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. In 2018/19, pre-tax profit increased 10% to £52 million and profit per equity partner rose by 7% to £570,000. Turnover climbed 6% to £243 million.
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 wrote in to 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 the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey 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. "It's just a bit shit, isn't it", said a colleague. 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 got props for allowing its lawyers a life, however. "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". And another typied the view that the firm's work-life balance was "the trade off for relatively low pay".
As fro career development, one senior lawyer said those who wished to advance would need "the ear of a partner who has power or influence." Another senior lawyer noted that although support was available there was "no pressure" on lawyers who did not wish to progress up the ladder. One junior described "the hierarchical structure" as being "less pyramid more football pitch".
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.