You've heard the name 'Skadden' before, but this “demanding” superstar offers far more than just the opportunity to glamorize your resume...
IF BigLaw were the animal kingdom, Skadden would be among the big cats vying for the throne. This legal beast has become a roaring success since its birth in New York back in 1948, now standing triumphantly as one of the top earners in the world, and one of Law's most distinctive brands. It has a formidable workforce, comprising around 1,700 lawyers and 23 offices in 12 countries. And you don't get a rep like Skadden's without fostering a culture of excellence: the firm tops Chambers USA for the number of first-class rankings it gobbles up, covering a staggering 36 practice areas (in second place is Latham, Lord of AmLaw, with 28).
Unsurprisingly, the caliber of work that Skadden feasts on makes the associate experience an exhilarating ride. “Cut-and-paste matters simply don't exist here,” one respondent bluntly told us. “Everything is always so intricate, intellectually stimulating and of a fascinating nature.” And in a few years' time Skadden may well have a brand spanking new Manhattan office to brag about too: from 2020 "our new, state-of-the-art building, 1 Manhattan West, will be built at Ninth Avenue and 33rd Street," ran the firm's announcement of November 2014.
Skadden splits its practice groups into three broad areas: transactional, controversy and regulatory. Transactional, where the majority ply their trade, includes teams like banking, corporate restructuring, finance, investment management, IP/IT, real estate and, last but not least, M&A. Most new starters head to a specific group, except for transactional associates in the 634-lawyer New York office: they get to enjoy two eight-month stints in two different groups before permanently joining one of them.
For most groups, the work can be split into two categories: “There are the cutting-edge, high-quality projects that you read about in the papers, then there are the ones that are very important but aren't quite headline-grabbing material.” A junior's measure of involvement normally depends on which of those two categories their particular assignment slots into. When the smallish deals and cases come through the door, Skadden isn't afraid to ramp up associates' responsibility levels; interacting directly with clients and partners becomes second nature, and “you'll even get to negotiate some issues on your own.” By contrast, the mammoth undertakings come with more mundane tasks like due diligence and doc review, though associates appreciate that “it's all part of the learning process. To be a fly on the wall when these important conversations between partners and clients are going on is absolutely invaluable – it's a really big deal to be privy to that sort of information.”
“All part of the learning process.”
Generally speaking, every group has some form of centralized staffing system in place – not only to ensure “that we all have a manageable volume of work,” but also “that we're getting work in the areas we like.” Alongside the formal route, associates can informally receive assignments from partners and clients they've worked with before. This method tends to become the norm over time, especially in the smaller teams where “everything is a bit less compartmentalized.” In any case, there's always more than enough to go around. As one insider put it: “The question you should be asking me is 'how do you avoid work?'”
Rookies undergo the bulk of their training in their first six weeks, flocking to the Empire State for an equal helping of Skadden's Associates Comprehensive Education (ACE) and Fullbridge programs.
The ACE course is “all about how to Skaddenize your work,” and includes a rundown of the numerous practice groups as well as an insight into “what it means to be an associate here.” Fullbridge, on the other hand, is essentially “a mini-MBA” that covers the full business/accounting lexicon, “from understanding cash flow to all the basic accounting principles. It means those of us without a business background can get acquainted with the broader context of a deal, rather than just the legal aspects.”
“A massive investment on their part.”
According to our interviewees, both programs speak volumes about Skadden's willingness to invest in its juniors. “They put a lot of thought into how they can best train us to be successful and really hit the ground running, and that takes a massive investment on their part. I can't even imagine the time and money they've poured into our training.”
Culture and Development
Skadden is by no means the only firm to have pumped an abundance of dollars and effort into nurturing its budding talents, but it does so knowing that many of them are unlikely to stick around for years to come. It's this attitude that makes Skadden stand out. “They're fully aware that a lot of people are here as a first step and that so many options can open up as a result of working at such a prestigious firm,” one source pointed out. “The fact we refer to our former colleagues as alumni says a lot – it's a bit like we're the Skadden School of Law.” Another agreed, recalling a time when one of their ex-classmates was seeking a job elsewhere. “They had secured an interview for their dream job, and one of our most distinguished partners came into the office on a Saturday to help them prepare for it. They ended up landing the job.”
