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; he then worked as a boxer to fund his tuition there. Nearly 100 years on, his firm is among the largest in the world, with annual turnover of around $3 billion, rivalling that of fellow behemoths Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins.
Profit per equity partner (PEP) stands at around $1.5 million (£1.23 million), with London newly qualified solicitors earning £87,500 (down from £90,000 last year, due to a pandemic pay cut) plus bonus.
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 nearly 80 offices across almost 50 different countries. Legal Cheek understands that a significant proportion of Bakers’ London trainees and junior lawyers get the chance to do a secondment in one of these locations, with Brussels, Tokyo, Dubai and New York among the most popular. Most secondments are three, rather than six, months, leaving some trainees the opportunity to do two. “You can go anywhere”, we’re told, “as long as you can make a decent case for it”. We’re aware of at least one London rookie who has done a dual stint in Washington DC and Hong Kong, and another who talked his way to a finance seat in Beijing.
There are some excellent client secondment opportunities too. Classic corporate locations include Shell, Standard Chartered and Macquarie. More left-field examples 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 placement at the Silicon Valley head office of a certain 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. As with secondment requests, a bit of initiative will go a long way, at least in this rookie’s experience:
“At the beginning of my current seat in banking and in my previous seat in corporate, I explained to my supervisors that I studied law and enjoyed research. As a result I have been given a surprising amount of research/advisory in both seats. I think they are keen to stretch you as well, the instructions become less detailed and you are expected to be more proactive”.
The generally “excellent” training is pitched quite high. “I was treated as an NQ for most of the training contract,” one insider tells us, and another confirms that “I feel like I’m treated like an associate”. While you’re expected to get up to speed quickly, there are “frequent departmental training sessions which often contain real scenarios that the team encountered on a deal and how they tackled it, helping to bring the material to life”. There are, though, a few grumbles about how seats are allocated.
No such complaints about fellow trainees: it’s 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 “BM HQ after 5:30pm on a Friday” — or at least it was pre-COVID. Even now, there are “virtual drinks every week”. Bakers in fact scores outstandingly for ease of adjustment to home working, on both the work and social side. “I received my IT kit the day we started working from home”, one trainee says, and you still get your gym subsidy to spend on home exercise programmes and equipment. Another rave reviewer tells us: “Our team has three weekly meetings, fortnightly meetings with our PAs, weekly meetings with a pod (about five team members of mixed levels to discuss current work and any issues arising), social Zoom calls etc. We also have a policy of turning on video (internet permitting!) so that we still have some “face to face” contact. Although I would prefer to go back to the office, I could keep working from home for a long time with this set-up”.
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. You’re likely to be in the office until around 8pm, on average. It’s hard to be too precise: the proximity of nose to grindstone will depend a lot on the seat and what work comes in. “Late nights are sometimes unavoidable and it varies across departments but on the whole for a large law firm the work/life balance isn’t bad”, is one fair summary. The consensus view is that this is par for the course for a firm of this calibre. “I didn’t move to London to get out at 5:30pm 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.
In terms of perks, Bakers does OK — just “not as fancy as some firms”. Goodies on offer include iPhones for trainees, an in-house doctor and physio, yoga classes, subsidised gym membership, and regular mortgage and financial planning clinics. The canteen is said to be… improving… and there’s a new office on the cards anyway. From 2023, Bakers lawyers should be in fancier Spitalfields digs complete with roof terrace, and the move isn’t affected by the COVID upheaval. In the meantime, some floors of the existing premises are being renovated, and trainees appreciate the “genuine” (if imperfect) sustainability effort that includes a recent ban on single-use plastic cups.