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UK City Firms

Olswang (London)

Our view...

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 new Singapore office at the start of 2012, which has no doubt increased the praise the firm receives for its "amazing secondment opportunities." And Olswang has been bulking up in Europe too, with offices in Munich, Paris and Madrid added to the network in the last couple of 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, then again by a more modest 3% in 2012/13 to £111.3m, and by 7% in 2013/14, to £117.6m.

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.

Recent big deals include acting for Microsoft over unauthorised Xbox 360 accessories, advising BBC Worldwide on the sale of its magazine division and advising Marks and Spencer plc on a sponsorship and advertising agreement with The X Factor.  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 now seems to have been 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

Staff praise the perks on offer (mainly food and booze related): "the endless cookies and jelly beans only seem to get better" and "great range of booze for end of month drinks". 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.

We did hear a couple of grumbles about the firm's 'short term' recruitment and retention policy. And perhaps a suggestion that the trendy veneer is looking a bit faded. One associate comments "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". Further complaints of "great PR spinning the external image, but internally a very different story". And rumours of mass departures are worrying.

In fact, retention has been a bit iffy, and with only just over 50% of the 2012 intake 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"). There was an issue to be addressed if the firm wanted to continue to attract the best people- which it did. After slashing the size of its annual intake to 12, things have, as one would hope, improved. In January 2014 the firm kept on all eight of its Spring qualifiers. That's a distinct improvement on the previous year, when it retained six of the 11 September qualifiers.

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

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: %

Training

Grant for GDL: £7,000
Grant for LPC: £7,000
Training places per year: 24
% of trainees retained: 54%

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%

Benefits

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

  

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Your Views

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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!