Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates - The Inside View

Sinking its teeth into some of the juiciest work the Big Apple has to offer, this hulking megafirm has an ironclad reputation for fierceness and quality.

HOLLYWOOD loves a good origin story, especially when it's cranking out the latest in a seemingly endless stream of superhero movies. Perhaps for the next one they should consider a film based on the origins of Skadden, one of BigLaw's most celebrated tales. The firm came together on April Fool's Day (we kid you not) 1948 when Marshall Skadden, John Slate and Les Arps united to take on New York's white-shoe elite. Just as Marvel's Avengers devastated the city's landscape in the titular film, Skadden tore up the status quo by taking a fierce stance in both the boardroom and the courtroom. Its boldness paid off big time: today Skadden is a formidable international giant, and a world leader when it comes to mega M&A deals.

And if you're looking for legal superheroes in the firm's corridors of power, you'll find plenty to choose from – Chambers USA bestows over 30 top rankings on Skadden's expertise across both the country as a whole and eight individual states. Alongside corporate/M&A, standout areas include antitrust, securities litigation, real estate, tax and political law.  One particularly insightful source summed up Skadden's appeal: "The beauty of the legal market is that it's always evolving, and a firm like Skadden – with its diverse practice and footprint – can shine no matter what's happening." This junior echoed the thoughts of many when they said: “I knew that whichever group I ended up choosing, it would be at the top of its field.” Sources also acknowledged the firm's prestige and fearsome reputation, but several said that they “kept on making connections with people during the interview process, so it quickly became apparent that this was a comfortable place to be.”

The Work

Around half of Skadden's annual intake of juniors slots into the corporate and transactional group, while most of the rest join a litigation or a regulatory team (which includes tax). Centralized work allocation systems exist in each department, though over time associates get tasks more directly from partners. One explained that “there's a very healthy give and take. It's well organized, but it also provides you with a nice way to build organic relationships.” Groups conduct weekly staffing meetings to make sure nobody's getting snowed under or going begging for work – the latter situation is rare, but can happen in “more cyclical, up-and-down” transactional practices.

Most corporate associates are allocated to a sub-group right off the bat, but those in New York rotate through two teams for eight months at a time before picking their poison. M&A is the largest subdivision, and newbies here tackle “a lot of diligence, but also get to draft ancillary documents and shareholder rights plans, which you don't necessarily expect to do as a junior.” Sources felt there's “as much responsibility available as you'd like, though you do have to prove yourself before people trust you.” For some, it was too much too soon: “I feel we could do with a bit more supervision, though mid-level and senior associates are good at explaining things to you.” They also flagged thatM&A can be more hierarchical than other departments (“some partners are more hands on than others”) but at the same time interviewees praised the early client contact they'd received.

“It's an egalitarian environment, and the responsibility available can be high.”

Banking, corporate restructuring, antitrust, finance and investment management also fall under the big corporate umbrella. Skadden traditionally serves debtor clients in restructuring matters, but associates “also worked with liquidators; in the past few years there have been a lot of oil and gas bankruptcies.” Interviewees struck gold by “getting to run discovery production – doing that as a second-year was a great experience.” Corporate finance newbies worked primarily on IPOs and high-yield deals, and whetted their appetite with diligence from the off. “What's awesome is that you get out of that space quickly. I've drafted disclosure documents and a lot of ancillaries.” The antitrust team, meanwhile, is split between transactional and litigious wings. One associate who'd straddled the divide reported: “I've helped with discovery and led client calls as a first-year. On the corporate side, there's been some document review, but also presentation preparation and white paper drafting.”

TOP READ: Global law firms promise a prestigious and distinct career. We caught up with a few international lawyers at Skadden to learn about their careers and how you can enter this world.

Litigators commit to either traditional commercial litigation or a subset like insurance or political law. Generalists take on “everything from securities to breach of contract cases... anything big enough for someone to hire Skadden for. The variety of work is something I appreciate.” Variety is also the name of the game when it comes to associates' tasks, which range from “bread and butter legal research to document review to conducting employee interviews.” Is it a mix that keeps junior happy? “I don't think I have any complaints,” said one, “not all the work is tied to the most crucial aspect of a case, but when I want to try something, the partners make an effort to get me in on it.” On the whole, “it's an egalitarian environment, and the responsibility available can be high.” Interviewees were also happy to try their hand at international work – some even enjoyed a spell overseas.

