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 £141.5 million, up 12.3% year on year, while its 2020/21 turnover increased 9.8% to £261 million. The firm’s profit per equity (PEP) figure, meanwhile, jumped 9.2% to £2.085 million despite the economic headwinds brought by the Covid-19 crisis. And all this without cutting costs over the last twelve months. Indeed, NQ base pay has recently risen from £85,000 to £90,000, with associates expected to earn a cool £100k plus with 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.” Another rookie reveals the standard of training remained high throughout lockdown, with regular sessions delivered via Zoom.
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.” 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. “Hours are long and demanding”, one insider tells us, although “there is no expectation for you to be in the office if you don’t need to be”. Other insiders say the hours vary from department to department, warning that those plugging away in litigation “will regularly burn the midnight oil”, adding that working in corporate would score 10 for work/life balance whereas banking & finance would score 3. Another offers this insight: “As with any transactional department, it can be unpredictable and I do do late nights. However, there is zero “face-time” culture and people are very respectful of weekends and holidays”. An average leave the office time of around 8pm is not bad for high-end corporate law. And apparently Macfarlanes adjusted well to life under lockdown, with weekly online socials and lots of IT support, as well as a healthy £500 budget to cover home-working essentials including chairs, desks and monitors. Moving forward, Macfarlanes will allow all its lawyers and staff to work from home two days a week, subject to individual circumstances.
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 that they “genuinely love the other trainees. Everyone else in the firm is pretty good too”. 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 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.
The perks are decent; the private health insurance is appreciated, as are the free dinners after 7:30pm and the £30 monthly gym allowance. The subsidised coffee at the branch of the independent coffee shop on the ground floor of the office is apparently a nice touch. 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”. Another vented: “Just want legal tech companies / the legal tech team to sort out the basics (e.g. time recording, billing etc.) before they try to do the more advanced things”. The firm has, however, recently launched a new legal tech grad scheme where two to three tech-minded trainees will be placed in Mac’s lawtech team and trained in emerging legal technologies.
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 “nice without being showy” 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.