Corporate law firms often struggle to differentiate themselves, but Burges Salmon genuinely stands out from the crowd with a model that sees it do a large amount of City of London work mostly from Bristol. Allied to a prevailing organisational niceness, this makes it a really good place to start one’s career, current trainees tell us.
“They make an effort to ensure we are involved with interesting work,” one rookie reports, explaining that “if boring work is given it is always done so with an apology and an explanation as to why it is important”. Some “excellent”, albeit not particularly numerous, secondments – to Burges Salmon’s international alliance firms in Copenhagen, Brussels and Paris – also come highly recommended, particularly for speakers on the local languages.
The six-seat (rather than the typical four) trainee rotation model is highly-regarded, with the training described as “top-notch and well-structured with lots of help and resources available” both in respect of “the law and personal development”. Trainees who are rated A* for their supportiveness in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 are “very friendly and will step in to help [each other] out if you are very busy”, while partners have “a genuine open door policy”.
To add to the utopian vibe, Burges Salmon has one of the most delightful offices out there – nestled on the river just a couple of minutes walk from Temple Meads station, from which London (where the firm has a smaller office) is an hour and 45 minutes away.
What’s more, the Bristol canteen is apparently better than many top restaurants – and good value too. A weekly ‘cake trolley’ augments the culinary experience. And even the firm coffee is said to be nice. Burges Salmon also boasts among the lowest commute times of any major UK outfit – a higher proportion of its junior lawyers walking to work than any other. This may not be unrelated to its buoyant social life. “The firm’s events are always really well done with good food, lots of alcohol and everyone gets involved – from a senior partner dressing as Mick Jagger to an NQ doing a James Bond tango with another partner,” reports a trainee.
Where tensions sometimes arise is where the high-level work carries similarly high-level expectations. Indeed, to some extent the firm is a victim of its own success in this respect. The “hours are getting longer and longer”, an insider tell us, with another adding: “I don’t doubt that the hours are generally better than City firms, but there does seem to be a number of trainees on any given day in late into the night.” Others note that hours vary widely between departments and tells us that when they do leave after the, still pretty respectable, average leave the office time of 6:44pm that partners “are very appreciative”.
With Burges Salmon still scoring an A for work/life balance in this year’s survey, it’s clearly not doing too badly in this respect. Still, with London lawyer remuneration rises starting to filter out of London, in particular towards Bristol, there may be some pressure for a pay review this year.
The importance of leading the local market on trainee and junior lawyer salaries will have to be balanced with the fact that Burges Salmon has been feeling a bit more pressure of late amid a small decline in revenue from £87.4 million to £87 million and a 16% drop in profit per equity partner from £523,000 to £438,000 in what managing partner Peter Morris has described as a “challenging” financial year. The slight drop in business has been a common theme this year in a legal market that has felt the effects of the uncertainty generated by Brexit.