One part insurance veteran, one part commercial rising star, one part shaker-upper of the status quo... that's RPC.
Real profound change
“A firm like RPC which does high-quality work, but where there's no need to sell your soul, was quite attractive.” That's the firm's appeal according to one trainee; in a bit more detail, RPC has a rich insurance heritage and is probably best known for its prowess in that field, but its fastest-growing areas are commercial practices like banking litigation. As a measure of how far the firm’s commercial offering has come, Chambers UK tips its hat to RPC’s practices on either side of the aisle, distinguishing it for professional negligence, media and entertainment, and defamation in particular.
Applicants were also struck by RPC's bold marketing which suggests the firm 'sees things differently'. Though insiders acknowledged it as being somewhat “cringeworthy,” upon “going for the assessment day it did ring true.” Sure enough, our research uncovered plenty of effort on the firm’s part to foster a wholesome environment, be it via novel socialising schemes or incentives to further improve training and employee welfare.
RPC’s international moves have been big news recently. 2016 saw a joint venture between RPC and Singaporean outfit Premier Law spring up, and in 2017 RPC formally combined with its local alliance firm Smyth & Co in Hong Kong – both offices now host regular trainee secondments. The firm's also the only English member of the 150-firm global TerraLex network. Attention shifted back to the UK in 2018 with RPC's Bristol base relaunching a training contract in September. Training partner Simon Hart explains: “That office has grown substantially over the last few years, and there's now a need for junior talent coming through the pipeline.” The Bristol office is particularly insurance-focused, and Hart confirms that “the programme will consist exclusively of insurance seats. Due to regulation changes trainees will no longer need to do a corporate seat in London so they'll get a broad range of insurance work.”
"The vast majority of what you do will be contentious.”
At the time of our interviews, the Bristol contract hadn’t started yet. The Londoners we spoke to pointed out that most seats are litigious, “so the vast majority of what you do will be contentious.” Still, everyone must complete one (but only one) non-contentious commercial seat during their time. At least one insurance seat is also mandatory.At each rotation trainees submit three unranked options: one insurance seat, one commercial and a third which can be either. “HR tries very hard to give you your preferences” according to insiders. “Before my first seat they advised me on what would be better for me based on my interests, and you get a picture of how likely it is you'll get what you want.” Trainees can also only do one seat in the MIPTOC (media, IP, technology, outsourcing and commercial contracts) group. Slots here are in high demand, and the firm's recently started conducting interviews for the media slot. Some voiced frustration at needing to do an insurance seat given “RPC is pushing itself as a commercial firm,” but most were happy with their lot.
The lawyer's lawyers
AIG, Aviva, Hiscox: all of these household-name insurers rely on RPC’s services. The firm recently represented US Fortune 500 insurer WR Berkley when a company it had insured, concrete specialists Wright Minimix, faced a million-pound claim of liability for an employee's serious head injury, plus property damage. Within the impressive insurance department there are five different seats on offer: construction; general liability and medical; professional and financial risk; property and casualty; and property and casualty international.
The professional and financial risk team acts on professional negligence matters, and specialises in financial services, construction and the legal profession. It recently acted for Irwin Mitchell against a £5 million claim of 'loss of chance' – where a client believes they have been denied the opportunity to win big in some way, or at least avoid harm. “As a lawyer you need to have professional indemnity policies,” explained a source. “When they're sued we act as defence on claims under those policies.” As a trainee “you review law firm invoices and other documentation.” But there was also the opportunity to “draft substantial correspondence” such as letters before action, and instructions to counsel. One source picked it as “the least insurance-y of the insurance seats” and thus a good option for those with little experience in the field.
The general liability and medical group “splits down the middle, but you work on both” as a trainee. General liability involves traditional workplace injuries, fire, floods and property damage – and RPC represents both the insurer and the insured party. Interviewees praised this seat for its “good range of work and lots of client exposure. Within the first month I was attending court hearings myself.” The range of trainee responsibility was impressive: “I communicated directly with the other side, worked on costs and budgets, prepared trial bundles, attended trial and liaised with the barrister on case strategy. I also wrote instructions to counsel and carried out more standard trainee research tasks.” Phew! Even the research was diverse: “One day I was going through psychiatric records, the next looking at scuba diving regulations.”