Training & Development

Associate life at Skadden begins with three days in New York, which kick off a four-week training program called ACE [Associates' Comprehensive Education]. This includes a two-week mini-MBA. “We spent over a month just training,” an interviewee reflected, “which was difficult to appreciate at the time, but now I'm really glad we had it. However, the program could last for two months and we'd still have a lot to learn!” It's helpful, then, that group-specific training sessions come further down the line. Juniors also receive annual reviews (first-years get two), and get the process underway by selecting the partners they've worked sufficient hours with to evaluate them. “If there are any issues they're addressed as early as possible, and people tend to be willing to give quick face-to-face feedback.” Interviewees deemed the approach to feedback “fine” overall: “There could always be more, but what we do get is always really respectful – I've never been yelled at or chewed out!”

Offices & Culture

Skadden's New York HQ is by far the largest base, and housed the largest contingent of associates on our list. There's an on-site gym and cafeteria to keep attorneys fit and fed, but juniors here summed up the building as “nothing outstanding – it's a big Times Square office. The location isn't ideal, but we're moving in 2020.” Lawyers are headed for Manhattan West, near Hudson Yards. The DC office took on the next largest chunk of juniors, who told us that their newly renovated digs were “what New York is aiming for; the office is a lot more open and bright, with glass panels, which really improves team morale.” The rest of Skadden's second- and third-years were split between its Boston, Chicago, Palo Alto and Wilmington offices, but the firm also has domestic bases in LA and Houston.Nobody outside of the New York mothership felt left out of the loop at the firm – “it never feels like we're a satellite, and if most of the case team is here then we're in the driver's seat” – and communication between the offices is well oiled both within and beyond the US.

“...we do like to have fun.”

Several found that the firm's culture wasn't quite what they expected coming in – in the best possible way. “I heard it was like a sweatshop,” said one, “and while there are ups and downs and people expect a lot, that's not true at all.” Many noted that “New Yorkers do tend to be in the office for longer, so there's more of a work/life balance in the other offices,” but at the same time “the personality of the firm is pretty uniform across the board; Skadden puts a premium on personality, and we're not just a bunch of robots!” The myth-busting continued when it came to assumptions that “there's a fratty drinking culture – that's 100% false. It's not like people are chugging beer in the office.” Instead, sources reasoned that this reputation stems from “people incorrectly using the word fratty as a synonym for social, and we are social – we do like to have fun.”

Fun can be had at numerous events, both on a firm-wide and office-specific basis. The biggest event in the Big Apple sees the firm “rent out the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, so we can have a full dinner and dancing.” Let's hope Skadden's New Yorkers wore the appropriate footwear... Sporting and political events serve as common social outlets, and most offices have weekly happy hours or non-alcoholic gatherings. “Maybe other firms are jealous because we have cooler events than them and spend more time together,” one associate boasted. There is quite a full program on offer, after all: departments also runsocial events throughout the year (the frequency depends on the team), as do Skadden's affinity groups, which bring in speakers to address attorneys – recent examples include Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez and civil rights activist Connie Rice.

Pro Bono

Declaring Skadden “tremendously supportive” of pro bono, associates pointed out that “all pro bono hours are chargeable to billables, which really incentivizes us to do it. I've been able to commit a significant amount of time to cases and can direct them.” First-years in particular tend to pick up a decent amount of pro bono both to build experience and to fill gaps in their time. “Sometimes partners will signal if I'm doing a lot and need to get more paid work, but I never feel like I shouldn't be doing pro bono,” one junior explained. Immigration and asylum, nonprofit incorporation, community development and domestic violence cases are all common at Skadden, and various offices conduct specialized 'Impact Projects.' These include monthly 'Military Mondays' clinics in New York; a Palo Alto-based program that involves Skadden's lawyers giving legal guidance to high school students; and a partnership between the LA base and the Creative Rights Agency and Learning Rights Law Center, which has launched a sexual and cybercrimes awareness program. “The firm is pretty open to our own ideas too,” associates told us.

Pro bono hours

  •   For all attorneys across all US offices: 181,644
  •   Average per US attorney: 136

Hours & Compensation

Juniors can put 100 'productive work hours' (i.e. time spent doing things like shadowing or writing articles) toward the firm's 1,800 billable target, as well as an unlimited amount of pro bono. Noting that “it's a lower goal than a lot of peer firms,” most agreed “it's very achievable and there's no real excuse not to meet it.” They also put the lower target down to “some of the more specialist groups where there might not be as much work to go around.” Bonuses are lockstep for the first seven years, and after that point a discretionary element is introduced. Some go-getters grumbled that “there's no benefit to billing more – lockstep almost rewards being less efficient,” but less fiercely competitive juniors argued that “lockstep creates more of a team feeling, as there's no incentive to hog all the work.”

“You're only here that late if something cool is happening.”

