Ince & Co (London)
Ince & Co, Holman Fenwick and Willan and Clyde & Co together
form the triumverate of top City shipping firms. Ince & Co also specialises in insurance, and while revenues have declined in the last couple of years thanks to tough times in the insurance and shipping markets, it's still very profitable - its most senior partners take home an estimated £545,000.
Shipping firms tend to have a slightly more relaxed attitude to hours
than more corporate finance-driven practices, and that seems to be the
case here. Assistants say that hours are generally civilised in all
areas, with trainees telling the RollOnFriday 2015 survey that there is an "excellent work life balance", and that while they may not be the highest paid trainees, "we still have a life outside work". A senior associate vouches that they, "Get to leave on time or even a bit early most days - a vast improvement on previous job at a Magic Circle firm". Facetime doesn't seem to be an issue: "you are expected to put in the work when needed", says a junior associate, "but you are certainly not expected to stay late just for the sake of it".
On the downside, shipping law isn't everyone’s cup of tea,
especially, it would seem, to the lady lawyers out there. When last we
heard, of a total of 97 partners (many of whom started their careers
with the firm), only 14 are female. Almost as poor a proportion as the
woeful 15 out of 127 at Holman Fenwick. What is it with shipping firms?
Ince has a curious system where there are no departments, everyone
just sits together. You can work for anyone, but generally have 10-15
partners who give you work as and when you have capacity. So as a
trainee, you can carry matters through the two years of your training.
The training seems to please. As one associate explains, “from a
professional development perspective, there is a very clear career path
guidance document detailing what responsibilities you can expect at each
stage in your career, the milestones in professional development, how
those milestones are measured and the benefits of achieving them”.
The opportunity to work abroad is another plus ("good opportunities for foreign secondments", vouches one junior), and on the
international front it’s been a busy few years. The firm has European
offices Le Havre, Piraeus, Paris, Monaco and Hamburg to its letterhead,
plus the only slightly more exotic Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong and
Singapore. Says one lawyer, "I've been to India, Korea, South America, Central Europe and had a fantastic time of it". So there are plenty of interesting places to work when the
fleet's in port. Most of all London – the offices overlooking Tower
Bridge are "hard-to-beat", although insiders tell us the chef apparently poached
from Claridges is no longer with the firm.
It's not all Michelin-starred gravy in certain other areas, too. The firm's profitability stumbled in 2012/13, resulting in 10 fee-earners and six staff being made redundant in the shipping team. In 2014, 33 staff were made redundant. A junior says, "morale has been better, following quite a lot of departures this year".
Revenues have declined for two years in a row. In 2014/15, global revenue fell 8% to £79.4m (£47.5m in the UK) from £86.7m (£52.2m in the UK) in 2013/14. The firm blamed "current market conditions, particularly in the firm's specialist sectors", saying that they, "remain challenging due to the continued downturn in the market – most notably in the shipping industry".
Trainee retention isn't amazing, either. A few years ago the rate fell to a miserly 58%. The next year only nine
new trainees were taken on, and to be fair all of those nine were kept on when they
qualified. Tthe firm promptly went back to recruiting a
dozen trainees a year. Almost all were kept on for a while (11 from
12 in 2009, 10 from 12 in 2010 and 14 from 15 in 2011), though after the leap to 15, in 2013 only 10 from 15 found a berth in the firm. And in 2015, only nine from 15 have been retained - 60%.
The performance in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey
has also suffered after a stellar run. An impressive
second place in 2011 was followed by victory in 2012. And the firm
retained its crown spectacularly in 2013. In 2014, though, it slipped to eighth place - though top ten is still excellent. Responses gave particular attention to the "fantastically friendly" people and the "excellent social life" (especially if you like sailing). Such a great place, in fact, that it's the only firm ever described as "like living in a land of unicorns and rainbows". In 2015 it slipped to 16th place. Though that's a drop, it's still a good result (there are 54 firms in the survey) and it's a sign of the high regard staff hold the firm that they're positive about the problems. Yes, the firm "has been through a difficult year", says a junior associate, "but there is a real drive to make things change - so hopefully the results will show". Others agree that the firm is doing its best to make things better. "The way people are managed and communication with the staff could be better", said one, "though, to be fair, they are working on it". Many respondents say the firm remains packed to the gills with "approachable and friendly", "generally lovely" people.
Overall a very decent firm with an interesting set up and what must
be one of the best cash/work/life ratios in the City. Let's hope the redundances in 2014 are an aberration, because generally one staffer's assertion looks bang on the money: Ince & Co "looks after its people".