Welcome to London mid-sizer RPC, which is looking to the future by topping its insurance and commercial work with wellbeing festivals and nightclub-spinning sessions.
As simple as do re mi, RPC, 123...
“Around three years ago the partnership got together and thought about what the workplace of the future would look like,” training partnerSimon Hart tells us.This traditionally insurance-focused firm had already re-jigged its practice (by significantly upping its commercial remit), ditched its rather cumbersome name (Reynolds Porter Chamberlain), and re-established itself in a fancy open-plan pad based near the Tower of London. So what else needed to be done? Well, part of this firm's crystal ball-gazing has involved revamping its maternity and paternity packages, increasing the scope of its mental health support and putting on a whole range of wellbeing workshops. “There are things like yoga – which sadly I haven't personally dabbled in, but it's there,” Hart explains. The message is therefore loud and clear: RPC cares that its lawyers are happy, which can only be a good thing.
That's the employees' health, but what about the outlook for the firm as a business? “We've got a new managing partner, James Miller, who took the reins in January 2017,” Hart informs us. Miller inherits a modest revenue growth over 2016/17 – up 2% to £103 million – and an 8% dip in global profits, which he attributes in part to the firm's investment in its management consultancy biz (RPC Consulting) and the effects of the Brexit vote. However, newbies can expect continued investment in the insurance market, as well as planned growth in the firm's corporate and commercial disputes departments. What's more, there's been expansion overseas: 2016 saw a joint venture between RPC and Singaporean outfit Premier Law, while in 2017 RPC formally combined with its local alliance firm Smyth & Co in Hong Kong. “We're up to over 100 people in Asia," says Hart. "In Singapore we've just moved to new offices, plus we're growing our corporate and litigation offering in Hong Kong.” It's great news for trainees, who can be seconded to either Hong Kong or Singapore for a seat. Client secondments are more frequent, however.
“We are definitely litigation heavy – around 80% of our seats are contentious.”
As you might expect from a firm with an insurance pedigree, RPC picks up UK-wide rankings for both it contentious and transactional work in the sector, while in London its insurance-inflected professional negligence work comes highly recommended. But Chambers UK also tips its cap to the firm's commercial side, with top-rankings in London going to RPC's lower mid-market corporate and real estate practices. Its banking litigation, commercial contracts, publishing and defamation expertise also picks up high marks.
All trainees are based in RPC's London office (there is a Bristol base, but for now trainees can neither complete their training contract or individual seats here). At each rotation trainees submit three options: an insurance seat, a commercial seat, and a third which can be either. These aren't ranked; they're equally weighted. Everyone must complete at least one insurance seat and one non-contentious commercial seat during their training contract. However, trainees pointed out that “we are definitely litigation heavy – around 80% of our seats are contentious.” Therefore non-contentious seats – like commercial contracts and corporate – are normally oversubscribed.
The insurance department is the firm's oldest and largest. Clients include industry big shots Hiscox, AIG and QBE. Insiders told us that “our main areas of specialisation are property, energy and construction, but we also have other strands, like financial products and cyber risk.” Matters can be both domestic and international in nature, and there are a few highlights we can tell you about: RPC recently defended the Cyprus-based Hellenic Bank against claims that it mis-sold mortgages worth €10 million to UK-domiciled customers; lawyers also represented a consortium of insurers – including QBE and Axis – as a $1.3 billion total loss claim was brought against them after an oil production platform off the coast of Norway was abandoned following the discovery of cracks in its legs. On the transactional side the department advised property and casualty insurance underwriters ANV as it was acquired for $218.7 million by AmTrust Financial Services – a deal spanning the US, the UK, Netherlands and Spain.
“Lawyers are the most sued professionals after doctors.”
Within the department there are five seats: construction; general liability and medical; professional and financial risk; property and casualty; and property and casualty international. Those who'd sat in professional and financial risk summed it up for us: “We basically step in when lawyers, bankers or accountants are sued for negligent advice.” First-seaters told us that the fear of God was put into them on day one, “when my supervisor told me that lawyers are the most sued professionals after doctors. So it's actually great to do it as a seat because it sets the standard high for your own practice. You see what happens when it goes wrong!” Trainees had drafted letters before action and instructions to counsel, but also attended trials, mediations and arbitrations. “I was also given a shot at drafting a mediation settlement. It's great for responsibility here!” said one satisfied customer.
