Simmons & Simmons
Simmons' traditional problem has been that it was rarely principal adviser to top companies and found it difficult to cream off the best work as a result. Although it has plenty of major clients such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, when the big deal comes along it is consistently overlooked. A few years back the firm underwent a strategic review with the aim, amongst other things, of addressing this and focussing on the type of client for whom it wanted to act. It is now concentrating on five key sectors: Asset Management & Investment Funds, Energy & Infrastructure, Financial Institutions, Life Sciences and Technology, Media and Telecommunications. The ambition is that whilst it can't compete with the biggest firms on everything, it should be in the running on any deal that falls within these areas.
Given the rise in profits this has clearly started to pay dividends. Although it used to be fair to say that the firm's financial performance lagged behind some of its competitors, the breadth of the firm's practice meant that it managed to hedge somewhat against the downturn, whilst other firms who focused exclusively on big ticket corporate work found that they had a lot of salaries to pay and precious little work coming through the door.
Simmons also benefits from a stellar reputation in some niche areas of the market. Its employment team is without a doubt one of the the best in the City, with anyone who's anyone gracing the client books. It's also one of the best firms for IP and life sciences work, acting for clients such as GlaxoSmithKline and Bacardi. The IT team has got the Indian outsourcing market pretty much sewn up, the projects group is excellent, and litigation has been consistently busy and profitable. High profile sexy clients include HMV and Virgin Media.
It even seems to be making progress in its achilles heal of international expansion. And with over 20 offices worldwide, trainees can expect a trip out to any number of exotic and glamorous locations. Or Dubai (where, to be fair, it's supposedly a great laugh - though there were redundancies in 2012).
On top of that, Simmons is widely considered one of the more laid back firms at which to work and its got pretty swanky offices at City Point (complete with Damien Hirst art and a neon sign saying "trust me" outside the lecture hall). Assistants comment that "the work is really interesting and big ticket, and the hours are relatively civilised", and "everyone has a friendly and approachable attitude". How very jolly. Well, almost. There are gripes that there are "imposed daily time recording targets for all fee earners with angry email alerts if 10 seconds are missing!" And, while "the firm is a great place to work", the "feeling at the moment in the associate ranks is that the firm wants to work associates harder, with little prospect of increased remuneration to reflect that". The good reportsalso don't change the fact that associate attrition is rumoured to be high - especially with pay being nothing special and the bonus metric incomprehensible.
A job lot of trainees were deferred in 2009 when the firm simply didn't have the capacity to employ them - but at least they got to do a special MBA (and received a generous stipend for doing so). Having said that, reports reach us that there are still too many trainees around - and you may find yourself doing work which - in busier times - would be considered secretarial. The firm's now dumped the MBA.
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey, a junior solicitor said pay "is ok, but what made it great last year was the personal bonus scheme which was based entirely on your chargeable hours and grading within the team". Unfortunately, "The bonus has now been made entirely discretionary with measures against things like recovery and pro-bono taken into account. Recovery is not my problem if a partner cannot scope a matter properly and most associates don't have time to take on pro-bono as they are constantly getting beasted in poorly structured teams." Asa result, "They have done a good job at disincentivising juniors".
A senior lawyer agreed. She said, "Salaries are slightly under those for similar sized firms. This used to be acceptable when Simmons had one of the best hours-related bonuses in the city. However, the bonus structure is (as of this year) entirely discretionary, which is a fairly clear ploy to ensure that partners can blow smoke up their favourites' backsides and screw everyone else over. Now that the bonus structure no longer guarantees a proper pinning of hours worked to pay deserved unless one is also either (i) a member of the glorified fintech or life science teams, or (ii) willing to kiss a hell of a lot of ass, salaries really need to improve".
As for career development, gearing was a concern. "In the corporate team there are 19 partners and after a flurry of resignations, 12 associates", said a respondent. "The upside down pyramid is a complete farce and makes our future look very bleak indeed. Even before the resignations it was a 1:1 partner:associate ratio".
Consequently, "If you're unlucky enough to be staffed in one of the leaner teams you are constantly taking on new matters with no breaks between deals and firefighting matters with a wide variety of demanding and unreasonable partners."
Others said that "generally, work life balance is good and the firm's approach to flexible and agile working is excellent". However, "the firm's massive drive for equality in respect of working parents and does sometimes lead to those of us not lucky, rich or stupid enough to have procreated being saddled with the most complex and hours-intensive deals. Apparently hobbies, personal relationships and health are not as important as small children's nativity plays and school pick up times".
A less than happy lawyer there said that Simmons was "trapped in the sinking mud that is a firm with a not very good work life balance and a good, but not great, salary". Another lawyer said, balancing matter slightly, that the culture was "Decent" with "Genuine commitment to diversity driven from the top".
Just make sure you like what the canteen has to offer, or risk a slap on the wrist. "I was chastised for ordering deliveroo every night for 4 weeks rather than using the firm's canteen for late-working dinners", said a solicitor. "But I continued because I'll be damned if I'm eating that slop every night for a month".
NB: stated salaries on the table are for the London office. In Bristol, first year trainees are paid £38,000, second years £39,000, and NQs £51,000.