The 2004 tie-up between Pinsents and Masons caught very few people by surprise - both had been falling behind national rivals DLA and Eversheds and were desperate to increase their national coverage. In fact, the eventual merger was such an open secret that RollOnFriday managed to cybersquat the website masonspinsents.com. Unwilling to shell out a large wad of cash to buy it back, Pinsent Masons was formed. In 2012 Scottish firm McGrigors was added to the fold, increasing the headcount of the firm's City office to more than 500 lawyers.
The new firm was initially more of a national than an international outfit, with offices in London, Birmingham, Bristol (since closed), Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast and Leeds. Admittedly, it also had a presence in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Doha and Dubai and entered a JV in Singapore with local firm MPillay. But where the other national firms surged into Europe and beyond, Pinsent Masons was more reliant on a network of international alliances. Something of which it must have been keenly aware: it subsequently opened in Paris, Munich, and Turkey, and in 2015 opened in Melbourne and Sydney. In fact it now has more offices outside the UK than in it.
Rather than attempting to challenge all-comers in every field, it has made no secret of wanting to become "the leading sectoral firm", concentrating on eight different areas including, energy, construction, government, technology and insurance. Following the most recent merger this was cut to four sectors - Energy, Infrastructure, Financial Services and Advanced Manufacturing and Technology. That said, it's also included a catch-all sector of 'services', so we can't really see them turning any work away. Although some suggest that the firm is "obsessed with reclassifying departments" which can lead to lawyers being shunted between departments and "ultimately feeling displaced".
Masons was without a doubt the pre-eminent construction firm in the country, whose clients included pretty much everyone who knows how to hold a shovel. And now, as Pinsent Masons, the firm's construction lawyers still represent some of the biggest players in the country, the likes of Balfour Beatty and Bovis Lend Lease, and is involved in several large Chinese-funded projects (PM was one of the first UK firms to open an office in China).
Its "business strategic services" department (another re-classification formed from the old outsourcing and dispute resolution departments) is also doing pretty well with an impressive client roster including stellar clients such as Manchester United and Odeon Cinemas. Energy counts the likes of Ofgem and Scottish Power as clients, and Financial Services acts for all four of the main clearing banks.
The firm faced more of a struggle with its corporate department. Focusing heavily on AIM listings, the lack of action on that market hit the firm's total turnover. Property, another of the firm's heavy-hitting department, also suffered in the wake of the recession, and redundancies followed, with three rounds since the McGrigors merger.. But, equally, there were positive reactions to Pinsents' decision to implement a flexi-time scheme which saved £2m and most likely saved a few jobs in the process.
In the last couple of years Pinsents has bounced back financially - average profit per equity partner, having settled at around the £400k+ mark, shot up by more than a third to £538,000 in 2014/15. In 2015/16 it slowed to a 2.2% increase, reaching £550,000, on the back of a.5.5% rise in revenues to £382.3 million.
However, for several years on the trot the firm hasn't fared so well in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year survey, where it's been found propping up the bottom end of the table. Lawyers grumble about the "lack of morale" - not helped by the relatively poor retention rates for the last few years - and worry that the firm seemed a little top heavy: "it is difficult to foresee any prospects for promotion with so many juniors at the same level". Other gripes included partnership games: "At times lawyers just want to shake partners around and plead with them to put their pathetic and petty politics aside and just work as one team" and pay ("you're more likely to see Bigfoot, Yeti and the Beast of Bodmin playing a game of poker in a meeting room than a bonus on your payslip").
Pay was also the main gripe in 2016, with lawyers grumbling that, "Despite announcing to all who would listen that the firm made record-breaking profits last year, and despite a big hike in chargeout rates, management somehow forgot to pass on any benefits in the form of pay rises to its staff". But while there were more moans then compliments about the pay (as was the case, to be fair, at many other firms), there was disagreement here. Salaries were, according to a few associates, "pretty pitiful given billing targets and hours are set at standard City levels". However others maintained that there were "Reasonable billable targets" which "permit a social life and/or hobbies", and said there was "Excellent training and good salary given the billable targets".
There was praise for the firm's "friendly" culture and for partners who "genuinely care about their staff". Another respondent claimed that "interesting lawyers outnumber dullards by at least 3 to 1" - which by the standards of most firms is a pretty solid ratio. Plus there was much excitement about the "lovely glass lifts", and word is that the festive fancy dress parties are rather special. A senior associate in the Brum office said that, while "the long promised 'refurb' turned out just to involve power washing the floors and slapping on a bit of white paint", he still reckonsed PM was "one of the best firms to work for",
And this should all be on the back of relatively reasonable hours. The firm makes a big play of setting what it calls "reasonable expectations" for its lawyers. Several work flexibly and trainees can get a £5,000 bonus when they qualify.
NB: the stated salaries are for the London office. In the regions they are less: First year trainees receive £26,500, second year trainees £29,750, and NQs £42,000.