Following its “best ever” financial year in 2021-22, Pittsburgh-founded Reed Smith saw its global revenues drop a marginal 1.6% to $1.41billion (£1.1billion). This in turn impacted partner profits which dipped slightly to $1.64 million (£1.25 million) following the previous year’s eye-catching double-digit growth. But the mood remains positive around the corridors of Reed Smith, with an uptick in litigation, regulatory and IP work helping offset quieter areas, and allowing it to produce a resilient set of numbers from which to build over the new financial year.
Meanwhile, the firm’s London office continues to grow, with revenues rising a steady 5% to reach $255 million (£195 million). With its London operations now accounting for 15% of its total gross revenue, and an impending move to an “amazing new building” at Blossom Yard & Studios near Spitalfields Market, it’s clear the City continues to play an integral role in the firm’s long-term growth strategy.
When it comes to training, the trainee experience is reported as being “very department dependent”. When it is good, however, it’s “top-rate” and there are even “videos to train for each individual project” in the firm’s pro bono practice. In what is perhaps a nod to its US routes, quite a lot of training is delivered “on the job” and supplemented with “extra optional sessions and online options”.
The quality of work, overall, seems to be very good, according to insiders — although it can “vary between departments”. Trainees seem satisfied, with this insider telling us, “I have found that people try to give you interesting work to keep you engaged”. Trainees can expect the usual “admin based” stuff — like with any big firm — but “the work is mostly stimulating” with tasks like “drafting statements” and “interviewing clients” being amongst the most common trainee assignments.
The firm has recently relocated its business support centre in Leeds after outgrowing its old office. And alongside its sister centre in Pittsburgh, these ‘Global Solutions hubs’ 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.” For early finishes, dispute and arbitration seats seem to be the place to be, with one trainee “generally logging off at 6.30pm” whilst their peers in asset finance and shipping litigation worked “much longer hours”. 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.” NQ rates currently sit at £107,500; not quite crazy US MoneyLaw levels but still very respectable for the City.
Reed Smith is especially strong in financial disputes, shipping and, somewhat unusually for a City firm, entertainment and media law. With recent deals including advising Concord on the purchase of Phil Collins catalogues, it’s no surprise that Billboard magazine named one London partner as a go-to music industry solicitor. Elsewhere, the firm boasts expertise in other rock n’ roll subjects like sports, gaming and social media, where they recently defended long-term client Microsoft in an employment dispute.
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 a dedicated ESG (environmental, social and governance) practice with new ‘sustainability partners’ who are said to be “driving this forward”. The firm was one of the first to roll out a billable ‘sustainability hours’ policy in May 2022, allowing lawyers to bill 25 hours of environmental leadership and advocacy training each month to count towards their targets.
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. The firm offers an “innovation seat” to London trainees and 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 Barclays, the BBC, Bauer Media Group, Reprieve and Liberty. International secondments are yet to take-off following a two-year hiatus during Covid-19. But with popular destinations such as Dubai and Singapore back on the table, these numbers are sure to soon increase.
And while international secondments might remain on the low side, there are still opportunities for rookies to use their passports. 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. Closer to home, the firm’s perks include eight free mental well-being coaching sessions per year, as well as a range of health and travel insurance packages which are apparently “standard for City law firms”. The exception is trainee bonuses, which apparently “haven’t changed for years” and “seem below what other firms pay”.
On the whole, Reed Smith’s WFH policy is said to be “pretty flexible and accommodating”. A new policy requiring lawyers to be in the office no less than three days a week was reimplemented midway through 2022, but trainees seem to be happy, finding the firm’s arrangement to strike a “good balance”. The £350 budget that Reed Smith continues to provide towards a WFH setup struck an even better chord, but don’t spend it all at once as we’re informed that once it’s gone, it’s gone!