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 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 actually a 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 slightly adrift of Magic Circle and MoneyLaw rivals after failing to match their pay rises of recent years. 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, before the pandemic made home-working the norm, all lawyers were given the opportunity to apply to work from home one day a week. This made the switch to WFH easier but a lack of reimbursement for newly purchased computer equipment has elicited some minor grumbles.
The indications are that Slaughters’ focus on balance is working. The firm 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 2020-21. 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.”
Partners here “aren’t as terrifying as they are made out to be”. But it varies. 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.”
Among juniors the vibe is friendly. One Slaughters spy encapsulates the mood: “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. But the roll-out seems to have been pretty limited so far. 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 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 eats a full roast at work?
For now, though, such luxuries are off the table. “Global pandemic = no perks. Fair enough, I suppose,” sighs a trainee.