The magic circle member that has its own magic way of doing things.
If we were to make a word cloud out of our interview transcripts with Slaughter and May's trainees, you'd see a huge “prestige” anchored in the centre. "Excellence" would also be there in bold, flanked by "free Jelly Babies" in a much smaller font. Slaughters is one of the true elite; everyone knows it and everyone joins the firm because of it. Uniquely, the firm only has a modest overseas network, but it does such an exquisite job from its nerve centre at One Bunhill Row that it has no problem squaring up to its magic circle chums or the American giants on the international stage. In fact, Slaughters acts for more FTSE 350 clients than any of its rivals. 128 years has given the firm time to amass some impressive names on its client roster, like Bupa, GlaxoSmithKline, General Electric, Rolls-Royce and Vodafone. A recent mega-deal was advising Cambridge-based microchip manufacturer ARM Holdings in its £24.3 billion takeover by Japanese telecoms group SoftBank, which as of July 2016 was the largest public M&A deal in the UK in 2016.
And there's more to its unique business model: the firm's more imperialist rivals bring in a lot of dosh from their overseas pieds-à-terre; their revenue figures outstrip that of Slaughters by some margin. But it isn't too bothered by this, and who would be when you're posting the highest profit-per-partner figures in the City? In fact, who needs an overseas empire when they're risky and costly, if the British firms' US ventures are anything to go by? This is the Slaughters philosophy. The firm still nets 40% of its work from overseas clients, but achieves this via its 'best friend' network of like-minded firms across Europe and beyond.
“So far from the outdated perception of the firm.”
A training contract at it meant more to our sources than just a fancy business card, however. They were drawn to the firm's multi-specialist approach, wherein each department's trainees “are welcome to have a crack at whatever comes through the door.” This fluidity in practice is complemented by a working atmosphere that “is so far from the outdated perception of the firm.” Slaughters gets “unfairly painted as old-fashioned, elitist, maybe even a bit stuffy,” but in our sources' eyes “that's just not the case.”
Slaughters takes on some 80 or so trainees in the London office every year. Corporate and finance are both compulsory seats, while the contentious requirement can be fulfilled by either a six-month or three-month stint in dispute resolution, competition or IP. Three-month seats are also offered in more specialist teams like real estate, pensions, employment and tax, and the latter was “particularly popular.” Our interviewees were all satisfied with the seat allocation process. Before they join, trainees are invited in for a seats introduction day. After “a decent briefing on what each seat entails,” newbies send in a list of preferences to HR, who subsequently assign starters their first seats. After a few months, trainees reconvene with HR to plan out the rest of their training contract. “Wherever you end up you'll find something interesting to get involved with,” our sources agreed. “The firm prides itself on producing world-class multi-specialists, so there's no fear of being pigeonholed.”
A Bredin's best friend
There's also the chance for a select few second-years to jet off to one of the firm's 'best friend' offices, like Bredin Prat in Paris. Secondments are viewed “much more like a reward than an additional seat option,” so competition is fierce. Prospective jet-setters are interviewed by HR to discuss what they're looking to get out of the secondment and how they would represent the firm overseas, while references are sought from two of their previous supervisors. Trainees sat in the competition team also have the option of spending three months in the firm's Brussels office.
Corporate is the soul of the firm, so the work even at trainee level will often hit the headlines. Trainees here are assigned to one of four groups. In line with the firm's multi-specialist approach, these groups aren't defined by practice areas or sectors, and “many of the deals you'll work on will be in conjunction with one or more of the other groups.” Our sources had worked on a mix of IPOs, public takeovers, private M&A deals and regulatory compliance work. As “one of the more hours-intensive seats,” corporate throws up plenty of opportunities to really take on new responsibilities, and trainees had found that “if you're willing to prove yourself, partners are happy to up the ante.” Sitting in on negotiation calls, preparing statements ahead of merger announcements and drafting ancillary documents are all common tasks, and sources were pleased to announce that “you're regularly in direct contact with clients, the other side and regulators.”
"... really helped me to develop my understanding of how transactions function.”
