Two massive American mergers in under five years have transformed what used to be the UK's Hammonds into a global mega firm...
What's in a name?
“We've had four name changes since I applied here,” pointed out several second-years, nearing the end of their training contracts during our calls. They'd applied to Hammonds, a mid-sized UK firm with offices in Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and London, plus a sprinkling abroad. They'd joined Squire Sanders Hammonds, thanks to the 2011 merger with huge American firm Squire Sanders, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. The Hammonds name soon disappeared from the masthead. Then, in May 2014, Squire Sanders agreed to merge with another big US law firm, Washington, DC-based Patton Boggs, known especially for its political lobbying and Middle Eastern practices. Squire Patton Boggs was born. In July, yet another merger, though this time on a much smaller scale, boosted SPB's presence in Tokyo.
All this begs the million-dollar question: is the firm today very different to the one its trainees thought they were joining? “Yes and no,” was the verdict. One grasped the nettle with both hands by telling us: “I worried! I'd applied to Hammonds because it was a smaller, European-focused firm with some international offices. I wanted a more collegiate, less international firm. But my fears haven't materialised.” Others also gave the thumbs-up: “They have focused on keeping the culture steady. The managing partner has maintained a UK LLP independent spirit.” Squire Sanders had a London office for some time before merging with Hammonds, so it wasn't as if our transatlantic cousins suddenly pitched up out of nowhere, interviewees stressed. On the whole, they hadn't experienced gulp-inducing shifts in culture or the nature of their work, but viewed their firm's vastly expanded international network as “mutually beneficial” as it opens up “more access to work” – especially for those “in departments like corporate and banking.” For others on the ground in London and the regions “there hasn't been a much greater international element than we would have had anyway with Hammonds.”
So, on to future trainees. Two interesting things distinguish Squire Patton Boggs: the fast-track LPC at BPP Law School followed by a three-month client secondment before the training contract begins, and a three-week trainee induction in Leeds when it starts. Pre-TC client secondments – options include concerts and ticketing giant Live Nation –“give you a bit of a head start. It's good to get into the office environment before starting, and it had been a couple of years since they'd interviewed us. There were lots of opportunities to talk to partners for my particular client, and you get an insight into what clients want.” Next, first-years from all four offices live together in a Leeds hotel for their three induction weeks – a heady mix of “getting most of the PSC out of the way,” team-building activities (like making clothes from piles of rubbish for a fashion show), introductions to essentials like IT and research services, social outings (eg a cinema night), and dinners galore. “It's great to get to know people," interviewees reported. "They can be your gateway in future if you need to pick up the phone to other offices.” Various big hitters like office heads turn up to some events, while others are strictly for trainees only. We can only pray that the 'retro sports day' was restricted to newbies – the spectacle of sweaty partners bouncing around in sacks or racing with eggs on spoons is too mind-boggling for us to imagine.
Trainees loved doing more, shorter seats (the firm runs a six-seat programme) as they “give you as much exposure as possible.” But sources acknowledged the potential downside that you “might not get to see things through” on longer assignments, as you have to up sticks to the next department. There are lots of seat options in each office, and some vary according to when there is or isn't a need in a particular team for a trainee.
Corporate is “big nationwide and globally” (though “not so big in Manchester,” where “real estate is the engine, though it all works together a lot, as some is corporate support work”). The “bread and butter is M&A, private acquisitions and private equity. The remainder is public company work, and there are some big international clients.” A “baptism of fire,” corporate is “one of the seats where quite a lot is expected of you” time-wise (“a few late nights”), but it also provides “some of the juiciest, big-value deals.” Another “worked with the London office on some big cross-border deals. Trainees get involved and run smaller aspects, like the disclosure process. They will give you a certain amount of trust if you show you're capable.” UK transactions are typically mid-market: “£5m or £6m to several hundred million” in value. One fairly recent highlight was advising on the UK aspects of US billionaire Shahid Khan's acquisition of Fulham Football Club from Mohamed Al Fayed (a deal which also involved US and Bermuda jurisdictions).
