The Legal Cheek View
Since its tie-up with Aussie outfit Blake Dawson ten years ago, Ashurst has sat within the global mega firm bracket with a notably ‘silver circle’ feel still present in its London office. To translate the jargon: Ashurst has a strong finance speciality built around a slightly gentler culture to a Magic Circle firm.
Its most recent set of financials, for the year ending April 2022, is a box of delights. Its revenue jumped 12% to £798 million from £711 million last year, when its revenue rose 10% from £644 million. In fact, this is its sixth year of consecutive growth of more than 8%. Profit per equity partner (PEP) rose by 13% to £1.175 million, building on last year’s stellar rise of 15% to £1.04 million.
Moreover, the financial boost is fairly evenly spread, with a strong performance in all regions, particularly the UK, Australia and Continental Europe. The firm expanded, with 29 lateral partner hires and by promoting 25 lawyers to partnership — its largest ever cohort. Stateside, it opened a new office in Austin, Texas, and appointed new partners in Los Angeles and New York.
More than 85% of Ashurst’s work is now in its five key sectors — banks & private capital, real estate, infrastructure, energy & resources and the digital economy. Highlights from the past year include acting for the largest single UK claimant in litigation arising from the European Commission’s truck cartel findings, for Wm Morrison Supermarkets on the £7.3 billion takeover by a US private equity firm and agreement to buy McColl’s out of insolvency, and for Tate & Lyle Sugars in the first UK judgment on the interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement provision on subsidies control. It is acting for clients in the proposed demerger by pharma behemoth GSK of its consumer healthcare business to form Haleon, and it is heavily involved in fintech too, advising Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions on cutting-edge policy formulations related to blockchain technology.
Efficiency combined with measured growth seems to be to the secret to its success. Its NewLaw division, dubbed Ashurst Advance and headquartered in Glasgow, is said to save lawyers valuable time on a range of admin tasks, while the firm has reduced office space 12% globally since 2019, with the aim of reaching a 20% reduction by 2023. The firm’s consultancy arm has also expanded considerably in Australia and now has a team of 100 consultants and seven partners.
Back in its recently refurbished London Fruit and Wool Exchange office, and now home to the firm’s global chair, Karen Davies, Ashurst takes on around 45 trainees each year. Training, according to one rookie, “varies significantly by department and interest taken by senior team members. Most departments are excellent and put a lot of time and effort into teaching”. In the finance team, “training was very thorough, led by senior associates, partners and expertise lawyers in the group. There was regular ongoing training”. Definitely don’t expect to be spoonfed: “The firm-wide training has been useful,” says one trainee, “but on the job training has been more ad hoc and much less structured than I had expected.”
The work “is usually very high quality with lots of opportunities to try new things. There will be a certain amount of ‘trainee’ tasks that are slightly more admin focused but essential for learning how things work,” one TC veteran reports. It varies between departments, of course. A newbie says: “Drafting for claims in disputes is very intellectually stimulating. However, work in disputes can be admin-like which is not very stimulating.”
Another rookie offers the following lowdown: “In the real estate team trainees have a high level of responsibility and are able to draft documents such as Licences for Alterations or Deeds of Grant for easements and then lead negotiations with the opposing counsel, as well as manage the relationship with the client. Trainees can also get stuck into due diligence, including drafting sections of Reports on Title. The work is hugely international — I worked on one deal with London, New York, Hong Kong and Luxembourg. The clients are big household names — banks, corporates and governments — and your work sometimes appears in the headlines which feels great. Usually working opposite other top law firms — US/Magic Circle.”
Work/life balance is pretty standard for a City law firm, although leave time “is still fairly late”. Generally, avoid making weeknight plans although Friday nights and weekends are usually free. In a disputes seat, trainees may sometimes have to work all night and weekend. One trainee says, “If you have set plans, supervisors are very accommodating. There are also lots of extracurricular activities to get involved in eg netball, mixed hockey, football teams, and you are always encouraged to go and represent the firm/get to know others”.
The working from home setup is 60:40, so trainees and lawyers must be in the office three days a week, which “works very well”, according to one junior. Opinions on Ashurst’s WFH support veer between “very stingy and certainly not enough to give you the same setup at home as at work” to “good tech — laptops/headsets can connect anywhere so no desktops or phones to worry about”.
One aspect of life at Ashurst all Legal Cheek spies were united about, however, was its people — both peers and superiors. “Fantastic, supportive, highly sociable trainee intake,” raved one. Trainees eat lunch together and regularly arrange nights out for everyone to attend, insiders reveal: “Really friendly and fun, we have a great community. More senior team members are chatty and supportive. Really great culture and atmosphere to work in.” As for superiors, “there is always an open-door policy. Easy to talk to”. Superiors are “broadly very approachable and willing to take the time to explain tasks”. Descriptions include “approachable and encouraging of questions and our input”.
One rookie continues the love-in: “Junior associates are always offering help and support. The senior associates and partners will also give up time to explain things and answer questions or give advice. Trainees tend to sit with partners or senior associates, so you always have access to superiors to discuss matters with.”
Perks include a subsidised canteen, free lunch on a Monday, free drinks on a Thursday, free dinner and taxi home if working late, the odd bottle of champagne in finance seats, and health insurance. The firm also recently bumped NQ pay from £90,000 to £105,000. Not everyone’s satisfied, however, with one person pointing out there’s no gym and Christmas and summer parties are held in the office rather than the firm splashing out on a venue.
Speaking of the office: it’s considered a hit by trainees, who appreciate its “great location in the heart of London. The building is new, modern, spacious and very well lit”. They “love the office” and describe it as “beautiful” with “multiple roof terraces”.
Tech-wise, the firm uses AI (artificial intelligence) in its software which makes doc review and creation “a lot smoother”. Ashurst Advance is considered a success, and “is not just an isolated, external facing project but has also expanded within firm to influence the tech we use day to day and the tech available to improve the way we work”.
On the secondment front, trainees have in the past spent time with Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and property fund Tritax. Others are known to have jetted off to Dubai, Hong Kong, Brussels and Madrid, although some of these were carried out remotely during the pandemic. The firm also has some “great policies and external pro bono initiatives in place” on the environment.