RPC gets edgy
Insurance stalwart RPC has got a bit of a buzz about it at the moment. “We performed well financially in the recession,” trainees told us. “We're looking to recruit all the time, our growth plans are ambitious, and it feels like a forward-thinking and innovative environment.”
Gone are the days where the word 'traditional' could be applicable. Today, trainees control the RPC Twitter feed and sit among partners and fee earners in open plan offices, while the CEO and managing partner host lunches to ask: “How can we make the firm better and your jobs easier?”
The firm's quest for transparency has seen its intranet system, 'Edge', win industry awards. Tax, litigation and regulatory blogs keep lawyers up to date with the ever-changing landscape, and a trainee-led business feed is frequently updated.
The process of repositioning started in 2006 when RPC (it now prefers this tag to the cumbersome Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, btw) hopped from Holborn to the Richard Rogers-designed Tower Bridge House. Next came the appointment of managing partner Jonathan Watmough, whose plans to boost RPC's commercial practice have resulted in a move away from reliance on insurance litigation, although this latter area is still an important part of the business. “The idea is to rapidly increase turnover by growing both divisions in tandem,” training principal Simon Goldring told us.
Growing two fairly diverse practices is not a one-size-fits-all process, as Goldring elaborated: “We're growing the commercial side by being very selective about what we do. There are certain niche areas where we feel bigger firms aren't interested – like IP. As well as M&A work, we're focusing on commercial litigation and competition.” The firm's established insurance division requires different tactics. “It's hard to suddenly double turnover with mature long-term clients,” Goldring says. “We've had to be more creative.”
January 2012 saw the firm poach a 28-strong team from CMS and open an insurance-focused Bristol office. “We've taken space that can house up to 100,” Simon Goldring says. RPC also opened the doors of its first international pads, in Hong Kong and the insurance hub of Singapore. “Our strategy was never to have aggressive international expansion for the sake of it,” Goldring says, “but we will continue to look at possibilities. Our size means we are quite opportunistic and fleet of foot – we can move quite quickly.”
Six weeks before a seat change, trainees give their preferred options, listing “an insurance, a commercial and a wild card.” Generally, trainees will get “one of those three choices.”
Reading the (1886) Riot Act
Seats available in the commercial division are: corporate; real estate; regulatory; employment; pensions and incentives; and commercial disputes (comprised of tax, general litigation and media defamation). The subsections of the insurance group are: construction; general liability and medical; professional risks; and international risks and reinsurance (IRR).
Sought-after secondments are available to household-name construction, media and IP clients. Trainees can put themselves forward, but ultimately “a partner has the final say – the firm puts an emphasis on you being the right fit for the client.”
The professional risks team advises accountants, barristers, surveyors, financial advisers and solicitors on their liability to clients. This area is “a great place to cut your teeth, as there are a range of small files, but partners allow you to understand the whole litigation process.” Furthermore, “the actual law involved is tort, which isn't massively complex, so it's more about the facts of the case, which are often juicy.” Small claims allow trainees to get a grip on the human side of events. “In a lot of cases,” explained one, “it's very distressing for the people involved as their careers are on the line. Especially when we're acting for solicitors – that's a very interesting area for more reasons than one.”
Trainees working in IRR “mostly do coverage work – it's very technical.” The team acts for Munich Re, Allianz, Chartis, Chubb and Swiss Re, among others, and advised 14 major insurers after the August 2011 riots, allowing those affected (and their insurers) to claim compensation from the police authority.
Trainees in construction may split their time between transactional and litigation work within the department's insurance and non-insurance divisions. A number of our sources had worked on construction disputes. A typical matter might involve “a dispute between a construction company and a private individual on a building project that had gone wrong.” Trainees take “the first stab at letters and witness statements,” on top of the standard bundling and document management, and often get to go to trial and client meetings.
Deals not to be sneezed at
Regulatory straddles RPC's commercial and insurance divisions and is growing. The group covers a pick-and-mix of matters, from large internal investigations to “white-collar matters, FSA investigatory work, FSA authorisation, anti-bribery, environmental regulatory and – very occasionally – some actual crime.”
Naturally, case details in this area are top secret but we can reveal that the team recently worked on a complex anti-bribery case; the investigation of a CEO accused of insider dealing; and the investigation of an insurer accused of fraud. The still-small group means trainees get work from everyone in the team “and they make it interesting. I had client exposure from day one, and they put a lot of trust in you. There's no associate between you and the partner, so there's less time to faff and less flab on the work that you get.”
Chambers UK puts RPC's corporate practice at the lower end of the mid-market, alongside the likes of Dundas & Wilson, Farrer and Finers Stephens Innocent, but the firm is aiming to haul itself up the rankings by pushing for deals over the £1bn mark. The group's biggest recent deal was a €1.3bn whopper in the exciting world of hygiene products: the firm acted for SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget) on its acquisition of Georgia-Pacific's European tissue operations on a deal that spanned 22 jurisdictions.