A pizza the commercial pie
Commercial options at RPC include disputes; corporate; employment; real estate; construction and projects; plus the much sought-after MIPTOC seats. Wondering why it’s so popular? A glamorous client roster that includes Google, The Financial Times, PizzaExpress, Coca-Cola and the BBC provides the answer. The IP squad juggles non-contentious matters and copyright, trade mark and trade secrets litigation. “Historically a partner-heavy team,” the addition of four NQs over the past two years may have lessened trainees’ responsibilities slightly. One source summarised it as having “a bit less drafting to do, less client exposure, and more standard trainee tasks” than other seats. Still, for some it provided their first visit to court, and trainees drank in the experience of contributing to cases the size of champagne producer Louis Roederer's €1.33 million trade mark infringement claim which it brought against drinks rival J García Carrión.The team also advised lingerie brand Agent Provocateur on licensing and franchising agreements in Russia and Ukraine.
Within corporate, seats are up for grabs in M&A, banking or corporate insurance – in each “there's scope to do work for the other groups” depending on which is busy. The clients in M&A come from the real estate, insurance, media and technology sectors, and include the Daily Mail and Hitachi. The team recently advised Sports Direct, one of the firm’s most important commercial clients, on the $137.5 million sale of Dunlop Sport to Japanese conglomerate SRI. Trainees’ responsibility was alright for a corporate seat. “There was everything from due diligence reports to drafting ancillary documents, up to being there for closings as they happened. There was a good level of accessibility, and when I felt I'd proved myself they gave me work beyond what's normally reserved for trainees.” Stints in corporate insurance also offered progression. It began with “standard due diligence, preparing ancillary documents and running data streams,” before progressing to “work on small matters with just a partner. There's the odd weird and wonderful bit of restructuring or a dispute.”
“When I felt I'd proved myself they gave me work beyond what's normally reserved for trainees.”
The commercial disputes group takes up to eight trainees at a time, and includes specialist options in tax and regulatory. Banking litigation is one of the biggest slices of the pie: an insider explained that unlike many firms “RPC doesn't represent any banks so we're able to sue them conflict-free.” Dubbing their time in the seat “a baptism of fire,” interviewees got substantial client contact and court appearances hot on the heels of more pedestrian bundling and document review. “There are former magic circle partners” in the department “who've got a different way of thinking to the rest of RPC. They get you into good habits so it's a good place to start.” The work may not quite be magic circle level, but RPC has advised clients like Ernst & Young and aerospace company Triumph. The team recently acted for Ingenious Media (producers of Avatar and Life of Pi) in High Court claims brought by investors related to alleged tax relief losses. Given the department's “one of the busiest and still growing,” it's no surprise to hear “it can be quite tough hours-wise” especially come trial time.
Speaking of hours, all our sources suggested “RPC is really good overall” compared to other City firms: “They don't expect you to be at your desk doing nothing and you get a social life here.” Insurance seats offer “better hours consistently. You know what's coming and can always plan ahead.” In most seats trainees who'd got in at 9am were typically out of the door by 6.30pm. The aforementioned disputes group is the “most consistently busy,” with average home times slipping to 7.30pm. In trial periods “you can be here past midnight a few times in a row.”
Client secondments are also pretty common. Trainees apply as they would normally and “there's no need to have already worked in the department on offer.” Overseas seats are less plentiful, and by no means guaranteed for all. To apply, “you submit 300 words on why you want to go and why you're right for the secondment.” Hong Kong is the more hotly contested destination but both seats are popular – successful applicants advised: “You don't need to say you want to qualify there but it's good to show an interest in the practice you'll be working in.”
Until September 2018 RPC had a quirky system whereby every employee was 'sorted' into one of three houses, Harry Potter-style: Reynolds, Porter or Chamberlain. The firm was unable to tell us what – if anything – would replace this bit of levity once it was abolished. The change hadn't been announced yet when we spoke to trainees, who waxed lyrical about the system, which allowed them to lock horns in sporting challenges and bake-offs. They said the firm “de-emphasised it as a means of separation; it's more about meeting people outside your practice group.” Houses also hosted events including drinks trolleys and cheese and wine evenings. “The house system itself is a bit cheesy,” one trainee grinned, perhaps reflecting the reason it's been got rid of.
