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 since then, but it still remains a 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 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 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, which has now taken its 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 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 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 profits of £586m and PEP of £801k.
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. Other departments are also highly regarded, particularly property, tax litigation and its strengthening 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. One associate says there is "Very limited chance to progress out of step with your PQE, no matter how strong your reviews
", while another says "People seem to be running off at an alarming rate
There are some concerns about culture, with a complaint from one lawyer that "the PEP hunt attracts only the most rapacious [greedy] 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
." Another claims it has been "A very good year for Ashurst, reflected in a noticeably positive mood
." Says one, "They've finally realised they're behind the curve on salaries so gave unexpected salary review increases in November in addition to the ones in May. Just in time for Christmas shopping
." Although there may be concessions: "Work/Life what?
" asks a colleague, "70-100 hrs/week is a common occurrence
." 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. 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 info on graduate recruitment at Ashurst, click here