The Legal Cheek View
It’s been a good year for Allen & Overy, with the firm topping the magic circle financial results growth league to boost profit per equity partner (PEP) by a whopping 26% to £1.51 million while lifting revenue by 16% to £1.52 billion.
Some of these riches have been invested in the future, with A&O’s big move this year having been the creation in its swish Spittalfields Market offices of a “tech innovation space” called Fuse where free dwellings have been assigned to a host of lawtech start-ups. As they wait in hope for a pay rise, trainees and junior lawyers at the firm seem mildly impressed with such developments. A sceptic on the inside notes: “A&O tries to be forward-thinking with mixed success”.
While there have been some major improvements, the Fourth Industrial Revolution apparently hasn’t yet reached a shop floor that is still in some cases grappling “with this new thing called 'email'”. Still, the firm scored an A* for its tech-savvy in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017 – so it’s obviously doing something right.
Under the bonnet Allen & Overy remains a traditional magic circle law firm. It’s huge (with a whopping 45 offices in 32 countries), has a longstanding reputation for representing the establishment (the firm’s co-founder, George Allen, famously advised King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936) and offers great perks.
The free on-site gym, where trainees can work out alongside their colleagues and bosses, is a highlight; as is the top-rated firm canteen (featuring “incredible live cooks who prepare fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner”) and the, er, flu jabs. Yes, A&O famously ensures that its lawyers are given anti-illness injections. And should any still succumb to health problems, there’s an in-house doctor and dentist.
There’s more: A&O’s eclectic perks list also include one of the most generous pensions schemes in the business, an on-site beautician, music rooms (?!), a dance hall (??!!), in-house bar and the jewel in the crown: two stunning roof terraces overlooking the City where delightful corporate law barbeques are held in the summer. “We're spoilt but too often forget it,” one trainee tells Legal Cheek.
There is a price for all of this, of course. With such first rate support, no wonder those billing targets are set at a chunky 1,750 hours annually. Our survey records Allen & Overy’s average arrival time as 9:10am and the average leave time as 8:43pm. That’s not far off 12 hours a day. But as with any top law firm, hours vary wildly – with some late nights/early mornings and weekends standard in the run-up to closure of a deal. One insider puts it like this:
“Hours aren't that bad in practice, but the expectation is that every day you are ready and prepared to work 24 hours if they ask it. The result is you're never able to make evening/weekend plans with any certainty.”
Those seeking a break from the London grind have a very good chance of bagging an international secondment – with over a third of trainees spending time abroad with the firm. Popular destinations include Dubai, Singapore and Paris, but there is a smorgasbord of other options.
Towards the bottom of the list of most London trainees’ choices is likely to be Belfast, the location of the low cost support centre that A&O opened up 2012. Despite the success of the venture, there are some tensions between the firm’s Northern Irish and English bases – not least because of the vast discrepancies in pay. But well-fed London rookies should beware complacency, with Legal Cheek spies informing us that A&O’s management have been rather impressed with some Belfast trainees, whose fluency in legal process outsourcing could see them well-positioned to rise through the ranks.
Still, the best work unquestionably can be found in London, where, one rookie tells us, “the excellent quality of the support teams (and the fact they're 24hr), means I get to focus on legal work almost exclusively.” However, there are conflicting reports that “work requiring high level thought is limited” and there are “a lot of administrative tasks”.
Training is often “excellent” and always “tailored” and “responsive”, however, those delivering it are a mixed bunch. Apparently “some trainers put a lot of effort into their trainees – others, however, mostly partners, struggle to say good morning to their trainees or begin to remember what it was like to be a trainee.” The trainees and NQs are a similarly mixed bag. Some report that their peers are “lovely”, while others claim they are “a pack of wolves”. But you’re in the magic circle baby, what did you expect?