Charles Russell Speechlys is a full-service international law firm with one of the biggest private practices in Britain, with offices in London, Guildford and Cheltenham. The firm has a presence in ‘private capital’ hubs such as Doha, Dubai, Geneva, Luxembourg, Manama, Paris, Zurich, Singapore and Hong Kong. For law students who fancy trying a mix of private client work alongside corporate, family offices, litigation or real estate matters, this is a good place to start.
In 2022-23, firmwide revenue grew by 8.7%, to £193.7 million, largely driven by CRS’s non-UK practice, where turnover was boosted by 18%. Luxembourg, Paris and Switzerland delivered strongly for the firm, in combination with several partner hires and client wins. Although profit per equity partner slightly dipped from £524,000 to £521,000, the firm’s managing partner chalked this down to economic headwinds, a trend being seen with most law firms across the City and beyond. Charles Russell Speechlys is also looking for opportunities to grow – it opened its Singapore office in July 2023, and also announced it is launching a new practice focused on landing global private capital clients, the Private Office. This is expected to open in late September 2023, with a lateral hire from Barclays, Marcus Yorke-Long heading up the practice. So, if you’re looking to gain experience at UK-based firm with an ambitious international outlook and healthy balance of private client and transactional work, Charles Russell Speechlys may be a home for you.
In the UK, the firm takes around 25 trainees per year who are spread across the firm’s London, Guildford and Cheltenham offices. The size of the intake has the advantage that trainees may be given a fair amount of responsibility and client contact. The firm has recently launched a training contract offering in their Hong Kong office and will be recruiting for 2024, 2025 and 2026 when applications open in early October 2023.
Trainees are positive about the quality of the training at the firm. One enthuses: “there is an excellent level of responsibility and I feel like a valued member of the team, working on tasks that assist and progress matters instead of working on just administrative tasks”. We are also told that “the CRS Business School [a part of the firm which provides career development support] has developed tailored programmes to promote development and career progression, which is extremely valuable”.
Alongside private client work, trainees often get to sample the firm’s specialisms in property, litigation and general corporate and commercial work. “There’s a real effort to make sure everyone gets interesting work,” an insider reports. “Also, the issues that our UHNW/HNW [ultra-high net worth and high net worth] clients face are frequently highly bespoke, requiring actual analysis instead of replicating work based off of long-established precedents.” One trainee describes the firm as “a true leader in the private wealth realm”, while another summarises the quality of work on offer for rookies as “varied and appropriate to level, with progression throughout each seat”.
Trainees also report on having real camaraderie and friendships with their peers. One gushes: “The other trainees in the cohort are absolutely lovely, and we all get on really well. We are genuinely friends and it’s an amazing support system. NQs and other juniors in the team are generally really friendly, supportive and interested”. Although competition can be present in some seats, such strain is the exception rather than the rule, as “overall, everyone gets along great”. These sentiments are mirrored in trainee feedback on the approachability of their superiors. With “doors always open, and popping in to ask questions always welcomed”, Charles Russell Speechlys is big on support and friendliness, with the caveat of occasional grumpiness when catching someone at the wrong time. There is said to be “a very flat hierarchy, particularly in transactional teams” and this is enhanced by the fact that “some floors in the office are open plan which assists with breaking down barriers between juniors and seniors”.
The social life at Charles Russell Speechlys is also pretty good. Colleagues bond over departmental drinks events, and Winter parties — previous locations include the Natural History Museum in London. Summer parties are also said to be “great”. Current perks include subsidised gym membership, private healthcare, days off for moving house, dress for your day policy, and tennis on local courts once a week. For London staff, social events take place in the firm’s highly regarded in-house canteen-turned-pub, Charlie’s, whilst their Cheltenham counterparts head to the recently refurbished penthouse and the Guildford office get together for various activities such as the annual rounders tournament.
On the IT front, the firm “has all the classic tech” including “Luminance etc”, although “not the strongpoint of the firm,” according to one spy, “and not really pushed”. The firm operates flexible working with everyone working three days in the office and two at home — individuals have choice over which days they spend at home. It provides monitors, keyboards, mouses and headphones and “regularly check that your setup is suitable by providing training”, leading to one trainee finding working from home a “seamless” experience.
The money is pretty good too — especially in view of the decent work/life balance. Charles Russell Speechlys has a fairly strong reputation in this regard, with trainees speaking of “ebbs and flows”, “peaks and troughs” and “some late nights and occasional weekends”. Typical hours seem to be around 9.00am-6.45pm. Generally, the trainees recognise they have a better deal than their peers at many other commercial law and financial services firms, and report that when work does ramp up they always feel supported by their superiors.
The London office, at 5 Fleet Place, is “very swanky, newly decorated” and the “9th floor in 5FP is particularly impressive”. The Guildford office refurb was also based on the London office and fosters a collaborative working space. One spy reports that the older floors in the London office are due to be refurbished, so watch this space. Elsewhere, a relatively recent refurbishment of the Cheltenham office “really worked wonders” whilst the Guildford office comes with a highly recommended coffee machine – essential stuff for busy lawyers!
There is also a chance of going on a secondment, both client and international. Destinations include Morgan Stanley, private equity firm Actis and, internationally, in Zurich, Geneva, Paris, Luxembourg, Dubai and Hong Kong.