Several years on from the merger in 2010 between Lovells and US firm Hogan & Hartson and the firm is doing ok, thank you. The work is generally seen as top drawer, and the firm has a sizeable presence with around 50 offices across the globe, plus a formal association with Shanghai Free Trade Zone-based Chinese law firm Fujian Fidelity law firm.
The firm managed to post cracking results during the worst of the recession and in the following few years, partly due to its strong litigation and business restructuring teams.
From a pure profitability point of view the firm is unlikely to challenge the Magic Circle – however well it pays its partners, they make significantly less than they’d get at Linklaters. But it doesn’t need to. According to one associate, this “reflects a good work life balance for associates and a lower leverage that allows real prospects of partnership”. It's hard to argue with that.
That said HogLove has had to look over its shoulder at the firms challenging the silver circle who can offer lower cost overheads. Partly in reaction to this HogLove opened its legal service centre in Birmingham in 2014. And it followed this by launching a global business centre in Louisville, Kentucky in 2016.
This firm also takes enormous pride in marketing its “friendliness”. And by and large the evidence supports this. A trainee says that "we are expected to have a life outside of work and whilst friends in other firms cancel their dinner plans we can generally make ours every time". One lawyer gushes about the "low twat:legend ratio".
However, there were some voices of discontent from the business service staff, with one complaining that "the firm always had a great reputation for being 'friendly'. Not any more. When support staff are referred to as 'overheads' by a partner that is pretty sad". There were other grumbles among support staff with one saying there needed to be "an improvement in salaries".
There still seems to be a mixed reaction to how the integration has gone post-merger (or post-combination as some insist on calling it). One lawyer believes that the "merger seems, essentially, to have been a major success". However, others complain of the "increasing Americanisation of the firm" as "initiatives like 'Project Redefine' and 'Step up' feel a little forced in London". Another said, "We were all presented with a HL branded Mindful Colouring Book ... The worst thing was that that they had used the American spelling of 'Coloring'. Outrageous".
The firm's London office is the swanky Atlantic House in the handy Holborn Viaduct location. It's now "accidentally trendy (now Amazon have moved in next door)". Although there were complaints that the separation of 3 buildings results in some "support staff being separated from fee-earners".
Although the pay is pretty good, be warned, the bonus system - or apparent lack of it - is a serious bone of contention amongst associates. It is, says one, "a cruel joke" since, according to another, it is "based on hours worked over target (which is high - 1700) so is basically an overtime payment. And no-one seems to get the "discretionary" bonus”. And if you’re a trainee, forget it, you don’t even get the option of getting one.
There were also grumbles about the qualification process, with one lawyer complaining that the process "forces trainees to fight each other, Hunger Games-style, for vacancies".
On the upside the firm has an alternative to partnership that actually works, by way of its counsel role, and associates are put through various papers at Cass Business School which can amount to a full MBA.
The combination of good pay, good quality work, a supportive environment and a well-developed international network makes Hogan Lovells a serious alternative to the Magic Circle. One HogLover says, "We get paid the same as our Magic Circle friends but don't have to put up with working for sociopaths or have to suffer the same relentless working schedule".
In the annual RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work at survey, trainees were certainly happy. "Can't complain" about the pay, said one, "given the recent hike in NQ salaries...mostly OK hours, and an impressive absence of b*llends".
Other trainees agreed, adding that the culture was "genuinely decent".
"Trainees are stretched but supported", said another. "No getting away from menial tasks at time but there is always opportunity for more interesting work if you ask". As for the work/life balance, "A few late nights but generally out of the office by 7.30pm", said one. "Weekends have been largely untouched by work".
A junior solicitor commented on wages that, "If you're at the top end of the pay bracket then it sits nicely". He added, "I've never seen the attraction of flogging yourself with a pack of documents for the sake of a high six figure salary". "Decent rises this year, but still some way off magic circle/ American firms", said a senior solicitor.
Working more flexibly in the evenings "is also increasingly OK", said a junior solicitor, "but working from home more generally still seems to carry something of a stigma, as if it were code for slacking off".
"HL loves to brag about its culture", said another junior solicitor, but "generally speaking management are on the money on this".
"We pride ourselves on being kind to our colleagues and recognising that behaviour", said a partner, although the partner was "slightly concerned that having provincial offices and open plan is a step towards us becoming a DLA, Addleshaws or Eversheds".
As for that management, "Steve Immelt and Nicholas Cheffings (outgoing CEO and Chair) have done a great job of positioning the firm for the future (embracing tech and innovation) and setting out a clear direction", said a junior solicitor. "There are one or two partners that aren't particularly pleasant but associates seem to cycle through their teams at a rate of knots. It's quite gratifying to observe their bemusement at why that's the case...", they added. A senior solicitor said, "the feeling is that, post-merger, senior management seemed to concentrate more and more in Washington".
One senior associate was ready for the apocalypse. "We recruit and (mostly) keep very nice people", he said. "You could never leave AH [Atlantic House, the London HQ] for a week and you'd be well provided for - sleeping pods, gym, canteen, table tennis, back entrance to Vivat Bacchus. What more could a man wish for?"
NB The firm offers a grant of £8,000 for the GDL inside London (£7,000 outside London) and £7,000 for the LPC (always studied in London).