What it does: Commercial law
Staff stats: Globally, 2100 lawyers and 4700 staff across 25 offices
The good bits: Prestige employer, award-winning culture
The not so good bits: Demanding clients
Hiring grads with degrees in: Law & Legal Studies
Herbert Smith Freehills was formed in 2012 through the merger between Australia-based Freehills and UK-based Herbert Smith. Freehills’ origins lie in the union of law firms in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to form Freehill, Hollingdale and Page, all formed in the latter half of the 19th century. When the name Freehills was adopted in 2000, the firm was a national powerhouse. By the time it merged with Herbert Smith, it had over 800 lawyers and 190 partners, with offices throughout Australia, as well as one in Singapore and associations or alliances with firms in Vietnam and China.
UK-based Herbert Smith was established in 1882 and originally specialised in company floats and providing legal advice to mining companies. It later moved into litigation and corporate work, particularly in relation to mergers and acquisitions and equity capital markets. At the time of its merger with Freehills, Herbert Smith had 240 partners and offices throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The firm, now co-headquartered in London and Sydney, has 25 offices and over 5,000 employees worldwide. It is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious law firms, particularly for its expertise in litigation as well as corporate and finance law. The firm’s reputation is reflected in its accolades with Law Firm of the Year Award (>500 employees) at the Australasian Law Awards 2021 and the Chambers Asia Pacific Awards 2021, and Employer of Choice awarded at the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards. Additionally, the firm has been recognised as one of the Top Global Employers for LGBT Inclusion by Stonewall since 2008.
Herbert Smith Freehills promotes a culture of fairness, equality and inclusion and has been a innovator for an inclusive approach for some time. In Australia prior to the merger, Freehills – then known as Freehill Hollingdale & Page – embraced diversity half a century before it became a corporate buzzword, hiring Jewish and Catholic identifying lawyers, at a time when few top-tier law firms would. Freehill Hollingdale & Page also became the first major Australian law firm to appoint a female partner in 1979. Additionally, UK-based Herbert Smith was one of the first law firms to develop a diversity programme, establishing the Inclusivity Group in 2003.
The firm continues to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion with a several global, regional and local diversity and inclusion committees, such as the Gender Equity Matters (GEM) Network, Multiculturalism Network, IRIS Network (LGBTI), Ability Network, Family Network , Flexibility Network and Veteran’s Network. The firm benchmarks against best practice both in the legal and other industries, and their commitment to providing a culture of inclusion was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) since 2015.
Herbert Smith Freehills has a long-standing tradition of providing pro bono legal services which has developed into a broader program of volunteering and charitable giving that involves a much wider range of people across the firm. Currently, the firm focuses on pro bono work that creates social inclusion, builds capacity in communities of need and helps fights climate change, and provides over 75,000 hours pro bono work a year. At any one time, Herbert Smith Freehills may be providing free legal assistance to disadvantaged individuals, the governments of developing nations, NGOs and global charities. The firm advises almost half of the top 40 charities on the 2020 Australian Charity Reputation Index including Lifeline, Headspace and other charities such as The Pinnacle Foundation and Equality Australia.
Like many law firms, Herbert Smith Freehills offers its graduate positions to those who have successfully completed a clerkship with the firm. The process for a clerkship involves applying online via the careers website. Your application should include a brief cover letter, current CV and a recent copy of your academic transcript. Applicants are asked to answer some questions about your interest in commercial law generally and Herbert Smith Freehills specifically. If you are invited in for a one on one partner interview, you will be asked to complete an online Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ), and attend an informal cocktail event with Herbert Smith Freehills lawyers and partners.
The firm’s graduate program is designed to develop your skills as a commercial lawyer. It involves three six month rotations across different practice groups and both formal development opportunities and on-the-job training from colleagues and partners. You’ll be assigned a rotation ‘buddy’ (usually a junior solicitor), a rotation coach (a senior associate) and supervising partner. . Your support network will provide you withregular feedback and performance reviews in the middle and the end of your rotations to ensure you understand how you’re doing in your development.
