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Revealed: the best law firms to train with in Britain

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The results from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey are in

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Ten law firms have been rated outstanding for their training 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 some much-needed objective information about where to start their careers. Firms were graded A* to D across a range of categories — and the first up is training. In no particular order, the firms which received A* grades are…

Burges Salmon

One of the few firms to operate a rotation across six seats rather than the traditional four, Burges Salmon offers a kind of international baccalaureate of the training contract world — while the others go for plain old A-levels.

With more ground to cover, the firm offers some of the most rigorous supervision and feedback regimes in the business. Burges Salmon trainees tell us that “supervisors are always willing to take the time to talk matters through to answer questions”, with the one-to-one training rated “outstanding”. They add that “lots of feedback” is available alongside “constructive opportunities to improve your work”.

Burges Salmon firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Bird & Bird

Few firms do training better than Two Birds. One insider summarises the approach: “[There is] very good ‘on the job’ training from supervising partners in each department, and generally from associates. Emphasis [is] made on taking the time to give clear instructions at the start of a piece of work, and then follow up with feedback [and] comments once complete.”

It helps that Bird & Bird treats its trainees like adults, with each “expected to manage your own workload”. Expect “real responsibility” and “direct contact with clients, local counsel or other lawyers.” Yet at the same time, behind the scenes there is said to be no such thing as a “stupid question”.

Bird & Bird firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Linklaters

Training at Linklaters is apparently “so good it hurts”, with new graduates receiving three weeks of induction “before we were even allowed to sit at our desks”. There is then further training at each seat supported by, notes one rookie, “incredible resources which answer nearly all of the questions I have ever had.”

It’s all delivered by associates and partners who are “technically brilliant with absolute dedication to excellence”. Sure, it’s rigorous, but this is the magic circle. “You feel very invested in by the firm,” adds another insider.

Linklaters firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Travers Smith

Trainees at the firm where profit per equity partner smashed the £1 million mark this year report “very good formal training” but it is apparently the “informal training [that sets] the firm apart”. This basically boils down to “excellent access to client-facing work in a very supportive environment”.

A set up that sees Travers Smith trainees share a room with a partner and an associate, each of who “actively take time to explain new issues or comments they have to you”, facilitates the learning process.

Travers Smith firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Taylor Wessing

Few firms rear their youth as whole-heartedly as Taylor Wessing. It begins with a two-week training period before you even start training, after which there is department-specific training in each seat. There is “LOTS of training sessions and support,” one TW TCer tells us.

Where the firm is smart is in how it puts all this into action, with its extremely equipped rookies then awarded “a high degree of responsibility” as they go forth and lawyer. Happily, there is “lots of support” on hand that’s facilitated by a partner “open door policy” that is adhered to in more than just the literal sense of the term.

Taylor Wessing firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Osborne Clarke

“Everyone always takes the time to explain things with you,” trainees at famously nice Osborne Clarke tell us. They add that partners at the international firm — which is split across London, Reading and Bristol in the UK — are keen to “discuss the bigger picture and where your work falls in the context of the matter/deal”.

Formal training sessions are supplemented by senior lawyers “offering one-to-one training if someone really wants to challenge themselves”. It’s also worth noting that each team at Osborne Clarke has a designated ‘training and know-how lawyer’.

Osborne Clarke firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Mayer Brown

Mayer Brown’s well-drilled London rookies have long been a target for other US and magic circle rivals, but recent pay rises are illustrative of a newfound determination by the firm to hang onto its talent.

The departmental training is said to be some of the best in the City, with trainees praising its “commercial relevance”, “thoroughness” and “appropriate frequency”. A wider culture of relative informality helps bed all this knowledge in, with partners “willing to spend time training and explaining things to junior colleagues”. The fairly small cohort size leads to plentiful “meaty work, such as drafting documents, interesting pieces of research, and attending meetings/court.” One trainee sums up the approach: “I have been given challenging pieces of work with supervision which is a great way to learn.”

Mayer Brown firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Macfarlanes

First-rate instruction is combined with plentiful seminars from internal and external speakers to deliver a grounding in corporate law matched by few firms. It’s not just the variety and volume of the training at Macfarlanes that impress its rookies, but the “collaborative atmosphere”.

Your superiors at the firm are encouraged to help you out, but so are your peers. “Great atmosphere, wonderful people,” exclaims one rookie.

Macfarlanes firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Herbert Smith Freehills

Herbert Smith Freehills’ “highly structured” training programme is run in large part by its senior lawyers, “who for the most part are excellent teachers”. The focus is on giving trainees as much exposure as possible. That means often being invited to listen in on important calls, or attend meetings, “as a teaching point”.

“Significant amounts of time” are set aside by senior associates and partners to “go through tasks in detail” and “provide very thorough feedback”. Trainees at the firm talk about being “really pushed and challenged” within a “friendly and supportive” environment.

Herbert Smith Freehills firm profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Bristows

With its fondness for hiring trainees with science PhDs, Bristows is a cerebral sort of place to start your career. “Super-bright” graduates rapidly process instructions from similarly intelligent yet “down to earth” senior lawyers in a “supportive” environment where “good vibes” abound.

All ten of the trainees who start with the firm each year are guaranteed a seat in the IP litigation department, Bristows’ flagship practice area, while also spending time in five-six other seats in a mixture of three-six month rotations. This slightly unusual system — which is a departure from the standard four six month seats operated my most firms — gets the thumbs up from Bristows’ rookies, who rate its “flexibility and variety”.

Bristows 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 ten above which secured A*s, 36 got an A-grade, while nine received a B and one got a C. You can access all the firm scorecards through the 2016-17 Firms Most List. We’ll be announcing the winners of each category in the New Year.

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.

57 Comments

Bumblebee

“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 56 firms and a custom selected group of peer firms, please contact Legal Cheek Research for more details.”

Huh? Am I on the right website?

(34)(1)

Anonymous

I know right. Top effort Alex – I’m sure once firms see this illustrious offer, the phones won’t stop ringing up at LC towers. I mean, what’s a sham survey flogged for a couple of grand among old friends, right?

Lolz.

(16)(10)

Anonymous

A tenner on the background to this being Alex once stole your girlfriend.

(2)(6)

Alex's decaying grandma

Now now Alex, don’t be bitter just because Tommy’s python stole Katie from you.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

You mean Tommy’s legendary flesh cannon? Alex can’t compare, there’s no question.

Anonymous

The ‘Rookie’ count has hit an all-time high of 7 in 1 article, top effort.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

“Legal Cheek Research”

Hahahahahah, this is the funniest porkie pie yet.

(21)(1)

Anonymous

‘Porkie pie’?! On what grounds?! Are you upset because you don’t work at any of the firms above?

(4)(8)

Anonymous

Oh thank goodness I don’t work at any of the firms above – I’d be getting seriously underpaid.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

‘Porkie pie’? On what grounds? Are you upset because you didn’t get to complete the survey sent to thousands?

(1)(0)

RoF Rozzer

Thousands you say? Millions even?

I heard it was just a few firms that pay a pittance to feature in this rag.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Is this a joke? With the exception of Linklaters, those firms are distinctly average.

(8)(28)

Anonymous

Yeah, who cares that Mayer Brown is a top-15 global US firm with elite clients, right?

(12)(5)

Anonymous

Hahahahahahahaha!!

If they were an elite US firm they wouldn’t be paying their NQ’s 71k. They’re *so* elite they pay roughly half the amount of the other US firms!

You poor soul.

(7)(9)

Anonymous

Yeah, keep telling yourself that, and pass it on to the Mayer Brown associates earning $180k straight out of their JD.

People on LC have their heads so deep up their arse they can probably taste what they had for lunch last Monday.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Dollars? Did we somehow move to America? It’s all well and good saying the firm is great in a different continent, but that doesn’t really change the reality of the London office pay, does it?

Anonymous

It certainly doesn’t, and the pay is substandard to the NYC rate that some US offices are paying in London.

All the comment tried to say was that just because the pay is comparably weaker in the London office doesn’t change the fact that Mayer Brown is among the inner circle of ‘elite’ US firms, on par with Shearman or Jones Day or Morgan Lewis. The exit options for NQs who can’t stomach the ‘low pay’ are undoubtedly excellent.

Johnson Elporium

Mayer Brown is the only US firm that is relatively okay to work at. The other US firms are very unpleasant, so at least MB gets some positive recognition.

People will counter this and say “well my US firm pays circa 100k” etc etc but the reality is that it’s simply not worth the money. I experienced it first hand and feel like I wasted 4 years of my life, really quite sad.

The money is such a lure when you are 22, it overshadows any logic – I convinced myself that working at a US firm would be fine but it made me miserable.

Happy reading folks!

Curio

Any hints as to which shop this was? Given I’m about to join a US firm next year, it would be nice to get a heads-up.

Anonymous

@Curio

(I couldn’t reply directly to you for some reason).

It was SA. I also have friends who are at MB, Cleary and Kirkland.

Anonymous

True, although Mayer Brown doesn’t see itself as a US firm – it’s very much the firm’s line to say that it’s an international firm.

Anonymous

Interesting. Do you reckon this is the common situation for most of the US firms in the City? Not just Sidley, but Latham, Skadden, Debevoise, etc.?