Most associates felt their schedules left room to enjoy being people as well as lawyers, but noted “it's difficult to schedule weekday plans as you never know what can come up.” Work hours can be extremely varied, especially in corporate, though non-New Yorkers were more confident about getting out by 7pm. Empire City sources admitted “there are always busy times but it's not as bad as I expected,” withone clarifying: “I've only stayed beyond midnight once or twice; you're only here that late if something cool is happening.” An average day for some lasted between 10am and 8pm, but ultimately “it really depends on what's going on.” In M&A, for example, “there are days when I leave at 2pm and days when I leave at midnight.” More positively, interviewees felt encouraged to take at least a couple of weeks of vacation each year, and could do so without being bombarded by e-mails.

Strategy & Future

Though some felt “transparency is something the firm could improve on,” others pointed out that “every year, the managing partner gives a State of the Firm address” to keep them in the loop of broader developments. Skadden is also keen to get associates' ideas on how to improve things: executive partner Eric Friedman tells us that “this year, we've built upon our reputation for innovative legal work and advanced our culture by inviting the entire firm to submit ideas for how to improve Skadden. Almost 200 ideas came in, 55 of which were from summer associates.” Walking the walk to match the talk, Friedman confirms Skadden will be implementing around 30 of the proposed ideas.

Get Hired

“An uncommon mix of ambition and humility” is the foundation of a Skadden associate, according to one of our interviewees. “Everyone here is an alpha and a good team mate at the same time – I don't know how they get the balance right but they do!” The firm focuses heavily on the individual, our sources said: “Interviews are really personal, and they won't bring you in unless everything looks good on paper. More than other places, Skadden cares most about whether you're a self-starter and have the toolkit required to get things done.” Don't put too much store in the firm's work-hard/play-hard reputation, as “you don't have to be the most social person in the world to work here, just someone people will get along with in a team setting. If you have the best resume in the world but won't fit in, that can really hurt your chances.”

It's important to be able to demonstrate commitment to a field, be it legal or not. “Some careers officers tell students not to put their interests on applications,” one interviewee said, “but definitely keep that section for Skadden. It's very much a people firm and everybody we hire is interesting to talk to.” Experiences like a military background can count in your favor, as can prior work experience. “I didn't have any indications of financial literacy on my resume, but if you can demonstrate an understanding of how the business world works you might have an easier time.” That said, initial training will bring any associates without that core knowledge up to speed sharpish.

“If you're not applying to the HQ, pay careful attention to your target office's relationship with it,” associates recommended, while also highlighting the scope of work on offer across the firm's bases: “Unlike some other places, Skadden is very much a full-service firm across the network.” They recognized that the firm's size and scale meant that entering the partnership was a relatively remote prospect, but told us “there are still good opportunities to shape your career. People don't necessarily think long-term when applying but I'm glad I ended up at a firm like this.” If, after all this, “Skadden's reputation for insane hours” stilldiscourages you, one source suggested that “it doesn't quite live up to that reputation, and if I'd known that from the beginning then I'd never have hesitated to apply.”

Diversity at Skadden

“Progress is definitely being made, and relative to our peers Skadden is doing a really good job on diversity,” most of our sources felt, though several noted “there's still a way to go.” The firm came under fire for promoting just one new female partner within a class of 12 in 2017. Insiders told us “that was frustrating and not encouraging for young women.” To help get those numbers up to where they should be, Skadden's Women's Leadership Forum hosts a six-month program for high-flying female associates. On a broader level, there are global committees and networks for women, veterans, parents, and ethnic minority and LGBT attorneys. “There are still a lot of old-school white partners, but the summer classes are getting more diverse,” interviewees revealed,concluding: “The firm is making a big effort, which we hope will pay off at the higher echelons.”

Interview with executive partner Eric Friedman

Chambers Associate: As an introduction, what's been the most exciting thing that the firm has done over the past year?

Eric Friedman: We ended the summer with a wave of large deals that the market really noticed because they involved so many different practice areas and regions, highlighting the strength of our geographic footprint and range of capabilities. The transactions included representing Rockwell Collins when it was acquired by United Technologies for $30 billion; Vantiv in a $10.4 billion cross-border acquisition by Worldpay; WeWork in a $4 billion investment by SoftBank; Gilead in an $11 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma; and The Advisory Board Company in the $2.6 billion sales of its healthcare and education businesses. These deals required attorneys from all over the firm and across practices to collaborate, which is Skadden at its best.

CA: What market trends have affected business recently? How has the start of the Trump presidency affected the firm?