“There's always a bit of grunt work in transactional departments,” a source reflected. The financial services team is no different, although people praised responsibility levels here too. “A partner came into my office and said 'look I'll supervise you, but this is yours'.” Long hours are inevitable as deals head for closure, but so is “champagne all over the place” when they do complete. Trainees often find themselves working with colleagues in other offices, as clients include large banks on “chunky deals,” and there's “a lot of cross-referral” from and to other departments like real estate. For example, lawyers from both teams acted for Lloyds Bank in a large-scale portfolio refinancing by IM Properties (one of the UK's largest privately-owned property companies).
Real estate teams at law firms around the world took a battering during the Great Recession. Here, “it's picked up outrageously well. Lots of recruiters are on the phone to people interested in real estate roles, and for the first time in six years there's a dearth of candidates for jobs,” one trainee glowed. The group has been busy for some very large and impressive clients, notably multisite retailers, public bodies (like councils), developers, charities, financiers, even the National Grid. “This was a seat and a half, I can tell you! I think I forgot I was a trainee in this seat. It was 'here is the file, there you go – over to you'.” There's plenty of work to do on "huge lease portfolios” and “massive refinancing deals,” among other things. Clients include Cancer Research UK, TfL, Birmingham City Council, and jewellery retailer Signet. “I ran small files by myself and helped on large transactions as part of the team,” said one source. Aiding ongoing regeneration in Liverpool, SPB recently advised investors (supported by a government grant) backing the development of the decades-empty iconic Royal Insurance Building into a trendy hotel (not to be confused with the famous Royal Liver Building, which looks pretty similar but is still very much functioning).
The highly regarded pensions team often appeals to trainees not (necessarily) because of the inherent fascinating-ness of all things pensions per se, but because it provides a good opportunity to experience some black-letter law, and “mash your brain.” In four months “you don't have the time to learn all the depth and breath of pensions law, so trainees have more of an assisting role.” Another source said: “Pensions sounds boring but this couldn't be further than the truth. It has truly lovely people, self-confessed geeks, who are very social.” Lawyers often act for trustees of pension schemes, for example “drafting deeds of appointment and termination, monitoring a piece of legislation, and updating people if there are any changes.” Clients include the Trustees of the ICI Pension Fund, the Norfolk Pension Fund, and the trustees of two schemes sponsored by Thames Water.
Far from boggs standard
In litigation, “right from the get-go I had high responsibility, running my own files from beginning to end.” A colleague found it was “the epitome of what you think a lawyer is supposed to be – running into court at the last minute with documents.” Among other things, the department is doing a lot of high-volume PPI (payment protection insurance) claims, acting for the banks. Over in property litigation, people are similarly “incredibly busy,” dealing with “hundreds of properties at any one time,” often lease renewal claims acting for clients of the real estate team like Cancer Research UK and Signet. Again, “high-volume work” means good responsibility in the form of “lots of client contact by phone, calling into court every day, and filing claims.” Other areas of dispute resolution specialisms include environmental (such as fracking), and health and safety defence work for companies when an employee has been injured at work (or worse). But for one source, the main benefit of their contentious seat was that “I came out knowing that I didn't want to be a litigious lawyer. You either are or you aren't. I'm not.” Litigation clients include European football governing body UEFA, Chelsea FC, ABN AMRO, and a very large public company, which is being advised on a very big cross-border matter (sorry, we can't be any more specific than that as it's ongoing).
Trainees “really enjoyed” their time in labour and employment, describing it as “an incredible team, really enthusiastic,” which provides “good commercial training” as it does work that's very “contracts-based.” Clients include advertising and PR giant WPP, Investec Bank, US Airways, and hotels group Marriott. In Leeds, SPB has long-standing relationships with (and provides all their employment work for) FTSE 100 companies Tesco, Amec and Smith & Nephew. For these large clients, trainees may get “decent client contact by phone” getting stuck into volume-driven work, which can include anything from a “straightforward misconduct case” to “litigation around holiday pay.” Other clients include Greggs, TM Lewin and Rolex. More seat options include IP, which is “mostly non-contentious;” regulatory; tax; and restructuring and insolvency, “a mix of litigious and non-litigious work.” Restructuring can see some huge cases and be “very document-heavy,” but also opportunities to meet clients, and take and draft witness statements.
