If you want to work in London, but are not quite sure that becoming a hardened corporate lawyer is your true calling, then Russell-Cooke might be the law firm for you.
Founded in 1880 by William Russell-Cooke (the husband of the famous suffragist known as “Mrs William Russell-Cooke”), the firm’s history is intertwined with a strong sense of social justice. Today, Russell-Cooke’s benevolent culture remains strong. The firm is particularly active in supporting the local community around its Putney office, supporting local charities such as the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability and the Friends of Richmond Park. Further, for the second year running, it has hosted a government-funded initiative that aims to build a stronger and more cohesive society by bringing together schools, community organisations, businesses and individuals. And if that wasn’t enough, the firm is also said to place “a lot of emphasis on being environmentally conscious”, doing “everything from carbon emissions offsetting to solar panels and beehives”.
Having started out advising the Royal Family and important Liberal politicians in the 1890s, Russell-Cooke developed strengths in its property, family and private client practices. Property is the largest money spinner, bringing in 30% of turnover, whilst the family and private work yields a respectable 28%. Litigation makes up the majority of the remaining 42%, alongside the firm’s smaller corporate departments.
No need to limit yourself to corporate work here! Of particular noteworthiness is the firm’s rare breadth of work. Today, Russell-Cooke’s clients range from royal families and Russian oligarchs to charities and social businesses. This means as a trainee you can dip your toes into high calibre corporate work (especially in real estate) and do a seat in family law at the firm. As one trainee confirms, Russell-Cooke offers “good quality work” and “exposure to a variety of cases”. Trainees can expect to get involved in drafting wills and powers of attorney for wealthy private clients and helping to represent survivors of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, all within the space of one TC.
The small team sizes also mean that newbies can take on “true responsibility” and “get involved in real work”. The firm offers a four-seat training contract to around 15 trainees with a starting salary of £38,750. Although this is a slightly lower rate than their London counterparts, there is consensus among trainees that the work/life balance makes for an excellent trade-off.
One trainee described the work/life balance as “really good — possibly even better than I thought! […] I have been asked on a number of occasions why I am still in the office/working if I am still there at 7pm. Though one trainee acknowledges “as with all law firms, sometimes you have to work early/late”, weekends are almost always free and busy periods tend to come in “short bursts”.
The training is said to be “high quality” with the perfect recipe of “personalised feedback”, “regular one to one sessions”, a “good level of supervision” and “meaningful work”. On top of this, friendly home-grown partners, who can readily recall their days in the firm’s junior ranks, create “a really nice vibe” in the office. Russell-Cooke has a reputation for decent partner promotion rates and the small trainee intake means that your odds of making it to the top are pretty good.
With a merry sense of familial camaraderie, it is perhaps unsurprising that trainees praise partners for being “very approachable and easy to talk to” and say that there is “no real enforced hierarchy”. Despite the fact that trainees are split between the firm’s Putney, Holborn and Kingston offices, trainee cohorts are very close-knit, enjoying “lots of socials” together. This is a social standard that has not dropped off during the pandemic: “There is a really nice group of trainees, NQs and junior associates. It has been challenging to keep in touch over Covid but everyone has made an effort to welcome the new trainees and we have maintained contact through virtual socials.”
Working from home has been relatively smooth. However, there appeared to be some confusion about what equipment juniors could raid from the office. Some more financial support for things like a desk, chair, monitor stands would also have been appreciated by some members of the firm. But on the whole, the firm has done well in welcoming newbies into its strong and unusually communal culture that has prevailed over the firm’s 140-odd year existence.