Farrer & Co
The Legal Cheek View
“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. 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 have been met with praise.
Back in the 21st century, the most recently disclosed figures put profit per equity partner (PEP) just above the £600,000 mark — still small change by the standards of the average Farrer client, but enough to pay first-year trainees £42,000.
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 12 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.
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 “Sometimes you get the more admin heavy tasks (bundling etc) but everything plays into the overall picture and I have also had a real range of work”. High praise indeed!
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. As one trainee put it: “high-profile clients, niche areas of law and genuinely interesting legal conundrums”.
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”, but it seems that this is also true for across the firm: “Almost without exception fee earners from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy are willing to stop and chat”, 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. 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, “people at the firm understand the importance of a life outside of work and there is no stigma in acknowledging that fact”. The firm continues to operate a hybrid working policy of a minimum of two days in the office, and trainees are given “a generous budget to buy all the equipment needed” for WFH life. Whilst the technology offered to the rookies is reportedly “basic”, it encompasses “everything we need” and “IT are always on hand” for when those dreaded tech issues arise.
The perks are decent — good health insurance, trainee bonuses 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 “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).
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- the pandemic seems to have put an end to any current trainee’s hopes of a client secondment. But hopefully these will be set to return soon- with trainees pre-pandemic being sent off to destinations including a Premier League football club (West London, natch) and the PGA European Tour, it would be a great shame if rookies continued to lose out on these opportunities.
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. And they are having an effect on the ground — almost half 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 refurbished office now 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 redevelopment plans, with an emphasis placed on creating workspaces better suited to employee need in an increasingly digital world.
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.