The property and casualty subgroup “mainly focuses on claims where damage to property has occurred, but there's also a bit of a medical arm on the civil side of some actions.” That damage is often the result of “big explosions, floods and fires – we think of it as the glamorous side of insurance!” The 'un-glamorous' side naturally involves standard trainee tasks like doc review, but sources also “got to have the first crack at claim forms, certificates of service, pre-action letters and particulars of claim.” Insiders liked the balance of “running a lot of smaller matters while feeling valued as part of a team on the larger cases.”
The commercial side of the action at RPC is pretty broad too: trainees can gain experience in commercial disputes; corporate; employment; real estate; construction and projects; and MIPTOC (media, IP, technology, outsourcing and commercial contracts). In the latter “it's sink or swim – and there was some sinking involved – but I got there in the end!” On the commercial contracts side “we do lots of marketing and consumer-facing work, so adverts I've worked on appear on billboards and the TV – it's really surreal.” A stint here ties in well with the firm's three-month secondment to a major media client: “It's on an 'as and when they need you' basis and you help with their advertising overflow work. All advertisers have to comply with the Advertising Standards Authority, and we help them to make sure that they do.” Clients here include Google, Coca-Cola European Partners and PizzaExpress; the team recently advised the latter on its partnerships with Deliveroo and Just Eat.
Over in IP trainees get both contentious and transactional experience. Our sources were grateful for a little grace period to find their feet, “because all of a sudden one afternoon it was like, 'OK, go draft a witness statement and then a defence.” That doesn't mean that trainees don't tackle bundling, “but the level of those tasks and how often you do them is judged by what they think you are capable of and what your supervisor wants you to do.” Our interviewees joked that “we all call it the Sports Direct seat, because they are technically our biggest client here.” Other supremo clients include Twitter and the BBC. The team recently acted for Sports Direct as trade mark infringement and breach of contract claims were levelled against it by the owners of the Beverly Hills Polo Club clothing brand. Another trademark spat involved acting for the BBC after the makers of Grand Theft Auto – Take-Two Interactive – filed claims relating to the broadcaster's 2015 drama, The Gamechangers, starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Time in corporate can mean doing a seat in M&A, corporate banking or corporate insurance. “M&A is the biggest team,” sources informed us, and names from the real estate, insurance, media and technology sectors adorn the client roster. The ones we can name include The Daily Mail, UK-based manufacturer Dialog Semiconductor and Swedish consumer goods company SCA. Trainees said that “obviously there's going to be some laborious stuff like due diligence, but towards the end of the seat you get busy and it's always exciting working towards a deadline.” The more engaging elements of the seat included “seeing deals all the way through to the end, drafting sale and purchase agreements and going to completion meetings.”
“There were just so many zeros, I didn't even know what it meant anymore!”
Commercial disputes is one of the largest teams at RPC if you factor in the specialist subgroups like tax, employment, real estate, and banking. Sources explained that disputes on the general commercial side “mostly involve companies suing each other and general contract claims, over things like breach of warranty or misrepresentations.” Trainees had therefore been researching technical contractual points, alongside the usual suspects of “bundling andprepping exhibits: it can be difficult to get more responsibility as you're a small part of a bigger team handling high-value cases.” Another added: “Some of the values were eye-watering. There were just so many zeros, I didn't even know what it meant anymore!” A recent case involved acting for the States of Guernsey as it pursued a £27 million claim against the UK arm of 3M; it was alleged that the US manufacturer had polluted the island's drinking water with a chemical found in AFFF – a fire-fighting foam that the company produces. Other clients include Isle of Man-based investment company Origo Partners and aerospace systems supplier Triumph Group.
You're a lawyer, Harry!
Upon joining the ranks, budding lawyers are sorted into 'houses': Reynolds, Porter and Chamberlain. “It's like Harry Potter and we all joke that Chamberlain house has produced the most dark wizards – that's the one I had my heart set on and I love it here!” Trainees told us that it helped to foster gentle rivalry (yeah – tell that to Harry and Malfoy), but it's also an excuse to let your hair down. Whether it's through House events like go-karting and sushi making, or inter-house sports competitions like badminton, rounders and netball tournaments, “everyone gets involved – even the support staff.” Plus “there's an informal points system which we tally up at the end of the year in order to award the House Cup.” On top of that there are casual drinks and firmwide bashes like the Christmas party: “That was Oscars-themed and held in a warehouse. Everyone was really glamorous and there was an ice cream machine – it was so much fun!” For those who wish to detox after said events, RPC's annual Health and Wellbeing Festival may have the answer: “It lasts a week and we have talks from nutritionists and yoga sessions. Since the last one everyone's gone a bit health mad.” How so? “Loads of us did this spin class; the firm paid, but it's like a nightclub! It's at 1Rebel gym, in the dark, with flashing lights and instructors like DJs.”
