How to get a Squire Patton Boggs training contract
We spoke to HR Manager Claire Edwards about trainee recruitment.
Student Guide: What are you looking for in future trainees?
Claire Edwards: Determination, enthusiasm, flexibility, and ultimately, ‘real’ people who have a genuine interest in the firm.
SG: What are the firm’s priorities when it comes to recruitment?
CE: We want to attract a diverse range of people. If you look at our lateral hires, you’ll see that it’s not just the Russell Group. We also want to attract non-law graduates and those that wish to consider law as their second career. We also welcome applicants from overseas and have a number of trainees who are interested in qualifying into one of our overseas offices. We have set up a diversity group to focus on our future strategy.
SG: How important are grades on an application?
CE: If someone has a 2:2 we will seriously look at them, but there must be a compelling reason either to take them on, or why they achieved a 2:2. We look for A level subjects, or equivalent, with substance, at As and Bs. We’re also interested in work experience. It doesn’t have to be legal, but it’s good to have been exposed to a work ethos. Applicants fall down when they say their biggest achievement is getting three As or their university results. This is important, but we also want to know more about their personalities, their interests outside of their studies.
SG: Any other tips for the application?
CE: Get the firm’s name right! Leave plenty of time to submit your application; don't do it the night before the deadline! And make sure you don’t just copy and paste. Read the questions properly and stay within the word count. If you’ve applied before, be honest. It won’t count against you. Make sure you clearly demonstrate why you’ve chosen a career in law.
SG: Tell us about the vacation scheme.
CE: We do get good results from the vacation scheme, in particular the conversion to offers of training contracts. That way it’s not just based on one intense afternoon. The placements last two weeks, and there are around 40 places in total. Before the scheme, students select their preferences of where they want to sit. They sit in two departments over the course of the fortnight and have lots of involvement. They do ‘live’ work and are heavily involved with the trainees. The partners are committed to the placement too, and students may have the opportunity to attend meetings with them. All partners make themselves available to meet with vacation students.
As well as undertaking real work in their departments, students can ask questions of the senior figures, such as office heads and trainee supervisors, during forums we hold. There are social events to get involved with too, such as sports and Pimm’s evenings, night at the dogs and quiz nights. Students are also invited to the summer parties.
SG: Any tips for the vac scheme?
CE: Don’t forget that you’re on show all the time. We look at how students interact with everybody in the offices. The expectation is that if a trainee is busy working, the student should ask to help out or stay a bit later. If someone was to just leave, that would be frowned upon.
Vacation scheme students have an interview in the second week of the scheme, along with a group exercise and individual pitch presentation. Those who’ve not done the scheme undergo an assessment day similar to that for the vacation scheme.
The vacation scheme assessment day
In the morning:
- Meet and greet with trainees
- Introductory information about the firm, the vacation scheme and the training contract
- Presentations from trainees and NQs about life at Squire Patton Boggs
- At least one partner presentation
In the afternoon:
- Interview with two partners
- Group exercise
- Tour around the building
- Question-and-answer session
We analyse the Hammonds-SSD tie-up
When Squire Sanders & Dempsey and Hammonds announced they were to merge in early 2011, John Quinn, the outspoken managing partner of Los Angeles litigation boutique Quinn Emmanuel, described the situation as “two rocks that think if they hug each other tight enough they won't sink.” Spurred on by this bolshy comment, we thought we'd dig a little deeper into the background of the merger. Is this a marriage made in heaven or are these two firms each other's cement shoes?
What's in a name?
The SSD-Hammonds tie-up took effect on 1 January 2011. Strictly speaking it's not a merger but a 'combination'. The combined firm, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey International Association, is a Swiss Verein– that is to say, a business consisting of more than one partnership or LLP. This business does not itself provide legal services. Those are provided by its two components: Squire Sanders & Dempsey (US) LLP and Squire Sanders & Dempsey (UK) LLP. The latter trades today as Squire Sanders after an ill-fated attempt to go by Squire Sanders Hammond prompted the amusing but ultimately not so business-like moniker 'Squammonds'. For clarity we will use Hammonds and SSD to refer to the two legacy firms and Squire Sanders to refer to the combined firm.
The hump-backed road: the story of Hammonds
Founded in Bradford in the 19th century, Hammonds shot to fame in the 1990s. Explosive growth saw it confidently swagger into Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London. Ambition not sated, more expansion followed across Europe and Asia. The legal profession watched with wide eyes as it ascended the list of the UK’s most profitable firms. From a blip on the radar, it grew into a giant, at one point climbing to be the 11th largest firm in the country.