Trainees enjoyed the chance to work on an instruction of this size, as well as on RPC's more usual smaller deals. “It's mainly proof-reading on the high-value matters, but partners make sure that you're taken along to meetings so you're still learning,” one said. “The smaller deals allow you to be autonomous, with more opportunity for drafting.” Trainees in corporate are exposed to a range of work, as partners from M&A, commercial, insolvency and banking sit together, and “half the experience in this department is going and getting the work you want to do. Sometimes you'll just get chatting to a partner about a matter and they'll ask you to get involved.”
Bigmouth strikes again
Part of the firm's commercial disputes division is the star media defamation practice. With an increasing number of news stories being broken and gossiped about online (R**n G***s, anyone?), it's an ever-active area. Trainees reported that matters come in every day, many of which will never make it to court but nevertheless require research. “It's varied in terms of work,” sources told us. “You have to stay on top of things – there's a degree of document management, but you also run smaller claims yourself and basically draft defences for them.”
The team regularly defends Trinity Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times and The Spectator. “There's always background work to do for newspapers, as you're seeing if the claims made against them can be substantiated.” Lately, the team acted for Associated Newspapers, MGN and News Group in major slander claims brought by Joanna Yeates' landlord, Christopher Jefferies. It also defended IPC (owner of music bible NME) in a suit brought by Morrissey after he claimed an interview with the magazine implied he was racist. The fast pace of life in the department means, said one source, “I get as much responsibility as they think they can give me. I'm in the loop at all times, I have direct contact with the client on every case, and there are hardly any standard 'trainee' tasks.”
IP is “growing very fast,” trainees tell us. “A few partners have recently been made up – it's quite a young team but one that's pushing to make an impression.” The practice has specialities in media, sports and retail work, and counts Associated Newspapers, HMV, The National Trust, lastminute.com, Sports Direct and Dunlop among its clients. The group also encompasses RPC's competition and outsourcing teams, and trainees' work will cover “disputes, commercial contracts, data protection, contentious IP and competition work.”
RPC has a reputation for decent hours, and although some sources said “there's so much work that hours in some departments are getting longer,” the sensible attitude towards this subject remains. “There's almost always work, but never the pressure to stay late,” thought one. “If you were hanging around at 8pm with nothing to do, people would think you're weird.”
That vision thing
“There's a sort of feeling that we're a little bit different, and we do things our own way,” trainees claimed. Certainly in recent years RPC had one of the profession's more unique graduate recruitment campaigns – a bright, pop-arty comic strip featuring puzzled law students facing 'Decision Impossible'. This has now been phased out, but the new graduate website (parts of which remind us of the Sky Movies branding for some reason) still features a bold message. “We're determined to rewrite the rule book,” it declares. “Initiate a sea change in our sector. Challenge ingrained attitudes and question conventional wisdom. Consequently, we’ve created a radical manifesto for change – and it’s not for the faint-hearted.”
We'll leave it up to you to decide how much you buy into these words, but we'd advise you to take heed of them and tailor your application accordingly. In our experience, when a firm moves from bland platitudes about itself and starts to use words like radical manifesto, it suggests that it actually has that 'vision' thing. If nothing else, you might have a think about the implications of another statement on the website: “Law firms are changing in response to rapidly changing times. Unfortunately, we’re convinced that most of them aren’t changing quickly enough.”
For his part, Simon Goldring says: “We're saying to people if you want something a little bit different, and the chance to shine, then come here. We're not looking for people who want something safe. We want people who want to make a difference as lawyers.”
Sources love RPC's open plan office. “As a trainee, it's invaluable,” one said. “People can see when you aren't busy so you get more exposure to work. You also learn more quickly by listening to other people on the phone, and it's always more sociable.” Trainees sometimes head down to the Living Room bar, or often head straight to haunts around Bank, London Bridge or Brick Lane come 6pm.
Despite all the talk of radical manifestos, we were amused to discover a hint of RPC's more traditional side in that its lawyers are divided into houses (imaginatively named 'Reynolds', 'Porter' and 'Chamberlain') and can gain house points during the firm's various quizzes and contests, such as annual talent contest 'The RPC Factor'. If you find yourself in Chamberlain house watch out, because it has produced more dark wizards than any other.
Trainees' creativity is brought to the fore during the Christmas party skit, which in 2011 “was a cover of the Band Aid song 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' – someone completely rewrote the lyrics, someone did a dance routine, someone worked on the editing.” There are both rugby and football teams, and one trainee had the idea of setting up a darts team as a way of connecting with insurance clients.
“RPC is becoming a serious corporate competitor, while maintaining the understanding that its lawyers have lives outside work.” Retention rates are consistently excellent, and in 2012, 13 out of 15 qualifiers stayed on for the long haul.