Client secondments are particularly popular among London trainees, though some in all four UK offices do them, usually in their second or third seat. Current options include Tesco and Live Nation. They typically learn what will be coming up during their mid-seat review. Two overseas seats are also available, in Paris and Brussels, the latter being slightly more competitive because it is an English-speaking office. Hong Kong and Madrid used to be options too but aren't any more (Madrid owing to regulatory changes there), and given the firm's recent global expansion it will be interesting to keep an eye on developments to see if any other overseas destinations become offered in the future. We've already heard of a trainee being sent to Riyadh, and one to Sydney, in the past year; you can bet your bottom dollar that similar ad hoc postings will follow, when needed.
The Leeds office is “about to get refurbished,” but gossiping trainees didn't know any details apart from believing that the “traditional layout” of external offices around a bank of secretaries and paralegals will be preserved. Popular trainee watering holes in Leeds' new Trinity mall are The Alchemist, and The Botanist –“one of the places we have drinks during induction” – as well as “poncy wine bar” Angelica. “A lot of support services are based in Leeds too, so it's a very important office,” one source here was keen to emphasize. Manchester trainees chill out when they can in the city's huge Spinningfields development, which featured in the BBC documentary Restaurant Wars, as well as the Ape & Apple and Restaurant Bar & Grill next to the office on John Dalton Street. In Birmingham, Metro is the property team's preferred hangout, while trainees here also visit Utopia, and Asha's (for award-winning Indian cuisine), among other destinations. The “pretty flashy” London office, near Liverpool Street Station, has had dollars spent on it recently, we heard, and boasts a top terrace. The Magpie, and Devonshire Terrace, are popular nearby pubs – though we heartily recommend a trip up the road to the American-themed Diner in Shoreditch to make those visiting US colleagues feel at home.
20 out of 26 NQs stayed with the firm.
How to get a Squire Patton Boggs training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2015
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2015
Applications and assessments
Squire Patton Boggs' academic criteria are a minimum 300 UCAS points and 2:1 in any degree. Applicants – both those aiming for a vacation scheme place and those gunning directly for a training contract – who impress on paper go on to attend an assessment day, which normally lasts for two days. This starts with a welcome from HR, trainees and partners about the firm and the training contract.
The day also involves an interview with two partners, a group exercise and a mini-seat in a single department. There are lots of opportunities for questions and networking throughout to get a real sense of the firm. From here the firm makes its vacation scheme offers and, later, its training contract offers.
The firm plans to offer more than 30 training contracts for the 2015 application round. In a given year it usually receives around 1,350 applications.
Vacation scheme placements are available at all of Squire Patton Boggs' UK offices and last two weeks. There are around 40 places available in total. Attendees sit in two departments over the course of their visit and get to offer preferences on these beforehand. They typically do live work, occasionally attend meetings with partners, and have the opportunity to ask questions to senior figures (like office heads and trainee supervisors) during various forums.
There are social events to get involved with too, such as drinks outings, a day at the dogs and quiz nights.
As with vac schemes anywhere, don't forget that you'll be on show at all times. No need to get paranoid, but remember to show yourself off at your best whenever you can. For example, if the trainee you're working with is working late, stay with them, or at the very least ask if there's anything else you can help them with before you head home that evening.
Vac schemers have an interview during the second week of the scheme, along with a group exercise and individual pitch presentation.
How to wow
According to head of graduate recruitment Richard Morton, "we're looking for character and individuality. Everyone's very bright. Roughly half of our trainees got Firsts, but that's not the be-all and end-all. We want to see your personality shining off the page of your application." That said, he's quick to add that you shouldn't come across as "wacky or anything ludicrous like that."
Of the interview, Morton has this to say: "Candidates are so well drilled these days. I will ask people questions – proper, difficult questions. Some say 'I can't answer that'. I reply, 'yes you can. Think!'" One such question he's asked in the past is 'Without using your hands, describe how to do the butterfly swimming stroke'. "We don't learn anything by asking things like 'Why do you want to become a lawyer?' We don't want to hear the stock answers they just gave to another firm."
