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 fairly diverse trainee intake (a scan of Slaughters’ trainee profiles on LinkedIn shows that the firm hires from a wider range of universities than many) 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 few 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 recent pay rises. Rather than competing on cash, Slaughters is increasingly building its pitch to new talent around being a nice place to work. Holiday entitlement is up to 30 days, associates with at least three years PQE are being offered “a four-week paid sabbatical”, and all lawyers have been given the opportunity to apply to work from home one day a week.
The indications are that this is working, just about. Slaughters sets no annual billing targets and recorded some of the lowest working hours of any magic circle firm in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20. Whether this is mirrored in juniors’ work/life balance is up for debate. One trainee sums it up like this: “I have had times where I have no life (when in corporate) and times when I don’t know what to do with my time. On the whole it generally balances out and the firm’s culture is one that encourages you to leave early whenever you are able to.”
It doesn’t help towards pacifying the worker bees that a few Slaughters partners have a tendency towards haughtiness. “Some are great,” we’re told, while others “can be a little frosty”. Another insider adds: “There are certain partners who have (rightly) earned a reputation for being completely unapproachable, but on the whole the firm’s open-door policy applies from the most junior lawyers all the way to the top.”
Meanwhile, one Slaughters spy encapsulates the mood at the junior end: “On the whole competitiveness isn’t common and there is a much greater sense of camaraderie than rivalry.” These trainees are a pretty social bunch, too, with “semi-regular events (departmental and trainee-wide)” pencilled in the diary.
The Bunhill Row-based outfit remains a top-rated place to train, with a “high volume of good quality (partner-delivered) training” and “lots of responsibility from early on.” The work itself is mixed, with the firm having a reputation for blooding its trainees quite slowly and reserving the interesting stuff for associates. One rookie sums it up like this: “Sometimes it can be directly advising FTSE 100 companies and attending and contributing at significant meetings. Sometimes it can be checking documents for typos. On the scale, the highs would come close to 10, the lows not far from 1.”
When it comes to technology, the firm is involved in a high-profile partnership with Cambridge University-tied artificial intelligence start-up Luminence, with which it has been conducting automated document review trials. The reaction on the ground has been muted: “Seem pretty keen to follow new trends, but the IT systems could do with being upgraded.”
Of more pressing importance to future recruits may be the canteen, which enjoys “peaks and troughs”. For some “it looks like something out of a UK Gold rerun of dinnerladies (the food isn’t much better)”; for others it serves “almost always something that I’m keen on” and is “fairly cheap, with a full roast (for example) coming to about £6”. Which begs the question: who the hell eats a full roast at work?