RPC trainees are guaranteed to see lots of litigation and everything insurance.
RPC training contract review 2022
If you listened to the trainees here you’d be forgiven for thinking RPC stood for Really Positive Culture. “I didn’t realise how important culture was until I joined the firm,” one interviewee reflected. “It’s all well and good working on big deals but it won’t be enjoyable if you’re not supported. I love waking up on a Monday morning, ready to start the week with people who know you’re at the beginning of your career and don’t really know anything yet.”
‘Yet’ being the key word of course – as trainees start to build up their knowledge, they’ll be doing it to the backdrop of RPC’s insurance and litigation expertise. “We’ve been extremely busy despite the pandemic, primarily because there’s been increased demand for the work we do,” says training principal Parham Kouchikali. “Financial services and insurance disputes have certainly been doing the rounds, but we’ve been busy on the commercial side (that encompasses everything from commercial contracts to retail, regulatory and tech), too.” Kouchikali goes on to highlight the firm’s recent work for Stella McCartney on the buyout of a joint venture and entry into a new partnership. Read more from Kouchikali on the ‘Get Hired’ tab above.
"I wanted to be recognised in the firm and not lost in a sea of trainees.”
The firm’s national Chambers UK rankings span product liability, contentious tax, retail, commercial contracts and non-contentious insurance matters. It’s also got a very respected defamation practice plus expertise in the publishing sector in particular, with top national rankings in both categories. In London it picks up top rankings in claimant-side banking litigation and professional negligence.
In the South West the firm scoops another top professional negligence ranking, courtesy of its Bristol office, which is approaching its tenth anniversary since opening in 2012. Every year it takes a handful of trainees, but the rest of the intake – about 14 – join the London ranks. The small intake size was ideal for those who “wanted to be recognised in the firm and not lost in a sea of trainees.”
In other news, RPC rejigged its partnership structure at the end of 2019 in an effort to boost career progression by providing associates with alternative paths. Instead of the previous all-equity partnership, there are now five distinct senior roles that associates can work towards, including fixed share partner, salaried partner, of counsel and senior associate. “This structure means there’s less pressure to conform to the model of either making equity partner or leaving the firm,” says Kouchikali. “I’m passionate about trainees eventually becoming partner, which this new flexible partnership structure enables.”
Bristol-based trainees have to complete four fixed insurance seats in construction, professional & financial risks, property & casualty and general liability & medical (GLM). Although it’s insurance-focused, trainees in the Bristol office said: “The seats are completely different because insurance is such a broad industry.” With the exception of GLM, the same seats are available in London, plus a plethora of other options which span the firm's five strategic areas: retail, insurance, technology, regulatory and commercial disputes. These folks have to complete one insurance and one commercial seat. Before each rotation, newbies submit their top three choices to the firm’s early talent team. Trainees usually get one of their choices but if they don’t, they get priority next time round.
When there’s not a pandemic on, trainees can go on secondment to Singapore and Hong Kong (though because the HK secondment is commercial-focused it’s only open to London trainees). There are also a couple of commercial client secondments, and NQ solicitors have the opportunity to second to insurers and household brands in the UK.
“We’re going up against magic circle lawyers.”
The commercial and banking litigation group takes the most trainees each rotation. The commercial litigation team acts for companies across different sectors on both the claimant and defendant side. Banking litigation is claimant only, with the team representing sovereign states, European regional banks, pension funds, hedge funds, and wealthy individuals in disputes with big banks. Trainees said: “We’re going up against magic circle lawyers on huge disputes.” It doesn’t get much bigger than Google, which the firm defended against a breach of confidence claim brought by an American tech company. RPC also represented Nigeria (yes, the country) in its $875 million claim against J.P. Morgan for its role in an allegedly fraudulent acquisition by Shell and Eni. Trainees do the usual bundling and doc review tasks, but they also get to draft correspondence to the other side, prepare witness statements and sit in on client meetings. Personal and professional development is emphasised in this group: trainees are required to write fortnightly bulletins (like legal updates following recent judgements) and give presentations to the entire department every couple of months: “It made me feel like a real commercial lawyer.”
MIPTOC stands for media, IP, technology, outsourcing and commercial contracts, with seats available in all areas. We heard that technology, outsourcing and commercial“is one of the most popular seats,” and trainees also suggested itsclient base alone is responsible for attracting lawyers to the firm – major names like Instagram, Coca-Cola, News UK and Facebook appear on the client list. Rookies had handled a number of GDPR issues, like updating privacy agreements following a ruling by the EU (SCHREM) about how data is transferred between different companies and jurisdictions.
