Most of the City of London’s mega law firms have offices spanning the globe, but Macfarlanes gets by with just two. Despite saving on costly overheads, the firm’s revenue is down 2.3% to £297 million, from last year’s record highs which saw it enjoy growth of 16% to almost £304 million. Profit per equity partner (PEP) dropped a more substantial 15.8% to £2.1 million, though this still remains above Magic Circle levels and a 10% increase in the firm’s equity partnership headcount might have had a part to play in the dip. NQ pay packets have increased to a cool £115,000 plus bonuses.
Money matters aside, Macfarlanes continues to score highly for its training in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. First-rate instruction is combined with plentiful seminars from internal and external speakers to deliver a grounding in corporate law matched by few firms. It’s “second to none”, one junior lawyer tells us, and “each department dedicates energy and time to ensuring its trainees are up to speed at the beginning of the seat, which enables us to contribute more and take on more challenging pieces of work”.
It consists of seminars and workshops at the beginning of each seat to explain all the intricacies of the area you are about to work in, supervisors explaining matters in depth, and then further training throughout the seat alongside knowledge updates as well as opportunities for trainees to present legal knowledge to their team and develop their soft skills. As this insider puts it: “A lot of time, effort and resources are spent on training. Seemingly a lot more than at other firms. Genuinely academic culture”. The firm even has the former Lord Chancellor David Gauke as head of public policy!
Some of the work — which is largely high-end M&A — can be slightly terrifying though. One Macfarlanes rookie recalls taking a very deep breath upon being handed a particularly complex task. Another explains how trainees will occasionally get thrown a “boring admin task”, but on the whole “you will work in small, close-knit teams with partners and senior associates on important work”.
Trainees can expect this work to involve household names regardless of their seat. Whether it’s defending Avon in a case against Walgreens Boots Inc. in litigation or advising the Ministry of Sound on a property, eye-catching deals are the norm for budding juniors at Macs.
Don’t expect to coast through your training programme though. “Inevitably hard work, but that’s City law — what do you expect?”, states one. On the whole, there is no expectation for you to be in the office if you don’t need to be, weekend work is rare, and rookies can usually commit to evening plans provided they notify their supervisors well in advance.
But be warned that this varies from department to department. Those plugging away in corporate M&A working with investment funds will regularly burn the midnight oil. Tax isn’t so bad though apparently. Another offers this insight: “Transactional seats tend to have a more up and down work life balance whereas advisory and contentious seats are steadier”. An average leave time of around 8pm is not bad for high-end corporate law. Trainees can expect to work from home one day a week.
A “collegiate atmosphere” among the “pretty nice bunch” of trainees helps soothe the grind, as does the firm’s open-door policy “whereby all seniors and partners are largely open to stupid questions and a pint down the pub!” One enamoured newbie told us there are “some incredible people and great friends”. Cohorts are even known to organise trainee holidays together. That said, according to one rookie, there can be a “bit of an old-guard vibe amongst some of the older partners” who are quick to point out your “professional [and] fashion faux-pas”. Several spies confessed that there are some superiors that are “a little intimidating” but on the whole everyone is “lovely”, “very supportive” and “encouraging”.
What you are unlikely to get if you do a training programme 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.
There are, however, occasional opportunities to travel on particular pieces of business, with destinations including Jersey and the firm’s office in Brussels. Unfortunately for jet-setters, the more ESG-minded side of the firm “is actively exploring and encouraging partners and associates to use less flights, so everyone is encouraged to consider the events they are invited to and be more selective if it involves international travel (or explore non-flying options)”.
The perks are decent; the private health insurance is appreciated, as are the free dinners after 7:30pm and the £30 monthly gym allowance. Free barista coffee is also (unsurprisingly) a big hit amongst Macfarlanes lawyers. Tech, however, was a bugbear for some. Whilst work is being done to develop useful AI software, the Surface Pros are apparently “not great for big documents” and the tech “breaks down frequently”, which one rookie claimed can add on “at least an hour of waiting each day”.
But insiders claim there has been significant recent investment resulting in multiple products now on offer to clients. Separate to doing a regular TC, the firm’s legal tech grad scheme, which began in 2021, aims to further support and foster innovation across its ranks. One hopeful newbie summarises: “I am of the opinion that it will become a great firm in terms of legal tech, they are just not quite there yet”.
Macs moved office in 2018 to 98 Fetter Lane (but kept its client facing operations round the corner at 20 Cursitor Street). The firm has since overspilled into a handful of offices, making its working space “more like a campus” and leaving some trainees feeling slightly “fragmented”. Sources tells us that “a one office set-up would be preferred”.
Drinks down the local pubs on a Friday remain a weekly feature of trainee life, while all the departments have hotly-anticipated parties throughout the year. “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.