Slaughter and May
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 perception simply a result of sour grapes? Or is this really the most terrifying law firm in the world?
The firm has the highest number of listed clients in the City, acting for the likes of Boots, Vodafone, British Airways, Royal Mail and American Express. A lot of our sources mentioned the high quality of clients, with one insider confirming what everyone knows - "we work on some of the best and most interesting deals going on". 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 a lot of 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. Although it does have offices in Brussels, Beijing and Hong Kong, as well as its London HQ.
Much though it denies it, Slaughters looks down on everyone, and dealing with the firm on a transaction is a different experience to dealing with anyone else. Though one counters that "the firm has an unfair reputation for being overly traditional and conservative. It isn't". It's true that it's not snobbish; just have a big brain. You will be "surrounded by some of the brightest legal minds" according to one NQ.
The firm is also famously stingy with its equity - think Hunger Games with more paperwork. As one junior associate warns, "One small mistake is usually the end of your career in the firm". But, while Slaughters used to only make up two partners a year, it has deviated from that formula in recent years, and on several occasions has made up a few more per round.
Much though competitors like to claim that Slaughters' star is waning, there seems to be no sign of this. 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. So 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.
As for the working life at Slaughters, the majority of comments have been positive. A trainee said there was "Clear leadership from partners" and a "superb training programme". An NQ added "you are genuinely made to feel valued". There was a sense of pride in the top quality work - "excellence really is practiced". And most seemed to get a bit of a kick at being viewed as the "elite". That said, there was still a general sense of a "collegiate atmosphere" and "supportive teams".
Management was deemed “Very effective but mysterious”. Another solicitor admitted, “I don't even know who manages the firm. And I've been here for years.” A lawyer who did know revealed that those in charge were, “Highly competent. Not bad at croquet, either”.
"As an NQ, Slaughters is a fantastic place to be", said a lawyer. "I have exposure to some of the best work in the City, and often work opposite lawyers who are much more experienced than I am". "Partnership seems a remote prospect", said a colleague, "but most people in their hearts are OK with that as they intend to move on before that anyway!"
Some noted that there have been a spate of departures at mid-associate level to US firms. One associate commented, "Why am I doing the same amount of work as I would be at an American firm for half the money?" Another associate complained of 90+ hour weeks.
But, noted others in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, "the vast majority of people my age don't even make half of what I do". People "shouldn't complain", said a peer. "In my experience we don't work as long hours as people at US firms, or even the other MS firms. Anyone struggling to live off 90K+ a year needs to visit the real world".
"We work less hours than other Magic Circle firms, and get paid a standard bonus regardless of whether you've had a busy or quiet year" said a senior lawyer at the firm, "what's not to like about that?"
In the survey, in which lawyers grade their own firm, Slaughters traditionally placed highest for work/life balance among the Magic Circle firms. That doesn't mean it's that great, though. "Making weekday evening plans are impossible" said a "permanently slammed" junior lawyer. "I can't complain too much because this is what I signed up for."
A trainee said the "lack of billable targets generally means lower hours than peers at other MC firms, and weekends are generally respected, but when the shit does hit the fan it's just as bad as any other top City firm." However, a junior lawyer disapproved of the "no billable hour targets culture" as he believed "it means that associates who have no skills can clock out of the office on 20 hours a week for years with no consequences, whilst good associates get absolutely beasted because every partner wants them to work on their matters". He added "when your pay per hour falls below the rate of the patty flipper at McDonald's, you know there's a problem with your work/life balance."
They also emphasised the quality of the place. "Extremely bright colleagues and top quality work", said one. "I'm never bored".
"Overall the firm's culture is great in that it (still) doesn't seek to impose a nefarious set of shared corporate values," said a junior lawyer adding "the brand is still we have no brand." A trainee said "the standards are astronomical but the culture of upholding them is surprisingly relaxed - everyone seems to have faith that everyone else will pull their weight." A junior lawyer said "the recent decision to ban ski trips and cut down on alcohol suggests that the firm does not trust its employees to act in an appropriate way at work events and is a misguided attempt to show that it is doing something." A junior lawyer said "partners can be infuriatingly out of touch but generally the firm employs nice people."
Regarding the office, "the end seems near for our time at Bunhill Row", said a junior solicitor. "The lifts, in particular, have decided they've had it. They will regularly come to your floor, sit there with the doors closed - taunting you - and then move away". It "would be nice to have a gym, like the rest of the MC, but oh well", said another SandM solicitor, but there were points given for provision of "scones and crustless sandwiches" at afternoon meetings.
As to what makes the lawyers stay: "At the risk of encapsulating the Slaughters arrogance, almost every lawyer at the firm I've come across has been intelligent and switched-on, which absolutely has not been the case at other City firms", said a Slaughter and May solicitor. "The old school loyalty of the partners (i.e. long term loyalty to the firm, rather than to the biggest spending US firm of the day) is an underrated factor which has a subtle but very positive impact on culture". "As Paul Scholes was wedded to Manchester United, as am I to Slaughter and May", agreed a colleague.
The firm did not perform wonderfully in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022, placing 59th. The main sources of frustration were pay - Slaughters froze salaries during the pandemic, and was late to raise pay after the rest of the Magic Circle had already made their moves - and a drop in satisfaction with work/life balance.
However, wwhile a bit of S&M is not for everyone, for the right sort of person, there's no denying that it's a class act. A real thoroughbred.