RPC has been pushing wellbeing of late: initiatives now include yoga, pilates and boxing classes. Everybody we spoke to seemed pretty zen, confirming: “We have mentors to speak to if we're stressed.” The London office layout feeds into the communal vibes – “it's very open-plan. You sit in a pod with an associate, senior associate and partner.” Before arriving, some were “very worried about it being distracting” but found “it's really nice to have easy access to senior people. Because they only have their name and house on their desk it doesn't feel as hierarchical as it could.” London trainees also swooned over their location, given its “views of the Tower of London and St Katharine Docks. Being just outside the City is really pleasant.” A glass-encased spider’s web of steel, the office was designed by the architects who worked on Lloyd’s of London. How fitting.
“Because people only have their name and house on their desk it doesn't feel as hierarchical.”
Trainees described “tons of training” in each seat. “When you first move you have introductory sessions that go through specialist protocols.” In the insurance department new arrivals enrol in RPC's Insurance Curriculum, and interviewees told us: “You're able to sign up to courses across the whole firm, so you can pick what's relevant to you.” Trainees also formally meet their supervisor every three months (“we call them conversations rather than reviews”) to discuss their progress, but most linked up for coffee every so often for more frequent chats.
Partway through seat four, HR releases a list of departments that are hiring, but “doesn't say how many roles there are in each team – that can be frustrating.” Trainees then get two weeks to apply where they're interested, before interviewing for the spot. Qualifiers we spoke to in 2018 were enthusiastic about staying on, and 14 of 17 did. It's worth noting that NQ salaries were previously merit-based, but they no longer are.
The firm recently introduced an Allies programme, addressing LGBT, socio-economic, religious, ethnic and gender diversity through training and support.
How to get an RPC training contract
Training contract deadline: 15 March 2019 (Bristol), 28 June 2019 (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, people & projects manager Ellinor Davey tells us, the firm is looking for intelligent, ambitious, personable and commercially aware people with energy, business sense 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 or skippering yachts.” 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 services skills, communication capability, team work and reliability.” That said, it is beneficial to get some sort of legal work experience if possible. As 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 done about the firm, rather than talking about why they'd be a good fit. That's not what we're looking for here. It's very important to us that candidates are motivated towards a career with RPC, not just law in general.”
RPC received 650 direct applications for training contracts in 2018. Generally the firm selects around 250 applicants to complete an online verbal reasoning test and screens its applications once more after that. We're told the recruitment team pays particular attention to a candidate's answer to the form's commercial question. “Their answer should be logical, persuasive and concise, and ideally look at the wider implications of the issue,” Davey says. Around 30 make it to one of the firm's assessment days.
The assessment day includes a discussion exercise, a written exercise and an interview with a partner and a member of HR. “The interview has quite a commercial focus,” Davey reveals. “Candidates won't get any case law questions, though – we get such a wide array of applicants at different stages in their education and careers that it wouldn't be fair.” She advises candidates to “stay calm and composed” during the interview and to come prepared with answers to standard interview questions like, 'Why do you want to work here?' “You have to sell to us why you want to work here and present a really convincing argument,” 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).
In 2018 the firm received 800 applications for its 24 vac scheme spots on offer. The vacation scheme application process is “similar to the training contract application process,” Davey tells us. Applicants complete the form, and those who impress go on to take a verbal reasoning test and attend an assessment day at the firm. From here the firm chooses its vac schemers.
The firm runs a few two-week placements each year. Attendees spend one week each on the insurance and commercial floors, getting exposure to trainee-level work. “The firm really makes an effort to give you an accurate picture of trainee life,” said a current trainee. “I was surprised by how similar the first few days of my training contract felt to my time as a vac schemer.” Some participants even get to attend court and client meetings. They also complete what Davey describes as “a group project about developing the firm and how it runs.”
On the social side are networking events, ping-pong tournaments at Bounce, a mixology class, a bowling night, a treasure hunt across the city and a ClueQuest challenge. On the last day of their placement vac schemers have an interview with a partner and a member of HR.
