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Revealed: the law firms that trainees and junior lawyers most admire

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Magic circle tag still carries kudos, but what about the rest?

admired

‘Which law firm other than your own do you most admire?’ That was the question we asked to over 1,500 trainees and junior lawyers at 56 leading City of London law firms as part of our recent corporate law survey.

This was an opportunity to see which outfits enjoyed the best reputation, rather than explore — as we did with our other survey questions — how firms were rated by their own employees.

Below, in no particular order, are the top ten most admired firms. We’ll be announcing the winner at the Legal Cheek Awards on Thursday 16 March.

Freshfields

OK, so your non-law mates think it’s some kind of organic supermarket, but those in the profession know that Freshfields is a big deal.

The solicitors to the Bank of England — whose roots go all the way back to 1743 — is these days a highly modern legal machine, with frontline experts advising on the law in London while admin and tech staff support them up the road in Manchester. It’s an efficient approach that has seen the megfirm — which has 28 offices globally — top the magic circle partner profitability league. And where money goes in corporate law, kudos tends to follow.

Read Freshfields’ full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Latham & Watkins

The anti-homelessness spikes adorning the exterior of Latham’s London office are reflected in the raw attitude within of a firm that takes no prisoners.

“There is no formal training” at Latham, an insider at the firm tells us, “just doing”. But what did you expect at an organisation where the NQ salary is £124,000?

It seems that Latham’s rookie lawyers respect the honesty of this compact, which also comes with top quality work (alongside a fair bit of not so top quality admin). But be careful what you wish for: Latham is a way of life as much as a job, with the hours pithily summed up by one London trainee as “7 on a good day, you don’t [leave] on a bad day”.

Read Latham’s full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Slaughter and May

Fusty, contrarian and cult-like are all words commonly associated with Slaughter and May. Certainly the firm’s refusal to follow the law firm herd is notable. From never merging, to declining to open up mass networks of international offices, to shunning lateral partner hires, to ignoring Twitter — Slaughters’ past is littered with decisions that are widely mocked at the time. Yet, year after year, this firm is the most profitable in the magic circle.

And judging by the responses to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey ‘Most Admired’ question, the firm that supposedly shuns marketing — until a couple of years ago its partners ran its press office — is a master of the art.

Read Slaughters’ full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Pinsent Masons

One of the most tech savvy law firms out there is reaping dividends as innovation in the legal profession goes mainstream. With its close ties to lawtech guru Professor Richard Susskind — who is a consultant — Pinsents has long been at the forefront of driving efficiencies in the delivery of legal services. How many other firms have a director of innovation and a research & development department that has built its own artificial intelligence tool?

But Pinsents isn’t a mere geek show. The firm has top notch lawyers doing real lawyering, with particularly highly rated real estate, projects and finance teams. An approach that sees it treat all offices equally — rather than use some as outsourcing centres — wins respect in the regions. The secret to Pinsents’ success in becoming so admired by trainees and young lawyers seems to be in the successful way it combines all of these sometimes contradictory strands.

Read Pinsents’ full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Herbert Smith Freehills

From its funky, spaceship-style London headquarters, to its chambers-esque advocacy unit that employs various QCs, Herbert Smith Freehills has a way of doing things that is slightly different from the corporate law mainstream.

Stacked full of highly intelligent self-starters, the firm is rated as one of the best places to train in the City and has a reputation for churning out commercially-savvy independent thinkers.

Add to this a vast international network of 26 offices in 20 different countries, which provide some of the best secondment opportunities out there, and it’s obvious why HSF is such a coveted destination for young lawyers.

Read Herbies’ full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Linklaters

From its understated home opposite the Barbican in London, Links oozes class and mystique. The firm’s training is world famous, with instruction delivered by senior lawyers who are “technically brilliant with absolute dedication to excellence”. Those who make it through develop into some of the most respected professionals in the law.

But the prevalence of alpha males and females makes for a sometimes “Hunger Games-esque” environment where a generally nice atmosphere can give way to moments of “stepping on others to get ahead”. Ultimately, though, if you are good you progress. This is a modern and highly meritocratic institution where sky high partner profits are maintained by only promoting the very best.

Read Linklaters’ full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Mishcon de Reya

The clever little firm located round the back of Holborn Tube station certainly has many gifts — chief among them gaining good publicity. Whether it’s Brexiteers picketing the firm’s office (Mishcon has been leading the challenge against the invoking of Article 50 by prerogative power) or celebrity clients getting papped as they stop by for a bit of high value legal advice, this practice always manages to find itself in the limelight.

Right now Mishcon has huge momentum, having moved into a very fancy new gaff into which entry is via a kind of avant garde cocktail bar (allowing visitors to furnish themselves with sushi and martinis while they wait) and seen profit per equity partner smash the £1 million mark. No wonder so many of London’s legal youth want to work here!

Read Mishcon de Reya’s full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Allen & Overy

The firm which famously advised King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936 has long since gravitated from wealthy private clients to corporates and financial institutions. But its partners still have a knack for bringing in the very biggest names. Current clients include Goldman Sachs, RBS, Aviva and News UK.

With Allen & Overy’s almost trendy headquarters in Spitalfields Market, and hefty social media reach (A&O has the most Twitter followers of any magic circle firm), the firm is also relatively down with the kids. Top scores for perks, food and international secondment opportunities have cemented its ‘Most Admired’ status.

Read Allen & Overy’s full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Bird & Bird

One of the strongest overall performers in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, this firm is rated not just by its own lawyers but by those at other firms.

Ever since Bird & Bird became one of the first law firms to establish its own website, choosing the quirky domain name twobirds.com way back in 1995, it’s been clear that this is an organisation that understands branding. Certainly it has helped that Bird & Bird’s origins are in the sexy area of telecommunications, media and technology.

But it’s notable that as the firm has widened its focus to include more standard corporate and finance work it has managed to preserve a very positive image. A justified reputation for work/life balance and friendliness doubtless helps.

Read Bird & Bird’s full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.

Clifford Chance

Did we ever mention that Clifford Chance has a swimming pool? With images of the firm’s lawyers gliding orca-like through its watery depths, the evening sun lighting up their handsome faces as it sets behind Canary Wharf’s towers, before they head back up to their desks to drive through some billion dollar deal, is it any wonder that myths abound about this place?

Ultimately, though, CC’s status derives from being highly profitable — if you are in any doubt about how much money this firm makes check out the stellar financial results it released earlier this month. Add that to the reputation for being modern, international and diverse, alongside offering some of the best perks in the business (CC lawyers get not just a swimming pool but also a service that delivers steaks to their desk), and you’ve got one hell of a package.

Read Clifford Chance’s full Legal Cheek survey scorecard here.


The winner of each shortlisted category of the Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey will be announced at the Legal Cheek Awards on the evening of Thursday 16 March.