Serving top transactional work and a side of international arbitration, this US giant won't leave you hungry.
Skadden training contract review 2024
The clincher for trainees joining Skadden was simple: “Magic circle firms just don’t have the links to the US that we do.” The importance of said links is pretty evident if you take a glance at the glitzy list of clients the firm has to its name, back in its home turf. In 2022, the firm represented both Elon Musk in his takeover of Twitter, and Activision in its hotly discussed merger with Microsoft. More recently, it represented Lionel Messi in his big move to Inter Miami. Skadden seemingly favours the bold when it comes to top clients, much in keeping with its own beginnings as a NYC start-up in the late ‘40s. Nowadays, the firm is quite the global enterprise, holding over 100 rankings in Chambers Global, with particular strength in areas such as corporate/M&A, international arbitration, capital markets and antitrust. So, we can understand why those at the London office were “eager to get some high end cross-border work.”
“Magic circle firms just don’t have the links to the US that we do.”
Trainee intake was another key factor for newbies deciding to apply, with one admitting that “I didn’t want to be in an intake of 100 and go unseen.” Up to 15 trainees call the London base home every year (only once they have completed the vac scheme) and there are currently over 200 lawyers in total, making it a mid-size as far as US firms go in the City.But worldwide, the firm boasts 21 offices across four continents, and “every office has to make a profit at Skadden. It is very entrepreneurial.” Therefore, the London base is certainly not a satellite of the NY HQ.
In fact, the London office is recognised in Chambers UK for its banking and finance, commercial and corporate litigation, corporate M&A, capital markets, private equity, tax and financial crime work. Though its international arbitration that is the pearl of the firm’s UK rankings. But for those who are not yet sure of what they’re interested in, rest assured that the standards are strong across the board. One insider confirmed that “there is a high quality of work across all departments,” so Skadden is your oyster!
Trainees rank their seat preferences from a list provided by grad recruitment, but they typically do a seat in both corporate and litigation. Like many firms we speak to, second year’s choices take precedence. Though, rookies get to have a mid-seat chat with grad recruitment to chat about the direction of their training contract. Secondment opportunities are available at “the mothership” AKA New York, then other opportunities crop up in Hong Kong and Brussels. Ultimately, destinations year to year depend on the firm's business needs.
Skadden’s corporate team is dubbed “one of the engine rooms of the firm” and they are firing all cylinders with M&A, capital markets and private equity work. It’s a rather large team, so be prepared for “high value deals with a bunch of learning curves” as “there are very technical aspects” to the matters. Nonetheless, it is all pretty “rewarding” work. In the M&A sub-group, you can do a mix of private and public M&A work. There was also a good variety of clients too, one insider told us that “I did some commercial retail work, but you can also work with legacy clients or banks.” It was common to see trainees working on typical checklist tasks like drafting documents and signature pages as well as undertaking complex research. Recently, the team advised Central Group and Signa on a joint £3.8 billion acquisition of the UK’s Selfridges department store, working across eight different jurisdictions. The team also advised Spotify on its acquisition of both Heardle (a daily song guessing game) and Sonantic (an AI voice platform). Newbies were impressed to say the least with this seat, one noted that “I was so lucky to see matters this big up close and through until its closing. The work is so cool!”
Private equity is another sub team of the corporate group. Clients include “big private equity houses in selling or buying of companies for their portfolio.” So, this meant trainees dealt with a lot of NDAs, where they were able to have a hand in drafting and negotiating them. The team recently advised Hg on its £10 billion investment into IFS and WorkWave. Trainees got a good overview of the closing of deals, one mentioned that “I learnt everything about what to do during completion, such as navigating signature pages and packs.” Client communication was also a big plus in this seat, one insider stated that “I was responsible for communicating with a huge group of manager clients, so you learn how to communicate effectively in this seat.”
“Recent cryptocurrency work shows how interesting and innovative the work is, so this seat is a good opportunity.”
For those who fancy a bit of contentious work, you’d be looking at the firm’s litigation and arbitration team. Generally, the sort of work trainees undertook was dictated by their supervisor and what they were working on. Under litigation, trainees were on hand with witness preparation. This involved reviewing their statements, gathering evidence related to them and putting that altogether. As such, one interviewee quipped that “knowing how to navigate the database is essential!” It also included other tasks like proofreading for the supervisor and bundling. Recently, this team represented a French paper company, Sequana, before the UK Supreme Court. The matter involved the lawfulness of a dividend payment made to the company.
