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 unfortunate image 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. With a handful of exceptions, Slaughters lawyers tend to be a rather smug, bookish bunch. 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". The firm generally only makes up two partners a year, although in 2014 it took a massive deviation and made up seven London associates (and two in China). And in the 2015 announcements, the firm promoted four London associates to partner. Two of the new partners are women and all four trained at the firm, having qualified in the same cohort in 2007. By RollOnFriday's maths that makes them seven years qualified. Not bad given that they'll now be drawing around £1m a year each. In 2016 the firm announced it would promote a whopping ten new partners - the largest round of promotions since 2000.
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.
In 2015 Slaughters increased its trainee and associate salaries across the board, with a 10% rise for 2PQE lawyers. In May 2016 it approved another round of rises, but they were only of between £1,500 and £3,000 and left lawyers "disillusioned". Primarily because they didn't match the rather larger rises at Allen & Overy, and subsequent bumper hikes at Freshfields in May. First years at Slaughters are now on £42,500, second years on £47,500.
As for the working life at Slaughters, the majority of comments were positive. A trainee said there is "Clear leadership from partners" and a "superb training programme". An NQ added "you are genuinely made to feel valued". There is also a sense of real pride in the top quality work as an NQ felt that "excellence really is practiced". 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". Whilst the "staff restaurant is pretty good" the lunchtime sandwiches at training sessions come in for a bit of stick.
But it's not only the sandwiches where a few disgruntled voices were raised. Some note 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 complains of 90+ hour weeks, for months on end.
So a bit of S&M is not for everyone, but for the right sort of person (maybe someone who took a perverse pleasure in comparing his test results with his class mates' and was always the last to be picked for the footie team) there's no denying that it's a class act. A real thoroughbred.