Berwin Leighton Paisner (London)
BLP was one of the City's true success stories. Berwin Leighton and Paisners merged in 2001 in the hope of becoming more competitive by pooling the two legacy firms' corporate teams. Few would argue that it wasn't a success. Within five years it had established one of the biggest and best real estate practices in the UK – the firm's planning group is regarded as the best in the country – and doubled its turnover.
Of course, real estate hasn’t been the busiest area recently – firms throughout the City have been making property lawyers redundant in droves. BLP defied the market in 2007/08 by posting a 10% rise in turnover to £186 million. Finance and corporate managed strong growth, and even the property department increased takings by 5%.
The firm then experienced a disappointing year in 2008/09 before posting a turnover of £191m for 2009/10 and a 10% increase in profits per equity partner, which rose to £455,000. In May 2011 partner profits increased by 56% to £712,000 and turnover shot up by 20%, to £229m.
But worrying signs have emerged this year. The firm made over 50 lawyers and over 40 secretaries redundant in Spring as part of a massive salary reduction drive, and there are rumours PEP has fallen off a cliff and dropped by 35% - the firm has declined to release its 2013 figures until it has to later this year.
BLP does have an enviable client list, including such household names as Canary Wharf, Hermes, Shell, Tesco, The Football Association and Thames Water. International expansion continues apace: the firm has offices in Paris, Brussels, Singapore and recently set up shop in Abu Dhabi and Moscow. It also has an alliance of "best friend" agreements with a number of foreign firms.
BLP launched a "managed legal services" department designed to take on the functions of in house lawyers of major corporations. And the firm also pioneered the Lawyers on Demand service, which provides clients with interim lawyers.
Its City office is all under one roof by London Bridge. It's nice not to have to traipse to Docklands for a view of the Thames, although rumours that the firm was going to moor a yacht alongside for client meetings sadly proved to be exaggerated. Still, its restaurant (complete with Sky TV equipped chill-out area) has been a hit.
The firm wins points for taking training and development seriously: it has a firm-exclusive LPC at the College of Law, and, err, has previously sent trainees on a “followship” course at the Sandhurst military academy. Plus it's posted a respectable - in this shaky market - retention rate of 86% for September 2013 (18 out of 21 retained). Although the Spring 2013 intake was more shady - just 64% (14 out of 22). BLP has made serious efforts to resolve the issue of lack of prospects that bedevils all City assistants. Back in 2006 it announced that it would be introducing a role between senior associate and junior partner, allowing lawyers to combine fee-earning work with an element of management responsibility in return for a six figure salary. It's intended to be a viable alternative to partnership, and is compatible with working flexible hours. The role of associate director was introduced in 2007.
Work is hard, but no harder than any other City firm and no one’s there for the sake of it. As one associate comments, “partners seem to take a mature approach to work/life balance with absolutely no "bums on seats" approach. Where there is work you’ll be in the office, to the extent you’ve done what you need to you can go home.”
Associates also praise “the genuinely friendly atmosphere”, and whilst there are inevitable “some partners who are complete liabilities” the vast major are reported to be a top bunch and “happy to go out on the lash with you”.
Free drinks trolleys on Friday afternoons and “no compulsory suit wearing” also go down very well, and you can either come in late or leave early on your birthday.
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