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.
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, Turkey, and 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 five different areas: energy, financial services, infrastructure, real estate, technology/science/industry.
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). Energy counts the likes of Ofgem and Scottish Power as clients, and Financial Services acts for all four of the main clearing banks.
In RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year survey 2020 the firm placed a middling 32 out of 51 firms. Staff were reasonably happy with the firm's culture, work/life balance and management. But salary satisfaction and career development dragged the firm's overall score down.
One of the main gripes was over pay, as Pinsent Masons scored 59% in this year's survey, placing 36th out of 51 firms. The pay divide between offices was a sore point for some of the regional lawyers at the firm. One lawyer said that while he received a "decent wedge for the regions" it was "demoralising when you realise that a clueless NQ in London takes home more than a 5yr+ Senior Associate."
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".
Pinsent Masons scored a so-so 62% for career development. There was a 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").
There was praise for the firm's "friendly" culture and for partners who "genuinely care about their staff". The firm scored 78% in the survey. A senior lawyer said "the firm is definitely ahead of the curve on flexible working and mental health initiatives. 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.
The firm makes a big play of setting what it calls "reasonable expectations" for its lawyers, as the firm scored a healthy 72% for work/life balance. There were generally positive comments with one trainee proclaiming: "Finished by 6 throughout my TC". As with all firms, there were some grumbles: one lawyer reported that the firm had e-mail signatures professing to "support agile working" with "no need to respond to this email outside your working hours", but felt this was laughable since "being un-contactable is not an option."
Staff at the firm were also fairly satisfied with management, giving it a score of 71%.
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.