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UK City Firms

Olswang (London)

Our view...

Olswang merged with fellow City firms CMS and Nabarro on 1st May 2017. The Nabarro brand is no more - it is now just CMS - and this review will be taken down once we have more information on how the new, merged firm has come together. But for the moment anyone interested in the new, expanded CMS should read the review below to see what a large part of the firm looks like. Clearly salary levels, benefits, trainee retention rates etc. are now all subject to change.

Olswang is one of the sexier firms in the City, combining a high-profile media (and new media) practice with a successful corporate department. Success has come at a certain price - the firm has moved on from the brash media boutique of the 1990s to adopt a more mature imagine and working style - but it's also brought in a greater variety of eye-catching work.

International expansion has been very much on the menu. The firm opened a Singapore office at the start of 2012, which has no doubt increased the praise the firm receives for its "amazing secondment opportunities." And Olswang bulked up in Europe too, with offices in Munich, Paris and Madrid added to its network in the last few years.

Its smart offices in Holborn (all Starbucks and plasma screens) hint at a youthful firm with little City baggage to drag it down. Perhaps this is why Magic Circle lawyers used to sniff at Olswang's corporate work, until they realised the young pretender was there to stay. Turnover rose by a whopping 17% in 2011/12 to £108.1m, a more modest 3% in 2012/13 to £111.3m, by 7% in 2013/14 to £117.6m, and by almost 8% to £126.7m in 2014/15. However, in 2015/16 it dropped to £113m.

And behind the scenes, there have been some tumultous times of late. The rampant expansion may not have been such a great strategy. Profit per equity partner has remained flat at £490k since 2013. In 2014, the firm took out its own CEO. In 2015, its entire Berlin office walked out.

Despite other meritorious projects - real estate and the like - media remains the firm's stronghold (no matter how many press releases about other stuff they fire out). Top-drawer clients include the Guardian, FIFA, the BBC, ITV and a host of other similarly exciting-sounding clients. In fact, when it comes to film and TV, this place is pretty untouchable. Add to the above Channel 4, DreamWorks and HBO and you'll see how Olswang pretty much controls the board. As an extra added bonus, assistants have previously reported that the whole firm is frequently invited along to a free screening of the films it has worked on.

Plus the firm was appointed by News International in the wake of the phone hacking scandal to help draw up a code of conduct. Although it was subsequently shunted off in favour of Linklaters. It also acted for Elisabeth Murdoch and others on the £293m sale of the entire issued share capital of her production company Shine to dad's News Corporation.

The firm insist on a group target policy, not individual. You might wonder if this is a touch invidious - if you take a longer lunch than you should, or leave the office before your workmates then you have to deal with the guilt of letting your mates down. Perhaps so, but people working at the firm enthused about how well the lawyers and support staff got along with each other - "relaxed, open and friendly.  It makes the working day enjoyable". And if you do feel hard done by, there's always the prospect of one of those departmental ski weekends on the horizon.

One associate commented, "A lot of the older lawyers reminisce about the 'good old days' when Olswang was still young and cool - there's a general feeling that everything has become a bit more corporate and boring". Although, said an NQ, "We've also somehow clung on to our image as a cool firm, inspiring envy in my friends at more 'traditional' firms with our wacky tech-loving, non-tie-wearing, bee-keeping ways"

In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2016 survey, Olswangers complained, a lot, about the "confused" management of the firm in recent times. "Following the recent exits of foreign offices and certain key partners throughout the firm there doesn't yet appear to be a clear plan for the future or any sign of lateral hire replacements", said a 4PQE. The firm "does seem to be in a state of flux" said an NQ, "but I'm optimistic about the future (perhaps wrongly; time will tell)".

"The new management have no strategy apart from cutting costs", said a 2PQE, "and there is a feeling that the firm has lost its direction. Morale is low. The Madrid office is being quietly closed down. Berlin is gone". 

Others said there has been a "high turnover of associates without any obvious investigation as to why this is happening". Some teams "are under-resourced leading to immense pressure, particularly on juniors". A 4PQE said, "Almost 1 on 1 gearing is not uncommon in certain teams".

But, said another 4PQ, "despite a relatively high number of associates leaving the Corporate Group the atmosphere and team dynamics remain strong". And "it's generally a fun place to work where everyone pitches in equally (partners are at their desks as late as associates are)".

Plus, said a 2PQE, in most teams, "there is no rigid "hierarchy" or elitism by partners and senior lawyers. Everyone is treated equally and juniors are given the credit and respect they deserve". Citing a "fantastic peer culture and a strong support network among associates", they said "Most people are genuinely lovely (save for a few bad apples)".

Trainee retention is very up and down at Olswang, with only 50% of the autumn 2015 qualifiers staying on (according to one, "boasting how great the half year results are and then only taking on four NQs the week later isn't cool").

Despite all that, Olswang is a great place for those looking for a first class grounding in new media law. If this is your area, if you are ambitious, hard working and have a strong personality, then you can probably do no better. And - whatever the truth behind the brand - everyone will think you're cool (for a lawyer, anyway).


Salary (1st seat trainee): £35,000
Salary (NQ): £58,000
Salary (1PQE): £63,500
Salary (2PQE): £66,000
Salary (3PQE): £75,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

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


Grant for GDL: £7,000
Grant for LPC: £7,000
Training places per year: 24
% of trainees retained: 50%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 64%
Development: 59%
Work/Life: 53%
Openness: 53%
Biscuits: 90%
Toilets: 78%
Social: 73%
Firm of the year overall score: 63%


Holiday allowance: 25
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory 3% rising to 5% at age 30
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: Statutory
Target hours: No targets
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: Subsidised
Restaurant: Yes, subsidised
24 hour photocopying support: Yes
24 hour secretarial support: Yes
Other: Free massages


News Stories

CMS, Nabarro and Olswang in three-way merger talks
And RollOnFriday knows the name of the new firm ... read more > (18 comments)
Olswang and Linklaters crucified for BHS advice
Branded the "unacceptable face of capitalism", which might be a bit unfair really given they did their jobs but hey who cares about technicalities like that? ... read more > (7 comments)
Olswang refuses to reveal its fees to Parliament
And Linklaters accuses MP of defamation ... read more > (1 comment)
Parliament forces Olswang to disclose its fees
Public embarrassement over BHS ... read more > (4 comments)
Exclusive: Olswang posts dismal 50% trainee retention rate
Second bellyflop in a row for media firm ... read more >
Olswang hooks up with firms in Singapore and Hong Kong
Double-bubble ... read more > (3 comments)
Olswang offers staff bonuses for new clients
Up to 10%. Kerrching ... read more > (4 comments)
Exclusive: Olswang in turmoil after whole German office quits
Was zum Teufel? ... read more > (5 comments)
Exclusive: Olswang ripped off by email scammers
Finance Director hands over a fortune to fraudsters ... read more > (11 comments)
Exclusive: Olswang took out its CEO mobster style
Blood on the carpet ... read more > (6 comments)

Your Views

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Please keep it nice. Thanks.

anonymous user
03/02/2012 10:14
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The benefits table needs an update - Olswang does have flexi holiday (can buy up to an additional 5 days per year), enhanced maternity and childcare vouchers. Also don't believe the pension contribution is age related, it is a matching contribution scheme with a max. of 5%.
anonymous user
09/02/2012 14:17
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Woo Olswang's page!