What you need to know about… Herbert Smith Freehills
September 21, 2021
4 min read
An intro to the firm
As one of the world’s leading professional services businesses with a prestigious reputation, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has been a consistent rival to the big five in the magic circle. In 2012, the firm merged with Australasian heavyweight Freehills which has been a great success with little notable disruption to the previously pleasant culture. With 26 offices in 20 countries, HSF is a dominant global player leading in litigation, as well as business and human rights law. The firm takes on 60 trainees each year and boasts a high trainee retention rate of 97%. Due to HSF being a disputes powerhouse, every trainee is required to complete a contentious stint. As a renowned worldwide leader in the legal sector, it comes as no surprise that the firm offers international and client secondments, with most trainees taking up one of these options during their training contract. To sum up HSF in three words: global, approachable and inclusive.
Its key strengths
HSF is a recognised world leader by Chambers UK in various litigation areas, such as commercial and corporate, banking disputes and employment. The firm is ranked in Band 1 by Chambers for both its work in dispute resolution and projects and energy. Not only is HSF known as part of the global elite in these areas, but the firm has also been recognised by Chambers UK for its work in areas such as construction, real estate and insurance. This expertise in litigation and arbitration practice, coupled with the firm’s international presence, provides high calibre work which in turn attracts some of the world’s best legal professionals.
It is not surprising to learn that the firm’s client list includes some of the largest international players: from governments to some of the world’s largest international corporations and financial institutions. For example, recently, HSF has advised the UK Government on a US$300m investment in OneWeb from Hanwha. Other notable recent deals include advising the investment banking giant, Morgan Stanley, as a sponsor on Acotec Scientific’s HK$1.529 billion Hong Kong IPO.
Despite being renowned for its prestige in litigation, it would be a mistake to overlook the strength of HSF’s corporate sector, with public M&A deals becoming a real strength. For example, HSF has acted for Virgin Atlantic in relation to its bid to acquire Flybe, as well as representing Sky in a major deal.
With such large-scale and complex deals forming a diversified portfolio, HSF is regularly receiving awards. HSF was awarded European Legal Adviser of the Year by IJGlobal for their performance in 2020, as well as being recognised in The Times annual Best Law Firms 2021. Not only is HSF highly decorated for its legal work, the firm is to be commended for its commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives, as well as its focus on the mental health of its people. For the first time, the New York office was featured in Vault’s top law firms for quality of life and diversity.
Training, training, training...
According to trainees, the training environment at HSF is high quality, supportive and social.
Firstly, HSF is known for its high calibre work with many of its deals reaching newspapers. Although the type of work can vary between departments, trainees report that they are given lots of responsibility early on which helps to give them a sense of what associate level work will entail. Seat options include but are not limited to corporate, disputes, finance and real estate, with two compulsory transactional seats. HSF also provides opportunities for trainees to get involved in pro bono work which is said to be invaluable for further developing skills as trainees manage the cases themselves.
Secondly, the general consensus among trainees is that there is a supportive culture at the firm. Trainees feel that they are well supported by senior lawyers and also highlighted that the vast majority of partners are approachable. Not only are trainees well supported in their work life, they are also provided with plenty of mental health support. In spite of the high standard of work expected which can demand long hours, the majority of trainees feel that there is a decent work/life balance, especially when compared to similar top level firms.
Thirdly, trainees at HSF are known for being social with many of the training cohorts keen to stay connected even after training is finished. With all first year trainees being required to do their LPC at BPP, this creates a strong bond between trainees early on. There is a sense of togetherness and camaraderie with trainees regularly helping each other out in and out of the office.
Report written by Imogen Wilson
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