P for progressive
You might think a firm which has forged its reputation through 115 years of insurance law expertise would be a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. In fact, with graduate recruitment based around punchy slogans such as 'break the mould' and 'rewrite the rules', RPC is far more cutting-edge than you may anticipate. One trainee gave us the low-down: "This is a firm that's always innovative and trying to reinvent itself. The last five years has seen RPC reposition itself in the marketplace, and it's focused on continuous improvement." How has this manifested itself? "RPC historically did a lot of insurance work – and still does – but it's the corporate/commercial side of the business where the real growth is coming from." Although firmly steeped in mid-market transactions, RPC's corporate practice has seen year-on-year growth of 20% since 2008. The team took on three laterals from Wragge & Co in January 2013 – including its head of corporate – and was awarded The Lawyer's mid-cap corporate team of the year gong in 2012. Throw into the mix a top Chambers UK ranking for lower mid-market work in London, and it's been a far from shabby progression.
Inside the London office near the Tower of London, there are plenty of nods to a progressive culture: the open-plan offices allow trainees to sit among all the other fee earners, while the RPC Twitter feed is left to the mercy of those undertaking a training contract. Some Student Guide favourites from the micro-blogging site include: 'Nothing like sitting in traffic on Tower Bridge assuming you won't be in time for the free breakfast then making it at the last moment! #yesssss', and 'the fish bowls full of sweets are starting to run low... when will there be a refill?? Soon please! #sugarrush.'
Our sources were keen to emphasise how markedly RPC has changed since they joined. "It was a single-office firm when I started," recalled a second-year, "but within four months it opened in Bristol, and shortly after it launched in Singapore and Hong Kong too. It's definitely growing, and the general mood is very positive." The Bristol office launched in January 2012 after RPC nabbed a 28-strong team from CMS, and trainees see the insurance-focused West Country branch playing an influential role in the coming years. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of the insurance team from London moved to Bristol as London continues to focus more and more on the corporate side," said one. "I think RPC will probably start recruiting to that office soon as well." Training principal Simon Goldring agrees: "In addition to our established plans for trainee recruitment in London, it's very likely that from this year we will start recruiting into our Bristol office too."
Dodgy dealers and spiritual healers
RPC is broadly split into two divisions: insurance and corporate/commercial. Seats on offer in the realm of insurance are: professional risks; financial institutions; general liability and medical; property and casualty; construction; corporate insurance; and international risks and reinsurance (IRR). In corporate/commercial trainees can sample: corporate; real estate; regulatory; employment, pensions and incentives; commercial disputes; and the wordy media, IP, technology, outsourcing, competition and commercial contracts – helpfully abbreviated to MIPTOCC). Prior to each seat change, trainees fill out a preference form citing "a commercial option, an insurance option and one other." This process is aided by "seat spotlight sessions," where "each team gives a 30-minute presentation on what they're currently working on and what trainees can expect. It gives you an idea of everything the firm is doing."
The general liability and medical insurance team primarily works for defendants on "medical negligence and high-value personal injury claims. We represent the insurers of doctors, nurses, chiropractors, spiritual healers – literally all sorts!" Thanks to their confidential nature, we can't give you the scoop on any juicy cases, but trainees were highly impressed by the seat. "I was thrown into interesting tasks straight away, and by the third week I was phoning up clients and taking statements myself," said one. Another said: "The associates I sat with were very keen to get me involved. I was drafting instructions to counsel and experts, looking at policy reviews and assessing claims. I even went along to trial and lots of hearings. There wasn't much bundling at all, thank goodness!” The professional negligence team works for professionals in the financial, insurance, construction, legal and technology sectors. "Partners were really keen to get me involved, take me along to meetings and allow me to draft documents for clients,” a trainee said of the seat. "There are a lot of interesting and weird cases which aren't run-of-the-mill. Recently I've seen a wasted costs case against a solicitor, and I've done lots of negligence claims against tax advisers. There's a real push at the moment for the more complicated, higher-value cases."
