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UK City Firms

Charles Russell (London)

Our view...
    
With over 100 partners Charles Russell is a larger firm than one might think. The firm has been a smart, family run private client practice for generations. It used to be the firm to which wealthy Catholic families turned - the irony being that it’s a great divorce outfit. Although the family link has now weakened, offices in Cheltenham and Guildford help maintain ties with wealthier landed clients.
 
CR now has international reach, and whilst it retains its reputation for high quality private client advice it also has commercial clout and decent media and technology capabilities. Some insiders say that the firm has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis and is unsure whether it should be leaning towards the corporate or private client side. But today it is commercial work, rather than private client work which is bringing in the most revenue (around 70%).
 
The firm's strongest department in revenue terms is litigation, bringing in £18.96m in 2011 (30% of total billings). And the client roster is a pretty sexy one, including the likes of Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran fame), The FA, Harper Collins and Virgin Media. CR also has a flourishing sports practice, with big hitters such as Nike and Mercedes GP on the books.
 
The firm has rushed to expand overseas, opening offices in Geneva, Bahrain and Qatar. It moved to new London headquarters in February 2009, bringing an end to the endless complaints about the slow lifts and grotty loos.
 
Of course all this was paid for in a depressed market, and the widely held fear that “redundancies may be on the way” was confirmed at the beginning of 2009. Associates were split on how the firm handled them. Some praised it for being "open and honest" with staff but there was a strong feeling that the firm hadn't realised how much "morale had been battered" and had been slow to deal with it. This was summed up by one associate's view that "the majority of people in charge think the rest of us are very, very stupid indeed". Oooh... 

The move to pricier premises also meant that partner profits took a hit, dipping from £390k to £235k in 2008/09. And while PEP is not back at 2008 levels, it's been steadily climbing. In 2010/11 it stood at £273, rose to £280k (up 5%) in 2011/12 and was up 7% to £300k in 2012/13.

It's got some ground to make up though. Charles Russell closed its Oxford office in January 2012 and sold its Cambridge office to Penningtons in March that year. And in June 2012 it announced another set of redundancies, chopping nine staff.

The firm wins praise for its collegiality and reasonable working hours, not to mention the shiny new London office. Lawyers praise the "great opportunities for career progression", "talented, hard-working and friendly people" and "good quality" work. But there are criticisms. Don't think a smaller firm means 5:30pm finishes. Associates complain that a "lack of fat at junior levels", means there can be a fair amount of late night and weekend working. Plus "low pay" and a "poor bonus structure" don't help the morale of those who've found themselves burning the midnight oil. One associate complains that its partners are “great lawyers but rubbish managers”. Another claims that “certain equity partners seem to exercise a Mafia like control over the firm”.

On the upside the firm does now offer a subsidised staff canteen, free breakfasts and staff get to leave a whole half an hour early on Friday.

Salary

Salary (1st seat trainee): £32,500
Salary (NQ): £55,000
Salary (1PQE): £58,000
Salary (2PQE): £61,000
Salary (3PQE): £64,500
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: No
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %

Training

Grant for GDL: £6,000
Grant for LPC: £6,000
Training places per year: 18
% of trainees retained: 77%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 53%
Development: 66%
Work/Life: 69%
Openness: 59%
Biscuits: 64%
Toilets: 69%
Social: 69%
Firm of the year overall score: 64%

Benefits

Holiday allowance: 25
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory, up to 5%
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: Enhanced pay. 1-4 years service, 14 weeks at full salary, 12 weeks statutory. 4 years plus service, 15 weeks at full salary, 11 weeks statutory.
Target hours: 1500
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: No
Restaurant: Yes, subsidised
24 hour photocopying support: No
24 hour secretarial support: No
Other: Over four years you can accrue a further three days holiday. Private medical. Life assurance.

  

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