Over in arbitration, they mainly deal with investment and commercial treaties. To give a little glimpse into the sort of work the team gets involved with, we learned that “recent cryptocurrency work shows how interesting and innovative the work is in this group.” Generally, this seat involved following active cases and helping associates who needed trainees for those tasks. So, one source told us that “I helped my supervisor in whatever she needed like legal research. Sometimes I was asked by associates for ad hoc research as well.” Other reported tasks were “hopping on calls to discuss and work with local counsel in another jurisdiction” as well as bundling and going over draft witness statements. For those dealing with investment treaties, it was a chance to see the business development side of things. “As a first seat trainee, I spent time discussing one on one with a partner whether a claim made sense and whether it was worth my time. There is so much exposure and responsibility,” reflected one interviewee. The team acts for Vodafone, before the Singaporean courts, in its defence of an application made by India regarding a tax demand of $5.5 billion.
Outside of the firm’s big guns, the trainees we spoke to sat in a broad mix of seats. One in particular was the investment management group, the remit of which was “pretty much funds.” Perhaps on the smaller side, as a five man team, the clients on its roster are definitely not. “We mainly work with private equity funds, and it is all highly regulated” said one source. Recently, the firm represented a sovereign wealth fund in a €150 million co-investment into a flagship shopping centre in Berlin. The firm also advised IPI and Supernap Italia, on the construction of a data centre in Italy. Typical tasks included drafting side letters and documents for projects, carrying out ad hoc research for associates and some even got to lead a research paper for a client. As a smaller group, newbies were given a bit more responsibility than expected. One trainee explained that “if an associate was away for any reason, I took on their workload and worked directly with the partner.” Whilst another enthused that “I was involved in the brainstorming and discussions with partners and senior associates. I felt my opinion was unique.”
It’s no secret that US firms tend to have intense hours. Amongst Skadden’s cohort, the average fell between 50-55 hours a week, which is in line with our research of US firms in general. Therefore, some found it tricky to juggle work with their social life. One newbie admitted that “I have cancelled plans before because of work.” But there was a sense of camaraderie amongst colleagues on those days when the clock was ticking on: “there is sufficient support from your team and a sense of community on those late nights.” Moreover, busy weekdays don’t necessarily translate into working weekends either as “people respect you and won’t bother you unless they completely have to.”
“You have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which is the great NQ salary!”
The firm recently increased its office working policy to four days from three, which has been met with mixed feelings. On one hand, rookies understood that “trainees should be in more often than not as it is the best way to learn.” But others were concerned about the lack of flexibility, as “there is no clear rationale behind the decision and its benefits.” An upside however is the pay. “Skadden is one of the best-paying firms in the UK and they continue to be market-leading” boasted one source, and that clearly provided a bit of motivation throughout the training contract. Another insider enthused that “you have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which is the great NQ salary!” Whilst not the highest NQ salary on the market, it stands at dizzying heights amongst other US firms, at an immense £165,000.
Further in keeping with its US roots, interviewees found that the training involves a bit of learning as you go. “There is consistent training in areas such as private equity and M&A, other than that, there is no structure” one trainee confirmed. Instead, newbies found that “there is more learning by being thrown into the deep end.” But “you aren’t expected to rescue yourself as your supervisor is there to support you.” Supervision can be “a hit or miss” depending on who you get. Though one source felt that “I have had a really good experience, because they have been open to answering questions and they spend time explaining what's going on.” When asked about culture, one rookie candidly noted that “I expected everyone to be horrible and would never want to hang out, this is not the case at all!” Regular social events included things like drinks or playing minigolf. There was praise for the firm-wide events too, including those hosted by the various affinity groups such as the pride month in June.
When qualification makes its way around the corner, trainees discuss with the training principal about where they are hoping to end up a month in advance. Though “it’s not anything they don’t know about already,” given the small cohort. Following this, they write 200-300 words explaining why they want to join their team of choice. We heard litigation and arbitration is a popular choice, more so than M&A and private equity. In terms of the whole procedure, “the process is pretty chilled and quick; more time is spent networking with future teams” explained second-years. Moreover, “people are up front and honest about the spaces available in different teams, and it is flagged early on” so there won’t be any nasty surprises. The firm didn't disclose its 2024 retention figures.
It’s the cliiimb... Pro bono is a big part of training contract experience: “On one occasion, we climbed a wall for a legal advice charity and raised so much money!”
How to get a Skadden training contract
Vacation scheme and training contract deadline: 10 December 2023
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 1,500+ 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 spring or summer 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 15 training contracts per year, and successful candidates can expect to hear back shortly after their vacation scheme.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP
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 10 December 2023 for placements in 2024.
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 5)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: £500 million and above (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 4)