Richards Butler merged with US firm Reed Smith on 1st January 2007, taking a sleepy little London practice to an international leviathan. As with similar takeovers (see Gouldens/Jones Day), it wasn't immediately much of a success and despite a spate of big ticket hiring (and probably firing), it's hard to pin down the firm. One associate described it as a "cheerful mad-house". Make of that what you will.
One happy side effect is that the firm said goodbye to its horrible old logo, which famously looked like a half digested vindaloo that has been returned to sender on the pavement. And the old offices - which looked like something from Posh and Becks' wedding - have finally been ditched too. Now the firm has "the best views in London". Onwards and upwards? Well maybe.
If anyone had a view of Richards Butler it was that of a big shipping firm whose heyday was in the eighties. Which is odd, given that it was bigger than MacFarlanes, Taylor Wessing and Stephenson Harwood and given that most senior partners take home the same sort of wedge as the big boys at Clifford Chance. Has it now sunk without trace? Well probably not, but there are plenty of people out there who might be wondering - what is the point of Reed Smith?
Sure, it's still a good shipping firm (where, traditionally, lawyers tend to be that little bit more...umm...thirsty), but it's also well known for leisure and property work. Of late it has also positioned itself as the top referral practice for financial disputes, to take advantage of the fact that most of its City competitors are regularly conflicted out in this arena. Litigation generally is a big deal at Reed Smith, and every trainee can expect to get stuck into the excitement of bundling and paginating.
Richards Butler had some interesting foreign offices and the merger has added to this. Whilst London is now the biggest office in the entire operation, most notable away from Blighty is the firm's highly rated, and consistently profitable, Far East outfit. Students should know that there's a summer scholarship in Hong Kong, which sounds great fun. They should also know that it's reckoned to be harder to bag than a training contract.
Long-standing legacy ties with the meeja world make for some interesting work for the likes of the BBC and others. MTV is a long standing client, and we've heard that trainees can go there on secondment. Which must all be very exciting - if you like that sort of Ritalin-fuelled son et lumière.
Reed Smith tends to do pretty well in the Firm of the Year Survey. Not only are the bathrooms in the swish offices awarded top marks, but work-life balance also comes in for high praise. Because, although your law school chums may worry about US-managed sweatshops, the reality is supposedly different - a 1,500 hour target and you don't even get a Blackberry. Lots of people eat together in the subsidised canteen, although are whispers that the "food is getting steadily more expensive, poorer quality and smaller portions". Smaller portions? At a US firm? As for the biscuits, well they "used to be great but now we get leftover brownies and flapjacks from the canteen".
So the money's decent though "behind the curve on associate pay". Insiders say the firm is "going places" but it "needs to pay more to attract the best talent". The hours aren't bad and there's the opportunity to work overseas. And - as you'll be spending plenty of time with them - there seems to be a good chance your colleagues will be good sorts. All of which should provide pretty decent compensation for working for a slightly anonymous US firm.