Ultimately, Skadden's philosophy is as follows: “For the period of time that you're here, they will do everything they can to ensure you're a success – either at the firm or elsewhere – and they expect the same level of effort from you in return.”
“It's a bit like we're the Skadden School of Law.”
It's true that Skadden expects a lot from its associates. “I remember hearing about how everything we produce should be the absolute best in our industry,” a second-year revealed. “No comma out of place, no citation erroneous – everything in perfect order. It can cause you to be slightly paranoid about making mistakes, but the upside is that you'll know what being right looks like every time. That is incomparably beneficial.”
Crucially, these high demands are accompanied by a relatively upbeat atmosphere. “Skadden has a reputation for being a bit more hard-driving than most other firms, but I didn't pick up on that at all during my initial interview – and it hasn't been the case while I've been here either. It's only demanding in the sense of serving the client, rather than trying to daze the associates.”
While Skadden's overall ethos is prevalent across all its offices, there are some nuances to consider. A case in point: the Wilmington, Boston and Houston bases “represent small neighborhoods compared to the big cities of New York and DC,” meaning “you can get to know most of your colleagues more easily than if you were in one of the larger offices.”
“Small neighborhoods” and “big cities.”
Locations play their part too. The Palo Alto and LA digs have “a typical West Coast feel,” for instance, translating to “a laid-back working environment” with a business-casual dress code. “Most of our clients in these parts would give you a funny look if you turned up in a suit,” joked one interviewee.
Work is another aspect that differs by office. The New York HQ has strength in depth across the board, the Palo Alto team is “quite well known for its trial litigation practice,” the DC cohort bags most of the regulatory work, and the Chicago crew “has a highly respected tax group that specializes in REITs.”
Hours & Compensation
It's fair to say our sources arrived here expecting tough hours – “I'd read all the John Grisham novels so I was prepared,” divulged one – and we did hear of some particularly grueling shifts, such as “waking up every morning at 6am, working until 2am and then repeating that sequence for a week.”
Juniors don't get too downhearted by these infrequent occurrences, however. As one mused: “If the late nights come from client-driven catastrophes rather than management catastrophes, I'd say it's just part of the profession. And from my impression, it's definitely the former as opposed to the latter.”
“You could be in Kokomo for all they care, so long as you're getting your work done.”
Associates also take comfort from the amount of autonomy afforded to them. “You could be in Kokomo for all they care, so long as you're getting your work done and are available via email or cell phone.” Because of this, many choose to ditch their desks in the early evening and continue working from home.
Another plus point is Skadden's incredibly reasonable billing target. Officially, juniors have to bill 1,600 hours to be eligible for a bonus, though most felt they should actually be hitting a number “between 1,800 and 2,000 hours.” To put all that into context, many firms of a similar size (especially in New York) set a strict 2,000-hour threshold. Put simply: “Instead of focusing on having to grab every available matter, the numbers take care of themselves.”
The only grumble about compensation came from New York associates, who felt the salary “isn't keeping pace” with the Big Apple's ever-increasing living costs. “It hasn't increased in something like seven years, so at some point they will need to change that.”
With the billing target more of an afterthought than a constant concern, juniors needn't feel guilty about delving into pro bono – an area that sees Skadden put “its money where its mouth is. The people here really make a point of promoting pro bono and do a great job of conveying exactly why the firm values it so much.” Juniors seem to see the worth in it too: many of those we interviewed had devoted somewhere between 100 and 300 hours toward pro bono.
Skadden puts “its money where its mouth is.”
This widespread enthusiasm is partly down to the engrossing nature of Skadden's pro bono assignments. New Yorkers had partaken in a mentoring scheme aimed at high school students, for example, while DC associates spoke highly of the 'Impact Project', which was launched in September 2012 to lend a hand to low-income families with guardianship, housing and domestic violence problems. The project's success has led to a version of it being rolled out in Chicago, Palo Alto and the Big Apple.
Pro bono hours
The firm's diversity statistics more or less mirror BigLaw's as a whole, especially in the partner ranks where the percentages of female and non-white partners – 19% and 9% respectively – are very close to the BigLaw average.
