Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
The Legal Cheek View
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) was formed in 2018 from the merger between America’s Bryan Cave and the UK’s Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). The former has a strong reputation in the US for M&A, while the latter has long been known for the quality and breadth of its high-end international commercial real estate practice.
The combined global player boasts around 1,200 lawyers across more than 30 offices in nine different countries, with additional regional support across many other jurisdictions. In the UK, BCLP operate mainly out of their London office, but this is complemented by a growing Manchester office, which also offers a small number of training contracts, and a Southampton base. Globally, BCLP have recently consolidated their two French offices into a shiny new Paris base, and have, like many other firms, shut their Moscow office in light of the ongoing Ukrainian war.
It is not uncommon for recently-merged firms to suffer some teething pains in their formative years, and financially that has proven the case for BCLP in the past few years. However, their ‘Project Advance’ plan for recovery and growth is now paying dividends, with revenue growth bouncing back from a 1% decrease last year to a 2.1% increase — to $878.4 million, or £718.02 million — over the past financial year.
While growth remains the overall objective, this is to be achieved by a consolidation of the merged firm’s activities. In October 2020, BCLP announced its three target areas of focus as part of its Project Advance plan: litigation and investigations, mid-market corporate and finance transactions, and real estate. These areas are now reaping the desired rewards, but this has come at the cost of other departments, namely the private client teams. 2021 saw BCLP lose an 11-partner private client group from their London office to Taylor Wessing as well as another 11-partner US team to boutique Harrison & Held. The losses arising from the period of consolidation have meant that overall head count at BCLP dropped by 8.6% and the number of equity partners fell by 14.8%, a fact which somewhat tempers the headline that profit per equity partner soared by 29% this year to surpass $1 million (or just over £880,000) for the first time.
The past few years of changes have seemingly left their mark on the trainee experience, with many noting that their experiences were “very team dependent”. When it comes to training, this means that “some teams have excellent training whereas others will not provide any training”. On a positive note, many trainees were pleased with the “very good level of responsibility” afforded to them, which is coupled with the support of “highly knowledgeable lawyers that take time to clearly explain things”.
The work is mixed, but that’s being a trainee for you. “Trainee work will always be mixed, but there’s an acknowledgement that you should have access to as much as possible beyond the boring process work,” reflects an insider. Note, though, that “the more trust you build during the seat, the more responsibility you’ll be given as it progresses, which is normally where the most exciting tasks end up lying”. And that can mean drafting opportunities that allow for client engagement, as well as the chance to run with smaller matters and be exposed to complex cross-border deals that are “really engaging and high profile”. Again, this is an area where experience differs between teams, with one rookie advising that “smaller teams can offer more insightful and stimulating work”.
As pandemic restrictions continue to dissipate, there’s also a decent chance of getting away during your training contract, with popular destinations being 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. One insider described their client secondment experience as a “really good opportunity to get stuck in and develop so many interpersonal and legal skills”.
Expect a good level of camaraderie among the intakes too, where “everyone is really willing to help each other out”. Another rookie says: “I’ve found my cohort of trainees to be so supportive, it makes the job more fun to have a bunch of people going through it all at the same time as you and is also a life saver in tougher moments. Even through the recent qualification process, there’s been no sense of competitiveness — we’re friends and everyone genuinely wants the best for each other”.
And partners also come highly praised. “I’ve had superiors across different teams actively go out of their way to help me, so I feel confident saying my experiences are reflective of the wider firm culture. From helping with my work to supporting my career progression, I’ve always had positive experiences when I’ve asked for help,” says one spy. Another details: “in my experience the two supervisors I’ve had have both been great. They were highly supportive, eager to give feedback and very approachable. Both have been great at building my confidence in my own abilities and making sure I know when I have done a good job.” A shout-out is clearly deserved for the graduate development team at BCLP too, for picking supervisors wisely: “The Emerging Talent team does a great job of picking supervisors who will genuinely care about helping their trainees through the two years.”
For prospective applicants, it’s worth noting that BCLP has developed a deserved reputation for innovation. One rookie reveals that “innovation is a big thing at the firm, they really value progressing legal tech solutions”. However, this is truer for some practice areas than others. For example, we are told that litigation uses lots of legal tech for document review, which “makes the trainee role much easier”. The firm is also known to be “keen for trainees to get involved with legal tech if it’s of interest”. The firm’s Manchester office is another innovation that is paying dividends, with BCLP offering training contracts in the North West.
The firm’s innovation credentials owe significantly to its part in creating pioneering flexible lawyering outfit Lawyers on Demand (LOD). Former senior partner of BLP, Neville Eisenberg, was one of the major architects of LOD, and now spearheads BCLP Cubed — the firm’s hub for numerous New Law services. Expect BCLP to remain at the forefront of technology and innovation.
Meanwhile, 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. Some insiders are disgruntled at the meal budget for late nights in the office, although this has now risen from £10 to £20.
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 excellent for City law. One junior lawyer neatly sums this up as “definitely better than plenty of City firms, but definitely not 9-5 (except maybe on a Friday).”
As one insider puts it: “Work life balance varies from seats and teams. Overall working in a commercial law firm you expect not to work 9 to 5 and that on occasions the hours will be long. The firm is understanding of this and every team has capacity talks to ensure no one is feeling overwhelmed and to ensure the work is shared out evenly. Also, the firm understands that you have a life outside of work and as long as you let people know you have dinner plans no one will be upset if you log off at 7 to meet friends!”
Another comments: “For a City law firm the hours are very reasonable. The latest I have stayed is 11pm and I am mostly gone by 8pm with the occasional later finish in a busy period. I generally don’t have any issues making weekday plans and am always out on Friday for a drink with the other trainees.”
The location isn’t bad either. BCLP’s old London gaff, Adelaide House, was on the banks of the Thames across the river from London Bridge Station. But during lockdown the firm moved a stone’s throw away to the 125,000 sq ft Governors House building at 5 Laurence Pountney Hill. Trainees who have had the fortune to roam the open-plan office describe it as “sleek and modern”. Though overall a definite upgrade, with a lovely terrace and spiral staircase, some lament that “the views are not as great as the old office”.
Insiders provide a mixed account of BCLP’s adjustment to greater home working, with the firm embracing the principle but finding many of the practicalities — like getting tech hardware to employees — rather difficult initially. Overall, though, the transition has been reasonable, Legal Cheek understands. As part of a long-term flexible working policy, the firm says it expects lawyers to work from the office for the majority of the time, and has designated a specific day of the week as ‘BCLP team-up day’, where staff are encouraged to attend work in-person.
The environment has also come to the fore in recent times. Metal straws, new environmentally friendly cardboard bins and a trainee-led ESG group all bode well for the firm’s greener future.