Beyond the realms of the Magic Circle, Norton Rose Fulbright is one of the biggest UK-headquartered law firms in the world, with global revenues of $2.09 billion (£1.65 billion) and average profit per equity partner (PEP) of $1.05 million (£830,000).
The sheer scale and internationalism of the operation, with nearly 60 offices across five continents, is a major draw to would-be lawyers; 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. And the pay isn’t half bad either ― with NQs earning a salary of £120,000, in line with the going rate at other large international competitors.
A “strong emphasis on training” is something you’d expect from an international mega firm. Current trainees speak highly of the “vast wealth of materials, resources and manpower dedicated to training, in addition to a fantastic culture that is conducive to education”. However, some note that they would like to have more structured training sessions across every department, as opposed to the more “sink or swim approach” taken in some teams. Banking “gives great training” whilst corporate is said to take a less formal structure which suits some: “I have found there is a lot of learning ‘on the job’ which I have probably found most useful,” one corporate rookies tells us.
Another insider sums up the offering like this: “The firm offers a very good blend of training modules, and then practical application of this training in actual work. Partners and supervisors are very keen to put trainees on the front line (with the necessary support and guidance) to get practical experience alongside the training”.
Tech-wise, the frustration of trainees is palpable. While there are “lots of specialist products” available to the trainees, “the day-to-day IT is terrible and constantly breaking”, which “makes work all the more frustrating when it does not need to be”. The uptake of new tech internally also could do with improvement, though this appears to be slowly happening: “The area where the firm needs to improve is the adoption of the legal tech internally. Often, partners insist on doing things the ‘old-fashioned way’ despite the firm having specific software available, which makes the process much more efficient when it comes to certain tasks. This is not too major an issue as more mid-level and senior lawyers have now started adopting the legal tech anyway,” one rookie explains.
The firm’s approach to WFH also seems to be a bit hit-and-miss with trainees. One trainee called the WFH set-up budget ― which is understood to sit between £240 and £300 ― “stingy”, while another called it “generous”. Likewise, different teams appear to feel differently about trainees opting to work from home rather than at the office: “Some teams are very supportive of hybrid working, and completely understand that some people work better at home and others work better at the office, leaving it very much as your choice. However, there are still some corporate teams who are known to get angry with employees if they don’t attend the office four days a week”. The consensus from our insiders is that trainees are now expected in the office more often than not.
Where NRF does excel is the quality of work. “It’s top of the market work,” one rookie told Legal Cheek, adding that “many of the deals we are involved in are high profile, high value and really interesting subject matter”. While the calibre of work given to trainees is “department-specific”, this is not unexpected: “Of course there are typical trainee tasks, such as bundling and cross-referencing, but if you can prove you are able to do the simple tasks well associates and partners are happy to let you take responsibility and run work streams yourself and engage with the client directly.” Another insider reports: “The more contentious or regulatory teams have a lot of interesting research tasks [so] that the work trainees do will go on to form the backbone of the advice being given to clients, and transactional seats are involved in a plethora of international transactions to sink your teeth into”.
Some recent examples of the work coming through NRF’s doors include a deal with Société Générale on the financing of the latest MSC Cruise vessel, ‘World Europa’; advising Mr Jisheng Gao on the sale of Southampton Football Club; and working with the Republic of Angola on the $1 billion financing of a water production and distribution facility.
NRF offers a veritable smorgasbord of international secondment opportunities, with 25% reporting spending time overseas in either their Paris or Dubai with work. Meanwhile, another 25% of trainees have done client secondments, spending time at, among other big names, easyJet, ExxonMobil, BP and HSBC.
The vibe amongst the trainee cohort is very good, with rookies describing their peers as “universally lovely”. One insider told us: “The trainee cohort has a fantastic atmosphere and the intra-seat support from trainees all the way up to partners is tangible, you always feel that there is a safety net there for you. I feel assured that I can try my best without judgement if I make mistakes, and I have a lot of fun at work with my fellow trainees.”
Meanwhile, the approachability of superiors seems to be a case of picking your moment, and superior, carefully. One rookie explains: “Many partners and more senior lawyers make time to have a teams catch up, although this tends to be a moving target during busy times as client calls can easily dominate a partner’s calendar.” Another spy adds that “whilst you sometimes have to ‘pick your moment’, I have found most of the people at NRF to work in a non-hierarchical fashion, with reasonably-regular drinks across the team often well-attended by the partners”.
One source also praises the firm’s Europe, Middle East and Asia managing partner Peter Scott, appointed in early 2020, “who has made a real effort to engage with all levels of fee earners and non-fee earners to understand the issues important to them”. More recently, the firm has seen a slew of new appointments globally, including Brent Botha becoming the new CEO for South Africa, Shelley Chapelski becoming the new Head of the Transport Division in Canada, Carter Crow becoming Global Head of Employment and Labor, Saskia Blokland taking on the role of managing partner of the firm’s Amsterdam office and Miranda Cole taking charge of the Brussels outpost.
Juniors spend a fair chunk of their time at the office, according to our findings. Hours can fluctuate from department to department, with one respondent offering up this personal experience: “There are very occasional bits of weekend work but I have never been asked to sacrifice something I have planned. I typically leave the office around 7pm and log another 0-60 minutes work in the evening. Sometimes it’s more but generally it’s on the lower end of that scale. Only complaint is that even an ‘uninterrupted’ evening at home means keeping an eye on the work mobile and looking out for your name on any emails coming in, but that’s just the job isn’t it.”
The general consensus seems to be that, for a City firm, life isn’t too bad ― “For a big City law firm, I have been pleasantly surprised but having said that I would never make week night plans,” one trainee summarised. Another commented: “Whilst the role of a junior lawyer isn’t one that pairs up well with a healthy work/life balance, I think that NRF has one of the better balances of the large City law firms.”
Perks are a bit of a sore point for trainees. While they include the standard private medical insurance and discounted gym membership, one rookie notes that “although private healthcare is offered, the policy is generally poor with limits on the cost of healthcare the policy covers” and “the ‘subsidised’ gym still costs over £150 per month making it largely inaccessible to trainees”. Beyond this, juniors aren’t happy with how much the office canteen costs (or that it closes at 5pm).
But the views from the office certainly help. The firm’s London office — sitting prettily on the South Bank of the Thames in all its glass and steel splendour — is widely heralded among trainees as “the best office out of all the UK law firms”. One insider enthuses: “When you look up from your desk, you have incredible views of the Thames, the Shard, the Tower of London and Tower bridge, all directly out of your window. Walking into work makes you feel like it’s all worth [it] and like you are in an episode of Suits, with an impressive glass building and beautiful views across Tower Bridge, the Shard and the City of London.” Another tells us: “Walking to the office in the morning, without fail, gives me a feeling of “I made it!” It’s less claustrophobic than being in the middle of the City and the view really can’t be beaten.” Rookies also praise the renovated office floors which boast “very modern” interiors.
If being eco-conscious ranks high on your priorities, the rookies also have ample praise for the firm here: “Our firm is very environmentally friendly and eco-conscious! Caroline May, a partner and Head of Sustainability, does a lot to keep the firm updated on methods to become greener. There are also regular initiatives and charity events!”