‘I’ve got an offer from Slaughter and May AND Freshfields – who should I choose?’

It’s a nice problem to have

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, we’ve pulled out this question from our Freshfields retention rate thread by ‘SM and FF Offer Holder’.

“HELP – Currently deciding between Slaughters and Freshies

Pros for FF:
– Strong in Dispute Resolution, esp Arbitration
– Still band 1 in Corporate (same as SM)
– 3 months seats
– Better international opportunities

Cons for FF:
– Moving office to Liverpool Street halfway through my TC
– Low retention rate
– Current low morale amongst trainees

Remaining questions:
– Are the hours worse at FF or SM?
– Which firm is better placed to survive Brexit (FF is very strong in Europe, esp Brussels and Germany)?

Interested to hear what everybody has to say!”

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

143 Comments

Anonymous

Freshies is better than Slaughters, though they may work you harder – at least it will be genuine, worthwhile work, rather than shining a client’s shoes.

(29)(21)
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Anonymous

Trainee work at slaughters is as close to grunt work as you can get in law. Slaughters will never bill for trainee work and would never let a trainee so much as cough on a call with a client.

(14)(16)
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SandM trainee

As a trainee who’s had a client secondment, spent weeks on client sites in other groups, and speaks to clients most days, that’s abject nonsense.

(35)(6)
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Anonymous

I’m not sure what you think genuine, worthwhile work is because I’m here doing completely superfluous admin work for no reason other than because my supervisor said so. Slaughter’s is a no-brainer, don’t know why there’s even any debate.

(5)(2)
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Anonymous

I think people overstate the positives of training at Freshfields and exaggerate the negatives of training at Slaughters. I have just finished the most pointless exercise for a supervisor I find very patronising, and am just about to head home now. Can’t see how the people at Slaughters could be any worse.

(9)(1)
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Anonymous

I would go for FF.

Both will survive Brexit, but not all junior lawyers will be able to stay on the sinking ship. If you can angle your TC so that you can gain some experience in a decent city like Brussels that could pay dividends in the future. Brussels would be a great place to live and work in at some point in the future.

You will be worked like a slave at both of them because the partners care about PEP more than the health and wellbeing of their junior lawyers.

Best of luck.

(28)(4)
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Child of above

Why is everyone downgrading this?! I haven’t eaten in a month, but so long as old silver spoon gets at the TC at the ‘right’ MC firm, we’re all happy?!

(8)(11)
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Anonymous

1. This conundrum is so irrelevant for the vast majority of people.

2. You have no pros or cons for Slaughter and May?

3. Moving office is a terrible con.

4. Freshfields might be strong in Brussels and Germany, but what does that have to do with London trainees? Brussels might be an alternative destination if not retained in London, but Germany almost certainly isn’t.

This is complete rubbish, even by Legal Cheek’s low standards.

(39)(35)
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Anonymous

The reason why this comment focused on the pros and cons of FF is because the article focused on FF. Also, the pros of FF are the cons of SM and the pros of SM are the cons of FF.

The relevance of a European presence is extremely pertinent to the overall health of a firm.

Moving offices is a huge change why is likely to impact the working environment.

I know a few people who are faced with this question.

Stupid comment.

(20)(22)
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Anonymous

This article is supposed to be a comparative, so it should sets out the strengths and weaknesses of both.

SM is band 1 corporate (obviously) and also has three month seats, so FF pros are not clearly not all SM cons. Pretty sure SM and FF are equal strength in Brussels (ie fine, but miles behind Cleary Brussels), so that’s basically irrelevant.

You may not be working yet, or live in London, but believe me, moving from Fleet Street to Bishopsgate is in no way a relevant consideration. I am guessing you are currently a student/TC seeker.

(13)(3)
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Anonymous

I don’t think that’s true re Brussels, and it’s irrelevant for other destinations. Germany will take German qualified lawyers; the US will take US qualified lawyers etc.

(4)(3)
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Anonymous

What’s all this moving office nonsense? Just move your stuff and change your morning commute. If you can’t handle that, should you even be let out alone, let alone ever be a lawyer?

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

We need a second referendum. The tide is turning on the old, rich, racist or misinformed people who maliciously voted leave last time. The result would be a resounding remain victory. Brexit is bad for the majority of the people in this country and it is sinful that the Tory government persists.

