Skadden is what New Yorkers call a "white shoe" firm (basically the Magic Circle of the US). Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom (snigger) is a New York based multinational with a world class reputation and enormous profitability. Famous for being the richest firm in the world, their average profits per partner run at over £1million. Yes, that's the average profits per partner. Unsurprisingly, it can have the pick of the best Ivy League graduates who clamour outside the doors every year.
Its London office is in Canary Wharf, and it's pretty proud of being able to retain staff as the economy tanked. It's unlikely that people would want to leave, though, as newly qualified lawyers pocket £133,000. At the age of 25. Skadden could move to Milton Keynes and its lawyers would still follow the firm there. A Skadden Arps associate become the Bank of Son: "Paying off my parents' mortgage made the savage workload worth it", he said. But for all that cash, there's an obvious commensurate lack of natural sunlight.
Many of the grumbles that usually come with working for a satellite outfit don't seem to apply here. Skadden has aggressively recruited to shore up any gaps in expertise, it's set to double the amount of office space and support is reported to be excellent.
Work is first class - top class M&A, public work and (until the market flopped) private equity - all of the sort you'll regularly read about in the FT. Bear in mind, however, that the mix of top level work and limited numbers of attorneys is not necessarily a winning one: you will work harder than you believed possible, and responsibility, according to one assistant, is given "ridiculously early". Some people, of course, might not see that as all bad. There doesn't seem much doubt that you'll learn pretty quickly - or perhaps sink without trace.
There's always a concern that US firms who set up over here with whopping budgets and telephone number salaries will shut up shop as soon as the economy takes a bit of a wobble. All of them deny this, of course, and to be fair the signs are good for Skadden. It didn't axe any London associates in the recession, and its expansion on the continent, with offices in Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels and an alliance with top Italian practice Chiomenti, suggest a long term commitment to Europe. And there's the usual bits and bobs in Russia, Hong Kong and so on.
Still, if you're planning to hang around for partnership, take a long hard look at the Magic Circle before making any short term decisions. That said, if you're after the cash then it's nice work if you can get it (although it's a scary Faustian pact - just tell your family you're popping out for a while, and may not be back for tea). As one lawyer says, there may be "pathetic chances of making partner", but "junior lawyers here make more than the prime minister". Enough said.