Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom has had a another rocky year of headlines stemming from its dealings with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the Ukrainian government. At the time of writing, a former partner is on trial, charged with lying to investigators about the firm’s role in a public relations effort surrounding a report it created. Last year a former associate was jailed for lying to FBI investigators probing the alleged collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team. However, business is still booming, with the New York firm generating $2.67 billion (£2.19 billion) of revenue in 2019, a 3.5% increase on 2018. 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. Meanwhile, the firm acted for The We Company and its subsidiary WeWork in its highly anticipated initial public offering. 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 trainees and junior lawyers pulling fairly regular 12-hour days, although improved working from home policies are understood to have taken the edge off things. In the time left over there is a decent social scene, often organised through a Whatsapp group and lunch club “dedicated to Love Island catch up”. Occasionally trainees get invited along to flashy partner events such as dinners at the directors’ lounge at Chelsea FC and black-tie fundraisers for charities like Pride in London.
When it comes to perks, Skadden performs well. 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 £133,000. A nice touch are the MacBook Pros and iPhones trainees receive, alongside a £40 gym allowance and “great” health care benefits.
Another major attraction are the firm’s international secondments, which nearly half of trainees experienced this year according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20. Possible destinations include Brussels, Hong Kong and New York. Client secondments are much rarer. 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 UK. Over the last three years Skadden has only promoted one of its London lawyers to the partnership.