(19)(20)
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Anonymous

What’s your justification, from a democratic perspective, for a second referendum? Can we then have a third, fourth, fifth, 100th etc? If not, why not?

(0)(1)
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Anonymous

You’re so right. The referendum that voted us into Europe in 1975 was the will of the people, inviolate, and binding in perpetuity. Also what’s with these general elections every few years? What’s the democratic justification for that, eh? Are we just going to keep having them?

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

Uncle Freshies all the way, very collegiate. Excellent secondment opportunities and chance to sit in a variety of seats. You will work hard no matter where you go but better to have had the chance to work with decent as well as brilliantly people. Not sure you will get that at S&M.

(4)(7)
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Anonymous

Freshfields is a snakepit full of passive-aggressive sadists who get a thrill out of ruining your career while pretending to be your best friend.

(5)(0)
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Anonymous

I may regret asking this, but I am in a fairly similar situation. I have offers from Freshfields and Herbert Smith Freehills, but I am unsure which to choose. Any thoughts?

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

Whatever HSF provides, FF does it just as well (Litigation, DR, Arbitration). FF provides the best of both worlds: a corporate AND contentious powerhouse.

This narrows it down to FF and SM. Did you do vac schemes in any of them? How was the culture of each firm? How much do you value strength in litigation?

(5)(0)
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Anonymous

I agree with this, but my concern is that I didn’t feel like I clicked well with the people at FF – I feel like HSF is a better fit for me personality-wise, but I don’t want to limit myself by training there. Thoughts?

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

Ignore the above – Herbert Smith is a great firm. You can still have a great career if you train there. If you fitted in better there then go for that.

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

I think the idea of not clicking with the people being decisive for HSF v FF is irrelevant. Both firms have v similar cultures, except that FF has excellence in multiple areas. HSF is the best litigation firm but FF is best or second best in multiple areas.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

This is pathetic. How someone feels about the culture of a firm is very important. Going with a firm you won’t enjoy as much just because of some vague “prestige” factor is stupid.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

There are some supervisors whose smugness is intolerable and not conducive to your development as a trainee, so if you feel like you have better rapport with those at HSF, absolutely choose that over Freshfields. There is no reason to settle for second best in terms of working environment merely for the slightly more prestigious name on your CV.

(4)(0)
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Anonymous

I think the point is that it’s quite an arbitrary ‘ranking’ when proper rankings (e.g. ‘X firm is tier 1 for corporate’) exist anyway.

(0)(0)
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Unbiased

Absolutely Slaughters.
(i) International opportunities are surprisingly good at SandM – if you want an international secondment, you usually get one.

(ii) The firm still has the rep of being the best corporate firm in the City. FF has so many offices that it has lost that identity, and is (probably) behind SandM in the important metrics – FTSE100 clients, FTSE250 clients, PEP etc. SandM is not as well-known for disputes historically, but its DR and Arbitration have come on hugely since the Crisis.

(iii) SandM is incomparably nicer to work in – the partners’ attitudes are more human, and a fair number of them are honestly committed to achieving a sensible work-life balance. That’s just not what it’s like in FF, with billable targets and a general sense of internecine competition.

(iv) On surviving Brexit – SandM’s small size and nimbleness has traditionally been an asset in times of crisis, while firms with big international footprints are weighed down by their many offices, and are therefore more vulnerable. This is especially true of Brexit and Freshfields’ sprawling network of 28 offices – while SandM’s internationalist business model functions just as well outside the EU as within. Remember SandM came off better than almost anyone else in the Global Financial Crisis.

(32)(6)
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Anonymous

This is horseshit – I can only imagine someone employed at Slaughters wrote these “alternative facts”.

(i) international opportunities – obviously, unarguably worse than any other MC firm. Full stop, end of discussion.

(ii) not sure who this “rep” exists amongst – yes, Slaughters is a good corporate firm. Not “the best” on any clear metric. FF is also an exceptional corporate firm, with as much of a claim to being “the best” as any other – but FF also has better resources, more international capability, and can actually do some other things (disputes, finance etc).

