Fancy yourself a financial hot-shot but in a more intimate trainee intake? Then reserve a super-like for this City slicker.
No more Mr Nice Guy
Simmons & Simmons: a firm with 'a core theme of creating a high-performance culture.' Sound like empty marketing rhetoric? Not so, according to our S&S insiders: “It's all part of a wider initiative to shake off a cuddly image Simmons has historically had,” sources explained, while maintaining that it's “still an undoubtedly friendly firm where they have huge respect for you as a person as well as a trainee. The whole idea of HPC is to highlight that you can have driven individuals without everyone becoming blunt and unpleasant.” Just what changes have been made as part of the initiative we'll come to later but something does appear to be paying off. Results for the year ending April 2017 saw S&S net profits up 12% and the firm has also made up 12 associates this year, almost doubling last year's number of seven. Things aren't all hunky dory though. The London IP department took a hit from Allen & Overy last summer when it poached four of its partners. However, the firm has hired a lateral from legacy Olswang and promoted three partners internally to keep the department strong.
“It's not a place where it feels like you are selling your soul.”
S&S trainees had a firm idea of Simmons’ place in the legal pecking order: “I think in the areas we are well known for – funds, employment and IP in particular – we are absolutely at the top of the market,” one insider remarked. “In other areas such as real estate, we are slightly more mid-market next to Reed Smith and Addleshaw." The Chambers UK rankings seems to agree, awarding their employment and hedge funds teams top marks as well giving the nod to their life sciences and IP work. All in all, the firm has hoarded in over 40 Chambers UK rankings, reinforcing its brand as a well-rounded, full-service firm.
Simmons is one of several firms arranging its work by business sectors, and in their case that means: ‘asset management and investment funds, financial institutions, life sciences and technology, media and telecommunications (TMT)’. While sector-based approaches typically aim to create fewer internal boundaries, sources indicated that the firm “could do a better job of making things more cohesive,” noting that “a lot of the departments still function independently without relating to each other.” The firm has anetwork of 21 overseas offices; over the past six years, bases in Luxembourg, Munich, Beijing, Bristol and Singapore have joined the family. The firm may have favoured steady growth over merging so far, but a few trainees we spoke to continued the usual speculation about a transatlantic merger. But a more reasoned trainee felt: “We may be open to the idea of a merger but I don't think it’s something that we are actively seeking.”
My Super Sweet 16
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. Designed to give trainees exposure to a variety of work, “the groups are only used for the purpose of the training contract and don't necessarily correspond to business units within the firm." Simmons has a unique approach to seat allocation requiring trainees to list all 16 seats in preference order (including both international and client secondments) at every rotation. It's a well received system by this year's cohort who felt that “you're never going to be royally screwed going into a department you have no interest in,” adding that “only very occasionally will you not secure your top three choices.”
Trainees need not “jump through any special hoops to bag an international secondment. Just state it high up on your preference form,” sources told us, flagging Hong Kong, Dubai and Paris as some of the more regular destinations. Client secondments are similarity readily available: “If you want one, you will get one.” While places tend to “lean towards financial institutions – banks, hedge funds and asset management clients – other spots are available including a regular position with BP.” One insider at a banking secondment described it as “weird mix of greater responsibility, more independence and less intensity.”
“I had to liaise with all our other offices to make sure the disclosures were up to date.”
Capital markets trainees are allocated to one of three main areas: structured products and derivatives; debt capital markets; or securitisation and asset-backed finance. “It's a team where you need to get on board quickly,” sources explained, “but once you do it feels like you are treated the same as an associate.” “I managed an entire programme update for a client,” one capital markets enthusiast told us: “They had securities listings in many different jurisdictions so I had to liaise with all our other offices to make sure the disclosures were up to date.” Unlike the corporate team, deals in capital markets are “short and snappy,” allowing trainees to see the full cycle of a transaction.Recently the team has advised the European Investment Fund on a tranche portfolio guarantee of UK loans originated by RBS, and advised Grensill Captial on a financing transaction entered into in connection with the sale of Alcan Aluminium (the owner of Britain’s last remaining aluminium smelter and a hydroelectric plant).
