Awesome Skadden offers plucky trainees a full-on experience focused on corporate, finance and dispute resolution.
How I Met Your Mothership
Sitting in the meeting rooms as they spoke to us, “looking across at the docks and canals,” trainees stroked their collective chins... then concluded that going for a training contract at Skadden is a “no brainer." Chambers Global recognises Skadden's skills in 18 jurisdictions around the world, and singles Skadden out as a world leader in corporate law. Here in London, the firm is recognised for the usual corporate and financial areas, but is also a top firm for international arbitration.
Skadden began in New York as a scrappy outsider – a gutsy, entrepreneurial group of attorneys whose style contrasted with the stuffier Manhattan elite. Clearly the firm has smartened up as it’s grown – and overtaken its old rivals to become one of the world’s most successful firms. This embodiment of the top American law firm, a small intake, and the prospect of trotting the globe were the main pull factors for our interviewees. “We’re given the opportunity to frequently work with a very international client base. In litigation and arbitration, we work on matters spanning across New York, Hong Kong, Geneva and India. In capital markets, we’ve worked on a deal where a Chicago-based client is taking over a UK-based logistics company.” One source reflected: “I think it’s a great training contract if you’re very independent and don’t mind being thrown in the deep end.”
“I think it’s a great training contract if you’re very independent and don’t mind being thrown in the deep end.”
Historically, first-years had to split their time between a seat in corporate and litigation/arbitration, but “we’re looking to mix it up a little to suit flexible business needs and workload,” reveals graduate recruitment manager Mathieu Pinto Cardoso. “Second-years get to make their own choice over the smaller, more niche seats such as banking or tax.” The trainees we spoke to didn’t make too much of a fuss about the mandatory stints during their first year, since corporate and litigation/arbitration are part of the firm’s bread and butter.
The firm has offerings in Hong Kong, Brussels and New York offices for overseas seat options. “It’s not a super strenuous application process, you’re simply asked how you think a foreign seat fits in with your programme and benefits your training. For example, if a person is interested in corporate, it would make sense to go to the New York office, as opposed to someone in a litigation seat.”
Skadden’s litigation and arbitration seat handles a huge range of clients including sovereign states, banks, oil and gas giants, financial services companies, and mining and engineering companies. One trainee described their experience in the seat as “gratifying. The amount of responsibility we got was not something I would’ve expected.” Day-to-day tasks would be “more on the menial end with bundling and keeping up to date with correspondence” – and this is partly because of the complexity and experience needed if you’re going to be acting for the Republic of Sudan, as the firm has this year. But trainees quickly scale the ladder drafting and reviewing court applications, working on the analysis of evidence, preparation for cross-examination at hearings, preparing partners for advocacy and working on research tasks. “We work mostly on large-scale arbitration matters, commercial arbitration and investor-state disputes.”
Newbies found themselves being involved in five different matters at one point, “but it isn’t a matter of clashing, one case may be quiet and the other you may be heavily involved in. Partners are keen to get you involved at different stages of a case to get an idea of how it all comes together.” A recent work highlight saw the team acting for Alfa Telecom Turkey on a multibillion-dollar corporate battle against a leading telecoms operator. The team also represents Anadarko Petroleum in a $200 million LCIA arbitration concerning offshore oil interests in China. Trainees found the seat “interesting as there is no distinction between the two practices. The seat tends to be more litigation-heavy but it just depends on what’s going on at the time.”
The Thick Of It
“Reflecting Skadden’s historic strength, particularly in the US,” the corporate team handles general M&A, private equity and insurance matters. With a global client base and high-value deals, the pace is quick. Trainees become the “project manager in essence – we are the people who have enough time to run transaction checklists and make sure everything is in the right order.” Newbies assist on all areas of the transaction, draft agreements and are involved in negotiations. One source recalled attending a two-week negotiation as part of a team of four others, and was given the opportunity to “understand the strategy and the underpinning changes to the document, as opposed to just doing the mark-up; we’re really in the thick of it.” The team represented 21st Century Fox on the $15.3 billion sale of its 39% stake in Sky to Comcast. The group recently advised Goldman Sachs, Cenko Securities and Dean Street Advisers as joint financial advisers to Bain Capital on the $1.2 billion acquisition of insurance group esure.
