RPC has traditionally been best known for its core litigation practice, making up over half of its workload. Wake up at the back! OK, this doesn't sound too sexy. But have no fear - there's more to RPC than meets the eye.
So it's litigation front and centre, with a traditional focus on the insurance industry. But the firm has diversified its reach, too, ramping up its corporate offering and spreading into just about every dispute resolution nook. According to one insider, "the switch to focus on commercial rather than insurance and seeking to compete with the silver circle has led to the firm becoming more 'corporate'". Generally, though, it's managed to achieve the shift whilst avoiding the common problem of leaving other departments feeling sidelined - with significant internal growth (and plenty of lateral hiring) in non-contentious specialisms.
This means that it can support a variety of rather sexier departments. Its punchy media litigation practice has previously acted for The Telegraph Group, the Mirror Group and the Guardian as well as Associated Newspapers (and it seems there's plenty of defamation defending to do). The nature of the work means it is frequently in the papers. Work on Wembley stadium and the batch of Harry Potter books that went missing are just two examples of headline-chasing stuff. And it was hired to draw up the post-Leveson press regulations, which was a nice bit of business.
It's not a big firm (with around 90 partners, 260 solicitors and 28 trainees) but it has a very snazzy glass and steel office near Tower Bridge. Which is entirely open plan. Although there were the inevitable grumbles about this when it was announced, it's proving to be very popular. Although beware the lifts, RPCers bemoan the frequent "electric shocks" they bestow.
So what do staff think? In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, trainees vouched that RPC is a, "genuinely friendly firm". Apparently the 'house system' (everyone is sorted into either Reynolds, Porter or Chamberlain) allows you to meet people from "all across" the firm and get involved in "lots more social events".
The firm achieved a middling 70% in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 survey, placing 26th out of 51 firms. Although it stood out for its work/life balance and culture.
Here's a summary of what its people had to say across the different categories:
RPC scored a so-so 70% for its career development. Staff said the firm "is good at identifying talent and promoting and supporting it", but "you may have to push a little for things to move a little more swiftly".
There used to be some grumbles that it was very difficult to break into the partnership, chiefly because it was all-equity. But the firm announced in November 2019 that it was bringing in a tiered partnership structure. It "appears to be a genuine attempt to bring more senior lawyers through", said one lawyer.
Staff at RPC gave the firm a score of 67% for pay, as the firm placed 23rd out of the 51 firms in the survey. "Slightly below top of market and no apparent intention to match other comparable established players during salary negotiations," said a solicitor. "If you look at the firm as a whole, pay is ok. But if you look at the work my department does (largely big-ticket litigation against Magic Circle and US firms) it starts to look rather below market," opined another lawyer.
However, another lawyer put the salary into perspective: "For the very reasonable hours, nice people and interesting work, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better combination." A partner agreed: "We try to balance a better work-life balance with less pay than US/Magic Circle outfits pay. I think that's fair enough."
With a score of 69%, RPC had mid-rated management in the survey. It received praise for restructuring its ranks, and the decision to introduce salaried partners was welcomed. “A proactive strategy is in place and for the first time in six years I feel like I understand what the overarching strategy is”, said a junior solicitor.
A senior solicitor said: "on the whole sensible and run the firm as a business and not just as a bunch of academic law-lovers. I am generally positive about the management and confident of the future success of the firm."
Work/life balance was highly regarded at RPC with the firm scoring 79% and placing 14th out of all the firms.
"Flexible working is a major success" said a business services member of staff. A junior lawyer agreed: "Unless there is a significant deadline looming, I am largely in charge of my own arrival and leaving times and that flexibility helps with the feeling of a decent work/life balance even if I am working long hours."
"The focus at RPC is on balance. Not work trumping life, nor vice versa," said a partner. "Key to that is the agile working policy, which allows us to manage life and client needs flexibly and maturely."
A senior solicitor said that "on the whole it's decent and, with only a few exceptions, the partners tend to respect people's personal lives." But added: "the nature of the work in my team means you can get slammed at like 2,000+ hours during a busy period fighting the Magic Circle / US firms and if base pay isn't going to be increased to account for that then bonuses should (but do not tend to)."
RPC also excelled for culture with a score of 79%.
"RPC's culture is what makes it," enthused one lawyer. "There is a genuine focus on inclusion and diversity from the top to the bottom which isn't just paying lip service, it is people really committed to making a change. I do feel like the employees are genuinely cared about and the firm is trying to shore up wellbeing." A senior solicitor said the firm was "a little bit Woke (but isn't everywhere these days?)"
"RPC still seems to manage a healthy aspiration to become a bigger and better player in the market with a desire to do right by its people," said one lawyer. Another summarised the culture: "You don't have to be a dick to be a great lawyer. That is RPC."
And one more point to its credit: during the coronavirus lockdown, RPC was the first firm in the UK to guarantee its staff's wages and jobs for a month, giving them certainty when many employers would not.
NB Salary scales vary across departments, and the figures stated are a median. You'll make more in corporate, less in litigation.