In need of a lil’ TLC? Check out RPC: insurance and litigation expertise meets a culture built on gratitude.
The Famous Five, Chanel No. 5, 5ive… all excellent examples of why five is as good a number as any. National law firm RPC certainly thinks so, with five strategic ‘pillars’ of focus for its practice: insurance, regulatory, retail, commercial financial disputes, and technology. “Considering it’s not the largest firm, RPC has a great commercial practice,”trainees declared. “They work for impressive clients.”You will indeed find big names like Instagram, Pizza Express and Google on the client roster – trainees can even score a secondment to the search engine giant.
RPC is perhaps best known for its insurance and reinsurance expertise, and much of its practice pivots on litigation – if disputes aren’t for you, neither is this firm. That’s not the whole story, as Chambers UKmakes clear with top rankings in London for the lower mid-market corporate practice as well as professional negligence and banking litigation. Nationwide the firm’s accolades span defamation, commercial contracts, media and entertainment, contentious tax and more; RPC’s Bristol base also scores a top spot for professional negligence. The firm made international moves in 2016 and 2017, forming a joint venture with Singapore outfit Premier Law before formalising its combination with a partner firm in Hong Kong. Both overseas offices offer seats to trainees.
“I didn’t want to be lost in a sea of trainees.”
Describing the lawyers they met during their application process as “friendly, passionate and intelligent,”trainees were largely sold on the firm by its culture. Some were keen to be part of a relatively modest intake of fewer than 15 newcomers a year: “I didn’t want to be lost in a sea of trainees.” Sources went to on to find their interviews straightforward and relaxed. “I felt like they were trying to get the best out of me rather than trying to catch me out,”one told us. It’s worth noting RPC pays closer to the top of the market in Bristol than London, though City trainees do get a cost of living uplift. Firm-wide financials were decent in 2020, even in the wake of Covid-19: turnover grew 1% to £110.1 million. In a now apparently prescient move, RPC boosted its restructuring team in January 2020, bringing in the head of DWF’s practice group (restructuring looks to be a busy area post-lockdown).
While the London office offers a full range of seats, Bristol’s small cohort of trainees get just four: professional and financial risk, general liability and medical, construction insurance, and property and casualty. “We only have four teams, so you don’t have a choice what you do,”they noted, although they do have a say over which order they do the seats in. London trainees typically have to complete one insurance seat and a maximum of one seat in the popular MIPTOC group (media, IP, technology, outsourcing and commercial contracts). Before each rotation, trainees submit three preferences and meet with HR to discuss their reasoning; they’ll find out where they’re going two weeks in advance. Most were happy with how the process turned out: “As long as you’re clear with grad recruitment on what it is that interests you they’ll take your choices seriously,”they said.
RPC’s mammoth insurance department houses five seats: construction; general liability and medical; professional and financial risk; property and casualty; and property and casualty international. Professional and financialriskis where you’ll find negligence cases involving financial, insurance, legal, technology and construction professionals. “It’s quite complex work. Some claims will be against solicitors who work in family or criminal law – you then need to know about that particular practice area,”trainees explained. The firm advised Studio E Architects during its refurbishment works for Grenfell Tower following the 2017 fire. Big-name insurers like Hiscox, Aviva and Liberty are all on the client list here. Trainees described defending claims against a mix of “solicitors, COOs, directors and accountants,”handling the document review and bundling for cases as well as drafting emails.
“It’s really nice to have your work acknowledged, especially by the clients.”
Large insurers also make up the client base in property and casualty. Claims here involve any kind of damage to property you could imagine – RPC recently defended a multimillion-euro liability class action arising out of a catastrophic fire which destroyed a retail park in Portugal. Interviewees were attracted to the off-the-wall cases in this department: “You get to see the weird and the wonderful, like a building that’s been damaged by flooding or a construction gone wrong.” Trainees delved into research to make sense of unusual circumstances. “I’m always ringing up experts on certain topics and interviewing them,”one said. “I feel like an actual lawyer!” Other common tasks include drafting claims letters and preliminary reports, negotiating settlement costs and reviewing reports from property experts. Across their insurance seats, trainees felt appreciated by supervisors: “The team gives credit where it’s due and says thank you. It’s really nice to have your work acknowledged, especially by the clients.”
First of the MIPTOC seats, the mediadepartment welcomes work from mega names like YouTube, Facebook and Paddy Power. Teams tend to be small here, so “you get a lot of client contact”beyond drafting emails. Trainees received a good mix of non-contentious and disputes practice. On the litigation side, RPC handles sizeable content and commercial disputes involving media companies: a prominent example was for Ingenious Media, with proceedings brought by investors going up to the High Court. “I’ve worked on about ten matters,”a source here said, “including defamatory hearings and data protection actions.”The former was a popular substream: “It’s all about deciding if a piece of writing is slandering whomever or whatever it concerns.”Non-contentious media involves advising on pre-publication regulatory and agreement issues, considering commercial and data protection regulations. Instagram, JUUL and Jet2Holidays have all relied on such advice.
