“Perhaps”, 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 of hearing humanities graduates bluffing about blockchain, 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.) 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 with over 90% of trainees retained in recent years.
Back in the 21st century, the most recently disclosed profit per equity partner (PEP) exceeded the £600,000 mark — still small change by the standards of the average Farrer client, but enough to pay first year trainees £40,000.
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”. 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.
Whilst the quality of work is said to vary from department to department, it is on the whole “interesting, […] meaningful and engaging”. One rookie reports “when it’s good it’s great – responsibility to draft difficult docs, run smaller cases, actually apply your brain” but “of course some trainee jobs are administrative” another insider adds.
It’s not all livery companies, either: the firm was reportedly engaged by the Football Association to safeguard the privacy of the England WAGs (wives and girlfriends) during the World Cup in Russia. Superstar family lawyer Fiona Shackleton, solicitor to Prince William, spent much of her career here. As one trainee put it: “high-profile clients, niche areas of law and genuinely interesting legal conundrums”.
The 10 trainees form a tight-knit crew and the firm comes highly praised for peer support. And this is not just limited to trainees, with one rookie source explaining how “everyone at all levels has been incredibly supportive”. Members of the firm provide the dream combination of “a range of opportunities, ample supervision and helpful feedback” throughout the TC. Indeed, the “friendly and supportive” partners even have a reputation for being “generally willing to put their card behind the bar for team drinks”, which does not go unappreciated.
The work/life balance is strong with this one: trainees and junior lawyers can generally expect to be out the door by 7pm (when not working from home, of course). A good work/life balance is baked into Farrer’s culture, with trainees telling Legal Cheek “there is a real recognition of the importance of this balance”. Another adds, “people at the firm understand the importance of a life outside of work and there is no stigma in acknowledging that fact”. Working from home has also been well-received, scoring strongly in the Legal Cheek 2021-22 survey and is backed by solid IT support.
The perks are decent — good health insurance balances out the free sandwiches. And the Grade II listed mansion Lincoln’s Inn Fields is a lovely spot for lunch. That may be just as well as we’re told that “the coffee is universally panned as undrinkable”, there’s no canteen, and while the historic Peacock Room is “where it’s at, our desks… not so much”. There is some hope for the future, however, with the office rumoured to be being refurbished. And you can always break up your time at the firm with a client secondment. Recent in-house excursions include a Premier League football club (West London, natch) and the PGA European Tour.
The firm has made much of its commitment to gender diversity in an age where a majority of practising solicitors are now female. 42% of Farrer & Co partners are female, above the national average of 33%, and there’s now a steady stream of newly promoted partners that have been women. The firm also prides itself on being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to employees’ mental health and is said to be “making a significant effort” to become more eco-friendly.
However, the firm’s long history came back to bite when it emerged recently that its founder Oliver Farrer had advised estate owners in Jamaica as to how they could secure compensation, after slave labour was abolished in the British colonies in 1834. The firm has acknowledged this and reiterated that “this could not be more removed from the firm’s present-day values and culture and we strongly distance ourselves from, and regret the actions of, one of our forefathers”. And whilst they are not alone – Freshfields has a similar historic connection – others, like the now renamed Gatehouse Chambers (formerly Hardwicke) have done more to explicitly address this.