Meet Baker McKenzie at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 4 November 2021
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 an annual turnover of just below $3 billion (£2.2 billion), rivalling that of fellow behemoths Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins.
In the firm’s most recent financials, profit per equity partner (PEP) dipped 12% to $1.35 million (£984,000), whilst profit was down 9.7% from $1 billion to $903.5 million (£656.6 million). Despite this, London newly qualified solicitors have seen pay restored to pre-pandemic levels of £90,000 plus bonuses. The firm has also made some big investments in recent times, through the launch of service centres in Florida and Buenos Aires and the addition of 152 new partners to its ranks, 68 of which were lured away from other firms.
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. Although Covid-19 disrupted some rookies plans to go on secondment, Legal Cheek understands that in normal times a significant proportion of Bakers’ London trainees and junior lawyers get the chance to do a stint 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”. In the past, London rookies are known to have seen both Washington DC and Hong Kong during the course of their TC for example.
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” and “super intellectually stimulating work” to the extent that they are “working directly with senior associates and partners” and even “running deals” during certain moments. As one junior explained, “tasks aren’t just given to trainees because they are the lowest on the food chain”, but usually involve “an engaging back and forth with associates and partners”.
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”. All in all, top training sessions, working with “lots of very knowledgeable people” and doing “lots of real work, significant client exposure and responsibility” has left Bakers rookies pretty satisfied.
The price to pay for all this comes in work/life balance; you’re likely to be in the office until around 8pm, on average. It’s hard to be too precise though – the proximity of nose to grindstone will depend a lot on the seat and what work comes in. Work/life balance apparently ranges from “non-existent” in transactional seats to “more balanced” on the advisory side. “Depending on the department it can be pretty bad. “In my current seat the hours are quite long but they are (mostly) confined to week days”, confessed one insider. Another baggy-eyed rookie admitted “huge deal volume over the past year has crushed me somewhat — although I think the same can be said for any decent City firm”.
Working from home has apparently improved this for some. One rookie described their experience like this: “As time is not spent on travel I feel like I can log on earlier/work where I would otherwise be travelling. I can multitask when dialling into calls — whether that’s work or exercise, I incorporate walking meetings into my week. I find I am efficient at home”. Post-pandemic Baker McKenzie has announced its BAgile plan, where employees work from the office for two days a week, two from home, and one from either location.
When all stacked up, however, consensus is that trainees have a pretty good deal: “Really good for a large international firm, people at all levels are very conscious of the importance of a healthy work/life balance and do their best to facilitate it. You can’t escape the odd late night though, it is the nature of the work at times as is necessary to meet client requirements”. The fact that dinner in the canteen is free after 7pm also eases the pain of late finishes.
And the long hours are apparently spent in good company. There’s a nice atmosphere amongst fellow trainees; one junior told Legal Cheek they enjoyed “extremely good relationships with all my peers. I do not feel in a competitive environment”. With a trainee intakes of 33, which is “not so big that people splinter off”, everyone “tends to know everyone which breeds a strong social atmosphere”. Meanwhile, another Bakers’ source recalls their intake helping each other out, “even when going through the NQ application process”. This may explain the lively social life. The Blackfriar Pub is apparently “BM HQ after 5:30pm on a Friday”.
Partners, meanwhile, are mostly “super-approachable” who spearhead the “big cultural emphasis on coaching and mentorship”. 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”.
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.