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UK City Firms

Macfarlanes (London)

Our view...

Macfarlanes is one of the most distinctive mid-sized law firms in the City, with a corporate department that regularly competes with the Magic Circle on deals.

The firm eschews costly foreign offices in favour of a referral network. To this extent the firm is very much a miniature Slaughter and May, which of course means that assistants can expect to be similarly Slaughtered by the hours. Still, at least they earn the same sort of cash (plus a bonus scheme of up to 25% of salary), and the work is some of the best in the City.

The firm's had a pretty stellar run of it financially, 2015/16 aside, when revenue was flat, profits dropped almost 9% to £74.5m and PEP slipped 17% to £1.29m. But that followed several years of impressive rises, and in 2016/17 the balance sheet rebounded with revenues of £167.6m, up 4%, PEP up 8% to £1.38m, and profits up 4% to £85.85m.

Macfarlanes unveiled pay rises in July 2016. Bear in mind, though, that the figures include both performance-related bonuses and the firm's estimated firm-wide bonus. On that basis, NQ's are now paid £71,000, with performance bands for 1PQEs of £81-88k, for 2PQEs of £87-92.5k and for 3PQEs of £95-102.5k. The firm gave its lawyers an average bonus of 9.3% for the May 2015 - April 2016 period, on top of a 5% bonus received by all staff. For the May 2016-April 2017 period, the firm raised the lawyers' bonus limit to 25%.

Major clients include Goldman Sachs, 3i, RBS, Reebok, Barclays Wealth and Paramount. And the firm's been keeping its nose in some very tasty deals, such as Duke Street Capital's secondary buy-out of the Wagamama's chain and it advised Brit Insurance on a $1.3bn cash offer for Apollo Management VII and CVC Partners. The firm also represented oil company Trafigura in the Abidjan Personal Injury Litigation, the largest group litigation ever brought in the English Courts and possibly one of the most controversial. It also recently advised Verizon on its $130bn purchase of Vodaphone's interest in the company.

Like many firms, Macfarlanes was forced to make redundancies in 2009, but things now seem to be very much on the up. It has been fine at retaining qualifying trainees from recent intakes, too, taking on 92% (23/25) in autumn 2017. 

Like Slaughters, Macfarlanes has a reputation for being a fairly old-school outfit. The partners may deny this, and certainly the firm has taken steps towards showing its progressive, funky side - in the past corporate assistants have been invited on free skiing trips. And whilst associates claim there are many partners "who let you share their Werther's Originals and know a good story about a bridge" there are others who are "down with the kids" and even some who "like the rap music". Word.

So maybe it's the law firm equivalent of your father trying to dance at the school disco. But the lawyers we've met all seem like a very nice bunch, and since senior partners are taking home some pretty serious wedge we imagine they quite frankly couldn't care less.

The firm is also seen as one of the most meritocratic in the City. So aside from the money and partnership prospects, there are other clear advantages to training and working at Macfarlanes over and above the larger City practices: chiefly, its small size means that you can expect proper, hands on experience from the day you start. And whilst it's generally referred to as a corporate boutique, it also has a cracking private client department if that's your bag - a rarity in such a profitable firm.

The downside is that there's nowhere to hide - if you're crap you'll be found out in double quick time - and given the lack of foreign offices it's not the best place to go if you fancy heading off to the Med for a little R&R.

The firm's performance in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year survey is improving, and it scored a mid-range, but satisfactory score of 69% this year. Lawyers still complain that the firm "embraces change reluctantly"  and that "the sacrifice of life outside the office is totally expected". Others worry about a logjam higher up the ranks, with one saying the firm "still needs to address hierarchy problems and how to manage with large number of senior solicitors and few partnership places". But there was a lot of praise for the "genuinely friendly" collegiate atmosphere, the "very bright people"  and the "interesting and challenging work from trainee level up". Partners are described as "approachable" and the firm's Senior Partner, Charles Martin, received praise for his leadership. As for its fuddy-duddy ways? "The firm's classic retro charm is bang on trend with hipsters".

