A mix of insurance and commercial seats with a contentious slant await trainees at RPC, a firm determined to seize the title 'law firm of the future'.
Welcome to the world of RPC, where partners bust a move during talent shows, 'Bounty Days' see results rewarded with chocolatey treats, task forces promote mindfulness and flexibility, and lawyers get together to discuss books like Happiness by Design. Put simply, the firm is intent on keeping up with employee expectations and changes to the legal market. As its website notes: 'Why inherit the future when you can shape it?'
This self-professed aim 'to build the law firm of the future' is a million miles away from RPC's former incarnation. A decade ago, this was a traditional outfit complete with relics like a partner dining room. This all changed, though, when the firm moved into its current digs next to the Tower of London in 2006. “We subsequently did a drains-up review of the business. The firm decided to generally expand and invest heavily in the broader practice, by developing a deeper offering in areas like litigation, commercial, IP, private equity and regulatory,” training principal Simon Hart tells us. Indeed, RPC exited the high-volume, low-value insurance market it had hitherto been concentrating on and started to build up an extensive commercial wing. The firm soon began competing with bigger fish and now earns top Chambers UK rankings for its real estate, corporate and banking litigation practices, among others. In the meantime it added offices in Singapore (2011), Hong Kong and Bristol (both 2012). This transformation did come at a cost: net debt increased by £2.8 million in 2014, and the firm reported a profit drop of 3% at the end of that financial year. But revenue-wise, it's paying off: RPC posted an impressive 20% increase in 2012/13, followed by a 2.4% increase in 2013/14 and a 17% increase in 2014/15.
These days RPC's lawyers are split roughly 50/50 between insurance and commercial work. Thanks to a string of lateral hires over the 2014, the firm's developed its energy insurance and banking litigation side, and established an insurance consultancy business, which as Hart points out “shows that we're moving towards offering a broader spread of services beyond just legal, particularly in the corporate insurance world.” There have also been some departures in recent months, including the heads of the planning and transactional construction teams. The Bristol office, which focuses on lower-value insurance and real estate matters, housed a handful of trainees at the time of our calls but isn't taking any new ones on for the foreseeable future. The office has "grown to a good size, and at the moment we have no requirement for additional trainees to join the Bristol office,” Hart explains. London, meanwhile, will continue to recruit its usual 20-ish per year.
All trainees at RPC have to complete one insurance and one commercial seat. Before each rotation, they submit three choices: one insurance option, one commercial and one of either. “I've always got one of my options, and that's the case for most trainees," said one interviewee. "HR generally accommodates people's preferences.” There is an opportunity to go to Hong Kong and there are usually four or five client secondments available at each rotation in the insurance, tech and digital media spaces. Trainees can also opt to complete an insurance or real estate seat in Bristol.
There are five insurance seats up for grabs, with a number of spaces in each at every rotation: construction insurance, financial risks, general liability and life sciences, professional risks, and property and casualty. RPC has many of the market's biggest insurers and reinsurers on the books, including AIG, Allianz, QBE and Munich Re. Whether lawyers act directly for these clients or for their insured depends on the matter. Much of the firm's output involves professional indemnity (liability) cases; it's especially well versed in the legal, financial, insurance and tech sectors, picking up Chambers UK rankings for all four lines of work. Clients on this front often include major City firms facing claims over conduct and perceived contractual errors.
The financial risks group focuses on the realm of savings and investments insurance, acting for accountants, actuaries, insurance brokers, hedge funds and pension advisers. Quite a few recent cases have involved complaints made against advisers who encouraged members to subscribe to tax-efficient vehicles and mitigation schemes that turned out to have punitive consequences. Such matters are “complex and high-value, often involving three or four insurers and spanning years of coverage.” Trainees are typically tasked with “organising complex disclosure,” drafting responses to the Financial Ombudsman Service, calculating losses and collaborating with counsel to produce a defence.
The general liability and life sciences department “mainly conducts defence work when there's been a breach in the duty of care, negligence or a product liability issue.” Clients here include hospitals, clinics, hospices, doctors, dentists and the like. The team recently represented ITH Pharma and CNA Insurers in a high-profile product liability case involving a baby food product that allegedly caused three infant deaths. “The team isn't that big, so you get qualified solicitor work," said an insider. "I drafted applications and instructions to counsel, attended conferences with expert witnesses, and reviewed defences.”
