The Legal Cheek View
Slaughter and May prides itself on standing slightly apart from everyone else – note the “and” rather than “&” in its name and the policy of not disclosing financial results. Certainly there can’t be many City law firms that still have a dining room where every partner has their own pigeonhole and napkin. But it's also a modern and relatively enlightened place, with a diverse trainee intake (Slaughters hired from 35 different universities last year) and a strong commitment to meritocracy.
Of course, all the pigeonhole and napkin stuff works an absolute treat in helping to foster a mystique that casts Slaughter and May as the Real Madrid of the legal world. Profit per equity partner is rumoured to be the highest in Europe at over £2 million, but no one knows for sure. And the firm’s lawyers are said to offer a level of legal insight that is perhaps beaten only by leading commercial barristers. Such chatter naturally attracts the slightly nerdy academic types upon whom Slaughters has built its name. The firm that supposedly shuns marketing – until a couple of years ago its partners ran its press office – is an absolute master of the art.
But there have been signs lately that the Slaughter and May aura is being tested. Pay seems to be at the heart of the matter – the firm is now someway adrift of magic circle and MoneyLaw rivals after some very modest recent raises. We also understand from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey that there are grumbles about quality of work and some rather haughty partners (this is surprising: Slaughters' top dogs have a reputation for being tough but nice).
One insider at the firm told us that some partners “dismiss you and you're lucky if they even remember your name,” adding: “After four months of sharing an office with a partner, he had yet to learn my name and kept referring to me as another person.”
Others are more positive, asserting that this remains the “best place in the City” for solicitors to begin their careers. But the range of views swirling around suggests that Slaughters may still be finding its feet as it looks to broaden a historically Oxbridge-heavy trainee intake to include hotshot, but perhaps less conformist, students from non-traditional universities.
One of the problems faced by the firm is doubtless the expectations of its new recruits, who are among the brightest in the country – and most in need of challenging. While other firms sweeten to pill of grunt work through perks, Slaughters is rather less giving of freebies. In the past this refusal to succumb to gimmicks has been interpreted as evidence of class. But combined with the lower than market rates of pay and long hours – and the message seems to be that the S&M rookies need a little more love.