Meet Allen & Overy at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 4 November 2021
Despite past speculation over a US tie-up, Allen & Overy has stuck to being an independent transactional titan. Following the collapse of merger talks with LA-founded O’Melveny and the pandemic slowdown, top of the agenda for A&O was the firm’s US strategy and enjoying a strong uptick in transactional work towards the back-end of the year. And global managing partner Gareth Price alongside re-elected senior partner Wim Dejonghe have not disappointed.
In 2020, the firm topped the charts for the number of deals it had advised on and has added 14 new partners and a new LA office to its US offering, making promising steps to counter doubts surrounding its American expansion. The magic circle firm has also performed well in its latest financials with revenues rising 5% to £1.77 billion, whilst profit per equity partner soared 17% to £1.9 million following a 1.7% dip the previous year.
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, physio and rooftop bar are 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.” And trainees enjoyed “lots of goodies sent home during lockdown” including bottles of champagne and the like. And those that stay on to qualify at the firm can expect a salary of £100,000, including a £10k sign-on bonus.
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 – meaning the firm’s lawyers work 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”. Another claimed, “the money does not remunerate properly for the unsociable hours worked”.
The good news is that 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, as one trainee boasts: “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. One rookie summarised their somewhat bumpy experience as this: “The training is very good and lawyers are on top of their game. Every day is a learning day. However, my trainer has been very disappointing — not a people person at all, behaviour always unpredictable. I have no idea how they have been allocated a trainee / gone through training for this, since they are not suited. Most other trainers I’ve come across have been great though”. Trainees do, however, get lots of hands-on experience. One recalled how even during their first seat “I was given a lot of responsibility” and towards the end of their most recent seat “I was running small transactions from start to finish on my own”.
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 with juniors believing the response was “far superior than the set up I’ve heard about from other friends in the legal profession”. “Very good set up at home — two monitors and good technology. Great IT / document production support available 24 hours a day,” 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.” A&O said that going forward it anticipates its lawyers and staff will work remotely for around 40% of the time, whilst emphasising that the office is “incredibly important” for its culture and personal development. 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.
In summary, long hours, good remuneration, excellent perks. It’s a magic circle law firm.