When Berrymans Lace Mawer merged with Scotland’s HBM Sayers in May 2014, the combined entity rebranded as BLM and promptly broke through the £100 million revenue mark. But it has been a turbulent journey since then as government reforms affecting insurance work — a central practice area for BLM — have caused it to review its business model.
This has meant several rounds of redundancies as the firm pivots towards higher end work as part of its ambition to be “one of the leading global insurance and risk law specialists by 2020”. The transition has seen revenue dip slightly from £107.7 million to £106.7 million in the firm’s most recently disclosed financials. Several high profile partners have left the firm, while BLM recently entered into a refinancing arrangement with two banks.
But there are some encouraging signs amid the upheaval. Profit per equity rose sharply — from £192,000 to £232,000 — while a two-year ‘tech and analytics’ partnership with the London School of Economics promises to help BLM develop new case prediction and risk assessment models.
The firm has also put in a solid performance in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20, suggesting that the junior end of the firm continues to tick along quite nicely amid the repositioning taking place at a strategic level. Trainees paint a pleasant picture with plenty of comments praising the informal environment (office dress is casual, unlike many law firms), where “we are all very good friends” with “not much politics”.
The work is what you’d expect from an insurance law firm with an impressive client roster. “Plenty of opportunities to work with your own clients which is excellent,” responds one trainee. Close ties to the major insurers see a hefty chunk of trainees complete a client secondment each year, with placements at the likes of Hiscox Insurance, risk brokers Griffiths & Armour and the Association of British Insurers. We’re told secondments are also available post-qualification.
There are opportunities too to get involved in the firm’s expanding private wealth team and commercial advisory group, which it established in late 2017 with the hire of 33 lawyers from Slater and Gordon. BLM has also dipped its toe into international waters, launching Global Insurance Law Connect, an international network with other insurance law specialists.
Other common trainee seats include insurance-related personal injury departments such as motor and casualty, occupational disease, local authority and professional indemnity.
Technology-wise, one trainee finds it “embarrassing” that “no-one but the partners are given laptops”, while another withering review reports: “The IT is a bit ‘hit or miss’ — when it works it’s great, when it doesn’t it can really impact upon your day.”
Those chasing the sweltering heights of MoneyLaw should probably steer clear of BLM. “BLM = tights”, reports one rookie, while another remarks: “BLM is renowned for its low wages.” Trainees start on a salary of £31,000 in London which rises to just £45,000 upon qualification.
The trade-off is a healthy work/life balance in which BLM scores highly. “In my commercial litigation seat I would generally be out by 5:45/6pm,” shares one insider. Relatively short working hours facilitate a social life that trainees describe as “very good”. Though there aren’t many firm organised socials “which is a shame” (bar the annual summer blowout), but the trainees “take it upon themselves” to organise after-work socials and are even allocated “a trainee budget to do our own thing”.
The national outfit has 13 offices spread across the UK and Ireland but its Manchester and London offices are by far the largest. BLM’s Manchester headquarters is, as one trainee puts it, pretty much all “beige and 90s” but it is currently undergoing a “full refurb”. Hopefully that will include a canteen, the lack of which is a common gripe among trainees. BLM’s London gaff, off Fenchurch Street, is in the heart of the capital’s insurance district and overlooks the Institute of Risk Management. Lloyds of London, Willis Towers Watson and Zurich Insurance — all of which are within walking distance. A quarter of the firm’s partners are based there, with a third in Manchester. Eight of the remaining 11 offices have fewer than ten partners or associates. On the whole, we’re told partners are “incredibly approachable” and willing to offer trainees support.
The 20 or so annual trainees that BLM takes on are most likely to be working in either Manchester or London, with a handful based in Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow.