Charles Russell Speechlys
Charles Russell and Speechly Bircham merged on 1 November 2014 to form Charles Russell Speechlys. Disappointingly, neither of RoF's predictions for the new name, Rustling Birch and Bircham Russell, were picked. It seemed like a good fit. It is the largest private client firm in the UK by a considerable margin, with offices in Europe and the Middle East.
Of course, Speechly Bircham was looking around for a merger partner for some time and its proposed tie-up with Withers collapsed in 2013 at the last moment. This time around the firm held regular meetings with its partners to ensure that they remained aware of the many benefits of voting yes. And, unlike Withers, Charles Russell also managed to stay the course. Charles Russell was the larger (only slightly) of the two firms. It had been a smart, family run private client practice for generations and 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.
CRS' reputation is in high-quality private client advice, but it also has commercial clout and decent media and technology capabilities. 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. It also has a flourishing sports practice, with big hitters such as Nike and Mercedes GP on the books. The merger also means that the firm will be looking ahead to brighter times, and getting over the last few difficult years: in 2009 and 2012 there were redundancy spells for Charles Russell. And it closed its Oxford office in January 2012 and sold its Cambridge office to Penningtons in March that year.
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, a junior solicitor said the firm pays "well below market rate, despite the constant bleating of the heavily over-staffed HR department". "Pay discussions every year are painful", said a colleague, "as the partners roll out the same line that the pay is in line with our competitors. Obviously we all know many people at our competitors, all getting paid £15k more at least! Definitely not market". But others said pay "reflects the work ethic required, and the fact you don't need to sacrifice your life to work here". "Better than a kick in the teeth", said one lawyer, "but not by much". A partner corrected the record: "absolutely grand for the type of firm we are".
A junior solicitor felt the 2014 combination of the two firms was "improving following a bumpy ride". (Counterpoint: a colleague said "the Charles Russell lawyers and the Speechly Bircham lawyers do tend to still work within their own teams"). "Guildford office culture is good", said a lawyer who possibly works there, but "London is always like a morgue".
The split between its legacy firms’ staff may have healed out in the open, but tensions were alive and well in the ladies' loos. One junior solicitor (F) claimed the women "seem to know how to behave themselves". But another woman disagreed. "It is not the company's fault that other members of staff are disgusting scumbags who shit on the seat", she said. Gulp. "I often have a little snooze on the floor", offered a blissfully unaware male colleague, "with a snuggly blanket of soft toilet paper".
In the most recent survey, though, a barnstorming performance by the chief at Christmas was foremost in respondents' minds. He went "a bit village vicar with his Christmas sermons", said a senior solicitor, and was, said another witness, "met with groans as he makes jokes about farts and football".