Both the real estate and construction departments have contentious and non-contentious offerings. Each facet has been helping to advise Hadley Mace on the Heart of East Greenwich development, an urban renewal project set to create 650 new homes as well as health and leisure facilities. On the construction insurance side, trainees said: "Our main clients are big contractors, but we also work for private clients – usually wealthy individuals who built holiday homes or annexes and things have gone wrong with damp or their planning permission." The real estate litigation team counts Sports Direct as a long-term client and recently acted for the retailer in relation to its acquisition of 19 stores from failed rival JJB in a case worth £25m. On the financial side, RPC advised Student Cribs on the formation of a property investment fund for the acquisition of student accommodation throughout the UK. "I was dealing with the Land Registry Office on a regular basis and filling in stamp duty," a second-year informed us of the seat. "However, I also ran my own file involving a significant transaction. I was doing all the paperwork for the completion of a property sale." Another said: "If you do a good piece of work, they let you send it out in your name so the client will come back to you. It meant a partner at another firm rang me directly, which was great!” Real estate also has a bit of rep for being "the most social seat."
Simon Goldring told us that RPC's commercial group – which takes on a broad spread of work, from corporate/M&A and real estate to commercial litigation and IP –"had its best ever year and for the first time contributed more than 50% of the firm's turnover." The team mainly handles mid-market deals for clients such as Fox News, HMV and the Daily Mail Group, but it sees some mammoth transactions as well. Recently it advised Sweden's SCA Hygiene Products on its $1.32bn acquisition of Georgia-Pacific's European tissue operations in 22 jurisdictions. Trainees offered mixed opinions of their time in the seat. "It was classic corporate," reflected one. "You get some quiet weeks, but then also some really long hours. I generally got good responsibility and was very clearly told what I needed to do, which is crucial on big deals; otherwise you can get lost." Unfortunately another source felt much more out of the loop: "I wasn’t included in any internal meetings. I was just given discrete tasks and didn't know the context or what value I was adding, which was a bit demoralising. I understand the pace of the work means there isn't always time to sit down with the trainee, but I still would have appreciated feeling more involved in the bigger picture." In all fairness, that source did add: "I worked on a couple of banking deals which were completely different. They were much more interesting purely because the associates involved gave me a lot more responsibility."
A seat with the media group is "always popular" as the team "works for a lot of the national newspapers and high-profile tech clients, primarily on defamation, privacy and contempt of court claims brought by people in the public eye." The roster of clients RPC hold in this area is mightily impressive – News International, the Financial Times, Amazon, Google (including YouTube), Twitter and Betfair are just some that roll off the tongue. The defamation/reputation management branch is the real star – it picks up top recognition from Chambers UK and recently played a key role in advising Associated Newspapers (in particular its Daily Mail, Mail Online and Mail on Sunday titles) throughout the Leveson Inquiry. "It's a very busy seat," a source informed us. "The claims aren't always worth a huge amount, so they can be very short. There are some menial tasks like bundling, photocopying and logistics, but they give you the chance to take the lead on some smaller claims too. On bigger cases I got to draft quite a lot of court documents like applications for the defence." IP is another seat that is "incredibly popular" across intakes. The team mainly focuses on trade mark, copyright and design litigation but handles transactional work as well. Clients hail from the sports, media, technology, retail, insurance and pharmaceutical sectors, and names such as Newcastle United FC, Dunlop, Waterstones and the National Trust all seek out RPC's expertise. "You get involved in good work from day one," chirped a happy trainee. "It's not sitting down doing the photocopying. I was drafting witness statements and pleadings, but the best thing was that I could do research, give feedback and offer opinions on the matter at hand. They really got me involved with team meetings, and there's no separation in roles.; everyone works together."
If you're desperate to get experience outside of RPC HQ, there's the opportunity to go on secondment to the in-house teams of certain construction, IP and media clients. "It's a case of speaking to the relevant partner, and then they'll take it up with HR and discuss who is best for the role," explained a second-year. "The only prerequisite is that you've done the relevant seat beforehand."
