This year Ashurst announced a third year of double digit profit per equity partner (PEP) growth and saw a simultaneous rise in revenue as the good times roll in City law. It’s quite a turnaround from the two consecutive years of decline that followed the City giant’s 2012 merger with Australia’s Blake Dawson.
Ashurst’s PEP now stands at just shy of the million pound mark (£972,000), up sharply by 31% on the 2018 figure of £743,000, while 2019 revenue is £641 million, a rise of 14% on last year’s £564 million. There’s a corresponding buzz around the place, heightened by excitement at the firm’s move into a fancy new office in the Spitalfields area of the City of London. “Amazing”, “incredible”, “outstanding”, gush trainees of 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 rookie.
Although Ashurst now sits within the global megafirm bracket following the Blake Dawson tie-up — 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 being “rarely given dogsbody work” and often being “given a high level of responsibility”. But also note that “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. This may account for the 2018 redundancy programme that saw Ashurst axe over 50 London-based secretaries.
Work/life balance is pretty standard for a City law firm, with an average leave time of just after eight. “You rarely have to cancel plans,” reports an insider. Another 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.”
A further 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 social life in this year’s Legal Cheek Survey, alongside a “very supportive” peer group, add to the largely happy vibes. A social committee organises regular meet-ups for lunch in the summer and weekend drinks and rounders games. Other perks include gratis fro-yo after 6:30pm, complimentary membership (and entry) to institutions such as the British Museum, plus a subsidised canteen, cut price gym membership and “lots of biscuits”. There’s also a doctor, dentist, beautician and physio on site. The new canteen is said to be “epic”, with vendors “chosen after taste tests”.
Meanwhile, in an encouraging sign that the firm’s tech savvy is improving, firm BlackBerrys have been replaced with iPhones while “a real push” is being made to use more automation and contract review software. Already the new office is said to “be changing the way that we work” with “flexible working a lot easier and more accepted”. 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 Lloyds, Credit Suisse and Amazon. A similar proportion do international placements, with Hong Kong the most popular destination.