Baker McKenzie’s founder, Russell Baker, was so poor that he rode for days in the cattle carriages on trains in order to enrol at the University of Chicago, where he then worked as a boxer to fund his tuition. Nearly 100 years on, his firm is among the largest in the world, turning over an enormous $2.67 billion (£2.03 billion) in its most recently disclosed financial results. Alongside fellow behemoths Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, Bakers is one of the top three biggest law firms in the world by revenue.
Its roots may be in the US, but Bakers sees itself very much as an international firm, and is keen to emphasise that its largest office is London rather than Chicago. In total, the firm has a whopping 76 offices across 49 different countries. Legal Cheek understands that approaching half of Bakers’ London trainees and junior lawyers get the chance to do secondment in one of these locations, with Brussels, Tokyo and New York among the most popular. Most secondments are three, rather than six, months, leaving some trainees the opportunity to do two. We’re aware of at least one London rookie who has done a dual stint in Washington DC and Hong Kong.
There are some excellent client secondment opportunities too – again a high proportion of trainees get the opportunity to do one. Locations include The Guardian and the Royal Courts of Justice as a judicial assistant. And if you’re really lucky you might get to do a plumb placement at the Silicon Valley head office of an unnamed global technology and internet services company that the firm counts as a client.
When you’re not on the road, there’s some high quality work to get stuck into in London. Trainees report being given “a crazy amount of responsibility” to the extent that they are “working directly with senior associates and partners” and even “running deals” during certain moments. The generally “excellent” training is pitched quite high. “I was treated as an NQ for most of the training contract,” one insider tells us.
This takes place in a nice atmosphere, with a “lovely bunch” of trainees supporting each other. “While there is often strategic discussions to determine likelihood of attaining seat preferences, trainees are collegiate and do what they can to ‘shoulder the load’,” one reports. Another adds: “Our intake has become friends first, colleagues second … probably entertainers third.”
This may explain the lively social life. The Blackfriar Pub is apparently “B&M HQ after 5:30pm on a Friday”, while the firm’s rookies are said to be “close to arranging a permanent trainee secondment to Book Club in Shoreditch”. Fans of revelry may also want to note that the firm Christmas party “doesn’t usually disappoint”.
Partners, meanwhile, are mostly “super-approachable”. Another insider adds: “You can approach partners here to discuss work issues, but also to talk about plans for the weekend or last night’s football match. It’s an office run by very down to earth and likeable people in the main.” Meanwhile, the typical Bakers partner is described cheekily by a further rookie as “probably 50% David Brent and 50% Neil Godwin”.
You’ll work hard, though. Baker’s average arrive time is 9:10am, according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19, while the average leave time is 8:15pm. The consensus view is that this is par for the course. “I didn’t move to London to get out at 5:30 and go for dinner five nights a week,” says one rookie. “I came to Bakers for the world-class training, work and client-exposure so when training I was always keen to take every opportunity to learn and develop, so this did lead to some long hours, but very rarely was this something I was upset about.” The fact that dinner in the canteen is free after 7pm eases the pain of late finishes. There’s also been a push for more working from home, which is apparently gaining traction in some departments. It’s a step in the right direction, as are the firm issue laptops.
In terms of perks, Bakers does fairly well, with iPhones for trainees, an in-house doctor and physio, yoga classes, subsidised gym membership, and regular mortgage and financial planning clinics. The canteen, meanwhile, is said to have “got significantly better over the last 12 months”. The “proper poached eggs” in the morning and “decent salads” for lunch are a favourite. But there is unhappiness about a recent decision to cancel the firm’s valued corporate Tate Gallery membership.
Other grumbles include the newly qualified pay, which despite a £3k rise to £77,000 remains lower than magic circle firms, and the rather “tatty” office which “could do with updating”. Indeed, this is something of a sore point among trainees, with the firm scoring a lowly C in this category of the Legal Cheek survey. Rumours continue to swirl about a possible move.