Excellence and intrigue define this kookier wizard among the magic circle.
There are few names more formidable in the law than Slaughter and May. This weighty reputation is a concoction of rumour, truth and woolly terms like ‘prestige’. But if you want to know what prestige means in material terms, take a glance at the Chambers UK rankings, where clients consider the firm to be the crème de la absolute crème for corporate work. Slaughters is called upon by more FTSE 100 and 250 companies than any other UK law firm, and in 2019 it advised on four of the six largest M&A deals in the UK. Chambers UK bestows further top-tier rankings on Slaughters in areas such as banking and finance, competition law, financial crime, real estate, and tax.
This is how the firm gets its magic circle badge of honour. But “it’s different to other magic circle firms,” surmised one trainee, adding to the firm’s mystique. “It’s much smaller and those firms have more structure.” While Slaughters hasn't pursued an overseas empire, this doesn’t stop it from “representing the higher-value and more complex work” typical of firms we’d bracket in the global elite. Slaughters eschews multiple international offices and utilises a ‘best friends network’ of equally lofty firms worldwide.
“It’s different to other magic circle firms.”
What it does have in common with the rest of the magic circle is its expectation for excellence – and we can’t see much differentiation on this front. Naturally over the years this has fed rumour that life at Slaughters can be unrelenting, but our trainee sources quickly dealt with this cliché: “Its reputation is worse than the reality.” But it is still demanding.
And the myth and intrigue continue in its closely guarded financial results – though this time do pay attention to the rumour mill, which has it that Slaughters is the most profitable in the City.
A “distinguishing factor” at Slaughters is its multi-specialist approach to training. “I thought it was just marketing,” noted one source, “but you really get a chance to try lots of different things within individual groups.” The secondary aim is to immerse trainees in multiple areas, to push them to learn and develop at pace, and become more capable lawyers.
Seats in both corporate and finance are mandatory; otherwise, incomers submit their seat preferences before joining. And if you’re notwedded to these preferences, trainees have the option to resubmit their preferences three months in.
The firm’s corporate department covers three general groups, which “are broadly not that different, bar one having a stronger insurance focus.” Work is determined by supervisors’ practices, with trainees involved in public and private M&A deals, IPOs, joint ventures, private equity and capital markets deals for the likes of Burberry, Royal Dutch Shell, General Electric and many more household names. Notably, the firm advised GlaxoSmithKline on the creation of a “world-leading” consumer healthcare joint venture with combined sales of approximately £20 billion. Slaughters also advised Takeaway.com on its recommended all-share combination with Just Eat. On the equity capital markets side, the firm recently advised on the demerger of M&G from Prudential.
“...plain-vanilla financings, which aren’t really plain or vanilla...”
We’re told responsibility and experiences differ and are often determined by timing and the supervisor’s specialisms. On the private M&A side, trainees shared experiences of working in “lots of secondary issuances,” drafting board minutes, company house filings,and corporate reorganisations crossing over with the tax department. On smaller deals, advisory work comes to the fore, with “varied, esoteric points coming in.” Smaller-scale work was popular, as “you get more substantive engagement on those random queries.” Trainees were also kept busy drafting share purchase agreements, reviewing corporate governance, and doing research into market abuse. “Generally,” shared one trainee, “the standard of work felt higher here than in other seats.”
The finance department similarly straddles a wide variety – including leveraged finance, acquisition finance, debt capital markets and restructuring – for an equally familiar clientele such as Ernst & Young, Crédit Suisse, Premier Oil and Ocado. The firm recently worked for AlixPartners as contingency planning advisers and prospective insolvency practitioners of the Thomas Cook group. Slaughters also lent its expertise to Wonga as it entered into administration. Our sources welcomed the “massive variety” of work across the department, with highlights including “big leveraged finance deals,” some “plain-vanilla financings, which aren’t really plain or vanilla,” project agreements, and the “full range of debt capital markets work.”
“I actually did quite a lot of drafting,” shared one trainee, noting the “big scope to do ancillary documents, authorisations, and assisting with the underlying, more technical documents.” On the meatier cases, “typical trainee tasks” emerge, such as checking conditions precedent, preparing board minutes, updating trackers and “keeping on top of the status” of closing processes.
“There are lots of documents to churn and review: it’s the nature of the seat, and the NQs don’t quite escape it either!”
