At this US titan, trainees relish the challenge of getting “real responsibility, ridiculously early."
Skadden training contract review 2022
“There aren’t many firms that are as well-known as Skadden,” one of our interviewees confidently declared, adding that “I remember reading a Forbes article which called them ‘Wall Street's most powerful law firm,’ which I thought was cool.” By our reckoning, that particular article is over a decade old, however, there’s no denying that Skadden is still as much a force to be reckoned with as ever. In 2020, the firm recorded global revenues of over $2.6 billion, the fifth highest of any firm in the world. In London, Skadden is best known for its high-end M&A, capital markets, banking, and financial crime teams, each of which come with prestigious rankings from Chambers UK.
The office itself comprises just over 120 lawyers, making it neither the biggest nor the smallest of the US firms populating the capital. Many of our interviewees were drawn to the small trainee intake and the promise “to get real responsibility, ridiculously early.” We also suspect that the potential to earn £150,000 upon qualification – one of the highest of any firm in the city at the time of writing – helped sweeten the deal.
By now, some of you may have read ‘US firm’ and may be inclined to quickly swipe right. However, our interviewees were keen to dispel some of the rumours attached to this American juggernaut. As one source told us: “I was aware of some of the stereotypes about Skadden being competitive, cutthroat and gruelling – it was an area of concern.” The reality? “Everyone is surprisingly normal. Everyone works hard, but at the same time, are easy to get along with and are always up for a chat.” Just how hard they work, we’ll come to later.
Trainees don’t have any choice over their first seat and typically complete one corporate seat and one litigious seat over the course of their training contract. Our insiders explained that “midway into each seat, you have a conversation with the graduate recruitment team to set out your preferences and establish how you want your training contract to progress.” They add that “it’s more of a conversation than a formal process, and most people aren’t disappointed.” We did hear that the smaller departments such as white-collar, employment, data, and restructuring were “a little more competitive to secure,” since they only take one to two trainees at each rotation. Our tip: voice your preferences as early as possible.
"Often it was just me, a partner, and a senior associate working on a deal."
Skadden also offers three international secondments, including a banking/litigation seat in Hong Kong, a corporate seat in New York, and a competition seat in Brussels. These involve “a bit more of a formal application,” including a cover letter outlining trainees’ reasons for wanting to go.
Skadden’s corporate group acts as a single entity. “For example, if there isn’t much M&A work going on, you might dip into private equity or restructuring,” one source explained. However, for the sake of the training contract, trainees sit in one of the department’s subgroups, which include public M&A, private M&A, private equity, and capital markets. Owing to the firm’s lean approach to staffing, trainees can expect steep learning curves and to be working to “very tight deadlines.” One insider told us: “Often it was just me, a partner, and a senior associate working on a deal, which was great experience.” Trainees certainly haven’t been twiddling their thumbs, as the firm’s M&A group recorded their most successful year on record. Recently, the team advised the billionaire Issa brothers and private equity firm TDR Capital on their £6.8 billion acquisition of a majority stake in Asda from Walmart; advised Adevinta on its $9.2 billion acquisition of eBay’s classifieds business; and acted for Electronic Arts on its $1.2 billion recommended cash offer for Codemasters Group. Trainees here often take a project management role and are also able to take the first stab at drafting some of the key deal documents.
“You need to be the person who knows all the intricacies of the deal and answer any questions."
Trainees in the firm’s private equity group had their plates equally full. “As an experienced trainee, you will be doing drafts of equity and acquisition documents, and need to serve as an encyclopedia for all the details of a deal,” one source explained. They added that “you need to be the person who knows all the intricacies of the deal and answer any questions that may come up.” Another trainee pointed out that “the life cycle of deals tends to be quite short, so you are able to see a transaction from start to finish, which is great for your development.”
Commercial spats, state-side arbitrations, and investment treaty issues are among the work streams available in Skadden’s disputes group, though we were told that “it depends on your supervisor which side you get most exposure to.” Recently, Skadden’s disputes team advised a global healthcare company in relation to the defence of claims worth over £600 million in the High Court. It also represented LetterOne, an international investment business operating in the technology and energy sectors, in successfully reaching a global settlement in relation to several shareholder disputes. While first-seaters “tackle a lot of the grunt work,” those with more experience reported having more substantial responsibility, as exemplified by one trainee’s experience: “I was conducting research into case precedent, putting together written submissions, and even getting to draft some of the core documents.”
