Squire Patton Boggs
Once just plain old Hammonds, this UK firm with European offices merged with US outfit Squire Sanders on New Year's Day 2011. In June 2014 it merged with Washington firm Patton Boggs, and Hammonds was ditched from the letterhead.
Hammonds once provided the butt of many a legal joke, with an ex-trainee dishing the dirt in a novel, a urinating shoe fetishist and, less amusingly, mass redundancies.
The previously provincial firm - offices in Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds and Manchester, plus London and Brussels - now has branches everywhere with a whole bunch, of course, in the US. Traditionally, high profile clients were content to use SSH for their day to day work, but turned to the big City players when they had serious deals to get done. The London office did retain some highly-rated niche departments - notably sports, employment and advertising and marketing - but was decidedly shaky in the core bread-winning areas. That said, it did boast some big name clients, including Aldi, London Underground and some of the major sporting bodies, like UEFA. It remains to be seen whether the addition of US firm Patton Boggs, which has had a difficult few years and was casting around for a merger for months, will help the firm shuffle up in potential clients' estimation. The merger means Squires gets to bulk up in Washington, and Patton Boggs gets a global footprint. In 2016 it added California, China, Hong Kong and Germany when it merged with San Francisco firm Carroll, Burdick & McDonough.
Hours vary from group to group, but are rarely in the Magic Circle league - it seems to present more of a lifestyle choice than the more traditional City-based firms. A fair, if not spectacular, set of scores in the Firm of the Year survey suggests staff are reasonably content. One trainee said that there is "Excellent pay-work ratio, offering a good work-life balance".
One happy partner chimes in that it is "one of the few firms left where partners feel part of a partnership" adding that "partners are treated as human beings first and billing machines second".
As for cash, a 1PQE said pay "is really good" compared "to the amount of work that's required", noting that "on average I get a 7pm finish three-four times a week", so "definitely no complaints".
An NQ agreed on the good work-life balance, saying that it "is by far the best of all my mates across City firms", and "makes up" for any salary shortfall.
Higher up the greasy pole, a 3PQE said the salaries were "shocking" with "no guarantee of a bonus even if you smash your hours", while a 4PQE in Leeds said the pay in the regions was "well below market rate". But, they conceded, the work life balance "is good. Nobody hangs around just to be seen working".
Apparently the merger "is finally being properly felt through the firm", said a junior lawyer, with "plenty of interesting work coming through from the Middle East, Oz and the US".
As for the offices, after two years of a rumoured move to the Walkie Talkie or the Heron, in January 2016 the firm moved from Devonshire Office Park to flash digs at No 1 Spinningfields.
If the name of the firm is a bit of a turn-off, the inside chat on this is that "everyone at the firm realises that the Boggs bit sounds a little bit lame, so we've informally re-branded the firm as Squire PB!" Although outside of the firm, other lawyers still delight in including the Boggs bit.
So what do you get with a SPB TC? Well, the firm has fortunately abandoned its bizarre “location rotation” training system, where trainees were expected to spend time in at least three of the firm’s offices. All well and good if you wanted to see more of the country, but not so if you were even vaguely attached to your wife/boyfriend/West Ham season ticket. You’ll now do six seats in one location, with the possibility of spending one of them overseas. Although you'll probably miss the "addictive" caramel shortcake back home.
Back in the day, SSH was statistically one of the very best firms at which to train for those who wanted to make partner. Now, who knows. Even before the latest merger bolstered the US side of the business, a SSH lawyer said the firm was "essentially run by the Americans" with the consequence that "It doesn't feel like anyone in the UK can make decisions". Although at ground level, one trainee has been sucked in by the US charm reporting that "senior lawyers from the Squire Sander's US network are a hoot to work with".
NB stated salaries are for London.
Here's a sample of what its people told RollOnFriday Firm:
"The pay sucks", said a junior solicitor. "Depending on your department, the hours can be eminently reasonable vis a vis pay, but it still sucks. Most of our competitors are now paying more than us, and everything about the firm feels bargain-bin level cheap." Several people complained about pay lagging behind competitors - though that's a complaint which tends to be made by some people at most firms.
"Pay for the regions is generally OK", said another junior solicitor. "You could earn more by moving, but it's unlikely to make much of a difference each month. The bonus scheme used to be completely opaque, and despite various presentations on how it worked, none of the associates had a clue. The firm has now introduced a much more transparent bonus scheme by reference to chargeable hours. It's in its first year, so can't really comment on it yet, but at least you know the targets you're aiming for and the sum you're likely to get if you hit them".
"In comparison to my friends, I am on a fantastic salary and shouldn't be complaining", said another junior solicitor. "But my friends don't work these hours and aren't belittled by colleagues on a regular basis".
"For 3-4 months of the year (the times when I leave the office at 5.30/6pm), pay seems fine, even good", said a senior solicitor. "For 3-4 months of the year, when quite busy, pay is still okay. In the remaining time when I am at my desk from 9am to the early hours, the pay is not enough. Overall, I'd say SPB are at the bottom end of what is just about acceptable at my level. Probably due a 10%-20% pay increase".
"I find myself lucky to be in a team that's the 'blessed' one, which gets investment and effort to develop and grow the practice", said a solicitor. "On the other hand, there's departments in London which are the equivalent of Dostoevsky's Gulag Archipelago and suffer from ongoing associate attrition".
In the regions, "There teams are generally kept fairly lean, so there aren't too many 'blockers' above you and the local partnership seem genuinely supportive in people progressing", said a junior. "However, despite those efforts, the promotions do seem to be subject to arbitrary PQE criteria across the wider firm, which can be frustrating".
The quality of work, particularly transactional work, is "excellent", said a senior solicitor, "and an undersold aspect of SPB. Great dealflow, good exposure/levels of responsibility and also good support and encouragement from partners".
"On most days I chip off at 6:00-7:00pm, can't complain", said a junior solicitor.
"Sometimes I gotta grease up and bend for penetration, sometimes its ok", said another. "Like most City firms I've worked for".
"In the quite periods of the year, it is excellent", a colleague agreed. "In the busy periods (Oct-Dec and March-May) it is fairly non-existent".
However, said a colleague, "When it is quiet, I leave the office at a reasonable time. But I am always made to feel guilty and slacking when I do. It perpetuates imposter syndrome. This culture needs to change rapidly. There is a life outside billing clients!" Sacrilege!
"Head in the sand approach, totally reliant on marching orders from Cincinnati", said one lawyer. "Or was it Cleveland?" But even they conceded that recent changes mean "management seems to be steadier as a result".
Others also pointed across the sea. "America rules the roost and doesn't care too much about London", said one. "The firm's global upper management seem fairly far removed", chimed in another.
However, "the partners in most of the departments in the UK are an excellent bunch: approachable and supportive with a good knowledge-base. They could be more transparent on some firm strategy aspects and SPB lawyers are not entirely convinced on the London office move, but overall the management are okay (and some of the bad press received by SPB in the last 6 months or so seems totally unwarranted)".
"Thorough mixture of turbo*****s and decent human beings", was one lawyer's verdict of the SPB culture. "The Corporate department being a standout example of the former".
"Standard, with occasional psychotic outbreaks", was another's assessment. "Entirely dependent on team you work for - Corporate is known as the utter pits, as is Employment".
The social life "is non-existent", said a lawyer sadly. "Try to organise drinks and there is little budget for it. Try to organise drinks on our own dime, nobody turns up. It is a real shame". A peer disagreed, stating only, "Excellent culture".