“A really wide range of cases” keeps things interesting in the media group, which represents clients in advertising, gaming, film, TV, and most notably publishing – the firm’s actually got a bit of a niche for defending publishers against defamation claims. In fact, RPC was called on to defend Associated Newspapers when the Duchess of Sussex brought litigation against it after the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline published extracts of a letter she wrote to her father. Trainees “got the full range of litigation experience in this seat,” though tasks varied depending on the size of the claim. Larger cases saw rookies handling the admin side of things, like bundling and document management. Smaller matters are usually staffed with one partner and one trainee, so juniors got to draft witness statements and even speak with clients.
“We’re hot on everything going on in the cladding world right now.”
Oddly enough, construction at RPC is all about insurance, with the firm typically acting for insurance companies and the insured party (which includes players across the construction chain, including contractors, engineers, architects, project managers, and surveyors). The firm covers every kind of insurance dispute related to every kind of building. “We’re hot on everything going on in the cladding world right now,” trainees explained. “There are so many claims where cladding hasn’t been installed to government guidelines and we often defend architects against those claims.” In one recent example of work stemming from the Grenfell disaster, the team represented Studio E Architects, which was appointed on the refurbishment of Grenfell. Trainees got involved with “everything you could possibly imagine on a litigious matter,” like writing reports for insurance companies, drafting instruction to counsel and corresponding with the other side. Some had even helped work out settlement proposals and attended settlement meetings, meaning client contact is high: “You’re expected to be confident in liaising with them after a couple of months in the seat.”
The work in property and casualty isn’t to be confused with Holby City style drama; it’s actually about what’s known as ‘political risk’. For example, if there’s a riot in a city or a fire in a factory, there may be disruption to companies’ business operations. RPC will then step in to investigate whether insurers should pay out to cover said business interruption. Trainees are responsible for collecting facts about the event that caused the disruption: “It’s all about black letter law and research, so the work is more advisory than litigious.” The Bristol lot work more on the property side, while their London colleagues also deal with international matters. Interviewees who’d sat here had worked with RPC’s Singapore office. The property portion revolves around what’s known in the insurance world as subrogated recoveries. That’s jargon for a pretty straightforward process: if an insurer has paid out for a property damage claim, the insurer can recover the money from whichever third party caused the damage. Simple. Drafting letters, client updates and pre-action disclosure applications are all classic tasks: “Working for the claimant means we don’t have court deadlines to respond to, so we have time to really delve into the matter at a slower pace.”
Unlike their property and casualty colleagues, the professional and financial risk folks work on the defendant side, “which means it’s much more fast-paced – we have to react to the claim rather than bring it.” This group is what other firms often call their professional negligence department. RPC acts for several other law firms, such as Dallas & Co, which it defended against a claim concerning funding arrangements in an international arbitration. Rookies deal with cost budgeting, disclosure and client updates, and prepare case management conferences. The matters trainees worked on here were smaller than in other departments, which meant “lots of ad hoc tasks across several cases.” Sources were pleased with their level of responsibility, but offered a word of warning: “We have to work with external loss adjusters – the people who assess losses for insurers – and they’re pretty overworked so you have to spend a lot of time chasing them!” Non-billable work is important in this seat too: “We have a newsletter called The Week That Was, so we write articles for clients every fortnight, which really helped build up my commercial awareness.”
Picking back up on that theme of support, RPC newbies have a series of introductory training sessions in London when they first join the firm, then sign up to whichever sessions tickle their fancy once they’ve settled in. They can also request one-to-one training. Trainees get two supervisors per seat, one partner and one senior associate. The latter is responsible for day-to-day matters like workload, while the former deals with overall seat supervision.
“We had a port of call to answer ‘silly’ questions.”
Trainees usually sought senior associates for feedback and answers to their questions – one source put this down to the fact that “some partners are just too busy to be supervisors, but they’re always happy to help if you reach out.” Elaborating on this, trainees said “partners’ cases are often reported in the press, but they’re still the most normal people in the world. They’d still have a chat with a paralegal or an admin assistant in the kitchen.” The open-plan office made it easy to stay connected: “Partners aren’t tucked away in their own offices and you can pop over to anyone whether they’re your supervisor or not.” Given that this wasn’t possible on a remote training contract, “we also got trainee buddies in the year above so that we had a port of call to answer ‘silly’ questions.”
Interviewees scored the firm highly for its handling of the pandemic. RPC gave all staff members £250 to set up home offices: “They understand that lots of us live in one-bed flats so we had to work from uncomfortable dining chairs, so they delivered the office chairs to our homes.” During lockdown, “every team I worked with made continuous efforts to get us involved in virtual events – like virtual cocktail-making classes – and made us feel like a solid part of the team.” RPC even hosted a virtual ‘Day at the Races’ event, “which was peculiar, but very enjoyable. These events never feel like forced fun.”
