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 1,400 lawyers across over 30 offices in 14 different countries. 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. Revenue over its last financial year dipped 1% to $860 million (£625.6 million), whilst profit per equity partner grew 0.5% to $837,000 (£608,873).
From the BLP side of the business, the firm is headed by co-chair Lisa Mayhew, who was elected to serve another four years at the helm in the summer of 2019. The firm’s brief spell of being led by two women, however, ended when Therese Pritchard became ineligible to run for another term, and was replaced by St Louis’ transactional partner Steven Baumer.
Although BCLP started 2020 by recruiting a 21-strong team of lawyers in Paris, the firm has since cut around 40 roles in London and shuttered its office in Beijing. But rookies remain calm! The firm traditionally has strong trainee retention rates and now offers newly qualified solicitors a recently improved pay packet of £88,000.
But growth remains the overall objective. In October 2020, BCLP announced its three target areas for expansion: litigation and investigations, mid-market corporate and finance transactions, and real estate. And there has been some promising progress here with the firm representing the real estate investment trust AIMCO in a $2.4 billion purchase of a California real estate portfolio, as well as advising Wheaton Precious Metals on its $23-billion London IPO.
On the ground in London the mood at BCLP is said to be very similar to how it was at BLP — that is, pretty good. Indeed, the firm’s results in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey continue to reflect this.
A rookie summarises the training programme like this: “The firm has created unique training programmes for each seat. The training provided is to a high standard and is given throughout the time in each department to ensure you are building on your skills and gaining new skills throughout your six months in the seat. The firm also ensures that trainees have time off and supervisors are aware of trainee’s PSC [Professional Skills Course] scheduled training to ensure that the trainees are fully able to engage with these training sessions without work interfering or interruptions”.
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 “engaging, interesting and challenging”.
As pandemic restrictions gradually dissipate, there’s also a decent chance of getting away during your training contract with around 20% of BCLP rookies doing international secondments in normal times. 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.
Expect a good level of camaraderie among the intakes too. Another rookie says: “Really good diverse intake with a mix of personalities. A good example is that 8/9 of us went to Belgium for a long weekend together and have had regular catch ups during the lockdown and qualification process”.
Another added: “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”.
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 paltry meal budget for late nights in the office, which apparently stands at a meagre £10.
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.
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.