Over in construction insurance, the team primarily handles defence work for architects, surveyors and engineers. "Disputes can involve something tangible, like a roof collapsing, or something intangible, like an over valuation of properties in the wake of the recession.” Recent matters have seen the team advise contractors on claims over structural design failure and defective glazing, and construction managers on claims over delayed and over-budget projects. During large cases trainees often find themselves compiling cost schedules and other such “admin-based” tasks, but on smaller matters they get to manage their own files: “You're the day-to-day contact, and get to liaise with experts and even have a first crack at the recoveries report."
Property and casualty lawyers handle insurance issues like liability and recovery emerging from damaged property. "We’re not talking broken windows, though. I mean big fires, huge floods and nuclear explosions.” Such matters are frequently worth millions. Trainees here reported writing reports for insurers, drafting witness statements and helping brief experts.
Banking on a win
Commercial seats include commercial disputes, corporate, corporate insurance, employment, real estate, construction and projects, and MIPTOC (media, IP, technology, outsourcing and competition).
The “busy and intense” commercial disputes department covers banking, general commercial, tax and regulatory matters. Long-standing clients here include retailer Sports Direct, media conglomerate Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), and Swedish consumer goods company SCA AB. On the banking side of things, “we pretty much exclusively go against the banks – that's our niche.” The team recently secured CF Partners €15 million in damages from Barclays and Tricorona AB, and helped Singaporean company director Ng Su Ling bring damages and breach of duty claims against Goldman Sachs. It's not uncommon for trainees sitting with the team to get stuck on large “bundle-heavy” cases, but we did hear from some who'd handle a few of their own files. "You attend the first conference with the client, and then you do everything from sending the engagement letter to hopefully achieving the desired outcome.”
Over in MIPTOC, trainees join one of the sub-teams comprising the seat's acronym. “Our media work often draws candidates to the firm,” trainees said, and indeed RPC certainly has a good rep on this front: Chambers UK top-ranks both its publishing and defamation expertise. Its IP side also gets a nod for its work with high-profile clients like Google, Direct Line and lastminute.com. Trainees here described a “high-pressured environment," noting that "the matters are worth millions. They expect a lot from you – on my first day, I was sent to take a witness statement before I'd even sat down at my desk!” The competition department was established in 2011. The team is big in the energy, healthcare and defence sectors in particular, and recently advised services company Carillion as it joined a consortium bid to acquire Defence Support Group from the MoD. A stint here involves a mix of contentious, non-contentious and advisory work. “The hours are really unpredictable. We recently got a report back from the CMA [Competition and Markets Authority] and for two weeks were analysing it – I was in the office basically the whole time!”
Corporate includes banking, corporate insurance, M&A, and restructuring and insolvency subgroups. The firm is big on the lower mid-market M&A side, and recently handled aerospace conglomerate Triumph's $70 million acquisition of GE Aviation as well as private equity investor BDC's £28 million leveraged buyout of Inspired Thinking. Over in corporate insurance, lawyers provide a “wide range of corporate and commercial support to insurer clients” like RSA, AIG and Lloyd's Market Association. This often sees trainees reviewing distribution contracts, advising on potential acquisitions and helping clients establish “what's known as a captive, which is a self-insurance mechanism.”
Trainees assigned a partner and senior associate supervisor for each seat. Both usually attend formal mid and end-of-seat reviews. The firm introduced of merit-based pay for NQs in 2014, and as a result the feedback process for trainees has become far more detailed to prepare them: “There are benchmarks to reach and a stringent marking system is in place. Every supervisor meets with HR and the training principal, and has to justify each individual's grade.”
Innovators gonna innovate
Many of our interviewees were first attracted to RPC for its website, which features kindly slogans like 'all the brains you expect, plus the hearts you don't', and a jazzy, “tongue-in-cheek” recruitment campaign. (The current one encourages would-be trainees to 'rip up the rule book'.) "It's refreshing compared to the other sites I'd seen. I thought it was a good indicator the firm would stand out from the norm," recalled one. They weren't disappointed. “The firm's been saying it's innovative for a long time, but it really does put its money where its mouth is,” trainees agreed, pointing to the establishment of ‘Task Force One’– a committee started to “realise the firm's commitment to being a modern, progressive place” –and the recent appointment of a grandly titled “director of futures, strategy and animation” from the Civil Service. As the former development suggests, the firm is "making a big effort" to increase flexible working policies, promotion and retention of women, and overall employee satisfaction. “A lot of these are yet to crystallise, but there's a feeling that change is happening.”
