Skadden has had a rocky year in terms of its public image. In April an ex-London associate was jailed as a result of an investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team. More recently a former Skadden partner has been placed under investigation for potentially operating as an unregistered foreign lobbyist. However, financially the firm continues to thrive, posting $2.58 billion (£1.99 billion) gross revenue in 2018, a 3.5% increase from 2017. This positions it as one of the five biggest law firms in the world.
London trainees can be expected to engage with challenging and varied work. The majority of this lies in the classic commercial sectors: M&A, private equity, financings, restructuring and tax. Skadden’s stellar reputation in M&A has led to eminent mandates including advising 21st Century Fox on its £11.7 billion takeover of Sky. For those interested in a more diverse array of sectors, Skadden also has prominent capabilities in international arbitration, white collar crime and employment.
Despite its tough Wall Street image trainees note that within the firm there is “good mentoring” and “a sense of camaraderie.” One insider adds: “It is expected for trainees to talk to everyone in their team.” These teams consist of associates and partners, and are said to be less hierarchical than many global law firms. Trainees must complete one transaction and one litigation seat in their first year. Although this appears restrictive such requirements allow them to gain an understanding of the firm in two essential contexts.
Working hours at Skadden are pretty intense with most trainees and junior lawyers pulling 12-hour days. This doesn’t leave much time for a social life. Still there are some notable get togethers. Past events include dinners at the directors’ lounge at Chelsea FC and a black-tie fundraiser for Pride in London with Sir Ian McKellen as the guest speaker. Every so often junior members of the firm get to attend.
When it comes to perks, Skadden is good on the big picture but less so on the detail. One trainee complains that there are “measly pension contributions” but adds that “what they skip on perks, they make up for in cash (salary).” Skadden’s salary is clearly a big draw, with London NQs earning a mind-boggling £118,000. Another major attraction are the firm’s international secondments, which 63% of trainees experienced this year according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19. Possible destinations include Brussels, Hong Kong and New York. Client secondments are also available but less common- only 13% of trainees went to a client. As well as secondment opportunities a number of trainees have travelled abroad for deals, including going to New York for two weeks for a closing.
Skadden’s Canary Wharf office doesn’t receive many complaints bar one insider noting that the “carpet could be a bit nicer.” Once qualified, associates are treated to an impressive upgrade, getting their own office that, as per firm policy, is decked out in wood furniture. The firm’s canteen is also recommended and includes “nice vegetarian options.”
But don’t be too confident about grinding your way to the top at this US powerhouse. Becoming a partner at the firm is notoriously difficult, particularly for those in the London office. For two years in a row Skadden failed to promote any of its London lawyers to partnership.