(iii) most people rightly associate slaughters with stuffy, hierarchical management and old-school attitudes. Some people may find that environment pleasant – most probably would not.

(iv) “nimbleness” is a non-existent quality when it comes to large law firms (and yes, Slaughters is large, even if small relative to the rest of the MC). When you hit choppy water, you’ll always be better off on a bigger boat.

(21)(11)
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Anonymous

(i) Unless you go to Brussels or Hong Kong, international opportunities are with a top firm in the country you are going to, not an offshoot of the London mothership – you therefore get a far better understanding of doing business in a different culture, alongside some of the brightest home grown lawyers.
(ii) Depends who you talk to and what ‘rep’ is important to you. Is it what clients think? Employees? Alumni? Are you going to believe the rumours and assumptions that people who haven’t worked at either firm pass around? The only real way is to go through the front doors and experience it for yourself and/or ask some really challenging questions at law fairs and other events.
(iv) Ask yourself – how many lawyers did FF and Slaughters lay off during the downturn? You may be surprised to learn that Slaughters was able to redeploy lawyers throughout the firm owing to its multi-specialist approach to client work. It’s a challenge for junior lawyers and not everyone wants to take up that challenge, but you develop a far more flexible skill- and mind-set than being pigeon-holed in a specialist area of law.

(1)(0)
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Scarred Trainee

As a trainee, if a firm has a strong investigations practice, then you should avoid it. You will spend your entire seat doing dogshit document reviews.

If you end up qualifying into that department, you will then spend years and years doing dogshit document reviews and compliance assessments.

(2)(0)
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Actual advice

My own analysis, having been in this position a year ago, would be:

FF :

More international (and easier to get trainee secondments)
Generally more social/outgoing people than at Slaughters
Stronger disputes practice

Slaughters:

Generally more varied work (e.g. Corporate groups all cover M&A / ECM / PE work)
Usually better hours than FF, with more holiday (30 days)
Possibly more ‘prestige’

Ultimately they’re both very similar (and very good) firms so you can’t really make a ‘wrong’ decision

(26)(3)
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Anonymous

I was in the same situation as the author many moons ago. All firms at that level have far more things in common than they have distinguishing features so you cannot go too far wrong either way.

As for distinguishing features:
– If you care about going on an international secondment as a trainee then FBD is a better bet. International secondments for trainees are not particularly beneficial from a career development perspective but obviously great from a broader life enjoyment angle. Depending on how you view that trade off might help to answer that question.
– Having known numerous trainees/associates at both firms I can say that the hours are, on average, worse at FBD. The difference isn’t much but when/if you aren’t fully committed to becoming a city law warrior it could make all the difference to your social life.
– Associate pay is better at FBD. However, its better in part because of hours targets. You may be worse off financially as a Slaughters associate but, for many people, being part of an office culture that has no billable hours targets is more healthy.
– FBD is a more social place and, in my view, there seems to be a general feeling in the office that you need to be seen to be social. Slaughters lawyers have an almost pathological distrust of anything that resembles ‘forced fun’, yet people are regularly in the pub every Friday evening because they tend to organise things in slightly smaller groups. If you are somebody that wants to wear their social life on their sleeve (and also want a work culture that is particularly keen on sports clubs etc.) then FBD may be better.

In conclusion, the most important thing is to assess what you want and tailor your choice accordingly. Neither is definitely better than the other and, irrespective of which you choose, to most people you’ll just be another lawyer.

(13)(0)
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FBD

I’d agree with this, I was in the same position and ultimately went with the firm I preferred.

There really is no wrong answer. As far as I’m aware there are no billable targets at Freshies either, but the rest of the MC do have billable targets. I’d query whether the lack of billable targets makes any real difference between Freshies and S&M v CC, Links and A&O though.

(6)(1)
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Anonymous

Agreed – you need to go with your ‘gut’ feeling on where you will fit best. You are lucky to have the choice to go to two MC firms. You will get quality training at both.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

US firms require you to have an offer from the department of choice to be in serious consideration for recruitment – if you’re not retained, you face an uphill battle trying to explain why you weren’t kept on, and generally don’t progress past the second interview stage. Between Slaughters and Freshfields, I’d choose Slaughters due to the higher retention rates, so that you at least have an offer that sets you up for lateral moves at NQ level if you don’t get your department of choice. US firms also see Slaughters as more prestigious than Freshfields, so would choose a Slaughters candidate over Freshfields, with all other things being equal.