The banking team is split is similarly split into three informal subgroups: restructuring and insolvency; real estate financing; and transactional banking. “As a trainee you're in the general pool so you're expected to get a pretty even spread between the three areas." Clients and sums of money are reassuringly big. As well as getting a first crack at drafting, traineesalso get to conduct some document negotiation such as "negotiating the length of the notice of default period." Another trainee with experience on the transactional side described the deals as “quick and high value, typically lasting three to four weeks. As a team we’re responsible for coordinating all the various parties involved on a transaction; as an individual I was drafting clauses of loan agreements and managing the conditions of precedent check list."
“Being in charge of the documents made my opinion valued and they would always ask for my thoughts at strategy meetings.”
Employment falls under the 'contentious category' and “is all about big litigation for big financial institutions.” The financial institutions and asset management/investment funds sectors together account for 80% of the department's billings. The trainee role is “largely project management” which can mean anything from taking notes at a tribunal and preparing witness statements, to liaising with counsel. You have to “know all the documents like the back of your hand. This meant my opinion was valued and they would always ask for my thoughts at strategy meetings,” one insider enthused. In an advisory capacity trainees advise clients on a range of issues including the gender pay gap, data protection legislation and employee handbooks. Recent highlights saw the team advising Balyasny European Asset Managementin defence of a claim brought in the Employment Tribunal by Paul Newton who claimed unlawful dismissal and harassment on account of his sexual orientation. Simmons, incidentally, has a strong history in LGBT matters.
Projects is a “very partner-heavy team,” where the expertise falls broadly into five areas: power; oil and gas (both upstream and downstream); mining; transport; and defence. Trainees identified the work as a “neat split between project finance work and more corporate and contractual work.” A chance to work on mining was flagged as particularly “interesting asyou're working with funding structures that are unique and have never been constructed before.” As in employment, much of the work is project management but trainees also reported getting the first go at drafting security agreements, common terms agreements and fee letters. Recently the team has represented Mitsubishi and Tokyo Electric on a $3 billion water and power project in Qatar. Its development is unique in being the first in Qatar to utilise reverse osmosis technology and has been fast-tracked by the Qatari government to meet water and power demands ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
'You're working with funding structures that are unique and have never been constructed before.”
The majority of the work in intellectual property is hard IP, mainly concerned with big ticket patent litigation within the life sciences sector. A smaller soft IP practice focuses on trademarks and brands while the transactional IP team supports other departments, mainly in the context of corporate mergers. Trainees can expect a balanced exposure to the three sides, which offers a diverse case-load. Recently the department has coordinated major litigation against Teva across Europe relating to the patent of ViiVs biggest selling anti-HIV drug, Kivexa. It also advised on a ten-year, $1 billion collaborative investment fund for the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative designed to tackle climate change on a global scale; and advised on the IP aspects of the overhaul of the whole of the MoD’s current flying training arrangements. Trainees’ tasks were just as varied, ranging from searching for expert witness statements, reviewing licences and maintaining correspondence with the other side. “On one particular patent case I helped produce a 5,000 word report, analysing the opposing argument which was actually used in the court!”
S&S's 'high performance culture' is most evident in a “rigorous” appraisal system. It all starts with trainee objectives, which are “designed to push you outside of your comfort zone. They're normally something like ‘interact with three clients at every event you attend.' In that sense the appraisals help you develop your client and sector skills, on top of your legal capabilities.” Objectives are followed by a mid-seat and of seat review which comes with a final grading. Litigious seats are also accompanied by a two-hour mid-seat assessment, usually a research task where trainees are given mock email from a client. "The whole appraisal system is taken seriously; it’s not something that’s brushed under the carpet in five minutes,” sources explained. A four-tier grading system – ranging from needs improvement to outstanding – “does makes some people anxious,” insiders agreed, with one source adding that “I was obsessed by what grade I was getting. However in end the worst grade I got was in the team I am qualifying into so it’s not the be-all and end-all.” Insiders also assured that “the grades are very much a private thing so it doesn’t make it too competitive among the trainees.”
