Slaughter and May (London)
One Slaughters lawyer says, "people at the firm love it. People outside it seem to think it's a fate worse than death. It just goes to show what a lot of nonsense you hear." So is the unfortunate image simply a result of sour grapes? Or is this really the most terrifying law firm in the world?
You don't get to be the most profitable firm in the City without having something to say for yourself. The firm has the highest number of listed clients in the City, recently acting for the likes of BOC Group, Boots, 3i, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and DKW. Skadden Arps, the most profitable firm in the world, turned to Slaughters for advice on Prudential's £17.4 billion bid for American General. Its reputation is such that even in 2003, when the M&A market was at rock bottom, senior partners still made more than £1million. In 2009, regardless of the downturn, that figure more than doubled. At the top of equity, in 2010, a Slaughters partner will be pulling in a cool £2.3m. And you'll have no doubt seen a bunch of Scousers jumping for joy in the foyer as the Liverpool deal went through. Unsurprisingly - given the money and the deals - it has never lost a partner to another firm.
Slaughters has traditionally prided itself on breeding all-round, black letter lawyers - give a partner a pen and he'll draft you anything from a loan note agreement to some particulars of claim. More store is set on serious intellect here than anywhere else in the City, so don't even think of applying unless you have a first class academic background (in most cases literally). And if you do apply, don't make the mistake of substituting the 'and' in their name for a common '&'.
Of course, when you've got that kind of image you can afford to play hard ball. Slaughters considers marketing to be beneath it. It can't really be bothered with foreign offices, preferring to rely on a "best friend" alliance with local firms. Much though it denies it, Slaughters look down on everyone, and dealing with the firm on a transaction is a different experience to dealing with anyone else. With a handful of exceptions, Slaughters lawyers tend to be a rather smug, bookish bunch.
The firm is also famously stingy with its equity, generally only appointing a maximum of half a dozen partners a year. Over the last three years, the firm only made up 9 partners in total, only one of whom was a woman. So accept that your chances of making it to the top are somewhere between zero and sod all. Still, you go straight in on about £700,000 a year if you do make it, so it's little wonder that there's never much of a clamour to leave.
Much though competitors like to claim that Slaughters' star is waning, there seems to be no sign of this. In the recession Slaughters did indeed work on smaller deals - because they could - and it was prepared to do deals on fees in order to attract top clients (poaching Taylor Woodrow from Norton Rose as a result). It is also beginning to realise that a best friends relationship isn't the same thing as a merger - as it found to its cost when Davis Polk turned to Ashurst on a recent instruction. Still, the firm is trying hard to get more referral work from Wall Street, it used the collapse in the M&A market as an opportunity to spend time attracting smaller clients, and profits just keep on rising.
The work is as good as it gets, and recent pay rises mean that rewards are pretty much as good as it gets, for UK firms at least. Bonuses are paid at a flat percentage across the firm - the only concession to anything other than free-market liberalism. And whilst partnership prospects are negligible, those who don't make it can take comfort in the fact that the rest of the City will be waiting in line to offer them equity - just look at the number of ex Slaughters people in partnerships at other top firms.
So a bit of S&M is not for everyone, but for the right sort of person (maybe someone who took a perverse pleasure in comparing his test results with his class mates' and was always the last to be picked for the footie team) there's no denying that it's a class act. A real thoroughbred. And given the TC application process is just a CV and covering letter, there's no reason to be too nervous about sending in your details. And once you're in, you're pretty likely to stick around - trainee retention here seldom waivers from the high-90s, with a perfect 100% remaining for September 2011.
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