“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 90% of trainees retained in recent years.
Back in the 21st century, the most recently disclosed profit per equity partner (PEP) was a cool £532,000 — still small change by the standards of the average Farrer client, but enough to pay first year trainees £39,000. And the “friendly and supportive” partners are “generally willing to put their card behind the bar for team drinks”, which is no harm either.
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.
Either way, the firm offers a “diverse, challenging workload” according to one respondent to our Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21. 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 Princes William, spent much of her career here. If you ever saw yourself advising royalty, give Farrer & Co a look.
The 20 trainees form a tight-knit crew – the firm scores good marks for peer support. “My colleagues are very friendly and ready to help”, one newbie says. It’s top marks for social life, too.
The work/life balance is strong with this one: trainees and junior lawyers can generally expect to be out the door by 7pm (when there isn’t a pandemic going on). That might seem like a lot of effort if you’re still on uni time, but just try a US firm. “Generally”, we hear, it’s “much better than my colleagues in other firms and there is no culture of being in the office late just to be seen”.
The perks are decent — good health insurance balances out the free sandwiches. And 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”. Still, you can break it up 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. 43% of Farrer & Co partners are female, above the national average of 33%, and three-quarters of the new partners created recently have been women. The firm also prides itself on being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to employees’ mental health.
As you might expect from the stereotype, the tech situation lets them down a little on the Legal Cheek scorecard: “needs sorting out — slow systems and fairly old computers” is one take. “We’re getting there”, one insider says, “one iPad at a time”. Even though the firm is lacking in the tech department, trainees reveal that Farrer & Co has adjusted well to working from home in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Whilst one insider reports that “two of my laptops have self-destructed so far which wasn’t ideal” on the whole we’re told that the transition has gone “very smoothly”.