’t forget to make the tea.

Wilmer interns by jurisdiction
Wilmer interns by jurisdiction