Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Slaughter and May

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Slaughter and May

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘Far less corporate and rigid than the other Magic Circle firms’; ‘welcoming attitude of staff’; ‘high partner pay’; ‘secondment opportunities, particularly to the Brussels office if doing a competition seat’; ‘personal application process’; ‘smallest Magic Circle firm’; ‘vacation scheme’

Best thing about the firm? ‘Learning from the best’; ‘the variety of work and people, there really is no ‘Slaughters type”; ‘little in the way of hierarchy’; ‘well-known clients’; ‘quality of resources and training’; ‘high-profile deals’; ‘opportunities for professional development’; ‘cohesion between different departments’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Lack of support and encouragement’; ‘lack of trainee visibility on incoming work’; ‘very little diversity at the top’; ‘the open-door policy means not being able to shut the door and concentrate on tasks’; ‘work/life balance’; ’employee benefits are not as extensive as other Magic Circle / US firms’; ‘not being guaranteed an international secondment’

Best moment? ‘Being given control of my own deal’; ‘saving on weekend work by being efficient in handling tasks’; ‘attending the annual grosvenor dinner dance’; ‘eureka moments where you finally understand a complicated piece of work’; ‘going on international secondment’; ‘trainee camaraderie’; ‘assisting on a hostile takeover’

Worst moment? ‘Document review with constantly shifting parameters’; ‘checking each document in ten boxes against an index’; ‘late nights’; ‘being emailed to come to work at the weekend during family events’; ‘searching for precedents that may or may not exist’; ‘the way the secondment process is run’

The Lex 100 verdict on Slaughter and May

The firm: Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May has an excellent reputation for mergers and acquisitions, corporate tax and commercial litigation. The firm’s client base includes governments, entrepreneurs, funds, banks, retailers and entertainment companies. Slaughter and May has additional offices in Brussels, Beijing and Hong Kong.

The deals: Acted on Actelion’s $30bn takeover by Johnson & Johnson; handled a global bond liability management exercise for BHP Billiton, which included a $2.5bn debt repurchase plan; handled the principal UK actions and European follow-on litigation for British Airways in a major global multi-party litigation, following on from the air cargo cartel investigation; acted for The Salvation Army in the multijurisdictional procurement and rollout of a cloud-based accounting and ERP platform; assisted Drax with the issuing of $300m senior secured notes.

The clients: American Express; Arsenal FC; BUPA; Cathay Pacific; Coca-Cola; Google; Ladbrokes Coral; Rolls-Royce; Tata Steel; Walmart.

The star performers:
(Top-ranking departments according to The Legal 500 – see legal500.com for more details) Acquisition finance; Banking litigation: investment and retail; Commercial contracts; Commercial litigation; Commercial property; Competition litigation; Corporate crime (including fraud, bribery and corruption); Corporate tax; Derivatives and structured products; EU and competition; Employee share schemes; Equity capital markets; Financial services; Insurance: corporate and regulatory; IT and telecoms; M&A: upper mid-market and premium deals, £250m+; Pensions; Power (including electricity, nuclear and renewables); Securitisation; Tax litigation and investigations

The verdict

Applicants were attracted to Slaughter and May’s ‘prestigious reputation’ and ‘multi-specialist approach’, which allows for ‘a broader training experience’. Many applied to the ‘smallest Magic Circle firm’ as the ‘work is front-page Financial Times news’ and because it boasts the ‘most FTSE 100 clients’. The ‘no billable hours target’ also motivated trainees, who ‘knew it would be a challenge’ but were keen to apply as ‘the work is rewarding and colleagues are great to learn from’. Many agree that they ‘work fewer hours on average than other Magic Circle firms’ whilst still receiving ‘excellent quality training both on skills and legal topics’. Recruits enjoyed working with ‘reasonable, approachable and friendly colleagues’ which created a ‘culture of laidback confidence’, no doubt contributing to Slaughter and May’s Lex 100 Winner medal for confidence in being kept on. Trainees were impressed by ‘the breadth and quality of work available’ and took advantage of ‘being given the freedom to work with minimal supervision’. But occasionally there is an ‘outsider feel to being a trainee in some deal teams’ due to ‘minimal client contact’ and ‘old-fashioned bureaucracy from some partners’. Favourite work projects included ‘running a small matter alone in my finance seat from start to finish’ and ‘completing a large restructuring that saved thousands of jobs’. ‘Being treated like an associate in tax and pensions’ and ‘spending three months in the Brussels office’ were also stand-out moments. ‘A horrid period of early morning finishes to complete a deal’ was less appreciated. If ‘structured training’, ‘top-quality work and high-profile clients’ appeals, Slaughter and May could be the firm you’re looking for.

