R-P-C; one two three; find out what it means to trainees: insurance expertise, a disputes focus and “a culture that’s a major selling point.”
Five is the magic number
Taking a moment to consider their firm’s place in the legal market, RPC’s top minds cooked up a strategy for the future and decided upon five strategic ‘pillars’ of focus: retail, commercial financial disputes, technology, regulatory and insurance. Training principal Simon Hart tells us these five areas “have seen the most development in the business over the last year. They’re broad themes around which we’re putting a lot of investment – this approach doesn’t change anything about our practice areas.”
Many of those practice areas revolve around the ‘insurance’ pillar, a sector which holds an important place in RPC’s history. Several trainees were attracted to the firm for its insurance prowess; one pointed out that “insurance is a tangible thing. There’s something about the litigation work RPC does that I can grasp onto and understand and that’s what the firm is all about.” It’s worth noting that RPC has a strong overall focus on litigation – “if you want to be a corporate lawyer, coming to RPC is not the best idea for you. That’s not a criticism, we just are what we are.”
“There’s something about the work RPC does that I can grasp onto and understand.”
Insurance isn’t the whole story, as a glance at RPC’s Chambers UK rankings will reveal: the firm fares well for professional negligence, defamation management, litigation, banking disputes, commercial contracts and insurance (both contentious and non-contentious). Going back to those five pillars, each comes with variety – for example, RPC’s retail practice covers brands and IP matters but also has a “bricks and mortar” real estate element. Renewed focus on regulatory work recently lead to the firm hiring Sam Tate, a white-collar crime partner tasked with “rebooting that practice and drawing it together in a much more cohesive way.”
There’s been a fair bit of movement on the international front 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 trainee secondments. The firm's also a member of the 150-firm global TerraLex network; RPC partner Tim Brown was elected its chair in 2018.
The firm’s London office takes on around 12 trainees a year. Each typically has to complete one insurance and one non-contentious seat “but that’s not strict - if you want to bend the rules, you can.” However, trainees can only do a maximum of one seat in the “very popular” MIPTOC group – media, IP, technology, outsourcing and commercial contracts, before you ask. To decide their seats, trainees have a formal meeting four months before rotating – our sources got what they wanted, mostly. As of 2018, the firm’s Bristol office also takes two trainees a year.
AIG, Aviva, Chubb: these and other household-name insurers rely on RPC’s services. 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. Cases can get big: RPC recently represented W.R. Berkley Insurance in a $1.3 billion dispute over problems with the construction of an offshore oil platform in the North Sea.
Professional negligence is the remit of the professional and financial risk team. Clients come from financial services, construction and the legal profession – RPC defends solicitors (“you learn what not to do!”), accountants, directors and COOs. “In directors and officers claims, you represent the company as well as the individual,” trainees explained. The seat counts as a disputes ones but as “it comes from the insurance world you’re often doing a very specific type of litigation: disputes between insurers, global investigations, and professional lawyer liability.” At the time of our calls RPC was defending a fellow large law firm in a £16 million breach of trust claim brought by a high net worth individual. Beyond the “bog standard litigation tasks” like disclosure, bundling and drafting letters, trainees here typically monitor big cases. “If there’s a big global investigation, insurers will appoint lawyers to monitor other firms which are drafting reports to other insurers,” sources explained.
“That was serious money I was in charge of!”
In general, trainees found their insurance seats to be “really useful to understand how the insurance market works and consider it in a wider commercial context.” Some got to handle smaller matters by themselves: “The partner told me, ‘This is only worth half a mil, so it isn’t that high-value.’ But that was serious money I was in charge of!”
The commercial disputes group takes up to eight trainees at a time and has specialist tax and regulatory sub-teams. “Conflict-free at RPC” is a common line, meaning the firm doesn’t represent any banks and is free to sue them: they recently represented the Federal Republic of Nigeria in multiple corruption claims against Shell, J.P. Morgan, and Eni totalling almost $2 billion in value. One trainee described case sizes as “normally coming with six zeroes!” If they’re not staffed full-time on one of these mega-matters, trainees dive into a ‘pool’ where they “pick up surplus work as it flows through the team.” Some suggested “that can lead to some trainees getting more hours and experience than others,” but things weren’t too competitive and “we’ll take things off each other’s plates to balance it all out.” Cases that went to court required liaising with team counsel, handling documents, helping with transcripts, and preparing bundles. “A lot of people might think that doesn’t sound exciting – but if you want to be a litigator, it’s crucial experience!” Other typical tasks include document review, attending meetings and taking notes from experts.
Play your Trump card
There are seats available for each letter of MIPTOC. We heard media especially is “all very juicy,” involving advertising and marketing as well as defamation and privacy actions. “If newspapers say something untrue or that someone doesn’t like, most complaints are dealt with in-house and nipped in the bud through corrections. When the claimant wants money out of it, it’s referred to RPC.” Clients include Dolce & Gabbana, the Telegraph, BBC and the Financial Times; the firm recently advised OVO Energy on a national advertising campaign which featured images of Donald Trump lookalikes and portrayed the President in a negative light. RPC aims to settle when possible so trial experience is not very common in this seat; it’s more normal to attend application hearings, where trainees take notes and “act as the go-to person who knows everything on the case.” Insiders also liaised with counsel; drafted emails and letters to the other side; and attended client meetings.
Trainees inIP got stuck into “big-ticket litigation that gets really, really complex.” Cases involve tech and retail elements on both the claimant and defendant side; licence agreement breaches and trade mark work are common. Because cases tend to be so large, the seat tends to involve “more typical trainee tasks: working on smaller court documents and doing chronological runs of all the evidence. You have to learn to walk before you can run in IP.” There’s a consolation prize – IP litigation moves quickly so trainees often get to see a courtroom. The group’s clients include Google, PizzaExpress and Sports Direct, whom the firm recently advised on the brand and trade mark aspects of their £90 million acquisition of House of Fraser.
