Simmons had a tough second half of the year, but 2018/19 revenue still climbed 6% to £374 million and profit per equity partner (PEP) rose by 4% to £710,000. Net profit growth was slower than the previous year’s 19%, rising by only 9% to £119 million, but this has to be seen in the context of a strong growth pattern over the past three years. The firm recently made up 15 partners in a bumper promotion round and opened a new office in Shenzhen, China.
With trainee retention rates bouncing back from a difficult patch a few years ago, the junior end of the firm seems like a reasonably happy ship again. As one rookie puts it: “The people I work with are a pleasure to have as colleagues. They are very supportive; being both able and willing to listen.” However, there can be “a very competitive atmosphere due to lack of qualification positions”.
At partner level the vibe is a bit more formal but similarly friendly. “The firm doesn’t like to be known as ‘nice’ but it really is,” one insider admits. Doubtless that improved PEP has boosted the mood. Be warned though that even the most human of partners can lose their approachability when “under the cosh to get something done”.
The training remains very good in litigation and banking, but other seats receive some criticism. One rookie reports: “I’ve had a lot of responsibility and feel like my training has been incredibly comprehensive throughout.” And the work is also decent. One trainee sums it up like this: “Honestly a really good standard of work. Lots of ‘cutting edge’ *groan* research, drafting, running calls, corresponding with counsel. Senior people seek your input and involve you in meetings. Good stuff, no complaints.” But hours can vary wildly. “At times, it’s past midnight every night for months. At times, it’s 6pm most nights for months,” we are told.
Another report from the front line describes an average day in a busy period as nine til nine and in a quiet period nine til seven, with a further report suggesting that time in the office decreases as the week goes on: “If you put in a shift Monday to Wednesday and don’t try to make evening plans, on Thursday you can probably leave at a reasonable time and on Friday I’ve even been told to leave as soon as it went past six.” However, there were reports that there is a “jacket on chair culture and it is not acceptable to have a social life”.
Despite the £79,000 NQ salary, there remain gripes about remuneration, which some see as “not comparable to the firms it competes with”. But the mood is a bit brighter in the Simmons Bristol office following the NQ pay boost that takes salaries to the £52k mark.
There’s also considerable frustration about a perceived lack of perks. What is on offer — a gym subsidy, two private GP visits per year, season ticket loans and new joiner interest free loans for trainees — are felt to be “pretty standard”. There have been “a lot of cut backs”.
International secondments are available in Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris and Dublin but “there are only 4” available in each round which means there is “intense competition” for them.
Client secondment rates have remained stable over recent years, with around a quarter of trainees getting to experience one. Destinations include RBS, Goldman Sachs and Schroders.
Meanwhile, back at Simmons HQ, located right in the heart of the action in Moorgate, a fancy refurb has taken place. “The consensus is that the new spaces are ‘bright’ which I guess is an improvement?” one trainee tells us.
Over in Bristol the firm has moved to the new Aurora building which has a rooftop garden but it’s proving hard to communicate with the London office due to the unreliable tech set-up: “dial-ins and video conferences still seem to be difficult for the firm to operate”. The firm talks a lot about technology, but emails and file systems are said to be “slow” and subject to “breaking down” issues. It can be “a pretty frustrating process trying to get the tech to work,” one trainee tells us.
However, the “Financial services and litigation ski trips are legendary and a good opportunity to spend quality time with colleagues and deepen relationships.”