Having not recruited trainees in Bristol for a few years, RPC restarted Bristol recruitment in 2018, recruiting trainees to start in 2018 and 2019. Recruitment for their 2020 and 2021 trainee intakes will take place over the next year. The deadline to apply is 15 March 2019.
Interview with training partner Simon Hart
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?
Simon Hart: We have had some really exciting lateral partner recruits into areas of interest for the business that we are expanding. For example, Naomi Vary has joined in the area of political risk and trade credit disputes, whilst Jon Bartley has come on board to focus on digital technology and cybersecurity. We have also just welcomed Paul Joukador into our contracts, tech and outsourcing team. Our office in Hong Kong has now taken on the full RPC identity – it was previously run as a local firm in association with RPC, now it is the full-caffeine RPC offering, which is excellent news. We will be continuing to grow our presence there and in Singapore, where our trainee secondment has now begun.
CS: Last year we spoke about the introduction of international secondments, what should our readers know about those?
SH: We have a lot more trainees than there are secondments so each rotation is competitive. Trainees are invited to apply to Hong Kong and/or Singapore and explain why they should be selected for that seat. We are really careful when making our choices because these trainees are going to the other side of the world for six months, so we want to make sure that they are the right people. All our trainees are self-starters but we want to ensure they will go out of their way to build bridges with colleagues. One of the fundamental reasons for these secondments is to make sure we remain genuinely one firm as well as encouraging connections to be made for the future.
CS: Is there anything else new of note?
SH: We recently launched our 'Allies' programme, the idea behind it being to support and develop inclusion so that everybody who works at RPC feels like they can be themselves and be open about what is important to them at any point in time. That extends to inclusivity of faith, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and gender. We are also keen to promote an open dialogue around mental health and disability. We have identified people within the firm who can link with our lawyers and staff in relation to these issues in a confidential manner.
CS: The firm's relaunched a Bristol-based training contract, what lead to that decision? What will the differences between the two locations be?
SH: The Bristol office, which is predominantly insurance focused, has grown substantially over the last few years, and there is now a need for a junior talent pipeline. The Bristol training contract, kicking off in September 2018, will consist exclusively of insurance- focused seats. The training contract in London will remain unaffected by all this and we continue to offer seats across a wide spectrum of teams in the firm.
CS: Why do you think candidates apply to RPC in particular?
SH: Each year the trainee cohort we take on is big enough for the trainees to have a sense of community but small enough that they are recognised as individuals and actually get access to the best quality work. RPC is a very open and ambitious firm and we have started to see that many of the trainees who join us have been on our summer schemes. We spend a lot of time on the schemes making sure that the work they do there is representative of the work they would go on to do as trainees. It gives people a great opportunity to experience that open and ambitious personality and shows that we are not afraid to let our lawyers get fully involved from day one.
CS: How can a candidate really impress at interview?
SH: There is obviously no one way of doing so, but one important thing is to understand the firm and how it fits within the legal market. That does not mean just reciting the content of the firm's website back to us- you have to go beyond that. We want to hire lawyers who want to work at RPC, not just any law firm. Tell us why the firm stood out to you. It is also beneficial to make it clear you have a sense of commerciality, at least by acknowledging that there is a commercial aspect to the role of a lawyer. We deal with clients in a business as well as legal context and applicants appreciate how broad the legal market is.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?
SH: We have started a paralegal apprenticeship programme in Bristol. If all goes well that will build into a solicitor apprenticeship scheme and we would like to be able to expand this into London in due course. We are pleased with the responses that we have had so far to the recruitment – it is another way to source junior talent as we adapt to the ever-changing work environment.
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 79
- Associates 216
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices London, Bristol
- Overseas offices 2
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- 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: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 28 June 2019 (London) 15h March 2019 (Bristol)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 18 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000 (London ); £35,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £41,000 (London); £36,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £64,800 (London); £46,350 (Bristol)
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Bristol, Hong Kong
- 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.
So if you’re a creative thinker who wants a career in a firm that values personality as much as professionalism, we want to hear from you.
Main areas of work
You’ll be welcomed into our London office and given an opportunity to spend time getting to experience life in a creative 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.
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.
For further information about these events and details of how to apply please look online.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking Litigation: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- 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 (Band 2)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 3)