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 partner (PEP) from a revenue of £216.98 million stands at not far off two million, with this year’s £1.73 million fractionally down on last year’s record high of £1.74 million — a figure that was a whopping 26% up on the previous year. The newly qualified solicitor salaries are pitched close to MoneyLaw levels, with a base rate of £85,000 rising to £98,600-£110,250 with bonuses.
Magic circle-levels of profitability are matched by the training, for which Macfarlanes’ scores are consistently among the highest recorded 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. One trainee describes it like this: “As well as having a lot of 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: “Felt like I’d joined the Marines from day one. At times very gruelling, but it’s really excellent.”
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.” Indeed, so good is the work that one trainee quips: “If anything I want more photocopying!”
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”. For M&A, the firm’s speciality: “Be prepared to give up EVERYTHING … No wonder PEP is so high…”. Other insiders reckon that it’s all about being able to “manage your work well and say no when you are at capacity”. An average leave the office time of just before 8pm is not bad for high-end corporate law. And apparently Macfarlanes is one of the better firms about flexible work. An insider tells us that “NQs and upwards can work one day a fortnight from home, but even at trainee level people are largely happy for you to work from home in the evenings”.
A “really strong sense of community and friendship amongst trainees” helps soothe the grind, as do the “approachable, but very busy and hard to tie down” partners who are apparently “scarier the older they get” (although there are also apparently a few rather unloved senior associates who are prepared to “throw trainees under the bus while driving said bus”).
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 particular pieces of business. “I went to the glamorous islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man for two days each,” one tells us. Another went on an overnight trip to Brussels.
The perks are decent; the private health insurance is appreciated, as are the free taxis after 10pm. Meanwhile, recently everyone was given swish new Surface Pros, which has apparently helped with the aforementioned remote working. Overall though the feeling within the firm is that it could be doing a bit better with its IT — while an ongoing upgrade is appreciated and has delivered some “strong progress”, this remains “an area for improvement”.
An office move that has seen Macfarlanes relocate most lawyers to 98 Fetter Lane (but kept its client facing operations round the corner at 20 Cursitor Street) has boosted the firm’s rating for workspace in the Legal Cheek Survey. The new gaff has its very own branch of the hipster coffee chain ‘The Department of Coffee & Social Affairs’, alongside some “glorious” rooms on the higher floors. But the overwhelming reception from trainees and junior lawyers has been slightly muted. “It’s comfortable, but certainly not swanky like some other firms,” one tells us.
The new canteen elicits similarly mixed reviews — ranging from “Much improved since we moved into the new building. Some of the platters wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant” to “It feels like quality is compromised by the desire to appear trendy”. You can’t please everyone!
Friday drinks at the local pubs remain 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.