BLP merged with US firm Bryan Cave in April 2018 to become Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. The combined firm boasts revenues of over US$900 million and 1,600 lawyers in 32 offices in 11 countries.
Prior to the merger, 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. In 2016/2017, revenue was up by 7% to £272m, but PEP dropped by 8% to £630k.
BLP had an enviable client list, including such household names as Canary Wharf, Hermes, Shell, Tesco, The Football Association and Thames Water. It expanded internationally: the firm had offices in Paris, Brussels, Singapore and more recently set up shop in Abu Dhabi and Moscow.
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.
BLP's City office was 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) was a hit.
The firm won points for taking training and development seriously: it had a firm-exclusive LPC at ULaw, and, err, had 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). In Spring 2017 it retained just 55% (11 out of 20). In Autumn 2017 it held on to 67% (16 out of 24).
BLP 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 was intended to be a viable alternative to partnership, and was 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 "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 praised the "great" policy on working from home: "Being positively encouraged to work from home one day a week is pretty civilised".
One trainee said , "On the whole it is a good firm to work for if you are in the right department". So while a junior associate said, "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 praised “the genuinely friendly atmosphere”, though the culture in the corporate department was described as "laddish and aggressive" by one lawyer. And whilst there were inevitably “some partners who are complete liabilities” the vast major were reported to be a top bunch and “happy to go out on the lash with you”. Apparently the "decent human being: dragon wanker" ratio was "decidedly better than the rest of the City".
Several staff also told RollOnFriday that the atmosphere 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 were "clear improvements in morale in the last 12 months". Another associate said "a sense that the firm is trying to improve morale". Apparently senior management's "(re)-realisation" that the firm was "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".
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, said an NQ, were the, "improved and more frequent communications from board members" and the Managing Partner. An associate discussion forum was "established to try and improve firm communications and get concerns/queries addressed by the board". Although the tagline, "Performance.Multiplied" was a misstep, according to one BLP lawyer, who said it was, "the most cringe-tastic corporate slogan in all recorded history".
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2018 survey, there were some disgruntled comments about pay, as one lawyer said "pay is distinctly average and you are more likely to win the lottery than receive a significant bonus". Career development prospects were praised as one lawyer said "everyone is encouraged to progress" while another said "partners are very willing to invest time in your development".
One lawyer commented pre-merger that "I look forward to welcoming our new Yankee overlords". It remains to be seen how smoothly the merger goes.