A City firm with clout; a global firm in the magic circle’s back yard.
As we sat down to write this, Simmons & Simmons announced it was bringing on board data scientists and techy design experts via its purchase of a legal engineering firm in London and Cambridge. Since its inception in 1896, Simmons has been in the business of hiring lawyers, so we should view this as a bold move. It signals the firm’s commitment to developing legal tech – an arena the magic circle and US giants have thrown their weight (money, really) behind lately. As AI threatens to revolutionise the profession – the law firm business model, billing, staffing and client relations – the firms with a handle on change stand to ride the storm.
Technology and life sciences (huge names like Huawei, O2 and GSK are clients) are significant areas for the firm, so this investment is worth it. But just as importantly, this indicates that this City institution is competitive: “We want to be able to win clients from magic circle firms,” said one trainee. “We want to be the firm of choice, but focusing on where we’re strong” – a strategy paying off for Simmons, whose revenue grew 6% and profits 9% in 2018/19.
“The intention... is to hit the highest standard, without the ruthless aggression. You can dance the dance with a positive attitude.”
We shouldn’t over-stress the tech work. Simmons is well-known for its expertise in the financial sector – it has a very strong City brand. Simmons defines its key sectors as asset management and investment funds; financial institutions; healthcare and life sciences; and technology, media and telecommunications. Each of these sectors receives accolades from Chambers UK as well as employment. Across the firm’s 21 offices its global financial, IP and funds practices get frequent recognition from Chambers Global.
The majority of the firm’s staff and trainees are situated in London, with its office in Bristol seen not as a separate branch, but as an extension of its London office. As one Bristol trainee explained, “we’re doing the same work. We’re told we’re doing a London job. We’re working London hours.” Working for a firm that’s benchmarking itself against the financial elite means working hard. Most trainees reported “having to make plans again” on occasions when work got in the way of their social lives. “If you want to be out before 7pm you can be… Not every day, though” – was the general picture.
A short schmooze
Trainees at S&S do four six-month seats, completing one contentious seat (corporate tax; IP; litigation; and employment) and two non-contentious seats (banking; financial services; structured finance and derivatives; corporate; projects; ICT; debt capital markets; real estate; and competition, antitrust and trade (CAT)), plus another of their choice subject to availability.
None of the seats are compulsory, you list your choices from one to 13 and you “usually get one of your top four.” It is worth noting that in Bristol, there are only nine options, tax and IP missing in contentious, and CAT and debt capital markets in non-contentious. According to several sources, some seats can be “quite competitive” and “it’s not always easy to get the seat you want.” We heard that demand for seats can depend on the whim of your group: “In my intake,” said one trainee, "there were a number of people who wanted to go into commercial litigation. But the year above, barely anyone!”
"That diversity and variety in work is a huge selling point.”
There is also a limited number of international and client secondments available to London and Bristol trainees. “They’re such a great learning experience,” said one trainee. “It’s a pity not everyone gets the chance to do it.” Selection for the former, was described as “a fairly straightforward process.” Wannabe secondees list their destination of choice as their top seat preference; HR then reviews how they've performed in previous seats and sends recommendations to the overseas or client office to make the final decision. Overseas, trainees found themselves doing slightly more mature tasks like “document preparation and drafting,” but what stood out was the importance of “getting to grips with local law, and making sure that everything is clear and obvious to all parties involved. So, there’s a lot of critical analysis needed.” Another highlight for trainees was that there was a greater variety of work in different areas. “I worked on construction arbitration, financial markets litigation, as well as a few bits and bobs in employment.” There were, however, a few grumbles about client secondment. “It’s more political,” said one trainee. “There’s a bit more schmoozing with the client partner in London, so if you’re in Bristol there would be a slight disadvantage.”
In the corporate seat “you have a lot of interaction with other departments as the issues often span a number of different areas.” As one trainee noted, “London often acts as the project managers for cross-jurisdictional deals, which meant there was a fair bit of interaction with other offices around the world as well. I once worked on a case that involved 12 jurisdictions!” In one such cross-border case, S&S advised Biscuit Group International on its acquisition of Northumbrian Fine Foods, in a matter which covered the UK, France and Netherlands.
The work in this seat is “very diverse,” according to the trainees. “The range of clients was huge. I could be going from foreign investors, to banks in the UK, to emerging fintechs. Not one single matter that I worked on was that similar to another. That diversity and variety in work is a huge selling point.” It is worth noting though that the seat “can be very up and down. When you’re busy you’re very busy and when you’re not busy it can be quiet.” One headline case saw the firm advise Elliot Advisors, in relation to its stake in Sky, in a cross-border deal worth £31 billion.
Skates may vary
Employment was described as a very “interesting seat. Very busy.” In the last year, S&S was retained by fellow law firm Baker McKenzie to handle a sensitive internal employment enquiry. It advised The Capital Markets Company (Capco) on a $145 million matter related to concerns that former Capco employees were fraudulently diverting clients, resources and business opportunities to new start-up companies secretly owned by them. It also advised former figure skater and now investment banker, Mary Caroline Tillman, over a matter in which her former employer, Egon Zehnder (a global search firm), tried to stop her moving to a rival firm Russell Reynolds in New York. Despite the interesting work, trainees predominantly spoke about doing standard trainee tasks like document preparation, note taking in client meetings and bundling. Nevertheless, trainees who had sat in the seat, had positive things to say.
