Is it possible to be nice and a high-performance maestro? City hot-shot Simmons & Simmons might just hold the answer.
A flurry of finance greets trainees who walk through the doors of Simmons & Simmons' Citypoint offices. The firm notches up 16 Chambers UK rankings for its finance work alone; these highlight the breadth of Simmons' capital markets and investment funds practices, and bestow particular praise on its commodities, hedge fund and financial crime expertise. Thanks to a recent slew of regulatory changes – and a bunch of clients that need steering through them – Simmons' finance practice is currently bringing in the big bucks, with the firm attributing a wad of its 2014/15 revenue jump to this lively practice: results shot up by 8% to £290.1 million, while in 2015/16 they also rose by 1.7% to £295.1 million.
It's not just finance, finance, finance though. Simmons is a robust full-service outfit, and hauls in many a Chambers UK ranking beyond its well-known forte; the employment and IP departments earn top marks, while a whole host of other areas – from professional negligence to life sciences – also come highly recommended.
“We're really pushing our sector focuses.”
Looking ahead, managing partner Jeremy Hoyland has put Simmons' four key sectors at the heart of the firm's three-year plan. These sectors are asset management/investment funds, financial services, life sciences and TMT, though energy and infrastructure is another big area for the firm. “We're really pushing our sector focuses at the moment,” trainees told us. “There's a big drive to use them to connect our offices and integrate the work we're doing.” The firm no doubt had integration on its mind when it recently launched a new initiative that blends its finance and technology specialisms: each year, The S&S FinTech Fund will dole out £100,000 worth of legal advice to financial technology ('fintech' for short) start-ups who need some help on their way. The goal: getting in there early before these companies blossom into major players.
“We also want to capitalise on our international reach,” sources added. Alongside offices in London and Bristol, the firm has 21 international bases: 12 in Europe, five in Asia and four in the Middle East. It also has associations with law firms in Jeddah, Riyadh and Lisbon. Simmons has been investing in its overseas network of late – it recently added a funds practice in Luxembourg and an IP capability in Beijing – but it could be about to get a lot bigger: trainees pointed to lingering rumours about a potential US merger. “It's not at the forefront of our minds but it's on the radar,” they told us, before qualifying: “It'll only happen if we find a good partner.” Most of the firm's lawyers and trainees are based in the London HQ, but Simmons' Bristol office is steadily rising on the horizon. Hoyland's stated a commitment to growing it, and in 2016 – three years after its launch – the office welcomed its first batch of trainees. From now on, three newbies will join its ranks each year.
Scaling Mont Banque
Simmons' 13 seats are divided into four categories: financial markets, corporate/commercial, contentious and 'other'. A stint in the first three of these is required. However, a relevant international or client secondment can tick either a financial markets or corporate/commercial box (more on secondments later). Before each rotation, trainees rank all of the 13 seats available in order of preference; scoring a seat within the top four was widely deemed “a good result.”
Simmons' financial markets division offers seats in banking, capital markets and financial services. The latter involves funds, regulatory and derivatives work for the likes of Santander, BNP Paribas and the Royal Bank of Canada. Most trainees that rock up here end up working with the funds team, although some of our sources had predominantly sat with derivatives. Those in the former had delved into drafting and amending both agreements and prospectuses. “You're basically doing the first drafts of everything, and get to run the relationships with the client and external counsel too – you just give them a call!” Both teams have regulatory arms that have been particularly busy of late. One derivatives trainee told us: “Regs work has long been a driver behind the firm's reputation for finance. We advise clients on derivatives regulations, trading documentation and the different types of derivatives that can be traded.” The implementation of the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD) in 2011 has given the regulatory work here a boost; the department's helped numerous clients (we can't say who) navigate and comply with the changes imposed by it across Europe.
Up the Wanderers
The banking team is split into three informal subgroups: restructuring and insolvency; real estate financing; and transactional banking. Sources in the last two had mostly worked for big banks or lenders – Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo are just some of the names on the books – though those who dabble in the restructuring side are more likely to see clients like agricultural group Finatrade and Bolton Wanderers FC. The group recently advised the latter on how to prevent formal insolvency proceedings, which, if commenced, would jeopardise the football club's hard-earned Championship League points. On the general financing side, Simmons has been helping Shawbrook Bank figure out how to use its customers' debt to finance loans worth up to £20 million, which would be distributed to 'fintech' companies like Asset Advantage and iwoca. Expect standard trainee tasks like conducting company searches and running conditions precedent checklists, but responsibility does increase: “I was drafting securities documents and liaising with the client directly by the end of the seat. I was even able to manage post-closing matters and organise everything with the other side's solicitor.”
"She let me just run with it.”
