This born and bred New Yorker is a dab hand at finance and M&A, so if you like your transactions “complex, high-yield and international,” you know what to do.
Through shear will power
It all kicked off on Wall Street in 1873 when two plucky lawyers, Thomas Shearman and John William Sterling, teamed up to open their shop. They set the tone for a high-achieving culture at the firm, which went on to sprout 20 offices around the world, settling in London 46 years ago.
In that time things have turned out rather well in the capital. Despite losing two prominent private equity and tax partners, the London office's revenue swelled by 14% to $169.7 million in 2016. This worked out well for NQs, who saw another £10,000 added to their salary, bringing the total up to a very competitive £105,000. Future Shearman trainees can earn their keep by sampling a range of seat options, many of which veer more toward the transactional end of the spectrum. The office's banking & finance, capital markets, projects, corporate/M&A and energy & natural resources expertise all comes in for praise in Chambers UK. Mirroring this is top praise from Shearman's current trainees. “We do great work, plus everyone is approachable even up to partner level.” Also on the plus side is “the perfect sized intake. It averages out at 15 trainees per year group.If it was only two people, the risk of not liking someone is dangerously high. But here we go on holidays together and we've all become really close friends.”
Trainees don't get a choice for their first seat, but told us that “if I had been able to choose I think I'd have been overwhelmed. How on earth are you supposed to know what you'd be good at in your first seat!” Ahead of each subsequent rotation, trainees do get to list preferences. HR “are aware of what you want, but it is a small office and business needs come first. ” Sources really appreciated the chance to attend a departmental fair, where lawyers from different practice areas set up a stall to answer trainees' questions before preferences are listed. “You get to find out what the day-to-day is really like in each department.” Everybody's required to visit two of the three core departments (finance, project development & finance and M&A), and complete a contentious seat (litigation, international arbitration or competition) or attend a week-long University of Law litigation course. “I did the course and it was great. But at the end of the day you've got to wake up and smell the coffee: in the UK there isn't as big a lit offering as there is in the US, so keep that in mind when applying.”
Not so Sompo
The M&A department focuses on big-ticket, cross-border work; by the third quarter of 2016, it had already advised on 193 transactions worth a whopping $415.8 billion in total. Some of the highlights include advising Japanese insurance outfit Sompo on its $6.3 billion acquisition of Bermuda-based Endurance Specialty Holdings; Luxembourg-based packaging company Ardagh on its $3.4 billion purchase of manufacturing assets from Colorado's Ball Corporation and Britain's Rexam; and ENGIE and International Power on their $1.5 billion sale of their stake in an Indonesian power plant to a Qatari infrastructure investment firm. “There's a lot of public M&A deals for a host of big companies,” sources informed us, “where you prepare the relevant docs under the takeover code and make sure that nothing gets leaked to the press. There’s also a good amount of crossover with private equity matters too, where you contribute to diligence reports and draft share and purchase agreements.” Second-years face “higher expectations, so you manage the transaction's processes, attend signings and closings, and do the original research for clients who are still assessing their options; that can cover anything from finding out how to set up different types of companies to the different ways to buy back shares.”
“As soon as you get more confident, people are happy to let you do more interesting things.”
Finance trainees generally do a mix of leveraged and structured finance; the former encompasses restructuring, refinancing and acquisition finance transactions, while the latter covers hedge financing and derivatives. Recent team successes include advising Coca-Cola European Partners on the different financial structures (worth €4.5 billion) needed to complete the merger of three bottling companies in Western Europe; the group also acted on a deal spanning over 15 jurisdictions when it advised Indian multinational company Aditya Birla on a $925 million refinancing tied to some of its subsidiaries. You'll also find banking hotshots like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch on the client roster. Trainees undertake a “two-week finance training programme before you start the seat. The biggest problem you face is getting your head around the underlying mechanisms of it all – it's just so complicated! We all joke that we'd feel ready in about ten years.” Once they're up to scratch with all the basic lingo, they're set loose on things like “proofreading, collating bibles and chasing people for signatures.” While this didn't sound like the most riveting experience, trainees were quick to reason: “Why do people pretend that they've done thrilling work – seriously, you're a trainee! You're the cheapest person to bill in the firm, so you'll always be doing the repetitive tasks, but that's life. As soon as you get more confident, people are happy to let you do more interesting things.” More interesting things saw trainees promoted to “going to client meetings, drafting, negotiating closing memorandums and doing quite a bit of research too.”