Rules are made to be broken
Our sources were adamant that the open-plan offices "make a massive difference" to the trainee experience. "It's the best thing about RPC," eulogised one. "It's been incredibly valuable sitting with partners and senior associates, and it's a great learning experience just to sit and listen to them." Another appreciated the integrated atmosphere it creates. "You get to know each other very quickly. It's not like you're having to wander up and down the corridors knocking on doors to introduce yourself to everyone. People just do the meerkat and pop their head up over the pod, which makes it more social."
This also plays a central role in what trainees described as a "collaborative" culture. "There's a sense everyone is working together, and there's definitely an effort to encourage team-playerism," offered one noun-inventing source. "Everyone helps each other out, and the degree you see different partners from different departments interacting is great." With the current intake seeing their training contracts play out during a time of transition for RPC, some worried its favourable aspects may be diluted. "As we're growing so rapidly and there have been a number of lateral hires, there is concern over the culture," explained a second-year. "It hasn't changed yet, but you do sense there will be a discernible shift." Another source added: "As RPC moves towards being full-service and tries to get in the bigger, higher-value work, you do anticipate the hours might become longer and the atmosphere won't be quite as relaxed." Simon Goldring was quick to allay such fears: "Growth generated through laterals always carries the risk of people coming in who don't share our culture, but that's so far not been a problem at RPC," he says. "Senior management are rigorous in making sure that any new hire is a cultural fit with RPC, and their judgement has proven to be spot on over the years." Other trainees did echo Goldring's sentiments. "To be an integrated firm with one culture is very important to senior management, and it shows in the people they hire," commented one.
Reynolds Porter and the Chamberlain of Secrets
One way in which the culture is safeguarded is through RPC's Hogwarts-style house system, which sees each lawyer placed into either 'Reynolds', 'Porter' or 'Chamberlain'. The houses compete in a variety of competitions and quizzes throughout the year in aid of charity and – more importantly – for the glory of winning the house cup. "It's a great way to get to know people who you might not work with every day," concluded a source. "The firm-wide competitions also allow everyone to have an evening together, and there's always a great atmosphere." The much-vaunted 'RPC's Got Talent' night is the "highlight of the social calendar" and sees a range of credible and novelty acts unleash their own brand of on-stage wizardry. One embarrassed source mumbled about a "terrible" dance they'd performed to a well-known pop hit. "It was highly humiliating." It's not entirely fun and games, though: apparently each house is "very competitive."
The buzzword "innovative" is currently flitting around RPC so much that it's to the chagrin of some. "You actually get a bit fed up of hearing how innovative and incredible we are," joked one source. We asked Simon Goldring what this – along with recruitment phrases such as 'ripping up the rule book' and 'breaking the mould' – actually says about life at the firm. "What we really mean is that we think that the traditional approach to delivering legal services has had its day, and at RPC we're looking to create something new and refreshing, fit for the future needs of our clients," he told us. "We genuinely want to facilitate trainees to bring in their own ideas to the firm, to be dynamic and improve what we offer. Aside from work we see trainees putting on fantastic shows at the Christmas party, rolling up their sleeves for our charity work and setting up new clubs. We're trying to foster an environment where they have the confidence to be individuals and do innovative things, as it gives them all the kinds of skill like communication and project management which are necessary to be a good lawyer." As such, sources agreed that "as long as you are enthusiastic and keen to jump in with both feet – whether that means with bundling or just trying your hand at something new – then RPC will like you. We're not looking for shrinking violets, but neither are we looking for Lord Sugar's apprentices. RPC wants people who can work in a team without being abrasive."
RPC has historically excellent retention rates. "We're very rigorous in our recruitment, ensuring we bring in the best possible people with the expectation they will stay on and develop their careers at RPC," says Simon Goldring. "We're pleased that this has been borne out in our retention figures over the last few years." In 2013, 13 of 16 qualifiers were retained. You may also be interested in:
-Wragge & Co