Jones Day made its big move into London in 2003 when it took over Gouldens - a traditional mid-sized City firm known for its high profits and stellar salaries. Despite initial wobbles, it is one of the most profitable, as well as one of the largest, law firms in the world, with an enormous reputation for massive M&A.
The London office services some major property developers, as well as a host of private equity and hedge funds. It's a pretty major force in litigation, too, and has run some noteworthy cases through the courts in recent times including defending MasterCard against Quinn in a 19bn claim, the biggest UK lawsuit in history.
Uniquely, the firm runs a non-rotational training system, where trainees are expected to knock on doors and seek out their own work rather than being assigned to a partner in any particular department. Instead they share an office with a peer. Whilst this certainly eliminates the chances of your being stuck in a slow department for six months, insiders readily agree that it might not be suitable for wallflowers and you need plenty of "self-motivation". However, one trainee comments that "There's a good reason no one else does a non-rotational system, it's shit and doesn't work". A partner complains that it can encourage slackness, as trainees "smartly figure out that they can hang their hat on the Gouldens goldie crowd who have never trained elsewhere to perpetuate laziness and shoddy work". He adds that result is that those trainees have "no supervisors, no training, no career prospects and definitely no knowledge".
However, others champion the trainee system, saying it gives a control over workload, a “high level of responsibility” and "great client contact". Others claims it "gives you a far better education in City law". One trainee reports partners treat trainees with "a much greater deal of respect than at other firms" because they are dependent on trainees coming to ask for work and to keep them coming back. The system also allows trainees "to see projects through from start to finish" and to focus on "areas of interest".
New joiners get whisked to Washington for a fondly-remembered week of
free booze bonding with their peers from the firm's enormous international network. Although it's worth noting that there's no chance of a seat abroad other than the occasional stint in Dubai.
The firm also gets points for its flat management structure, lack of hierarchy and supportive working environment. The firm will "support associates' efforts to develop new skills and practice areas” and partners "seem to be care about your career goals and general professional development".
There are the usual grumbles about long hours, but if you want to take home this sort of wedge you have to expect to burn the midnight oil occasionally. Chargeable targets are officially a reasonable 1500-1700 hours a year, but insiders say that 2000 is probably more like it (not that bonuses make up for it).
A few suggest that the IT system could be better, as one comments that it "sucks balls and is led by dinosaurs from Cleveland".
As with many a UK office of a big global firm, there are complaints about "opaque" central management from the US, with one senior Jones Dayer worrying about "Lots of senior Americans descending, but with no clear purpose". Fears that "everything goes through the US" have been realised in recent times as several UK partners have been moved to Of Counsel status - not a big deal across the pond, where the two titles have more parity, but a humiliating demotion here. One partner observes that this is the firms non-too-subtle way of suggesting it "wants them to leave".
The firm pitches itself as a realistic competitor to the Magic Circle (hmm), but even some lawyers at the firm are unlikely to go along with this. One partner says it is "mediocre firm that will never truly shed its green village boy Gouldens roots", whilst another lawyer says "it has a bloated real estate department who advise on 'exciting' projects like parking lots". Others are more positive, highlighting the "high-profile clients" and big ticket work. There was also general praise for a "collegiate culture" where "people treat you well".
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2018 survey, one associate said the firm "pays now at silver circle rates with a nasty high street firm culture", while "Lateral partners are mindlessly recruited on 3 year deals and then leave immediately after once they find out what a shitshow London management is".
Another stated that "The managing partner once did a presentation for associates branding those who leak to RollOnFriday as “Whiners” and with a big stop sign across the word".
Another unhappy lawyer said that "partners are on the phone plotting their getaway, US management is clueless about how to do business outside the US and associates are mediocre".
Others were more positive. "The secret pay structure has its critics", said a solicitor, "but I've always found it successful in achieving its goal of not having solicitors constantly comparing themselves to the person in the next office".
"Honestly, it's a great place to work", they added. "Good people, and a far better than average work/life balance v salary ratio". A junior lawyer agreed: "Top-level work with extremely clever lawyers for good pay".