Sweeten the deal
Rookies who do a seat in one of Shearman's advisory practices – asset management, competition, employment, financial institutions advisory, real estate or tax – will often find themselves the lone trainee during their seat. These groups have their own clients but often act as ancillary support for the transactional departments. “For example, whenever there's an M&A transaction, the regulatory/advisory teams get involved to address any money laundering concerns.” According to our sources, financial institutions advisory (FIA) had the most crossover with transactional work. “But you get a lot more time to complete tasks, compared to normal corporate seats. On the purely advisory side we answer loads of queries from big banks and there's a bit of sanctions work too. It's a very research-heavy seat but connected to financial regulations and capital markets. Sometimes you can end up as the person with the most knowledge on the subject you've looked into.” Trainees may well have become experts on how to obtain recognition as a central counterparty in the EU under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) – something Shearman recently looked into for clearing house ICE Clear Europe.
Over in employment “half of what we do is M&A transaction work, where we advise on how the transaction should be structured in terms of employee issues. The other half is on the hiring and firing of senior execs.” Insiders felt that “you’re treated more like a junior associate here,” withtypical tasks elevated to the likes “drafting employment agreements; dealing with highly intelligent CEOs; liaising with clients and advising the senior exec of a FTSE 250 company. Your input is definitely valued.” Those in competition told a similar story, but sources were keen to stress that “we generate our own work – we're not just a subsidiary of M&A.” There's a healthy amount of interaction with the Brussels office “because we have to deal with what comes out of the European Commission [EC] and the market authority in the UK.” Like their counterparts in other advisory groups, tasks are research centric, but here the focus is on “understanding our clients and the markets in which they operate. Most of our research is on how mergers will impact competitors and the market.” Clients here include Jaguar Land Rover, media conglomerate Viacom/Paramount Pictures and Florida-headquartered sugar refining operation, called, you guessed it, American Sugar; the group's been representing Viacom as the EC investigates potentially anti-competitive agreements that inhibit cross-border access to premium pay-TV content.
“You can end up as the person with the most knowledge on the subject.”
When it comes to overseas postings, trainees can focus on capital markets and finance in New York, competition in Brussels, projects in Singapore, and either international arbitration or a mix of projects and M&A in Abu Dhabi. “The firm makes it so easy for you to go,” said trainees, who had their flights and accommodation taken care of. Before they go, Shearman jet setters have a “hand-over session with the people who have already done the seat. We just go for coffee and they give you pointers on how you do everything.” In Abu Dhabi, “it can be very admin heavy if you chose to do arbitration, but it's still intellectually stimulating. You're overseeing checklists and bundles, but also looking after the witnesses and locating evidence during the hearing. There was also a lot of research and I drafted lots of witness statements. It definitely slapped the fear out of me!” Sources gave this advice to future trainees with overseas aspirations: “Don't go on a jolly, go to qualify.” Indeed, qualifying overseas is a possibility; in recent years NQ positions have been taken up in Brussels, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
Although time spent in the office varies from seat to seat, all of our sources had experienced long hours. Finance was a serial offender: “It's constantly busy from September through to December, so sometimes you're there everyday from like 9am to 12am.” In comparison employment tended to have “dreamy hours – we finish by 6.30pm most days.” M&A, as in any law firm, is cyclical. “When it's quiet you can go at 5.30pm. But if you're on a closing or something like that it gets fairly crazy. The latest I stayed was 4am – but that's rare. I can count the number of times I've had to stay here past midnight on one hand.”
Ready steady, mani-pedi
“They do a really great job of not hiring dicks here,” stated sources. “The culture gives you the same feeling you get when buying a house: it's the type of place where you walk in and it just feels right.” As lovely as that sounds, what does it mean? “Everyone's really friendly and supportive of one another, and the partners keep an open door policy, which makes a difference when you're working at 2am.” Late nights aside, that's not exactly the picture of uber-macho, uber-stressful hell that normally springs to mind when people think of American firms – especially those birthed on Wall Street. “Don't buy into the myths you hear about US firms,” advised newbies. “If anything, it means we're more chilled. Like, it's a bit more dressed down and there's not as much face-time needed.” Others agreed: “The London office has been here for so long – longer than some actual UK firms, but everyone is up for a laugh and there's none of this pretentious stiff upper lip rubbish.”
