Slaughter and May
The Legal Cheek View
Slaughter and May prides itself on standing slightly apart from the crowd — 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 one of the highest in Europe with estimations ranging from £2 million to £3.1 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 actually a master of the art.
But there have been signs lately that the Slaughter and May aura is being tested. Pay seemed to be at the heart of the matter. Despite some reluctance in the past, the firm has placed itself firmly in the middle of its magic circle rivals in upping London NQ lawyer pay to £115,000 placing it above Allen & Overy and Linklaters’ rates but below Clifford Chance and Freshfields. Overall, its spell over junior lawyers seems unaffected; insiders still consider “prestige” a major perk of working at the firm.
Slaughters is also 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, even before the pandemic made home-working the norm, all lawyers can work from home one day a week. This year there was even the inauguration of ‘Bring your Dog to Work Day’.
The indications are that Slaughters’ focus on balance is working. The firm sets no annual billing targets and has previously recorded some of the lowest working hours of any magic circle firm.
Trainees were delighted that the firm bucks the trend of long City law hours, noting that the hours were “much better than I expected […] I rarely work a full weekend” and that “trainee life seems more relaxed than magic circle equivalents (7:30pm finishes are the norm), but you obviously have the odd phase of intense work”. But some warned that once you make it to NQ, this might change: “We have a much better work life balance than other MC/SC firms generally at trainee level. However, for associates it appears the opposite is happening with understaffed teams.”
Another sums it up like this: “Surprisingly very good — as a trainee, there is a large emphasis on training and supervisors are conscious about your workload. Weekend work, as a trainee at least, is rare. And if you are, then it’s usually only a couple of hours or a deal is close to completion. Post-covid the WFH culture is also a lot more relaxed. It is very common to leave around 5:30 – 6pm, then log-on from home. Really nice if you have housemates/ live with your partner.”
And it is clear that the work isn’t half bad.
Trainees are able to assume “as much responsibility as you can handle” and get “plenty opportunity to do associate level work”. The clients are also first-rate: expect to be assisting listed blue-chips with their key strategic decisions and acting for household names in a huge range of sectors. “It’s pretty cool to read the front-page of the FT one day then to come into the office the next morning and see that matter being played out behind the scenes,” says one thrilled newbie.
This is complemented by a variety of different secondments to locations such as Brussels (popular), Milan, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore and clients including BT, Burberry, Blackstone, Shell, William Hill, Vodafone, IAG and Deepmind.
That said, the firm has 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.”
The Bunhill Row-based outfit also maintains its status as a top-notch place for training that is “best in class by a mile”, with a “high volume of good quality (partner-delivered) training” that can be deepened in 1:1 sessions and chats with partners and associates who “are always willing to take the time to explain complex issues”. “Most associates and partners seem to consider training as much a part of their job as advising clients and are always on hand to provide advice/insight,” gushes one rookie.
Such words imply excellent partner approachability, which seems to be improving. Partners here “aren’t as terrifying as they are made out to be”. But it can vary. Some are “incredibly outgoing and friendly, others I would be genuinely scared to talk to and would have to really think about what I wanted to discuss in fear of ‘wasting’ their time. You have to choose your time and person well”. One spy provides this insight: “The firm is very flat in certain aspects — partners really care, for instance, about training and spending time with trainees — yet hierarchical when it comes to the actual work and asking questions of superiors.”
There is “great camaraderie” among juniors; the vibe is “not back-stabby”. Cohorts are known to be “very supportive” and the firm fosters a “strong sense of community amongst the trainees” which results in “a really positive culture at the firm for listening to each other and supporting you when you are struggling.” Another details: “I genuinely think we are one of the nicest firms. The cohort as a whole looks out for one another and cliques are not particularly prominent, which is a risk with a large cohort. The trainee group chats are always very friendly and responsive if you ever need help.” These trainees are a pretty social bunch, too, with “semi-regular events (departmental and trainee-wide)” pencilled in the diary.
When it comes to technology, the firm is involved in a high-profile partnership with Cambridge University-tied artificial intelligence start-up Luminance, with which it has been conducting automated document review trials. It’s also worth noting that Slaughters has a legal tech incubator, called Collaborate. But trainees’ exposure to this has so far been limited. “I’ve worked on a document automation project so things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly,” one tells us.
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 re-run 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 eats a full roast at work?
Although there are some gripes about how tricky it is to access tickets to popular events in London, trainees are known to enjoy a smattering of concerts and fancy dinners. Back at the office there’s also “trolley drinks” with one connoisseur offering this endorsement: “the firm champagne and wines are excellent”.
The office also divides opinion. Some see it as more “functional” than “impressive”, deploring the “meh artwork” and the lack of gym facilities. Others find it “really appealing and impressive”. One aficionado confesses that their “friends like to use the firm’s showers and lockers and always rave about that!”.