“On good days,” a Reed Smith trainee tells us, the firm’s UK office “reminds me of being a king/queen of London surveying the metropolis from his/her palace, or hanging out on a cloud with friends, a squirrel in the tree tops.”
The firm’s London gaff, high up in the Broadgate Tower, is one of the most impressive around, with stunning views and generally excellent facilities. With a top-notch canteen (the food is said to be consistently “noms”), Reed Smith’s young royals could stay up in their metaphorical palaces/clouds/trees all day long if they wished.
In fact, when there is a big deal on, they may find themselves hanging around rather longer. Trainees are sometimes expected to “drop all social/other commitments for work”, one newbie complains. Not that work/life balance is too bad at Reed Smith, which generally sees people leave between 7pm and 8pm according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21. Insiders say that how much you work varies between departments, with one reporting: “In my last two seats, getting out at 7pm was a real possibility. In seat one, I basically only went home for the weekends.”
What of the rest of the rookie lawyer experience? Well, it’s pretty good, with “thorough” training and decent work (“I am not a document monkey”) spanning the firm’s core specialisms in financial disputes, shipping and, somewhat unusually for a City firm, entertainment and media law. One of the firm’s London partners was recently named as a go-to music industry solicitor by Billboard Magazine, no less, and the firm boasts expertise in other rock n’ roll subjects like sports, gaming and social media.
One current Reed Smith trainee describes it like this: “There is general induction training when you begin your TC, but also specific departmental training at the beginning of each seat.” Another adds that the quality of training “is really department-specific”. Lockdown, naturally, “made learning more difficult. But whilst the range of things I learn has lessened, the quality is still great”.
Secondments are a strong point. According to our figures a quarter of Reed Smith’s young have spent time abroad and around the same proportion have done a placement with a client. The most popular destinations for the firm are Dubai and Singapore. There are also a fair few smaller trips. Rookies report client visits to Hamburg on a big case, a trip to Seoul and a Korean shipyard for a week to take statements, and a week in Japan for business development and marketing. Meanwhile, client secondment destinations include some of Reed Smith’s big media law clients, major banks and corporates, and pro bono placements at the likes of Liberty and Reprieve.
Another strength is technology. In London Reed Smith has a dedicated innovation hub, featuring a glass wall with spectacular views across the city to help inspire lawyers, and work classified in a special innovation category counts towards billable hours. The firm also offers an “innovation seat” to London trainees. Meanwhile in Leeds, a support hub which opened in 2019 provides a “creative environment” for lawyers and support staff “to find new approaches to problem solving”. Currently there are no plans to offer training contracts in Leeds, though.
A related benefit has been a flexi-working push, with the firm’s wider investment in IT allowing its London lawyers to work from home to a great extent. That paid off handsomely when working from home became suddenly fashionable in mid-2020 — insiders say “the transition was near-seamless”. One newbie told us “there was a lot of support firm-wide to make sure that trainees were settled into as comfortable an environment as possible”.
Reed Smith’s global revenue rose again this year, by 6% to $1.28 billion (£978 million), with $215 million (£164 million) of that coming from the firm’s London office (a 3% rise). Meanwhile, profit per equity partner is also up again, 5% this year, to $1.32 million (£1.01 million). There may be more difficult times ahead, though: London associates recently took a temporary pay cut as the firm sought to ride out the pandemic storm, and a few are even being made redundant. That should be set against the context of some recent whopping pay rises: the salary of a newly qualified Reed Smith solicitor rose from £77,000 to £90,000 last year. .