EF: Our capital markets practice has been very strong lately, influenced by the stock market being at an all-time high. We've also distinguished ourselves as a top firm advising on challenges that can arise from foreign investment into the United States – something that's become more difficult since the change in administration. We recently welcomed Don Vieira, former chief of staff for the Department of Justice's National Security Division, and Michael Leiter, ex-National Counterterrorism Center director, to our National Security team. Issues within that sphere, such as cybersecurity, have become increasingly prominent, and our new partners can provide unique insight into the government perspective in those types of situations. On the disputes front, our international arbitration practice has been very busy, including securing a $1.2 billion award for NTT Docomo earlier this year. We also recently won a significant tax litigation victory for Amazon against the IRS in one of the largest transfer pricing cases in decades and the first involving e-commerce.

The change of administration also has affected government enforcement policy largely due to numerous vacancies in senior government regulatory roles. Until the center of gravity has settled, it will be difficult to determine the administration’s regulatory enforcement philosophy and how that will affect the legal market. The reality is that geopolitical and economic changes require companies — and their lawyers — to evolve. Our goal at Skadden is to help our clients succeed no matter what is happening in the regulatory environment, and we are well positioned to do that.

CA: How frequently do the firm's different offices collaborate on matters?

EF: We're always teaming up across offices and practices because we believe that's the way to deliver the best expertise to our clients. Clients value our collaborative, integrated approach, particularly on complex, cross-border matters.

CA: Last year you mentioned the culture as something that made Skadden unique – how do you ensure that culture is consistent across all your different offices?

EF: At the beginning of a lawyer's career with Skadden we start talking to them about the importance of our culture and living it every day. It comes down to providing excellent client service, thinking outside the box, working collaboratively and prioritizing professional development. This year, we've built upon our reputation for innovative legal work and advanced our culture by inviting the entire firm to submit ideas for how to improve Skadden. Almost 200 ideas came in, 55 of which were from summer associates. Even after the summer program concluded we kept the summer associates in the loop, and they’ve been enthusiastically engaged in further developing their ideas. The winning team, which included two summer associates from two offices, presented a proposal for a dynamic, interactive and equitable work assignment system. I'm so excited about how it turned out, and in addition to implementing the winning concept, we are planning to deploy nearly 30 of the suggestions.

CA: Have there been any recent changes in the firm's recruitment process?

EF: We recently began exploring performance analytics and launched a pilot program, which incorporates an online assessment tool into our recruitment process. Corporations have been using tools like this for a while, but I believe Skadden is the first big law firm to do it. When we evaluate candidates, we're trying to identify intangibles that don't scream out from their resumes or during interviews. Our assessment tool focuses on identifying traits like grit, rigor, impact, teamwork, polish, curiosity and ownership; and it compares candidates against the traits of our most successful associates. We tried it with our 1L Scholar applicants in 2016, and they appreciated that we were looking beyond grades and trying to learn more about them. In 2017 we gave 2Ls who came in for callbacks the option of taking advantage of it. We're now surveying more of our associates to further fine-tune the model.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates

Four Times Square,
New York,
NY 10036

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 8
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Partners (US): 289
  • Associates (US): 900
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Carol Lee H Sprague
  • Hiring partner: Howard Ellin
  • Diversity officer: Melique Jones
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 187
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
  • 1Ls: 32, 2Ls: 171
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
  • New York: 6, Chicago: 2, Los Angeles: 2, London: 6, Palo Alto: 2, Paris: 1, Toronto: 1, Washington, DC: 4
  • Summer salary 2018:
  • 1Ls: $3,700
  • 2Ls: $3,700
  • Split summers offered? Yes — splits must spend at least 8 weeks with Skadden for first half
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case by case

Main areas of work

 Antitrust, banking, complex litigation and trials, complex mass torts/insurance litigation, corporate finance, corporate restructuring, energy and infrastructure projects, executive compensation and benefits, government enforcement and white collar crime, intellectual property and technology, international arbitration, investment management, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, regulatory, structured finance, tax, trusts and estates.

Firm profile

 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 offices enable us to provide unparalleled service to our clients. Our attorneys, spread among 22 interconnected offices 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 cross-cultural 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.


Law schools attended for OCI in 2018:
Berkeley, Boston University, Brooklyn, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Iowa, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
In addition to participating in OCIs, the firm accepts summer associate applications directly from students starting 1st June. Interested applicants may submit their resume and full 1L transcript through the Skadden online system:

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:

Social media

Recruitment website:
Twitter: @skaddenrecruit

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Deals in Asia (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Chancery (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Alternative Entities (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 5)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • FCPA (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
    • Healthcare Recognised Practitioner
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 1)
    • Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • Leisure & Hospitality Recognised Practitioner
    • Political Law (Band 1)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 3)
    • Projects: LNG (Band 2)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Projects: Power (Band 2)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 2)
    • Sports Law (Band 1)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)