This is all part of RPC's ramped up efforts to “make sure that everyone is in an environment they can thrive in, because that's when you work best.” Other alterations include making the office open plan and arranging employees in 'pods.' No, not The Day of the Triffids-type capsules, “just a group of four people, made up of a legal director, a senior associate, a partner and a trainee.” Trainees felt that the arrangement “makes it feel non-hierarchical; you can just get on with your work or chat to the partners about what you did at the weekend, and we all go out to lunch.” This lead to many trainees saying that “the culture is one of the key selling points here.” But are the hours social? Those in insurance-related seats were in at 8.30am and out by 7pm. “If you're here past 7pm people are like 'what are you doing here?'” Those in commercial areas, however, told us that on average “you can escape around 9pm-ish.” Not even long days could put our sources off though, as everyone we spoke to wanted to stay on at the firm – and in 2017, 14 of 17 qualifiers did just that.
Before trainees are let loose on anything, there are “six pre-joining events” that take place in the run-up to the training contract. They cover things like “what life will really be like at the firm, talks from partners on what's going on at RPC and 'how to say no to people.'”
How to get an RPC training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 19 January 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 13 July 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
Trainee hopefuls at RPC need a minimum of eight high-grade GCSEs, three high-grade A levels or equivalent, and an achieved or predicted 2:1 degree. Beyond this, graduate resourcing manager Ellinor Davey tells us, the firm is looking for intelligent, ambitious, personable and commercially aware people who are natural leaders and good communicators.
Davey informs us that “it's not unusual for some of our trainees to have come to us later in life – we have some who were previously in the army, professional services or skippering yachts.” She advises applicants to not discount any previous work experience too quickly: “A Saturday job working in a shop, for example, can be used to demonstrate your customer and client services skills, communication capability, team work and reliability.” That said, legal work experience is compulsory to get a look in here. As Davey explains: “You need to show you have a real interest in working for a law firm, and prove that you can seek out opportunities and operate in a commercial environment. Legal work experience can include work shadowing, open days and pro bono activities, as well as placements in a law firm.”
Both vacation scheme and direct training contract applications start off with the same online form. One of the questions asks for evidence of an applicant's research on RPC. According to Davey, “this is where candidates really have the opportunity to show their understanding of RPC and demonstrate the level of research they've done about the firm, rather than talking about why they'd be a good fit. That's not what we're looking for here. It's very important to us that candidates are motivated towards a career with RPC, not just law in general.”
In 2017 RPC received 600 direct applications for training contracts. Generally the firm selects around 250 applicants to complete an online verbal reasoning test and screens its applications once more after that. We're told the recruitment team pays particular attention to a candidate's answer to the form's commercial question. “Their answer should be logical, persuasive and concise, and ideally look at the wider implications of the issue,” Davey says. Around 30 make it to one of the firm's assessment days.
The assessment day includes a discussion exercise, a written exercise and an interview with a partner and a member of HR.
“The interview has quite a commercial focus,” Davey reveals. “Candidates won't get any case law questions, though – we get such a wide array of applicants at different stages in their education and careers that it wouldn't be fair.” She advises candidates to “stay calm and composed” during the interview and to come prepared with answers to standard interview questions like, 'Why do you want to work here?' “You have to sell to us why you want to work here and present a really convincing argument,” head of brand and marketing services Ed Fitzgerald adds. “Be sure you look at our graduate manifesto before you come. This illustrates the kind of candidate who thrives at RPC.”
The day also includes a trainee-led tour of the firm and an informal lunch with partners and associates, plus a Q&A session with a partner and a trainee.
In 2017 the firm received 800 applications for its 24 vac scheme spots on offer. The vacation scheme application process is “similar to the training contract application process,” Davey tells us. Applicants complete the form, and those who impress go on to take a verbal reasoning test and attend an assessment day at the firm. From here the firm chooses its vac schemers.
The firm runs a few two-week placements each year. Attendees spend one week each on the insurance and commercial floors, getting exposure to trainee-level work. “The firm really makes an effort to give you an accurate picture of trainee life,” said a current trainee. “I was surprised by how similar the first few days of my training contract felt to my time as a vac schemer.” Some participants even get to attend court and client meetings. They also complete what Davey describes as “a group project about developing the firm and how it runs.”
