The 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 most bold and experimental in the City.
Where else do trainees get to post public messages from a completely 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.
A push towards agile working that has seen laptops introduced across the firm adds to the progressive vibe. But RPC could go further with its roll out of tech. “We’re investing in AI, and yet we still don’t even have iPhones,” complains one trainee.
Beneath all of this are some very solid and 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 15 gives the TC experience a personal touch, and this doesn’t seem to have been changed by the addition of a Bristol training contract 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”. The firm’s ‘Trainees Take on Business Blog’ is helpful in this respect.
Traditionally most of RPC’s trainee secondments are with clients, and that still remains the case, with 54% of rookies spending time at the likes of Lloyds Bank, 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 nearly a third of trainees spent time abroad at the firm’s Hong Kong and Singapore offices.
Work/life balance is reasonable; an average arrive time of just after 9am and average leave time of before 7pm 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 not only have survived the recent scrapping of the “Hogwarts-style” RPC house system, which saw trainees divided into separate groups. Indeed, the signs at the moment are that it may even have benefitted from it, with RPC receiving its strongest ever score for social life in Legal Cheek’s 2018-19 Survey.
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. RPC’s unwillingness to disclose a basic newly qualified solicitor pay level, in contrast to its competitors, and instead favouring a strictly “merit-based” remuneration policy, also elicits grumbles. Last year, the firm managed to ward off pressures for a re-think of that policy as its profit per equity partner (PEP) fell slightly amid wider revenue-generating investment in the firm. But this year, with PEP up 8% to £348,000, that may not be so easy.