The Legal Cheek View
With Reed Smith describing its financial results as its “best ever”, NQ pay hitting a healthy £107,500 and a new London office on the horizon, it’s easy to see why the firm’s trainees are feeling optimistic. Global revenue is up 9.6% to $1.44 billion (£1.2 billion), while revenue in the London office climbed 13% to $243 million (£201.83 million) during the past year. These figures are certainly healthy for a firm which initially cut salaries in response to the pandemic.
The new London office is a subject on many trainees’ minds. While views from the firm’s current London home in The Broadgate Tower are “unmatched” and “amazing”, only one of the floors benefited from a recent renovation meaning “the floors which were not renovated could do with sprucing up”. This is understandable, given the firm’s imminent move. And it seems trainees have been involved in this process, with one describing it as a “unique chance to help to design the new office”. We can’t wait to see it!
When it comes to training, the trainee experience is reported as being “very department dependent”. When it is good, however, it’s “top-rate”. Broadly, trainees also expressed a desire for the training to be “more practical” and held in good time ― “I had an introduction training after three months in the seat,” one rookie lamented.
The theme of inconsistency between departments extends to the quality of work given to trainees. “This can vary according to the department and perhaps the focus of your supervisor’s practice,” one insider tells Legal Cheek. Generally, trainees are satisfied in this area, with this particular insider later commenting, “I have found that people try to give you interesting work to keep you engaged”. The firm’s business support centres in Leeds and across the US certainly help ease the administrative burden otherwise placed on the shoulders of trainees. However, one spy does mention that some departments “seem to use trainees for everything instead of the proper teams”.
The culture at the firm is described as “extremely supportive”. The Shipping Litigation team earned a special shout-out from one trainee, who described them as “absolutely marvellous”. High praise indeed! Among peers, rookies appreciate the “small trainee cohort which means everyone knows each other and is supportive of one another”, while firmwide “everyone is friendly, approachable and generally helpful”. One spy noted: “It’s amazing how most of the superiors don’t act superior at all!” A few lucky trainees even received Christmas presents from their superiors.
The good vibes continue when it comes to work/life balance. “We were really able to take on as much work as we were comfortable with, and they did not expect too much of us”, one newbie said. Again, however, this may differ between departments and according to time of year: “If you’re in a finance seat, particularly in Q4, then there will be early morning finishes and weekend working.” One trainee mentions needing to be prepared to work late evenings and even weekends in some teams. Trainees are conscious, however, of how Reed Smith compares with other firms and consider themselves relatively fortunate: “The salary is at the higher end of firms without the constant horrendous hours trainees seem to be working elsewhere in the City.”
Reed Smith is especially strong in financial disputes, shipping and, somewhat unusually for a City firm, entertainment and media law. In fact, one of the firm’s London partners was recently named as a go-to music industry solicitor by US music magazine Billboard, no less, and the firm boasts expertise in other rock n’ roll subjects like sports, gaming and social media. For those who are especially passionate about the environment, the firm offers a designated pro bono environmental working group which supports various environmental causes, and has recently announced the formation of a new, dedicated ESG (environmental, social and governance) practice at the firm.
Another strength is the firm’s “excellent” technology and innovation. In London, Reed Smith has a dedicated innovation hub, and counts work in this category towards billable hours. In 2019, the firm began offering an “innovation seat” to London trainees. The firm also has a legal services centre in Leeds, where lawyers and support staff can benefit from a “creative environment” in which “to find new approaches to problem solving”. However, there are as yet no plans to offer training contracts in Leeds.
Despite these niches, supervisors are known “to be conscious about giving trainees as broad an experience as possible” and help trainees “branch out and try something outside your typical area”. Juniors undertake secondments to the likes of Shell, Bauer Media Group, Reprieve and Liberty. International secondments currently remain suspended, but as Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, popular foreign secondment destinations such as Dubai and Singapore will most likely return.
Some of the firm’s short travel perks might make a comeback too. In the past, trainees have enjoyed client visits to Hamburg on a big case, a week-long trip to Seoul and a Korean shipyard to take statements, and a week in Japan for business development and marketing. Perks at the firm are said to be “standard for City law firms” with the exception being the trainee bonuses, which apparently “haven’t changed for years” and “seem below what other firms pay”.
Until the firm reintroduces international travel, WFH remains the only office away from the office that trainees will experience. They seem fine with this ― “we have a virtual desktop so you can work from anywhere really, and we’re often allowed to work from home 2-3 days per week,” one spy reports. The “generous” WFH set-up allowance given at the start of the pandemic has been followed up with more “modest” amounts, and the firm also offers a monthly allowance towards broadband services.