The firm will, however, ask why you want to join Squire Patton Boggs. Morton cautions against trotting off "'because I want to join a big international firm'. That tells us nothing."
He goes on to say: "Everyone always says we're friendly and open, but one of the things that attracts trainees to us is we do recruiting in a very personal way. They're not just numbers. I personally call people to tell them they've got a job or haven't. I attend universities. We do take an interest." Indeed, following the 2014 summer vac scheme, "I called students personally, then texted them, then asked a trainee to get in touch saying 'call us if you have any questions'," he says. "No other firm is doing this. We want to provide support and answer any questions they may have as they're going through university."
Pre-training contract client secondments
Something that sets Squire Patton Boggs apart from other firms is the the three-month pre-training contract client secondments it requires of its incoming trainees. "It requires an awful lot of confidence from us to put them before clients before they've even started working us," Morton admits. "We have that confidence in them because we spent a lot of time getting to know them."
So who exactly is (or rather was) Patton Boggs?
Our sister student guide for American law students, Chambers Associate, interviewed lots of junior Patton Boggs lawyers as well as its top management earlier this year for the latest edition, which launched in June. While the guide was at the printers, Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs announced their merger. You can read what we wrote about Patton Boggs (and while you're at it, take a look at our write-up of Squire Sanders in the US).
In a nutshell, Patton Boggs was one of America's biggest and most prestigious law firms, known especially for it top notch Washington, DC political lobbying practice (and lots of other government-related work). It's long had a strong Middle East practice, and does a wide range of other transactional and litigation work besides.
Movers and shakers of the DC political scene at the firm have included the late Tommy Boggs himself (who passed away in September 2014), Nick Allard (who since 2012 has also been Dean of Brooklyn Law School) and, until fairly recently, Ben Ginsberg, a stalwart of the Republican movement who was presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign lawyer. You can read our personal "5 Minutes With" interview with him here.
Note that we said Ben Ginsberg was here 'until fairly recently' – he was one of several prominent partners who left the firm around the time of the merger with Squire Sanders. In the months before the merger was announced, Patton Boggs' future was the subject of much speculation in the legal press. It had experienced a tricky 2013, with two large rounds of redundancies in that year alone. The firm had also been embroiled in long-running, costly litigation with oil giant Chevron over pollution in Ecuador (Patton Boggs was playing David to Chevron's Goliath, on the side of indigenous tribes whose lives were wrecked by the mighty corporation). This troublesome case finally settled in May 2014 – read about it here. With this obstacle finally out of the way, the path was clear for the merger.
Graduate recruitment partner Richard Morton tells us that the "importance of the merger with Patton Boggs is immeasurable." He highlights exciting additions to Squire Sanders' business including a "much bigger platform in Washington, DC," increased access to Texas through Patton Boggs' offices there ("we're now incredibly powerful in oil and gas"), and a much-strengthened presence in the Middle East, where there is obviously oil money galore and "lots of work for sovereign funds."
So, he concludes, "from the US perspective it's a real game changer." UK lawyers can expect a slice of the action too whenever they're needed to advise on the UK aspects of international deals (or contentious matters, for that matter). And such cross-border work is not restricted to those who work in the capital, as Morton emphasises: "Lots of international work is done from UK offices outside London."
Squire Patton Boggs
7 Devonshire Square,
2 Park Lane,
- Assistant Solicitors 1500
- Total Trainees 40
- Contact Graduate Recruitment Team
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Assessment and interview
- Closing date for 2017 31 July 2015
- Training contracts p.a. 20
- Applications p.a. 1,500
- % interviewed p.a. 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training Salary
- 1st year (2014) £23,500 regional £35,000 London
- 2nd year (2014) £26,000 regional £37,000 London
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. 30%
- No. of seats available abroad p.a. 6
- Salary (2014) London £58,000 Other £37,000
- % of trainees accepting job on qualification (2014) 80%
- Overseas offices Squire Patton Boggs Legal Counsel World Wide has offi ces in the USA, South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. For a complete list of our offi ces, please visit our website.
Main areas of work