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. And it's obviously doing something right - staff handed it 70% in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey, landing it a decent joint 22nd.
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 225 fee earners, 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.
The main grumbles used to be about lack of support after 5.30, but that's been improved recently. In the old days, when the firm was still insurance-led, this was largely because most people pushed off home by 6pm. Nowadays that's less likely to be the case, especially as overtime is paid (though not for lawyer types, obviously). The firm is aiming for a 50/50 split between insurance and commercial work, and this has meant an inevitable increase in hours: gone are the days when you'd find yourself home in time for Eastenders. But insiders report that they still work relatively civilised hours in comparison with larger corporate firms.
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".
Another trainee says there is "great exposure to both Insurance and Commercial practice areas", and, "huge opportunities for client secondment", with "lots of early responsibility".
Other trainees say there is an open culture, and the people you work with, "are people you may actually choose to spend time with out of the office!" Surely not.
Junior associates say there is "excellent training and early responsibility" and, generally speaking, "the people are great" says a 2PQE. There are "some real characters", which could go either way, but apparently, "it makes it a good place to work".
A few raise concerns about salaries, summed up by the junior who says that the firm, "seems to be expecting its fee-earners to be putting in more and more time, without improving pay".
And there is a bit of a divergence when it comes to the Bristol office.
An NQ there says, "the powers that be seem to accept that we don't get paid the world so no massive expectation to be beasted", with "Friday drinks in the Bristol office from 5pm". While another associate says, "it sometimes feels as though the London office considers us to be farmers because we work in Bristol".
The pay (for departments outside corporate at least) is hardly market-leading (and the support staff holiday allowance seems a bit tight, too). But then profits haven't been stellar either, and in 2013/14 they dropped for the first time in five years, from £26.8 million to £26 million. Though management have said that's a result of heavy investment in the preceding year, including the opening of a new office in Singapore.
In the meantime, the work/life balance does seem to be a pretty good one. And it's one of the few City firms to have a completely equity partnership, so it's worth hanging in there to get your name on the letterhead.
NB Salary scales vary across departments, and the figures stated are a median. You'll make more in corporate, less in litigation.