White & Case
White & Case’s London office is one of the most venerable in the City, having been around since 1971. So it's safe to say that it looks set, along with competitors Shearman & Sterling and Weil Gotshal, to be here for good. After a decade of rapid expansion, the firm now employs over 380 lawyers in the UK. No small fish, this one. Internationally, too, W&C is in the top ten of US firms - and near the top half of that.
And its lawyers are extremely well paid. The first seat trainee salary is among the highest in the City at £46k, and flies up to £105k at NQ level. Add to this top quality international work, a bonus that kicks in once associates beat their target of 1,750 chargeable hours and a guaranteed overseas seat for trainees and it looks like a cracking deal.
Inevitably it’s not all beer and skittles: in the recession years up to 2011 the firm culled 15% – 20% of its global partnership together with some 200 associates and 200 support staff. But insiders gave the London office points for having been “very transparent about what’s going on” and noted that it had been "handled pretty well". Not that that's much comfort to those who lost their jobs. Nevertheless, things have since picked up for the firm. The partners enjoyed a 15% increase in PEP for the 2011/12 period, to $1.7m, a further 10% rise in 2012/13, to $1.9m, another 7% in 2014/15, to $2m and in 2016 rose 1.5% to $2.05m
The firm's had a generally very respectable run of trainee retention rates, too: 100% of Spring 2014 qualifiers, 86% of Autumn 2014 qualifiers, 100% of Spring 2015 qualifiers, all 14 trainees qualifying in Autumn 2015, 87% (13/15) of Spring 2016 trainees and, slightly less vintage, 75% (15/20) of trainees qualifying in Autumn 2016.
The workload is tough - we're told that in certain departments you can "say goodbye to making plans and being able to commit to them". But they’re not universally brutal (given the dough), there are "approachable and friendly" partners.Contrary to the usual myths, says one lawyer, "one is not working, on average, more than at any of the dark satanic mills that comprise the Magic Circle". Although apparently "the political divisions within the firm make the middle east look cohesive".
The office is described as having a "really relaxed atmosphere" even if the IT support is "a bit shonky". The firm makes a big play of taking diversity very seriously – even if it's still “not an easy place to be a senior lawyer and a woman”, it is apparently "so diverse that it's difficult to find an English person in some departments".
The Broad Street offices are very swish (albeit with extremely slow and "unpredictable" lifts and a canteen which scored 1/5 for hygiene a few years ago (since rectified and up to 5/5)). There are plenty of opportunities for extra-curricular drinking and historically some of the best biscuits in the City: "the cookies have had a revamp - they are bigger and more chocolately!"
The firm scores very well in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year surveys, with staff handing it 72% overall in 2016, 74% in 2018 and 75% in 2019 (joint 15th out of 65 firms). The pay got a big old score from lawyers in 2019, 81%. It was "very good", said a junior, "considering the other perks - among other things my hours are reasonable and the partners are nice people. Not things I would trade for an extra few bob at K&E".