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UK City Firms

King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin (London)

Our view...

SJB is the young sister to Berwin Leighton Paisner (born in 1970 and 1982 respectively) and the rivalry between the two firms is legendary. Ever aggressive, SJB was the first of the City firms to announce the significant increase in junior lawyers' salaries in May 2000. The other big players had no choice but to follow suit, with Clifford Chance upping the stakes still further. If you are an assistant at another big firm you should be thanking SJB (and if you are a partner you will no doubt be cursing it) - these were the guys who made the market in NQ salaries what it is today.

This is typical of SJ Berwin's style, a style which may win round clients but often repels other lawyers, particularly those at its larger, older rivals. SJ Berwin shrugs this off as sour grapes against a new kid on the block whose practice is putting many more established firms to shame. It's an upstart, and it doesn't care who knows it. The classy office building overlooking the Thames, all glass and dark wood, is always singled out for praise and presents a cutting-edge outlook. Some big name clients are in the stable too - including Jimmy Choo, Nintendo, Marks & Spencer and Universal Music Group.

The corporate practice at SJB is everything you would expect it to be - hard, fast and client focussed - although the firm has taken one hell of a kicking, especially given the downturn (i.e. death) in private equity work (although there are signs that it's picking up again, with the firm recently acting for Apax and 3i, amongst others). Despite the added bonus of "two top quality table football tables" in the department, it's here that you can expect one hell of a beasting and where we hear the odd rumble of discontent. Those "paranoid" partners have to keep their half million PEP up somehow, you know. The annus horribilis of 2009 is still fresh in the memory, as are those major redundancies. But corporate aside, there's real estate work a-plenty, and the firm recently worked for British Land on the development of London's latest oddly-named landmark, the Cheesegrater.

So the firm is not for everyone, like Marmite. Its reputation for red braces, power breakfasts, aggression and long hours appears to be justified. As one lawyer says, "Yes it is aggressive, but the people are quite nice. It took me a while to get used to the work, work, work culture but it's OK now". Still, news reaches RollOnFriday of low morale throughout, especially given associates vanishing in the night, "terrible internal communications" and partners lacking in common civility. There were hints that things may have been changing, and that the partners finally realised that the steady stream of departures and toxic reputation weren't a great ad, but if this year's dismal RollOnFriday Firm of the Year results are anything to go by, there's still a lot of work to do.

Overseas expansion was until 2013 a moveable feast. The firm merged with its German arm (full of handsome men, we hear) a few years back (the niftily named SJ Berwin Knopf Tulloch Steininger), poaching a bunch of partners from Baker & McKenzie in the process. And has kept a beady eye on Italy and the Netherlands. The past few years saw the firm attempt a US merger with several shops - Mayer Brown, Proskauer and Orrick all came to naught.

But the firm finally saw success in July 2013 with Asia Pacific powerhouse King Wood Mallesons. The merger was announced on 31st July, and completed in November. SJB gets global reach, at a cost of sacrificing its name, dignity and possibly its culture. That grinding sound you hear is Stanley Berwin turning in his grave...

Still, in the long term it may prove to be a shrewd move. And if you can see past the slight uncertainty, the work is undoubtedly excellent, the partners can be friendly (and get made up young) and according to one trainee the whole deal is "basically magic circle without the attitude". We reckon it's a good bet for thrusting young things who want to get their hands dirty (with work, that is). And you get a free lunch. Nice.

For more information on SJ Berwin click here
For more information on King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin click here

Salary

Salary (1st seat trainee): £34,000
Salary (NQ): £64,000
Salary (1PQE): £68,000
Salary (2PQE): £80,000
Salary (3PQE): £87,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %

Training

Grant for GDL: £7,250
Grant for LPC: £7,250
Training places per year: 37
% of trainees retained: 76%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 61%
Development: 61%
Work/Life: 54%
Openness: 52%
Biscuits: 78%
Toilets: 70%
Social: 64%
Firm of the year overall score: 61%

Benefits

Holiday allowance: 25 - 30
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory 5%
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: 6 months full pay. Paternity 5 days paid, up to 13 weeks unpaid
Target hours: 1575
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: Subsidised
Restaurant: Yes
24 hour photocopying support: Yes
24 hour secretarial support: Yes
Other: Free lunch in dining room every day, free dinner after 8pm.

  

News Stories

KWM SJ Berwin partner in bonkers YouTube video
Tim Taylor QC can't get enough of the limelight ... read more > (6 comments)
SJ Berwin pulls off merger with King & Wood Mallesons
And, like a post-coital male mantis, will now be eaten ... read more > (8 comments)
UK Firm of the Year 2013: Work-Life Balance
Bird & Bird puts the life into work-life balance, but Linklaters lawyers "get flogged to death" ... read more >
SJ Berwin to sack partners
Firm joins peers in managing its equity to keep up the bottom line ... read more > (1 comment)
The world's smartest law firm revealed
Proskauer puts the rest of the profession to shame with their fancy pants ... read more >
  

Your Views

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anonymous user
11/05/2012 16:58
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Why do you persist in putting a vastly inflated salary level for 2pqe solicitors at SJB? £80k??? It is nowhere even close to this figure!
anonymous user
10/08/2012 10:29
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NQ is actually at 60k.
anonymous user
22/04/2013 11:22
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This is really out of date! A 3yr PQE is NOT at £87k!! That's what a 5 yr PQE is on ...
anonymous user
19/09/2013 13:41
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1st seat trainees are actually on £37.5k
anonymous user
02/04/2014 18:53
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Come on ROF, check your facts - salaries have never been at those levels at SJB! NQs hover around £60k, 1PQE £62-65k, 2PQE £65-70k, 3PQE £70-75k (if they're lucky). And that, friends, is one of the main reasons US firms are so successful at poaching mid tier UK City folk. The only exception is Funds where the associates who didn't jump ship were extremely well-rewarded for their loyalty.