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 impressive profit each of its equity partners take home of £903k - not quite at the level of 2007/8's whopping £1.1million, but getting closer every year – puts them not too far off their Magic Circle counterparts.
One of the reasons for this is that Macfarlanes keeps a tight lid on the equity - as of 1 May 2011 the firm will have 72 partners, of which 47 will be equity partners. It also 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 15% of salary), and the work is some of the best in the City.
The firms two big revenue creating departments, corporate and real estate inevitably saw a downturn over the last few years. But the firm managed to keep its turnover relatively steady - a 2009/2010 drop in revenue from £99m to £92.4m was partly down to the firm's adoption of GAAP procedures and in reality was a drop of just 2%. Now it seems to be blazing - in 2011-12 revenue has more than recovered, rising 8 per cent to £102.23m, back up to 2008 levels. The firm's rep for quality rather than the quantity of deals has and should continue to make them profitable.
Major clients include Goldman Sachs, 3i, RBS, Reebok 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 was 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.
Like many firms, Macfarlanes was forced to make redundancies in 2009, but things now seem to be very much on the up - although trainee retention is a bit wobbly. The firm managed to keep on an impressive 22 of its 24 trainees in the September 2011 qualification round - carrying on a praiseworthy tradition of consistently high trainee retention rates - but only managed 40% the following Spring.
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
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.
While the firm did really poorly in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2012, nestling into the second last spot, in 2013 it showed improvement. It's still in the bottom half of the table, but only just. 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
". As for it's fuddy duddy ways? "It's not the coolest kid in the playground...but it does care about what it's getting wrong and seems to be trying to fix it without changing its core values
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