Clearly this is a good firm at which to work, as long as you're happy with tough hours and have the intellectual ability to cope with early responsibility. Along with Travers Smith (same work, slightly less crusty), it's one of the better mid-sized firms in the City.

For more information on Macfarlanes click here
For more information on Macfarlanes click here


Salary (1st seat trainee): £44,000
Salary (NQ): £71,000
Salary (1PQE): £81,000
Salary (2PQE): £84,000
Salary (3PQE): £91,500
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: 15%
- 1PQE: 15%
- 2PQE: 15%
- 3PQE: 15%
- 4PQE: 15%
- 5PQE: 15%
- Partner: %


Grant for GDL: £7,000
Grant for LPC: £7,000
Training places per year: 27
% of trainees retained: 74%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 70%
Development: 73%
Work/Life: 55%
Openness: 54%
Biscuits: 70%
Toilets: 57%
Social: 69%
Firm of the year overall score: 64%


Holiday allowance: 26
Flexi holiday: Yes
Pension: Group Personal Scheme
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: Enhanced maternity and paternity - 23.5 weeks at full pay
Target hours: None
Childcare vouchers: Yes
Gym: Susidised membership
Restaurant: Yes
24 hour photocopying support: No
24 hour secretarial support: No
Other: Health screening Subsidised staff restaurant Bike to work scheme Travel insurance Life cover Season ticket loan Dental Critical illness insurance Lifestyle/discounted shopping Payroll Giving In-house Mortgage surgeries The 2 and 3PQE salaries listed are the minimum amounts payable within those bands. There is potential for a firm-wide bonus of up to 5% of salary paid in October. Business services staff also receive the firm wide bonus plus the possibility up to 5% of salary under an individual "exceptional contribution" scheme paid in July.


News Stories

Exclusive: Lord Ashcroft publishes Macfarlanes partner's book
No pigs were porked in the making of this book ... read more > (1 comment)
Exclusive: Posh Macfarlanes lawyers' ski ban nightmare
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Macfarlanes expresses misery at its own promotions
Takes partner diversity fail on the chin ... read more > (4 comments)
Perfect trainee retention at Osborne Clarke and Macfarlanes
Even Mayer Brown reverses its trend of making a hash of it ... read more >
Macfarlanes top of the City as partners pull in £1.55m
Best ever year for blue chip firm ... read more > (3 comments)
Macfarlanes in bid for diversity with CV-blind interview
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...while Macfarlanes partners make £1.2m each
Biggest is not always best ... read more >
Exclusive: Linklaters makes up more women than men for the first time ever
(in London) ... read more > (1 comment)
City firms start pulling in more cash
The market finally improves ... read more > (3 comments)
UK Firm of the Year 2013: Biscuits, Bogs and Bonding
The all-important categories, ranked by firm ... read more > (5 comments)

Your Views

Feel free to enter your comments on the news story below, subject to our terms and conditions. Please note that comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Please keep it nice. Thanks.

01/10/2009 17:42
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Offices etc have been built new and / or refurbished. While it's not quite giant atriums and indoor swimming pools, it is certainly to a high standard.
anonymous user
15/09/2011 15:04
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"lack of hierarchy"?? You must be having a laugh!
anonymous user
12/01/2012 23:44
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HORRIBLE atmosphere and dreadful morale. Avoid.
anonymous user
19/01/2012 20:09
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Partners are leaving en masse, associate morale is very shaky after a mass stealth clear out (of mainly laterals) in 2008-2009, the firm is also generally rudderless and increasingly sub-scale having set itself against either mergers or international expansion.

What was until a couple of years ago a very strong firm has been badly weakened by a period of dreadful mis-management.
anonymous user
09/07/2015 12:04
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Macfarlanes had a dreadful recession and torpedoed it's trainee intake. Odd that that's not mentioned?