The Legal Cheek View
Addleshaw Goddard’s yo-yoing recent financial results – a 40% leap last year in profit per equity partner was followed by a 31% drop this year – are reflected in some changeable performances in the various categories of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. This year there have been notable improvements in scores for partner approachability, office and canteen, while there has been a fall in the work/life balance rating.
It must be noted that the Addleshaw’s decision last year to impose a Brexit pay freeze on junior lawyers just a month after it announced that PEP had soared to a record £682,000 saw AG’s bosses came in for something of a roasting in last year’s survey.
The reversal of that pay freeze amid considerably lower partner profits this year may partially account for the jump in the firm’s partner approachability rating from a low B grade (which may have been a punishment score) to an A. But the anonymous comments we have received suggest that the new open plan office regime is also a major factor, which apparently has “helped a lot” in breaking down barriers. However, there are downsides, thanks to a few partners “with bad personal hygiene and vocal ticks”.
The new open plan offices are part of a major refurbishment of Addleshaw’s Manchester and Leeds bases which have elicited rave reviews. “The new offices in the North are great places to work,” one trainee tells us, while of Manchester in particular we’re told “it is a lovely office and gives a premium feel to a so called premium firm’”. Meanwhile, the new canteens sound delightful. “The food is amazing,” enthuses one trainee, while another gushes: “Shwarma Thursday is the best day of the week (it's infamous and brings all trainees together on a Thursday)”. Did they mean ‘famous’? Anyway, you get the picture.
These positives build on the firm’s consistently good scores for quality of work and peer support. Although it apparently comes with a bit of a “thrown in at the deep end” ethos, the work often carries high levels of responsibility. “I have consistently been given NQ + level work, and my commercial judgment is trusted more senior members of the team,” reports one rookie. The vibe among the “amazing bunch of trainees”, meanwhile, is nice and friendly – and mutual support makes up for the perceived slight lack of formal training.
This is the sort of challenging yet rewarding culture often associated with US law firms. Unfortunately, Addleshaw’s pay fails to get anywhere near American rates – and this is a major source of annoyance among the firm’s trainees, who have this year given their employer a lowly C for perks. Some of their comments may make for uncomfortable reading for Addleshaw management. One sums up the mood:
“General feeling throughout the firm that the salary is way below market for the level of work and hours. There have been mass departures recently to competitors, where associates will at least be compensated for the hours they put in. There is also a lack of additional perks, a terrible opaque bonus scheme and a general feeling of penny pinching at the firm. The offering at the recent end of year drinks was Becks beer and crisps.”
Also consider this from one of Addleshaw’s regional rookies: “[Pay is] a real issue for most trainees. Sometimes £25k a year (after rent, student loans, tax, NI...) doesn't feel like much when you are in the office at 1am. To be fair, this is rare, but there is a very high expectation of trainees in an understandably ambitious firm. It would be nice to get paid a bit more generously for it (but who wouldn't say that).”
There are also particular issues with gym subsidy that “barely covers two classes in London” and low levels of international secondments. Legal Cheek understands that there are three available per rotation “which are fought for by trainees at all UK offices”.
To conclude one of the most mixed write-ups of all our 2017-18 firm profiles, let’s end on a positive. There’s real excitement internally at Addleshaw’s investment in new technology. An 2016 IT upgrade has apparently “made a huge difference”, while Addleshaw’s deal volume arm are “using all sorts of AI and data platforms to streamline work processes”. Trainees are also encouraged by the firm’s roster further up the ranks of “specialists in FinTech, payments, outsourcing and general techie areas”.