Capital markets trainees are allocated to one of three main areas: structured products and derivatives, debt capital markets, or securitisation and asset-backed finance. However, “there's a lot of movement between them and opportunities to get involved with all parts.” Interviewees with derivatives experience reported working on asset repackagings, where “a trade that has already occurred is repackaged so it can be sold to someone else. It's very detail-oriented and quite tedious, as often you're only changing minor details.” Overall, it's “a very technical seat with a high tempo: you're essentially managing the process of making sure trades go through smoothly and are responsible for ensuring all the documents are ready. It's short and snappy.” Banks, insurers and investment funds like Deutsche Bank, Allianz and the European Investment Fund make up the bulk of clients here; lately the group acted for UBS as the underwriters on a €750 million hybrid bond issued by Swiss Re.
The corporate department welcomes roughly ten trainees per rotation. “We're typically allocated to a subgroup like capital markets, M&A, asset management or private equity. But in reality we're a shared resource and put on matters based on business need,” one interviewee explained. Recent highlights here include advising US media company Comcast on its acquisition of advertising tech business Adazzle, and private equity firm Catterton Partners as it supplied a £16.6 million investment to luxury pet food company Lily's Kitchen. Qatar Petroleum, Nova Capital Management and British Land have also called upon this group's expertise. “It's quite a pragmatic department,” one source told, “so they let you have responsibility when you're comfortable with it.” And some really went for it: “I worked on a massive sale of a property portfolio, so I was responsible for co-ordinating all the departments and drafted the disclosure letter myself. I talked it through with the partner first, but she let me just run with it.” Elsewhere, sources cut their teeth on drafting limited liability partnership (LLP) agreements, instructing foreign counsel and conducting due diligence.
Finance My Life
Those seat requirements we mentioned earlier can also be satisfied by overseas seats or client secondments with financial institutions and corporations. However, overseas seats was one area where we heard a few gripes from several sources. First issue: “There aren't that many available [usually four or five per rotation] and unless someone at a high level is lobbying for you or you can prove a good business reason for it, it feels like they're difficult to get on.” Which leads us to the second issue: the allocation process. “The firm says allocation is on merit but there isn't that much transparency over whether HR or the partners have the final say,” one source explained. The firm tells us that lobbying is not encouraged, and that a trainee's performance is one of the main factors considered when allocating secondments.
Litigators join either the financial markets team (unfortunately acronymed FML) or commercial litigation. But are trainees really crying “FML!” if they end up in the former? “A lot of the work here still stems from the Lehman bankruptcy and the recession; it's completely bizarre as you'd think it would all be sorted by now! It's really interesting though.” As you might imagine, the department's pretty tight-lipped about who it's representing, but we can reveal it has worked on FCA investigations into the Libor and forex scandals. “I thought I'd be doing a lot of bundling,” one interviewee said, before sighing gleefully: “But the paralegals usually tend to run that.” This freed up time for trainees to busy themselves with legal research, drafting pleadings and memos, and attending court hearings.
The commercial litigation group “also represents a lot of financial institutions,” such as investment company Tetragon Financial Group. “We handle plenty of white-collar crime and Serious Fraud Office investigations,” one trainee relayed. Recently the team represented Russian businessman Vladimir Kekhman against the Bank of Moscow, which claimed that Kekhman had conspired to defraud the bank over a $150 million loan while he was CEO of fruit distributors JFC. Trainees conceded a seat here is “always going to be fairly practical. There is a lot of document review, bundling, and taking notes in court; you're very much involved in case management, which isn't quite as exciting as devising tactics and steering negotiations. But you are included in team meetings and exposed to the strategy through them.” We also came across a few trainees who'd squeezed in some drafting experience on witness statements and letters.
“We're pretty HPC.”
A few years ago the firm introduced 'High Performance Culture'. “We want to be known as a firm that does cutting-edge work rather than 'the nice firm,'” one source explained, “so HPC was brought in to encourage people to take on extra responsibilities, challenge themselves and increase efficiency. It sounds quite scary but it's actually a positive thing as it encourages everyone to be ambitious.” Yet apart from being “encouraged to seek out and give feedback whenever possible,” our sources felt that the initiative hadn't had “much day-to-day impact on us.” But maybe that's because they're all “pretty HPC” anyway: “Everyone in my intake did well at uni, and we're all pretty motivated at work and outside of it. We do pro bono, take part in sports teams, get involved in theatre – somehow we find time to manage it!”
So Simmons is evidently doing a good job when it comes to recruiting the ambitious types it wants. But how is it faring at dismantling that 'nicer than nice' reputation? “Despite HPC you can never get away from the fact that there's a human side to us. The nature of the firm is and always has been warm and friendly: we're still known for not pushing people to breaking point, and offering flexible working arrangements.” Several others pointed to Simmons' rep for “being an inclusive place; we have multicultural, female and LGBTQ networks.” These also put on social events, and there are plenty of other outlets for blowing off steam, from Christmas parties to farewell departmental drinks to pub outings: “I could get together with a group for a drink every Friday night or even midweek if I wanted to,” one trainee boasted.
