The Legal Cheek View
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. With a profit equity per partner (PEP) of $4.25 million (£3.6 million) up 17% compared to last year, Fried Frank has made its name through its top-notch corporate work for big financial institutions and hedge funds. The firm hit the headlines in the aftermath of the GameStop short squeeze when it came to the aid of its clients Point72 Asset Management and Citadel regarding their $2.75 billion financing of Melvin Capital’s hedge funds. The London office also frequently advises titans in this space including BlackRock, Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs.
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 currently offering just three in London each year.
The small intake certainly has its advantages. Trainees told us they get “lots of responsibility” and find the work “very stimulating”. 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 that especially shone through during the pandemic. 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.”
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”.
Drilling down further into the financials, Fried Frank has had a real bounce back from a muted set of results last year thanks to an uptick in M&A work. This makes it the firm’s strongest performance in the last 15 years. Revenues have doubled over the past seven years with 71% of that growth coming in the last five.
Financials 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.”
However, a hefty NQ salary of £158,000 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 insider’s 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”.
At present, there are no international secondments, despite strong lobbying from trainees, but one rookie did say they were about to undertake a client secondment for what, according to our records, seems to be a first. Other perks include fancy dinners, gym subsidies, private medical care and firm-funded travel opportunities. Trainees 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 new digs at 100 Bishopsgate — a brand new skyscraper which is also home to magic circle outfit Freshfields. The major talking point of the move to a new office is that everyone — juniors included — gets the luxury of their own office. As one happy rookie put it: “Everyone receiving a personal office is a massive perk.” With great work, top-end NQ salaries and a swish office, Fried Frank rookies “can’t complain!”