Similarly, the sturdy finance department is made up of three non-specific groups, and trainees had dipped their toes into corporate restructuring, debt capital markets, refinancing, government project financing and securitisation. While trainees are thrown their share of basic tasks like drafting board minutes and other ancillary documents, running the conditions precedent list and liaising with seniors, our sources had also experienced plenty of opportunities for client contact. “There was a huge amount, really,” one caller told us. “Every day I was on the phone with the client's company secretary to check their understanding and our files were up to date. That really helped me to develop my understanding of how transactions function.” It's quickfire work, so "after doing seats in both finance and corporate your work speed and time management vastly improve.” Recently Slaughters helped mining heavyweight BHP Billiton secure a $1.5 billion syndicated loan facility to fund its demerger from South32. Solicitors have also helped Irish biopharmaceutical company Shire with the financing of its $5.9 billion acquisition of US-based biotechnology company Dyax.
Although traditionally Slaughter and May is known as a leading corporate and finance firm, trainees were keen to point out that “dispute resolution is now a key earner, and we represent a lot of big financial institutions and FTSE 100 companies.” Rolls-Royce, the Serious Fraud Office, British Airways and Deutsche Bank are just some of the clients. Sources had worked on a mix of arbitrations, tax litigation, global investigations, internal reviews, and work in the Court of Appeal and High Court. As a trainee “you're afforded less responsibility than in other seats,” in part because “some cases can run on for years, whereas you're only here for six months.” Accordingly, rookies' roles can be more admin-heavy. “You're unlikely to be liaising with clients day in, day out,” said one. “I focused predominantly on doc review and bundling.” Still, one or two had managed to bag a bit of drafting experience on the side, assisting partners with witness interviews, terms of claim, letters and mediation statements.
Slaughter and May also offers a range of seats in smaller departments, which include IT/IP, pensions and employment, real estate and tax. The latter encompasses contentious investigations –“like when HMRC engages us in investigation proceedings against a corporate enterprise” – as well as corporate advisory work for the likes of Reed, Santander, Virgin and Coca-Cola. On advisory matters, trainees are “expected to help clients navigate sticky situations by looking through primary sources, doing some legal research, and hashing out a few points of advice, which a partner will look over before it gets sent out.” Trainees liked this part of the job because “it feels very academic, like you're really working to the letter of the law.” Over in investigations, trainees had spent their time analysing claims to pinpoint the evidence required to prove clients' innocence. “There's a lot of document management,” one trainee pointed out. “My role was to work directly with clients to collect, collate, organise and summarise the evidence in our possession.”
To help newbies get up to speed as quickly as possible, Slaughters offers a “comprehensive” training and development programme. After a two-week induction covering the logistical basics, trainees get stuck into the legal nitty-gritty during ongoing training sessions, which are usually held once a week. Presentations are given by partners and associates, who “flesh out their points with their own salient, recent experiences. It really helps to bring it all to life.” Rookies are also welcome to attend Slaughters' firm-wide training sessions, where senior lawyers present interesting or novel deals, or external speakers – often counsel, specialists, or industry representatives – will embellish upon particular markets, practices or sectors. “All training materials are posted online for later reference,” one trainee tipped. “I've definitely reverted to slideshows and handouts from six months back to help me with particularly tricky situations!”
Trainees share an office with their partner or senior associate supervisors, so “there's always help at hand. If you're nervous about a client call, partners are happy for you to put it on loudspeaker and then give you feedback afterwards.” Supervisors co-ordinate trainees' mid and end of seat appraisals, both of which are also available during three-month seats.
“Particular focus on how the firm can improve its retention of female trainees up to partnership level.”
Slaughters' intake is pretty big, but this didn't bother trainees. “Friendships form quickly, and although we all form our own pockets it never feels cliquey or sharp-elbowed.” Before starting, newbies complete their LPC together on BPP Holborn's fast-track programme, so “there's lots of time to make friends. A lot of trainees here are very close, and many of us have even lived together.”
Slaughters has “gone out of its way” in recent years to promote harmony in its ranks by pushing the benefits of diversity and equal opportunities. “There's been a particular focus on how the firm can improve its retention of female trainees up to partnership level.” There's a women's committee, as well as a trainee women's committee, which “was set up towards the end of 2015 with the purpose of reassuring female trainees that they are 100% supported by the firm.” Interviewees mentioned a guest speaker event where “a senior banker came in and talked about her professional experiences, and how she'd balanced that with a personal life. It was very inspiring.”
Hair of the dog
On the social side, there are periodic firm-wide drinks, a summer party and a big bash at the fancy Grosvenor Hotel every November. During the latter, a trainee elective is tasked with delivering a speech to attendants: no small feat considering all fee earners, trainees and support staff are invited. Still, “by that point everyone's had more than a few glasses of wine, so spirits are high!” Elsewhere, departments tend to organise their own get-togethers, and there are also various sports clubs and a green-fingered group that tends to the roof garden.