Come mid-evening and you'll probably find a bunch of trainees tucking into a meal in Ampersands (the firm's canteen) where grub's free after 8pm. “Everyone takes half an hour to sit together and catch up; eating with friends spurs you on if you're working late.” When asked how late, our sources' responses largely backed up those 'not working to breaking point' assertions. In contentious seats the hours are “typically predictable, and you'll usually work from 9am until 7pm. A quiet period in a transactional department will get you out at 6pm, but if it's busy you could regularly leave between 9pm and 11pm.” So don't sign up to Simmons expecting an easy ride, but do rest assured that you won't be up all night hooked to a caffeine drip for months on end.
That's getting out for you – but what about staying in? To bag an NQ spot, trainees submit a CV and rank three departments they'd like to qualify into after a list of vacancies is published. The firm then matches preferences up with business need, with some departments requiring an interview. At the time of our calls in April, sources were a little apprehensive about the upcoming process, as “the past couple of retention rounds haven't been excellent” (30 out of 43 second-years were retained in 2015). They also said there had been “delays during the spring retention round, causing some people to look elsewhere for positions”– just seven of 13 qualifiers were retained in March 2016. Looking on the positive side our interviewees said that “HR is aware of the issue and trying to get on top of the process.” Unfortunately, just half of summer 2016 qualifiers were eventually retained meaning that overall the firm kept on 19 of 37 qualifiers in 2016.
You'll find Damien Hirst in the canteen and Tracey Emin in the hall: Simmons is well known for its vast modern art collection. “I'm currently looking at a photograph of a dog wearing, well, some kind of leather get-up...” one trainee told us.
How to get a Simmons & Simmons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2016/17): 1 November 2016 (winter); 15 January 2017 (summer, London); 15 February 2017 (summer, Bristol)
Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2016 (winter); 15 October 2016 (summer)
Training contract deadline (2019): 15 January 2017 (London); 15 February 2017 (Bristol)
Simmons & Simmons receives around 2,500 applications for its training contracts and vacation schemes each year. The firm offers around 35 training contracts each year in its London and Bristol offices. Roles are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, so the firm advises candidates to apply as soon as possible.
“Apply for a vacation scheme if you can,” advises graduate recruitment partner Alan Gar. “The overwhelming majority of our trainees come through them. It's a demanding undertaking to get a place,” he continues, “but if you perform well on the scheme, you'll receive an offer; you won't have to do any further interviews.”
The same application and assessment procedure applies to vacation scheme hopefuls and those gunning directly for a training contract. Prospective recruits submit an online application and take a situational judgement test. Those who come up to scratch go on to complete online numerical and verbal reasoning tests and a video interview. The cream of the crop then attend an assessment day that involves written, group and analytical exercises as well as an interview.
Simmons & Simmons runs a week-long winter placement for final-year law and non-law students and graduates. The firm also runs two two-week summer schemes in the London office which are open to penultimate-year law and non-law students, plus all final-year students and graduates. In addition, the Bristol office runs a week-long summer scheme open to penultimate-year law students, as well as all final-year students and graduates.
Vac schemers split their time between two different departments: “I did half in corporate and half in tax,” reported one former participant. “I got to help with an M&A case and went to all the negotiation meetings. 99% of it went over my head, but it was great to see what I might be doing in a few years' time.”
According to Gar, “the candidates who stand out are those who are keen to understand more about the trainee role and the firm. Don't be afraid to ask silly questions – they're usually the best questions! If I have someone sitting with me who's interested in what we do, asks questions about it and does their best to get to grips with the work, I'm impressed – that is the right attitude. Add that to a decent academic background, and you'll likely get an offer.”
Get some insight
The firm runs a two-day spring insight scheme in the London office. Apply by 1 February 2017 to be in with a chance of attending. Also keep your eyes peeled for Simmons' series of open days throughout the year.
Simmons' art collection
Thanks to the efforts of corporate partner Stuart Evans, Simmons & Simmons has an art collection that would make Charles Saatchi salivate. Evans began seeking out jewels some 25 years ago, just as a noisy rabble of so-called Young British Artists (YBAs) gained notoriety. Evans' expertise even earned him a place as a juror for the Turner Prize in 2001. Whether you view the Turner prize as pretentious or pre-eminent, a certain admiration has to be reserved for a man prepared to hang Tracey Emin’s painfully scratched neon ‘Trust Me’ sign outside the entrance to a corporate law firm’s presentation room.
