A legal legend whose reputation precedes it: US-born Skadden seeks the driven and intelligent to train at its London base.
Looking at Skadden’s fearsome global operation in 2020, it’s hard to imagine the firm as an underdog, but that’s how its story started. In 1948 a breakaway band of New York lawyers set out to challenge the stuffy NYC elite, and the rest is history. What really matters is the Skadden of today, whose “unparalleled reputation” wasn’t lost on trainees. Seeking out the “top-quality work” on offer at this corporate law legend, they also sought to rub shoulders with colleagues as “enthusiastic, intelligent and driven” as themselves. True to US firm form, some cited the “smaller intake and responsibility that comes with that” as another big reason to sign on.
Having set up shop in London back in 1988, Skadden’s had a footing in the UK longer than most of its American rivals. Three decades of experience has paid off, with the firm earning enviable Chambers UK rankings for international arbitration, banking and finance, financial crime, corporate/M&A, and public international law. Incoming trainees knew that whether they picked a transactional or litigious practice, “Skadden would provide opportunities either way.”
…whether they picked a transactional or litigious practice, “Skadden would provide opportunities either way.”
Training principal Danny Tricot does clarify that “Skadden is not a firm that has to be in every area: we tend to grow organically, into areas we think clients will need us and that complement what we already do.” Recent lateral hires include two corporate partners from Allen & Overy, and a restructuring partner from Milbank. The latter turned out to be very opportune timing: “We hired Peter Newman in February, right before Covid-19 hit the UK and when an increased number of corporates needed restructuring advice,” Tricot reveals.
Trainees are likely to complete corporate and litigation/international arbitration seats during their training contract. Skadden’s team still picks trainees’ first seat; going forward, “trainees have fairly regular meetings with HR and the training principal to discuss where you want to go for your next seats.” Second years are more likely to secure their preferences; for first years, “it’s more about where there’s space.” Skadden offers overseas seats in Hong Kong, New York and Brussels, and sources noted that “NYC is particularly competitive.” Any trainees who are interested can submit a formal application at the end of their first year. That’s business as usual – the coronavirus pandemic paused international secondments in 2020.
Though a corporate seat is compulsory, trainees have several options to pick from including M&A, capital markets and private equity. M&A at Skadden means both private and public deals – one interview worked on “a public merger with foreign parties,” as well as “a massive private deal where one of the private equity houses wanted to dispose of a large portion of their assets.” Be prepared for lots of zeros: Skadden recently advised Danish freight and logistics company DSV A/S on its £3.6 billion acquisition of Swiss transport and logistics company Panalpina; and the Phoenix Group on its $4.1 billion reverse takeover of investment giant Standard Life Assurance. Insurance M&A involves “an added regulatory element to everything,” while trainees in private equity dealt “mainly with acquisitions by private equity houses, as well as some minority buyouts and occasionally setting up funds.” No matter where they sat, the role of a trainee was pretty consistent, revolving around document checklists, coordinating local counsel and “general project management.” One source looked back: “Once I got up to speed, my supervisor was happy for me to speak to clients directly.” Trainees also supervised closings and drafted ancillary documents; some were even able tackle the first draft of a share purchase agreement.
“It was a steep learning curve because they don’t really have a cap on responsibility."
Litigation and arbitration comes with “a very broad spectrum of dispute types,” and trainees were able to “get exposure to both sides.” That meant big money commercial litigation, trusts and probate disputes, multi-jurisdiction arbitration and international investment treaty clashes. Skadden has advised Vodafone on its $5.6 billion bilateral investment treaty dispute with India. In a commercial case, the team represented IndiGo Airlines in a $400 million shareholders’ agreement suit. On such massive cases, trainees typically begin with “a lot of research” followed by “having a go at drafting a section of a document, using that research.” One source was happy to “see a tangible outcome of the trainee’s work” as the case went on. They and others quickly adjusted to cross-office collaboration; a recent deal “consumed three offices – London, New York and Hong Kong – and we were all working together,” trainees recalled.