Skadden has never been one to settle for average, though. One way the firm is trying to diversify its attorney makeup is by reaching out to diverse candidates at a notably early stage – a prime example being its 1L scholars program. This “allows diverse law students to spend around four weeks working here and then another four weeks in-house at a company,” an insider explained. “It's been a particularly effective tool for us.” Skaddenites have also been hosting diversity-related talks and law exercises (like mock trials) at local high schools, according to another respondent. “It's important that we support diverse candidates long before they walk through our doors.”
Given Skadden's standing in the legal market, it's little wonder that academic excellence is key. “Our hiring team tells people all the time that grades do matter – it would be naive to assume otherwise,” executive partner Eric Friedman informs us. “That said, we hired from approximately 40 law schools last year, which shows that we're willing to cast a wide net to find our superstars.” The net may be wide, but when it comes to the smaller ponds, Skadden tends to only nab the big fish. In other words: “The lower your school is ranked, the higher up you'd have to be in your class,” an associate pointed out.
“We're willing to cast a wide net to find our superstars.”
Looking beyond academics, candidates need to be “self-motivated" and "self-starting.” As one source summed up: “You probably won't find any wallflowers here who want to be told what to do and how to do it.”
Strategy & Future
When we spoke to Eric Friedman for the last edition of this guide, he hinted that Skadden was looking to foray into Korea. Sure enough, the firm opened an outpost in Seoul in March 2014. “We've been covering the Korea market for over a decade, and the new office is off to a terrific start,” he says.
So what else can we expect from Skadden on the international scene? Friedman gives an ambiguous response: “You'll be seeing us broadening the scope of our European platform in some significant ways over the next 12 months,” he says. For the full transcript, read our Bonus Features.
We catch up with executive partner Eric Friedman
Chambers Associate: What have been the firm's biggest highlights over the past year or so?
Eric Friedman: We've witnessed a remarkably robust deal environment over the past year, one that really plays to our strengths because of our history of advising buyers and sellers on multi-jurisdictional M&A deals. This has meant very strong performance by us on the transactional front, especially our strategic cross-border M&A practice. A lot of the deals have involved numerous practice areas, calling upon our broad geographic footprint and practice breadth.
In the non-transactional setting, our cross-border government investigations and regulatory enforcement practices have been extraordinarily busy and a particular high point for the firm this year.
CA: Are there any further developments on the immediate horizon?
EF: We recently opened an office in Seoul. We've been covering the Korea market for over a decade, and the new office is off to a terrific start. As for the near future, you'll be seeing us broadening the scope of our European platform in some significant ways over the next 12 months.
CA: What's your long-term vision for the firm?
EF: We're particularly mindful that maintaining our culture is crucial to our success, and we’re making sure that it remains as strong in five or 10 years as it is today, which means that we remain dedicated to incredible work, great client service, ethics and integrity, and public service. Because all of these elements are so important for us, we're very careful about how we grow, and our focus remains on internal, organic growth. We have never merged or acquired any other firms' offices.
In short, we're going to remain much the way we are now: a firm with an incredible brand that's supported by an equally incredible pool of talent — both of which are underpinned by a strong, cohesive culture.
CA: Associates in DC told us about their office's pro bono 'Impact Project'. Can you tell me more about that?
EF: We kicked off that program in D.C. in 2012. The office partnered with a group of clients to focus its work on the areas in which our D.C. attorneys felt we could make the greatest difference — guardianship, housing and domestic violence issues. The program has been a great way to cement relationships with some of our clients, and to leverage our pro bono team and infrastructure, recognizing that many of our clients are interested in pro bono work but don't have the resources to do it on their own. Given the project's amazing success, the Chicago, Palo Alto and New York offices now have their own versions of it. Outside of the U.S., London also has a similar program
CA: Our sources were impressed by the training on offer, especially with the ACE and Fullbridge programs. What are you hoping associates get out of those?
EF: I believe it's important to emphasize the level of training and development — both formal and informal — that junior attorneys get here. Training is an area of great focus, which we’re always working to enhance, and we think our approach is significantly different from that of our competitors.
