Slaughter and May's multi-specialist approach: how lawyers work here and why it works

A partner on why the firm's unusual way of doing things is good for its clients and the careers of its lawyers
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Slaughter and May is one of the world's leading law firms. Its lawyers act for more FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies than any other firm and are regularly instructed on some of the City's biggest, most complex and most high-profile matters, recently including Cadbury's takeover by Kraft and British Airways' tie-up with American Airlines and Iberia.

Why do so many top corporate clients keep choosing Slaughter and May? Well, it may well have something to do with its "multi-specialist" approach.

Rather than focusing on particular kinds of deal or dispute as most City solicitors do, Slaughter and May lawyers are trained to be able to help their clients with a wide variety of legal issues.

Multi-specialism as a partner

Robert Byk, a partner in Slaughter and May's London office, describes his work as "a broad corporate and finance practice with an emphasis on financing" and has an impressive range of different deals on the go when we speak.

"At the moment, I'm working on an aircraft finance deal, an investment grade loan, a refinancing of a company, the planning phase of an IPO, loan amendments, a company's remuneration issues and a potential securitisation as well," he says.

"Clients are organic, living beings that get involved in lots of different things," says Robert, "and we can assist them with all of these." As an example, he mentions a Mexican building materials company he's been working with for over ten years.

"I worked as an associate on the acquisition by them of a UK company and since then have done derivatives work, a bond issue, and an acquisition in Australia. In 2008-9, I was involved in their restructuring, and we just recently completed a refinancing."

His long-term involvement with this client on a range of matters has allowed Robert to build a close working relationship with the company: "For us and our clients," he says, "things work really well if we understand their businesses and know all the background to their deals."

Through the multi-specialist approach, Slaughter and May lawyers are able to bring a rounded perspective. As Robert says: "I believe I'm able to think about the issues in a transaction in a way that a narrowly-focused lawyer would be less comfortable with or able to do - to use techniques, structures and mechanisms from all sorts of types of transactions to structure innovative solutions for clients."

At another firm, Robert's aircraft finance deal might be passed on to the asset finance group, but Robert asks: "Is that group the best placed to do my client's aircraft financing? I've known this client for a long period and can deliver a tailored solution with specific input, if necessary, from other lawyers."

This inclination to stay alongside clients means that at Slaughter and May a primarily transactional lawyer like Robert might even guide his clients through the initial stages of a dispute. "One of my litigation partners would also help," he says, "but I would remain involved."

Multi-specialism as a trainee

Slaughter and May trainees also do many different kinds of legal work, due to the varied nature of the matters their supervisors get involved in, and also because lawyers at the firm prefer to work in small teams.

"I will often find just myself and a junior lawyer up against between five and ten people at another firm," says Robert, "so here you probably see more elements of a matter than you would elsewhere."

In addition, "we don't silo our trainees," says Robert. "They work on transactions where assistance is needed, and we keep an eye on what people are involved in to ensure a good breadth of work."

Robert sees the firm's multi-specialist approach as a "significant advantage" for junior lawyers. "I think experiencing as much variety as possible in the early stages of your career improves you as a lawyer and a person and keeps you motivated."

The professional flexibility trainees at the firm develop also gives them significant benefits as they progress in their legal careers. "Multi-specialism means, for example, that our lawyers can switch between areas when there's a downturn," says Robert.

"During the financial crisis, work in a number of practice areas significantly diminished and at some firms lawyers that were over-specialised were left without transactions to work on. But as multi-specialists, our lawyers were able to increase their involvement in busier practice areas. Multi-specialism contributed to our ability to avoid associate redundancies, which many other firms unfortunately had to put in place."

In Robert's view, Slaughter and May lawyers also have an advantage over their peers if they eventually choose to move in-house: "It's very likely that a corporate will want lawyers who can do a variety of work," says Robert. "And our training widens your experience and strengthens you as you develop as a lawyer."

Image: Dane Brian (https://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/)