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

Expectations are high at this legal titan, but despite its formidable reputation, juniors found Skadden “a great place to grow and learn early on.”

Junior associates gave us no fewer than 17 different reasons for deciding to join the ranks of this member of the New York legal elite. But standing head and shoulders above all other factors were the three Ps: prestige, people, and practices. “It had an excellent reputation in New York and across the country, it offered all the practice groups I was potentially interested in, and it had great people to work with,” one junior summarized. It’d be difficult for any ambitious lawyer to miss the firm’s practice expertise: Chambers USA bestows the firm with almost 40 nationwide rankings across practices. In particular, it scoops top rankings in antitrust, corporate crime & investigations, corporate/M&A, energy, political law, product liability, projects, securities litigation, sports law, and tax. On the international stage, Chambers Global ranks Skadden as one of the best firms in the world for corporate/M&A and tax.

“… these were people I could work late nights with.”

As for the people drawcard, one junior recalled “the feeling I got during the interview was that these were people I could work late nights with.” And you’d be right to prepare for some later finishes here. This is quite simply a “a big prestigious firm that works on prestigious matters with Fortune 500 companies” – and it’s got the hours to show for it. Associates were therefore grateful that the firm “expressed early on that they’re going to be honest with you” about expectations. “They said sometimes you’re going to be in uncomfortable positions getting more responsibility than you feel ready for, but it will be a great place to grow and learn early on.” Over half of Skadden’s junior cohort is based in the New York HQ, while the other half are spread among Boston, Chicago, Houston, LA, Palo Alto, DC and Wilmington. Skadden also has 14 international offices.

TOP READ: How do you develop a career around the dynamic Asia market? We quizzed the head of Skadden's China practice Julie Gao to find out how she achieved it.

The Work



Just over half of juniors are based in Skadden's transactional practice, while around a third find their home in the firm's litigation and controversy department. Among the transactional groups, M&A was the largest in terms of headcount. Groups such as antitrust, banking, capital markets, general corporate, government enforcement and white-collar crime, and tax also took in junior associates, while several smaller practice groups (like executive compensation & benefits, financial institutions, international arbitration, real estate, and IP & tech) housed associates in the single figures. Most sources said they got their assignments through a mixture of a formal work allocation system and a more informal approach. “We have staffing coordinators [professional development managers] and regular staffing meetings in our group,” one explained, “but if you’ve worked with a particular client in the past, the likelihood is high that you’d get asked to help if a new deal comes in for them.”

Especially in the earlier years, litigators can dabble in a variety of subgroups at Skadden. Then, “as you start to develop particular interests and relationships, you might find yourself homing in on particular subgroups which become your main focus.” Until that point, our sources experienced a wide range of matters, including securities litigation, white-collar matters, FCC enforcement, consumer financial services litigation and civil litigation. Unsurprisingly, the junior role involved taking on some “non-sexy document review tasks and compilingchronologies and timelines,” but beyond those, they were also able to “first-chair depositions – both defensive and offensive,” as well as “draft portions of motions or briefs.” In late 2020, Skadden established its Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice out of the DC office with a lateral partner hire. DC interviewees highlighted “communicating with government bodies and opposing counsels” while others mentioned getting to “do presentations to clients” as well.

Litigation clients: HSBC, PwC, Citigroup. Recently represented Lyft before the Supreme Court after the implementation of a “cruising cap” rule that put them at a disadvantage to New York City cabs.

“Partners are very busy so sometimes you need to be the face of the deal and the person clients can call.”

M&A was the largest corporate sub-team. The group handles “both buy and sell-side” as well as “both private and public deals” (though sources reckoned they’d probably seen more private M&A overall). Juniors also got involved on matters with a more regulatory slant, such as FCC reporting and compliance, and more general corporate governance work. Most sources felt they’d had “lots of responsibility from the get-go,” which came in the form of “taking the first draft of merger agreements and purchase agreements” as well as “a ton of client contact. Partners are very busy so sometimes you need to be the face of the deal and the person clients can call.” Some sources also dabbled in other corporate areas such as capital markets, where the matters were similarly wide-ranging. “I’ve done issuer-side, underwriter-side, bonds, notes, convertible securities – everything you could do in capital markets!” one interviewee explained.

Corporate clients: luxury brandLVMH, Gilead Sciences, Visa. Recently advised chemicals company DuPont on the merger of its $26.2 billion Nutrition & Biosciences business with International Flavors & Fragrances.

Antitrust juniors were split between New York and DC. Those in the former found they “focused on merger control, analyzing risk in transactions, and generally helping clients through the merger process.” As well as taking on an advisory role, the group is also on hand to deal with any contentious issues that crop up. On smaller mergers juniors got stuck into “marking up merger agreements” as well as “speaking with the client to help them comply with requests.” As a heavily regulated area, juniors also spent time liaising with bodies like the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

Antitrust clients: Teva Pharmaceuticals, Sprint Corporation, energy trader Vitol. Acted for Caesars Entertainment Corporation on the antitrust aspects of its $17.3 billion acquisition by Eldorado Resorts.