The ACE program, for example, covers all the practice-related topics that associates studied while at law school, but focuses on how those topics can be practically applied when advising clients. The Fullbridge component, which we consider a ‘mini-MBA,’ is part and parcel of this approach. Put simply, it covers the range of business skills we think associates need to be more effective in the work they do.
CA: What qualities do you look for in a candidate?
EF: We're looking for people who are self-starters, who are not afraid to speak their minds and who will strive for client-centric, results-oriented outcomes. At the end of the day, the core of what we do is serve our clients, so we're looking for people who understand and value that.
Our hiring team tells people all the time that grades do matter — it would be naive to assume otherwise. That said, we hired from approximately 40 law schools last year, which shows that we're willing to cast a wide net to find our superstars.
Work experience is absolutely beneficial, especially as we're seeing more and more law school graduates who have had prior work experience. It's an evolution of the profile of the typical law school student. Many people used to go straight to law school from college, but now they acquire a variety of work experiences before attending law school, which gives us the confidence that they'll get what we're about.
CA: Interviewees mentioned how much Skadden values its alumni. Would you say that that's one of the hallmarks of the firm's culture?
EF: Absolutely. Our objective is for everyone to have an outstanding experience here so they're successful, whether at Skadden or elsewhere. Above all else, our attorneys fundamentally appreciate the investment we make in them, and if they make a comparable investment while they're here, it's a great outcome for our clients as well as our firm.
CA: What makes Skadden stand out among its competitors?
EF: We focus on developing our attorneys the minute they walk through the door right up until the minute they leave — if they do leave, that is! If I was a burgeoning law school student, I'd think to myself: 'Where am I going to get the most out of my career?' That's where we come in, and that's how we stand out.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates
Four Times Square,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 15
- Partners (US): 312
- Counsel (US): 174
- Associates (US): 768
- Summer Salary 2015
- 1Ls: $3,100/week
- 2Ls: $3,100/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes - Skadden 1L Scholars Program
- Split summers offered? Yes – splits must spend at least 8 weeks with Skadden for first half
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
- Summers 2015: 220
- Offers/acceptances 2014: 181 offers, 148 acceptances, 21 offers open for 2016 or later
Main areas of work
Antitrust, banking, complex mass torts / insurance litigation, corporate finance, corporate restructuring, energy and infrastructure projects, executive compensation and benefits, financial institutions, intellectual property and technology, investment management, litigation (including international arbitration, patent litigation and white collar crime), mergers and acquisitions, real estate, regulatory, structured finance, tax, trusts and estates.
Skadden attorneys work on bet-the-company issues around the world for leading Fortune 500 corporations, financial institutions, governments, and cultural, educational and charitable organizations. Communication and expertise across our offi ces enable us to provide unparalleled service to our clients. Our attorneys, spread among 23 interconnected offi ces around the world, are engaged in more than 60 practice areas, many of which are specialized. We also encourage pro bono work, providing chargeable time credit. With fostering professional growth as a primary goal, our attorney development partners and Training Committee ensure that associates receive appropriate training and mentoring from the start of their careers. Our Diversity Committee promotes crosscultural appreciation and competency through diversity and inclusion seminars, lunches, and our Facets diversity publication and lecture series. Our widely regarded summer associate program is designed to provide substantive practical skills training, exposure to various practices, as well as a sense of what it is like to be an attorney at Skadden.
Number of 1st year associates: 159
Number of 2nd year associates: 156
Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
2nd year: $170,000
Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale.
Summer associate profile:
The breadth of our practice and the success it has enjoyed is largely due to the capabilities of our attorneys. We look for candidates who combine intellectual ability with enthusiasm and creativity. Successful candidates display high academic achievement in their law school and undergraduate education. Law Journal and/or Moot Court participation are preferred.
Summer program components
One of the most comprehensive programs of its kind, our summer associate program (offered in our Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, Washington, DC, Wilmington, London, Hong Kong, Toronto and Tokyo offices) drives our hiring efforts. Summer Associates are assigned to active deals and litigations, providing them with work experiences similar to those of full time associates. For more information visit: www.skadden.com/recruiting.