On the social side are networking events, ping-pong tournaments at Bounce, a mixology class, a bowling night, a treasure hunt across the city and a clueQuest challenge. On the last day of their placement vac schemers have an interview with a partner and a member of HR.
Interview with training partner Simon Hart
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights for the firm in 2016/17 and what are the plans for the firm's future?
Simon Hart: We have a new managing partner, James Miller, who took the reins in January 2017, and we have had a good year. But, like all firms, we have not been immune to the uncertainties caused by major geopolitical events. Asia is a big focus for us at the moment, as it is a growth market which has borne a lot of fruit for us over the past half a decade. We are now up to over 100 people in Asia. In Singapore, we've moved to new offices and we are growing our corporate and litigation offering in Hong Kong. We are very pleased to have rolled out two international trainee secondments in those locations. Our insurance consulting business has been expanding rapidly. This success is the hallmark of a firm that is willing to look at different service opportunities and explore new avenues of business.
Additionally, around three years ago the partnership got together and thought about what the workplace of the future would look like, and assessed whether there were any areas at that time that we wanted to improve upon. Through that exercise, we have had a significant overhaul in terms of our well-being support programmes. We have put in place programmes that offer our employees external support in terms of mental and physical health, and we revamped our maternity and paternity packages and support around those issues. Plus there are activities like yoga – which sadly I haven't personally dabbled in, but it's there.
CS: Brexit is the big unknown at the moment. How is it going to affect the firm?
SH: There is uncertainty, and that inevitably has some impact on all businesses. We are heavily focused on litigation and the short-term impact in the litigation sphere has been quite limited. We are bullish and, as always, as a business we will react to whatever comes down the track.
CS: Finally, what do you look for in candidates and what advice would you give our readers?
SH: We are not into prima donnas, so leave your ego at the door. Good academics are a given, but beyond that we want people with an entrepreneurial and curious attitude. We are looking for lawyers who are ambitious to understand how business works. You cannot just look at a client's issues through a legal prism, they are multifaceted. We want people who appreciate this even if they do not yet know the appropriate legal or commercial answers.
We like to see people who have made the most of the opportunities they have had, however modest those opportunities might have been and whether they were at university or in your personal life. Tell us about them! They can be anything from working or helping a charity or a society at university to travelling. Show us your personality, because it helps clients to connect with you. Crucially, do not just recite what we put on our website: you need to show us that you have thought about the legal market and RPC's position in it. Outstanding candidates are the ones who can show an early appreciation of how the legal market works and who can talk coherently about topics that are interesting. They are the ones that shine.
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 81
- Associates 206
- Total trainees 37
- UK offices London, Bristol
- Overseas offices 2
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 13 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1t October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 19 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £41,000
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong
Headquartered in a state of the art site in the City of London, we also have stunning offices in Bristol, Hong Kong and Singapore. Our open plan, collaborative working environment – where knowledge is easily shared and access to partners an everyday reality – is designed to bring out the best in our people and to ensure that the service we offer our clients is second to none. And it is.
We provide top quality legal services to global businesses across a wide range of industry sectors and practices, including insurance, commercial litigation, construction, engineering and projects, corporate/M&A, IP and technology, retail, commercial contracts, media, real estate, employment and pensions, outsourcing, regulatory, tax, international trade and competition.
We have been named as Best Legal Adviser by Legal Week every year since 2009 for our commitment to delivering excellent client service. In 2015 we won Law Firm of the Year at the British Legal Awards. And in 2014 we were twice named Law firm of the Year at The Lawyer Awards and the Halsbury Legal Awards having been nominated four times before over the previous 18 months.
More recently, we were named Best Tax Team in a Law Firm at the Taxation Awards 2017; Insurance Law Firm of the Year at the Commercial Insurance Awards 2017; and Best Strategic Leadership at the MPF Awards 2016. Our trainees – and our training programme – have been consistently recognised for excellence too, including winning Best Commercial Awareness Blog at the Legal Cheek Awards 2017 and Best Vacation Scheme – International or City Firm – All About Law Top Law Firms.
Main areas of work
RPC’s benefits offer choice and flexibility to employees, complementing our forward-thinking culture and our approach to rewarding everyone who works here.
From health, wellbeing and family-based rewards, to firm discounts and wealth-related benefits, our package covers almost everything.