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 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.
Charles Russell Speechlys expects to grow considerably outside the UK in the next few years, if its latest statements are anything to go by. It reported firmwide revenue growth of 3% in the year to the end of April 2022, with its overseas business doing a lot of the heavy lifting― revenue growth outside the UK increased by 24%. This was achieved, according to the firm’s financial statement, by new client wins in Switzerland, Paris, Luxembourg and the Middle East offices, an increase in “high-profile work across complex transactional, tax and advisory, and contentious practices for private clients, corporates, as well as private capital-led transactions for individuals with global interests and their family offices”.
Net profits grew by 1.3% to £40.1m, with average profit per equity partner (PEP) down slightly to £526,000 compared with last year’s £533,000. Don’t let a dip in PEP put you off, however. This year’s relatively tame financials rest on the back of impressive growth last year, when PEP rocketed 40%, revenues rose 8.5% and the firm launched an international tax team.
Moreover, the firm says it expects to continue to grow outside the UK and anticipates lateral hires that will reinforce this. So, if you’re looking to gain experience at UK based firm with an ambitious international outlook, Charles Russell Speechlys may be a home for you.
The firm , takes around 26 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 training at the firm is excellent,” enthuses one trainee. “I have learned so much from the teams I have been in, including directly from Partners. It is a perfect combination between being given enough responsibility so that you develop your skills and become very confident, but also being provided with support, supervision, and clear explanations. There are also various departmental and firm wide presentations/ know-how which trainees attend, that are very useful.”
Like with my firms, it can vary between seats, of course. Another rookie tells us: “Training in some teams such as Employment & Immigration and Real Estate Disputes is high quality legal training, with trainees helping to run matters and perform impactful legal work. In others, such as some of the LDR teams and the TT&S team, it amounts to billing and bundling with very little actual legal work.” Quality of remote supervision also varies, with some teams fully embracing a hybrid/ remote work environment and others coming into the office more regularly. But on the whole, the Charles Russell training experience gets a firm thumbs-up.
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.”
The partners are said to be generally nice, in fact “95% of superiors are extremely approachable,” according to one newbie, albeit with the caveat: “Occasionally feel as though I am just 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”.
But one trainee in the Charles Russell Speechlys camp claimed some teams are “extremely hierarchical” teams where “you are expected to stay out of sight”. However, this spy found happiness elsewhere, reporting “support & kindness” in other teams and “working shoulder-to-shoulder with partners” in the firm’s Employment and Immigration groups.
Pre-lockdown, trainees bonded over departmental drinks events, and “always really swanky” Christmas parties – this year it’s due to be held at the Natural History Museum in London. 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 this takes place in the firm’s highly regarded in-house canteen-turned-pub, Charlie’s, whilst their Cheltenham counterparts head to the recently refurbished penthouse.
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.
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 9.30am-7.00pm. 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”. On the other hand, “the London office is a lot more impressive than Guildford,” as one trainee bluntly puts it, and London is the only office with a canteen (Charlie’s). The firm is also implementing full open plan and hot desking, which according to one horrified lawyer “is a drastic downgrade and a travesty against the previous environment”. 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 decent chance of going on a secondment, with droves of trainees completing client and international secondments. Destinations include Morgan Stanley, private equity firm Actis and, internationally, in Zurich, Geneva, Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong.