Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Be careful what you write when you’re young and idealistic.

In 2003, David Wolfe, a lawyer who works alongside Cherie Blair at top London human rights shop Matrix Chambers, decided he was unhappy with the way the British legal hierarchy works. So he co-signed an open letter criticising the Queen’s Counsel (QC) system –- a process that sees a handful of barristers (British trial lawyers) promoted to the elite QC rank each year, enabling them to charge clients more money. “The QC system cannot be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition,” the letter stated.

Nine years on, and last week Wolfe found himself made up to QC — an honour which, despite the name, involves no input from the Queen or her family members. He didn’t decline. Indeed, all QCs have to actively apply in order to gain the title. Unfortunately for Wolfe, someone mentioned his youthful letter to RollOnFriday, a widely read U.K. legal blog.

When contacted about the letter, Wolfe responded….

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“I thought Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] was a supermarket when I got here,” says Kirsty Grant, a fourth-year associate in the London office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Happily, Grant — a fast-learner who got through law school in L.A. while working full-time during the day — quickly figured out that the Anglo-German law firm, a member of the Magic Circle, wasn’t the place to fulfill her grocery needs.

The cultural assimilation enjoyed by the UCLA and Loyola graduate since she arrived in London last March hasn’t stopped there. “At first I couldn’t believe the drinking culture here,” she recalls. “The first Friday after work that I went to the pub, I thought, ‘I haven’t had any food; I can’t do this.’ And then the London lawyers went on until 5 a.m. I just don’t have the liver for it, but it shocks me less now.”

Not that Grant, 33, has oceans of spare cash to splash on boozy nights out. How do her finances as an American abroad compare to those of her Biglaw counterparts back home?

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Benedict Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War who started out in the Continental Army but later defected to the Brits. So when in the early 1990s U.S. lawyers Jeffrey Golden and Thomas Joyce quit, respectively, Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Dorsey & Whitney to join U.K. firms Allen & Overy (A&O) and Freshfields, the pair were jokingly likened to Arnold.

Having found themselves ostracised from their old club of U.S. securities lawyers, “The Ad Hoc Committee,” in the wake of their traitorous moves, they founded a new association for the growing band of turncoats like them populating London firms. Its official name was “The Permanent Committee,” but it quickly attracted the moniker, “The Benedict Arnold Society.”

These days, with the one-man U.K. firm U.S. legal practices started by Golden and Joyce now employing hundreds of American lawyers, the Benedict Arnold Society is going stronger than ever; its Yank expat members meeting for dinners that go late into the night every month at the offices of their adopted British law firms.

Jeff Golden, who retired from A&O in 2010 and is now a professor at the London School of Economics (LSE), still sometimes struggles to believe the level of change that has taken place since he and Tom Joyce set up the club in 1993….

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It takes a while to get over squandering an empire. As our habit of placing the prefix “Great” before “Britain” suggests, we’re still not quite there yet. But deep down we know we blew it. The evidence is everywhere: from our dentists, who don’t really know what they’re doing anymore, to our universities, which are crumbling, just like our schools, hospitals, and public transport.

Somehow, though, the U.K’s legal system has avoided being dragged into this spiral of decline. Yes, we’re still good at law — so good, in fact, that London is the top destination in the world for international companies to settle disputes, and English law the most popular among international in-house counsel (40% use it, with just 14% opting for New York law). And, in spite of the relatively tiny size of the British domestic legal market, our law firms manage to give yours a run for their money, with the Magic Circle quartet of Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields and A&O outdoing most of their U.S. rivals in terms of turnover and profits.

Doubtless part of this success stems from the fact that Britain is the home of the Common Law, which, unless some joker on Wikipedia is deceiving me, was invented around the 1150s by King Henry II. And as we saw during the April nuptials between Prince William and his bride Kate, our “Ye Olde Ingland” nostalgia sells very nicely to foreigners….

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Ed. note This is a special report on the London riots by Alex Aldridge, our U.K. correspondent. He previously covered the royal wedding for Above the Law.

When the London riots began on Saturday, few were overly troubled. The violence was, after all, in Tottenham, a poor neighbourhood up on the north edge of town which most middle-class people avoid.

But when it spread over the last couple of days to partially gentrified areas like Brixton and Hackney, we began to take notice. These places are our Lower East Sides and Williamsburgs, populated by young professionals who spend their weeks in Biglaw and other similar jobs, and weekends flouncing around in hipster uniform.

As you’d expect, the relationship between the young professionals and the Brixton/Hackney natives has never been great. But amid the current craziness — which has partly been generated by Britain’s awful record on social mobility — there’s been genuine fear that years of pent up anger could turn into blood-letting.

So it must have been with mixed feelings that Freshfields lawyers greeted the firm’s edict yesterday to leave work (and the relative safety of London’s financial district) early and go back to their riot-enveloped homes….

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One of my favorite law firm names is FreshfieldsFreshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, to be precise, but I prefer Freshfields. It makes me think of rolling green hills, crisp laundered linens, or a dairy, producing the creamiest milk in all the land.

As it turns out, Freshfields is a law firm — a top international law firm, a member of the elite Magic Circle. And this Freshfields is rolling out the green, doling out crisp bills, and ladling out the cream — to its associates. As reported earlier today by Am Law Daily, yesterday Freshfields announced spring bonuses, on the top-of-the-market Cravath scale.

Freshfields isn’t alone. This afternoon, Cadwalader, which was publicly toying with the idea of spring bonuses, announced that it too would pay them, again on the Cravath scale.

These two moves are significant — far more significant than the earlier spring bonus announcements….

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This was a year of small summer classes. Fewer summer associates mean a greater likelihood that all will get offers… unless a law student does something egregious. (Good news for rising 2Ls: There are signs that next year’s classes will be larger.)

Latham & Watkins and Gibson Dunn had the biggest summer associate classes this year, with 110 law students each. We’re told that Latham gave offers to all of its summer associates. What about Gibson? Will it match Latham one for one? One commenter claims that 24 in the firm’s NYC office have already gotten offers. What about the rest?

We have heard 100% news from a few other brand-name firms. Some came with champagne, others with firm-wide emails…

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We’ve gotten away from plowing through the latest Vault Rankings, but fear not. Your firm is coming up soon.

We’ve been through the top 30 firms. But now we’re getting into a group of firms that really utilized the cost-cutting measures of salary cuts and layoffs to weather the recession of 2009. Did these guys take a big prestige hit? Not really. Here’s the next batch of firms:

31. Mayer Brown
32. Milbank
33. Paul Hastings
34. Akin Gump
35. Allen & Overy
36. Fried Frank
37. Irell & Manella
38. Freshfields
39. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
40. Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Just off the top of my head, does anybody else think that Irell is coming in a little low?

Anyway, let’s get into these firms…

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