A&O Shearman

In 2024, Allen & Overy merged with US firm Shearman & Sterling, minting A&O Shearman and creating a beast comprising approximately 7,000 people, 4,000 lawyers and 800 partners across 47 offices, with combined revenues of around $3.5 billion.

Shearman lawyers in its UK operation were by and large were very happy, but the firm nonetheless found itself struggling. A&O had been on the look-out for a trans-Atlantic tie-up for soem time (earlier merger plans with O'Melveny collapsed, much to the US firm's chagrin). When the white shoe firm signalled its distress, A&O was in like a shot. 

Plenty of its UK competitors wish they could do the same (because the US firms just make. So. Much. Money).

Here's our view on the two firms: 

A&O hit the £1 billion threshold back in 2008 and hasn't looked back since. Its most recent financials saw turnover rise to £2.1bn.

In the last downturn, the firm managed to retool its finance lawyers into restructuring and insolvency lawyers. Much of the work that the Magic Circle did was cutting edge and they charged accordingly – how many firms can nationalise a building society over one weekend? There’s the much vaunted “flight to quality”, where clients turn to trusted brands when the going gets tough.

And of course the other way to save money was to make 200 fee earners, 200 support staff and 47 partners redundant in 2009. Plus freeze salaries and jettison your private client team. The management blamed the worsening economic situation - but A&O had just posted its strongest results ever, and it came as a huge shock within the firm - and the rest of the market. As did the announcement that 180 staff (mainly IT, HR plus some legal support) were to be shifted to Belfast in 2011. There were redundancies at the time and again in 2013.

However, the reduction in staff costs helped the bottom line, and the firm saw the benefits of its decision to cut some staff and ship out others to Northern Ireland.

Although known primarily for its banking and finance grip on the legal market, A&O has also bolstered its corporate and commercial force. But it's a rounded offering, too, with growth being particularly strong in litigation. And there’s the overseas market. As a trainee, there are opportunities to travel a-plenty. Well, pre-Covid there was, anyway.

Decent efforts seem to have been made to boost the ranks of female partners. The firm brought in a flexible working scheme for its partners back in 2010, offering them the chance of working a four day week or taking a maximum of 52 days extra holiday a year. Whilst open to all partners, the scheme was primarily an attempt to address the gender imbalance at partnership level. That said, one lawyer commented that there is "lots of noise but not much action on encouraging women to hold on for partnership".

At the more junior end of the scale, the firm's training is widely regarded as some of the the best in the City. There's "excellent work and as much responsibility as you can handle", said one junior. Another said there's "great training and supervisors are committed to development of trainees", while higher up there's "impressive dedication" to associate development.

The move a few years back from St Pauls to custom-built offices next to Liverpool Street Station was hugely successful, but now it's feeling a bit creaky, say staff - a move is on the cards. Although, as one lawyer put it: "anyone who complains about the almost non-stop availability of food and drink and the 24/7 print room, IT support and gym, has had the A&O silver spoon in their mouth too long".

A&O has historically been a pretty happy ship, but you will put in crippling hours, remote working or not. Cancelling your evening plans can become routine. And it's not just the hours. A&O regards itself as the gold standard, and you will be expected to achieve perfection in your work. As one assistant found out when told off for a typo in an internal document he prepared at two in the morning - there are no excuses.

Partners may make a fortune, but your chances of joining their ranks are slim - although that's true of most firms. A 5QE lawyer said "being emotionally and nearly physically dead seems to be the only way to survive the 10+ year slog to partnership - if you are even that lucky as the stats are strongly against you". But hopefully the counsel role and the upgraded appraisals should go some way to mitigating this. If you do make the letterhead you'll spend two years on a salary before embarking on a 15 year climb up the lockstep - the longest ladder in the City. There are Croesan riches at the top of it, but young, star partners impatient with the wait can easily be tempted elsewhere - the firm has lost a fair few partners to high-paying American firms. 

Pay "looks alright on paper", said a solicitor in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At survey, "until you're in at 4am wondering why you didn't (A) go to a US firm and at least partly justify this hell or (B) give it all up to join a commune". It's "as good as can reasonably be expected given that life is fractionally more civilised than in the US firms", countered a colleague. Among staff, it scores very highly for pay satisfaction.

Here's more of what its people have to say about the A&O life:

Work/life balance

"Hard to believe too much in the firm’s commitment to work/life balance when at least one partner has been known to boast of sleeping with his phone on his chest."

"Fair work life balance based on where the firm’s remuneration stands in the market," said a colleague: "Occasional weekends but otherwise working hours are contained within weekdays."


A senior lawyer commented: "The firm is overly obsessed with DEI, while associate WLB/mental health goes down the drain." Another lawyer said: "A working class or blue collar girl will genuinely struggle". 

Office and amenities

The Magic Circle firm's current Bishops Square office is “truly antiquated”, but A&O is moving out. In the meantime as management “won't put a penny into the office now they've decided to move in 4 years time”.

Bear in mind, others said even the current aging digs were "superb", with a "great gym at the basement with a schedule of fitness classes". Another said that it was "convenient to also have healthcare and flu jabs in the firm," and that "two canteens help to ease the peak hours".

