Back in the nineties Ashurst was seen as pretty much the best firm at which to work in the City. The cliché was that it punched above its weight, with Magic Circle quality but mid-sized training. Its crown may have slipped since then, but it remains a well-regarded firm in the City.
Like all chasing pack firms Ashurst had to make some tough decisions over its future, and there have been concerns that it hasn't been entirely focused in this. Its previous strategy was to grow organically into the leading European law firm, but it hasn’t been shy of pursuing mergers. Clifford Chance and Latham & Watkins were both rejected as suitable targets, as was Fried Frank.
The firm's ex-senior partner, Charlie Geffen, made it clear at the end of 2008 that he wanted the firm to invest further in Asia and the Middle East. Ashurst entered into an association with Hong Kong firm Jason Woo & Associates and opened an Abu Dhabi office. Then in September 2011 the firm confirmed that it would be merging with Aussie Big Six firm Blake Dawson. It went live in 2013, and BD took Ashurst's name.
So it abandoned the previous commitment to organic growth, but has the new strategy worked to make Ashurst a truly global firm? It may have lost valuable ground to its competitors whilst it was dithering, but its reputation and profits are strong and the merger with Blakes means that it will have to be taken seriously as a global competitor.
Ashurst is predominantly a corporate and finance firm and it boasts a corporate department pretty much as good as any in the Magic Circle. Other departments are also highly regarded, particularly property, tax litigation and its international finance team.
As for the staff's views, in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, a senior associate decried the, "endless rounds of management consultant-driven 'strategy' navel gazing". On the other hand, "partners (in my department at least) are people I enjoy going for beers with, which is a huge plus".
A solicitor said that pay "whilst average compared to the market, is good in light of work life balance", although of course the average length of the working day varied between departments. Others praised the "great people", with one admitting "I love my colleagues. Which is lucky as I spend more time with them than family".
The combination of top-drawer clients and the fact it is relatively small in size means that Ashurst is an excellent place to train. As in any top firm - especially such a corporate-driven one - lawyers will have to work silly hours a lot of the time, but at least it's doing big ticket work. Promotion prospects have generally been seen as reasonable.
A note of caution for interested parties, however: in the canteen, “trying to eat with the "compostable" cutlery (which melts in even tepid food) is an exercise in ritualised humiliation”.