You could be forgiven for thinking the distraction of its ill-fated merger talks with US firm O’Melveny & Myers and enduring the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdown in its pivotal year-end period would derail Allen & Overy’s (A&O’s) financial year. However, the Magic Circle firm has proven resilient to increase revenues 4% to £1.69 billion, though profit per equity partner underwent a 1.7% dip to £1.63 million. Meanwhile, the firm also produced significant income from its New Law division, advanced delivery and solutions, which upped its revenue 15%.
The last year has also seen a new look at the top, with new managing partner Gareth Price leading alongside recently re-elected senior partner Wim Dejonghe. Following the collapse of merger talks with O’Melveny, top of the agenda for A&O remains the firm’s US strategy, which should become more conspicuous over the coming months. Of the four internationalist firms in the Magic Circle, A&O has garnered a reputation as perhaps the best managed. No pressure for the new leadership duo then.
Under the bonnet, A&O remains a traditional Magic Circle law firm. Like its four global peers, it’s huge (with 44 offices in 29 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 is a highlight, as is the top-rated firm canteen (featuring “incredible live cooks who prepare fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner”). Flu jabs are also offered to help lawyers stay healthy 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 pension schemes in the business, an on-site beautician, music rooms (?!), a dance hall (??!!), an in-house bar and the jewel in the crown: two stunning roof terraces overlooking the City where delightful corporate law barbecues are held in the summer. In fact, the most acerbic criticism one junior could muster of the firm’s perks was the “the gym could use an upgrade.”
There is a price for all of this, of course: billing targets are set at a chunky 1,750 hours annually. Our latest survey records A&O’s average leave time as after 8:30pm – 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.
“When it is busy, you work very hard,” says one rookie. “But normally because you are absolutely integral to the deal, so you don’t mind as much.” However, not all share such sentiments. One junior paints a starker picture: “In my experience the hours have been crushing. Kiss goodbye to your old friends, weekday social commitments, and your significant other.”
The good news is those seeking a break from the London grind have a good chance of bagging an international secondment — with around half of trainees spending time abroad with the firm (although this has been affected by Covid-19 this year). Popular destinations include Dubai, Paris and Singapore but there is a plethora of other options. There are some decent client secondments too, at blue-chip clients like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
You can also expect top-notch training and supportive peers. Boasts one trainee: “Honestly impressed with the training I received. People take time to explain tasks and are generally interested in trainee development. Having worked on some of the biggest deals out there, I now feel ready to tackle anything!”
Another adds: “I had fantastic, thoughtful trainers over the course of the past 15 months. All three were genuinely interested in my growth as a lawyer and gave me plenty of opportunities to shine.”
However, not all give glowing reviews of superiors – who aren’t always so supportive and approachable. “You obviously need to pick the right moments,” warns one insider. “There are some oddballs around, but it’s much better than I expected.”
Meanwhile, A&O enjoys a reputation as one of the City’s most innovative firms, so expect some slick legal tech. “Obviously 10/10” says one trainee when asked to rate the firm’s tech credentials, while insiders speak highly of the firm’s start-up incubator, Fuse, which is hosted on the first floor of the firm’s swish Spitalfields offices. A&O has also recently adopted a new matter management system, which has reportedly worked well during remote working.
In terms of the firm’s wider response to COVID-19, A&O scores well again. “We very seamlessly adjusted to being a virtual law firm,” says one trainee. “I am equally happy working from home as I was in the office and have felt very well supported by what they are offering.” Although another rookie laments that trainees were not provided with A&O laptops, it is worth noting that they have since been given the opportunity to apply for one. Crucially for the future of the firm, you can expect a good business response to the crisis, with A&O among the select firms which adapted and distinguished itself during the 2008 economic crash.
Long hours, good remuneration, excellent perks. It’s a Magic Circle law firm.