The London office is open plan; each trainee sits in a pod with two associates and a partner. “You can learn so much by listening, and it doesn't feel hierarchical at all.” Every employee is assigned to a house – 'Reynolds,' 'Porter' or 'Chamberlain' – and there are house dinners and inter-house competitions. The latest one saw three houses go head to head in a “game show medley” consisting of classics like Bullseye and Mr & Mrs. Such events not only to “give everyone a great opportunity to meet people from across the firm but also raise money for charity.”
When it comes to fitting in at RPC, “being able to laugh at yourself is key,” declared one source. “People here are chilled. We're obviously professional, but we can't tolerate stuffed shirts.” It also helps to have something other than law on the brain: “We're all interested in lots of different things; law isn't the be-all and end-all.” We hear one trainee is a cooking whiz who appeared on Nigella Lawson's 'The Taste Brasil' and is even working on a cookbook. Still, trainees here are pretty keen on their day job: our sources spoke passionately about their shared blog, called 'Trainees Take on Business'. “We publish articles and use it as a networking tool to arrange social events with peers in other industries.”
As far as working hours go, “if you're in a litigation department, your hours should be reasonable – ballpark leaving by 7pm – but in a non-contentious department there's much more scope for surprises.” Stints in the corporate, competition and IP groups tend to require the longest hours, with all-nighters and a few weekends here and there. But overall, “most trainees can usually leave in good time for dinner with friends.”
The qualification process requires trainees to undergo interviews take place with a panel of two or three partners, and some departments require applicants to deliver a presentation on top of that. "Everyone’s surprised by how formal it is!” Luckily, RPC has boasted consistently healthy retention rates for the past decade. In 2015, 15 out of 19 second-years stayed on.
Simon Hart has this to say on what the firm's looking for in trainees: "We obviously want bright people, but we're not after academics. We want to see people who are collaborative and team-oriented."
You may also be interested in...
These mid-size commercial firms in London:
Our practice area feature on Insurance
These firms which do insurance work:
How to get an RPC training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2016
Trainee hopefuls at RPC need a minimum of eight high-grade GCSEs, three high-grade A levels, 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 – at the moment we have some who were previously in the army, professional services and 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 an online form – these are similar, though the one for vac schemes doesn't have a commercial question. They both contain a question that 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 brought into a career with RPC, not just law in general.”
In 2015 RPC received 800 direct applications for training contracts. Generally the firm selects around 250 applicants to complete an online verbal reasoning test and screens their applications 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 80 make it to one of the firm's five assessment days.
The assessment day includes a presentation 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, and rounds off with a final presentation from a partner and the firm's HR director, plus a Q&A session.
In 2015 the firm received 800 applications for its 24 vac scheme spots on offer. The vacation scheme application process is “largely 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 an interview with a member of HR and a senior associate. 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. Everybody gets to talk strategy with managing partner Jonathan Watmough over lunch, and they also complete what Davey describes as “a business 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 treasure hunt across the city and a clueQuest challenge. On the last day of their placement vac schemers complete the assessment day outlined above.
The firm runs one open day for applicants who don't get a place on the vac scheme. “Our vacation scheme is very competitive, so we offer open day places to candidates who narrowly miss out,” Davey says. “It's a great way for them to gain experience and get further insight into RPC.” Usually these include an assessed group exercise and on-the-spot feedback, and afterwards candidates are invited to make a training contract application.
Interview with RPC's training principal Simon Hart
Student Guide: Let's start by talking about the past decade at RPC. How has the firm transformed itself in that time?
Simon Hart: The pivotal moment in the firm's history was when it moved into Tower Bridge House in 2006: subsequently it did a 'drains up' review of the business. The firm was always known for its high quality insurance work, particularly with regards to the solicitor indemnity market. We've always had a strong corporate commercial team, too, but historically it didn't have the same profile. From 2006 onwards the firm decided to generally expand and invest heavily in the broader practice, by developing a deeper offering in areas like litigation, commercial, IP, private equity and regulatory.
RPC subsequently became a much more well-rounded firm. We didn't let the financial crisis go to waste: during that period, the firm counter-intuitively went on a growth spree. We recognised that the legal world would never go back to how it was before the recession, so we decided to invest, evolve and turn ourselves into what a law firm of the future should look like.
SG: Trainees described RPC as an innovative firm – what's the most innovative thing RPC has done lately?
SH: From a business perspective, we established an insurance consultancy business. It's in its early days (we've only just made the announcement), but it shows that we're moving toward offering a broader spread of services beyond just legal, particularly to the corporate insurance world. We are leading the way in that respect.
SG: We also heard that a 'Task Force One' initiative was recently established. What is RPC hoping to achieve through this Task Force?
SH: It goes back to what I was saying about what a firm of the future might look like. We're examining developments in flexible working and health & wellbeing, and looking at the type of people who will become lawyers in the future and what their expectations will be, both in terms of the ways in which they'd like to work, and what they might expect from their working environment and careers. We're looking into it and it's a programme that current employees are involved in and contributing to. It's an ongoing process, but it feeds into our commitment to being a modern and progressive firm.
SG: RPC also introduced merit-based pay for NQs last year. Why was that system introduced?
SH: Associates were already receiving merit-based pay, and the lockstep partnership system had long gone many years ago in favour of a meritocratic reward structure. Quite frankly, the merit-based system reflects how life operates, and also what our clients expect from us as well. The idea of a fixed associate salary is something of a hangover from another time: we were at a point where no one had bitten the NQ bullet and said that it was past its sell-by date. If you're a high performer and are in a competitive market, why shouldn't you be rewarded for it?
SG: Over the next five years, how will RPC grow?
SH: It is our intention to grow, and to do that organically. We don't have a single strategy document, we have a strategic framework, which allows us to be nimble and flexible. If another financial crisis occurs, or an opportunity arises, or one of our clients' markets develops, we can pursue these things without being bound by a document that says 'thou shalt not.'
We will be developing our existing practices in Hong Kong and Singapore, and we've made great strides in the last couple of years to build out those offices. The corporate insurance world is important to us, and dovetails with the development of our new consulting business. There's also a lot of focus on the commercial side of the practice too, but ultimately all growth will be based on client needs.
SG: Which practice areas should we watch out for?
SH: To be honest, we've seen sustained growth across the board over the last few years, so it's hard to single one practice area out. That said, we have been growing our energy practice in the insurance market. Leigh Williams came over from Clyde & Co, and Rebecca Hopkirk joined us from Holman. They are making a great impact in that sector. On the commercial contracts side, we're doing very well. The team recently won an award for their work on a massive NHS outsourcing matter. The commercial disputes department has grown significantly over the past three or four years, and we've been recruiting heavily into that team.
SG: RPC has offices in Singapore and Hong Kong. What do these offices specialise in and how are they evolving?
SH: Hong Kong is larger than Singapore. It's primarily disputes focused, but there is a corporate capability as well. One of our London commercial litigation partners, Jonathan Cary, relocated to Hong Kong in August last year with various other people, in order to grow the commercial disputes practice there. The litigation group in Hong Kong is now very broad, and covers a range of commercial, banking, shipping and insurance cases. To build connections between the offices HK trainees have been spending six months in London over the last couple of years and we have now begun a London to HK trainee secondment.
Singapore is slightly smaller, and at the moment is more focused on the insurance market. However, there have been some relocations to Singapore and that jurisdiction is also now an area of focus in terms of commercial disputes as well.
SG: Will you be opening more international offices?
SH: We never say never, but at the moment I can't say that we've identified a particular jurisdiction where we'll be looking to open a new office.
We have a strong relationship with many overseas firms via our involvement with law firm network TerraLex, so we don't need offices in multiple jurisdictions. We already have excellent relationships with lawyers in various places and we use those relationships to choose the best lawyers in the jurisdictions according to the client and the matter. We are not tied to using a specific lawyer or a specific branch office so it gives the client the most flexibility.
SG: What can you tell us about RPC's operations in Bristol?
SH: We took a large team from Cameron McKenna's Bristol business in early 2012. It's primarily an insurance-focused office where we do high-quality work at a lower cost base. We've also got a real estate capability there too. The office deals with London work and services London clients.
SG: Trainees said that RPC won't be taking on trainees in Bristol for the foreseeable future...
