Looking for “a well-established City firm with an international outlook and a reputation for hiring (non-psychopathic) personable lawyers?” Right this way…
Simmons' big City name is an obvious draw for a lot of the trainees we interview, but the firm is no carbon copy of its Square Mile rivals; a few quirks and speclialist areas mean there's appeal here beyond the corporate-finance conveyor belt. A few of our sources were impressed by Simmons’ “progressive and pioneering approach” to modern technology, with the firm’s 2019 acquisition of tech solutions provider Wavelength putting the legal press on notice. “Simmons was among the very first, and one of the few firms at the time that set up a FinTech fund (in 2016), which was a major draw for me,” an interviewee noted. More creative types were simply sold by the art collection: Simmons has been collecting modern art to adorn its office walls for the past three decades.
With roots in the City dating back to 1896, the firm has a history to rival the magic circle and a similarly global presence: 23offices worldwide at the last count. Simmons also expanded its domestic presence into Bristol in 2012. “There’s very much a two-offices, one-firm approach” according to sources there – “in terms of work distribution, trainees get the same experience in Bristol.” The firm confirmed its commitment to the second location with a move to larger office space in 2019; it also pays one of the highest trainee and qualification salaries in the South West, albeit less than the London pay packet. The Cambridge base is home to the 'Simmons Wavelength' legal support team and does not take trainees.
“Simmons was among the very first, and one of the few firms at the time that set up a FinTech fund.”
To match its forward-thinking expansion into legal tech, Simmons has carved out an enviable niche in life sciences, earning three Chambers UK rankings for the practice. Its best performance is in finance, including five capital markets rankings and top prizes for hedge funds, commodities and financial crime; but the firm also tops the table for employment. Head to chambers.com for the full breakdown.
Trainees at Simmons do four six-month seats, including one contentious (competition, antitrust and trade (CAT); IP; litigation; or employment) and two non-contentious (the firm has various banking and finance seats alongside corporate, projects and real estate options). The last is trainees’ to choose depending on availability; they may also have the option to go on secondment to a client or overseas office. Options are reviewed every six months, although regular international secondments include Hong Kong and Dubai. “Responsibility levels can vary enormously between departments,” sources warned. It’s also worth noting that Bristol offers fewer seat options than the London HQ.
Simmons’ finance-based seats fall under four categories: banking, financial services, capital markets and disputes. Each department has subgroups and trainees can request to practise in a specific one if they’d prefer to. In each of the groups, you’ll find a who’s who of the banking and finance elite on the client list including Deutsche, Credit Suisse, NatWest and Morgan Stanley.
Folks in financial services handle funds and asset management plus regulatory and derivatives matters. Hedge funds are a Simmons speciality – the firm helped the world’s third largest hedge manager Man Group launch a new fund in summer 2019, including a Cayman segregated portfolio company. Many clients have sought advice on the possible effects of Brexit on their finances, and Simmons launched a dedicated Brexit Task Force to assist them. First-hand client contact is high in a financial services seat “because there a number of core documents we need to review and negotiate,” trainees declared. Said documents are “corporate ancillaries within a funds dimension, including NDAs and engagement letters.” Sources had also handled large fund updates: “There were a number of regulatory changes to fund legislation, so an associate and I went through documents enacting all the updates.” Trainees summarised their time here as “an absolute joy: the team was very good at introducing me to the people who ran all the different funds, so I got to know the clients really well.”
“The nature of the work means some days you have nothing on and the next day you’re at 100% capacity.”
Derivatives and structured finance can be found in capital markets, alongside debt and asset-back securitisations. There’s a fair degree of crossover with financial services, including plenty of hedge fund advice – both teams had roles on Crake Asset Management’s $1.6 billion hedge fund launch, Europe’s largest in 2019. “It’s one of the seats with the highest amount of client exposure because we only work with a few select clients, but we do a lot of repeat work for them,” an insider explained. Transactions are quite leanly staffed so “the hours can be quite intense,” and trainees kept busy taking a first crack at negotiating agreements “either by looking at templates or using precedents.” They then mark up said agreements, get associates to check them over, and hash out the terms with the other side. Interviewees explained it takes a while to “understand what the complex master agreements are actually saying.” Bristolians do similar work to their London counterparts: “This group arguably does the most complex and interesting work available in the practice area… not bad for regional trainees!”
The firm’s banking department keeps most of its dealings confidential, but we can mention Simmons client Nurture Landscapes’ £40 million credit extension provided by HSBC. Sources characterised matters here as “a lot more fast-paced: deals usually complete in a fortnight, then you’re on to the next, so you have to juggle multiple deals for multiple clients.” That said, “the nature of the work means some days you have nothing on and the next day you’re at 100% capacity, so you never really know how your week is going to go.” Trainees were surprised to find “deals can sometimes have societal importance on top of being high-stakes, so we’re engaged in work that will make a difference. That’s not what you’d expect from banking, it’s usually quite faceless.” A common task in this seat is “really technical research,” which can pose “a cerebral challenge.”