Disputes sees trainees involved in arbitration matters, corporate and commercial litigation, and “full- and large-scale investigations.” Towering financial institutions – such as Standard Chartered, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank – flock to the firm. Standard Life Aberdeen sought advice on a contractual dispute with Lloyds relating to investment management agreements concerning some £100 billion of assets. On the commercial side, the firm represents big names like British American Tobacco, Bupa and the Department for Transport. Pointing to its cross-border capabilities, Slaughters recently acted for Diageo on a contractual dispute in the High Court, securing summary judgment of £146 million. Trainees collectively characterised their time as “process-heavy,” with much related to “project management.” One trainee found it “quite admin-y, with lots of tables and trackers.” Specifically for investigations, one trainee noted that “there are lots of documents to churn and review: it’s the nature of the seat, and the NQs don’t quite escape it either!” Trainees did get the chance to draft a witness statement and short notes of advice, attend hearings, and play “an integral role” on smaller-scale investigations.
Any M&A department worth its salt needs a robust competition function, which is exactly what you get at Slaughters. Sources spent time in both Brussels and London for their competition seat. Those in Belgium reported more European merger work, while the London team is more CMA-oriented, “but we’re all still regarded as one group.” The group covers competition litigation, antitrust work, merger control and state aid matters. Unsurprisingly, merger control cases are high-profile, such as acting for Vodafone on its acquisition of parts of Liberty Global, and for Allergan on its proposed acquisition by AbbVie. Big antitrust cases include advising Google on its EC investigation for advertising services, and British Airways on the CMA investigation into the Atlantic joint venture with American Airlines. Trainees applauded the firm for “not shying away from allocating proper work,” with support on Article 101 and 102 proceedings, yet typical trainee tasks inevitably emerge. On a big veterinary medicine merger, one source found themselves “analysing all the active ingredients in every drug offered for every animal affected. It was important but tedious at times.” Another “rubbish task” saw a source spend “hours checking the consistency of a 60-page document making sure full stops were correct and there were no sentences over 25 words.” The link between the granular and big picture was not lost on sources though. “These things have to be done,” shared one interviewee, “as they lead to a better, fuller project.”
We spoke to several trainees in real estate, where “there’s a good mix of corporate support and autonomy,” on “straight-up real estate work” and bigger projects, like drafting term sheets for hiring a football stadium or reviewing the charter agreements for floating oil and gas vessels. Work in financial regulations is “very complicated and technical,” and is split between transaction support and general advisory work, “advising companies on their regulatory regimes.”
Overseas secondments are available through the ‘best friends' network. And rather than just keeping up with the magic Joneses with their overseas network schemes, Slaughters may even offer something better: “It’s a far more authentic experience as you’re mostly going to non-Slaughters offices,” one source shared. “You’re genuinely imbedded into the best firms around the world,” rather than network outposts. Landing an international secondment is reportedly “less competitive than made out,” with “almost everyone who applied getting one,” we heard.Others offered advice, finding that “you’re more likely to go if you apply in your fourth seat.”
“I expected it to be stuffy, but it’s not; it’s an ordinary, modern workplace.”
And back to that Slaughters mythology we were on about earlier: “The traditional culture is overstated,” one found; “there’s a weird perspective that we’re 20 years in the past.” Another added: “I expected it to be stuffy, but it’s not; it’s an ordinary, modern workplace.” Although our sources felt the firm wouldn’t toy with “new-fangled ideas without good reason,” Slaughter and May did embrace modernity in establishing a legal tech project called Collaborate in 2019. “They just don’t jump on things quickly,” one trainee shared. We heard claims that they were the “last firm to get email!” and that they operate an “antiquated” partners-only dining room, and are “way behind” in social media presence – but then, is TikTok really the right place for M&A law?
We’ve found Slaughters to do things in a no-fuss manner. Take the “streamlined and simple” application process, for example, which requires only a CV, cover letter and application form. In line with the rest of the magic circle, “There’s a heavy Oxbridge contingent here, and the interview process works well for Oxbridge applicants as it’s just like a tutorial.” But the introduction of “newer, modern processes” may begin to dismantle the elitist reputational baggage.
