One of the grandest of the Magic Circle firms, a stellar financial machine, a fortress on Fleet Street and a bastion of legal excellence - Freshfields offers a lot. A brief blip now long behind it, the firm has put its woes behind it and is steaming ahead, with a remarkably strong financial performance, year after year. Turnover for 2012/13 put the firm amongst the billionaire's club and the boys (and they are mainly boys) at the top pull in millions. In 2015/16 it increased revenue by 6.6% increase to £1.327 billion for the last financial year as profit also grew 7.5% to £617 million. Profit per equity partner rose 7.6% to £1.47 million.
Such success hasn’t been easy. Durign the recession the firm booted out nearly a hundred partners and was pretty stingy making up new ones, too. Although - as plenty of firms found out - the downturn came with its own opportunities, and Freshies found itself advising plenty of banks and financial institutions - including the Bank of England (a client since 1743, dontchaknow), the German Ministry of Finance and central banks in Italy and the UAE.
Talking of big-ticket clients, we recommend - should you ever meet a Freshfields partner - that you steer clear of mentioning the London Olympics. They'll talk your ear off (what with the firm having been "official provider of legal services" to the 2012 games). Plenty of lawyers - from trainee up - were involved in the bid and delivery of the highly-successful games, so it was an exciting few years on that front (for those in London, at least - lawyers outside the UK were a bit less engaged with all the excitement, free tickets and so on). As a result of all the work (all done pro bono, of course), the firm was also involved in Rio 2016.
There are clear advantages to working at Freshfields as an assistant. You will get experience of work that only a handful of firms can match and none can better.
In the pay hikes announced in May 2014, the firm's 'Career Milestones' system means that instead of receiving a
fixed salary per PQE level, lawyers were henceforth paid according to their
development across seven "key elements", like technical skills
and project management. In May 2016 the firm announced whopping pay rises which, taking the median points of the relevant CM bands, made their juniors the best-salaried in the Magic Circle at almost every level.
So all in all, cash and benefits are some of the best in the City (barring those mega-paying US firms, of course), and whilst the London offices are showing their age they are at least (in an era when the Magic Circle is deserting to Canary Wharf and Spitalfields) well-located. Even if the gym is "like a solitary confinement chamber".
The firm also scores points for "genuinely trying really hard to get associates engaged and involved". And there are plenty of friendly faces - "the people here are human, and can be a good laugh - when they're not so shafted that they've lost the ability to have a conversation, that is." It seems that partners (apart from the ones who "put Myra Hindley to shame") are a good bunch and seem happy to muck in when the hours start to fly.
Which is lucky, because a a good beasting is the order of the day. Although there may not be any official targets, hours are as tough as at any Magic Circle firm. Assistants lament a "presenteeism culture" and the "long, long hours" which mean "I don’t even attempt to make weekday plans". One trainee said "clients pay for dinner after 7, and taxis after 9. Both of which are handy, considering you make use of these perks every night of the week. And most weekends."
So sure, you'll get superb experience, but you'll get worked to the bone whilst gaining it. Freshfields is a place where "the clients are the big-ticket folks...but when you're working at 4am it doesn't really make up for the life you're losing". Welcome to the Magic Circle. Although, as one associate told the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey, "When the inevitable beastings happen, most associates and partners do their best to make it as bearable as possible and are grateful (I have received booze, chocolates, flowers and a Fortnum hamper for various especially rough deals)".
There's not a guarantee of a pot of gold at the end - the up-or-out policy means that if you don't make partnership you'll find yourself without a job. To be fair many of these problems affect every large firm, and grumbles about prospects can be heard throughout the Magic Circle. Freshfields offers excellent training, takes career development seriously and keeps on nearly all its newly qualified lawyers (although the autumn 2017 rate isn't looking good, apparently). This, coupled with the lure of decent money, superb work and a glittering name on a CV will be enough to ensure that they will be able to attract the best. As one associate puts it - "Great people, great clients, great work". And you can't really put a price on the Olympic lapel pins they all wore. All the time. And are probably still wearing.
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