The typical career path at Herbert Smith Freehills is as follows: vacation clerk, graduate, solicitor, senior associate, special/executive counsel and partner. The firm provides a range of development opportunities, designed to discover your strengths and what’s right for you. You will be supported throughout your career at Herbert Smith Freehills and will receive the training and support needed to reach your goals. The firm also offers opportunities to complete alternative graduate rotations at one of their international offices, within their Digital Law Group and Legal Operations Group.
Herbert Smith Freehills takes pride in its diverse, supportive and non-hierarchical workplaces. The firm is split into the following divisions: Corporate; Dispute Resolution; Finance; Real Estate, Projects; Employment, Industrial Relations & Safety; Competition Regulation & Trade, as well as the Digital Law Group, Legal Operations and Alternative Legal Services. Your experience may vary depending on which practice group you’re in but the corporate culture should never be anything less than inspirational. (It’s not for nothing that The Australian has ranked Herbert Smith Freehills as the top graduate employer in the legal industry since 2015.
"Join us as a Herbert Smith Freehills graduate with your degree behind you, but a world of opportunity in front of you.
As a Herbert Smith Freehills Graduate, you’ll be a part of everything. With 25 offices around the world, we can show you exactly what a world-class law firm has to offer, giving you the chance to work as part of an international team, on high-profile matters, for some of the most significant organisations in the market.
Our focus is on the future: the future needs of existing and new clients, the future of the legal profession and investing in our future lawyers. That’s why we aim to attract the best talent from a broad range of backgrounds, ensuring we are optimising our position as a progressive, forward-thinking professional services business. At Herbert Smith Freehills, you’ll be given the opportunity to develop the skills you need to help solve our clients’ most complex challenges in thoughtful and innovative ways.
We recruit people with the desire and ability to be exceptional, commercial lawyers. This means that we look for more than just a great academic record and strong technical aptitude. We seek people who are curious, empathetic and understand the importance of building relationships with clients and colleagues. We also look for an international mindset and a desire to work within our global network, not just one office.
Complex cross-border deals. A market-leading Disputes division. Worldwide reach. If you’re ready to be a part of it all, we’re looking forward to hearing from you.”
With our expertise, resources and global network, we are well placed to respond to the needs that exist in the communities and regions in which we do business – whether that be supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, those from a lower socio-economic background in the UK or migrant workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.
The past year has been particularly challenging. The impact of Covid-19 has hit many of the world’s most vulnerable communities hardest. As events rapidly unfolded at the start of the pandemic, we swiftly adapted our programmes and focused our attention where it was needed most. We also worked collaboratively with our peers to ensure a large-scale, sector-wide response. It is testament to the quality of our partnerships that we have been able to support our communities with such speed and efficacy.
We are enormously proud of our culture of partnering for change and that we have made a difference to so many in difficult circumstances. Through our pro bono legal advice, volunteering and close partnerships with community organisations, we are also helping to meet the targets of the SGGs. This includes how we promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies (in line with SDG 16), how we work in partnership for greatest impact (in line with SDG 17), and our efforts to reduce inequality and promote social justice (in line with SDG 10).
For more information about our pro bono and community work visit: herbertsmithfreehills.com/pro-bono-and-citizenship
“At Herbert Smith Freehills, we don’t expect our people to be or think the same – indeed, diversity and inclusion drive our success and the innovative solutions we deliver with our clients. That’s why fostering an inclusive culture where our people can be themselves, contribute their perspectives and perform roles which are meaningful and aligned to our shared values is a core business priority.”
JUSTIN D’AGOSTINO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE
The firm has, for some time, been working to further diversify our make-up: for example, introducing ethnicity targets in some of our global offices. But we need to do more, and the growing prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement has, for many of us, served as a catalyst for deep reflection on the bias and racism that are rife within society. We’ve had meaningful discussions with people across the firm about how we can become an anti-racist organisation, committed to confronting the deep-seated inequities and injustices from which no country or business is exempt. We launched our ‘10 Actions for Change’: a global set of commitments aimed at improving the representation, and experience, of Black, First Nations, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues throughout Herbert Smith Freehills.
For more information on our diversity and inclusion program visit: herbertsmithfreehills.com/diversity-and-inclusion.