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 two. And without all those costly overheads, it reaps a profit that is significantly higher than most. Operating profit sits at £164 million, up 15% year on year, while its 2021-22 turnover increased 16% to almost £304 million. The firm’s profit per equity (PEP) figure, meanwhile, jumped 19% to the Magic-Circle-beating figure of £2.48 million. Also up are NQ pay packets that have jumped to a cool £107,500 plus bonuses, on par with Allen & Overy and Linklaters.
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”.
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 in some seats 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 more steady”. 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 “very approachable” senior associates and partners who adopt an “excellent” open door policy. One enamoured newbie told us there are “some incredible people and great friends”. Cohorts are even known to organise trainee trips away 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. The swish new 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 also launched a new legal tech grad scheme last year where two to three tech-savy individuals will be placed in Mac’s lawtech team and trained in emerging legal technologies. 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”.
The firm moved office in 2018 to 98 Fetter Lane (but keeping its client facing operations round the corner at 20 Cursitor Street). This still relatively new gaff — described as “homely” and “understated” by insiders — has its very own branch of the hipster coffee chain ‘The Department of Coffee & Social Affairs’, alongside a very pleasant roof terrace.
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.