Back in the nineties Ashurst was seen as pretty much the best firm at which to work in the City. The cliche was that it punched above its weight, with Magic Circle quality but mid-sized training. Its crown may have slipped a little since then, but it still remains one of the most highly regarded firms in the City.
Like all chasing pack firms Ashurst has had to make some tough decisions over its future, and there are concerns that it hasn't been entirely focused in this. Its previous strategy was to grow organically into the leading European law firm, but it hasn’t been shy of pursuing mergers. Clifford Chance and Latham & Watkins were both rejected as suitable targets, as was Fried Frank.
The firm's senior partner, Charlie Geffen, made it clear at the end of 2008 that he wanted the firm to invest further in Asia and the Middle East and since then Ashurst has entered into an association with Hong Kong firm Jason Woo & Associates and opened an Abu Dhabi office. Then in September 2011 the firm confirmed that it would be merging with Aussie Big Six firm Blake Dawson, forming a newly minted firm which will spread over four continents. Blakes will be taking the Ashurst name in March 2012 and the merger is expected to be fully completed by 2014.
So it's abandoned the previous commitment to organic growth, but will the new strategy work make Ashurst a truly global firm? It may have lost valuable ground to its competitors whilst it was dithering around, but its reputation and profits are strong and the merger with Blakes means that it will have to be taken seriously as a global competitor.
The credit crunch took its toll on the firm - especially given the Ashurst's exposure to private equity and finance - and turnover for 2009/10 fell just under the £300m barrier at £293m. But things are on the up, with the figures for 2010/11 showing a 3% increase in turnover to £303 million. It's not hitting the dizzy heights of 2007/08's £323 million, but the firm clearly remains ambitious. And with the Blake's merger seriously bolstering the firm's Asian presence, Ashurst is expecting to pull in revenues of over £550 million pushing the firm right up into the UK top ten.
Ashurst is predominantly a corporate and finance firm. It boasts a corporate department pretty much as good as any in the Magic Circle, with an MBO team better than all of them. And despite the downturn, the firm's finance team is managing to notch up some big instructions, including advising on William Hill's £1.2 billion refinancing (one of the largest capital raisings of 2009) and advising a consortium of sponsors on the acquisition of Gatwick Airport. Other departments are also highly regarded, particularly property, tax litigation and its strengthening international finance team.
Lawyers seem to be generally happy. One associate comments that the firm is “friendly and collegiate yet still values the individual
”. Another says, “many colleagues who have left comment on how the culture at Ashurst is much more cordial and relaxed than the firms they have moved to
” although this doesn't necessarily mean that the hours will be relaxed
as one associate remarked, Ashurst "remains an ambitious firm...lawyers will have to work silly hours
". But it seems that there's still time for some binge drinking, at least amongst the junior lawyers, it’s pretty sociable; one trainee notes “‘Lash-hurst
’ is a deserved if cringey name...”
The combination of top-drawer clients and the fact it is relatively small in size means that Ashurst is an excellent place to train. As in any top firm - especially such a corporate driven one - lawyers will have to work silly hours a lot of the time, but at least it's doing big ticket work for top whack pay.
Promotion prospects have generally been seen as reasonable. 20 partners were made up in 2007, whilst 17 new partners were made up in 2008, of which eight were London based. However, along with many firms, however, caution about growth reduced the numbers of those entering partnership in 2009 and 2010 to ten and 11 respectively. And there are suggestions that this has led to an increased pessimism amongst associates about partnership prospects. Also the firm still lacks a viable alternative to partnership to compete with the likes of Allen & Overy’s counsel role or BLP’s associate directorships. And “trying to eat with the "compostable" cutlery (which melts in even tepid food) is an exercise in ritualised humiliation”.
For info on graduate recruitment at Ashurst, click here