The corporate team were of course in the driver seat on that deal, and also assisted Citynet Insurance when brokerage group PIB acquired it. The team’s expertise covers insolvency, restructuring, M&A, regulatory issues and finance for “a huge spectrum of clients, from large PLCs to venture capital companies.” A lot of matters sit in the mid-market, valued between £50 million and £250 million, but RPC also handles some much smaller and bigger deals. Trainees were content to draft smaller documents and emails, even if those are lower-level tasks. “They’re very meaty emails and clients need urgent advice,” one argued. “It’s not just ‘Dear So-and-so, please see attached’ and there’s a big learning curve.”
“…amazing client roster. I’m in awe.”
One of the few other non-contentious seats is commercial contracts.Retail and tech are again key here: the team puts together commercial agreements and works on data protection, outsourcing, advertising and marketing law. “You get a very broad workload and experience range,” sources declared. “One minute you’re reviewing a data protection addendum, the next you’re looking over a client’s advertisement to check it’s compliant.” Trainees gawked at the “amazing client roster including Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola and Tommy Hilfiger. I’m in awe.” The team recently helped Facebook with its employee benefits and incoming supplier agreements, and Coca-Cola on wholesale and retail customer agreements. Sources in this seat were proofing, researching, and preparing first drafts of client advice emails. “RPC really takes your opinions on board,” one said.“If you’ve done the research, you’re the expert and they want to hear your opinion.”
Client secondments are pretty common at RPC. Trainees apply as they would to any other seat – “you just throw your hat in the ring and say why you want to go!” Regular client secondments include a spell with a retailer and tech company, and “ad hoc secondments pop up when the need arises.” Post-qualification client secondments are also available. Overseas seats are less plentiful, and by no means guaranteed for all – the process involves submitting a 300-word application ahead of the main seat rotation process. “They’re pretty competitive, but not everyone wants to do it – so it’s worth giving it a go to try your luck!”
Take a chill pillar
RPC abandoned its quirky Harry Potter-style ‘house’ system in 2018, but that hasn’t hurt camaraderie: our trainee interviewees ate lunch together daily and set up a WhatsApp group to share memes. There’s also a firm-wide football team and trainee blog platform to help everybody get to know each other. Sources told us the firm is “full of people with a dry, witty sense of humour. Everyone’s very intelligent and happy to help trainees.” The open plan office means “there’s always a bit of banter about what we did on the weekend,” plus “the managing partner’s desk is exactly the same as everyone else’s. There’s no hierarchy in that sense.”
Trainees generally sit opposite or next to their supervisor and found “it’s always easy to ask questions or talk about something that’s stressing me out.” Some got weekly coffees with their supervisor to make sure they were on the right track, and mid- and end-of-seat reviews provide “pragmatic, constructive feedback on what you can work better on. I didn’t think I’d need it, but it was really helpful.” The firm expects trainees to attend the legal updates with associates as part of general firm-wide training,and newcomers to insurance enrol in RPC's Insurance Curriculum.
“We get to work with awesome clients like Facebook and Googlethen go home at a reasonable time.”
Home time for most seats falls between 6pm and 8pm – insurance and banking were more forgiving for our sources, whereas IP and commercial contracts required longer slogs. There were a few war stories of early morning finishes but trainees suggested “they’re seen as a big commitment and partners are very grateful to you for doing them. There’s no culture of expecting those hours.” Our interviewees were the first to admit that a £38,000 first-year salary in London “is not market-leading,” but were happy to “take a hit. We get to work with awesome clients like Facebook and Google then go home at a reasonable time.”
They were also pleased with RPC’s “genuine interest in diversity, it’s not just about implementing quotas.” The relatively young ‘[email protected]’ initiative hosts regular events and talks – its streams include parents and carers, ethnicity, social mobility, and LGBT inclusion. RPC’s social mobility team does outreach with Aspiring Solicitors and the ethnicity work stream put on a cultural awareness day; all in all trainees felt “inclusion is at the forefront of RPC’s values.”
Come April, HR and training principal Simon Hart “how the qualification process will play out” and confirm a timeline of deadlines. The firm releases a list of departments that are hiring, but doesn’t confirm how many roles are available in each team. “I understand why,” one trainee reasoned. “They want to keep it flexible and not put people off.” They and others suggested “this is definitely a place you can build a long-term career. We’re a top firm in our specialist areas and if you fit the personality type there’s realistically no reason to leave.” In 2019, five out of 12 qualifiers stayed on at RPC.
The firm recently rebranded its marketing, built around the ‘strikingly real’ tagline: Simon Hart assures us “the firm’s openness to people bringing their whole self to work remains the same.”
How to get an RPC training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 17 January 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
Training contract deadline (2022): 13 March 2020 (Bristol), 26 June 2020 (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 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 700 direct applications for Bristol and London training contracts in 2019. 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 2019 the firm received 700 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 at Bounce, a mixology 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 restarted Bristol recruitment in 2018,. Recruitment for their 2022 trainee intake will take place over the next year. The deadline to apply is 13 March 2020.
Tower Bridge House,
St Katharine's Way,
- Partners 81
- Associates 209
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices London, Bristol
- Overseas offices 2
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 14
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 26 June 2020 (London) 13 March 2020 (Bristol)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 17 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000 (London ); £35,000 (Bristol)
- Second-year salary: £41,000 (London); £36,000 (Bristol)
- Post-qualification salary: £66,500 (London); £47,000 (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
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.
For further information about these events and details of how to apply please look online.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking Litigation: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 5)
- 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)
- 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 2)