A healthy array of socials helps to keep everyone in high spirits. “There's around three trainee socials a year,” alongside departmental and office-wide shindigs too. They range from the more casual monthly pizza and beer bash (hosted by the M&A team) to the office's overarching “Christmas party, which was kinda rowdy; we did karaoke and the partners sang – it was hilarious.” For those who don't want to drink and belt out Beyoncé hits in front of their co-workers, there's “a fair few sports clubs and in-house yoga sessions.” But if you want to Zen out even further, we were told that “once a month a manicurist takes over a meeting room and gives us mani-pedis!”
Shearman has had a good retention run in recent years: it kept on all its qualifiers in both 2015 and 2016.The process involves a chat with HR, followed by a form-filling exercise where hopefuls indicate their preferred departments. Partners then meet and make decisions; there are no interviews. In 2017, Shearman retained 12 of its 16 qualifiers.
Trainees are encouraged to get involved with pro bono when they can. “It's because we're an American firm; they have a stronger emphasis on doing pro bono and it really makes a heck of a difference.”
How to get a Shearman & Sterling training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 4 November 2017 (winter); 20 January 2018 (spring) and 20 April 2018 (summer) (opens 1 September 2017)
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 January 2018)
Competition for training contracts at Shearman & Sterling is increasingly fierce. Applications for 2019 training contracts were up 35% compared to the previous recruitment round: the firm received around 2,000 applications for its 15 training contract vacancies. At a base level, future trainees need a minimum AAB at A level and 2:1 degree.
Recruitment officer Katie Makey tells us the online form – which is used for both vac scheme and direct training contract applications – “is pretty standard” and contains three questions: two open-ended ones – 'Why do you want to be a solicitor?' and 'Why Shearman specifically?' – plus “a commercial question about our place in the industry.”
“There are three things that can really make a candidate stand out on paper,” Makey says. “They are strong academics, work experience and tailored answers to our questions.” She mentions that while legal work experience is not essential for vac scheme hopefuls, it is a must for direct training contract applicants. “We like to see that, at the very least, they've attended firm open days or other non-assessed events – that shows they're committed to a career in the law. ”
Interviews and assessments
Around 9% of applicants go on to a first-round interview. This takes place with either a senior associate or a partner, and a member of the graduate recruitment team, and “isn't too formal,” according to Makey. “We aim for a conversational tone to ensure it's a two-way process.”
Candidates are asked the usual 'Why law?' and 'Why Shearman?' questions because “we want to see a genuine interest in us as a firm. We also expect candidates to be able to speak knowledgeably about our place in the industry at large,” Makey says.
Success at this stage leads to an assessment centre for training contract applicants; for vac scheme applicants this takes place in the second week of their placement. The day-long assessment centre starts with a written exercise that Makey assures us “is accessible to both law and non-law candidates.” A group exercise in the form of a business case study follows. “Seeing how candidates behave and conduct themselves as part of a team is very important to us,” says Makey. “Our London office is quite small, so we need to see that people can interact well with others.”
Next up is a case study assessment: candidates are asked to review a news story before discussing it with two lawyers. Forming a balanced argument is key, as is being able to discuss commercial issues confidently.
The final step is an interview, usually with two partners. We have it on good authority that this is “much more commercially- ocused than the first interview.” According to Makey, “a big part is also determining whether the interviewee will fit into our culture.”
The day also includes a lunch with trainees, a tour of the office, and a drink with some of Shearman's lawyers to round off the day.
The vacation scheme
Shearman runs four vacation schemes: one in the winter, two in spring and one in the summer. All vac schemes run for two weeks and there's room for up to ten candidates on each.
Vac schemers spend each week in a different department. On top of that, “we try to connect those who express a particular interest in a certain area with relevant people around the office,” says Makey. “We might arrange for them to have a coffee with a partner from that department, for example.”
She goes on to tell us that supervisors “are told to treat vac schemers as they would a first seat trainee. We want them to have as authentic an experience as possible.” Along with a supervisor for each department they visit, attendees are assigned a trainee mentor, whose workload they shadow in between various HR-led activities.