The mock-up of the new layout “has proved controversial as lawyers at all levels have been torn from the safety of their offices to hot desk at random”, said a lawyer. “To ensure compliance with the clean desk policy, individuals have been furnished with little white plastic trays to store their bits and bobs and a locker in which to store their pride. The pilot continues”.

Career Development

It is “more difficult to obtain partnership at A&O than landing on Mars”, said a senior solicitor. “They continue to put people through 100 rounds of interviews”, while counterparts at other firms “have 1-2 interviews, and prepare a single written submission”. ROF detects a snubbed solicitor. Beneath that level, “Progression through the ranks is at around the same pace as the other magic circle firms”.


Taken in the round, it's "excellent", but there's always more that could be enjoyed, and in 2022, cautious "management's pay freeze for associates whilst partner profits went up again went down like a cup of cold sick on Christmas morning".

in 2024, the firm scored very high marks here. Allen & Overy came top of the Magic Circle for pay satisfaction, where one junior solicitor said he was “Less concerned about pay, more concerned about working for human partners and senior associates, and having trainees available”. Nonetheless, he also “Made approx £153k including bonus last year as a 2.5PQE which whilst not on a US level is still an incredible amount of money”.

Not everyone was as satisfied: “Still can't get around the fact that I work 80-90% as hard as US counterparts while receiving 50-60% as much”, said a maths-minded colleague.


"No complaints," said an Allen & Overy staffer. "They keep us in the loop with what's happening at the firm."

"Will be interesting to see how the arrival of the S&S people change things..." commented another. Indeed: interesting period ahead...

Shearman & Sterling

Shearman & Sterling was, along with Weil, probably the most anglicised of US law firms in London. It’s been here for ages - it arrived in 1972 - and the office is an established part of an international network employing about 900 lawyers, 190 or so in London.

Shearman’s global reputation is for finance. As with any big league firm you will be working long hours, but it’s not necessarily as grim as you’d fear. As one associate comments, “turns out Shearman aren’t the hard nosed merciless bastards of US firm legend. They are actually very nice and prepared to meaningfully contribute to a successful work/life balance”. In fact, the "people are amazing", said another correspondent. On the other hand "Holidays do not always go uninterrupted by work". But the general consensus is that the firm is a very happy ship, reflected in continually excellent placing in the RollOnFriday satisfaction surveys, including the joint number one spot in 2016. And it came fourth in 2017 with an excellent 80%. Read more on its latest showing below.

Salaries are - as with most US firms - well above Magic Circle rates.  And we're told that there's a decent bonus scheme, so if you have a really busy time of it you can, in theory, still earn New York rates. Even if getting onto the all-equity partnership is thought to be pretty tricky, the path there is well-remunerated. It’s not included in our pay table, but as of autumn 2021, the basic pay of 6PQEs was raised to £250k.

As mentioned above, the firm performed excellently in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, in which thousands of lawyers and law firm staff in the UK rate their workplace. In 2020 and 2021, Shearman came second, and in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022, it placed 11th.

Lawyers at the firm said it offered "all the considerable benefits" of a "stellar NY firm in London", but "with an actually pleasant culture". Working at Shearman meant you received "just the right balance of screamingly large levels of responsibility and a environment which tolerates screams for rescue".

One lawyer said the only thing which would make him leave the firm was "Corbyn, in which case I'd become a vagabond poet".

Here's a summary of what its people had to say across the different categories:

Career Development

"Small teams mean plenty of opportunity to take responsibility and progress", said a senior solicitor. "Though it remains for you to take - nothing is handed to you on a plate".


A lawyer said pay was "great relative to the expectation in terms of workload". There were a few grumbles as "the bonus structure is entirely opaque and at the discretion of partners in your practice group". But partners were "generally quite good at respecting some work/life balance as a trade-off".


Change at the top appears to have gone well in London, where the current Managing Partner, Matthew Readings, “is universally admired, respected, and slightly feared”, said a junior solicitor. The firm was praised for “frequent updates on what is happening”. And they “placed an apple on our desk the other day to promote our wellbeing, which was rogue”, said a colleague. “Not sure a Golden Delicious can make up for passing out from exhaustion, but the thought was very nice”.

Work/life balance

Staff appreciated the emergency care cover for children of adults and 24-hour GP access. One trainee simply accepted the deal: "You learn to explain to people on your weekends that you really have to keep checking your phone", she said, "missed calls from an angry senior lawyer demanding to know why you haven't responded to them are infinitely worse than irritating your friends.”


With a reputation for beastings, US firms don't often obtain a high score for culture, but Shearman & Sterling bucked the trend: "Decent enough for a US firm", said a junior lawyer.


UK Offices
Belfast, London
Non-UK Offices
Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Bratislava, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Perth, Prague, Rome, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Warsaw, Abu Dhabi, Austin, Houston, Menlo Park, San Francisco, São Paulo, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington, D.C.


1st Year Trainee
2nd Year Trainee
Profit Per Equity Partner


Target Hours
Gender Pay Gap
Health Care
Flexible Working
Maternity & Paternity Policy
6 weeks at full pay, 33 weeks at statutory minimum. Bonus of 6 weeks' pay at start of maternity leave and a bonus of 8 weeks' pay for returning employees who stay for 3 months.


Latest Trainee Retention Rate
Training contracts per year

RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At: A&O Shearman’s scores

Career Development
Work/Life Balance

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