Baker & McKenzie (London)
Possibly unfairly, Baker & McKenzie is most famous for its size. Based in Chicago, it now has 77 offices in 47 jurisdictions and a total of around 4,200 fee earners worldwide.
Bakers has long had a policy of allowing individual offices a certain degree of independence. Some offices operated under distinct local brand-names, and the firm has always used local lawyers as much as possible.
The problem of course, as critics happily point out, is that this sort of approach does not guarantee the same quality product the world over. It seems Bakers has recognised this with its previous chairman Christine Lagarde launching a concerted effort to improve the firm's reputation through an increased focus on quality. Overseas offices were forced to drop their local names, and the firm's aggressive 'eat what you kill' remuneration system for partners came under scrutiny.
Though London profits fell 13% in 2013/14 to £42.1m (from £48.2m in 2012/13), it is still one of the jewels in Bakers' crown, and it is one of the largest London offices of any US firm in terms of number of lawyers (300 odd). Bakers generates more income in EMEA than in the whole of the Americas (in 2013/14, profits in EMEA rose to US$965m, US$46 million more than in the Americas). Perhaps because London is such a key component, US partners seem quite happy to leave the UK operation to manage itself. The culture is more that of an 80 partner domestic practice than of a global mega-firm. Hours tend to be UK rather than US, it is generally seen as highly autonomous and, because it is staffed by so many Brits, has traditionally been thought of as the most "English" of the American firms at which to work.
It seems to be a very convivial place. “A really lovely environment to work in"
comments one trainee. An NQ agrees that the firm is filled with ”genuinely friendly people
" including "partners that care and show an interest in career development
". Hours aren’t crippling (“a decent work-life balance
”, says one junior associate), and while "partners ask for a lot
" apparently "the majority offer a lot in return
Pay is better now for partners, with profits per partner leaping from £650,000 to £773,000 in 2013/14 as the firm became the first to hit annual revenues of US$2.5bn since the global financial crisis. Although Bakers PEP may not be troubling partners at the likes of Linklaters, who pull in almost double the amount, it's a colossal improvement on the £375,000 it was a few years ago. But whilst assistant wages are at the top end of traditional London firms, they aren't a patch on what you'd make at rival US firms in the City. And London staff were a bit annoyed when, instead of a bonus in that record PEP year of 2013/14, they got £150 of vouchers: "A slap round the chops would have been a little bit less insulting
", said one in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2015 survey.
Trainees enthuse that the London environment is "incredibly welcoming and diverse
", and that "Diversity and equality couldn't be higher on its agenda
". Another trainees says that, "Even though the firm is massive you're made to feel an important part of it
". Further up the food chain, an associate vouches that, "After 4 years at the firm, I am yet to see any pressure to spend more time in the office than is necessary to complete the job. If those hours are long, then so be it. If I'm done at 5.30pm, I'll be out the door at 5.31pm
". Which sounds healthy.
The fact that Bakers has lots of overseas offices doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s lawyers are likely to spend any time in them. It may be the most international of firms, but its 'local lawyers' policy means that if you are after first class overseas experience, you may be better off in the Magic Circle. But if you are looking for an alternative to mid-sized UK firms and see the possibility of overseas work as an interesting fringe benefit, then Bakers is an option well worth looking into.
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