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UK City Firms

Ashurst (London)

Our view...

Back in the nineties Ashurst was seen as pretty much the best firm at which to work in the City. The cliché was that it punched above its weight, with Magic Circle quality but mid-sized training. Its crown may have slipped since then, but it still remains a highly regarded firm in the City.

Like all chasing pack firms Ashurst has had to make some tough decisions over its future, and there have been 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 ex-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. Ashurst 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. It went live in 2013, and BD took Ashurst's name.

So it's abandoned the previous commitment to organic growth, but has the new strategy worked to make Ashurst a truly global firm? It may have lost valuable ground to its competitors whilst it was dithering, 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 Ashurst's exposure to private equity and finance - and turnover for 2009/10 fell just under the £300m barrier at £293m. But things improved: the figures for 2010/11 showed a 3% increase in turnover to £303 million. In the first integrated results with Blakes, for 2013/14, it posted revenue of £568m and PEP of £801k. In 2014/15, PEP dropped to £747,000, while revenue also dropped, to £561m. MP James Collis blamed the fall on "a year of consolidatiopn and significant investment", in which it had management consultants Bain & Co conduct a review of its business. Like many other firms, one of the results was the mass north-shoring of support staff, with lots of redundancies in London and a low cost centre opening in Glasgow. The Scottish outpost currently employs over 150 people, including legal analysts.

Ashurst is predominantly a corporate and finance firm and it boasts a corporate department pretty much as good as any in the Magic Circle. Other departments are also highly regarded, particularly property, tax litigation and its international finance team.

Lawyers seem to feel so-so about the firm. It did pretty poorly in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2015 survey, with staff voting themselves 58% satisfied, but it did perform a mite better in the 2016 one (61%). Last year there were some concerns about culture, with a complaint from one lawyer that "the PEP hunt attracts only the most rapacious lateral hires. This is definitely not the firm I trained at". But there are signs any such issues are being tackled: James Collis has replaced Charlie Geffen as managing partner, and a senior associate says the new management team "seems genuinely committed to making associates enjoy working here".

This year, staff had mixed views about the review. One senior associate decried the, "endless rounds of management consultant-driven 'strategy' navel gazing". On the other hand,"Partners (in my department at least) are people I enjoy going for beers with, which is a huge plus". It seems that there's still time for some binge drinking; one trainee notes “‘Lash-hurst’ is a deserved if cringey name...” As for mums and dads, one associate says, "Like all the other city firms, the firm is pretty clueless about how to integrate flexible working practices for fee-earners, especially new parents". It's not alone in that.

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. 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, caution about growth reduced the numbers of those entering partnership in 2009 and 2010 to ten and 11 respectively. So far, in 2015, 12 lawyers have been made up, five of whom trained at the firm - and five of whom are women, which is, relatively speaking, a pretty good statistic.

Oh, a note of caution for interested parties: in the canteen, “trying to eat with the "compostable" cutlery (which melts in even tepid food) is an exercise in ritualised humiliation”.
For more information on Ashurst click here

Salary

Salary (1st seat trainee): £40,000
Salary (NQ): £65,000
Salary (1PQE): £72,000
Salary (2PQE): £81,000
Salary (3PQE): £92,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: 4%
- 1PQE: 11%
- 2PQE: 12%
- 3PQE: 7%
- 4PQE: 10%
- 5PQE: 10%
- Partner: %

Training

Grant for GDL: £7,500
Grant for LPC: £7,500
Training places per year: 50
% of trainees retained: 86%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 59%
Development: 65%
Work/Life: 52%
Openness: 65%
Biscuits: 83%
Toilets: 60%
Social: 76%
Firm of the year overall score: 64%

Benefits

Holiday allowance: 27
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory (firm's contribution 7.5% to 10%)
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: 20 weeks on full pay
Target hours: 1600
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: Free membership
Restaurant: Two on site
24 hour photocopying support: Yes
24 hour secretarial support: Yes
Other: In-house dry cleaning service, masseur, doctor and dentist.

  

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