A day in the life of… Henry Davall, trainee solicitor, Slaughter and May

Henry Davall, Slaughter and May

University: University of York

Degree: Law

7.00am: The morning usually starts at the gym with another trainee from my intake. We then wander over to the office, stopping by the staff restaurant to grab some breakfast before heading upstairs and starting the day.

9.00am: The first thing I always do when I get to my desk is check my emails. After this I’ll jot down a rough to-do list for the day ahead. A brief flick-through of the Financial Times is always helpful as well.

9.30am: I am currently sitting in one of the financing groups. My day starts by joining a call with an associate to talk though the documentation for a bond issue with the client and other parties. These calls are always interesting to listen in on, as you get a bit of an insight as to current market conditions from the bankers. I take notes in order to update the partner after the call.

10.00am: We’re currently amending finance documentation relating to a pension scheme. My supervisor has asked me to review the relevant agreements, and propose some new drafting in those places that require amendment. This is quite a hefty task, so takes up the remainder of my morning.

12.00pm: Training is a big part of any trainee’s life at Slaughter and May. Today one of the firm’s professional support lawyers is giving a talk on the discontinuance of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which is quite a hot topic in the finance world at the moment. The talk is aimed at all fee-earners, and should prove to be useful for the remainder of the seat.

1.00pm: I head out with another trainee from my intake to pick up something for lunch – I’m hoping to leave the office relatively early this evening so I decide to eat it at my desk.

1.30pm: I spent the evening before volunteering at the Islington Law Centre, which offers probono advice to local residents. Slaughter and May run the clinic on a Tuesday evening. It’s a great opportunity for trainees to run their own cases, and it’s always nice to get involved with areas of law that you don’t normally come across on a day-to-day basis at the firm. I spend an hour or so researching tenancy law, and begin to draft the letter of advice to be sent out.

3.00pm: Another matter I’m currently working on is the update of a Swedish company’s debt issuance programme. We’re involved because the debt is listed in London. The bank’s counsel have just sent through updated drafts of the documentation, so the associate working on this and I divide these between ourselves and review the amendments. After this, we discuss this with the partner and call the client to see if they have any thoughts.

4.30pm: My supervisor and I join a call with our relationship firm in Norway to discuss the refinancing of a number of loan agreements. The company is based in Norway, but the agreements are governed by English law, so we’re assisting them with their review. After the call, they send through a draft paper highlighting a number of areas where they would like our input. My supervisor asks if I can put together some initial thoughts on this, with a view to discussing them in the morning.

6.00pm: It’s my group’s summer party this evening, so I head out of the office with a couple of friends from the team. The event is at a nearby rooftop bar in Shoreditch, and it’s a great chance to socialise outside of the office.

About the firm

Senior partner: Steve Cooke

Other offices: Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong plus relationship firms in all the major jurisdictions.

Who we are: Slaughter and May is one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. We advise on high-profile and often landmark international transactions. Our excellent and varied client list ranges from governments to entrepreneurs, from retailers to entertainment companies and from conglomerates to Premier League football clubs.

What we do: We are a full-service law firm to corporate clients and have leading practitioners across a wide range of practice areas including mergers and acquisitions, corporate and commercial, financing, tax, competition, dispute resolution, real estate, pensions and employment, financial regulation, information technology and intellectual property.

What we’re looking for: We look for candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds with a good 2(1) at undergraduate level from any university, and take an equal mix of law and non-law graduates. We take great store in drawing strength from diversity. With 103 different degree courses from 65 different universities and 44 nationalities represented among our lawyers, our culture is extremely broad.

What you’ll do: During the two-year training contract, trainees turn their hand to a broad range of work, taking an active role in four, five or six legal groups while sharing an office with a partner or experienced associate. All trainees spend at least two six-month seats in our market-leading corporate, commercial and financing groups. Subject to gaining some contentious experience, they choose how to spend the remaining time.

Perks: Private medical insurance, money purchase pension scheme with life cover, interest-free loan, childcare vouchers, interest-free season ticket loans, personal accident cover, subsidised staff restaurant and coffee bar, special membership terms for health club, corporate entertainment benefits, cycle to work scheme, qualification leave and enhanced family leave pay.

Sponsorship: GDL and LPC course fees and maintenance grant.

Diversity and Inclusion at Slaughter and May

 Interview with Uzma Hamid-Dizier, Head of Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility at Slaughter and May.