And much like the institutions it often hires from, diversity at Slaughters invited criticism from trainees. “It’s noticeably not a diverse place,” told one trainee. “They don’t focus on the nuances of diversity,” thought another source, generalising that “women who make partner are still privately educated Oxbridge women.” Another added: “They care about it on paper,” but whether true or not, the firm did rise 55 places in the Stonewall rankings to the top 15, and it has also risen on social mobility indices. One source noted that “there’s been growth with schemes to target specific groups” – such as RARE Recruitment, PRISM diversity training, mentoring schemes, the Law Springboard Programme, and more – but trainees felt that change is generational and slow.
This said, the firm is still a City trendsetter and innovation does find its place: this year saw Slaughters become the first law firm to set science-based climate change targets, committing to reduce absolute carbon emissions 50% by 2030.
“It would have been reassuring to know it’s a far friendlier environment than I thought it would be,” shared one trainee. “The doors are open, literally and figuratively.” Sources were also quick to dismantle the perception of unapproachable partners, noting they’re “just people! You can talk to them.” Another added that “there’s a hierarchy in terms of work, but I wouldn’t feel strange asking a partner a question.” Among trainees, a friendly yet slightly competitive air emerged. “Everyone’s scrupulously polite,” told one; “there’s camaraderie rather than sharp elbows.” Though some sources experienced more of the latter. “People know how to work the trainee rumour mill and may often understate or overstate the hours they’ve worked to give off a certain impression.”
And these rumours must flow freely with no billingtargets. "The lack of target or eat-what-you-kill culture" fosters a strong team ethic, thought trainees. “Partners will help as there’s no ‘that’s my matter’ culture, and that bleeds into trainees.” But no extent of collegiality will reduce the working hours. “My hours have been better than I feared,” shared one tentatively, “but they’ve still been pretty awful at points.” Transactional seats are notoriously “up and down” with a “standard busy week being in until 10-11 in the lead to closing.” Overall though, sources perceived it “to be humane,” but work “can seep into weekends and evenings.” Happily, one source found: “I’ve left at 6.30 as much as I’ve left at midnight.” And this is typical of any elite law firm.
“It’s not that deeply entrenched hedonism, and most prefer it that way.”
Popular pastoral moves from the firm were increasing holiday entitlement to 30 days, introducing a four-week paid sabbatical for associates with at least three years' PQE, and ushering in new working from home policies.
Is there any time for play? “There’s some socialising, but not as much as other firms; it’s an opt-in if you want culture” – an approach most warmed to. “It’s not lacking,” offered one trainee, “but it’s not that deeply entrenched hedonism, and most prefer it that way.” While social events “really depend on the group,” we heard reports of departmental drinks, bowling, karaoke, escape rooms, group dinners and more. “I’ve been in clubs with partners for team events, but you don’t have to go,” one source revealed. “If you want to leave at 9pm, it won’t inhibit you from progressing.”
On that note, qualification is “slightly less formulaic” and “comes down to preferences matching up with places available.” Retention is historically strong, and in 2020the firm retained 68 out of 72 qualifiers. “They hire with the intention of keeping us all on,” one revealed cheerily.
The firm places great emphasis on its “organic pipeline of talent.” Accordingly, it has only hired two external lawyers in its 130-year history.
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How to get a Slaughter and May training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 30 October 2020 (winter); 11 November 2020 (spring); 18 November 2020 (summer)
Training contract deadline (2023): 4 December 2020
Applications for both the training contract and work experience schemes at Slaughter and May begin with a straightforward online form, plus a CV and one-page covering letter. “I just wrote why I wanted to join the firm and why I wanted to be a lawyer,” one of the firm's trainees recalled. “Keep it short and sweet, though it does need to be formal of course.” Oh, and make sure you leave out the ampersand: it's Slaughter AND May.
“We don’t have set criteria demanding you have three As at A level,” a source in recruitment says (the firm, rather vaguely, asks for 'good' A levels), “but we do look for a strong 2:1 degree.” Our trainee sources agreed that “the Oxbridge influence is undeniable, but no one looks down on someone who hasn't gone to a top-ten uni.” The firm tells us it will be visiting several universities over the course of 2019/20, including Lancaster, Leicester and SOAS.
Slaughter and May starts receiving applications for its work experience schemes in October, and it's worth getting in there early as the firm schedules interviews on a rolling basis. The scheme is aimed at penultimate-year law and non-law students.
Unusually, approximately half of the 250 summer work experience interviews usually take place on campus. The interview takes place with a partner and an associate, and includes a discussion about a topical article.