Simmons handles both contentious and non-contentious finance work – the firm’s pedigree for funds work falls under this. Financial A-listers adorn the Simmons client list (Santander, Allianz Global Investors, BNP Paribas, Royal Bank of Canada, Standard Bank, Scotiabank, Prudential Financial, to name a few) and matters are reassuringly big. "I haven’t come across any partners who are sociopaths." On the non-contentious side trainees recounted their experiences advising “clients on how to comply with MiFID II [Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, FYI] and AIFMD [Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive].” The work was fairly responsibility-heavy, trainees said, with a lot of “document review, drafting, research and liaising with clients.” One source had even “helped with the everyday running of a fund,” from start to finish. “It was the seat I enjoyed the most, which was unexpected,” reported one trainee. “It’s a strong team, with very approachable partners, who are looking to teach,” said one trainee.
On the contentious side, S&S represented Grant Thornton against a £1.5-billion claim brought by British entrepreneur Robert Tchenguiz. Tchenguiz claimed that Grant Thornton had conspired to initiate the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO’s) investigation into him, which had ultimately led to his arrest in 2011. However, according to the firm’s notes on the case, during cross-examination, Tchenguiz completely changed his tune and the case against Grant Thornton was dropped.
Litigation work isn’t confined to just financial; it straddles all the core business sectors of the firm. Trainees are assigned to one of the three litigious sub-groups – commercial litigation, financial markets litigation or insurance and construction – but our interviewees weren't strictly pigeonholed. As a result we heard of varied experiences: some had “loads of client contact,” while others thought litigation was a “lot less front-facing than other departments.” The seat “was more research-based, researching points of law,” reported a trainee, as well as other standard junior tasks like “document management, document review, drafting smaller letters and witness statements. If you’re very lucky you might attend court.”
The projects seat was “loads of fun,” apparently. “It can be heavy in terms of workload and hours,” one source reckoned, but pressure usually means a huge learning experience: “I felt the people were really invested in my progress. The quality of work I was entrusted with was high.” Energy and infrastructure are the main sectors here, and the work is normally financial or corporate. Trainees might be met by cases such as HS2 or the firm’s representation of the group of lenders on the project finance of an €800 million wind farm in Sweden.
Nice guys finish first
“I’ve never stayed past 3am,” reported a trainee on the new normal of City lawyering. “I’ve never been here the whole night. I know it happens in the City, so I’m grateful for that.” Another trainee told us that “I haven’t come across any partners who are sociopaths, which, after speaking to other people from other big firms around the world, I realise there are.”
We found Simmons trainees to be a realistic but contented bunch: “You put yourself through this stuff: the hard work, the long hours, and you’re looking for any way to normalise it. The natural thing is to look to at someone who is working worse hours and think ‘oh, what I’m doing is not that bad.’” Sometimes Simmons is sneeringly referred to as the ‘nice guys’ by its competitors, which gives you an insight into City firm cultural stereotypes; our sources felt Simmons went against the grain in its level of support. “You’re not beasted like at some US firms,” added one source.
“Everyone I’ve worked with, without exception, has been invested in my development.”
“Everyone I’ve worked with, without exception, has been invested in my development,” said one trainee. “If I’ve drafted something, I’m always CC-ed on the emails so that I can see what changes they’ve made. Quite often someone will sit you down to explain why they’ve made the changes.” The open-plan office was thought to be conducive to a communicative culture. “If people are too busy to talk to you, they make time to chat to you later. I feel like I can go and speak to anyone I’ve worked with to talk about the work I’ve done.” As such, our second-year sources felt “well prepared for qualifying at the firm.” In 2019 the firm did not disclose its retention figure.
However, you should not mistake this supportive atmosphere for a lack of ambition. “The intention,” said one trainee, “is to hit the highest standard, without the ruthless aggression. You can dance the dance with a positive attitude.” S&S instils its High-Performance Culture (HPC) in everyone who joins the firm – and trainees said this is more than just glib branding. “It’s all about constantly raising the standards. About being driven, rather than complacent,” thought one trainee. Another spoke of a culture of skills and knowledge sharing. “HPC is a drive towards there being consistency across the firm,” said one source. “The idea is that it shouldn’t matter which lawyer you have, you get the same level of service to the same standard.”
The firm has a strong focus on pro bono work. “As far as I’m aware the rule is that as an associate, you can get up to 50 hours of pro bono across the year that can count towards your bonus calculation.”
How to get a Simmons & Simmons training contract
Spring insight scheme deadline (2019): 15 February 2020 (spring)
Vacation scheme deadline (2018/19): 1 November 2019 (winter); 15 January 2020 (summer, London); 15 February 2020 (summer, Bristol)
Training contract deadline (2022): 15 February 2020 (Bristol); n/a (London)
Legal tech placement (2019): applications currently closed
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 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, group and analytical exercises as well as 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 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.
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.”
“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 2020 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.
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 290+ (Global), 150+ (UK)
- Associates: 600+ (Global), 260+ (UK)
- Trainees: 55 (UK)
- Offices: 22
- 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: 15th February 2020 (Bristol) n/a (London)
- Vacation scheme 2019/2020 deadlines:
- 1st November 2019 (Winter)
- 15th January 2020 (Summer, London)
- 15th February 2020 (Summer, Bristol)
- Spring insight scheme deadline: 15th February 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000 (London), £39,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £50,000 (London), £40,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £79,000 (London), £52,000 (Bristol)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 daysHoliday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,500 for the GDL and £9,000 for the LPC.
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Netherlands
- Overseas seats: Currently Dubai, Dublin, 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 01 October 2019
•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 2020
•Summer vacation scheme (London): A two-week scheme open to penultimate and final year students and graduates of all disciplines. Applications open 15 October 2019
•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 2019
•A series of open days are also available in Bristol and London to all students and graduates, running throughout the year. Applications open 01 September 2019
Application deadlines: 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, 2019
- Banking Litigation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 2)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
- Competition Law (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- 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)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
- Consumer Finance (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law Recognised Practitioner
- 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 (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 3)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 3)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)