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The law firms that give trainees and junior lawyers the best quality of work

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It’s not all photocopying and filing

Nine law firms have been rated outstanding for quality of work in Legal Cheek’s exclusive survey of over 1,500 trainees and junior solicitors.

The study canvassed the views of rookies at nearly 60 top UK corporate law firms in order to provide students with objective information about where to start their careers. Earlier this week we revealed the results for longest hours having announced the best firms for training last week. And today we’re turning our attention to the tasks that young lawyers are handed.

Respondents were asked to rank their quality of work on a 1-10 sliding scale, with one defined as ‘Shouldn’t they be outsourcing this stuff to a robot’ and ten as ‘Everyday is a vigorous yet wonderfully enriching intellectual workout’. They were also encouraged to write comments, several of which we have included below.

In no particular order, the firms which received A* grades are…

TLT

TLT’s formula partially works by undercutting leading City firms on the less glamorous aspects of banking transactions, which are then handed to teams of enthusiastic youth in Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
This translates into some highly stimulating work for trainees. One TLT youngster describes it as “proper work”, while another goes further to describe it as “10 out of 10”.

But in a disclaimer for entitled millennials, it’s also worth noting that at times starting your career at TLT can be “like any job” and indeed “you do have to go looking for [work] on occasions”. Still, there’s no doubt that this is a firm that gives its young lawyers plenty of responsibility.

TLT firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Trowers & Hamlins

It’s not easy when your next door neighbour is Slaughter and May, but when it comes to quality of work for trainees and junior lawyers Trowers & Hamlins is the leading law firm on Bunhill Row.

High levels of responsibility are the norm, with “really varied and interesting work” quite common. “I have lots of my own files to run,” an insider tells us. With many of Trowers’ clients based in the Middle East, that work often has an international flavour and a high proportion of trainees get some travel during their TC.

Trowers & Hamlins profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Shearman & Sterling

Trainees at the London office of elite US giant Shearman & Sterling can expect to “run the entire gamut of tasks”. OK, so there is the inevitable lowest rung of the ladder page-checking stuff, but it’s balanced out by a significant proportion of work that really matters, such as “drafting the near-final version of a document”.

A non-hierarchical culture that sees “associates make a conscious effort to give trainees more interesting work” means that there is less sense of new starters having to serve their time on drudgery than at many firms, with those who have made it through the rigorous recruitment process trusted to handle challenging assignments. “Oftentimes you feel a great sense of reward,” discloses one London-based Shearman rookie with a taste for American vernacular.

Shearman & Sterling profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Mills & Reeve

“The good far outweighs the bad” for trainees and junior lawyers at Mills & Reeve, the national firm with a large presence in delightful Cambridge and other offices in Birmingham, Manchester, Norwich, London and Leeds.

That good apparently includes “lots of research on technical areas of law”, with trainees said to be valued for their freshness out of legal education and natural affinity with newer research techniques. A warm and friendly culture where “there is a real lack of hierarchy” precludes the dumping on trainees of too much mindless work.

Mills & Reeve profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Kirkland & Ellis

The money is wonderful, the hours are long and the work is top notch. Kirkland’s “young entrepreneurial team” in London are very much of the view that if you’re good enough you’re old enough. Trainees won’t have their hands held, but they can expect to “get as much as you’re willing to take on” from “oracle”-like supervisors who are keen to delegate.

Insiders report that work “changes on a day to day basis” and, although there are some low level admin tasks, junior life at the firm can at times stray into the realms of the sort of intellectual challenge nirvana that magic circle kids can only dream of.

Kirkland & Ellis profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Burges Salmon

Befitting of a firm that also scored an A* for its training, Burges Salmon thinks harder than most about what sort of work it gives trainees. New starters can expect a highly varied buffet of tasks, with one rookie telling us that “every piece of work is different”. As with all firms, on some days the selection is rather more chips and potato wedges, to stretch the buffet analogy dangerously close to breaking point, with “those all important but deadly boring bundling or admin jobs” also part of Burges Salmon trainee life.

The good news, one insider tells us, is that, “As I get further through my TC, the work is progressively more engaging as we get more competent. There are lots of members of support staff and we are encouraged to utilise their services so we aren’t stuck photocopying for hours”.

Burges Salmon firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Mishcon de Reya

According to the firm’s rookies, the Mishcon de Reya training contract experience exposes youth to levels of responsibility so great that not only does it create “fully rounded trainees” but it makes “thought leaders”.

Certainly there is a lot of hype around this firm right now, but it seems that the quality of work it provides is genuinely something to be celebrated. A steep learning curve sees “work get far more interesting as you adapt to the seat”, even in areas like litigation which are heavier on bundling. Less glamorous seats can be the most rewarding of all; apparently “in private tax all work is stimulating”.

Mishcon de Reya firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Bristows

With all those science PhDs kicking around among the Bristows trainee cohort it’s no surprise that the work is among the most intellectually nourishing out there. A compulsory intellectual property litigation seat is said to offer “fascinating” insights into the slightly geeky world of patents. And it’s always nice when your clients are the likes of Google, The Guardian and the BBC.

But even Bristows’ superbrains have to do grunt work sometimes. Those IP cases aren’t going to bundle themselves…

Bristows firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Osborne Clarke

There is a strong feeling among the Osborne Clarke trainee and junior cohort that they are being challenged in a way designed to boost their development.

One member of that group tells us that they “definitely had much more responsibility than my friends at other firms and also was doing work that qualified new joiners hadn’t done in their previous firm!” While another says that their supervisors “have always been open to listening to the types of tasks I’d like to get exposure to and actively searching it out”. Expect some typical trainee tasks too, like attendance notes, document lists and board minutes, but the general mix is geared towards development over drudge.

Osborne Clarke firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

The rest

Overall the standard of training among the 56 firms surveyed by Legal Cheek was very high. Looking beyond the nine above which secured A*s, 42 got an A-grade, while five received a B. Unlike in the other categories of the survey, no firm scored a C or D grade for its quality of work. Check out all the firms results by accessing their profiles through the Legal Cheek 2016-17 Firms Most List.

If you would like to purchase a report containing a full breakdown of Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey results for your firm, benchmarked against the other participating firms and a custom selected group of peer firms, please contact Legal Cheek Research for more details.