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Transactional titan Allen & Overy (A&O) may soon be on the cusp of a new era. Should the proposed merger with US player Shearman & Sterling fulfil all the customary closing conditions – which includes a vote of approval from each firm’s partnership – the firm will be rebranded Allen Overy Shearman Sterling (or, A&O Shearman for short). The transatlantic mega-merger would create the third largest law firm in the world with 3,900 lawyers across 29 countries and eye-watering revenues totalling nearly $2.8 billion. We’ll keep you posted…
For now, at least, it remains business as usual for A&O — and that business is growing. The firm smashed the £2 billion revenue mark for the first time thanks to a 7% uplift, while profit per equity partner (PEP) declined slightly to £1.82 million in a year marred by what the firm has described as “challenging market conditions and a high inflationary environment”.
Under the bonnet, A&O remains a traditional Magic Circle law firm. Like its four global peers, it’s huge (with 44 offices in 31 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, dentist, and rooftop bar are all highlights, as is the top-rated subsidised 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 physio.
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 (??!!), visits from puppies, a sauna, an in-house bar and “ by far and away the best thing about A&O”: two stunning roof terraces overlooking the City where delightful corporate law barbecues are held in the summer. But note the firm will relocate to new and more “sustainable” premises at 2 Broadgate in early 2027. Expect to receive a couple of large screens, camera, headset, mouse, keyboard and so on for when you’re not in the office, making it easy to move home and the office. Specialist equipment is also provided both at-home and in-the-office for staff with disabilities. On top of all that, those that stay on to qualify at the firm can expect a base salary of £125,000 following an increase in spring 2023.
There is a price for all of this, of course: billing targets are set at a chunky 1,750 hours annually. 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.
What’s clear is that across the firm it varies hugely. Hours can be unpredictable and antisocial — “there isn’t much room for making set weekday plans which naturally means it is hard to maintain hobbies outside of work throughout the week,” according to one insider. “Although most evenings are not late for me, I can’t really predict when they will be,” mentioned another. That being said, associates and higher-ups are noted as being “very respectful towards any commitments you have (e.g. a family dinner or event on a weekday evening) as long as you flag it to them in advance.” One musical-loving source confesses that their trainer “even let me book a half day off with a couple of days’ notice so I could watch Hamilton”.
Trainees don’t enter a Magic Circle firm unaware of this reality: “You know what you’re signing up for, particularly with the firm’s top tier practices, and so it’s naive to expect anything other than full commitment to work during the week. That said, weekends have been fairly sacred, and on the occasions I’ve made it out in good time midweek, you make the most of it!”. But there’s no ‘always on’ culture, with one insider noting “If you put down boundaries, they will be respected. As long as the relevant deadlines are met, no one minds if you leave the office at 3 PM”.
The good news is that those seeking a break from the London grind have a good chance of bagging an international secondment. Popular destinations include Dubai, Paris and Singapore but jet-setting trainees currently have a spread of 13 international offices to choose from. Blue-chip client secondments are also on the plate, with clients like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley being just some names on the list.
Whilst in the office, trainees have the opportunity to work with big brand names such as Etsy, which A&O advised in their $1.6 billion acquisition of Depop, and Barclays Bank, who involved the firm in their recent retirement fund restructure. Sporty trainees may even get the chance to work with the likes of Palermo F.C. – another recent client for the firm’s M&A team.
You can also expect top-notch and enjoyable training, as one trainee boasts: “The training on offer is exceptional – the firm really does go above and beyond to make sure trainees are confident and prepared in all aspects. Each of my trainers has also been outstanding”. Rookies can expect to receive training at the beginning of each seat as well as specific training within their particular sub-group “in smaller teams which is really helpful”. The comprehensive training structure is paired with a “supportive culture of learning” and lots of hands-on experience too. As one trainee explains, “during my time at A&O, I have consistently been tasked with running small transactions on my own. Trainees are encouraged to take the lead on matters wherever they can. The real difference, therefore, is that trainees are simultaneously given both responsibility AND support.”
There is also “a culture of openness and friendliness” at A&O, which extends to even the most senior partners: “Everyone is very supportive and willing to take time to answer any questions,” said one. Though it can vary: “Some departments have excellent support systems in place (junior associates, trainers and other support staff), whereas others expect you to deal with things on your own and figure it out as you go”.
At the end of the day though, A&O trainees are always there to help each other out. “The trainee cohorts all support one another. I’ve made friendships far beyond work and love being in the office surrounded by my peers,” says one enamoured rookie.
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. The firm’s roll-out of ChatGPT-style software ‘Harvey’, designed to save lawyers from the tedious tasks of contract analysis and due diligence, marks the first use of AI-backed tech within the Magic Circle. And trainees cannot get enough of it: “Love. Love. Love. Love Harvey. It helps every time I need to learn about a topic I have never had to learn about and helps provide first drafts of short paragraphs… it’s just great.” Insiders also speak highly of the firm’s start-up incubator, Fuse, which is currently hosted on the first floor of the firm’s swish Spitalfields offices.
In summary, long hours, good remuneration, excellent perks. It’s a Magic Circle law firm.