There’s also an appreciation for work-life balance: “There’s no expectation to be ‘in the office’ past 6pm if you’ve finished your work.” According to our survey, trainees put in 45 hours a week on average, which is slightly more than trainees at regional, national and London non-City firms but well below the 52-hour weeks at US firms. “The hours are so much better than I expected,” one felt. “I never feel strained.” Following a recent salary review, London trainees’ pay was increased by £3,000 a year, although Bristolians’ pay stayed the same, which ruffled some feathers amongst those who thought salary was below market.
Interviewees described a transparent qualification process: everyone has a chit-chat with HR about their hopes and dreams (preferred NQ position) in April, before the jobs list is revealed in May. “Different departments have different tests, so some ask for presentations and others set written exercises,” trainees explained. “Either way, they all do interviews so it’s as fair as possible.” This year, 12 of 14 qualifying trainees were retained.
RPC has Planet Mark certification, which includes a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 5% annually.
How to get an RPC training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 9 January 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)
Training contract deadline (2024): 13 March 2022 [Bristol], 26 June 2022 [London] (opens 1 October 2021)
Trainee hopefuls at RPC need an achieved or predicted 2:1 degree. Beyond this, early talent lead Ellinor Davey tells us the firm is looking for bright, ambitious, personable and commercially aware people with energy, business sense, flexibility and creative thinking.
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 armed forces, professional services and other industries.” She advises applicants not to discount any previous work experience too quickly: “A job working in a shop or restaurant, for example, can be used to demonstrate your customer and client service skills, communication, teamwork and reliability.” That said, it is beneficial to get some sort of legal work experience if possible. Davey explains: “You need to show you have a real interest in working for a law firm. If you can prove that you can seek out opportunities and operate in a commercial environment, this will help your application. Legal work experience can include work shadowing, insight days, virtual experience programmes 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 completed about the firm, rather than talking about why they'd be a good fit. It's very important to us that candidates are motivated towards a career with RPC, not just law in general.”
RPC received 1,500 direct applications for Bristol and London training contracts in 2021. Generally the firm selects around 250 applicants to complete an online critical thinking test and screens the 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,” director of brand, marketing and sales Ed Fitzgerald adds. “Be sure you look at our #strikinglyreal campaign 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 networking lunch with partners and associates, plus a Q&A session with a partner and a trainee (all of which are non-assessed). RPC's assessment days can be run virtually.
In 2021 the firm received 900 applications for its 24 summer scheme spots on offer. The vacation scheme application process is “similar to the training contract application process,” Davey tells us. Applicants complete the online form, and those who impress go on to take a critical thinking test and attend an assessment day at the firm. From here the firm chooses its summer 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,” a trainee told us. “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.
On the social side are networking events, ping-pong tournaments, a pizza making class, a bowling night and a ClueQuest challenge. On the last day of their placement summer schemers have an interview with a partner and a member of HR.
RPC's summer schemes can be delivered virtually, which is what they did in 2020 and 2021. Davey confirms: "You will experience the same RPC work, environment and culture, just virtually."
The firm also hosts and attends several insight days and events throughout the year to give a snapshot of life at RPC. Visit www.rpc.co.uk/strikinglyreal to find out more.
Interview with Parham Kouchikali, training principal at RPC
Chambers Student: Tell us about the firm’s new partnership structure.
Parham Kouchikali, training principal: Achieving equity partnership is extremely competitive and the bar is very high, so we wanted to give our senior talent other options. We have various senior roles available including fixed share partner, salary partner and of counsel (for lawyers who have a specialism in a particular area). This structure also means there’s less pressure to conform to the model of either making equity partner or leaving the firm. I’m passionate about trainees eventually becoming partner, which this new flexible partnership structure enables.
CS: How has the firm weathered the pandemic?
PK: We’ve been extremely busy despite the pandemic, primarily because there’s been increased demand for the work we do: financial services and insurance disputes have certainly been doing the rounds, but we’ve been busy on the commercial side (that encompasses everything from Commercial Contracts to Retail, Regulatory and Tech), too: our firm advised Stella McCartney on the buyout of a joint venture she had and the subsequent entry into a new partnership. We also advised Facebook on the independent oversight board. We’ve always had a strong reputation in insurance and now we’ve got a good reputation on the commercial side. We decided very early on that we wouldn’t cut salaries or furlough anybody which went down very well.
