There's more to motivate you at this respected stalwart than its flashy City work.
You can tell a lot about a firm's ambitions by the other firms its lawyers choose to mention. “We don't have the size or the grandiosity of the magic circle firms,” mused one trainee – and they're right, but that's not the point. The point is that Simmons & Simmons only has eyes for the City's highest echelons. It's spent the last decade opening a fistful of offices – springing up in Dublin in 2018 for the anticipated post-Brexit business; it's pushed to implement a 'high performance culture' – conducting rigorous appraisals to push trainees and lawyers alike to ever higher levels; it's committed to a sector focus – targeting asset management and investment funds, financial institutions, life sciences and technology, media and telecommunications; and, its revenue has gone up and up – the firm clocked 7% growth in 2016/17, and 12% in 2017/18.
But this firm is no plucky upstart – the firm counts 21 offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Simmons & Simmons' work on hedge funds, employment, commodities and financial crime is all top-drawer. As a trainee put it: "Some departments are already up there with the magic circle in terms of the quality and type of work." There's a full breadth of impressive work beyond these highlights too: Simmons & Simmons' work on capital markets, IP, professional negligence, real estate finance, consumer finance, financial services regulatory, and life sciences is all ranked highly by Chambers UK.
“Everyone builds the relationships inside the firm that make the day-to-day so much easier.”
In past years we've committed a fair few column inches to the firm's 'high performance culture'. One of the most distinguishable implications of this ethos is an appraisal process providing trainees and lawyers alike with discrete targets and career goals “to encourage a culture where individuals can strive to achieve more and progress to where they want to be.” So while the terminology might be slightly scary, and trainees' performance is analysed in comparison with the efforts of their peers, trainees' experiences showed it hadn't resulted in anything too cut-throat. “People here have that ability to work hard, get stuck in and dedicate themselves to their work, but then, when it calms down everyone builds the relationships inside the firm that make the day-to-day so much easier.”
Simmons & Simmons takes on roughly 35 trainees each year (only three of whom head to the small Bristol office), so these aren't quite the masses arriving at some of its City peers. Equally, it's not the super-select crew you find at American firms. Trainees must complete a seat in each of these broad categories: financial markets, corporate/commercial and contentious. A relevant international or client secondment can count as their financial markets or corporate/commercial option. The seat allocation process asks trainees to rank all ten seats on offer in order of preference. Our interviewees found it “a positive experience” where more often than not they got seats from the top of their list.
Snagging an international secondment could be less straightforward. While applying is formally the same as any other seat, sources felt getting these "usually requires you to have a decent appraisal." However it wasn't too transparent what the exact criteria were. A lack of clarity on upcoming client secondments also received a few frowns. "Fewer secondments are on offer now, and when you get the new list they will be completely different from the previous rotation. It would be nice if that could be more consistent."
How does your garden grow?
Capital markets trainees are allocated to one of three main areas: structured products and derivatives; debt capital markets; or securitisation and asset-backed finance. If this is gibberish to you, it's not surprising: capital markets seats normally have a steep learning curve. Thankfully, sources at S&S told us: "They front-load the training. You get a crash course on all the matters and technical stuff you need, which I found really useful." The department performs particularly well on the buy-side of securitisations and structured products, with plenty of work coming from hedge funds on derivatives transactions. The firm recently advised lending startup Greensill Capital as it worked on a capital markets-based £300 million financing of aircraft for Boeing (among others). It also advised Walmart on a cash tender offer of $2.5 million worth of debt securities.
Newbies can expect "lots of drafting,” with one source reporting: "I think I drafted over 60 transaction agreements independently. It's very precedent-driven so there is always something you can rely on. Because my supervisors took a real interest in my learning, as time went by I could do the drafting in my sleep." Managing the changes to incoming documents was also a regular activity, which did translate into a fair bit of client contact. "I felt like the clients actually knew me," beamed one source. “Clients were calling me directly to ask questions about the status of the deal and what the next steps would be. Being able to answer those questions was extremely satisfying!"
"I have been the contact for some of the biggest financial institutions in the world!"
The investment funds team is a true expert in advising on hedge funds, primarily on the setting up of funds. A typical example saw the firm help Brevan Howard – a Jersey-based company with funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands – on the launch of the Brevan Howard AS Macro Fund. But the big-name clients also mean big demands, with trainees pulling long hours and dashing to meet tight deadlines. On the plus side they liked the prestige of the seat. "I have been the contact for some of the biggest financial institutions in the world!" gloated one trainee. “That's a pretty cool thing to say." Newbies described their progression: “Starting off, you would just be putting comments into the agreements. Later you are listening to negotiations and producing the first mark-ups. There are also some cross-border projects where you are going to be liaising with counsel across the world and having phone calls with clients."
Little rocket scam
The employment seat falls under the contentious category, although the team does do some advisory work. Its strength comes in litigation, and 80% of its billings stem from financial institutions, asset managers and investment funds. The team recently acted on behalf of global finance consultancy Capco, on a $100 million claim that employees of its fintech subdivision 'Bold Rocket' illegally diverted Capco's clients to use start-ups the employees secretly owned. On the advisory side the team also helped long-standing client Moody's, a credit rating agency, on the employment law, pensions and incentives aspects of its €3 billion acquisition of Dutch analytics provider Bureau van Dijk. Trainees might work on "mundane but vital tasks like bundling,” then have "somebody asking for an hour of your time to research something and come up with a note of advice." Newbies also drafted witness statements and attended mediations, “speaking to clients about their disclosure obligations." Trainees enjoyed their time because "the subject matter is a lot more accessible and naturally interesting than other seats. You don't need to understand complex laws to understand a client's position."
