Sidley Austin

Born of a NY/Chicago merger, Sidley Austin LLP has garnered a reputation in the City for its structured finance and securitisation practice. The firm’s major work also includes M&A, capital markets, corporate reorganisation and bankruptcy, regulatory, insurance, funds and dispute resolution. With 100 lawyers, it has one of the largest London offices for a US law firm.

8.6 / 10 8 reviews Overall Satisfaction

Dynamic and compelling.

201 employee reviews - read more


  • Lots of opportunities for informal training, associates especially are very approachable and a good source of advice
  • Hands on experience from the start
  • Magic Circle level work divided amongst a much smaller trainee intake
  • Although the firm is one of the largest in the world, the London office has a small, relaxed and collegial atmosphere


  • Unpredictability of the work load means hours vary and can be long in certain departments
  • Heavily finance-orientated, so make sure you enjoy it
  • While the trainee group is very close, a strong socialising culture is lacking – not that many firm social events
  • Trainees are thrown in at the deep end

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Chicago based Sidley Austin first opened in London as a US law office, in 1974. After converting into a multinational practice in 1994, it merged with New York firm Brown & Wood, in 2001. The alliance gave Sidley a combined 222 years of experience and some 80 lawyers, many of whom worked in structured finance and securitisation – making the firm a real competitor to the Magic Circle in this sector. However, compared to its UK rivals, Sidley has a relatively small City headcount with 100 English and US-qualified lawyers currently practising in the firm’s London office.

Since the merger, Sidley Austin LLP has expanded into Europe and beyond its comfort zone in finance – which is an impressive undertaking given the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis on the industry. Apart from international finance, the firm’s major work also includes M&A, capital markets, corporate reorganisation and bankruptcy, regulatory, insurance, funds and dispute resolution.

Sidley’s corporate practice in London doesn’t enjoy the reputation of its US counterpart, mainly due to the lack of headline-grabbing M&A deals. Owing to this, Sidley is often wrongly overlooked on the list of successful US firms in the City. The London office has worked on high profile M&A deals, such as acting for FLIR Systems Inc. in relation to the acquisition of Raymarine, listed on the London Stock Exchange, and can boast involvement in highly intricate transactions and some of its domestic and cross-border legal advice enjoys international renown. Particularly the firm’s corporate reorganisation and bankruptcy department has established itself prominently in the market. Other City work includes tax, real estate, competition, employment, intellectual property and commercial.

While Sidley’s presence in Europe extends to Brussels, Frankfurt and Geneva, the London outpost is the firm’s largest in Europe. In spite of the firm’s US roots, its approach to London is distinctly Anglophile. The management is all British over here, and has a say in every crucial decision. London lawyers focus on domestic and cross-border matters, and have been involved in major transactions, such as acting for Western Union in relation to its acquisition of Travelex Global Business Payments division, a leading specialist provider of international business payments, for £606 million in cash. The global outlook of the firm is reflected across all of its practices. London’s structured debt finance group, for instance, forms part of an international team of 200 lawyers who operate across Europe, Asia and the US.

Apart from offering world-class legal services, Sidley Austin LLP is also involved in pro bono work with the firm’s employees dedicating almost 100,000 hours to pro bono projects in 2012. Current US initiatives involve the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Veterans Benefits Project. In the UK, London lawyers have been involved in providing legal advice to not-for-profit organisations such as the Community Youth Provisions Association, the Hawkesbury After School Club and Watford Women’s Centre.

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With 19 offices scattered around the world, Sidley is a global firm. While applicants don’t necessarily need to come from an international background, you should recognise the firm’s international approach to work. The London office takes on a small number of trainees, with only around 10 training contracts available for outstanding candidates. Hence excellent academic qualifications are a prerequisite – the firm expects applicants to have achieved at least two As and one B at A-level, and a 2:1 degree in either law or a non-legal discipline.