CS: How did the firm stay connected during lockdown?
PK: I was worried that that it would be more difficult to maintain our culture during lockdown, so we started We Are RPC, which is a series of five-minute videos where people at different levels across the firm share their experiences. We also played coffee roulette: we paired up people across the firm and sent them reusable coffee cups and coffee beans so they could get to know someone they hadn’t met before. Each department did far more regular team meetings where group leaders would provide updates so that everyone was kept in the loop. We also set up quarterly town halls over Zoom led by our managing partner.
CS: How did the firm address wellbeing during the pandemic?
PK: All trainee supervisers ran – and still run – weekly pastoral calls with the trainees to talk about health and wellbeing. We have an inhouse psychologist which is incredibly useful, even for those who were initially sceptical. The firm wanted to make it clear that people should delineate between and life, so we encouraged everyone to block out some time in their diaries to do some exercise. As partners, we realised we needed to think about the time we sent emails: why send an email at 8pm if it doesn’t need to be looked at until the morning? We don’t want our trainees to think they have to respond to immediately if they don’t have to. We also signed up to the Mindfulness Business Charter, which is a framework that encourages people to respect each other’s boundaries. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.
CS: Tell us about the firm’s Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) initiatives.
PK: We used to have one committee that focussed on I&D but we decided it was better to have different workstreams that focussed on different aspects of I&D. At present we have eight separate work streams that focus on I&D. These are gender, ethnicity, mental health, caring responsibilities, social mobility, LGBT+, faith and disability. Underpinning our I&D networks is allies@RPC, our peer network committed to supporting colleagues and promoting the inclusive culture the firm.
I lead the ethnicity workstream, and it’s very important to me that we fill the ethnicity gap, so I’m in talks with partners at a number of City firms about how, as a profession, we can shed light on the issue. Lots of trainees are part of our ethnicity workstream: we use it as a forum to discuss things going on society. Our members penned an internal open letter about BLM, which included a resource pack on reading for those across the firm that wanted to know about the issue.
CS: Are there any other developments our readers should know about?
PK: We have a new senior partner, Olly Bray. He’s a commercial lawyer who works with loads of tech companies like Google and Facebook. He’s very focussed on tech and innovation because of the companies he deals with, which bodes well for future trainees.
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 92
- Associates 232
- Total trainees 28
- UK offices London, Bristol
- Overseas offices 2
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 18
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Three high-grade A-levels
- Vacation scheme places pa: 24
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 26th June 2022 (London) 13th March 2022 (Bristol)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2021
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 9th January 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 (London); £35,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £44,000 (London); £36,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £70,000 (London); £49,000 (Bristol)
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Bristol, Hong Kong, Singapore
- Client secondments: Yes
If you value character over conformity, the unique over the uniform, and ambition over apathy, let’s talk.
For us, success comes from building real-life relationships. Real-life relationships with our clients as much as our people. And it comes from thinking creatively to achieve the best commercial solutions. We thrive in an environment that’s collaborative, forward-thinking and where you’re free to express your personality. An environment that allows you to make the most of your strengths.
Main areas of work
• Banking & Financial Markets Disputes
• Commercial Litigation
• Corporate & M&A
• Corporate Crime & Investigations
• Corporate Insurance
• Corporate Finance
• Data Protection
• Financial Services Regulation
• Health, Safety & Environmental
• Restructuring & Insolvency
• Insurance & Reinsurance
• Intellectual Property
• Pensions & Benefits
• Personal Injury
• Product Regulation
• Professional Negligence
• Professional Practices
• Real Estate
• International Trade & Arbitration
At least six months will be spent in four different areas of our practice, so you can discover where you fit in the best. You may have an opportunity to be seconded to one of our clients as an in-house lawyer. This will give you the chance to form genuine relationships with the people behind the cases.
You’ll be welcomed into our London office and given an opportunity to spend time getting to experience life in a unique law firm for yourself. It’s also our chance to get to know you and understand what you may be able to offer us. During these two weeks, you’ll be fully integrated into our teams, getting involved in projects and giving you a fantastic insight into whether a career at RPC is right for you. What’s more, our Summer Schemes can be delivered virtually. You will experience the same RPC environment and culture, just online.
Remuneration: £400 p/w.
Open days and first-year opportunities
London Insight Day: Our insight days are just that. Insightful. Experience real life as a trainee through work shadowing opportunities, taking part in an application skills session and networking with people from across the firm. Our Bristol and London Insight Days can be delivered virtually.
For further information about these events and details of how to apply please look online.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking Litigation: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 4)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 2)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 2)
- Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)