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UK City Firms

Berwin Leighton Paisner (London)

Our view...

BLP was one of the City's true success stories. Berwin Leighton and Paisner merged in 2001 in the hope of becoming more competitive by pooling the two legacy firms' corporate teams. Few would argue that it wasn't a success. Within five years it had established one of the biggest and best real estate practices in the UK – the firm's planning group is regarded as the best in the country – and doubled its turnover.

Of course, during the recession real estate wasn’t the busiest area – firms throughout the City made property lawyers redundant in droves. BLP defied the market in 2007/08 by posting a 10% rise in turnover to £186 million. Even the property department increased takings by 5%.

But in 2012/13 the firm made over 50 lawyers and over 40 secretaries redundant as part of a massive salary reduction drive, while PEP fell off a cliff, dropping by 35%. In 2013/14 it recovered (helped no doubt by  savaging the pay roll), and PEP rose 35% to £542k.

In 2014/15, turnover increased 6% to £259m while PEP jumped 22% to £659k. Revenue was flat in 2015/16, falling 2% to £254m. The firm blamed Brexit, and temporarily froze salary reviews.

BLP does have an enviable client list, including such household names as Canary Wharf, Hermes, Shell, Tesco, The Football Association and Thames Water. It has expanded internationally: the firm has offices in Paris, Brussels, Singapore and more recently set up shop in Abu Dhabi and Moscow. It also has an alliance of 'best friend' agreements with a number of foreign firms.

BLP launched a "managed legal services" department designed to take on the functions of in-house lawyers of major corporations. And the firm also pioneered the Lawyers on Demand service, which provides clients with interim lawyers.

Its City office is all under one roof by the Thames and offers "good views of London Bridge". It was revamped in 2015, and though one lawyer said it was "remodeled on a Teeside call centre complete with soul-sapping 'inspirational' quotes in giant letters on the walls", its restaurant (complete with Sky TV-equipped chill-out area) has been a hit.

The firm wins points for taking training and development seriously: it has a firm-exclusive LPC at ULaw, and, err, has previously sent trainees on a “fellowship” course at the Sandhurst military academy. A trainee responding to RollOnFriday's 2015 Firm of the Year survey praised the "High quality of work", the "high levels of partner contact," and the "High levels of responsibility" on offer. Another said there was, "Excellent training and support" and a "genuine open-door policy with approachable partners".

As for trainee retention, BLP posted a respectable 86% retention rate for September 2013 (18 out of 21 retained). The Spring 2013 intake was more shady - just 64% (14 out of 22). 89% were retained in Spring 2014 (16 out of 18) and 82% in Autumn 2014. In 2015, there was massive embarrassment when RollOnFriday caught it manipulating its figures to give the impression it had a Spring 2015 retention rate of 70%. Actually it was just 61%. In Autumn 2015 it managed 74% (17 out of 24).

BLP has made serious efforts to resolve the issue of lack of prospects that bedevil all City assistants. Back in 2006 it announced that it would be introducing a role between senior associate and junior partner, allowing lawyers to combine fee-earning work with an element of management responsibility in return for a six figure salary. It's intended to be a viable alternative to partnership, and is compatible with working flexible hours. The role of associate director was introduced in 2007.

In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2016 survey, staff said that the appointment of a female managing partner "has signaled a greater focus on work/life balance/flexible working", as well as sending "a positive message regarding career progression of women in the firm". Others praise the "great" policy on working from home: "Being positively encouraged to work from home one day a week is pretty civilised".

Work is hard, but no harder than any other City firm. A lot depends on where you are. One trainee says, "On the whole it is a good firm to work for if you are in the right department". So while a junior associate says, "weekend emails and expectations of ridiculous turnarounds are rife", another has found that, "People are still very busy but it is no longer MC/US hours".

Associates praise “the genuinely friendly atmosphere”, though the culture in the corporate department is described as "laddish and aggressive" by one lawyer. And whilst there are inevitably “some partners who are complete liabilities” the vast major are reported to be a top bunch and “happy to go out on the lash with you”. Apparently the "decent human being: dragon wanker" ratio is "decidedly better than the rest of the City".

Several staff also told RollOnFriday that the atmosphere has improved after a miserable couple of years. "Having accepted that it should stick to what it's good at, i.e. Property", said one junior associate in the 2015 survey, "there have been clear improvements in morale in the last 12 months". Another associate says the "collegiate atmosphere" is a "definite improvement on last year". There is, they say "a sense that the firm is trying to improve morale". Apparently senior management's "(re)-realisation" that the firm is "fudging super at Real Estate and Finance work but not much else" led to a consequential re-think of strategy: "essentially that being Jack-of-all-Trades but master of fuck all isn't as viable a business model as it was in 2007". As a result of the adjustment in focus, the firm "really seems to be going from strength-to-strength at the moment".

A contributing factor, according to one associate, was the firm's decision in 2014/15 to dispense "with a lot of the really poor performers at senior level", which "improved morale quite a lot". Helping matters further, says an NQ, are the, "Improved and more frequent communications from board members" and the Managing Partner. An associate discussion forum "has been established to try and improve firm communications and get our concerns/queries addressed by the board".  Although the tagline, "Performance.Multiplied" is a misstep, according to one BLP lawyer, who says it's, "the most cringe-tastic corporate slogan in all recorded history".

Free drinks trolleys on Friday afternoons and “no compulsory suit wearing” also go down very well, and you can either come in late or leave early on your birthday.  And the staff restaurant has "good food", though its lower floor location "can be a bit sad". On the plus side, the office location "is fab for a Borough Market lunch".

For more information about Berwin Leighton Paisner click here.
For more information on Berwin Leighton Paisner click here


Salary (1st seat trainee): £39,000
Salary (NQ): £66,000
Salary (1PQE): £68,000
Salary (2PQE): £74,300
Salary (3PQE): £82,500
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

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


Grant for GDL: £7,200
Grant for LPC: £7,200
Training places per year: 35
% of trainees retained: 71%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 64%
Development: 74%
Work/Life: 79%
Openness: 72%
Biscuits: 72%
Toilets: 59%
Social: 76%
Firm of the year overall score: 73%


Holiday allowance: 25
Flexi holiday: Yes
Pension: 5% employer
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: Enhanced
Target hours: 1500
Childcare vouchers: Yes
Gym: Part of flexible benefits plan
Restaurant: Yes, subsidised
24 hour photocopying support: No
24 hour secretarial support: No
Other: PMI, Life, GIP, Flexible Benefits, EAP, Concierge, Health Screens, Season Ticket Loan, etc.


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