If you’re judging firms by the calibre of their clients, Farrer is as good as it gets, and it has a broader practice than you might expect.
To the casual observer, Farrer & Co’s lodgings in a Grade II listed mansion in Lincoln’s Inn – and its long-established ties with high society – may lead to certain… assumptions. But trainees were clear that any description of Farrer as old-fashioned “would be a mischaracterisation. The firm’s historic roots may be in private client work, and to some extent Farrer has been built around that, but today we are very much a broad church with lots of different departments and teams.”
To be clear, the firm remains a go-to service for the world’s uber-wealthy and you can still find oligarchs, prestigious institutions like Eton, and royal family members on its books, but there’s more to Farrer than posh people with bags of cash. Trainees admitted that “the headline grabbers are always going to be those high net worth individuals,” but a training contract here also offers “opportunities to engage with universities, galleries, charities, museums and sports institutions.” Sources who’d worked in the firm’s corporate and commercial arm were eager to point out that “Farrer has branched out considerably from the firm’s historic core client base. We’ve even recently held an entrepreneurs’ week, targeting individuals and small businesses.” Ultimately, it was the sheer breadth of work on offer at Farrer that caught the eye of many of our most recent round of interviewees.
“Farrer has branched out considerably from the firm’s historic core client base.”
If you need evidence of the firm’s breadth of expertise, head to chambers.com for a full breakdown of their rankings. You’ll find the predictable top awards for private wealth, private wealth disputes, family, and high-value residential property from Chambers High Net Worth, but head to Chambers UK for recognition of Farrer’s agriculture, real estate, employment, family, and lower mid-market corporate practices in London. On a national scale the firm’s expertise in art and cultural property, education, charities, and publishing also earns top rankings. Trainees get the chance to see plenty of Farrer before qualifying: the training contract is one of the rare six-seaters.
After their randomly allocated first department, trainees rotate through one seat each from commercial (employment, financial services, corporate, banking, charities or IP); private client (tax, innovation or straight private client); property (residential, rural or commercial); and contentious (disputes, family or reputation management). They also get a 'top seat' option that they get full say over. Sources were glad to get a broader experience than the four-seat model could offer but acknowledged that more frequent rotations “can be a bit of a rollercoaster and sometimes it does feel like starting a new job every four months. Meeting lots of people in different departments is exciting, but it can also be exhausting and by the fifth seat you’re excited to get settled down.”
Disputes at Farrer include property, commercial and contentious trusts, as well as more specialist areas such as international child abduction and a dedicated reputation management team. “As a junior you tend to remain a generalist for your first four to five years before specialising," sources pointed out. One newbie reminisced: “In my first few days in the seat I was asked to go away and do some research for an hour, and then explain it immediately to a Russian oligarch over the phone – it was pretty terrifying!” Another confirmed that “you end up working for some bizarre people, including Middle Eastern royalty. I spent a lot of time in mediations with families, trying to work out what the other side's lawyers were doing. In my experience, it hasn’t been super aggressive litigation, but more strategic, like a game of chess.” Farrer works for clients with royal connections closer to home too: the firm has regularly advised James and Pippa Matthews (née Middleton) on the press interest in their family as well as potential harassment cases.
“You end up working for some bizarre people… it hasn’t been super aggressive litigation, but more like a game of chess.”
Trainees also detailed working on “art litigation for big auction houses,” throwing up opportunities to attend meetings, conduct research and draft letters to court and opposing counsel. “It can genuinely feel like something from the film Knives Out,” one trainee joked – that doesn’t mean you get to work opposite Daniel Craig. Sorry. Farrer also does commercial work for varied clients including the British Airline Pilots Association and the Challenge Network. The firm advised Heartwood Wealth Management during the Ingenious film finance multiparty claim involving over 300 claimants with allegations spanning breach of duty, misrepresentation, potential negligence and breach of contract.
“The clients are similar to what you'd find in family, but the work is entirely different” in Farrer's private client department. Most cases fall under the umbrella of trusts, estates and succession planning for international entrepreneurs with interests in countries across the world. “Day to day, you have a lot of meetings,” trainees told us; they otherwise kept their schedule busy drafting wills, conducting research into trusts, and conducting house visits in the form of estate valuations. One source described things bluntly: “Clients are often rich, middle-aged people who have suddenly realised they will eventually die. Because of the calibre of the department, it’s always the partner mediating the relationship with the client.” Things can get complex – recent cases have included providing advice to the trustees of a £1.4 billion landed estate on complex matters of trust law; and assisting an uber-wealthy Irish family with their wills and cross-border succession planning while considering English, Irish, French and Finnish law issues.
In commercial, trainees see a crossroads between the activities of the super-rich and the companies they interact with. “The scope of the department is super wide-ranging," one trainee emphasised, adding that "you see a lot of interesting clients including universities, galleries and cultural organisations.” The department’s eclectic roster includes the likes of the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, Cycling UK and the Henley Royal Regatta. Farrer advises on a range of data, IP, trademark and compliance issues: “There’s a lot of research to be done on the advisory side of things,” sources highlighted. “If a client comes to us with a particular issue, the trainee is typically tasked with going back to the black-letter law to evaluate our position and put together a preliminary note of advice for the client, which the supervisor reviews.” Insiders working more on the data protection side told us that the firm “does a lot of data subject access requests. For trainees that means plenty of due diligence and going through emails, making redactions where necessary.”
“In your second year you can take a much bigger role running smaller transactions and acting as the contact for the client.”
Farrer’s corporate department is “relatively small but growing quickly,” sources explained. “It’s a partner-heavy group” operating in the lower mid-market, “mainly working with smaller private companies on M&A.” The firm recently advised the Open University on the £50 million sale of a 50% stake in its online degree platform to Australian recruitment business SEEK; and the Japan House London Trust on a restructuring involving the acquisition of the company operating London’s Japan House. “You end up working with lawyers from across many departments,” interviewees told us. “I’ve spoken to colleagues in the IP, tax and private client teams, trying to solve an issue from various perspectives. Companies we work with often have structures which are interlinked with a client’s trust.” Trainees who arrive here early in their training contract tend to handle more administrative tasks, but “in your second year you can take a much bigger role running smaller transactions and acting as the contact for the client.”
The residential property team is distinct in “having a lot of partners who aren’t homegrown Farrer lawyers. There are a lot of laterals from big City firms, and as a result there’s a bit of a different personality and work drive in this department.” Our interviewees flagged its reputation for a "higher-hours culture,” but those with experience in the department were keen to dispel any rumours. “The quality of the supervision is great, and you're given your own files to run as a trainee which is great,” one told us. “At the moment I’m handling six different sale and purchases, a couple of refinancings and licences. There’s supervision, of course, but I’m the one expected to know everything that’s going on.” The department works for clients including the Duchy of Cornwall and large landowners with an eye for future residential conversions. Just try not to get house envy: “I haven’t been able to visit any yet, but some of them look ridiculous in the photos.”
The firm may represent clients with aristocratic and establishment ties, but sources emphasised that Farrer itself is “a meritocratic environment with responsibility available for those who can prove themselves.” Many felt that the firm is “making considerable efforts to encourage diverse candidates to apply,” including via outreach programmes to state schools in London. “I went to a state school and have never once felt unwelcome,” one source confided to us. “Our personal backgrounds have never been mentioned.” Farrer’s low representation of ethnic minorities at the partnership level shows work needs to be done to boost their diversity credentials, but the firm is far above the national average when it comes to gender diversity: 72% of associates and 43% of partners are women.
“In my intake, almost all of us had done something different to law before coming to the firm,” an interviewee observed. “None of us came straight from university, so I feel we’d had more time to develop our interests.” Perhaps it was that extra life experience that helped “easy conversation” with partners at Farrer. Another trainee shared: “I’ve had some long and very casual conversations with individuals in the firm, chatting nonsense before realising they’re senior partners!” They clarified that “of course, you have some old-school partners who expect deference from trainees, but most are very down-to-earth kind of people who are willing to chat and grab a beer.”
“Most days I finish by 6pm...”
Thanks to a vibrant social calendar, there are many opportunities to do just that. Highlights include the firm’s Christmas party, “usually held at a fancy hotel,” and a firm-wide summer BBQ “just in front of the building.” Farrer’s beautiful Lincoln’s Inn surroundings make it quite the occasion. When they’re not sharing a bite or a beverage, trainees get ample contact with senior lawyers during work hours – they get a partner supervisor for each of their seats as well as a partner mentor and another partner responsible for the whole trainee cohort.
Though some seats are more demanding than others – private clients tend to be less likely than businesses and commercial clients to need work done late into the night – our interviewees agreed “the hours here are less severe than at your typical corporate outfit in the City. There’s no expectation to stay longer than needed.” One suggested a “bad day” would be working from 8.30pm until 7pm, which they found themselves doing “about once a fortnight. Most days I finish by 6pm.” Another source weighed in: “I’ve had maybe two busy periods where I’ve stayed until 9 or 10pm every day for a week, and once until 1am. However, they were very specific situations and there’s never a situation where you finish one huge project and you’re straight onto the next one.” Most happily of all, not one trainee had pulled an all-nighter or needed to work weekends. “There are sometimes one or two days a week where I’ll eat at my desk, but on most days I get the chance to go out for lunch,” one source said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re chained to your desk here – people tend to have a coffee break at 11am and 4pm too.”
The lack of late nights was one reason why trainees wanted to stick with Farrer long-term. The firm's qualifying process is, by industry standards, relatively informal. "There are no interviews or tests," sources explained. "We have a relaxed series of chats with the training partner, who tells us what jobs are available and asks where we are interested in qualifying. What can cause anxiety is that we have no real control over the process beyond that.” Most were consoled by historically strong retention rates, and in 2020 the firm retained nineof its ten qualifiers.
From tweed blazer to trailblazer
The London firms with women as managing partners come top for retaining diverse lawyers. Charity lawyer Anne-Marie Piper took over as the firm’s first female senior partner in 2017. Women now make up 43% of partners and 72% of associates; Farrer power is the model to follow.
How to get a Farrer training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 9 July 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)
Applications and interviews
Both those applying for the vac scheme and those applying directly for a training contract are asked to answer a set of questions and send a cover letter.
Graduate recruitment consultant Donna Davies tells us the content and structure of the covering letter play an important part in the assessment process. “Ideally we want the letter to be well constructed, matching their skills to our specific requirements and outlining what attracts them to us in terms of our practice areas and training programme." From here, the top 100 vac scheme applicants who impress are invited to an open day that involves a Q&A, plus group and written exercises.
Meanwhile, the lucky 40 training contract applicants who make it through the first round are invited to an interview with a partner, which generally lasts around an hour. Current trainees recalled the experience as “interesting and free-flowing,” with one telling us “it felt like they were really trying to get to know me and were prepared to challenge me on certain points to see if I could back up my opinions.”
Around 30 go on to a second interview, which takes place with two partners. Candidates are given a brief scenario to read through and comment on at the beginning of the interview, before moving on to a more general discussion about their application. Second interviews usually last around an hour and a half.
Farrer holds three two-week vacation schemes one at Easter and two in summer, taking on ten candidates at a time. Each vac schemer is assigned a trainee buddy and sits with a different team each week. Our sources recalled that they’d been treated “just like trainees,” having drafted board minutes, conducted research and been taken to client meetings. Alongside such tasks, vac schemers are given a case study to work on over the course of their visit. This exercise culminates in them pitching for fictitious clients.
To make the most of their vac scheme, Davies advises candidates to “show a real interest in the firm and a desire to work here. At the same time, remember that it’s also a chance for you to find out about us.”
Completing the vac scheme doesn’t automatically entitle candidates to a training contract interview, but those who are granted one skip straight to the second interview round, as outlined above.
How to wow
The firm asks for a minimum 2:1 degree and ABB at A levels (or equivalent). Beyond that, “we are looking for applicants who display good judgment, are engaging, can work within a team and who, perhaps above all, are resilient,” according to Davies.
Given the firm's abundance of private client work, as well as family and employment law, “applicants need to have a certain sensitivity and be sympathetic towards individuals,” partner Jonathan Eley points out. “Our clients expect confidentiality and discretion at all times, so candidates who recognise the importance of that will certainly get a tick in the box.”
Farrer & Co LLP
66 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
- Partners 80
- Assistant solicitors 214
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Claire Roche [email protected]
- Graduate recruitment partner: Claire Gordon
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 1110
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 9 July 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £39,000
- Second-year salary: £42,500
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: £7,000 per year of study
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: There are a number of opportunites for secondments on qualification.
Our clients present us with complex and varied challenges. Whether that’s a complicated family trust issue, a multinational corporate transaction, or an emerging threat to their reputation, they need clear thinkers who can advise on the best solutions, fast thinkers when speed is of the essence and agile thinkers who can produce a fresh approach to get the job done.
Main areas of work
We provide a range of specialist, high-quality legal services to businesses, charities and institutions, private individuals and families. Our clients include banks, major businesses and media groups, as well as schools, charities, high net worth entrepreneurs and landed estates. We work to provide a seamless and integrated legal service for every client. Our aim is to solve the difficult issues that matter to its clients, whether those are complex transactional, reputational, regulatory, constitutional or personal issues, or a combination of them. We pride ourselves not only on our technical ability and commercial acumen, but on our ability to provide practical, versatile and cost-effective solutions to our clients' legal requirements. Our clients operate across the world, with activities and assets in multiple jurisdictions. As a result, the majority of our work has an international element, giving our lawyers worldwide experience in their specialist areas.
Our training programme involves each trainee in the widest range of cases, clients and issues possible in a single law firm, taking full advantage of the extensive array of practice areas at Farrer & Co by offering six seats, rather than the usual four. This provides a broad foundation of knowledge and experience and the opportunity to make an informed choice about the area of law in which to specialise. A high degree of involvement is encouraged under the direct supervision of associates and partners. Trainees attend an induction programme and regular internal seminars. The training partner reviews trainees’ progress at the end of each seat and extensive feedback is given. We have a very friendly atmosphere and host regular sporting and social events.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Farrer & Co is committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in relation to its members, clients and the community. We believe that every person in the firm has a responsibility to ensure inclusion and dignity at work.
We recognise the importance of creating an inclusive environment in which people can progress and fulfil their potential. We are committed to ensuring that all our people are employed, trained, compensated and promoted solely on the strength of their ability, qualifications, experience and merit.
We value the wellbeing of our people and pride ourselves on being a supportive employer, taking reasonable and practical steps to help them to balance their careers with other aspects of their lives. We think this is reflected in the fact that we have an exceptionally low staff turnover.
Diversity and inclusion enriches the culture of the firm and means that we are better positioned to continue to provide a first-class service to our clients.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)