Disputes can also be research-heavy, but trainees got their fair share of more scintillating responsibilities such as drafting letters to the other side, making court applications and liaising with counsel. Financial and commercial disputes alike fall in here: the group recently represented international mobile network operator Telefónica in a £25 million clash with Carphone Warehouse. Simmons’ disputes team also advises LG, BP and other companies with names longer than two letters. “Taking an active role” in cross-departmental client meetings, one lucky source revealed they only had one bundle to do in the whole seat. Others noted clear progression over their time in disputes: “A real highlight was when I was drafting letters to the other side – who were being really aggressive – and my drafts came back with only one or two changes from supervisors, where previously I’d had about half my drafts amended. It was like progressing from a secondary school Year 7 to Year 8!”
“A bit daunting for people who need their hand held, but it encourages you to be independent.”
School is also in session in real estate, where trainees reckoned they “had the most client-facing responsibility of all the seats. I was let loose with my own matters, which is typical for this department.” These cases tend to be lower-value asset management projects, “like if a client rents out a property and the tenant wants to redecorate. They won’t always want to get involved in landlord/tenant disputes, so we negotiate a licence for alteration instead.” Newbies also play a smaller part in bigger transactions by running the due diligence. Simmons recently acted for Hines UK during its acquisition of a former Sainsbury's site in Birmingham, to build student accommodation; the firm’s other clients include Legal & General and M7 Real Estate. Even first-seaters here get to run their own small files, especially if a departing trainee left work outstanding; it can “be a bit daunting for people who need their hand held, but it encourages you to be independent and makes you proactive in asking questions.”
Employment counts as a contentious seat at Simmons, but trainees reported a roughly 50/50 split between litigious and advisory matters. “It’s good for people who don’t want to be a litigator because you get to do the contentious seat alongside non-contentious work,” insiders noted. The firm almost exclusively represents employers, often in tribunal cases. Monzo, AXA and Invesco are among the companies on the roster; management consulting firm Russell Reynolds called on the team’s aid when a new hire’s former workplace attempted to block their recruitment. An employment seat comes with its share of “basic tasks like bundling and disclosure, which can be mundane, but you get more responsibility if you prove yourself and can move on to preparing witness statements.” Non-contentious work involves supporting corporate transactions, such as integrating employees following a company acquisition. Sources were pleased with the “huge amount of client contact: partners like us to be the first port of call.”
In keeping with its City compadres, several departments at the firm have reputations for requiring “brutal”hours on the part of trainees. “The people at Simmons aren’t put off by long hours because we know we’re doing some of the best work in the City,” insiders declared. Weekend work can be hard to avoid, and many made use of the office canteen or ordered takeaway post-8pm. “The partners are really good at rewarding people” who do have to put in long shifts. “They give us time off in lieu and the work is really interesting, so it never really feels like you spend your Sundays working.” Despite their heavy load, trainees are “very keen to snap up”pro bono and found “nobody gives you a hard time for doing it.” The firm does a lot of international work supporting human rights defenders and authored the Human Rights Defenders’ Toolbox, but trainees had also advised on smaller projects for regular pro bono clients like Macmillan and the Big Issue, or hosted CV workshops with under-resourced schools to “encourage access to the legal profession.”
“…make an effort to make sure people’s voices are heard.”
The firm’s own efforts in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce were a little less well received by some trainee sources, but Simmons has earned plaudits as a Stonewall Top Global Employer 2019 and a Times top 50 employer for women. Internal diversity groups include MERGE for minority ethnic lawyers, which provides a forum for diverse individuals to discuss any difficulties they face; they also receive a dedicated mentor. The Number One Club – named after the firm’s London address at 1 Ropemaker Street – is there for female lawyers and there are several religious organisations available too. All in all, sources agreed Simmons does “make an effort to make sure people’s voices are heard.”
“All the partners I’ve met have been so approachable and down to earth, which is a bit strange given how intelligent and powerful they are,” one of our more starstruck interviewees suggested. Simmons may seek out “high-performance lawyers who never shrink away from work,” but we heard it’s also looking for “genuinely nice people who are human before anything else.” The trainee cohort is particularly close: “We did loads of activities during lockdown, like drinks and a virtual bake-off. Baked goods are a common fixture at the firm and on the 124th anniversary, staff and lawyers baked 124 cakes and donated the proceeds to charity.” We heard that one of the firm’s practice group heads hosts a summer garden party at their home; others make a point to check in with trainees even after they’ve left the department.
“Baked goods are a common fixture at the firm.”
There was some confusion (and a little discontent) surrounding the trainee assessment system. Each trainee receives a grade against broad criteria, “but how the assessors come to their decisions is quite opaque.” Insiders were more positive about their everyday training, especially given the challenging nature of their work. “The tasks end up being so complicated that you can’t find the answer, but that means we’re able to make judgement calls which the supervisor then challenges you on,” they explained.Simmons’ feedback system is gradually becoming more formalised to bring it in line with trainee development objectives. “My supervisors were brilliant,” one source said. “They were really interested in pastoral care and my career development while making sure sure I wasn’t overburdened or doing just grunt work.”