But this success came at a price. Huge sums were invested in expansion, and the revelation the firm had a £30m overdraft in the early 2000s sent it spiralling into crisis. It lost 42 partners in 2002/03 alone, and profits tumbled in 2004 and 2005. The same pundits who had marvelled at its growth began to criticise Hammonds’ mismanagement. Simply put, action had to be taken. Management was restructured, costs were cut and starting in 2005 the firm’s position vastly improved. The overdraft was cut to just £8.8m in 2007/08, the firm survived and revenue steadied. Then came the recession, which was tough on all the national firms, Hammonds included. Revenue fell from £134.6m in 2007/08 to £118m in 2010/11. By 2009/10 Hammonds was the 24th largest firm in the UK – still a big force on the UK legal scene but a far cry from the lofty heights the firm once reached. In terms of revenue, the firm ended the decade back where it started: 2010/11 figures were was almost identical to those of 2000/01.
American boy: the story of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey
Squire Sanders & Dempsey was founded in 1890 in Cleveland, Ohio, a city with a strong industrial heritage – a distinction it shares with Hammonds' Leeds-Bradford heartland.
SSD's history makes it clear the firm has always had an interest in overseas expansion. It opened up shop in Brussels as early as 1974 and set up a London office in 1992. The 1990s saw a major drive to become a global player, with the firm targeting expansion in the former Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe – one of the first firms to do so. The strategy paid off: SSD opened in five Eastern European cities in the 1990s, riding the wave of the post-Cold War business boom. During that period lawyers helped an American hedge fund buy a $300m stake in Russia's former state-owned railway company. Between 1990 and 2010 SSD opened offices in 15 cities outside the US – eight of which were in Europe.
SSD has had a far less rocky ride over the last decade than Hammonds, with revenue growing steadily year-on-year between 2003 and 2008. The firm was hit by the recession, though. Revenue slid from $579.5m in 2008 to $518m in 2010 – a drop of 10.6%, mirroring the 12.3% decline at Hammonds in the same period. Still, SSD's 2010 revenue was an impressive 40% higher than it was in 2003, the same of which can't be said for Hammonds.
SSD: $518m (£334m) (2010)
Profits per equity partner (PEP)
SSD: $765m (£493m)
Number of offices
SSD: 14 domestic, 18 overseas
Hammonds: 4 domestic, 7 overseas
Number of lawyers
SSD: 25 in the UK†, 550 in the US, 250 elsewhere
Hammonds: 570 in the UK, 0 in the US, 130 elsewhere
SSD: 0 in Chambers UK 2011 / 16 in Chambers USA 2010 / 18 in Chambers Global 2010
Hammonds: 47 in Chambers UK 2011 / 0 in Chambers USA 2010 / 3 in Chambers Global 2010
Note: figures are taken either from Chambers publications, The Lawyer, Legal Week, The American Lawyer or the firms' former websites.
*Currency conversions use the exchange rate on the date of the merger 1 January 2011.
**This figure is for the Hammonds legacy component of Squire Sanders Hammonds.
† Lawyer numbers are approximate for 31 December 2010.
It's clear that SSD was the bigger beast: it had twice the revenue of Hammonds, twice the number of overseas offices, twice the number of overseas lawyers, six times the number of Chambers Global rankings, 50% higher PEP and double the revenue per lawyer. Where Hammonds did perhaps outstrip SSD was in the strength, breadth and standing of its domestic standing. To compare Hammonds' 47 Chambers UK rankings to SSD's 16 in Chambers USA isn't fair (the two have different numbers of categories). But we can compare SSD to US firms of a similar size. For example: pre-merger Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal had 33 Chambers USA rankings, while Duane Morris has 20 and Drinker Biddle has 28. (Again, this says nothing about the quality of SSD's work, only about the breadth and recognition of its lawyers.)
The financial figures above also help explain the decision to adopt a Swiss Verein model: given the discrepancy in revenue per lawyer and PEP between the two separate firms, operating with separate profit centres will have made good sense to the partners – especially those at SSD.
Main practice and jurisdictions compared
SSD and Hammonds were both full service firms. The latter had a strong practice across the UK, with offices located in England's four main legal/financial hubs (London, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester). London was the largest office with around 120 lawyers, Manchester the smallest with 60. Real estate was easily the firm's largest department pre-recession and just about remained so after 2008. The seats done by trainees indicate the broad range of the practice: corporate, banking, litigation, employment, commercial & IP, pensions and restructuring are all large departments. All of these are Chambers-ranked in at least two regions – all four of the firm's offices are recognised for their corporate, employment, pensions, real estate and litigation work. In London Hammonds mostly did mid-market work, but it played near the top of the league in most other locations. All this indicates the firm was a highly respected in terms of the quality and recognition of its work. Despite its seven overseas offices, the firm was less well recognised internationally. It had just three rankings in Chambers Global 2010 and six in Chambers Europe 2010.
