BLP merged with US firm Bryan Cave in April 2018 to become Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
Prior to the merger, BLP was one of the City's true success stories. Berwin Leighton and Paisner had 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.
It expanded internationally, launched a "managed legal services" department designed to take on the functions of in-house lawyers of major corporations, and pioneered the Lawyers on Demand service, which provides clients with interim lawyers.
BLP's City office by the Thames 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 (once upon a time it sent trainees on a “fellowship” course at the Sandhurst military academy). Trainees have praised the "high quality of work", the "high levels of partner contact," and the "high levels of responsibility" on offer. Another told RollOnFriday there was, "excellent training and support" and a "genuine open-door policy with approachable partners".
BLP made serious efforts to resolve the issue of lack of prospects that bedevil all City assistants. Back in 2007, it was one of the first firms to introduce a role between senior associate and junior partner, 'associate director', 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.
Here's what BCLP lawyers say about the firm now:
The wedge is "Good for more advisory seats as good work life balance for the money", but the "Balance seems skewed in corporate and finance departments", according to a junior solicitor. Another said it was "Not MC/US salary but quite a bit better than before and also comparing to CMS".
"The firm is taking steps to keep up with the 'market' in the UK", agreed a senior lawyer, "both in terms of base salary and bonus. There have been a number of reviews over the last 18 months", they said, "but we're still lagging behind our US colleagues".
Speaking to the join-up with Bryan Cave, one lawyer said, "They have now given up all pretence that BCLP was a merger rather than a US takeover. Every week there seems to be a new US-style process or system being forced on the UK offices. Some of which are admittedly an improvement, but most will presumably be quietly shelved in a few months".
Some were a little jaded by the messages from on high: "All we get are emails about Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives and nagging us to send bills to clients", grumbled one lawyer.
While some said the "hours are good", others spoke of feeling stretched: "We were too busy before the pandemic, too busy during the pandemic and are still too busy post-pandemic". But, "At least I get to work from home two days a week now" said one, and, "In fairness, I don't think this is an issue unique to BCLP in the City" (it definitely isn't).
While people at many firms have rued the impact of Covid on maintaining culture, at BCLP it was the US merger that drew most attention. "Individual teams still have fantastic people and the London office has almost no psychopaths", said one lawyer, but, "Legacy BLP's culture has been eaten up by the Americans". "The Americans still use their bryan cave email ids, which is a small but telling sign", said a legacy BLPer. In conclusion, said another: "Query how ‘Americanised’ it will become".
Associates praised “the genuinely friendly atmosphere”. And whilst there were inevitably “some partners who are complete liabilities” the vast majority 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".
Career development prospects were praised, with one lawyer stating that "everyone is encouraged to progress", while another said "partners are very willing to invest time in your development".