Vac schemers undertake the assessments outlined above – written and group exercises, a case study assessment, plus a partner interview – during the second week of their placement.
The history of Shearman & Sterling
First the worst, second the best? Shearman apparently doesn't abide by that playground rhyme judging by the list of firsts on its website – the firm advised on the first ever IPO and the first sovereign wealth bond issuance, to name just two
. The firm's made up of more than just deal-doers but its financial and transactional practices are what Shearman's traditionally best known for so here's a brief look at the firm's history by way of its corporate and financial feats:
- In 1897, a quarter of a century after it was founded, Shearman acted for the National City Bank of New York during its acquisition of the Third National Bank of New York. This bank later went on to become Citibank.
- After the Second World War, Shearman advised a number of German companies on settling their external debts and facilitated the re-entry of companies such as Siemens and BASF into the American market. By 1953, the firm had earned the nickname 'German & Sterling', having provided assistance to 42 German corporations and 14 municipalities. On the domestic side of things, 1956 saw the firm advise Ford on what was then the largest equity offering to date.
- Demand from US clients to register on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange saw the establishment of a Hong Kong office in 1978, making Shearman one of the first US law firms to open here; a year later, the first private investment in the People's Republic of China took place, with the firm advising the People's Republic in negotiations with Houston-headquartered Occidental Petroleum to establish one of the world's largest open coal mines.
- 1979 also saw the beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis with the firm heavily involved in negotiations between US banks and Iranian investors, after President Carter froze Iranian assets in US banks. The financial negotiations which Shearman was involved in ultimately played a role in resolving the crisis.
- The Latin American debt crisis in 1982 saw many of the continent’s countries defaulting on international debt after the global recession of the late 1970s and early 80s; Shearman collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund to create the 'debt-for-nature swap' scheme, which tied debt relief to the preservation of endangered environments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
- The 1990s was a particularly busy time for Shearman in Italy, with the firm advising on a number of privatisations and IPOs in the country. This flurry of activity would later prompt the opening of an office in Rome in 2002, and another in Milan eight years later.
- In the 1990s, the firm assisted Daimler to become the first German company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and advised on China Telecom's $4.2 billion IPO which, when the deal was done in 1997, was the largest Chinese IPO to have taken place.
- The firm's São Paulo office appeared in 2004, and Shearman immediately dove into the Brazilian IPO equity boom over the next three years, helping to complete more equity deals in Brazil than any other firm at the time.
- In 2006, with a little help from Shearman, the Iraq government re-entered the international debt market for the first time since Saddam Hussein's removal.
- A year later and the firm was working on yet another first, assisting on the first all-Chinese bank syndicate limited recourse loan.
- In 2012, things were hotting up in Mongolia for Shearman, as it advised the Mongolian government on bond offerings worth billions of dollars (the country's debut sovereign bond issue) and acted for several banks as the initial purchasers of $600m of senior notes offered by the Mongolian Mining Corporation (the first international corporate bond issued out of Mongolia).
- In 2013, at the height of Europe's financial crisis, Shearman advised Piraeus Bank – the largest financial group in Greece – on its whopping €8.4 billion recapitalisation.
- In 2014, the firm advised in connection with the IPO of the Chinese social media site Weibo. The site is one of the most popular in China, it's China's Twitter, and as of 2017 had amassed over 361 million active monthly users.
Shearman & Sterling LLP
9 Appold Street,
- Partners 40
- Associates 200
- Total trainees 30
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices: 19
- Graduate recruiter: Paul Gascoyne, [email protected], 0207 655 5000
- Training partner: John Adams
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 2,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 January 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 September 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 3 November 2017 (winter), 19 January (spring/summer)
- Open day deadline date: Various
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £105,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days pa
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Brussels, New York, Singapore
Main areas of work
The two year training contract consists of four seats, each lasting six months. Two of these seats will be in our core practice areas (M&A, finance or project development and finance), while the remaining two are selected from the other practice areas. Trainees typically share an office with a senior lawyer allowing informal learning on the job, while the structured training programme at the firm ensures trainees get exposure to all the information they need to be a success now and in the future. In addition to the cross-jurisdictional work trainees do in London, they are also encouraged to spend a seat in one of our overseas offices, allowing them to further build their global networks.
Open days and first-year opportunities