Boston headquartered Ropes & Gray has been expanding in the UK in recent years, and is now offering seven training contracts annually in its London office. Like other American outfits, the firm’s pitch revolves around big money and high quality work (in return for lots of responsibility and long hours). The firm’s main focus in the UK is on banking & finance, capital markets, private equity and restructuring & insolvency.
A junior associate who has moved to Ropes & Gray from a Silver Circle firm provides an interesting insight into the work: “I have gone from ancillary docs and due diligence (DD) to first cuts of articles, Investment Agreements and SPAs (and still quite a bit of DD).” Trainees, too, say you need to be prepared to hit the ground running. One describes being given “challenging and important work from an early stage, which is both a bit stressful but also an incredible opportunity”. Another tells us: “Just based on correspondence I feel I am more heavily involved in matters than trainees on the other side.”
The firm has built up its training infrastructure, but as a comparatively small programme “there is a lot of informal training”. You’ll find that, in the words of one newbie, “you very much learn by doing, rather than relying on classroom style training”. The focus remains on its largely very approachable partners assisting trainees on the job. “I can walk into the office of any partner with any (law-related/client-related or market-related, obviously) question,” one tells us. Another reports: “People give me work and I do the work. I consider the fact that they don’t ask me to re-do it as my feedback that I did it well.”
How’s that been working out remotely? Pretty well, it appears. Bosses will be encouraged by this sort of testimony: “obviously with lockdown things have been more difficult, but the training has been incredibly good all things considered. I know that many of my friends at other firms feel like they have been left out of the loop, but we have had regular training sessions”. The transition has no doubt been assisted by the 24/7 tech support who are “fantastic at quickly resolving any issues”. There’s also praise for a Technology at Home allowance, recently extended to trainees.
Snazzy home working kit is all very well, but not being in the office can threaten to tip an already precarious work/life balance into the red. “Working from home makes you constantly reachable and has further blurred the lines between work and private life”, cries one sleep-deprived worker bee. Another maintains that “I am constantly getting slammed with work”.
Opinions on workload vary, though. One junior lawyer we heard from told us that “the US firm thing is a myth” and they were working less hours that at the English City firm where they’d trained. Another adds: “Really not as bad as people make out. In four months I have had one manic month with very late nights every night and three with good hours.”
This thoughtful insider report seems to sum things up: “I don’t think people are able to maintain a great work-life balance working for a US firm. Once again, this varies a lot from department to department. Transactional seats will inevitably have a lot of back-to-back late nights, but you never know exactly when a new deal will come through the door and so it’s very difficult to manage a social life. In general, there isn’t a lot of coming into the office on the weekends, which helps. Non-transactional seats seem to have more of a steady stream of work and it’s less stop-start (unless you are advising on a transaction with a tight deadline).”
The tough nut who told us that “normal finish time is midnight-2am” is likely in one of those extra busy departments. According to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21 figures, few Ropes & Gray lawyers are pulling those kinds of hours on the regular, with most hitting the road around 9pm. And if you do find yourself pulling some all-nighters, just remember: the NQ pay is £130,000. Unlike some UK firms, there are no plans to cut salaries.
Happily, the office is lovely. It’s located on Ludgate Hill at the Fleet Street edge of the City in a new building with a stunning roof terrace. According to one of our spies: “When lawyers from Magic Circle law firms recently came over for a closing, they could not stop commenting on how nice everything is.” Another survey respondent jokes “I’ve only not scored it ten out of ten because the coffee isn’t great”. However, there is no canteen. A £25 Deliveroo allowance for those working late partially makes up for this, although apparently it isn’t available to those working from home.
Other Ropes & Gray attractions include decent international secondment opportunities. Around a quarter of rookies do one, with Hong Kong a popular destination. The firm also has its softer side, giving staff a day off to mark the Black Lives Matter movement and raising £50,000 for a cancer charity after a partner’s daughter sadly died of leukemia.
Financially, the firm is in a strong position, with revenue reported to stand at $1.9 billion (£1.4 billion), and profit per equity partner a whopping $2.8 million (£2.1 million). The London office has also been snapping up big name partners from rival players like Linklaters and Kirkland & Ellis.