Those looking to do a sterling job will find many a project to fill their time at this US export.
Shearman & Sterling training contract review 2022
Sterling. Definition: conforming to the highest standard. Synonyms: First-rate. Excellent. Top-notch. These are all suitable descriptions and adjectives to use to introduce Shearman & Sterling – one of the New York heavyweight firms that has built a global network of offices and a reputation for snapping up some of the most desirable mandates in the market. In Chambers Global, Shearman & Sterling is in esteemed company when it comes to its projects, capital markets and banking & finance know-how.
“I wanted an established US firm."
These are core practices for the firm’s London office too: Chambers UKgives nods to these areas, as well as accolades for the office’s high-end corporate/M&A, energy and natural resources, competition, infrastructure and financial services regulatory work. Shearman was one of the early batch of US firms to set up shop in the capital in the 1970s, which gives it a longevity that appealed to our sources: “I wanted an established US firm,”one made clear to us. A “perception of growth in the London market” was also important, with leveraged finance and corporate identified as key areas for expansion. The firm's “excellent compensation” was unsurprisingly another key draw, which has recently risen to £145,000 at NQ level. Shearman’s training contract tilts more towards the transactional side of the legal spectrum and will suit those looking to make their mark in the realms of corporate and finance work especially.
Business need typically determines where incoming trainees head to for their first seat. After that, trainees usually submit a minimum of five preferences for their next seat. Trainees must complete at least two seats within Shearman’s three core departments: finance, M&A and project development finance (PDF). “HR tries quite hard to give everyone their top choices, though it all boils down to business need,”a source concluded.Shearman does offer a variety of overseas secondments, with destinations like Singapore, Abu Dhabi and New York on the cards for trainees with a taste for travel. The firm also offers a handful of client secondments with some of its large institutional clients.
Leveraged and structured finance are key areas for Shearman’s finance department. One trainee enthused that “it’s a great place to start, as you get to know the core of Shearman's practice and work with lots of different people at the firm.” The team works for both borrowers and lenders, with transactions funnelling finance into many sectors, including energy, travel, manufacturing, and food and beverages. Lender clients include Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Bank of America, while on the borrower side you’ll find Carlson Travel. There’s also a sponsor-side practice that accommodates private equity and investment clients like Mubadala Capital and Marlin Equity Partners. “The work is quite fast-paced,”an interviewee recalled. “You must work efficiently and quickly to please clients and their schedules. It’s a great seat for developing organisational and deal management skills.”
“I received associate-level responsibility and was able to take charge of the deal.”
Over in Shearman’s M&Adepartment, you can expect to work on cross-border deals with some of the world’s biggest companies and financial institutions. General Electric, Liberty Global and one of Macquarie’s infrastructure funds are all clients here. The team recently represented financial tech giant SS&C Technologies on its share purchase agreement with Capita Life & Pensions Services; advised Swedish packaging and processing corporation Tetra Laval on its acquisition of a business from Avon Rubber (this deal spanned Brazil, China, Italy, the US, the UK and the Netherlands); and advised DBAY Advisors on its acquisition of a 29% stake in Anexo Group. “You get some really varied work,”one interviewee was pleased to report. “On one deal it was just myself and a partner, so I received associate-level responsibility and could take charge of things early.”More typical tasks for trainees included collating documents for deal signings, liaising with local counsel and getting involved in due diligence assignments.
The project development and finance(PDF) team is known for handling matters in emerging markets in Africa, Central Asia and Latin America. These projects typically occur within the energy and natural resources sectors. The team recently advised on the development and financing of the Sharjah Waste-to-Energy project in the United Arab Emirates, as well as various lenders (including BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole Corporate) on the expansion of the Middle East Oil Refinery in Egypt. “I did more admin tasks in project finance,”a source told us, “such as sending out signature packs. I often felt that I wasn’t massively involved in the deal and was doing random admin tasks.” Managing the conditions precedent checklist and drafting ancillary documents were also highlighted as key trainee activities here.
“It’s enjoyable and no day is the same.”