SH: As with all offices, there's a period of integration, but we're at the point now where we've got the resource balance right and it's grown to a good size. At the moment, we have no requirement for additional trainees to join the Bristol office.
SG: What do you think influences RPC's culture?
SH: It all starts with our all equity model which drives a culture of collaboration and shared purpose. We are also open plan, which reinforces the instinct within the firm to be non-hierarchical. Everyone, whether they be partners, associates or secretaries has exactly the same desk and sits in the same place. It's a very open and non-hierarchical place in comparison to many other law firms.
The house system also shapes the culture, as it gives people the opportunity to be part of the firm rather than just part of a department. Our offices across the world also take part in the house competitions and events that are taking place. They may be a nine-hour flight away, but that makes no difference, as they're still able to participate. All of the offices physically look broadly the same inside as well to maintain a consistent identity.
We were The Lawyer's 'Law Firm of the Year' in 2014. This reflects the culture of the firm as well: it wasn't just partners who went to collect that award. We invited a mix of people, including trainees, to attend and represent us.
SG: Which departments tend to take on the most trainees at each rotation?
SH: Commercial disputes takes on a lot of trainees, as does the MIPTOC: they take on a good number, spread out between the media, IP, technology, outsourcing, competition and commercial contracts teams. Within insurance, the professional risks department will also take a significant number. Around half of the trainees will join an insurance department at each rotation.
SG: How many fixed client secondments are on offer at each rotation?
SH: There's not a fixed number. It was in the order of four or five for the latest rotation. Some are full time, some require trainees to be away for two or three days a week, some may last for three months. There are various permutations, but it's all client-driven and comes down to what they need. The client secondments we offer tend to be with our insurance, technology and digital media clients.
SG: At the time of our calls, one trainee was completing a seat in Hong Kong. Will that become a regular opportunity for trainees, or are you still testing the water at this stage?
SH: Following the success of the pilot, we have made the HK secondment a fixture on our trainee seat rotation for the foreseeable future. While everything has to remain subject to business requirements, we are delighted that this opportunity exists. There is a lot of interaction between London and Hong Kong though. Many trainees do get to travel throughout their training contracts as well, particularly on the commercial disputes side of things. One of our trainees has been working in Russia for a matter, and another recently went to Singapore to take witness statements.
SG: What are you looking for in potential RPC trainees?
SH: We obviously want bright people, but we're not after academics. We want to see people who are collaborative and team-oriented. We're not interested in people who are in it for themselves. We want to take on a variety of people. Whatever opportunities people have had, whether those be limited or broad – it doesn't matter, we want to see that they have made the most of the opportunities and can articulate the reasons for having pursued them. We want innovative people here. We are not a firm that rests on its laurels: we fight for work and work hard to get it. At the end of the day, we want bright, curious, business orientated people who show initiative.
More on seats
RPC's real estate lawyers boast expertise in the pharmaceutical, industrial, investment, retail and energy markets. Clients include UK energy company npower, Swedish consumer goods maestro SCA and pharma giant AstraZeneca. The latter has been keeping the department especially busy: first, the team advised the company on an exit strategy from its Cheshire-based campus at Alderley Park, and then put plans in motion for its new global headquarters in Cambridge. Another highlight, worth a not-so-shabby £1 billion, saw the department advise the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust on its joint venture with a private sector outfit, creating the largest pathology services provider in the UK.
In Bristol, trainees had overseen smaller leases for commercial spaces in shopping centres. “I'm the one drafting those documents, handling the negotiations and getting them agreed.” Alongside that, sources had completed ancilliary tasks on larger transactions, like liaising with the Land Registry and grappling with those pesky SDLT returns.
The employment team recently represented the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in a case which challenged the concept of diplomatic immunity: Jarallah Al-Malki stood accused of keeping two trafficked maids in his London home, but could his diplomatic immunity protect him from the claims? In short, yes: the Court of Appeal ruled in February 2015 that the former maids could not bring their compensation claim, with Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, stating: “sometimes the apparent unfairness to an individual is outweighed by the harm that would be caused by a failure to give effect to diplomatic immunity.”
