This year Ashurst posted a small drop in its profit per equity partner (PEP) figure but a slight increase in revenue, as the City continues to navigate itself out a period of financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.
Ashurst’s PEP sits at a healthy £903,000, a 7% dip on 2019’s bumper set of financials which saw equity partner earnings soar sharply by 31% from £743,000 to £972,000. In contrast to the drop in partner profits, 2020 revenue is up marginally (0.5%) from £641 million to £644 million.
“Wonderful”, “incredible”, “stylish”, gush trainees of the firm’s sleek office space at the refitted London Fruit and Wool Exchange space, which is full of break out spaces that aim to encourage more collaborative laptop-based working. “The new office at LFWE has so many collaborative spaces to work in, and the building has a really modern feel,” reports one happy trainee, pre-lockdown.
But how is the firm supporting its lawyers now that many are working away from its plush City HQ? One insider tells us “IT has generally held up well” which has “ensured an easy transition to remote working,” while another rookie reveals there’s “a weekly trainee catch up call to voice any issues or concerns with an associate and partner” as well as “numerous virtual socials” to keep those work-from-home blues at bay.
Although Ashurst now sits within the global megafirm bracket following its 2012 tie-up with Aussie outfit Blake Dawson — which has given it a major presence in Asia — in London its ‘silver circle’ roots remain. To translate the jargon: Ashurst has a strong finance speciality built around a slightly gentler culture to a Magic Circle firm.
That helps to support excellent training — the firm has scored consistently well in this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey — and, once you are ready to handle it, desirable work. Trainees report receiving “comprehensive department-specific training” and are “rarely given dogsbody work”. But one trainee does note that working from home has made some elements of the training contract “tough” and “ironically, in the more technical departments the work can be less stimulating”. The firm’s Glasgow office is on hand, though, to do much of the volume work.
Work/life balance is pretty standard for a City law firm, with an average leave time of around 8pm. “You rarely have to cancel plans” when not working from home, reports one insider, but “this depends on the department that you are in”. In this new post-COVID world, another trainee tells us that “as is the case for anyone working from home, it can be hard to demarcate working time from rest periods, and it is easy to hop back online to respond to late night emails”.
During ‘normal’ times, however, one trainee summarises their experience like this: “I play a lot of sport (organised on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after work) and take the hit on other evenings if need be. My superiors encourage me to leave the office as soon as I can (work permitting), which is encouraging. Some days can be long though and I’ve had a few bad Friday evenings, which is never fun. I haven’t worked any weekends though.”
Another trainee emphasises the big differences in working hours between departments: “At the moment my work/life balance is great, I leave at 6pm most nights. Sometimes it becomes a lot worse but my latest stay has been 5am and that has only happened twice and I have worked a handful of weekends in my two years here.”
Decent scores for perks in this year’s Legal Cheek Survey, with trainees trumpeting the benefits of free drinks on Thursdays and Fridays, as well as an on-site GP, beautician and physio to ease away those aches and pains.
Meanwhile, in an encouraging sign that the firm’s tech savviness is improving, firm BlackBerrys have been replaced with iPhones while “a real push” is being made to use more automation and contract review software. “Our technology was upgraded last year prior to moving to the new offices” one junior lawyer tells us, “and having a high-quality laptop and easy remote access has made it easy to work from home effectively.”
The relatively new office is said to “be changing the way that we work” with “flexible working a lot easier and more accepted” – particularly in a post-COVID world. However, not everyone is happy. “The office move appears to have actually slowed things down. We have a new filesite system which has regressed, the WiFi frequently drops out and we don’t get phone signal,” grumbles one insider.
On the secondment front, placements with clients are on the rise; around 20% of Ashurst rookies did one in the last 12 months, with destinations including Barclays, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs. A similar proportion do international placements, with Hong Kong and Brussels among the most popular destinations.