The full-service US outfit Fried (pronounced like “freed”), Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP has built a reputation as a lean and profitable legal funds machine.
While revenues grew slightly from $951.3 million (£748.2 million) to a record high of $958.4 million (£754 million), a combination of rising expenses and lower levels of transactional work saw the firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) tumble 15% to $3.60 million (£2.83 million). Net income dipped nearly 10% to $469 million (£367 million) after smashing the $500 million (£393 million) mark for the first-time last year. It is also worth noting that prior to these results, revenues doubled in the past seven years with 71% of that growth coming in the last five years.
Despite the uncharacteristic blip on an otherwise impressive record of growth, Fried Frank’s lawyers remain as busy as ever. Recent work highlights include acting for Goldman Sachs Asset Management in connection with West Street Mezzanine Partners VIII, that closed with $15.2 billion in total commitments. It also worked on the formation of Horizon Environment & Climate Solutions Partners, a $1.6 billion private equity fund focused on key sectors in environmental and climate solutions.The London office also frequently advises titans in this space including BlackRock, Bain Capital.
The firm is long-established in the City, setting up shop back in 1970, making it one of the first US law firms to open an office in Europe. Like many US firms, “there is little to no formal training and how much you learn depends entirely on who is giving you the work”. Rookies acknowledge that “this type of practical training wouldn’t work for everyone”, but is particularly well-suited to those who proactively seek out work and are “confident enough to question why things are being done/drafted a particular way”. It also really depends on your supervisor, as one spy reveals: “Some supervisors take the time to explain everything and give you more interesting tasks as you gain their trust, others will only give you admin.” That said, competition around TCs is stiff, with the firm offering around three in London each year.
The small intake certainly has its advantages. Trainees told us they get “lots of responsibility” and find the work “extremely complex and challenging”. One newbie sums it up: “Obviously there is a certain amount of typical trainee-style work that is not at all engaging, but I think the firm probably stacks up well against competitors in that respect.” Some, however, explain that more interesting work is earned, not gifted. “It has been my experience that a lot of responsibility and more complex work comes your way as a trainee, once you have proven yourself capable,” we are told.
But trainees are not left completely to their own devices, with reports of a “supportive culture” throughout the firm. Partners are said to be “mostly approachable” and there is apparently a clear absence of hierarchy within the firm. “Almost everyone is very approachable and supportive,” says one insider. “There are never any issues to find cover for holidays. People are genuinely excited about their work and everyone is generally keen to be working here.” Another tells us how they “usually work directly with partners where it is just the two of us” and they are not afraid to ask questions or flag when I notice I have made a mistake — even though it may seem intimidating at first, the partners appreciate and I feel comfortable coming to them.”
This helps trainees to really make the most of the training available to them, as one explains: “My supervising partner actively goes out of his way to make sure I appreciate the rationale behind every task and how it relates to the overall transaction.” But this does not appear to always be the case – “some are happy to talk no matter what. Others keep their door shut and never answer calls or emails”.
Partners aside, Legal Cheek received some grumbles from insiders on the subject of work/life balance, with one telling us that “it could be better”. Another says: “Sometimes I am at the office all night, other times I am pretty much done with my to do list by 5pm.” Another insider offers up this take: “Given the transactional nature of my practice area, the working hours are very up and down like in all firms. There is no face-time so when I am not on a deal, everybody encourages you to go home and enjoy free time. There is a balance — when work needs to be delivered, there is an expectation that I will be available but I do feel respected by the partners and know they appreciate the effort.”
However, a hefty NQ salary of nearly £160,000 and “no pressure to be ‘online’ unnecessarily when we are in a quiet period” will likely make up for the occasional cancelled dinner with friends. Fried Frank’s legal tech is considered to be “standard”, with Litera software (a spell-check Word add-in) proving to be particularly handy for juniors. However, it can be gleaned from insiders’ comments that there’s more to be done to improve efficiency with one stating that the “system of work allocation is quite poor so you can end up suddenly swamped”.
There remains a lack of international secondment opportunities, despite strong lobbying from trainees, but one rookie did say they spent a week in the firm’s office in Brussels.
On the perks front, one describes them as “standard for a US firm” with the usual gym subsidies, private medical care and firm-funded travel opportunities. Rookies are also provided with a phone, monitor and laptop so they can work from home. But the US firm is especially keen to see rookies in their digs at 100 Bishopsgate — a new skyscraper which is also home to Magic Circle outfit Freshfields – where everyone, including juniors, gets the luxury of their own office. “I love having my own office and we have standing desks too!” one happy rookie tells us. With great work, top-end NQ salaries and a swish office, Fried Frank rookies “can’t complain!”