Pro Bono



Interviewees agreed that Skadden is “hugely committed” to pro bono – “there’s never a lull in opportunities!” Attorneys can put an unlimited amount of pro bono toward their yearly hours target, with one commenting: “I’ve never been pulled aside and told that I’m doing too much.” They were also keen to add that “if someone has a particular interest, there will either be an established program to feed that, or if not, the firm is willing to work with you to develop something in that space.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 183,277
  • Average per US attorney: 157

Those we spoke to had been involved in a wide array of pro bono including housing matters, veterans projects, death penalty cases, amicus briefs, immigration matters and civil rights litigations. The firm has multiple partnerships (over 200) with pro bono organizations including VOLS (Volunteers of Legal Service) in New York, and Legal Aid of DC and Maryland and Catholic Charities DC (a social services agency) in Washington DC.

Diversity & Inclusion



“I do feel we’re doing pretty good on diversity,” one associate proffered, “with the caveat that this is ‘corporate America’ and not a perfect representation of society.” Juniors noted the firm had made “a big effort to hire women and minorities, especially in the junior classes,” adding that “those efforts take time” to manifest at the partner end. “The problem is retaining and advancing [diverse attorneys], and we struggle like other firms.”

To promote diversity and inclusion, attorneys are allowed to bill up to 50 hours “for anything related to D&I, whether that’s going to panels or doing studies.” Associates felt this “shows the firm does care and wants to do something about it.” A portion of juniors’ orientation is dedicated to a diversity and inclusion session, and there are also nine attorney affinity groups established at Skadden. Those involved with the latter found the firm to be “supportive and willing to chip in financially.”

Hours & Compensation



Associates described their hours as “quite variable and highly cyclical.” As one elaborated, “there are times when you’re doing incredibly long days, then the next week could be very light.” Our survey showed juniors billed an average of around 55 hours in a week. Pre-pandemic, interviewees reckoned they spent “probably eight hours in the office” on average, “then a few hours at home.” Finding time for life outside the firm is bit of “a balancing act,” but something you get used to “as you get more senior.”

Billable hours: 1,800 target

Interviewees found Skadden’s billing target “no problem,” especially since it includes unlimited pro bono, and 100 'nonchargeable contribution' hours (which include the likes of business development and shadowing activities). Up to 50 of these 'nonchargeable contribution' hours can be devoted to D&I and recruiting activities. Although there was some unclarity among interviewees around how the firm determines bonuses, they agreed they were well compensated. Bonuses at Skadden are lockstep for those who meet their hours target. Senior attorneys can get enhanced bonuses based on their performance.

Culture



Compensation may be lockstep, but associates felt that culturally “Skadden is at its core a meritocracy in the best sense,” with one describing “very driven colleagues with a ‘rising tide lifts all ships’ mentality.” Simply put, “folks are always eager to help each other.” While our interviewees did drop the word ‘collegial’ left, right and center, some found the culture a little “hard to penetrate as a junior.” Others disagreed: “I'm just as likely to pop my head in someone's office to ask them for their thoughts on a document as I am to say hi and socialize!” Several suggested there’s a “work hard, play hard mentality” at the firm, with “hard workers who also like to socialize.”

“The firm puts an emphasis on excellence in everything you do… sometimes it’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it’s a privilege.”

Some were pleasantly surprised to find the firm “more relaxed than expected – but still not exactly relaxed.” Yes, unsurprisingly, “there’s a very high expectation on quality of work” at Skadden. “The firm puts an emphasis on excellence in everything you do – in client work, in interactions with colleagues, in ethical standards. Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it’s a privilege to work with excellent people and learn from them.” Thankfully, “people realize how challenging the demands on your time can be, and so we don’t make it harder on each other.”

Those based in New York observed “it definitely feels like the HQ. There are lots of resources and lots of people – you feel like you’re in the center of the action.” Another associate in one of Skadden’s smaller bases felt the size of their office “leads to a culture where everyone knows each other and collaborates.”

Career Development



Juniors at Skadden were realistic about their prospects of making partner, observing that each year “usually fewer than 20 people” make partner– 11 did so in 2020 – “compared to the hundreds of people entering each year. The chances are… slim.” That said, for those who are unwavering in their hopes of one day becoming a BigLaw partner, juniors reckoned it was achievable “if you work hard and you’re committed.”

For those less wedded to the idea of partnership, juniors noted that as is the case in many big firms, “it’s taken that not everyone is going to make partner, and that’s okay.” We heard “the firm is still supportive of whatever you want to do next, like if you wanted to go in-house or into government. The firm would help you to secure opportunities.”

