Osborne Clarke (London, Bristol)
Osborne Clarke is back on stellar form after a couple of wobbly years. 2012/13 revenues are up by 14% to £112m largely due to the international expansion the firm has focused on recently. It's gone from having six offices in three countries to 16 offices over 7 countries, covering Spain, Italy, Germany, New York, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam later this year.
The firm recently acted for Carphone Warhouse on its £1.7bn demerger and £500m acquisition and advised Grifols on its $4bn acquisition of Talecris and subsequent acquisition of part of Novartis for $1.7bn.
The resurgence follows a lean period after 2000-01, when the firm's previously meteoric rise resulted in it upping its lawyer count from 300 to 400 in the course of one year. The downturn in the market caught OC by surprise and painful readjustments had to be made. During 2002-03, 25 partners (a full quarter of the firm) either jumped ship or were managed out, and the firm embarked on a voluntary redundancy programme amongst their support staff which got rid of around forty employees. Profits dipped to an embarrassing average of £233,000 per partner.
But by 2003 the firm had, one way or another, resolved its problems and was once again firing on all cylinders. Managing partner Simon Beswick says that whilst the firm clearly cocked up by being too bullish in its staffing, its client base and deal quality remained exceptional. Now that the market has picked up the firm seems to be reaping the benefits, as testified by the resurgence in profits.
One of OC's trump cards is that its London office (which now undertakes a third of the firm's work) can outsource work to its Bristol and Thames Valley offices. These have lower costs, so the firm can turn a bigger profit: great news if you're a partner, rather less so if you're the Bristol-based assistant doing City work. Still, at least it's top-end, interesting stuff, and the firm's new salary structure for senior assistants means that you should at least be appropriately paid for it.
One of the first things Beswick did was to provide a clear structure to career progression at the firm. Mid-level lawyers who've proved themselves can be promoted to associates, when they get a cash bonus, discretionary pay and a formal development programme to give them the skills they need for partnership. There's no up-or-out policy, so if you don't like the idea of sacrificing your life to the firm it's possible for you to be a long term "associate of value".
OC's headquarters have also now moved from Bristol to London, with Bristol being labelled the firm's 'home town'. This was a sensible move as its London office continues to pull in first class work and is more and more likely to be seen on deals alongside the likes of Travers Smith, Olswang and Macfarlanes.
OC performed extremely well in the recent RollOnFriday UK Firm of the Year 2014
survey, coming in the top five. Respondents rated their work life balance at 80%, openness of the firm at 89% and the firm scored most highly on its biscuits which scored 90%.
Respondents rated the “happy people”
which made up OC and “human partners”
which as one lawyer commented “treat you as a person and allow exciting things like evenings and weekends off”
. Positive comments flooded in about its “friendly culture”
and “open attitude”,
but one lawyer noted that while change is good thing “too much of it can be challenging”.
The homemade biscuits received high praise all round, especially the ones on offer in the Bristol office. Indeed, one
lawyer admitted to exaggerating meeting room numbers in order to get more.
OC may have bitten off more than it could chew a few years ago, but it's unlikely to make the same mistake twice. Top quality work, rapidly rising profits and an open and meaningful career structure make OC a good egg.
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NB: the salaries listed in the table are for London. You're not on quite as much in the regions. NQs in Bristol get £47k and in Reading, £50k.