"Interesting work, fascinating people and reasonable expectations”were the hallmarks of a stint in Shearman’s financial institutions advisory & financial regulatorydepartment.“It’s a good thing to do,” another source concluded, “as you’re helping financial institutions to comply with various regulations for the benefit of consumers.”The regulatory impact of Brexit continues to be a major area where banks (including investment banks) and insurers need advice from Shearman’s team. The group is also well known for advising on any conflicts in regulatory frameworks that can arise for businesses and investors operating across the EU, the UK and the US. Citibank, Riverstone Insurance and First Eagle Investment are on the client roster here, and a recent matter saw the team advise ICE Benchmark Administration on the regulatory considerations surrounding the move away from the LIBOR interest rate to new ‘risk-free’ rates. “The day-to-day work is research-heavy,” summarised this interviewee. “It’s enjoyable and no day is the same. I was reading up on pieces of legislation and looking at changes to the law following Brexit.”
For those with a hankering for more contentious matters, there is a seat in international arbitration available. “This seat gave me a serious amount of responsibility and partner contact,”this source reported enthusiastically. “I have been totally thrown in at the deep end, which is great!” Commercial and investment treaty arbitrations are covered across a range of sectors such as construction, telecoms and mining. On the investment treaty side, Shearman has been representing a group of Malaysian investors during a dispute with Sri Lanka connected to a renewable energy enterprise.
As with many firms in the City, Shearman’s trainees can work long hours. Consistent 10pm finishes were not unheard of, neither was work on the weekends. “The teams appreciate the long hours or weekends that you put in for transactional seats,” commented one source. “At the same time, I haven’t experienced a ‘facetime’ culture – you are encouraged to get breathing space during the quieter times, so long as you’re available when things pick up.” Trainees’ statements about hours did vary, with one asserting that Shearman has “a better work/life balance and respect for personal life” in comparison to other firms, while this interviewee felt that there was a “requirement for near-constant availability”in the finance department. The average trainee hours recorded over the past week in our survey was 50.5 (which is in line with City firms), although a few did report working over 65 hours.
“There is a ‘team spirit’ energy, where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into the job at hand.”
On the plus side, some sources did feel that the firm’s culture carried them through the long hours. This trainee explained that “no matter how busy someone is, associates are friendly and willing to take the time to answer any questions you may have as a trainee. There is a ‘team spirit’ energy, where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into the job at hand.” Another source mentioned how good their assigned NQ mentor has been at “having Zoom calls and chatting over something. You can also seek out other mentors if you want. Generally, the people here are great and open to assuming that position.”On the whole, Shearman’s lawyers were described as “intelligent and at the top of their game, but by no means stuffy or pretentious.”This interviewee added that “the lawyers here are professional, courteous and thorough in tackling challenges, but stand out from other firms in their ability to always retain a sense of humour while doing so, which takes the sting out of the long hours!”
“The firm has many D&I initiatives that are commendable,”another source noted. Shearman’s inclusion networks include Sterling Pride for LGBTQ+ attorneys, as well as WISER (Women’s Initiative for Success, Excellence and Retention), BLAQUE (Black Lawyers Aligned in the Quest for Excellence), AACES (Asian Attorneys for Community, Empowerment and Success), and finally: BUILD (Black Undergraduate Internship & Lawyer Development).“There’s good diversity among the trainee intake,” commented one trainee, “but diversity drops off due to higher attrition among female and BME lawyers.”This interviewee added that “in some groups, there are few female partners and senior associates."
Trainees’ NQ mentors are also on hand to run them through the qualification process. Qualifiers are encouraged to have conversations with partners in the departments they are interested in: “It’s not a requirement, but you don’t want the partners’ only knowledge of your intentions to just be on the qualification preference form.”Associates-to-be ultimately submit their preferences and usually don’t have to interview for positions. For this source, “the main negative is the difficulty trainees face when they want to qualify into smaller teams, which rarely hire. There doesn’t seem to be much flexibility, which is a shame.” In 2021, the firm did not disclose the number of trainees it retained.
“The pro bono opportunities are interesting, extensive and highly encouraged,” this source informed us, while a fellow trainee gloated: “We receive a sticker next to our name depending on how many hours of pro bono we’ve done – lawyers love stickers!”
How to get a Shearman & Sterling training contract
Spring/Summer scheme deadline (2022): 16 January 2022
Training contract deadline: Apply for a training contract through a vacation scheme
Competition for training contracts at Shearman & Sterling is increasingly fierce. Applications for 2021 vacation schemes were high; 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. The firm now recruits exclusively through its vacation scheme.
