“Perhaps”, former senior Farrer & Co partner Anne-Marie Piper said, “you assumed that the majority of our partners were floppy-haired chaps called Rupert or Tristan”. The posh stereotype is both a blessing and a curse for this 300-year-old firm, solicitors to the establishment. On the one hand, venerable charities and landed gentry tend to be loyal clients. On the other hand, AI start-ups may not be beating a path to your rich mahogany door. If you’re fed up hearing humanities graduates chirping about ChatGPT, this could be the place for you.
Stability is the watchword here — the firm had someone named Farrer as a partner at all times between 1769 and 1999 and has been in the same office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for 200 years. (Admittedly, some of the 450 staff work elsewhere in Holborn these days.) Farrer experienced change in May 2023 when Anne-Marie Piper retired from the firm and handed the senior partner reins to disputes specialist Jeremy Gordon. During her tenure, Anne-Marie led the firm through a period of significant growth, with profits and headcount increasing 38% and 24% respectively. May also saw the passing of Sir Matthew Farrer, who took over the firm in 1964 following his father’s retirement and advised the late Queen and her family until his retirement in the mid-1990s. He died at 93 following a short illness. And speaking of those Royal connections; rumour has it the late Prince Philip reportedly spoke with lawyers from Farrer & Co over the characterisation of him in Netflix hit The Crown.
The firm prides itself on building “long relationships” with clients — it got off to a good start with high-end bank Coutts in 1788, for instance. If that all sounds a bit stuffy, remember that it works in your favour: the firm has high retention rates, typically keeping over 90% of its final-seat trainees. And the firm is working increasingly hard to modernise its image — the 2016 rebranding (which featured the curation of a bespoke contemporary art collection for display across the firm’s website and marketing materials) has been followed by a refurbishment of the firm’s office in 2021, two developments which were met with praise by insiders.
Back in the 21st century, the most recently disclosed figures put profit per equity partner (PEP) at around £600,000 — still small change by the standards of the average Farrer client, but enough to pay first-year trainees £45,000.
Farrer & Co know what they’re good at, and they’re adept at passing on the accumulated centuries of know-how — insiders describe the training as “exceptional”. The firm reportedly places emphasis on recognising that the trainees are “the future of the firm”, and the smaller size of the trainee cohort (the firm takes on up to 10 trainees a year) means that there is “lots of responsibility” on offer.
If you’re not into private client work, this probably isn’t the place to learn your trade, although the firm is now about 50% commercial. Broadly, the firm has three main practice areas — businesses, individuals & families, and charities & institutions — so you can expect a suitably varied workload during your time as a trainee. One trainee attested to this, saying, “My training has involved hugely varied seats due to Farrers being a full-service firm.” Many respondents highlighted the strong departmental training which involved “bespoke sessions provided at the start of each new seat and a feeling that you can turn to any member of the team to ask for guidance”.
The quality of work is another area exalted by the trainees. Their comments speak for themselves: “Farrer boasts some of the most interested and exciting clients — in turn, the work they provide us with is often quirky, unconventional and challenging. It’s one of the great perks of being here”, one trainee boasts, with another adding that “Some trainee tasks are inevitably administrative, however, fee earners will often be keen to get you involved with more interesting tasks wherever possible. At the very least, supervisors will provide context for the work you are doing to demonstrate how you are contributing to the team.” Many applauded the level of confidence the firm has in its trainees, with one saying: “I felt completely trusted from day one by supervisors, from the most senior partners in the firm down to NQ, there is a real institutional memory of what it is like to be a trainee and so we are expected and trusted to do real work.” As one trainee put it: “Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I get to work on some really high profile and interesting matters, many of which are reported in the press.”
The firm’s high scores continue when the trainees were asked about culture at the firm. Whilst the English gentlemen of old who once graced the halls of Farrer & Co may have prided themselves on having a stiff upper lip, nowadays the firm has a much more “supportive, friendly atmosphere”. The trainees described themselves as being “extremely close”, with one saying “the trainees are a great bunch, and we get along brilliantly. They all have the same naff sense of humour as me, it’s fantastic.
It appears the supportive atmosphere extends across the firm: “Everyone in the firm is approachable and friendly regardless of superiority or whether you have been formally introduced to them or not” one rookie tells Legal Cheek. Another more cheeky insider reports that “even the most exalted give their time generously”! This appears to be the case both inside and outside of the office, with the “friendly and supportive” partners holding a reputation for being “generally willing to put their card behind the bar for team drinks”. Unsurprisingly, this does not go unappreciated…
The work/life balance is strong with this one: late nights at your desk are said to be “rare and always appreciated”, whilst your weekends are your own and many describe a “lack of face time culture”. A good work/life balance is baked into Farrer’s culture, with trainees telling Legal Cheek that there is a “strong emphasis on work/life balance. People check in to make sure you’re not working too late”. Another adds, “my current supervisor really encourages me to take lunch breaks, not look at emails in the evening and not work on weekends unless absolutely essential, which it usually isn’t.” The firm continues to operate a hybrid working policy and trainees are given “a generous budget to buy all the equipment needed” for WFH life. Meanwhile, reports on technology at the firm are varied. Some say tech offered to the rookies is “excellent”, whereas others are less enthusiastic, with one quipping: “Computers are as noisy as the Bakerloo line and far less reliable. I’m starting to think that a typewriter might be more efficient…”
The perks are decent — good health insurance, trainee bonuses, a myriad of social clubs from Pilates to cricket and an extra day of holiday at Christmas (called “Farrer Day”) is apparently enough to keep the trainees happy. In previous years, complaints have been made about the lack of a canteen in the office, but the big-wigs at the firm have clearly listened. The office now boasts a newly built- and, most importantly, “affordable” — cafe, which all the trainees reportedly “love”.
Speaking of the office, it’s probably everything you imagine when you think of a firm with roots as old as Farrer & Co has. Situated at the historic Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the firm can trace its origins at the current site as far back as the 18th century. The “beautiful old building” in which the office is housed is certainly a plus for trainees, who describe it as “transmitting a sense of the firm’s history,” and, “much more eye-catching than those dull metallic city skyscrapers”. Inside, the vibe is more “modern”, having been refurbished in 2021 to include more open plan office space (as well as the new canteen and lounge space). There is talk of the “long-awaited” restaurant opening its doors soon, though no one seems to know quite when.
Sadly, if you’re looking to spend some of your training contract in an office that isn’t Farrer & Co’s, you may be out of luck. Opportunities seem to be few and far between since Covid struck, but previous survey respondents report stints with the Premier League football club (West London, natch) and the PGA European Tour. Hopefully they’ll return soon!
And this historic firm is making sure it’s fit for survival for another 300 years with numerous ESG commitments, including those centred on diversity and inclusion. The office houses a privacy room for nursing parents, as well as a wellness and multi-faith room. “Continuous improvement in environmental performance” was central to the office redevelopment plans, with an emphasis placed on creating workspaces better suited to employee needs in an increasingly digital world. When it comes to green credentials employees seem pleased with the effort being put in, with one saying: “Crucially it’s not all talk and certainly moving in the right direction, a place I am proud to work.”
Finally, 2022 saw the firm announce the opening of its Solicitors’ Apprenticeship programme, an expansion of its current apprenticeship scheme which sees placements into its business teams. The scheme will take six years to complete, and will comprise two-year placements into the business services team, as a paralegal and finally into the standard trainee solicitor cohort. Alongside the firm’s partnership with Aspiring Solicitors (a body of which half of the 2021 trainee intake were members), it is clear that this prestigious firm is taking the required steps towards a brighter and more diverse future.