The Legal Cheek View
Most of the City of London’s mega law firms have offices spanning the globe, but Macfarlanes gets by with just one. And without all those costly overheads, it reaps a profit that is significantly higher than most. Profit per equity (PEP) stands at well over a million, with this year’s £1.38 million up 8% on last year following a 4% rise in revenue from £161.03 million to £167.6 million. Newly qualified pay is on the rise too, with a new bonus-linked package under which rookies can expect to earn at least £81,300, representing a 15% increase on the previous £71k figure.
Magic circle-levels of profitability are matched by the training, for which Macfarlanes’ scores are among the highest recorded in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. First-rate instruction is combined with plentiful seminars from internal and external speakers to deliver a grounding in corporate law matched by few firms. One trainee describes it like this: “As well as having a lot official training each time you join a department, the amount of individual attention that each trainee gets is really impressive, especially for a pretty big firm.”
Another says: “Training is taking very seriously. Most fee-earners take the time to explain comments to you rather than just handing back mark-ups. There's a lot of emphasis on becoming a technically excellent lawyer at the start of your career.”
Some of the work – which is largely high end M&A – can be slightly terrifying. One Macfarlanes rookie recalls their feeling upon being handed a particularly complex task: “Are they seriously trusting me with this? REALLY? OK. Cool. Pssh I got this. TF for insurance.” At other times, though, “it's form filling at its finest”.
Expect to work hard: There are apparently “fairly frequent 2-4am finishes when the deals a flowin”, but equally some seats “allow a normal life”. Other insiders reckon that it’s all about being able to “manage your work well and say no when you are at capacity”.
A “really strong sense of community and friendship amongst trainees” helps soothe the grind, as do, mostly, the “generally approachable” partners who are apparently “scarier the older they get”.
What you are unlikely to get if you do a training contract at Macfarlanes is an international or client secondment, with the firm typically waiting until associate level before it sends lawyers abroad to a host of independent law firms with which it has close ties and/or client organisations. The firm’s thinking is that six months away from the heart of the action at too early a stage undermines its training scheme. However, there are occasional opportunities to travel on particularly pieces of business. “I went to the glamorous islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man for two days each,” one tells us.
The perks are OK – even if the firm’s lawyers grumble at the slightly "miserly" £30 per month offered towards sport and fitness activities ("It covers less than half of my gym membership," complains one). There’s also free dinner in the firm canteen after 7:40pm (which is said to taste “like an excellent school dinner”) and free taxis after 10pm. Meanwhile, everyone has recently been given swish new Surface Pros, with one of the aims to make remote working easier.
The good news for those hoping for a bit more glitz is that Macfarlanes is about to move to swanky new premises. Early reports suggest that the new gaff could be quite impressive – the interior is said to be “snazzy” and there is excited chatter about a roof terrace -- but no one is getting too carried away. Of the move an insider quips: "Hopefully the mice won't move with us". What the firm will be hoping to successfully transfer is a friendly culture and lively social scene. Friday drinks at the local pubs are a weekly feature of trainee life, while all the departments have hotly-anticipated summer and Christmas parties. “Let's face it, your social life outside the firm is unlikely to be buzzing so you need to make the best of what you've got,” reflects a trainee.