Sidley Austin

An international giant, Sidley Austin - where alumni include, inter alia, Michelle Obama and her husband - is traditionally a structured finance-heavy firm.

Currently running at about 100 lawyers in London (out of 1,800 worldwide) the firm is of a reasonable size. Securitisation has always been a big deal here.

Despite some diversification, most of its work remains in the corporate and banking spheres, and whilst it does a bit of property and IP, realistically there won't be much room for those without a strong financial background. As one trainee noted to RollOnFriday, "Everyone [is] expected to do a corporate and finance seat", which "can be restrictive, although, on the other hand, what do people expect?"

Sidley Austin is a pretty anglicised firm and has had an office in London since 1974. But don't hope for too relaxed an approach to the long-hours culture; this is still a US firm (an NQ writes that they have "a 'concealed firearms policy' and a 'how to escape from your office if 911 happens again' emergency pack in our desks"). 

And you don't get paid the rates on the right by knocking off at 18:00 every evening, so expect to work as hard here as at any major UK firm. 

So while some say that "weekends are respected, on the whole", others say that there is "no work life balance". Although at least the "Halloween party and roof-top summer Hawaiian luau are epic".

Trainees grumbled, "For some reason trainees are the only employees in the whole firm who don't get any sort of bonus". One said, "I think the US management committee just forgets that we exist".

Notwithstanding those complaints, the firm placed excellently in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022 and the followng year.

For two years running, Sidley Austin took second place, exemplifying the lure of US firms that dangle the carrot of a nice pay-cheque for a lot of hours. Here's what its people had to say:


"The pay is market leading," said one lawyer, "the fact pay goes up in September, three months earlier than other US law firms like Kirkland, is a massive perk often overlooked. Plus the more UK style comprehensive benefits makes it the most attractive pay packet I’ve seen in my hunt for roles."

Another lawyer agreed: "Best in the city after benefits and bonuses." While one junior described their pay packet as "Embarrassingly high."

Office and amenities

The US firm’s London office “is still brand new and just stunning” said staff. Casting around for areas of improvement on their “fantastic” set-up, respondents hit on the water tap – “painfully slow still”, the lifts – “so smart they are painful”, and “those stupid coffee iPads” which “break about once a week”.

Work/life balance

"It’s hard to believe but flexible home office working and being treated like an adult has made my life easier than it was at my Magic Circle firm," said one lawyer at the high-paying US firm.

"It’s incredibly reasonable, with remote working I have a life at home and even mid week evenings," said a senior lawyer. While a junior lawyer said: "it’s just sensible, you do the work that needs to be done and on your terms. No face time. Flexible working has remained in place and it’s key to retaining the work life balance and why I’m staying."

"Working from home is key, the London office has thrived with this pattern and it’s frankly changed the dynamics. No wonder Sidley did well in rankings since Covid - it’s the fact people can have it all now.


The new female Latino global firm leader was praised as a “great change from old white dudes” and “just electric”.

Career progression

"It’s the mentorship that’s second to none," said a senior lawyer. Others praised the "new development programs in top US schools" where UK lawyers are flown out "to learn and get new skills at places within the Ivy League".  A mid-level associate said: "It seemed really cringey when it was first announced but it’s actually really cool - we get to do MBA courses in the US."

The "only downside is that no-one leaves as it's such a nice firm to work for which ultimately impacts on progression but the firm does what it can to support development," said a Business Services member of staff. 

Chances of joining the partnership from the inside are pretty slim. Still, you could do some damage with the salary in the meantime. For info, these are the current salaries beyond the PQE levels listed in our table:

4PQE - £221,000

5PQE - £239,000

6PQE - £253,500

7PQE - £264,500

8PQE - £272,000


UK Offices
Non-UK Offices
Beijing, Brussels, Geneva, Hong Kong, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, USA (Boston, Century City, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington DC)


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


Target Hours
Gender Pay Gap
Health Care
Flexible Working
Maternity & Paternity Policy
22 weeks maternity at full salary.


Latest Trainee Retention Rate
Training contracts per year

RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At: Sidley Austin’s scores

Career Development
Work/Life Balance

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