“The pro bono opportunities at the firm are fantastic…”
From the survey results in our sister guide, Chambers Associate, Skadden ranks among the top 25 firms for pro bono, as rated by its associates. Trainees were happy to report that the firm’s passion for pro bono had transferred over to London. As one source told us: “The pro bono opportunities at the firm are fantastic. There are a range of matters to get involved with, spanning corporate support for charities, volunteering at domestic violence clinics and the family law court, as well as long-term projects with refugee charities.” They add that “these matters can often be very rewarding and are a great way to develop skills that may otherwise not be thoroughly tested as a junior lawyer in a corporate firm.”
A commitment to pro bono isn’t the only aspect of firm life that Skadden has carried with it from the US. “The hours can be intense,” our insiders agreed, one adding that “even on days that aren't especially busy, it can often be hard to fully switch off as often there is an expectation that you are always reachable.” Another gave us a more detailed breakdown of their schedule: “Around 50% of days in my current seat I would regard as average days where I would be logging off around 7.30pm; 30% bad days where I would be logging off between 10pm and 11pm; and 20% good days where I’m able to log off around 6pm.” Overall, while certainly intense, and often high pressure, the number of hours trainees worked was similar to those at many of the other top firms in the city, including the magic circle.
We did hear plenty of praise for the support that trainees had received during their training contracts, but the consensus was that “the firm isn’t very centralised.” For example, one source observed that “the support you receive is very dependent on your department and supervisor,” adding that “it tends to be better in smaller departments, such as white-collar, compared to large ones like corporate.” However, the firm does have a mental health programme which puts on a variety of sessions throughout the year which trainees can attend, ranging from laughing yoga to stress management, as well as confidential counselling services. On top of that, internal mental health first-aiders are available for trainees to call upon as and when they need.
"You can tell people are excited to be back in the office.”
Our interviewees agreed that the pressures of the job were also offset by “the fact that everyone has a good sense of humour.” One source told us that “while we do work long hours, it doesn’t feel like we are just billing machines. The culture feels authentic, and people definitely have their unique personalities. You can tell people are excited to be back in the office.”
On the subject of D&I, one source was candid that “the firm has a way to go.” However, they were quick to add that “Skadden isn’t the type of firm to make changes for the sake of a headline.” Another weighed in: “It’s a topic that is clearly very personal to the graduate recruitment team and you can see the shift occurring. The newest intake is one of the most diverse ever and lots of people with diverse backgrounds are moving up the ranks.”
Approaching qualification, trainees submit their preferences for which department they’d like to qualify into; the team leaders then calculate if they’ve got space for however many NQs apply. In 2021, the firm did not disclose its retention figures.
In case you missed it, Skadden offers one of the highest NQ pay packets of any firm on the market at £150,000. Ka-ching!
How to get a Skadden training contract
Scope of recruitment
Future trainees at Skadden need a strong academic record including the standard 2:1 degree, but training principal Danny Tricot is quick to tell us “we don't only hire on the basis of candidates being clever. We also want to see that they are ambitious, motivated self-starters. We typically operate in small groups, so we need people who are happy to be treated like an associate from day one.” He goes on to say “they also need to work well with others – somebody you'd be happy to work late with on a transaction.” We're told that although the lion's share of applications generally come from just six or seven universities (among them Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, LSE and King's), this shouldn’t put off those from other universities applying as there is still a wide diversity of backgrounds at the firm. The firm does not accept direct training contract applications; all applicants must come in via the vacation scheme.
Applications begin with an online form. “Candidates should really tailor their answers,” says Tricot, “we need to get a sense of who you are and why Skadden is the place for you – we can tell when you've applied to 50 other firms with the same copy/paste responses.” He also advises detailing why certain points are relevant. “We often hear about various awards and competitions, but instead of just naming them and saying you came first, tell us what inspired you. Frankly, I don't mind if you didn’t come first – it's about explaining what you drew from it.”
Previous legal work experience “isn't crucial” to land a spot, though Tricot says he is “a bit disappointed” when candidates don't have any work experience at all. “Put everything you've done down on your CV, even if it's shop work or working in a restaurant – that shows you've got a strong work ethic.”
From a total of 1,600 or so applicants, up to 80 are invited to the firm's assessment centres. Passing this is a prerequisite for getting on the vac scheme.
The day begins with a welcome session, then a half-hour interview with a partner and associate. “In this interview, we want to get an idea of what kind of person you are,” says Tricot, “so we tend to talk about what's on your application form and why you think Skadden is for you.”
After that, there's a group exercise in which applicants engage in debates or roleplay. "Candidates need to have the social skills to behave and work well with people they've just met.” Rounding off the day is a presentation on the firm and a Q&A session.
