Skadden is a big global corporate beast. Its top transactional work in London is complemented by well-regarded litigation and arbitration practices.
A long time ago in a jurisdiction far, far, away
Skadden began life in 1940s New York as a scrappy outsider. In the 1950s it took on the more 'grubby' work of both instigating hostile takeovers and defending clients against them, something the old-school elite New York law firms considered beneath them. When the 1980s rolled around and the global corporate boom began the firm was well placed to press its advantage. Now Skadden is a global corporate powerhouse with 22 offices around the world and a revenue of nearly $2.6 billion in 2017. The firm is widely respected globally: it is ranked by Chambers Global in 18 jurisdictions around the world; it wins top rankings for corporate law and securities litigation in New York; it's ranked by Chambers UK for corporate M&A alongside the magic circle; it's top-ranked in London for commercial arbitration; and it's ranked here for many other areas too, especially related to finance. The London office recently expanded by pinching an M&A partner from Cooley and two private equity partners from White & Case.
"People expect you to have a go and do some independent thinking."
Given its upstart history and current juggernaut status, you won't be shocked to hear Skadden has a reputation for attracting driven go-getters. "People expect you to have a go and do some independent thinking about an issue before asking for help," one interviewee noted. This firm is a place for the independently minded. "Supervisors are keen to make sure you develop," one source reflected, "and the approach they take is letting you learn by trying, rather than by being told what to do." Another put things more bluntly: "It's a case of sink or swim – but they give you armbands." Skadden's drive for global power and the demanding working environment once earned it the nickname 'the Death Star' in the US.
Seat options in the first year are fairly restrictive, with mandatory stints in litigation/arbitration and corporate. However, given these are the London office's main practice areas and a key reason many trainees applied, our interviewees didn't perceive this rigidity as bad. One said: "Skadden is famed in London for doing international arbitration. It would be strange if you turned up and didn't want to do it." During the second year trainees get more options, and there are also overseas seats in Hong Kong, New York and Brussels available most years.
A nuclear hope
Trainees do a single seat called 'litigation and arbitration' and tend to lean more towards either one of these or the other. So for instance one told us: "Two-thirds of what I did was litigation and one-third arbitration." The department typically advises clients from the financial services, energy, telecoms and natural resources sectors. There's even the odd wealthy individual client, and the firm advises some sovereign states in arbitrations too. Trainees draft letters to the other side, claim memos and "even sometimes witness statements." One source found research the most interesting: "You get involved in the actual substance of the case. You're given the time to read into the matter and the issues, and that's how you learn the most." It helps that "the matters we work on are invariably connected with important current events, which provides for a very interesting background." For example, the team recently represented South Sudan's government in negotiations with foreign oil companies over $1.2 billion worth of oil concessions agreed when the country was part of the Republic of Sudan. The team also recently won a $1.2 billion breach of contract award for Docomo, Japan's largest telecoms company, in an arbitration with Indian conglomerate Tata.
On the litigation side the firm won a court battle to end a worldwide freezing injunction against Ukrainian billionaire Gennadiy Bogolyubov. It also represented ATK Energy in a court battle with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority over a tender to manage and operate various nuclear sites in the UK. The high-profile nature of the work tends to mean reduced responsibility and newbies often start on discrete tasks, e.g. "preparing documents for court or working through them for review." There is more challenging stuff on offer if you "earn people's trust" – then the senior people might ask themselves, "Does this person show attention to detail when doing an index?" and you might get to "have a first crack at a particulars of claim."
"We reached the signing from scratch in about nine days!"
Corporate is broken into insurance, M&A and private equity streams. Across the streams the work is similarly fast-paced. One interviewee recalled working on "two separate multi-jurisdictional deals for which we reached the signing from scratch in about nine days!" The speedier pace also means "you are given a greater amount of personal responsibility, and your work is not checked quite in the same way." Trainees end up doing anything from "drafting sections of prospectuses to doing research on requirements for disclosure in various jurisdictions to being the first port of call for associates." As in litigation, much of the work has an international flavour. The team recently advised Chinese travel services company Ctrip.com on its acquisition of Skyscanner and advised PayPal on its $2.2 billion acquisition of Stockholm-based card reader company iZettle. The team also recently advised real estate investor M7 on establishing a new investment fund and advised private equity firm HgCapital on an investment in Norwegian software company Visma.