“The social life here is what you make of it,” trainees thought. “There definitely could be more firm-wide events," but we heard that there's a Christmas party every year and the art network (see our bonus feature on Simmons' art collection) will be hosting informal office-wide evening events too. Departments also lead their own socials once a month – we heard about crazy golf and a “very competitive cake competition.” Trainees also reported being a “close bunch,” after bonding during the LPC at BPP London, “so we put in efforts to organise events on our own.” Sources were frank about the “firm's long hours,” flagging 9am to 7.30pm as a standard day. However, trainees can expect to have plenty of 12 hour-plus slogs as well as a few midnight finishes. However “you're never the bitch who everyone says 'bye' to and leaves you to it,” sources emphasised. “You're also never going to be at work needlessly and people will always apologise and justify if they give you work on a Friday afternoon.” Trainees also thought the firm does well to reward hard work, noting that “last Friday everyone was allowed to leave the firm at three as a reward for our hard work that month.”
Offering a defence of 2016's poor retention rates (just 19 of 37 qualifiers were retained), trainees put the low numbers down to a combination of “poaching and being in a difficult market position.” Still, they also acknowledged that the firm has made some changes to improve the process. “There has been a drive for groups to justify why they can't take people on and they have also moved the process forward, which gives people more time to make a decision.” The firm did better in 2017, when it kept on 33 of its 42 qualifiers.
“People will always apologise and justify if they give you work on a Friday afternoon.”
How to get a Simmons & Simmons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017/18): 1 November 2017 (winter, opens 1 October); 15 January 2018 (summer, opens 15 October); 15 February 2018 (spring, open 15 January)
Training contract deadline (2020): 15 January 2018 (opens 1 December 2017)
Simmons & Simmons receives around 3,000 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.
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're up to scratch go on to complete online logical 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 deal 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.”
“The overwhelming majority of our trainees come through the vacation scheme,” graduate recruitment partner Devarshi Saksena tells us. “If you perform well on the scheme, you'll receive an offer; you won't have to do any further interviews.”
Saksena continues: “The candidates who stand out are those who are keen to get stuck into the work and who make an effort to get to know their team. 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 15 February 2018 to be in with a chance of attending, and also keep your eyes peeled for Simmons' series of open days in London and Bristol 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. Damien 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, Breugel 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 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 a 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+
- Associates 880+
- Total Trainees 80
- UK offices Bristol, London
- Overseas offices 19
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]
- Training partner: Devarshi Saksena
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 30+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Please see website
- Vacation scheme places pa: 75
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 15 Janaury 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017 (winter), 15 October 2017 (summer), 15 January 2018 (spring)
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 1 November 2017 (winter), 15 January 2018 (summer), 15 February 2018 (spring)
- Open day applications open: 1 September 2017
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000 (London), £37,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £47,000 (London), £38,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £71,000 (London), £50,000 (Bristol)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000 for the GDL and £7,500 for the LPC.
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and The Netherlands
- Overseas seats: Currently Dubai, Hong Kong and Paris
- Client secondments: Varies
Main areas of work
Winter vacation scheme (London): A one-week scheme aimed specifically at final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 1 October 2017.
Spring insight scheme (London): A two-day workshop for first year students of all disciplines, as well as penultimate year non-law students. Applications open 15 January 2018.
Summer vacation scheme (London): A two-week scheme open to penultimate and final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 15 October 2017.
Summer vacation scheme (Bristol): A one-week scheme open to penultimate year law students and final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 15 October 2017.
University law careers fairs 2017