Shearman & Sterling lawyers offered six month sabbaticals for 30% pay

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As Reed Smith introduces unpaid leave scheme

US law firms Shearman & Sterling and Reed Smith are the latest to introduce measures to mitigate against the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shearman is offering its global staff and fee-earners lengthy sabbaticals on reduced pay, while Reed Smith is introducing an unpaid leave scheme for all employees.

Shearman’s voluntary leave programme allows its lawyers to take a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months off work at a third of their annual pay, the firm confirmed on Friday.

It will top up participants’ salaries to 40% if they engage in pro bono work during their voluntary leave.

Legal Cheek understands applications for the scheme are ongoing and so it is not yet known how many of the firm’s lawyers have signed-up to the new initiative.

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Fellow US outfit Reed Smith is offering employees the option to take up to three months unpaid leave. During this time, benefits such as healthcare and life insurance will remain in place.

A spokesperson for the firm told the website Employee Benefits: “We recognise that our people might want a break because of unique, individualised demands due to the coronavirus pandemic or other reasons.”

They continued:

“To meet that need, Reed Smith is offering our lawyers and professional staff the option to select an unpaid leave of absence for up to three months. We will ensure that all client and business needs will be addressed before they start their annual unpaid leave. All healthcare and life insurance coverage will continue during the leave of absence.”

The new measure comes on top of several others the firm has implemented since March, including deferring its equity partners’ bonuses into two payments, with partners paid half their bonus amount on the scheduled payment date, and the remaining half three months later.

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Reed Smith…absolute top



Omg toppppp



Good in many practice areas, apparently poor in others. The same as many law firms. Not sure what your point is – which firm are you at?



from what I hear it was offered because a number of people asked to take discretionary (unpaid) time off. That would normally be granted piecemeal. This is a blanket approval to cut the red tape.



1) For a lot of people (trainees, support staff, associates with mortgages and families), 30% salary won’t even cover cost of rent or mortgage. Let alone living/doing something productive.

2) Nice picture of a hammock and tropical sea – a sabbatical stuck at home is infinitely more likely.

3) Won’t even touch on the risk of redundancy upon return, or being frozen out/falling behind (surely trainees cannot qualify if they take six months off?), or the potential opprobrium for being seen to bail during a tough time.

And this is being reported as a sensible, fair, or even a neutral thing?! Better than straight out cuts, but it’s not exactly good…



This is right on the money. Imagine taking 6 months off, just to sit on your arse, surfing PronHub ad-infinitum until your banjo shoots blood.

Sounds like a decent proposal to me lmaoooo


Silver C. Trainee

My firm has also brought in the sabbatical option and whilst it is open to trainees they have stated our TC’s will be extended if we opt for a sabbatical


Legal Admin, Impoverished

God, I wish I got £2,500 a month


Better safe than kicked out

Compared to what other BigMoney US law firms are doing In London, Shearman is indeed one of the fairest of them all!! (Sorry to say that, but it is true) Other US firms that should know better than Shearman are resorting to stealth layoffs. I’d rather be given 6 months sabbatical than being kicked out the door, and, what’s worse being blamed for losing my job.



Proof of said layoffs?



That’s why they’re called stealth layoffs bruh…/whoosh


US Firm 1PQE

I think it’s a bit of a myth, so far US firms seem to be doing better than British ones. No stealth layoffs / salary cuts in mine. In fact we are, probably, busier than before the lockdown.

But obviously this is one firm, cannot speak for all others.


US Firm 5 PQE

“Seem” is the key word… there are also various practice areas in a US firm; if you’re working in the restructuring department you’re clearly going to be making hay for the foreseeable future…



Unless you work at Quinn or similar (and even then it’s a maybe – i’m not sure it can (yet) be reliably said that there has been a uptick in disputes across the board), which seems highly improbable bearing in mind your regular presence/commentary on this website, your firm will not now be busier than before.


Jeremy Corbyn

Brothers! Sisters!

This is a GOOD START to implementing the NEW NORMAL!

COVID-19 will change the UK forever! No more City greed! No more filthy lucre! 75% tax rates!

These lawyers should volunteer with their new time to help cleaning NHS wards, and allow our hard-working public servants to get a well-earned rest!