The tax team handles all sorts of tax matters for clients from the energy, financial services, media, telecoms, and, of course, asset management sectors. One great example of the firm's strengths in advising on cross-border tax and structuring matters is the firm's work on US investment management company Invesco's acquisition of UK-based Source Holdings. Other clients include Allianz, Citigroup, Sumitomo Rubber and The British Land Company. Trainees get involved with both advisory and contentious work, but the experience was similar. "I did quite a bit of research on new laws," explained one. "During your six months you will either get the budget or the spring statement and trainees get quite involved in looking at the changes." The seat was judged to be "academically challenging," but our sources preferred head-scratching in a seat with more reliable hours, rather than, excuse the pun, “taxing late night bundling.”
A seat in information, communications and technology provides the tantalising prospect of working with a host of super-recognisable names: Samsung, BT, Virgin Media and Telefónica UK (owner of O2). All use the firm for its expertise in telecoms, which covers procurement contracts, M&A and data protection. The team recently advised O2, giffgaff and Tesco Mobile on their GDPR data protection compliance programme. On the IT side of things the firm works heavily in the financial sector, advising on licensing and service agreements and procurement. As well as “writing terms and conditions and cookie policies for companies' websites based on GDPR,” one trainee recalled working on “a big outsourcing deal for a telecoms client. When the agreements, the schedules, and the contracts were going back and forwards, I would do the first review of any changes that were made or suggested by the other side. If we had a negotiating meeting I would also have a go at drafting the points that came out of it.” This is a busy seat where “you are dealing with lots of smaller issues, having to juggle nine or ten things at once. Your scheduling needs to be quite good.”
When life gives you Simmons
Putting the chatter about a 'high performance culture' aside, trainees saw a softer side to Simmons. "Everyone is incredibly hard-working" explained one source, "but they equally encourage everybody to have a life outside of work." The firm's approach to managing busy times demonstrated this. When GDPR hit, some trainees were put “on a mailing list so that we could be on hand to assist with the work load. It's a case of spreading the load to deliver a high-quality product, but it's also about supporting each other.” The social scene meanwhile includes the usual summer and Christmas parties, but there are also a variety of sports teams, an LGBT network, and a trainee committee to provide a mix of events. Departments take up the mantle too. "Tax is a small department so we had a sit-down dinner with some party games,” recalled one insider. Another told us: "Litigation are a big team so they will hire out a big venue and are much more formal, with the men in tuxedos."
“Feedback is certainly given and appreciated as a positive thing.”
Training starts with a three-week induction covering the firm's systems. There's also a new programme which teaches trainees "the skills they need to be an effective lawyer: soft skills, like dealing with pressure and transitioning to being an associate. That goes from the LPC right through to the end of your training contract." Departmental training features in every seat too. "It was pretty well done, certainly with the funds work, they really keep it concentrated so it's a useful introduction." Sources were happy with their supervision, but did note that the style depends "on the departments you are in. For example, in funds feedback is certainly given and appreciated as a positive thing, but in employment you really are encouraged to seek out feedback. You have to get over your insecurities about asking."
Those joining Simmons should brace themselves for seats where “on average I was leaving between 8pm and 9pm.” Capital markets and corporate seemed to be the worst offenders for keeping trainees from their beds. The transactional seats delivered big fluctuations, though trainees played it down a little: “I haven't ever had to run the gauntlet of doing an all-nighter, but I have stayed until 2am or 3am. I could count the number of times I've done that on one hand.” But when the work allowed it, trainees had noticed a flexible approach to their hours. “There's a big football game on today,” said one insider. “So I'll be leaving at 6pm.” Rejecting a facetime culture should be fairly simple; hitting on a successful qualification process can be trickier. Nevertheless a blip in retention in 2016 seems to have been corrected: the firm kept on 28 of its 32 qualifiers in 2018. Trainees noticed three things: one, the whole process has been moved forward, preventing people from taking jobs elsewhere; second, the teams aren't told if they were the first choice of the trainees applying to them, which helps trainees avoid awkward conversations; and third, there are Q&A sessions with grad recruitment “so that you don't go into the process in the dark.”
Simmons has an expansive pro bono programme, with trainees able to count 50 hours spent on pro bono cases as billable hours. There's even a pro bono seat available with the Red Cross.
How to get a Simmons & Simmons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018/19): 1 November 2018 (winter); 15 January 2018 (summer, London); 15 Feburary (summer, Bristol)
Training contract deadline (2021): 15 January 2019 (London);15 February 2019 (London)
Simmons & Simmons receives around 3,000 applications for its training contracts and vacation schemes each year. The firm offers around 25 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 a two-week summer scheme in the London office, and a one-week summer scheme in Bristol. They are all 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 2019 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 280+
- Associates 500+
- Total Trainees 60
- UK offices Bristol, London
- Overseas offices 19
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]
- Training partner: Matthew Hooton
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 25+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 65
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline: 15 January 2019 (London) 15 February 2019 (Bristol)
- Vacation scheme 2018/19 deadlines: 1 November 2018 (winter), 15 January 2019 (summer, London), 15 February 2019 (summer, Bristol)
- Spring Insight Scheme deadline: 15 February 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000 (London), £38,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £48,000 (London), £39,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000 (London), £51,000 (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 2018
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 2019
Summer vacation scheme (London): A two-week scheme open to penultimate and final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 15 October 2018
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 2018
Please note that we fill our roles on a first come first served basis. We therefore advise you to apply as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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