Our trainee sources noted approvingly that the firm is now making more of an effort to allow staff to get up close and personal with the YBA works. Damian Hirst prints adorn the firm's canteen, Ampersands, and spill out into the corridors; “the collection is enormous,” enthused one trainee. Newbies get a tour of the famed collection which “is still really enjoyable, even if you don't know much about art! But if you stare too long at one swirl-patterned print it can make feel you dizzy...” The firm also has an art club which runs tours for lawyers and their clients whenever Simmons hosts a new exhibition. Members of the public can take a peek during the annual Open House London festival, when the firm throws open its doors and puts on guided walks. For those of you who can't make it, here's our own run-down of the most famous names in Simmons' collection.
Jake and Dinos Chapman
The brothers Grimm of the art world (and worlds apart from the firm’s founding twins Percy and Edward Simmons, we’d imagine), the pair's iconoclastic defacing of authentic works by Goya, Breughel and Adolf Hitler has earned them a reputation as anarchic minstrels of savage mirth. The firm has got its hand on two sketches from the Disasters of War series, which are rather tame in comparison to some of the devilish duo's other works.
Doig is a painterly painter of iridescent landscapes that mingle ethereal and liquid colours with shocks and splashes of pop culture reference. Emblematic in this respect are his phantasmagorical canoe paintings, which are hauntingly resonant of Munch-style expressionism and also wink knowingly at modern horror movies like Friday the 13th.
This master of ceremonies, king of Brit Art’s boom-and-bust profligacy, needs no introduction. Sharks, spin paintings and skulls are all trade marks of Hirst’s clinical approach to art, and Simmons & Simmons’ Hirst collection is a reflection of his singular interest in a sanitised-to-the-point-of-medicinal contemporary culture. Take the The Last Supper, a series of thirteen screenprints featuring pharmaceutical-style labels bearing the names of foodstuffs ('Beans and Chips', 'Corned Beef' etc): it represents Hirst’s cynical commentary on a culture that places so much faith in science that it rarely questions what it's being asked to swallow. Quite an ironic statement piece for a firm that acts so frequently for pharmaceutical giants, no? Something to chew over in the staff restaurant perhaps, where one of Hirst's iconic spot paintings has been applied directly onto the wall.
Now a fully made-up member of the British art establishment, Ofili originally rose to prominence in Saatchi-backed exhibitions such as Sensation, getting mixed up in media controversy over mixed media artworks. (Portraits of the Virgin Mary incorporating pornography and elephant dung don't easily pass under the radar.) Simmons has picked up some of his more subdued pieces: six elegant watercolour portraits that explore Ofili's African heritage in non-confrontational fashion.
Only the third British female artist to be made Dame, the Portuguese-born Rego is a storyteller par excellence. Her paintings are modern narratives drawn from the myths and fables of European culture, and offer a frequently unsettling insight into issues of female identity, childhood and the subconscious. A good example of her work is the Simmons-owned Secrets and Stories, in which storytelling itself unites and divides various groups of people and animals within the confines of the frame.
Indicative of a slightly morbid obsession with the decay of the domestic and the transience of modern life, Whiteread’s sculptures and photographs evoke the ghostly shells of familiar spaces, sometimes gutted and sometimes as an impenetrable mass. Her various images of empty bins, abandoned architecture, demolished estates and derelict homes all play testament to our alienation from a sense of place. Hopefully they mean Simmons employees are inspired to appreciate their own surroundings that little bit more!
Simmons & Simmons LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners 250+
- Fee earners 880
- Total trainees 80+
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Online application form at www.simmons-simmons.com/ graduates
- Selection procedure Online application, online judgement and ability tests, video interview, assessment day
- Closing dates for 2019/20 15 January 2017
- Training contracts pa c. 35
- Applications pa 3,000
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £40,000 (London)
- Second year: £45,000 (London)
- First year: £36,000 (Bristol)
- Second year: £37,000 (Bristol)
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 50%
- No. of seats available abroad pa Varies
- Post-qualification salary (2016)
- London: £68,000
- Bristol: £49,000
- Overseas offices Amsterdam, Beijing, Bristol, Brussels, Doha, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Jeddah*, Lisbon*, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris, Riyadh*, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo
- *Associated office
Main areas of work
Winter vacation scheme (London): one week scheme aimed specifically at final year students and graduates. Applications open 01 October 2016.
Spring insight scheme (London): two day workshop, designed for first year law and non-law students and penultimate year non-law students. Applications open 1 January 2017.
Summer vacation scheme (London and Bristol): In London, our two week scheme is open to penultimate year law and non-law students, final year students and graduates. In Bristol, the scheme is one week and open to penultimate year law students and graduates. Applications open 15 October 2016.
A series of open days are also available to all students and graduates and are run throughout the year in our London and Bristol offices. Please note, we recruit on a first come first served basis. We therefore advise you to apply as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.