(10)(1)
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Trainee

I see. Not sure how they can monitor that – presumably the firms do not contact each other, so how would they know? Also, when moving as an NQ, do things like universities attended, degree classifications matter at that point still, or not? e.g. if I have a First from Cambridge, will that help me relative to others, or not really?

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

You’re asked if you have an internal offer when recruiters put your CV forward for roles at US firms. You will also be asked at interview if you have an internal offer and be thoroughly interrogated if you do not have one. They see it as an indication that you have reached a certain standard so you need to have strong reasons for why you could not qualify into your department of choice, or firm at all. I think a First from Cambridge is thought of very highly when doing NQ lateral moves to US firms, who want the most pedigreed candidates to signal that their associates are the very best in the market.

(2)(0)
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Anonymous

I disagree with this (I moved to a US firm on qualification). My sense then, as it is now, is that the US firms start their processes much earlier than UK firms (especially those without substantial trainee intakes). I accepted my offer before the process at my old firm had even begun.

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

How did you explain why you wanted to move from an MC firm to a US firm?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

The opportunity to work in a smaller team and have greater levels of autonomy / more client contact. Lots of US firms have also expanded quite dramatically in London over the past couple of years, which is (arguably) exciting to be a part of. Depending on the area you work in, being in a firm with a more meaningful US presence may also be important.

I didn’t mention the money but I think everyone knows and understands that it’s likely to be a contributing factor.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Yes, for the reasons outlined above and also (unexpectedly) a much better work/life balance.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Do you think you have diminished exit options as a result on working on matters less prestigious than those at the Magic Circle?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Not at all. I think that may be the case for someone working in, say, big-ticket public M&A. That’s an area where the MC dominate and the US firms have struggled to get a real foothold (or have just avoided this type of work altogether).

The US firms in London haven’t generally tried to become full service firms in the same way as the MC. Most of them have particular strengths in the US (e.g. private equity / asset management) and have built their practices in London selectively. As a result, I think there’s still plenty of exposure to “prestigious” work in the US shops.

That said, I’d also advise against focusing just on “prestige”. In the context of law firm work, this usually equates to big deals, recognisable brands, etc. Anybody working on these matters, particularly as a junior, is likely to be a small cog in a very big machine. For developmental purposes (and job satisfaction) it’s important to also have a good amount of work on less “valuable” matters where you can take a more leading role.

I think you would get a mix of both at either a US or MC firm – but even if the make-up of work included a slightly lesser proportion of “prestigious” work at a particular firm, I don’t think this would necessarily be a negative.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

If you had your time again would you have trained at a US firm from the start? If not, why not?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Both. Oddly the solicitors turned bazzas I’ve come across are often ex Freshies/S&M rather than other MCs. Couple at 3vb, fountain, maitland.

Still need a first class degree, in a serious subject, ideally from Oxbridge for the commercial bar though.

(3)(2)
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Anonymous

Lots of bizarrely sensible comments here.
I had an offer from Slaughters 7 years ago. I felt that they really care about motivation to work at Slaughter and May and they are not looking for people who will jump ship on qualification, I feel that the partners were thinking about the long term future of the firm. I also felt that that social life was relatively piss poor, that it was a bit weird and overhyped, and they were looking for a type of person more than other firms. I noticed that almost everyone and, the partners also basically confirmed this, was reasonable RG, first class degree, with 2:1 being the exception more than the rule except Oxbridge, and almost all straight out of uni. It was pointed out to me by many, many people, directly and indirectly, and through what I saw relative to other firms, that trainees carried fairly little responsibility and were treated like children. Definitely a very hierarchical also.
But very good retention rates and perhaps more prestigious than FBD, but in the real world it doesn’t matter.
FBD has a better training system imo with more seats and better international secondments.
I ended up going to a US firm, but where you choose to do is probably quite personal. I don’t think I would have fit in at Slaughters because I consider myself somewhat normal. I found most trainees and junior associates to be academically quite bright, but slightly odd, lacking in social skills, quite insecure and having a number of other personal issues. So despite retention I would go for FBD but you can’t go wrong with either. Don’t think yiu should base the decision on prospects at a US firm, too many unknowns.