“The hours can be just as challenging as the work.”
It's not all fun and games: being a trainee at Slaughter and May is demanding and “the hours can be just as challenging as the work.” Those who'd worked in more specialist teams had found “the hours are usually a little easier, and a lot more regular,” but corporate and finance threw out a few horror stories – we heard of trainees who'd had weeks working nine till five, only to find themselves working nine till 5am the following week. “You're never stuck here for arbitrary reasons,” one trainee reassured us, “and when it's quiet you're practically pushed out of the door.” Trainees suggested “this fluctuation could be improved through better oversight on work allocation,” though peer firms aren't immune to this problem either. Rookies who have put in regular late shifts are occasionally rewarded with a day in lieu, but “again, the process here would benefit from a little more co-ordination, as it's all at your supervisor's discretion at the moment.”
Remuneration was also a bit of a contentious issue. Prompted by an almost vulgar salary war among the American firms in June, a couple of magic circlers announced NQ pay rises – but still nowhere near the top of the market. The Slaughters package is handsome for the City, but a few took this summer's news as a reason to grumble: “We're off-market and will need to correct that.” * But on balance they concluded they were happy with their lot: “It's not enough of an issue to jump ship and give up all of the opportunities available to me here.” On the subject of NQs, 2016 was a good year with 68 of 76 qualifiers kept on.
*Note: since we interviewed Slaughters increased its NQ salary from £71,500 to £78,00 – now in the same region as Links and A&O.
“If you can hold a conversation, generate a rapport and stand your ground against someone you've never met before, who may well be an expert in their field, there's a good chance you'll do well here.”
How to get a Slaughter and May training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: TBC
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
Applications to both the training contract and work experience schemes at Slaughter and May begin with a straightforward online form, plus a CV and one-page covering letter. “I just wrote why I wanted to join the firm and why I wanted to be a lawyer,” one of the firm's trainees recalled. “Keep it short and sweet, though it does need to be formal of course.”
“We don’t have set criteria demanding you have three As at A level,” a source in recruitment says, “but we do look for a strong 2:1 degree.” Our trainee sources agreed that “the Oxbridge influence is undeniable, but no one looks down on someone who hasn't gone to a top-ten uni.”
Slaughter and May starts receiving applications for its work experience schemes in October, and it's worth getting in there early as the firm schedules interviews on a rolling basis. The scheme is aimed at penultimate-year law and non-law students.
Unusually, summer work experience interviews usually take place on campus – the firm assesses around 200 students this way. The interview takes place with a partner and an associate, and includes a discussion about a topical article.
The firm runs a week-long scheme at Easter, two three-week schemes over June and July for law undergrads, plus another three-week scheme in September for non-law students. There are usually around 20 students on each of the schemes. All students sit in a single department for the duration of their visit, and take part in various workshops and case studies. One major highlight is a day trip to the Brussels office
Work experience students have the option of interviewing for a training contract during the last week of their placement. The firm informs us they aren't given special treatment over direct applicants, however, and are also required to do the written examination direct applicants do as part of their interview process (see below).
Training contract applications
The firm typically receives around 1,700 applications each year for its 75 to 80 training contracts. In 2016 around 450 students were invited to an interview day – this includes a written exercise, an interview with two partners, a tour of the office with a trainee solicitor and a short interview with HR.
According to the firm's trainees, succeeding at interview involves “showing you can think laterally. They don't want you to repeat verbatim what you learnt at law school; they want new solutions and fresh ideas.” Our grad recruitment sources tell us the firm is particularly interested in those who demonstrate “the ability to show grit under pressure” and have “a range of interests outside the law.”
Magic circle firms explained
Magic what now? Read our guide to the magic circle firms.
Slaughter and May
One Bunhill Row,
- Partners 114*
- Associates 400*
- Total trainees 141
- *Worldwide figures
- Contact The trainee recruitment team
- Method of application Online (via website)
- Selection procedure Interview
- Training contracts pa Approx 80
- Required degree grade Strong 2:1
- Training salary (August 2016)
- First year: £43,000
- Second year: £48,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days pa
- % of trainees with a non-law degree Approx 50%
- No of seats available abroad pa Approx 30
- Post-qualification salary £78,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (September 2016) 97%
- Overseas offices Brussels, Beijing and Hong Kong, plus relationship firms in all the major jurisdictions.
Main areas of work