Formed from the 2014 merger of Charles Russell and Speechly Bircham, Charles Russell Speechlys is now one of the biggest private client firms in Britain, with offices in London, Guildford and Cheltenham. The firm also has a presence in high net worth individual hubs such as Doha, Dubai, Geneva, Luxembourg, Manama, Paris, Zurich and Hong Kong. For law students who fancy a career brushing shoulders with the global elite, this is a good place to start.
Charles Russell has enjoyed a stellar year in its latest financial results, reporting a rise in revenues of 8.5% to £173 million and profit per equity partner shooting up 40.2% to £533,000. In recent times, the firm launched an international tax team which has added another feather in the cap of its already impressive private wealth practice.
The firm takes around 25 trainees per year who are spread across the firm’s London, Guildford and Cheltenham offices. The size of the intake certainly has its advantages, as one junior told Legal Cheek: “Being part of a relatively small intake means that you are entrusted with a lot of responsibility. I have had significant client contact and have been responsible for driving matters forward, and I have also had a broad variety of work in all of my seats thus far.”
Rookies can expect “very thorough and tailored” training. Alongside private client work, trainees also often get to sample the firm’s specialisms in media law, technology law and general commercial work. One current trainee tells us that their supervisors were “engaged and willing to spend time on my professional and personal development”, while another says their supervisor simultaneously “plays the role of a mentor, a boss and a teacher really well”. One notes that, while generally of a high standard, training differs by department, explaining: “In some, you’re thrown in and given a lot of client contact and real fee earning work (e.g. construction & engineering, commercial dispute resolution, real estate). In others, it’s six months of bundling, admin and if you’re really lucky you might get to send an email saying ‘please see attached’ (e.g. family, corporate, employment).”
While generally good, the quality of work is also said to “vary greatly from department to department and — most importantly — how nice the fee earners are in each given team”. We’re told that “the quality of supervisor has a big impact on whether you feel like you have been ‘trained’ in a seat or whether you have just been there to churn out work”. Apparently, “some just love to give trainees the tasks they would rather not have to do, such as page-turning large deeds to check there are no hand amendments”.
But partners are said to be generally nice, if not super-approachable, though this does differ between practice areas. One newbie explained further, “for example as a trainee in the firm’s Private Wealth division, it is very uncommon to have any kind of access to partners in your day-to-day work, and you are expected to stay out of sight. By contrast, in the firms’ EPI [Employment, Pensions & Immigration] division it is very common to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with partners”.
The vibe among trainees is extremely positive, with almost half of those surveyed giving their peers full marks for supportiveness. “There’s very much a sense of everyone pulling together,” observes one trainee. The firm’s managing partner, Simon Ridpath, took a particularly “hands-on approach” during the pandemic, providing weekly updates, and the trainee cohort and wider team have frequently checked in and provided support to juniors. This approach has apparently been “critical” for maintaining the continued high spirits among juniors. Pre-lockdown, trainees bonded over departmental drinks events, including the “legendary” ‘Sports Dinner’ and “always really swanky” Christmas parties – the last few of which have been held at The Savoy hotel in London.
The London-headquartered outfit apparently adjusted to the lockdown “very well indeed”, with remote-workers using video conferencing tech for internal and client meetings; online programmes, such as handy electronic signature tool, ‘DocuSign’; and even an “exclusive in-house developed app” to transition back to the office. That said, one trainee complains that the firm “could have provided us with computer screens rather than expecting us to buy them ourselves when most of us usually work off of two screens”.
The money is pretty good for a private client outfit — especially in view of the decent work/life balance. While we hear that “there are some late nights and it depends on the department”, the partners and senior fee earners “want you to have a life and they will make comments if you’re working too late consistently. You do feel they are grateful when you stay late to help out”. The general attitude is that “people [at Charles Russell Speechlys] seem to have a life and respect that you have one too”.
There is also a decent chance of going on a secondment, with droves of trainees completing client and international secondments. Destinations include ITV, Morgan Stanley and Charles Russell Speechlys’ Swiss offices.
However, such opportunities aside, the perks aren’t great. The gym subsidy is “not the best”, though “work massages during well-being weeks are a treat”, and the firm’s sponsorship deal with Somerset House in London has yielded some decent benefits. Lawyers also receive a “generous pension” and free private healthcare – but no dental insurance.
The recently refurbished London office is said to look “amazing”, with a particularly “snazzy” ninth floor and a “nice newly decorated foyer”. The firm has reportedly nearly taken over 5 Fleet Place in its entirety, which it used to share with other companies and offers a mixture of office and open plan working. The firm is also coordinating the roll-out of new agile working-promoting laptops with the refit. The litigation team, who are based on the acclaimed ninth floor, already have theirs and others will follow shortly. Meanwhile, a recent refurbishment of the Cheltenham office “has really worked wonders”, says one trainee.
The London office is the only one with its own canteen and serves all food in eco-friendly ‘VegWare’ packaging. ‘Charlies’ is apparently “really underestimated”. One trainee sums it up as such: “[T]here’s so much choice it’s incredible and they really pull out all the stops for various themed events (Chinese New Year/FIFA World Cup etc.) Plus the space is great to use for general catch-ups.” The firm has also moved away from disposable coffee and water cups, instead providing staff with reusable ‘Keep Cups’.