The Legal Cheek View
The figures are impressive. Osborne Clarke’s latest financial results, posted in the summer of 2022, show revenue rose 19% to €407 million (£350 million) across the firm as a whole (marking a 66% increase over the past five years). In the UK, where the firm has offices in London, Bristol and Reading, income rose 20% to £199 million, UK net profit increased 14% to more than £77 million, and profit per equity partner (PEP) was up 11% to £796,000.
In early 2022, the firm revealed designs for its new, flagship, bespoke eco-office in the centre of Bristol, the Halo building, with indoor gardens where people can work away from their desks, a restaurant with private rooftop terrace, flexible meeting spaces and a yoga and spin studio. Once completed, the firm will move from its current temple Quay headquarters to the top five floors, with about 600 staff located in 74,000 sq ft.
Osborne Clarke is riding high, with ambitious plans to expand, and is already well on its way from national firm to international player. In 2019, it opened an office in Delhi, via Indian relationship firm BTG Legal, and in the past few years it has formed associations with firms in Shanghai and Singapore, added San Francisco to its US practice in addition to New York and Palo Alto, and opened an office in Amsterdam. All in all, the firm now boasts a headcount of 2,000 spread over 26 international locations.
Throughout this expansion, however, it has preserved its famously nice culture. “I’ve never met such a lovely group of trainees — everyone has a real team spirit and is happy to lend a hand, even out of hours,” says one. Trainees report they have “bonded together well as a peer group” and there is apparently a “bustling” junior network within the firm, with regular socials and networking opportunities — both remote and in-person. Everyone is “friendly, approachable and more than happy to give up their time to discuss most things”.
As an example of its team spirit, it gave all its UK employees a 5% profit share based on annual salaries for the second year running, a minimum payment of £2,500 up from £1,500 last year. It is also increasing its bonus payments. Perks range from the usual package of subsidised gym membership and private health insurance to a free pass to Bristol Zoo. Outside of pandemic times, there are summer and Christmas parties, client events, sporting events and drinks to attend. Other perks include free breakfast, subsidised cake, free Deliveroo and taxis home after 8pm, which sounds like a “small thing but makes you feel valued”, according to one lawyer.
The firm also receives praise for being highly environmentally conscious, in the 2022-23 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, as its new Bristol eco-office will no doubt exhibit.
Senior colleagues and partners drive the culture; they are, on the whole, “down to earth, open and incredibly generous with their time”. One rookie reports, “the majority of partners I have interacted with very approachable, with only a few being particularly tricky to get a hold of”. While a colleague explains: “The hierarchy that traditional firms tend to have has definitely been broken down at OC. There’s always going to be the odd one or two scary partners but on the whole the people at OC are very friendly”.
Training is “variable” between seats, with some “more structured” and some “more on the job learning”, according to one rookie. This doesn’t mean you’re left to struggle on your own, however — the level of supervision is described as “excellent”, with support and guidance provided where needed. “I’ve had a really well-rounded experience throughout my training contract,” one recently qualified lawyer says. “We are given a lot of responsibility and exposed to clients early on. We are given a variety of tasks to complete, which has tested a range of skills in all key areas of the firm”.
The work is “all very interesting, with various clients that you might recognise, some seats you’ll click with more than others”. Added glitz is provided by the firm’s technology and media practices, which augment the much larger corporate and litigation teams, and represent tech giants, including Facebook and TripAdvisor. OC lawyers advise games and interactive entertainment clients and assist tech start-ups, and the firm was the first in Europe to open an office in Silicon Valley. Trainees can expect to gain experience of client contact. However, be prepared for plenty of standard trainee tasks too, such as amending precedents and document review. As one trainee puts it, “on the whole the work I have been given has been incredibly stimulating. You are of course exposed to some run-of-the-mill trainee tasks, however these are in the minority”.
Somewhat of a rarity at law firms, the work-life balance is “perfectly balanced”. According to one junior at the firm, “it’s been really good generally, with a few stints of particularly long hours, although people were very appreciative in these circumstances”. Hours vary between teams. There’s the “occasional late night but on the whole fairly steady hours”, notes one insider, and there is “always someone checking in when you are working late and encouraging us to log off at a sensible time if we have nothing pressing to finish”. Another more pessimistic rookie reports “often there have been late nights and there is an expectation to answer emails/calls outside of working hours”. The firm capably handled the switch to working from home during the pandemic, shipping equipment out, including extra screens, where needed so the whole process was “surprisingly trouble free”.
Salaries have risen in recent years to £90,000 for NQs in London, while those in Reading and Bristol receive £81,000 and £69,000 respectively. Trainees in London can expect to earn £51,500 and £53,500 in their first and second year respectively, whereas Reading trainees earn £46,350 and £48,150. Bristol trainees earn £45,000 and £47,000.
What you won’t get at OC is an international trainee secondment. Nor, at a firm that likes to train its new recruits itself, are client secondments very numerous.