The banking team advises both lenders and borrowers on loans running into the billions. Recent clients include Cineworld, US payment processing firm Vantiv, Pinnacle Investments and J.P. Morgan Securities. Tasks are very similar to those in corporate, though the team's smaller size means there's less support and "a bit of a sink or swim situation." It also means there's the need for trainees to get involved in "everything from drafting documents to going to Staples to get the right-coloured stamps." In addition "you manage the checklists and local counsel in each jurisdiction." Insiders said the seat had fewer surprise late nights than corporate, due to deal timelines being more predictable. One proudly told us that during their six months they had "only got four taxis home!" (i.e. because they'd finished work after the tube stopped running).
"A bit of a sink or swim situation."
The restructuring team offers both transactional and litigious services, and trainees here found matters more technical and complex: "There's lots of brainstorming about solutions. It's really cool working out 'we can move this to here, turn this into a shell company and move this to the Caymans.'" Recently the team advised Toshiba on the $10 billion US bankruptcy of one of its subsidiaries, the Westinghouse Electric Company. Lawyers also advised containership owner Danaos on the restructuring of its $2.2 billion debt. The technical complexity of the work means a steep learning curve, though newbies were helped by the fact "the department is very big on training. We have weekly training meetings which cover things like a company in the news that's going into liquidation."
Return of the red eye
Given the all-hands-on-deck nature of the work at Skadden, it's no surprise the hours are long. Insiders said they normally arrive around 9.30am and on quiet days could exit around 6.30pm. However, "a busy time might mean a week when you may be working till 8pm every day." When things ramp up further "you might be working till 10pm or 2am." One source recovering from a busy period informed us of a time when they had worked "the best part of more than two days in a single run!"
Despite the hours trainees do still find time to socialise. At the time of our calls they'd recently held their summer party, and told us of quarterly lunches, drinks and "regular trips down to the bar at the bottom of our building." The fact the trainees all do their LPC together before joining means "you already have eight friends when you start, and that support network is pretty amazing."
When it comes to qualification Skadden prefers an informal approach. "About 18 months into your training contract you sit down with the recruitment partner and just say where you'd like to go. He then speaks to the relevant partners and if they are happy they take you on." Interviewees also told us that throughout the training contract they'd "continually have informal conversations with partners to say, 'I'm really interested in this department.'" Trainee retention is usually high; the 2018 retention rate will be published here shortly.
One of Skadden's founders, Joe Flom, is the subject of a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book Outliers about highly successful individuals.
How to get a Skadden training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019
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 just 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 on a transaction with.” We're told the lion's share of applications generally come from just six or seven universities, among them Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, LSE, King's and UCL.
The firm does accept direct training contract applications, but our sources emphasised that the vac scheme is its primary form of recruiting. The process for both types of application is the same.
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 care if you came tenth – it's all 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 good work ethic.”
From a total of 1,000 or so applicants, between 80 and 100 are invited the firm's open day – an assessment day of sorts. Passing this is a prerequisite for getting on the vac scheme.
The day begins with a 45-minute office tour and 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 veer away from questions like 'Why do you want to be a lawyer?' and instead 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 as board members of a company. “We're trying to find out whether they're shrinking violets at this point,” says Tricot, “though we certainly don't want to see any aggression. Candidates need to have the social skills to judge how to behave 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 just like trainees, and the work they produce may even 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 the 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.”
Toward the end of the scheme, candidates undergo an interview with two partners. This is accompanied by a written test and a presentation on a current affairs issue. Typically, Skadden offers between ten and 12 training contracts per year, and successful candidates can expect to hear back by September.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP
40 Bank Street,
- Partners 29*
- Associates 96
- Trainees 18*
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices 22 - Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington DC, Wilmington
- *London office
- Aidan Connor, graduate recruitment manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10-12
- Applications pa: 1,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 12 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £550,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
Main areas of work
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. The first year of your training contract will be divided into two six month seats where you will gain experience in corporate transactions and international litigation and arbitration. In the second year of your training contract, you will have the opportunity to discuss your preferences for your remaining two seats. 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)