The firm’s banking team tends to “mainly advise the borrowers” in deals, but lender-side matters float in from time to time. Acquisition financings, revolving credit facilities and syndicated loans can all be found here: Skadden’s team represented Belgian pharma company UCB in the $2.1 billion financing of its bid for US-based Ra Pharmaceuticals, with the client opting to finance under English law. Health diagnostic business Affidea appointed Skadden for a ‘flexible’ €580 million refinancing. Trainees here “take charge of local counsel relations” as well as drafting board minutes, authorisations, directors’ certificates and shareholder resolutions. Receiving “a lot of responsibility in coordinating jurisdictions and communicating directly with clients,” sources rose to the challenge presented by the department. “It was a steep learning curve because they don’t really have a cap on responsibility,” one acknowledged. “How it goes will depend on how much you can take on.”
“Everyone is very driven and very proud of the work they do – that unites us all,” sources suggested. They were, however, keen to emphasise that their lives didn’t begin and end with Skadden: “People do prioritise work and strive for excellence, but not to the point where that’s the only thing there is.” Many also flagged the “social” and “friendly” aspects of life at the firm, with a nicely filled calendar of events. A general sense of cohesion comes from “being part of a smaller office where everyone knows who everyone is; that really helps.” The London office takes up four floors of 40 Bank Street, Canary Wharf; some trainees reckoned “each floor kind of has its own subculture,” as do different departments.
A smaller office also means that “everyone notices when you’ve done a late night – the next day they’ll say, ‘you’ve worked hard, make sure you go home early tonight.’” US firms generally get a bad rep when it comes to hours, so when trainees suggested their timings are “more reasonable than expected,” that may not mean very much. “I’ve never worked beyond 1am, which isn’t that bad,” one proudly declared. If you say so… Others described an average day as closer to 9.30am until 7pm, but some seats including corporate are more prone to ups and downs. “When it was busy I’d be finishing around 10.30pm, but equally there were times when I didn’t have much on and my supervisor would tell me to go by 5.30pm,” an insider explained.
“I’ve never worked beyond 1am, which isn’t that bad!”
We were impressed to find that trainees found time to fit pro bono into their schedules: “In America, the firm is very proud of its pro bono and does a huge amount. That attitude is definitely present in London too.” Multiple sources practised advocacy at the East London Family Court, while others had given advice at a domestic violence legal clinic. As well as these long-term projects, Skadden advertises “a lot of one-off matters,”including working with stateless individuals with securing citizenship and helping non-profit organisations set up as charities. The firm also matches its American cousins on the salary front, doling out £50,000 for first year trainees and £133,000 for NQs.
As qualification rolled around, trainees found “it’s generally clear that Skadden wants to try to retain everyone.”Second years were going through qualification preparations at the time of our research, and despite the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, they were pleased to find the process “followed the same timetable as in 2019.”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 2020, the firm did not disclose its retention figure.
Buy me dinner first…
“When you’re having to work late, there's a budget for getting dinner and a taxi home, so you're not put out,”trainees revealed.
How to get a Skadden training contract
Vacation scheme and training contract deadline (2021): 31 December 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 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, King's and UCL), this shouldn’t put off those from other universities applying as there is still a diversity of backgrounds at the firm. The firm no longer accepts 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 1,000 or so applicants, between 80 and 100 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.”
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 10 to 12 training contracts per year, and successful candidates can expect to hear back shortly after their vacation scheme.
Interview with training principal Danny Tricot
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the last year you think are important to mention?
Danny Tricot: Despite wider events, we have had quite a good year – there has been a lot of growth over the last 12 months. In London we promoted Andrew Good, who became a partner in our white-collar crime practice. There has also been a fair bit of expansion on the transactional side: we hired two well-known corporate partners from Allen & Overy – George Knighton and Simon Toms. Corporate is a key area for Skadden; it drives other areas. We’ve also grown our restructuring team by hiring a great partner from Milbank called Peter Newman. He joined in February, right before Covid-19 hit the UK when a number of clients needed restructuring advice. We’ve grown our employment practice to include share options and share incentive work, and hired someone to join that area next month. As with all firms, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought its challenges, but all in all we’ve found business to be very strong this year. 2019 was bogged down a bit by Brexit, but this year started out strong. Business slowed in transactional areas through March and April for obvious reasons, but since then we have remained extremely busy.