Around half of those who attend the open day go on to attend Skadden's summer or Easter vac scheme. Each lasts two weeks, with candidates splitting their time between two departments. Vac schemers “are treated like trainees, and the work they produce will often be used,” says Tricot. “It's all about giving them an accurate picture of what it's like behind the desk.” Current trainees gave the experience two thumbs-up: “I saw a big difference between Skadden's scheme and the others I went on, where it felt like they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes with cocktails and canapés,” said one. “Here they treat you like adults from the get-go and don't try to sell you a fairytale. For example, I told a couple of associates I was worried about the hours I'd be expected to do, and they all went straight away to print out their time sheets to show me the reality.”
Vacation scheme candidates also undergo an interview with two partners. This is accompanied by a presentation on a current affairs issue. Typically, Skadden offers 10 to 12 training contracts per year, and successful candidates can expect to hear back shortly after their vacation scheme.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP
40 Bank Street,
- Partners 32
- Associates 111
- Trainees 20
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices: 21
- Graduate recruiter: Mathieu Pinto Cardoso mathieu.pintocardoso@skadden. com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 1,000+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- 2022 Vacation Scheme and 2024 Training contract application deadline: 20th December 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £150,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong, New York or Brussels
Since opening our London office in 1988, Skadden has established itself as a major player in the London legal market. The firm offers a fully integrated UK, European and US practice operating from our London base and composed of some of London’s top-ranked lawyers.
Our clients, which we counsel on cross-border European and global matters, include major corporates, financial institutions and governments. Skadden’s global platform allows our lawyers in London to quickly marshall relevant experience across practices and offices.
More than two-thirds of our London partners are recommended as leaders in their field in Chambers UK, and the firm is highly regarded in each of its practice areas. Skadden is regularly ranked highly for ‘legal expertise’ in the Financial Times European “Innovative Lawyers” report.
Main areas of work
Skadden’s London office advises on M&A, capital markets, private equity, banking and finance, corporate restructuring, investment management, tax, insurance, government enforcement and white collar crime, international litigation and arbitration, EU competition, financial regulatory, employment, and IP, IT, data protection and cybersecurity.
The firm seeks to recruit a small number of high-calibre graduates from any discipline to join their highly successful London office as trainee solicitors. The firm is looking for candidates who combine intellectual ability with enthusiasm, creativity and a demonstrable ability to rise to a challenge and to work well with others towards a common goal.
The firm can offer you the chance to develop your career in a uniquely rewarding and professional environment. You will join a close-knit but diverse team in which you will be given ample opportunity to work on complex matters, almost all with an international aspect, whilst benefiting from highly personalised training and supervision in an informal and friendly environment. Your training contract will be divided into four six month seats where you will be able to experience a diverse range of practice areas. The firm also offers the opportunity for second year trainees to be seconded to our Hong Kong, New York or Brussels office for a six month seat.
Skadden’s training contracts are offered to students who participate in our vacation placement programme, which provides participants with firsthand experience working on actual global transactions. The programme offers the opportunity for law and non-law students to experience the culture and working environment of the firm through vacation schemes. Placements are paid (£500 per week) and take place during spring and over the course of the summer. The deadline for applications is 20th December 2021 for placements in 2022.
Life insurance, private health insurance, private medical insurance, travel insurance, gym membership, employee assistance programme and technology allowance, cycle scheme.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our success as a global law firm, giving us a wealth of different perspectives from which to address our clients’ most pressing issues across a wide spectrum of industries, geographies and cultures. We strive to develop initiatives at Skadden to specifically address diversity and inclusion goals — including for recruiting, professional development, attorney retention and advancement, and cross-cultural awareness — while also continually inculcating inclusion principles into the fabric of the firm.
This infrastructure includes our global and local Diversity & Inclusion Committees; the unwavering, visible imprimatur of firm leadership; full-time administrative staff; and mechanisms for input and feedback from our personnel. Most importantly, our diversity and inclusion efforts help foster a community at Skadden that is built on the idea that similarities and differences are a source of our strength.
Our affinity networks provide a platform for leadership development for attorneys with diverse backgrounds.
Skadden assumes an active stance on the effort outside the firm, working with leading organisations and our clients to advance D&I within the legal profession. The firm and individual leaders serve in senior roles with organisations such as the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession and the Women in Law Empowerment Forum, as well as recognised bar associations and women, LGBTQ+ and minority organisations that demonstrate impact in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Skadden was recognised as both a 2019 Top Performer and a 2019 Compass Award winner at the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s (LCLD) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. We also are regularly honored for our diversity and inclusion eforts by Human Rights Campaign.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Public International Law (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)