(11)(1)
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Anonymous

FBD has a horrible training system where you’re lead to believe that you can choose your seats as you go but in actual fact it’s completely randomised, particularly in your earlier seats. The international secondments are fun, but not if you haven’t been retained. A lot of trainees had to fly back for interviews after finding out they they have not been offered an NQ role internally.

(4)(3)
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Anonymous

I’m not sure salary is the point – most choose Freshfields for the calibre of work, which is unmatched in many of its departments. Even if another pays just as well, if not more, the career capital is nowhere near that of a Freshfields junior. Most trainees choose Freshfields intending to commit their careers to the firm. Not being kept on is very disappointing, even if it opens doors elsewhere.

(2)(0)
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Anonymous

Investment banking: more money, better exit options, more portable, more commercial, fewer documents to churn.

Law: more prestige, broader range of specialisms (e.g. arbitration, competition, IP, not just M&A), high quality training, more stable.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

Would you agree that S&M’s multi specialist approach makes them better equipped to deal with any economic fallout from Brexit e.g. corporate lawyers aren’t limited to M&A so wouldn’t necessarily be got rid of if M&A slows right down?

(2)(1)
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Anonymous

I enjoy watching the bunfights on here over the comparable “prestige” of law firms.

Laughable. Many city firms are a brilliant place to start. Most have decent training and exposure to high level deals. They all pay fantastically high salaries compared to most careers. A marginally more “prestigious” firm on a CV won’t make up for other qualities, like selling yourself at interview.

Most non-lawyers I know haven’t even heard of any of these firms. Just get a grip and take a look at yourselves!

(11)(0)
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Anonymous

But who cares? Some people might be better suited to, or prefer, other magic circle firms, silver circle firms, US firms or indeed more minor firms. No point being unhappy for the prestige.

(4)(1)
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Anonymous

Completely agree. Magic Circle firms rest on their laurels and generally expect trainees to just suck it up and be grateful for the opportunity to train at a prestigious firm on prestigious work for prestigious clients. You individual development is neglected and you don’t really have a voice, even if you have reasonable suggestions – I’ve been told by some supervisors that trainees know nothing. I think if you find a law firm that has a different attitude and treats you as a young professional, you would do much better as a lawyer in training than at a firm that relies heavily on its prestigious brand.

(2)(1)
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Worried about FF

Quick questions — recent FF trainees, how much choice did you have in selecting your many seats? Were you told what to take?

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

The seat lottery gets more and more likely to produce an allocation of your preference the closer you get to qualification. Choosing as you go causes complete chaos and chronic disappointment because it’s not possible to accommodate the preferences of 160 trainees. Some get lucky, others disappointed. If you have a specific career in mind, e.g. corporate, much better to choose Slaughters as you are more likely to get what you want without too much angst.

(2)(0)
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Freshfields trainee (unemployed)

I was lucky to have seen arbitration, competition, IP DR, financial disputes, corporate, PE and FS Reg in my training contract and thank the extraordinary TD team at Freshfields for doing their best at an almost impossible job.

(1)(1)
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Freshfields trainee (unemployed)

Reasonably likely: first seaters normally get DR, second or third seaters corporate, if you get good appraisals you can see competition and arbitration in your later seats, and if you ace all your seats you can do a secondment in Paris for arbitration.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

Pros for FF:
– Good looking people
– Some of them are smart
– Office in an historic part of London

Cons for FF:
– Gimp desks
– TD/HR
– Expensive dentist

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

Elite US shops trounce the MC.

MC prestige is strong in London but not many people seem to realise they are child’s play compared to top US firms. They also treat trainees like fresher children which is cute.

Higher quality training/more sociable hours/friendlier culture at all MC firms over US shops is a broken record. Stop lying to yourselves and grow up.

Look at global PEP rankings and only Slaughters can hold half a candle.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

Elite US shops lack the cross-border capabilities of the MC, which is historically more international than US shops. Agreed on overstatement of training/hours/culture – all you’re really getting is the prestigious MC brand on your CV.

(0)(0)
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