Juniors also appreciated that partners were “open to discussing career growth,” though some felt there could be “more feedback from senior attorneys rather than just the annual evaluation.” We did hear that associates have the opportunity to produce career development plans that they can go through with a partner. On the plus side, interviewees said “there's a real commitment to attorney development and education.” They cited regular training programs for each level of associate (i.e. junior, midlevel, and senior), practice group lectures and presentations, as well as “business development happy hours where partners discuss with you what you should be doing as a junior, and what you can do to build relationships with clients.”

Strategy & Future



“During the last year, we focused on our core capabilities across our 22 global offices, and added depth where the opportunity presented itself,” executive partner Eric Friedman explains. For example, he highlights “using the opportunity fueled by the change in administrations to deepen our Washington DC bench, adding senior people with recent government experience,” and he lists several recent and prominent lateral hires (see the firm’s website for more details). New lateral partners also helped the firm launch a Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice and bolster its Europe and international M&A and restructuring capabilities. “We’re not a firm that adds dozens of partners, let alone laterally, so for us this is a very impressive and strong group of new partners,” Friedman states.

 

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Skadden participates in OCIs across 35 different law schools but students from more than 40 make it to the summer program – that gap is filled by attendees from one of around 25 different job fairs. Top schools like Columbia, Harvard, NYU and Penn in particular are the biggest contributors. It's possible to apply for a summer position outside of OCIs and the firm is happy to talk to students from any school outside of its campus interview program. 

As for the on campus channel, most interviews involve two attorneys from the office to which students are applying: the thinking behind this is to give applicants an insight into Skadden's collaborative approach to practice. The criteria for getting to the next level is being qualified to work at the firm; demonstrating a genuine interest in Skadden's work; and being able to integrate within teams at the firm. As the first point largely speaks for itself, the latter two should be kept in mind. 

Top tips: "Take a targeted and thoughtful approach when trying to learn about the firm – don't just read about the last three deals we've done and spout off about them!" 

"Skadden prizes folks who can communicate well and interface with clients. There's more of a mix of people here than at some other firms: we're not just academic nerds." 

Callbacks 

Applicants invited to second stage: undisclosed

The firm gets a flavor of applicants' tastes in practice areas and interests before they arrive for callback, so when they meet a mix of partners, counsel and associates they'll be from relevant teams and backgrounds.  Students also get to know juniors on a more informal basis over lunch or a coffee, and there are other opportunities to get an idea of Skadden's character. The firm asks those invited for callbacks to complete an online assessment beforehand as an opportunity to share additional information about candidates’ strengths, allowing the firm to get to know students beyond credentials and interviews, and their alignment with firm goals and values. 

Impressing those you speak to is important at this level, as they will be assessing whether you can fit in at the firm and practice at a high level. Enthusiasm is the most important trait to demonstrate, but don't go overboard: it's important to be true to yourself rather than trying to be what you think the firm wants you to be. 

Top tips: "I look for the drive of wanting to learn as much as possible. The people who are happiest here want to be working even when it's late because they're learning new things from the best in the field." 

"The firm isn't necessarily looking for the life of the party or a social butterfly, though you certainly can be. We're looking for someone with 20 minutes worth of conversation to give, whether that's about a law school topic or Game of Thrones.” 

Summer program 

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

There's no formal rotation in Skadden's summer program – participating students can sample different areas as they please. The firm does prefer summer associates to narrow their focus around the midpoint of the program, so if you want to experiment then the first few weeks are the best time. Experimentation is indeed encouraged – global hiring partner Gavin White recalls "time and again I see students discover a passion for a practice area they had never previously considered during the summer. That includes me!" 

There's thorough legal and business skills training including diversity, equity and inclusion and well-being seminars and workshops, plus more specialized sessions for anybody keen on specific areas like tax or derivatives. Explore what's offered and don't be afraid of asking attorneys any questions you may have.  Intellectual curiosity is highly valued at Skadden.

In addition, just about everyone takes on pro bono during the summer.  Although optional, the opportunities to contribute to impact projects that address critical issues of the moment, including COVID-relief, the fight against systemic racism and immigration, are too good to pass up.

Notable summer events: Whether virtual or in-person, notable events have included: tours at cultural landmarks and attractions; culinary and mixology demonstrations; well-being programming and events; private documentary screenings; team-building challenges; and concerts and comedy shows.

Top tips:  "You don't have to be the center of attention during summer but do express yourself and feel comfortable doing so." 

"Your work should form your reputation for doing great work and being a team player and that should be it – don't be known as the person who shows up late or got drunk at the party." 

And finally... 

Gavin White recommends you "don't get misguided by the chatter on campus or anonymous posts online. Selecting a firm is your decision about what is right for you and your career." 

 

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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

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: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Chancery (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Alternative Entities (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • 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: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Technology (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Derivatives (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 4)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
    • Political Law (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 1)
    • Projects: LNG (Band 2)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Projects: Power (Band 3)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 2)
    • SPACs (Band 1)
    • Sports Law (Band 1)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)

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