Debevoise & Plimpton
Debevoise London office may be small but it's magnificently well paid. The firm traditionally concentrated on the domestic market (its head office is in New York), but it’s started to expand in Europe with offices now in Frankfurt, Paris and Moscow. And also is building in Asia with a presence in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. In the past the firm toyed with the idea of a European merger, but never committed - much to the annoyance of Freshfields, which made no secret of its desire for a tie up.
The firm is well known for its leading cross border work, in particular in the areas of finance, private equity and real estate. It may be smaller than many of its competitors but it has an enviable client list, and is able to count a number of large banks and private equity houses among its clients.
The success of the London office is reflected in the growth of the number of trainees coming through the door. To many as well, the cash involved makes Debevoise an enticing prospect in comparison to other city firms. Put simply by one associate, “the pay rocks”. It also practices litigation and arbitration, so the work is more varied than the standard corporate fare.
One insider says that “everyone is very friendly, even under pressure after a long all-nighter”. However, the downside includes the fact that the “time zones can be a nightmare… US partners have a tendency to forget that London is 5 hours ahead”. According to a senior associate, "Holidays are not respected".
That was borne out by the responses to the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey. Debs trainees and NQs said there was "exceptional pay and bonus", but "the benefits and vacation allowance are not great". The hours, said a junior lawyer, "can be pretty terrible, but this is balanced by good flexibility and great pay".
In terms of career progression, the London office "is quite small, so occasionally you have to choose between what you want to do and what is available to do at the firm".
One final point: the name is pronounced Debevoyz (to rhyme with toys). Although sadly they seem to have removed the audio file on their home page that featured a bored, overworked American telling you how to say it.
Here's the skinny as delivered by people at the firm in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2023 survey, in which the firm came a creditable joint 15th:
Placing joint-second, staff were delighted with the firm's "excellent" pay. "Cravath scale with no hours threshold for bonuses is pretty exceptional," said a senior solicitor. Although one said: "Unfortunately because we’re tied to a fixed exchange rate I’ve had to postpone my annual Chanel bag purchase, but I think I’ll manage to survive".
"At this level, long hours come with the territory. However, different people have differing levels of respect for holidays," said a junior.
Following the pando, fee earners have been on a 60:40 WFH split, "but most do not come in on a Monday and Friday".
Office & Amenities
A laterally-hired solicitor remarked that “like most firms, once you've accepted an offer and seen past the glossy client meeting rooms, the offices are…a little lacklustre”.
Other Debs lawyers defended their digs. Sure, “there are no bells and whistles, but there probably would not be time to use them anyway”. And as part of a perceived effort “to lure us back to the office”, the firm has stuffed in a new gym and laid on at-your-desk massages. Most importantly to some, there is no hotdesking, “which is of huge value”.
The management “is approachable and, at least on its face, is open to actively responding to feedback. However, it is a very slow-moving machine”, and it “often taken months, if not years, to implement (meaningful) change”, said a junior solicitor.
That’s because “everything has to be approved by NY”, with London “often treated as a second-class satellite office by NY headquarters (for work allocation, work management decisions, etc)”.
“Any big decisions have to come from New York”, agreed a colleague. The London office is “not as independent as you'd like (or they suggest)”, though “individually, the partners in each team are great”.
A Debevoise & Plimpton lawyer believed that there was "not a great deal of control over work flow or type, given the size of the team", but overall they had a "great exposure to complex, high-value deals". A senior lawyer said: "I definitely feel like I am developing, progressing and receiving support, but long-term career progression remains opaque."