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 legendary 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 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 £3.5 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.
For this graft, London NQs take home a healthy £125,000, on par with all of the outfit’s Magic Circle rivals. Salary isn’t everything here, however, insiders still considering “prestige” a major perk of working at the firm.
Slaughters is also increasingly building its pitch to new talent around being a nice environment in which 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 the firm recently published a ‘Working Practices Code’ that cements work/life balance as a priority. The firm has even made its ‘Bring your Dog to Work Day’ a permanent monthly fixture following a successful trial last summer.
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 they were “very pleasantly surprised” that hours were “much better than I expected.” As one rookie puts it “I think the firm does actually care about work/life balance. The (rebuttable) presumption is that evenings and weekends are your own. I probably worked one evening a week during my training contract (generally finishing no later than 22:30) and worked an hour or two on two weekends in 18 months. Hours are far better than any of my peers at other City firms”. But some warned that once you make it to NQ, this might change, with the balance shifting for associates at the firm.
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.
Although there is the “inevitable dull work”, trainees have found they generally have “much more responsibility than trainees at other firms, and are actively encouraged to do similar work to NQs”. “The work can be absolutely fascinating,” one enthused junior tells us. 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. “I work on a range of interesting matters (many of which are front page of the FT kind of stuff)”, one newbie explains.
This is complemented by a variety of different secondments to locations such as Brussels (popular), New York, Hong Kong and Copenhagen and clients including Credit Suisse, Zurich Insurance and Legal & General.
The Bunhill Row-based outfit also maintains its status as a top-notch place for training that is “best in class by a mile”. We’re told the “Partner delivered training is very engaging and regular, in addition associates will dedicate a lot of time to explaining what is going on during deals”. This can be deepened in 1:1 sessions and chats with partners and associates who “are always willing to talk through tasks before you begin and suggest ways to improve your work”. “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: “there are plenty that I would happily go for a pint with but there are others who are rather scary.” Juniors put this down to availability more than anything else, with one spy telling us that “when they have time, partners are very approachable and happy to take you through your work and discuss edits. The difficulty is making the time with the senior lawyers rather than approachability.”
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, and trainees are invited to a range of legal tech discussions and presentations from an early stage in their training. It’s also worth noting that Slaughters has a legal tech incubator, called Collaborate. But, on the whole, trainees offered mixed reviews on the day-to-day legal tech offering at the firm: “some of it feels very advanced, some of it a bit glitchy”. And this is partly down to senior lawyers being slow to adopt tech advances, where some “partners prefer a more traditional approach”.
Of more pressing importance to future recruits may be the perks, and Slaughters’ juniors enjoy a top range of benefits, including the usual subsidised gym membership, free dinner in the office after 6pm and taxis home after 9pm. The firm’s canteen received several mentions, which is known to serve “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 away days including “Cheltenham Gold cup club enclosure tickets, Royal Academy opening night exhibition, box at the O2, and T20 cricket at the Oval”.
The office also divides opinion. Some see it as “knocking on a bit” and “somewhat tired”, deploring the unassuming City views and 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!”.