It’s been a decent year for Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). Revenue is up 7% to £272 million, some glamour instructions – such as advising on the sale of the Walkie Talkie Building – have come through the door, and, to top it all off, a show written by one of the firm’s partners, Brexit the Musical, has been a hit at the Edinburgh Festival.
The BLP powers that be will be pleasantly surprised, having shown nerves in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum with their decision to freeze junior lawyer pay amid fears that the firm’s core practice area – high end commercial property – could be affected. In reality, the market has held up reasonably well, with BLP recognising this by since reversing that pay freeze to increase newly qualified solicitor pay to a substantial £70,000. Chatter about a merger with a US firm – fuelled by the collapse of merger talks with US giant Greenberg Traurig in 2016 – has abated for now.
Instead, the big news this year is the rather less headline-grabbing move by BLP to make its iconic 1920s Grade II listed Adelaide House office open plan. Views on the wisdom of this vary widely. One insider complains that “the move has been less successful than Theresa May’s election campaign”, however another counters that “our new open plan floors are aesthetically appealing”. What everyone seems to agree upon is the office’s location across the river from London Bridge Station is pretty good. “View over the River Thames = a glorious delight,” a further trainee comments.
The canteen refurb that has taken place at the same time has also been well-received. It is now “much brighter and airier”, with more food options and regular pop-up events, such as summer barbeques which are “especially good with outdoor seating by the river”. Nevertheless there are some grumbles about “small portions” and “not enough vegan options”.
Data from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 shows BLP to be a pretty happy ship, with the firm receiving As for training, quality of work, peer support, tech-savvy and social life. A rookie summarises the training programme like this: “Very good training – both general office and IT training and departmental training. In real estate and have had approx 20 training sessions on various subject matters for trainees and regular real estate wide training sessions for all legal staff.” Another adds: “There’s a lot of training here.”
The work is mixed, but that’s being a trainee for you. “There have been a few pieces of challenging and fulfilling work, but the trainee workload will always include lots of the mundane and the procedural,” reflects an insider. Note, though, that those who show promise and enthusiasm will increasingly find “really good quality work with a lot of client contact” coming their way. There’s also a decent chance of getting away during your TC, with 29% of BLP rookies doing international secondments. The most popular destinations are Singapore, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi. There are some decent client secondments on offer, too, ranging all the way from six months at Goldman Sachs to a stint at charity Reprieve.
Among the firm’s young, the mood is “not the Hunger Games at all”. One career changer tells us that they are “remarkably impressed with how nice and supportive most people are compared to other jobs I’ve had”. But beneath the surface other feelings can lurk. Another rookie confides: “Most trainees are very supportive of each other, but at the end of the day we are all each other’s competition.”
Still, there’s genuine camaraderie, which often extends to regular department-organised socials, summer and winter trainee parties, socials for those involved in the firm’s sports teams and Friday drinks trolleys.
For prospective applicants, it’s worth noting that BLP has established itself as something of a leader in legal market innovation, with its spin-off Lawyers on Demand freelance lawyer business continuing to expand with the swallowing up of Aussie counterpart AdventBalance. The firm’s Manchester office is another innovation that is paying dividends. This year BLP announced plans to launch training contracts in Manchester, with the first cohort starting in September 2017. Meanwhile, across the firm various new IT programmes are being trialled to boost efficiency, including “pioneering new software to aid with disclosure in our litigation practice”. There’s also remote access to help lawyers work from home. However, “the computer systems can be a bit clunky at times”, and “sticking us with IE11 still as a browser is just cruel”. The firm points out that a recent IT upgrade has taken place.
Perks include private healthcare and a certain amount of “benefits” to spend each October on things such as Apple products, wine deliveries and the gym. A recent addition is the introduction of an in-house doctor on certain days of the month. While such freebies are not seen as stellar, they perhaps don’t have to be as they’re not compensating for crazy hours; with the exception of real estate finance and corporate, which have reputations for late nights, the work/life balance is reasonable (see the average arrival and leave times below).