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, as well as supporting local charities such as Polka Hospital and the Friends of Richmond Park. Further, Russell-Cooke continues to welcome interns though its doors as part of the 10,000 Black Interns initiative. 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”. It also recently published its first ‘Responsible Business Report’, which mapped out its continuing commitment to reduce its impact on the environment.
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, generating roughly one-third of its turnover, while dispute resolution (including family work) is responsible for a sizeable chunk. The firm also handles its fair share of litigation, private client and corporate matters, while its consultancy arm, Flex, is going from strength-to-strength. Russell-Cooke’s turnover is understood to sit just above £40 million.
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 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 “responsibility and autonomy” to draft wills and powers of attorney for wealthy private clients, attend court independently and “even run your own files under the supervision of an associate/partner”.
“Obviously there are the usual trainee tasks like calling the court etc but also really substantial tasks such as having meetings with clients and witnesses by myself to take details and draft a witness statement which has been invaluable experience,” says one trainee we spoke to. The small team sizes also mean that newbies can take on “true responsibility” and “get involved in real work”. “Staff take the time to invest in you and you get extremely good quality of work and excellent contact with clients,” details one insider.
The firm offers a four-seat training contract to around 15 trainees with a starting salary of £46,000 that rises to £48,500 in the second year. Although perhaps a marginally 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”. Another insider offers this helpful summary: “The culture and policy at the firm is not to work late for the sake of it. Naturally, in busier periods, you may have to work a bit later to discharge your responsibilities, but overall, members of the team will encourage you to leave the office and enjoy your evenings if they see you are working too long. Weekends are almost always completely free.”
As for working from home, the firm requires trainees to go into the office four days a week while running a three-day policy for everyone else. This “sometimes means you have to come in on an emptier day when there doesn’t feel like there is much point”, but generally works out pretty well. And for those days working from home, trainees and juniors are supplied with “decent” laptops and can request an additional monitor.
The offices could be more impressive with a few gripes about the “distinctly average” Putney office being too far from central London and “in need of modernisation”. The Holborn office gets slightly better reviews: “nice but very cramped”. Another insider gives us this overview: “The office is fine but could be better equipped for Teams calls in open plan setting, could have better lunch facilities / areas. The Bedford Row team have recently expanded across the road however the now four separate offices mean the firm can feel quite separate.”
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”. But the quality, like with many firms, can vary between departments and supervisors. “In some seats I have had excellent training and in others I have been left feeling very out of my depth,” one source tells us. On a more positive note, friendly home-grown partners, who can readily recall their days in the firm’s junior ranks, create “a really nice vibe” in the office. “The best thing about the firm,” one spy proclaims. “I would feel just as comfortable going to a legal executive with a question as I would a partner. The policy is very much open door. No question is too much bother.” 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 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. “The small trainee intake means we all know each other really well and socialise and there’s little competition as there are more qualifying seats than there are trainees,” shares one jolly junior, while another adds: “We all get along very well and this has been a very positive aspect of the training contract.”
But don’t expect tons of little perks other than a “limited” budget for trainee events. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for most: “The firm makes it clear the perks are the culture and work/life balance and the sacrifice of that is no flashy gym membership but it’s a pretty good sacrifice when you look at our hours”. One area where trainees are hoping for improvement is the tech. The IT “is very rudimentary, and the systems are often crashing, lagging, or otherwise causing problems,” one tells us, while another claims to be still “using a very old version of Outlook and Office”. Fortunately, we are told the IT department is “amazing and super helpful”.
All in all, Russell-Cooke has done well in welcoming newbies into its strong and unusually communal culture that has prevailed over its 140-odd year existence.