IPis a hot area at RPC, with headcount growing 25% in 2020.Commercial litigation is part of the offering, with matters ranging from trademark infringements to database rights claims on behalf of tech and retail clients. Examples include Champagne Perrier-Jouët, the Telegraph and Jack Wills; the team also advised Sports Direct during its long-running clash with Rangers FC over IP licence agreements for the supply of branded products and kits. Trainees got heavily involved in court processes and attempted settlements between sparring companies. “I was invited to court to see two speedy trials during my seat,”one declared. “The senior associates were very jealous!”Less glamorously, they also got their teeth into bundling, witness statements and drafting licensing agreement letters. RPC advises both claimants and defendants, and cases move faster than in some other departments.
“I was running a project for a really high-value client. My role was to advise across 13 different jurisdictions.”
Commercial contracts is one of RPC’s few non-contentious seats; multinational clients from across the tech, data, IP, consumer and advertising industries fall in here. The firm advised Facebook alone on more than 200 contracts in 2019; bed retailer Dreams used the team’s expertise while negotiating branding and marketing rights for a tie-up with the British Olympic team. RPC’s roster also includes Coca-Cola, Charlotte Tilbury and House of Fraser. The seat takes on two trainees at a time and has a reputation as “one of the busier departments at RPC.”When advising clients on advertising, trainees review marketing materials “to ensure compliance with GDPR regulations.”Tech outsourcing involved getting to grips with large contract agreements, and thus data protection. Our sources took to high responsibility with pleasure: “I was running a project for a really high-value client,”one began. “My role was to advise across 13 different jurisdictions. I was in charge of the billing, invoicing and drafting client emails.” Trainees may also be charged with writing blog updates and articles for client websites.
It’s fairly common for RPC trainees to do client secondments. If they don’t get to go during the training contract, post-qualification stints are also available. Tech and retail businesses are the most likely destinations. Secondees loved the role reversal that came with their time in-house, pointing out that “you get to see how clients think as you effectively become part of their organisation.”Overseas seatsin Hong Kong and Singapore are less common but also a possibility.
Based on our trainee calls, RPC-ers weren’t just living for the weekend. “There is never a Sunday that goes by where I’m dreading going back to work tomorrow – it’s quite the opposite,”one announced. “I enjoy coming into the office and seeing everyone.” Others put this down to the firm’s hiring practices, describing their colleagues as “genuine,” “well rounded” and “friendly,”among other lovely adjectives. In both the London and Bristol offices we heard “the trainee cohort sticks together. I’ve got a ready-made group of friends here.”Both bases are open plan, sitting trainees between partners and associates alike. Londoners were keen to wax lyrical about their tall glass office walls, revealing a prize view of the Tower of London. “When I’m on my lunchbreak I take a stroll down the waterside,”one hopeless romantic shared.
“I’ve got a ready-made group of friends.”
Bristol trainees get to sneak a glimpse of the view during their many trips to London for training, including seminars and legal update sessions. There were some complaints that the system felt like a lot of take and not much give: “It gets frustrating to always be going up to London especially when you are busy,”a Bristol trainee grumbled. “London trainees never come here.” We’d point out that office in the capital houses the majority of the intake, but perhaps they’d enjoy the road trip? Bristol sources got their time to shine during Challenge RPC, for which trainees go on a “treasure hunt-like” pub crawl. Londoners had their fun with midweek drinks trolleys, office pizza parties, “ridiculously competitive” pub quizzes and a plethora of sports clubs; RPC also runs much-anticipated Christmas and summer parties. According to trainees, media and IP top the list of most sociable departments. Even the 2020 lockdown wasn’t enough to stop the events train rolling – and while lawyers are renowned for their smarts, they apparently don’t fare so well at some ways of thinking. “My team lost the quiz both times,”a bemused trainee laughed. “I guess we are not so good on general knowledge!”
They were rather more impressed with partners’ attitudes as mentors. “While doing a piece of work for a partner, he sent me an email saying ‘thank you so much’,”one source shared. “Even if it is my job, he went above and beyond to make me feel valued.”Others shared stories of receiving thank you cards, vouchers and champagne when they had to work late. You shouldn’t have! No, you really shouldn’t have – 9am to 7pm are the quite reasonable typical hoursfor trainees. Media and commercial contracts are the most demanding seats, calling for more frequent 8pm finishes.
“Even if it is my job, he went above and beyond to make me feel valued.”