Graduate recruitment manager, Paul Gascoyne tells us the online form “is pretty standard” and contains three open-ended questions: 'Why do you want to be a solicitor?' and 'Why Shearman & Sterling specifically?' plus “a commercial question about our place in the industry.”
“There are four elements to an application that can help a candidate to progress to the interview stage,” Gascoyne says. “They are strong academics, evidence of relevant work experience, tailored answers to our questions, and an error-free application form. We like to see that, at the very least, candidates attended firm open days or other non-assessed events – that shows they're committed to a career in the law.”
Interviews and assessments
Around 5% 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 Gascoyne. “We aim for a conversational tone to ensure it's a two-way process.”
Candidates are asked the usual 'Why law?' and 'Why Shearman & Sterling?' 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,” Gascoyne says.
The vacation scheme
Shearman & Sterling has historically run 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 Gascoyne. “We might arrange for them to have a coffee with a partner from that department, for example.”
He 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.
Trainees who’d experienced other vac schemes were won over by Shearman & Sterling: “Some firms give you fake pieces of work and put on too many socials. Here, they give you a taste of what it’s really like as a trainee.”
Interview with head of graduate recruitment James Webber
James Webber: One of our firm’s strategic objectives is increasing disputes proportionally within the firm, with a long-term goal to make disputes count for 30% of Shearman & Sterling’s revenue and headcount – we’ve been growing litigation and arbitration practices in London also.
JW: ‘Not much is probably the answer, to be honest! Brexit has affected the financial markets and attractiveness of UK assets because people don’t know what the pound and the British economy will do. I’m an antitrust guy and I was worried that after the referendum people wouldn’t want to use London-based advisers for competition work as a lot of that faces Brussels. Those worries haven’t come to fruition. A lot of the EU law expertise is here and is likely to stay for the same reasons that many professional services cluster together in the City of London. The prospect of Brexit has affected the economy as a whole, but so far there have been fewer negative effects on our practice than we anticipated.
JW: The vast majority of the work is international. As a trainee, you wouldn’t very often work on UK-only cases or matters involving only UK companies, but that doesn’t mean everything’s been fed in through New York. This isn’t a satellite office and you’re not simply here to service the American HQ.
Does the firm have an elite practice? Shearman & Sterling is an original Wall Street firm and has always been an elite corporate finance and M&A practice. Historically our business was built on advising investment banks and large corporates coming to New York to raise financings or litigate disputes.
Does the firm have a global practice? We have offices in the world’s major financial centres doing significant cross-border work, but we don’t try to compete for purely local work in –say Indonesia or Japan. Firms with large numbers of offices tend to have a very different business model to us.
In terms of US firms in London, another question to consider is does the firm has a substantial English law business? A number of elite New York firms have a very small English law practice; Shearman & Sterling has one of the largest English law practices of the elite US firms. As a trainee you have a wider range of practice areas to train in.
JW: For the last five years we’ve had between 13 and 15 trainees at a time even as the underlying business as grown. The changing way in which we price and manage transactions is likely to lean towards more paralegals and assistants; if so, trainee demand may decrease over time. The market is changing quickly and that does impact what law firms need from their workforce – trainees are expensive and associates even more so. Lots is changing across the profession, but so far our intake has remained stable.
JW: There’s no type as such. We have an extremely large number of applications and we’re very fortunate that we can choose people who’ve got extremely strong academics, then filter them down based on their ability to communicate ideas effectively, analyse problems imaginatively and work in teams. Those are difficult things to do. It doesn’t necessarily translate that someone with the best academic qualifications will have the best analytical or communication skills.
People who are able to communicate, advise, listen closely to and empathise with our clients will fare well here. Lawyers often start their careers thinking of clients as corporations with coldly rational motivations but in reality, client organisations are made up of individuals trying to do their best. The privilege of being a lawyer is that those individuals are seeking your help and advice. That’s why being a lawyer is such a rewarding job. Being able to empathise with clients’ questions and understanding the hurdles they face. That maturity and insight is what we try and look for.
JW: One of the firm’s biggest developments internationally over the past year is building out a Texas business, which is designed to increase our M&A capability. Texas is growing like crazy and if it were an independent country it would be one of the richest in the world. We’ve hired M&A, energy, and tech lawyers in Houston and Austin – those were quite ambitious moves for a Wall Street firm, but they’ve already brought in lots of new opportunities.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 5)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 3)
- Infrastructure (Band 3)
- Projects (Band 1)