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed Simmons’ NQ process, but sources anticipated the firm would stick with its usual system: a jobs list comes out around the fourth seat, then trainees rank available departments in order of preference. A dating-app-style matching process determines which groups trainees will get jobs in. Simmons retained 13 of its 18 qualifiers in 2020.
Keep in mind…
Simmons hired an external mental health adviser who hosts a weekly wellbeing course. “Deadlines and work volume can affect mental health, but I feel I can speak up if that happens and that it will be addressed,” one source said.
How to get a Simmons & Simmons training contract
Spring insight scheme 2021 (London): 30-21 March 2021.
Applications open: 15 January 2021.
Deadline: 15 February 2021.
Winter vacation scheme (2020, London): 7-11 December 2020.
Applications open: 15 October 2020.
Deadline: 1 November 2020.
Summer vacation scheme (2021, London): 28 June-9 July 2021.
Applications open: 15 October 2020.
Deadline: 15 January 2021
Summer vacation scheme (2021, Bristol): 14-25 June 2021.
Applications open: 15 October 2020.
Deadline: 15 February 2021
Legal tech placement (2021): Applications open: 15 October 2020
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. Prospective recruits submit an online application and take a situational judgement test. Those who are 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, an analytical exercise and an interview.
Simmons & Simmons runs a week-long winter placement for final-year law and non-law graduates. The firm also runs a two-week summer scheme in the London office, and a two-week summer scheme in Bristol. They are all open to penultimate-year law and non-law students, plus 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. Ninety-nine percent of it went over my head, but it was great to see what I might be doing in a few years' time.”
Get some insight
The firm runs a two-day spring insight scheme in the London office. Apply by 15 February 2021 to be in with a chance of attending.
Legal tech placement
Simmons & Simmons has a year-long legal tech placement, called 'Evolve'.
There's one role on offer, lasting 12 months with two six-months rotations, one in the firm's 'innovation and business change' department and one in its FinTech team. The former works on delivering the firm's strategy, especially through new tech and services. FinTech is one of the firm's legal teams, advising clients in this sector. Those on the placement can expect to do market research, assess new technology, come up with new ideas, help organise events and do legal research.
The placement student be evaluated during the programme and if they meet the required standard will be offered a training contract.
Simmons & Simmons LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners 280+ (Global), 145+ (UK)
- Associates: 580+ (Global), 270+ (UK)
- Trainees: 52 (UK)
- Offices: 23
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected] com
- Training partner: Matthew Hooton
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 24+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 136 UCAS points
- Vacation scheme places pa: 60 Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020 (Winter, London), 15th October 2020 (Summer, London and Bristol)
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 1st November 2020 (Winter), 15th January 2021 (Summer, London), 15th February 2021 (Summer, Bristol)
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,500 (London), £40,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £50,000 (London), £42,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £84,000 (London), £53,000 (Bristol)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: London - £7,500 for the PGDL and £9,000 for the LPC Bristol - £6,500 for the PGDL and £7,500 for the LPC
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands
- Overseas seats: Varies
- Client secondments: Varies
We’re a truly international firm, with truly international reach. Every day, our expert teams across Europe, the Middle East and Asia come together to work on our clients toughest commercial challenges. Our lawyers are sector specialists so they’re experts in the areas that matter most to everyone’s future – from healthcare and technology to the financial forces that power our world. We’re reimagining what a career in law looks like. It’s all part of our long-term strategy to change the way we work, so we can deliver smarter solutions – to our people and our clients. It means that when you join our firm, you’ll discover so much more than the practice of law.
Main areas of work
We view the world through the lens of our key sectors: asset management and investment funds, financial institutions, healthcare and life sciences, and technology, media and telecommunications. These sector teams are drawn from the core practice areas of: corporate; projects; information, communications and technology; competition and antitrust and trade; dispute resolution; intellectual property; employment, pensions and incentives; banking; structured finance and derivatives; debt capital markets; financial services; real estate and tax.
We offer training contracts in both Bristol and London, and either way, you’ll spend two years discovering the innovation we’re known for. As well as moving through four six-month seats across our practice areas, you’ll also benefit from the Compass programme; our unique and progressive trainee skills academy that offers a combination of practical learning and online tools designed to support your journey through to qualification.
Discover what it’s like to be a trainee lawyer with one of our vacation schemes. Over one or two weeks in either Bristol or London, you’ll experience the work, the reach and the day-to-day buzz of our international firm. Throw yourself into this full programme of social events and work experience, and you’ll get a taste for our firm and the work we do, from research to drafting, and meetings to departmental training.
Winter vacation scheme (London): A one-week scheme aimed specifically at final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 1st October 2020.
Summer vacation scheme (London or Bristol): A two-week scheme open to penultimate and final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 15th October 2020.
Please note that we fill our roles on a rolling basis and advise you to apply as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
25 days holiday, pension contributions, private medical insurance including Virtual GP advice, discounted gym membership and health assessments, life assurance, employee assistance programme, eye sight tests, cycle to work scheme, payroll giving scheme, travel insurance, season ticket loan.
Open days and first-year opportunities
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 15th January 2021.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking Litigation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 2)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 4)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
- Consumer Finance (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Open-ended Funds (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 3)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)