Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has taken the turbulent economic environment in its stride, with the firm delivering its seventh consecutive year of growth in its latest financial results. Freshfields posted an 8% uptick in revenue climbing to £1.84 billion, whilst profit per equity partner (PEP) grew by 1% to £2.09 million. The only Magic Circle firm to record a PEP rise this year, albeit a small one, Freshfields also announced that this would be the last year that it would be releasing its financials to the press. However, for those TC hunters still curious about its results, a Companies House trawl would still reveal some deets to drop into those all-important interviews.
Following a period of transition with a new leadership team taking over in January 2021 and the launch of a seven-partner Silicon Valley office that aimed to boost the firm’s tech, antitrust and life sciences practices, Freshfields is looking strong. The firm has now grown its Silicon Valley office considerably, with 10 partners and nearly 40 associates in the team. Impressively, the new office boasts six major practice areas with Band 1 Chambers Global rankings.
The firm is also sending ever more work to its Manchester support office (where headcount keeps growing) while, like the other Magic Circle firms, it ploughs money into new artificial intelligence-derived technology as it bids to boost efficiency. But one trainee finds that while “there is a lot going on in the background, we’re not told that much about it” and legal tech is not used “day to day”. Another reports rather amusingly: “my laptop often sounds like it’s about to take off”. However, Freshfields’ legal tech does appear to be helpful on some level with one rookie praising how “the automation has really lowered the workload of contract proofing etc. I have been here for four months and have spent most of my time doing actual legal/commercial analysis rather than just proofing and cross referencing”.
The firm’s continued expansion into the North is largely a blessing for London rookies, with one telling us that “most of the admin-style work is now sent to the Manchester hub, leaving trainees to help out on more stimulating tasks”. Indeed, so closely do they work together that a visit to the Manchester office is now included as part of London trainees’ induction. There’s also the Freshfields Lab based in Berlin’s tech start-up hub that is focused on developing new technology-based solutions. This all leaves “challenging research and first-round drafting” to be done in London, with “trainees expected to understand their matters inside out and be able to issue-spot rather than just being admin drones”.
When it comes to training, quality of work and peer and partner support, Freshfields hits the level you’d expect for an elite firm. While one trainee describes this as the firm’s “high point”, another cautions that “when things get busy, training very much gets put on the back-burner”. Another rookie summarises the training as follows:
“The associates giving me work are always happy to sit down with me to give me feedback and answer all my questions about something. This means I develop and improve quickly, and can also ask questions about the wider context of a piece of work or a matter, thus developing my market understanding as well. A good example is when I spent quite a few hours drafting something that ended up being unnecessary because of the client changing plans. Two associates still sat down with me for an hour to go through all my work and give me feedback and tips.”
This all means that the work can be “incredibly tough and complex, but rewarding”, with tasks getting “increasingly stimulating” as trainees move through their training contracts. One spy reports on being involved “with assisting with the first drafts of witness statements and settlement negotiations”. Insiders laud the “fantastic range of work” which is “usually high-profile and often ends up in the news”. Despite the fact rookies are “consistently trusted with associate level work”, there are unavoidable bits and pieces which are “deathly dull”.
Another offers this insight: “My department (corporate) is always keen to give you work that is very challenging without putting you completely out of your comfort zone. From speaking to my friends at other firms, I typically get given a lot more responsibility. I also find that I am often liaising with associates that are a lot more senior than me at other firms — the team member in the opposing firm with an equivalent PQE level to me will often be less involved/less visible on external calls/emails. The matters I work on are also really complex, which keeps things interesting.”
Legal Cheek understands that the vibe among the current cohort of trainees is generally good. Fellow trainees are known to be “extremely supportive of each other, lending a helping hand whenever required”. There is also apparently no sense of competition, even around qualification, which is testament to the “great characters” that regularly fill the intakes.
One rookie sums up the mood: “We have a great intake of trainees here who generally eat together at lunch (and tea most nights!) and help each other out with work, which is particularly useful at the start of a new seat when you have no idea what you’re doing!”. Although of course as with any elite firm there can be times, particularly in the lead up to qualification, when peoples’ competitiveness shows.
The firm has also taken seriously some complaints from several years ago about tensions between the junior and senior end of the firm. A Freshfields insider reports that “they actively encourage trainees to give their views during internal calls, even on more strategic points of discussion in addition to the traditional tasks for which trainees are responsible, and trainees are almost always invited to client calls”.
Whilst most are fans of grabbing a coffee with their supervisors and greatly value the guidance and feedback they are given, some supervisors “see themselves as an assessor”. This means partner approachability can sometimes be a bit “hit and miss”, with one insider noting that partners in disputes are apparently less approachable than their counterparts in other practice areas. One trainee reports still “being nervous about approaching partners about certain things” and there “definitely being an aura of unapproachability around some of them”. Overall, however, the consensus appears to be that the vast majority of people at the firm are “highly approachable, and happy to answer silly questions”, with some exceptions, as expected in any workplace.
Hours can be long and grinding, with late evening (or beyond) departures from the office being commonplace — although it varies according to department (litigation is said to be OK, corporate less so). One trainee finds that “weekday plans are difficult to make on short notice, but weekends have been largely protected and, if sufficient advance notice has been provided, the occasional weekday plan tends to be doable”. Another reports that “hours are long and it can be challenging to create boundaries. But seniors have noted this and encouraged me to carve out more time for myself”.
The firm’s vast overseas network (Freshfields has over 30 offices in 18 countries) also means that Freshies’ youngsters have a good chance of enjoying an international dimension to their training contract — a secondment, either client or international, is compulsory in the final 6 months of the TC. Around a third have spent time abroad with the firm in locations such as Silicon Valley, Singapore, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Client secondments are equally popular with destinations including BAE Systems, Tower Hamlets Law Centre, Liberty Human Rights, BP and the Bank of England (one of Freshfields’ oldest clients).
It also helps that the firm has a very flexible work from home policy, with many doing just three days a week in the office. “Very flexible to come and go from the office… WFH in the morning for early calls and come in during the afternoon, leaving the office for dinner and logging back on at home,” details one. As Freshfields rookies embrace hybrid working, the firm offers home office equipment (monitor, keyboard, mouse, USB connector) with most using a separate screen and a laptop. Office chairs can be requested. Some rookies grumble that an extra monitor would be helpful, while others find that “it still feels like the older generation think we’re not working unless we’re in the office”. These gripes aside, you are also handsomely rewarded: first and second year pay is £50k and £55k plus bonuses. And if you stay on as an NQ, which the majority typically do, you can expect to take home £125,000.
And if you want top freebies, look no further than Freshfields: there’s an on-site doctor, dentist, beautician, masseuse and pastry chef, gym subsidies, a generously subsidised winter ski trip, two for one National Theatre tickets, regular lavish socials and even free pensions and mortgage advice. On top of all that, the newly kitted out office is “phenomenal” and is fitted with standing desks, a moss wall in the canteen, top of the line Hag Sofi chairs (“so comfortable”), and so much designer furniture that you feel like you “walked into a showroom”. There’s also “lots of cultural food in the kitchen” and while “it’s like a 5-star hotel”, trainees find the canteen food to be “rather expensive”.