As long running merger talks with Los Angeles-based giant O’Melveny & Myers finally collapsed, it’s been another year of growth for Allen & Overy — albeit of the muted variety. The firm recorded respective 5% and 1% rises in revenue and profit per equity partner (PEP) this year, to £1.63 billion and £1.66 million.
A healthy portion of the firm’s riches are being invested in the future, with A&O continuing to expand its Belfast support office, where headcount now stands at 500, as part of a broader hiring push that has seen total headcount at the firm rise by 2.4%. Meanwhile, the firm continues to plough resources into its London ‘Fuse’ lawtech incubator, hosted on the first floor of the firm’s swish Spitalfields offices. Last year one of the artificial intelligence start-ups based there was acquired by Facebook for $30 million (£26 million). A sign of Fuse’s success is that its head, Shruti Ajitsaria, has recently been promoted to partner.
What’s more, the Fourth Industrial Revolution seems to be reaching the A&O shop floor. IT systems are being upgraded and a new case management system is apparently on its way, but trainees still don’t get laptops and their firm issued mobile phones are apparently “very basic”. In the meantime, envious glances continue to be made in the direction of Fuse. “Start up incubator on the first floor #yah #Shoreditch #flatwhiteeconomy #oldwhitemanagement,” one trainee quips when asked to rate A&O’s tech savvy.
Another adds: “The document management system is ancient and creaking along. They have been in the process of changing it since before I started. There’s still no timeline on completion of the project. Otherwise, some of the Fuse tech is slowly trickling through to us and it does make trainee life easier in particular (for instance, one platform automates CP checklists, another product helps to make doc review more targeted).”
Under the bonnet Allen & Overy remains a traditional magic circle law firm. It’s huge (with over 40 offices in over 30 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. “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 latest survey records Allen & Overy’s average leave time as just before 9pm. That’s almost 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. Here are three varying accounts from the A&O frontline:
“I’ve worked extremely long hours and weekends for extended periods of time, however, my department did recognise this by giving me time off in lieu and making sure I had a smaller workload for the following few weeks to try and implement some balance.”
“Not unusual to go months without getting home for dinner, regularly expected to work/be available at weekends. However, when there genuinely is no work to be done then no one would question you leaving at 17:31.”
“Generally I am out by 7 or 8, with the occasional late night. My situation is much better than a lot of my peers at City firms but there is a general uncertainty as to what time I will get to leave (unexpected work could arrive at 7pm and keep you till midnight).”
Those seeking a break from the London grind have a very good chance of bagging an international secondment — with over half of trainees spending time abroad with the firm. Popular destinations include Dubai, Paris and Singapore but there is a smorgasbord of other options. There are some decent client secondments too, at banking clients like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Some of 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”. Like at any magic circle firm, there is a mix of “really challenging, interesting work” and “churn tasks that require little thought”. As one trainee puts it: “Variable, we’re trainees yo. But quality of work seems better than some other firms where you just hide behind your supervisor all day and never do anything out of your comfort zone.”
Training is often “excellent” and always “tailored” and “responsive”, however those delivering it are a mixed bunch. While senior associates get the thumbs up, a few partners are said to be a bit aloof. “Some partners will not even learn your name during your six months in their department,” one insider tells us. Another reports: “[Partners] are obviously mostly odd, but mainly in an endearing rather than upsetting way.”
This is made up for by the mutual supportiveness of the trainees and NQs. “Some BFFs for life”, one tells us, with another adding: “90% super close, but the odd individual to watch out for who would definitely throw you under the bus.” That’s not a bad ratio for the elite end of City law!