However, it’s not just about proving you’ve got the intellectual stamina, but also about demonstrating a genuine interest in the work the firm does, especially in finance. As one trainee advises, ‘be up to date on current developments in the business and finance world. Read the business pages of a broad sheet newspaper and the FT if possible’. You also need to show you’ve got the communication skills to work well in teams and interact with clients appropriately. Sidley wants people who are ‘hard working, sociable and friendly’, so that they will fit in with the firm’s culture.

Training opportunities particularly reflect Sidley’s open-door policy, which encourages trainees to ‘just pop in anyone's office and ask any question that we have’. Solicitors and partners are ‘very accessible’ and are said to make good mentors. The formal training programme is taken seriously, and the firm organises training sessions ‘across the office and for the particular practice groups’. During the training contract, trainees typically do four seats, ‘although some of the seats are for three months only’, allowing for more choice. There is also the opportunity to complete a seat in the firm’s Brussels office so it’s worth polishing up your French as the foreign seat is very popular. Expect the quality of the work to be very good and the nature of the work you’ll be doing ‘to range from multi-national securitisations to discrete research tasks and bibling’.

An online application kicks off the recruitment process and if successful, candidates will have to complete a short online aptitude test, followed by a one-hour interview with two partners. There may not be any assessment days, but ‘this doesn't mean that it is easier than other firms’ to obtain a coveted training contract. Expect to be grilled on a range of topics varying from ‘the technical to the commercial and to the personal’. Questions will also focus on your career plans and your commercial acumen, and although the interview will be pretty intense, it is ‘not stressful as the partners are very nice’.


Sidley Austin Graduate Recruitment Info

Lucy Slater
Tel: +44 (0)20 7360 3600

Application Deadlines
Training Contracts: 31st July 2013

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No. of lawyers firm-wide: 1,700
No. of lawyers in London: 100
London Partners: 40
London Associates/Counsel: 61
London Trainee intake: 10
London Trainees retained: 100% (2013)


# 1 in Diversity (8.5/10)
# 1 in Salary (9.13/10)
# 2 in Satisfaction with Work (8.75/10)
# 3 in Informal Training & Mentoring (8.5/10)
# 4 in Interview Process (8/10)
# 5 in Formal Training (8.5/10)
# 5 in Overall Satisfaction (8.63/10)
# 8 in Hours (7.75/10)
# 8 in Offices & Dress (8.5/10)
# 14 (tie) in Culture (8.25/10)

# 41 in Top 50 Law Firms (5.61/10)


1st year trainee: £41,000
2nd year trainee: £43,000
Newly qualified: £72,000
1 year PQE: £82,500
2 years PQE: £92,500
3 years PQE: £102,500

Compare 2014 Law Firm Salaries


Corporate Reorganisation & Bankruptcy
Debt & Equity Capital Markets
Dispute Resolution
Financial Services Regulatory
Hedge Funds & Other Investment Funds
Intellectual Property
International Finance, inclu. Structured Finance
Real Estate & Real Estate Finance

Office space is quite good, but some offices end up looking smaller as people tend to have folders and papers overflowing. That just depends on the individual, but everyone does have enough room. The location is very good as Bank and Moorgate stations are only a short distance away. The facilities are not bad as there are kitchenettes all conveniently located on each floor, a cafeteria for the whole building and a gym. The dress code is smart casual. People often keep a spare smart suit or equivalent for client meetings.

Read all reviews in Offices & Dress

The small size of the teams means that in terms of career development it permits early responsibility and enables exposure to a healthy diet of varied work. Opportunities to attend more client meetings would be welcomed.

Read all reviews in Satisfaction with Work

Generally I think this depends on the partner in question, but on the whole, individual partners are very approachable and happy to answer any questions you may have.

Read all reviews in Partner & Solicitor Relations

The client base, diversity of work and international aspect.

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London Office:
Woolgate Exchange
25 Basinghall Street
London EC2V 5HA
Tel:+44 (0)20 7360 3600

No. of worldwide offices: 19
Hong Kong
Los Angeles
New York
Palo Alto
San Francisco
Washington DC