Hogan Lovells (London)
Lovells always used to be a funny old firm. Even those from within wondered where it was heading. As one associate put it: “the firm’s not really sure what it wants to be - are we a transactional powerhouse, masters of litigation, or a collection of ultra-specialists in some of the niche areas like IP and financial services? The staff are happy being the third option but the senior management want more of the first.”
All was finally resolved on 1st May 2010, when it merged with US firm Hogan & Hartson to become Hogan Lovells, one of the biggest firms in the world. Nearly three years on and it's doing ok, thank you.
The firm mamaged to post cracking results even during the worst of the recession, though they've flattened now. In 2011/2012 turnover inceased by 1.5per cent over last year to £591m (this is all excluding the Americas), but profits dropped £20 million to £164m. The firm says it is due to investment. Still, the firm has no debt and is very well hedged. It's a classic example of how to make crappy market conditions work in your favour – litigation and business restructuring are going great guns. Even its capital markets team has been busy working on structured investment vehicles.
The work is top drawer, and post-merger it has over 40 offices in Europe, Asia and the US... In the past the firm advised Softbank on an £8.9billion buyout of Vodafone Japan, and worked for private equity house Cinven. More recently, the Icelandic Government turned to Lovells when it was thinking of taking on the British Government over the Landesbank debacle. Unusually for a firm of this size, it's not just corporate which makes the headlines: all of its litigators are put up for higher rights qualifications.
From a pure profitability point of view the firm is unlikely to challenge the Magic Circle – however well it pays its partners, they only make about half what they’d get at Linklaters. But it doesn’t need to. According to one associate, this “reflects a good work life balance for associates and a lower leverage that allows real prospects of partnership”. It's hard to argue with that.
This firm also takes enormous pride in marketing its “friendliness”. And by and large the evidence supports this. A trainees says that "we are expected to have a life outside of work and whilst friends in
other firms cancel their dinner plans we can generally make ours every
time". And one associate even reported that "a number of the partners seem to genuinely care if you are repeatedly in the office past a certain time". How novel.
We can't even be rude about its infamously shabby London offices any more, as it's moved into swanky new Atlantic House (still in the same handy Holborn Viaduct location).
Although the pay is pretty good, be warned, the bonus system - or apparent lack of it - is a serious bone of contention amongst associates. It is, says one, "a cruel joke" since, according to another, it is "based on hours worked over target (which is high - 1700) so is basically an overtime payment. And no-one seems to get the "discretionary" bonus”. And if you’re a trainee, forget it, you don’t even get the option of getting one.
On the upside the firm has an alternative to partnership that actually works, by way of its counsel role, and associates are put through various papers at Cass Business School which can amount to a full MBA.
The combination of good pay, good quality work, a supportive environment and a well-developed international network makes HogLove a serious alternative to the Magic Circle. Of course it remains to be seen whether it can retain its well-regarded culture in the post-merger months and years to come.
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