The law firm that acted for the claimants in the landmark case of Pyrrho Investments v MWB Property, which saw the use of artificial intelligence-derived ‘predictive coding’ in document review approved by the English courts for the first time, is one of the more bold and experimental in the City.
RPC combines law with consulting, running the spin-off RPC Consulting brand, a joint venture with software company Marriott Sinclair that emulates the Big Four accountancy firms’ multi-disciplinary approach.
The firm also has an original approach to social media, allowing its trainees to post public messages from an uncensored collective Twitter and Instagram accounts — @LifeInALawFirm — that is as likely to feature jokey posts about late night bundling as on-message graduate recruitment tweets.
The internal set-up of RPC’s “beautiful” glass and steel Tower Bridge office can feel more tech company than law firm at times. Reports one insider: “The open plan office and mixed pods means you sit with anyone from paralegals to partners (including the managing partner) and questions are positively encouraged.”
It’s no coincidence that RPC has scored consistently high for partner approachability for three years consecutively in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “Depends on the partner, however in general superiors are approachable and yes, do have banter,” another rookie tells us. Beware, though, that open plan comes with its downsides. One insider complains: “Some partners like to make their area of the floor their own office which means stepping over boxes and personal effects to get to one’s own desk.”
A push towards agile working that has seen laptops and iPhones introduced across the firm also adds to the progressive vibe. But there are some grumbles about the IT, which apparently could do with an upgrade.
Beneath all of this are traditional foundations. RPC has a longstanding reputation in its core practice areas of insurance, corporate and litigation which dates back well over a century. Indeed, it was the firm’s experience of handling large-scale disputes, rather than any native tech-savvy, that saw it instructed on the now widely-known Pyrrho case. And it is on the basis of this reputation, more than anything else, that RPC trades. The firm is particularly close to the insurance industry, with major clients including some of the sector’s main players.
A relatively small London trainee intake of 10 gives the TC experience a personal touch, and this doesn’t seem to have been changed by the addition of two Bristol training contracts this year. Trainees report that the balance between support and exposure to complex work is carefully calibrated, with “really good training with people at all levels willing to take a lot of time out to walk you through things.” Also, there’s said to be a “strong focus on also developing BD [business development] skills with presentations and article writing”.
Traditionally most of RPC’s trainee secondments are with clients, and that still remains the case, with 50% of rookies spending time at the likes of Google, Coca-Cola, Sports Direct and various global insurance companies. But this year there has been a sharp increase in placements to RPC’s international offices. According to our figures a quarter of trainees spent time abroad at the firm’s Hong Kong and Singapore offices.
Work/life balance is reasonable; an average arrive time of 9:02am and average leave time of 7:06pm equates to a ten hour day. Note, however, some variations between departments. While one trainee told us that “most of my current team tend to have left the office by 6”, others reported staying later.
This may explain the vibrant firm social life. “The trainees are always socialising”, apparently, with “a lot of intra-departmental events put on which tend to be popular”. The scene seems to have survived the recent scrapping of the “Hogwarts-style” RPC house system, which saw trainees divided into separate groups.
The downside to the abundance of carefree fun is the relative lack of perks and sometimes disappointing pay. “We had to fight just to get a fruit bowl,” groans one rookie, amid wider murmurings of stinginess from management. However, distancing itself from its previous “merit-based” renumeration policy, RPC has now revealed that newly qualified (NQ) solicitors will earn an annual salary of £66,500 in London and £48,000 in Bristol. Upon qualification, solicitors will also be included in a firm-wide bi-annual salary review process.
A very sharp 27% rise in profit per equity this year to £442,000 — a result of the firm’s move to a joint venture arrangement with the RPC Consulting brand last year — is likely to put pressure on the powers that be to raise NQ salaries. Watch this space.