With RPC's commercial remit growing, employment trainees carry out a fair amount of support work for other teams. However, there's still an assortment of “HR advisory matters and stand-alone disputes” to get stuck into. On the support side, sources assisted with due diligence on corporate deals, and drafted a whole host of service, director and consultancy agreements. “All of the documents they need for the sale.” Trainees felt that there wasn't “as much freedom” on those stand-alone cases. They completed first drafts of witness statements and supplementary forms: “The tasks that the associate would let me do.” Interviewees were also responsible for responding to ad hoc enquiries from TerraLex – the international network of law firms that RPC belongs to.
A specialist energy insurance team has been flourishing within RPC's broader property and casualty department. It was strengthened in 2014 by two lateral partners: Leigh Williams and Rebecca Hopkirk from Clyde & Co and Holman Fenwick Willan, respectively. The team “works on very large energy insurance and reinsurance coverage disputes. These can be upstream or downstream, offshore or onshore. The work's very international and recent matters have involved issues in Indonesia, Pakistan and Norway.” There's often a lot at stake and the pressure is high. “It's because some of the most expensive man-made creations are in the energy industry. The value of the assets is huge. We might be dealing with explosions on offshore rigs, or the cost of sanctions that prevent the flow of oil from one country to another.”
As this is a relatively new team, there's currently only space for one trainee per seat. The select few we spoke with were “tasked with helping to build the practice,” which involved attending some pretty snazzy client events: “They trust you to have a number of pints with some senior people!” Given the size of the cases, there's “a lot of doc review,” but sources made it clear that it wasn't just a junior task: “This is a very hands-on team, and no one is left behind. Everyone is eager to hear what you have to say, so you feel like you are very much making a contribution.”
More on merit-based pay for NQs
In September 2014 RPC introduced merit-based pay for its NQs, making it the first City firm to abandon flat rates at this level. A few other City firms, including Hogan Lovells and CMS, have also followed suit.
This move brings RPC's NQs in line with the rest of its lawyers: the firm ditched lockstep pay for partners over a decade ago, and began a merit-based scheme for associates in 2009. As managing partner Jonathan Watmough explained to the press in 2013, when the decision was announced: “The concept of the flat rate has passed its sell-by date and no longer has any integrity. It does not recognise the different merits of individual NQs, nor does it recognise the market variances between the different branches of law into which they qualify.”
NQs at the firm used to receive salaries of £58,000 per year in London and £44,000 in Bristol, but firm reps tell us the new scheme sees each NQ's pay packets determined by two things: their performance during the training contract (quality of work, involvement in client activities, contribution to the team) and “the market dynamics” of the practice area they're qualifying into. “We also take into account any experience someone might have had before joining RPC which may be relevant to the role,” we're told. As a result, NQs now have the chance to surpass the above figures, though at the same time there's the possibility they could be paid less than the flat-rate cohorts before them received. At any rate, they're still eligible for a bonus.
On the whole, our trainee and NQ sources at the firm had a positive view on the new pay scheme, with one NQ commenting: “We live in an unequal world, and I think this change reflects that.” Still, they did question how the new pay scheme will translate in practice, particularly on the “market dynamics” side. RPC is split roughly 50/50 between insurance and commercial work, and as one trainee suggested: “Our commercial side is more profitable, so that will probably pay a higher wage. But if working in a commercial practice means longer hours than insurance, then I guess that's fair.”
Others made similar assumptions, prompting us to ask whether the prospect of higher pay might encourage more qualifiers to plump for the firm's commercial departments over its insurance ones in the future. “It might not be the primary concern for people hoping to qualify into a department they love,” an NQ answered, “but it could certainly be enough of a push for those on the fence.”
As our sources concluded: “It'll be some time before we can see whether there's a major difference between pay in different departments.” In any case, they agreed: “It's important the firm focuses on maintaining a fair and transparent process.”
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 80
- Associates 224
- Total trainees 41
- Contact Trainee recruitment team (020) 3060 6000, RPC, Tower Bridge House, St Katharine’s Way, London, E1W 1AA, www.rpc.co.uk/manifesto
- Method of application Online
- Selection procedure First interview face to face, presentations, aptitude tests, case studies
- Closing date for 2018 Training contract 31 July 2016
- Vacation scheme 31 January 2016
- Training contracts p.a. London 20
- Required degree grade London 2:1
- Training salary
- 1st year (London) £37,000
- 2nd year (London) £40,000
- Post-qualification salary Merit-based
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2014) 94%
- Overseas/regional offices Bristol, Hong Kong and Singapore
Main areas of work