The firm runs a week-long scheme at Easter, two three-week schemes over June and July for law undergrads, plus another three-week scheme in September for non-law students. There are usually around 25 students on each of the schemes. All students sit in a single department for the duration of their visit, and take part in various workshops and case studies. One major highlight is a day trip to the Brussels office.
Work experience students have the option of interviewing for a training contract during the last week of their placement. The firm informs us they aren't given special treatment over direct applicants, however, and are also required to do the written exercise direct applicants do as part of their interview process (see below).
Training contract applications
The firm typically receives around 2,000 applications each year for up to 85 training contracts. In 2017 around 550 students were invited to an interview day, which includes a written exercise, an interview with two partners, a tour of the office with a trainee and a short interview with HR.
According to the firm's trainees, succeeding at interview involves “showing you can think laterally. They don't want you to repeat verbatim what you learnt at law school; they want new solutions and fresh ideas.” Our grad recruitment sources tell us the firm is particularly interested in those who demonstrate “the ability to show grit under pressure” and have “a range of interests outside the law.”
Interview with senior partner Steve Cooke
The Student Guide's Joel Poultney caught up with Slaughter and May maestro Steve Cooke to discuss how the life of a trainee has changed; what effect the pandemic has had on the industry so far; how the firm is supporting diversity; and much, much more...
Slaughter and May
One Bunhill Row,
- Partners: 109*
- Associates: 434*
- Total trainees: 177*
- *Worldwide figures
- UK offices: London
- Overseas offices: Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong plus relationship firms in all the major jurisdictions.
- The Trainee Recruitment team [email protected] 020 7090 4454
- Application criteria
- Training contract pa: 80
- Minimum required degree grade: Good 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A Levels: Good A-levels
- Vacation scheme places pa: 100
- First year scheme places pa: Approx 150
- Dates and deadlines
- Please visit our website for all deadlines.
- Salary and benefits
- First year salary: £45,000
- Second year salary: £51,000
- Holiday entitlement: 30 days
- Sponsorship LPC and GDL: Fees plus maintenance grant
- International and regional Offices with training contract: London
- Overseas seats:
- Recent trainee secondment destinations include: France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands. Spain, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, India, Russia, Hong Kong and the US.
Much of our work has an international element and in 2019 we worked with over 225 law firms in more than 80 jurisdictions. We are committed to a forward thinking, innovative approach to legal service delivery to complement the best in class, business focused advice on which our reputation is built.
We take great store in drawing strength from diversity. With 147 different degree courses from 70 different universities and 45 nationalities represented among our lawyers, our culture is extremely broad.
During the two-year training contract, trainees turn their hand to a broad range of work, taking an active role in four, five or six legal groups while sharing an office with a partner or experienced associate. All trainees spend at least two six-month seats in our market leading corporate, commercial and financing groups. Subject to gaining some contentious experience, they choose how to spend the remaining time.
Our overseas offices and close working relationships with market-leading law firms in other jurisdictions mean there are opportunities for trainees to apply for a secondment in their second year.
Our trainees come from a range of universities – it is the quality of the candidate, not the university that is important to us. We like people with a sharp intellect, independent thought and curiosity, commercial awareness, energy, spark and commitment, the ability to relate to others, common sense and judgement, integrity, a range of interests outside of the law, an interesting take on things, resolve and resilience, a good sense of humour and a willingness to take on responsibility.
Trainees are also encouraged to understand advances in the legal industry, and possibly even help to shape them, by joining our Innovation Network. The Network has over 200 members including an online forum for publishing thought and insight pieces, and for engaging in debate. Challenging the way we work through open-mindedness, diversity and creativity can have an enormous impact on results for our clients, our efficiency, and our wellbeing.
Vacation scheme, open days and first-year opportunities
Virtual presentations: October and November 2020
We are pleased to announce that we will be running a variety of virtual presentations throughout October and November to provide an insight into the firm. Our presentations will take place on Webex and each presentation will last for approximately one hour. There will be time to answer questions at the end of each presentation and these can be submitted via the Q&A box during the talk. To find out more and to register your place please visit our website.
Please visit our website to sign up to our mailing list for updates on events and vacancies.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Banking Litigation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 1)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Infrastructure (Band 3)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 1)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 2)
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