Since its 2012 tie-up with ‘Big Six’ Aussie outfit Blake Dawson, Ashurst has sat within the global mega firm bracket with a notably ‘Silver Circle’ feel within its London office. To translate the jargon: Ashurst has a strong finance speciality built around a slightly gentler culture to a Magic Circle firm.
The 2023 financial results mark the seventh consecutive year of growth for the firm, with global revenues climbing 10% from £798 million to £879 million. Meanwhile, profit per equity partner (PEP) fell slightly to £1.17 million after rises of 13% and 15%, respectively, in the previous two years.
The revenue rise is fairly evenly spread, with a strong performance in all regions, particularly Continental Europe, the Middle East and the US. The firm expanded, with 28 lateral partner hires and by promoting 25 lawyers to partnership, for the second consecutive year. In late 2022 it became the first international law firm to practise local law in South Korea after securing a joint venture with local outfit HwaHyun.
The firm also recently underwent a major rebranding exercise, opting for a new eye-catching orange colour scheme, tweaked logo and new strapline: ‘Outpacing change’. As part of this, the firm unveiled a new ‘2027 strategy’ with a focus on continued growth of its Glasgow-headquartered NewLaw division, Ashurst Advance, and its new UK risk advisory business.
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 Goldman Sachs on the development and launch of its proprietary multi asset class digital platform — a first of its kind platform which, according to the firm, “will fundamentally transform financial markets as we know them”, and assisting Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch on the £4.46 billion takeover of Dechra Pharmaceuticals — one of the largest take-private deals of 2023. Elsewhere, it advised Citibank and UK Export Finance (UKEF) on the first UKEF-guaranteed Ukraine reconstruction facility, to finance the urgent rehabilitation of six bridges and supply routes in the Kyiv region damaged or destroyed by the Russian military.
Efficiency combined with measured growth seems to be the secret to its success. Ashurst Advance is said to save lawyers valuable time on a range of admin tasks, while the firm delivered on its 2023 target to improve the efficiency of space by 20% across its 31 offices. The firm’s consultancy arm has also expanded considerably in Australia, with the latest financials showing a 60% uptick in revenue.
Back in the still relatively new London Fruit and Wool Exchange office, Ashurst takes on around 40 trainees each year. Training, according to one rookie, is “genuinely first-class”, with a “great mix of skills and knowledge development”. Insiders praise the two-week induction at the start of the training contract which covers “lots of basics”, as well as the “department-specific classroom learning which has been so beneficial for professional development”. Some rookies do report however that training levels can vary from department to department. 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 spoon-fed: “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: “The work is really interesting and super diverse — none of my days are the same, which is great. The associates and partners are great about fully explaining the matter before assigning work so that you have context, making the more admin tasks interesting also. It isn’t uncommon to be working on something and then see it in the news soon after which is really exciting. Disputes (corporate crime) is a growing area of the firm so I am able to get involved in lots of BD work, such as helping with our podcast series and getting involved in drafting regulatory updates, all of which have been really great for my development.”
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. “The firm definitely tries to promote work/life balance as associates often ask if you have capacity before giving you a task which I think is great,” one source tells us. “I still do long hours if there is a deadline but usually if I have a super busy week then I can expect the next week to be quieter and I don’t typically work weekends so I can plan things then.”
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 are positive overall. “It’s pretty good,” says one junior. “You get a £250 stipend for any equipment when you start and you can work from home at least two days a week but I’ve found that this varies between departments/supervisors.”
When juniors are at their desks, it’s said to be a pretty nice place to be. “Stunning terraces on multiple floors with views over Spitalfields Church, exercise studio, on-site GP, wellbeing suite with physiotherapy and counselling rooms,” explains one. “The most modern and sleek office I have seen,” another tells us.
And there appears to be a pretty harmonious vibe around the corridors of Ashurst. “Most supportive firm in the City!” proclaims one insider. “No competitiveness among my cohort, lots of organic socialising within the cohort and everyone will pitch in to help when you need it.” Echoing this, another tells us: “We have quite a big trainee cohort so we’re able to really support each other through all of the various learning adjustments and changes that we go through. Everyone is really friendly and compatible so it makes for a great environment to learn and grow.” As for superiors, one spy claims they “can’t imagine the partners at a major commercial law firm being more approachable than ours”. Seniors are said to be “genuinely available on deals” and will make an “effort to find out how you’re finding your time”. And apparently, the “graduate recruitment partner remembers the name of every person we hire (40+ a year!)”.
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. Sizeable discounts on healthy food at Waitrose and holidays through lastminute.com are also appreciated.
Tech-wise, the firm uses artificial intelligence (AI) in its software which makes document 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 the firm to influence the tech we use day-to-day and the tech available to improve the way we work”. Trainees and juniors are also encouraged to submit efficiency-boosting ideas.
On the secondment front, trainees have in the past spent time with Barclays, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs. Others are known to have jetted off to Dubai, Hong Kong, Brussels and Madrid. The firm also has some “great policies and external pro bono initiatives in place” on the environment front.