Squire Sanders & Dempsey's practice in the US was, like Hammonds' in the UK, broad and full-service. Almost half of its lawyers worked in the corporate and litigation departments, which form the backbone of almost all top 100 American 'BigLaw' firms. It also had sizeable regulatory, environment, IP, labor & employment, finance, real estate and tax teams. All bar two of these practice areas were ranked in at least one state by Chambers USA. The firm was founded in Ohio, so its no surprise that it wins eight rankings in the state – almost all in the top two tiers. However, despite having over 150 lawyers in California, New York, Texas and Washington D.C. – arguably the US's four main legal/business hubs – it was not ranked in any of those states by Chambers USA.
Down and out in Bradford and Cleveland: Hammonds and Squire Sanders's culture compared
For many years Hammonds' trainees waxed lyrical about “friendly,” “down-to-earth” and “approachable” colleagues. Much as we despise these rather empty clichés, they seem to be borne out over many years of interviews. “Why do I love it here? It's the people. They really know what they're doing and are so passionate about their work, but they love life too.” Trainees also said how they “socialise a lot – including with NQs and some partners.” Hammonds was also a very enterprising firm; for the most part, this served the firm well, but at times management took some serious financial risks (just think of that £30m overdraft). Like most other UK firms, Hammonds invested a lot in trainees: LPC fees, maintenance grants, social budgets and the Oxford induction week. They clearly went beyond strict business needs.
Pre-merger SSD's London office was like that of “a typical American firm.” Most large English firms – Hammonds included – tend to have a strong social culture and bustling office environment; across the pond this is the exception rather than the rule. A few firms – Cleary Gottlieb, Willkie Farr – are known for their active firm social life, but SSD was not one of these. The London office was described by one source as “quiet in terms of culture and working environment.” No doubt its US offices were more lively – “collegial” is the word used by junior lawyers at most BigLaw firms to describe their working environment. Another thing common to the culture of such firms in a big focus on billing targets, salary, business needs and long hours.
SSD has been interested in European expansion for more than two decades and was known to be looking for a UK tie-up since at least 2006, at which point the firm had a decent Eastern European office network but lacked a real presence in Western Europe. Its 30-lawyer London office was much smaller than that of many of its US rivals. The Hammonds tie-up gave the firm the big London presence it wanted as well as European offices in Madrid, Paris, Berlin and Munich. But why expand overnight with a merger, rather than through slow steady grow? The reason is simple: competition. Despite revenue remaining strong, SSD went from being the 41st to 56th biggest law firm in the US between 2002 and 2010. In that period many firms' international growth outstripped that of SSD.
The Hammonds tie-up was an attempt not to get left behind while other firms went out to conquer the world. It provided a ready-made international network, which lawyers in the US could flaunt to current and prospective clients. This motivation seemed to be confirmed when the firm expanded in Australia in summer 2011. What Squire Sanders wants is to be part of a global elite: it wants to play with the big boys.
So what's in it for Hammonds? Well, that firm too has gained an international network and greater domestic prestige. But Hammonds did lose its brand and is very much the junior partner in this tie-up. We think legacy SSD managing partner Jim Maiwurm gave a pretty good summary of Hammonds' share in this relationship when he spoke to The Lawyer in August 2010: “A merger [will] appeal strongly to clients that want high-quality legal services from lawyers who [...]understand and respect client demand for value.” 'Demand for value' are the key words here. Firms around the world are slowly learning they need to run tighter leaner operations and that they need to cut back on things like social budgets, office equipment, secondments and recruitment. And US firms are learning this lesson quicker than UK ones. For Hammonds to have prevented the financial morass it entered in the mid-2000s, it would have done well to learn some financial lessons from US firms. In a more risky world economy there's safety in numbers: Hammonds (like any other firm) is much safer in the arms of its big burly American suitor than alone.
So, there is a grain of truth in John Quinn's quip about sinking stones. Hammonds and SSD are both firms that have struggled a little over the last ten years and failed to maintain their high-water mark position in the legal market. They have looked to each other to find the strength and success they haven't quite managed to achieve alone. That is a very different strategy to the one pursued by Quinn for his own firm, which is perhaps the source of his cynicism.