In terms of trainees, Covid-19 had no impact on hiring or retention. We hire about ten to 12 trainees a year. With those at the firm, everyone who qualified was given a place to stay on qualification and we had 100% retention. We’ll also continue to take on the trainees we recruited – there was no talk of deferring or cutting back. Our vacation scheme did adapt to the changing working arrangements; we normally do two weeks in-house over Easter and summer, but this year we did them virtually for one week each, rather than the usual two. We managed to find excellent trainees from those schemes who are joining us in 2021 or 2022, and we’re hiring just as many as we have done in previous years.
CS: What is the firm’s current business strategy? What does the firm want to focus on over the next few years?
DT: Going forward, the strategy is to keep growing in areas where we really add value and make a difference. We’re not a firm that has to be in every area or be as big as other firms. We’ve never had that philosophy. We’re much more about growing organically into areas of work we think clients will use us for and that complement what we already do. In terms of specific areas we’ve identified, we’re really focused on continuing to build on our expertise in technology, biotech and pharma.
CS: You mentioned Brexit earlier – has it had much of an effect on the firm or the firm’s clients?
DT: I’d say less so. I feel like the country forgot about it while dealing with the Covid-19 nightmare. I suspect that there will be a renewed focus on it now as negotiations with the EU start up again once more. Almost all our business is heavily cross-border and most of that will continue notwithstanding Brexit. We’re not purely UK domestic-focused, and I think those firms suffered more because of Brexit challenges.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
DT: A strong academic record is a given. Usually anyone who gets to us for interview will tick that box. Once there, we then look for people who are really enthusiastic and show they will be excited to do our kind of work and be part of our team. We look heavily for people we think will mesh and get along with people here – people we’ll enjoy having as colleagues and as friends. I’ve been at Skadden for over 20 years and one of the biggest reasons I’ve stayed is because of the people I work with. I consider them friends more than colleagues. Maintaining our unique culture is important to us and that’s a big consideration in our recruitment. When we recruit trainees, having them interact with a large range of people on the vacation scheme is key. We are also conscious of diversity and actively work to attract a diverse set of candidates, whether that’s regarding backgrounds, gender or ethnicity.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
DT: Think really hard about whether this is what you want to do. Find an area you will really enjoy and love doing. It is an exacting profession – maybe you can get through the training contract and a few years as a qualified associate, but if you don’t really love it, sooner or later it’s not going to work out. It is important to carefully consider whether this is what you want to do, and whether you enjoy it.
Secondly, bring to bear that enthusiasm and excitement for it. Even if you’re not that knowledgeable on commercial transactions, you can bring passion to learn and be part of the team. It carries a long way.
The last piece of advice I’d give is to try and do as much as you can to really know the firms you are applying to. It’s much better to focus on a small handful. I know people are nervous about the market, but it really does pay off in the long run if you have the confidence to be focused in your applications.
CS: Lastly, did you have anything else you’d like to add?
DT: This year it seems very unlikely that all the law fairs and on-campus events will be happening. My advice to students interested in a career in law would be to really keep an eye on the different firms they’d like to apply to and check what’s online. There are things like online webinars and other online events, which is the way candidates will be able to get closer to firms this year.
On that front, we worked really hard to convert our vacation scheme into an online scheme, and the feedback we had was extremely positive. For both the vac schemers, and us at Skadden, we were surprised at how much we got out of it. I know some law firms cancelled vac schemes entirely, which is a pity. The 'virtual' experience has made us even more determined, so when we go into October and November, if people are still reluctant to have hordes of students coming into the building, we will double our efforts to put on webinars and connect through whatever online mechanisms we can.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP
40 Bank Street,
- Partners 29
- Associates 74
- Trainees 18
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices: 21
- Graduate recruiter: Mathieu Pinto Cardoso [email protected] 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
- 2021 Vacation Scheme and 2023 Training contract application deadline: 31st December 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £133,000
- 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 31st December 2020 for placements in 2021.
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, 2020
- 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)