Outside of the magic circle, Norton Rose Fulbright is the biggest UK-headquartered law firm in the world, with global revenue at well over the £1 billion mark. The sheer scale and internationalism of the operation, with over 50 offices across five continents, is a major draw to students; as is the quality of the work at a firm that is particularly well thought of for its finance, energy, property, high-end insurance and transport practices.
The A*-rated training is everything you’d expect from an international mega firm. Current trainees report “quality training in a supportive environment” although note that it “varies dependent on department and supervisor”. Another adds further insight: “They really give you the tools to face new concepts and tasks head on.”
The work trainees are exposed to depends on team and supervisor. While the overriding ethos is “If you want good work and show you can do it well, then you will get it”, there can be can be some administrative tasks, particularly in the disputes teams and banking. “It varies a lot from one seat to the next, and also between different types of deals. For bigger transactions I’ve mainly been doing processing work, whereas for smaller deals I’ve been able to take on more responsibility,” another NRF insider tells us.
However, the firm’s new legal process hub in Newcastle has apparently “meant trainees have been more able to take on work with greater complexity”, and with its continued expansion more lower level work is flowing north from London.
Insiders highlight international and client secondments – which Norton Rose Fulbright offers in some of the most substantial numbers of any firm – as a good opportunity to experience higher levels of responsibility. 55% of the firm’s rookies have spent time overseas for work, with common secondment destinations including Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo and Paris. One Norton Rose Fulbright trainee reports: “I went to Paris for six months in my second seat to work on our Paris aviation finance team. Absolutely brilliant experience, lots of responsibility and trips to Airbus factories to deliver planes.” Meanwhile, 23% of trainees have done client secondments; spending time at, among other big names, HSBC and BP.
Expectations here are high. So while partners may be “very friendly and chatty people socially” don’t be surprised if some “appear appalled if you don’t know about some obscure part of practice”. The key is to “put the hours in and earn their respect”.
Happily, there is a “brilliant collegiate” spirit among trainees. “Great people, all the trainees get on and hang out. Associates in my seat are chatty and engaging,” one Norton Rose Fulbright insider tells us. Beware, though, the occasional “absolute hospital pass” when moving to a new seat.
Another plus is the firm’s London office, which is among the City’s fanciest – sitting prettily on the South Bank of the Thames in all its glass and steel splendour. “Probably the best front door view of any top City firm. Looking straight out over the river, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Hard to beat after a long day in the office,” is how one insider puts it. The views from the “dreamy” terrace on the ninth floor are spectacular. “Managed to smuggle my significant other up there for the view which was nice,” one cheeky trainee reveals.
But be mindful, wannabe Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers, that if you get in you’ll be spending a fair chunk of time at 3 More London Riverside. An average leave the office time of 8:03pm is not bad for a firm in Norton Rose Fulbright’s class. But the practical effect of that is still, as one trainee puts it: “During the week I work, during the weekend I have a life.” While some trainees report “much better [work/life balance] than peers at other firms”, others emphasise just how variable the hours can be. Says one: “As a trainee, you understandably don’t have control of your workload. Some supervisors are great at managing this as far as possible and ensuring you can go on holiday uninterrupted and go to events you have tickets for, others are not so great.” Another adds: “First month of this seat was leaving work by 6:30pm latest, currently haven’t been home before midnight for a month. Vaguely remember what my flat looks like.”
The upside of staying late is that lawyers get a free dinner in the recently renovated canteen after 7pm, and a free taxi home after 9pm. This ethos of looking after those who work hard seems to permeate the culture of the firm, with Norton Rose Fulbright seen as one of the nicer of the very big outfits. A decent social scene – led by a “pretty active trainee group and lots of internal groups planning events” – is evidence of a rather more joyful institutional mindset than possessed by some rivals. The firm’s in-house bar, which is open on Thursdays and Fridays, helps in this respect. Meanwhile, a tie-up with the McLaren Honda Formula 1 team (the McLaren Group is a client) apparently yields some impressive freebies.
Pulling down Norton Rose Fulbright’s score for perks this year is the firm’s much bemoaned removal of free Financial Times access for trainees, and its loyalty to Blackberrys – which are still given to trainees over iPhones. Word has it that this latter policy will shortly be ditched as the firm becomes more tech-savvy.