Over in banking, the team deals mainly with leveraged acquisition finance, transaction financings, and advising lenders and borrowers on high-value loans. Similar to corporate, newbies are tasked with drafting negotiations, “making sure plates are being spun with managing local counsel and making sure everyone delivers what they need to for closing.” The team recently advised the Ferrero family office and Ferrara Candy on the financing of their $2.8 billion acquisition of Nestlé’s US confectionery assets and IP. The team also advised Morgan Stanley, lender and financial adviser to Global Business Travel Holdings, on its £400 million acquisition of Hogg Robinson Group, a UK-based corporate services organisation. “You’re dealing with a horrifying amount of work and the costs came with it, but it was extremely rewarding and pretty unique in terms of responsibility,” concluded our sources.
"It was nice to be able to own that full set of documents.”
The restructuring team represents debtors and creditors, and insolvency practitioners, and takes on contentious cases. “It would mainly be a lot of drafting and correspondence with other parties. When time allowed, we were able to draft more substantive documents and get the first cut on the doc suites and work on reduction of capitals. It was nice to be able to own that full set of documents,” said one trainee. Note how trainees at bigger offices wouldn’t typically be afforded this level of experience until they qualify. The team recently advised Danaos Corporation, an owner and operator of containerships, in the restructuring of its $2.2 billion secured debt spreading over 13 loan facilities. Skadden also advised the shareholder to Russian Standard Bank regarding Russian Standard’s defaulted $451 million bonds due in 2022.
Perks and Recreation
Despite being expected to work tough US-firm hours, Skadden trainees are able to display their “eclectic interests,” through Thanksgiving shindigs, decorating the canteen for a Halloween party and the all-important 4th July parties, celebrating that defining moment when the US defeated the British – how apt. Aside from the firm-wide events, trainees recently got the two year-groups together “for a big curry night. After managing to co-ordinate our schedules, it’s nice to get together.” Outwardly Skadden oozes corporate conformity, but internally trainees were surprised at how the culture was more relaxed: “I think the non-hierarchical structure here is the most shocking thing. It isn’t unusual for a first-seat trainee to work directly with a partner.”
“If you finish at 4pm on a Friday you can get out of the door and go for a gin.”
“You’re never hung out to dry on late nights. It is always massively appreciated.” At a US and City firm with a large international network, late nights are bound to come included in the package – workload is one factor and time zones is another. We heard of a few 2am finishes, but trainees informed us that “this isn’t disastrous as it isn’t a common occurrence. There are indeed one or two horror stories, but these are very much in isolation.” London trainees normally arrive around 9.30am and can exit around 6.30pm. “If you finish at 4pm on a Friday you can get out of the door and go for a gin.” Overseas seat trainees voiced some grievances. “Brussels has a much more intense facetime culture and even if you’re not working on anything, you have to stay till 8pm.”
Trainees welcomed the arrival of Mathieu Cardoso, the new graduate recruitment manager who’s worked to formalise the qualification process. “With the set deadlines in place and a 300-word application form to fill out, it was very reassuring to know when we would hear about the final decision, rather than having to work on discreet conversations with HR and heads of departments.” In 2019, the firm did not disclose its retention figure.
The firm bumped NQ salary to a whopping £133,000 in the summer salary wars of 2019.
How to get a Skadden training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
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 presentation on a current affairs issue. Typically, Skadden offers ten 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 28*
- Associates 96
- Trainees 18*
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices: Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Moscow, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington DC, Wilmington
- *London office
- Graduate recruiter: Mathieu Pinto Cardoso Graduate Recruitment Manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 1,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 July 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 12 January 2020
- [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
Skadden is one of the leading law firms in the world with approximately 1,700 lawyers in 22 offices across the globe. Clients include corporate, industrial, financial institutions and government entities. The London office is the gateway to the firm’s European practice, which has some 250 lawyers dedicated to top-end, cross-border corporate transactions and international arbitration and litigation. The firm has handled matters in nearly every country in the greater European region and in Africa and the Middle East.
Main areas of work
Lawyers across the European network focus primarily on corporate transactions, including domestic and cross-border mergers and acquisitions, private equity, capital markets, leveraged finance and banking, tax, corporate restructuring and energy and projects. The firm also advises in international arbitration, litigation, investigations and regulatory matters.
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 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 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 12th January 2020 for placements in 2020. This is the preferred way for the firm to recruit trainee solicitors.
Life insurance, private health insurance, private medical insurance, travel insurance, gym membership, subsidised restaurant, employee assistance programme and technology allowance, cycle scheme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: High-end Capabilities (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 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 4)
- 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)