Cool story bro.



This was getting boring even when Jezza was Labour leader. You do realise that we’ve moved on a bit now?


Death to the Magic Circle

It’s clear that it’s the sh*tty, struggling firms that are coming up with all these shenanigans.
Funny how Shearman and Reed smith regard themselves as ‘top US firms’…

Kirkland, Latham, Weil and Skadden would all like a word…


US firms are not doing any better than Magic Circle

@ Death to the Magic Circle —>> that is so not true!!! I know several people at one of those firms that are being pushed out on the basis of an “it’s not working out” conversation out.

Please stop trying to deceive the market that US firms are doing well and are not laying off people behind closed doors!! US firms (one of those specified above in particular) is already shedding employees, yet you won’t be reading about that in the press I’m afraid because that’s not how they operate!

If anything, Magic Circle firms are doing better ECS use they have deeper and broader practices across the board.



Shearman is top firm in New York, just look at its rankings across several practice areas



Your argument is somewhat let down by the fact that you don’t know that S&S is actually a very good law firm.

Reed Smith, having worked across from them, less so (in my experience at least).



Amongst the top US firms in London, I would rather work for a firm like Shearman that is at least giving its employees options than at another “top” US firm that is conducting stealth layoffs and pretending “all is fine”.



Why will absolutely nobody tell us who is conducting stealth layoffs?! Just lots of lame references to them.



Its Keckman & Wellies brah


Helping out

I think you mean Kirkland & Ellis





The reasons?

Writers and journalists are afraid of being sued, losing sponsorships, people afraid of their firm threatening them with information hanging over their head, the need to obtain a reference from your firm when joining another firm, feelings of shame by the individuals, individuals afraid of being sued by their firm, reputational issues etc… Stealth layoffs are structured for them to appear as natural as possible, with thwarted feedback and sequence of events, including the involvement of HR personnel who play along and document the firing.



Any insider info on how other US firms i.e. Cleary / Latham / Weil etc are faring in these times?



@ Anon 2.25pm

Latham and Weil have broadly speaking grown organically and generally sustainably (i.e., they don’t dish out lots of offers, don’t promote tons of salaried “partners”, etc), so I wouldn’t worry too much about those two. Cleary faced some issues in the last few years so I’d expect it to be most impacted out of the three you mention now that there actually is a crisis in the market.



@Not US NQ

Always good to get the insights of an NQ in respect of the stability of firms they have never worked at. Thanks buddy. When’s your column in the FT starting?



Not saying they are entirely stable but certainly more stable than certain other US firms…and yes I do my research about US firms before joining one.



For the decent US firms, Kirkland are the ones to watch here, will be shocked if you don’t see redundancies by them and have been hearing this is likely. They have hired a big variance over the last 2/3 years at the associate level and have a lot of non-share partners who are slowly being offloaded (have seen several examples over past year in the legal press).

Weil are fine, Skadden fine, Latham not so sure, look what happened to them in ’08, made a tonne of associates redundant so I wouldn’t be certain that this won’t happen again, Cleary have their own issues, DP & Sull Crom are each tiny in London and are fine. Shearman not so fine, W&C more likely to follow the Shearman route, STB also seem fine.

Source = I work at one of the above and have a friends working within each of these firms.


US associate

Well done to the US 2PQE lawyer above – he/she couldn’t have described the situation better. I am also a US Associate and agree with him or her completely – best summary of the situation I’ve read so far. I am at one of those US shops and it’s not looking good. I can confirm that instead of a redundancies they are pushing people out on stealth layoffs


Cool story bro

Weil in particular has an extremely high-ranking restructuring practice so I doubt they will see much negative change and will probably make a ton of money out of all this. Skadden, ey… if people can be bothered/have the money to bring litigation they’ll do well.



Who wants to take a 6 month sabbatical at this time? Can’t imagine there would be much uptake, people want job security in these uncertain times. Not like you can do anything with the sabbatical anyway.

Sounds like furlough by another name. The firm is just trying to keep their rep up and don’t want to admit they are in a pinch.



Why are they doing this now????? Not a good look for them. They should have just furloughed rather than trying to call it something else. Wonder if it is actually “voluntary”.


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