Why is having a diverse workforce important?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that developing a diverse workforce and creating a culture where people feel able to be themselves is the right thing to do. However, it is much more than that; there is also a strong business case for firms like ours to be prioritising our work in this area. Our people are central to the service we provide and we need to draw upon diverse perspectives and viewpoints in order to provide the very best advice to our clients. Having diverse teams of lawyers from different backgrounds and with different experiences brings different ways of looking at problems and means that we can provide our clients with innovative solutions. As such, we see diversity and inclusion as not just a ‘nice to do’ but a business imperative.

What initiatives does Slaughter and May have in place to ensure it recruits a diverse workforce?

Our focus recently has been to challenge the perception that City law firms are not inclusive places to work. One of the ways we do this is by inviting students to the firm to give them the opportunity to experience our inclusive culture for themselves.

We run regular recruitment events targeted at undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds. The aim of these events is to provide students with an insight in to working in the firm and the City more broadly. Attendees hear about the career journeys and experiences of a diverse range of our partners and lawyers and have the opportunity to meet people throughout the firm over the course of the day. These events have proved very popular. The students who attended have told us that they are now seriously considering applying to the firm when they previously felt like it wasn’t an option.

We partner with a number of external organisations to reach out to diverse talent. These include My Plus Students’ Club, an organisation which provides advice and support to disabled graduates as they pursue their chosen career path, and Women in the City Afro Caribbean Network (WCAN). We’re also involved in sector-wide initiatives such as DiversCity, an annual event and mentoring scheme for LGBT students interested in a career in law.

We have also been working hard to ensure our recruitment processes are inclusive. We were the first law firm to engage Rare Recruitment, who specialise in sourcing exceptional people from diverse backgrounds into some of the world’s top organisations.

We also contributed to the development of the Rare Contextual Recruitment system and use it across all our trainee recruitment activity. The system helps us identify candidates with the greatest potential by putting candidates’ grades and achievements in the context of their social and educational background.

How has Slaughter and May been working to improve diversity in senior/leadership positions?

We want to retain and develop a diverse pipeline of talent through to the partnership. To do this we have introduced a range of target development programmes for diverse groups.

We know that mentoring is a highly personalised form of career development and, if it is offered equally, can be one of the most effective ways to improve diversity at all levels of an organisation. We have been participating in the high-profile 30% Club cross-company mentoring scheme for five years, which matches our high-potential women with a senior leader mentor from a FTSE 100 company. We also provide similar cross-company mentoring opportunities to our LGBT employees through our membership with OUTstanding and were the first firm to develop a bespoke cross-company mentoring scheme for our BME employees.

Having a mentor outside of the firm brings with it many benefits. It provides a confidential space to discuss your career with an experienced professional, learn from new perspectives and develop external networks. These schemes are also a great way for our people to meet diverse role models with similar backgrounds and experiences. In addition to the external mentoring, we also offer an internal mentoring scheme which provides our associates with the opportunity to be mentored by a partner outside of their legal group. Our associates can request a mentor from a particular background if they wish.

We’re also celebrating the fifth anniversary of our Female Leadership Development programme for mid to senior level female associates, which we host in partnership with our European Best Friend firms. The six-day programme is run across three European cities and focusses on building leadership skills within the legal sector and relationships across the firms.

How does Slaughter and May avoid diversity becoming a box-ticking exercise?

We approach our work in this area from an inclusion perspective and our definition of diversity goes beyond the protected characteristic under the law. Our aim is to ensure everyone feels valued, included and supported.

Our eight diversity networks are central to this. They play an important role in increasing the visibility of diversity and fostering a spirit of inclusion within the firm and work together as a ‘Network of Networks’.

A key part of the success of our networks is that they genuinely involve people throughout the firm in the discussion. All of our network’s activities are open to everyone in the firm, regardless of whether they identify with a particular group. Everybody is encouraged to attend a network event to learn from different perspectives and meet new people from across the firm.

What assurances would you give to individuals who want to apply for a training contract but feel hesitant to do so because of their gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity/background/disability/any other diversity-related reason?

I would encourage anyone who feels hesitant applying to a firm, whether it be to Slaughter and May or others, to experience the culture for themselves. A firm’s website and brochure can provide useful information, but it can be difficult making a decision on where to begin your career based on this alone, so meeting people at the firm in person is crucial. Make the time to attend open days, law fairs or other firm events and ask partners and lawyers questions about the things that matter to you most. Events are also a great way to meet a diverse range of people working at the firm and hear directly about their experiences. Finding out more about the culture and day-to-day life at the firm first-hand should help make your decision a little easier.