“There’s a lot of focus ondiversityat the moment,”more than one source noticed. “The firm encourages everyone to get involved, but there is much to be done at partner level.”[email protected] includes a series of ‘streams’ including gender, LGBT+, mental health, social mobility, faith, disability and ethnicity. Each gets a six-month spotlight to “educate and celebrate their issue.”The ethnicity stream was taking the lead when we came calling, bringing in speakers to discuss their experiences including Michelle King, director of inclusion at Netflix.
RPC keeps trainees, lawyers and staff in the know via quarterly Town Hall meetings run by the managing partner, who fills eager ears in on the firm’s strategic plan. To track their own progress, trainees have a record diary to log their work; they each get a partner and associate supervisor to discuss the entries with. “The records need to show that you’re ticking off the requirements to qualify,”we heard. Trainees also booked casual coffee break catch-ups with their supervisors to “walk through tasks”or simply “discuss life.”As for qualification, the process kicks off in April when HR and the training principal explain the full timeline to trainees. Once departments have posted their vacancies, wannabe qualifiers get their applications in before interviewing with their chosen department. “The training contract has been great,”a fourth seater concluded, “but I’ll be glad when it’s over!”RPC retained 11 of 12 qualifiers in 2020.
For a visual account of the trainee experience at RPC, check out the @lifeinalawfirm Instagram account, which is open to posts from the trainees themselves.
How to get an RPC training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 17 January 2021 (opens 1 October 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 14 March 2021 (Bristol), 25 June 2021 (London)
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, 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 Saturday job working in a shop, 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 are able to 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, 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 completed 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.”
RPC received 1,500 direct applications for Bristol and London training contracts in 2020. Generally the firm selects around 250 applicants to complete an online verbal reasoning 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 2020 the firm received 800 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 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 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,” 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.
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. Davey confirms: "You will experience the same RPC environment and culture, just online."
Interview with training principal Simon Hart
Chambers Student:Are there any highlights from the last year you would like to tell us about?
Simon Hart: Our restructuring and insolvency practice has grown significantly with a number of key lateral hires. The team recently advised on the sale of the UK’s oldest newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle. We acted for the insolvency practitioner on the transaction, which generated a lot of publicity. Still on the work front, our commercial disputes team continue to act for the Republic of Nigeria in proceedings against JP Morgan for a claim of around a billion dollars concerning an alleged fraud.
On the people front, we have a new senior partner in Olly Bray. Olly comes from our tech and commercial contracts practice. In Singapore, we’ve hired a team of three new commercial disputes partners to grow our office in that jurisdiction. We’ve been pushing forward with our inclusion and diversity agenda, particularly focusing on our Caring Responsibilities workstream. The workstream focuses not just on the needs of colleagues with children but on those who have caring responsibilities more generally, of which there are many.
Finally, as we adjust how we do things in light of Covid-19, we had our first virtual recruitment day for trainees in Bristol this year. The day went really well. Deploying what we learnt from this experience, we then held our virtual summer schemes in June 2020. What is interesting is that we are now looking how we can use these tools in our graduate recruitment going forwards.
CS: What is the firm's current business strategy and how has Covid-19 affected this?
SH: We as a firm have a vision and work relentlessly towards it. Our areas of focus remain the same as they were in the pre-Covid era. These are broadly commercial disputes, tech, retail, insurance and regulatory. As a firm, we want to continue to lead in these areas and grow our offering.”
As for Covid-19, like all other firms, we flicked the switch in March 2020 and had 600 people working from home overnight. It’s been a huge learning experience, and inevitably we’ve had to adapt how we work. I’ve also found out a huge amount about my colleagues which I might not have gleaned in the office. It has been a very personal experience for everyone and you get to realise how complex life is. No one colleague and the demands they face, are the same as another.
We’ve been doing trainee secondments to Singapore and Hong Kong for five years. However, with the impact of Covid-19 in Europe and Asia, we have had to cancel both the March and September 2020 secondments. We are committed to resuming them as soon as it is sensible to do so.
CS:What sort of person thrives at the firm at RPC?
SH: We want people who have the potential to be excellent lawyers, are already team players and have a collaborative mindset. We don’t want people with sharp elbows who are in it for themselves no matter how good they are. The ability to work cohesively with your colleagues is paramount. We are also looking for people with a commercial mindset. We are not expecting people at interview to have set up their own business; it’s more about having a spark and an interest.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
SH: Grab every opportunity and every experience as it comes, you never know what you’ll really enjoy until you do it.
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 94
- Associates 236
- Total trainees 28
- UK offices London, Bristol
- Overseas offices 2
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- 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 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 25th June 2021 (London) 14th March 2021 (Bristol)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 17th January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 (London ); £35,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £44,000 (London); £36,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £66,500 (London); £48,000 (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
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 all 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, 2020
- 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)