Back in the day, legacy Beachcroft went through a phase of desperately trying to reinvent itself – it dropped the “Wansbroughs” from its name and moved into flashy new offices in Bristol (“rather like working in an iPod”, grumbled one assistant). And in 2011, merged with fellow middle-ranking insurance firm Davis Arnold Cooper to become DAC Beachcroft (sadly not ABCD as RollOnFriday had hoped).
And since the merger, the firm has largely been making a success of it with steady growth.
However, the firm’s associates have been panning the firm for poor pay and uncompetitive salaries for years. "Salaries are going down rather than up", "no pay rise for three years and not a cat in hell's chance of a bonus", "the management are always looking to save money at the expense of the staff" were all cries from assistants. As one lawyer put it, “if only top brass would accept that rate of pay is the sole reason why staff turnover at junior fee earner level is so high and do something about it.”
On the flip side, plenty of lawyers praise the firm’s work/life balance, chummy atmosphere ("no pompous arses") and good social life (including events such as "ferret racing").
“Money grabbing psychopathic assistants and unconcerned slave driving partners tend not to be attracted to Beachcroft, which helps keep the firm (almost) full of friendly people who are good at what they do but don’t see work as the primary reason for breathing.”
And the firm’s made some strides in broadening its practice too. Historically known largely for its insurance litigation expertise, it now gives commercial legal and litigation advice to a number of industries including financial institutions, the health and public sector (which has seen a particular investment over the last year), real estate, technology and industrial and consumer goods and services. And with the merger has come a much stronger focus on international expansion, sometimes in unexpected directions: in 2013 it became apparently the first European firm to open in Chile.
The firm is well represented with a plethora of offices across the UK. And further afield, it has launched in Madrid, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand. As well as forming associations in several other countries.
Its report card from respondents writing in to RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At was, broadly speaking, good work/life balance at the cost of pay. "My trainees have all left and now all earn substantially better base salaries than I do", mused a junior solicitor there.
On the other hand, "For the type of work that this firm does, and the work/home life balance, the pay is good", maintained a partner. But it was "a recipe for discontent", according to a senior solicitor. "Firm is going great guns, PEP is at an all-time high, juniors are ignored if they ask to be paid on a par with peers who work for competitors. Think 'gruel scene' from Oliver Twist".
"It's a bit shit and doesn't seem to be high on the priority list to get better", said one lawyer: "That said I don't often work long hours and have only worked a handful of times on the weekend".
That compromise was a common refrain, and DACB got props for allowing its lawyers a life. "If you work hard, it's unlikely you will ever be questioned for leaving on time or working from home", said a senior lawyer. Another summed up: "I see my kids and don't really have to work on the weekends". The firm's work-life balance, said another, was "the trade off for relatively low pay".
"It is not exactly the lottery but I actually get to leave the office and would take that trade off any day", said another.
As for career development, one senior lawyer said those wishing to advance would need "the ear of a partner who has power or influence." One junior described "the hierarchical structure" as being "less pyramid more football pitch".
"The hierarchical structure is flat as a pancake and options for progression up the ladder are slim at best", agreed another. "Processes to move up a rung are years-long and arduous."
But others said the cream was allowed to rise. "Can see that the right people get promoted, not just those who shout the loudest", said a junior lawyer. Others begged to differ: "Lateral hires seem to be the new thing. Promotion from within nigh on impossible unless it seems you have left and come back".
If you're after decent hours (by City standards) and a friendly environment, this firm is not a bad bet. Just don't expect to be getting the top bucks.
NB: bonuses start at 5% but may be higher, while the salaries stated are for London. In the regions they may be less, e.g. first seat trainees are paid £26,000 compared to £35,000 in London.