The most unfortunate thing about legal recruitment at graduate level is the serious lack of any insider insight. The marketing puff reproduced on this website and elsewhere is sadly irrelevant.

Anonymous

What, no Irwin Mitchell?!

(23)(0)

Anonymous

Isn’t Mayer Brown one of Legal Cheek’s sponsors? If so, shouldn’t this be disclosed, along with whether any of the other firms are sponsors?

In any event, the point about Mayer Brown increasing salaries to try to keep talent is laughable – Mayer Brown loses talent because there is usually a serious lack of NQ jobs at the firm and, realising this, anyone with half a brain is applying elsewhere in the summer before qualification in order to give them some security in relation to their post-qualification employment status.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

This is sad, but so true. The good thing is that training at MB is recognised and NQs are never short of offers.

I was one of them a few years ago.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

True – look where some of the recent NQ leavers have gone:

Freshfields
S&M
Shearman & Sterling
Greenberg Traurig
Millbank
Cadwalader

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Good on the Milbank leaver, he’s just there and then gotten himself a £50k raise.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Ever heard of proof-reading?

(3)(1)

Unimpressed

Legal Cheek is a pathetic excuse for a publication and these supposed “rankings” are no better. It is a wonder that so many people bother to read it and there are far better legal news publications available for the more discerning reader who troubles to look beyond their Facebook feed.

(2)(8)

Anonymous

Tell us more and where else to read All-Knowing-One

(7)(0)

Anonymous

bad day mate?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Not sure a boardroom would take a Legal Cheek survey very seriously.

“What is this nonsense? Which company produced this?”

“Umm, Legal Cheek, boss”

“Who the hell is that?”

“It’s a website for law students filled with silly articles”

“Get out of this room. Collect your things and leave”

(23)(5)

Anonymous

Isn’t the whole point that boardroom bosses should be listening to students and trainees?

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Not if the data collected and the analysis behind it is highly questionable.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

What a coincidence – four of those firms sponsor LC.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

bingo

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Actually make that five, I forgot Travers

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Survey is sent to firms asking them to get their trainees to complete it. Firms who advertise on LC are more likely to ask their trainees to complete it. HR department selects an appropriate time to complete the survey so the results are not influenced by any bad news.

Data collected is supplemented by LC’s own social media marketing which asks its audience to complete the survey. The channels have bias towards the firms that advertise on LC. LC audience are more likely to recite firms like MB as their news stories are constantly promoted.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

All surveys of this nature are a joke. The Lawyer and the FT are particularly nakedly geared to their commercial aims and their awards can effectively be bought. No reason to believe this is any different.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Indeed a lot of firms, generally the more bespoke/niche firms seem to have no write up at all in the list (despite having pages). This is a shame, as it is exactly these types of firms that students would probably benefit most from hearing about – not everyone is just chasing the biggest paying firm. Conversely, do we really need to have page after page telling us about near identical US and MC firms focussing on (yawn) finance/M&A?

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Nice idea. But surely bespoke firms = fewer trainees/NQs to survey = extremely difficult to get reliable results? There are 3 trainees at my firm. If we gave negative feedback, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out where it came from!

(4)(0)

Anonymous

True, but that doesn’t mean that profiles should be devoid of content. Also, I don’t just mean small firms. There are a number of firms with 15+ sized intakes without any content in the profiles or the promised “grades”. These firms are covered by ROF, so if they can manage, why can’t LC?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Jones Day got the C 😂

(7)(0)

Anonymous

That’s generous for such a shithouse.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Your mum got the D

(12)(0)

Bantz

Savage, 10/10.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Oh dear. I think the commenters on this article might need to work on their commercial awareness.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

U need 2 work on your smelly chat, bro

(10)(1)

Bristol Trainee

I’m not saying firms like Burges Salmon feature highly on surveys like this/RoF because responding positively is firmly encouraged by HR but firms like Burges Salmon feature highly on surveys like this/RoF because responding positively is firmly encouraged by HR.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

That point hasn’t gone unnoticed by the numerous posters above. Pay attention.

Get back to photocopying, trainee.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

I’ve heard that what makes Macfarlanes good to train at is that junior lawyers there get to work with partners no infrequently/at least talk to partners, whereas at main MC firms (e.g. Linklaters) interaction between the partners and more junior lawyers is almost non-existent in any constructive form.

Can anyone corroborate/add to this, if possible?

(1)(1)

Tony

Macs are a decent shop, but they work you pretty hard. My experience with them wasn’t bad, but it requires a specific type of person to succeed. Being non-UK felt like a disadvantage, as the place is chock-full of toffs.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Links is probably the best firm to train at. Working with partners all the time doesn’t mean you get the best training. They do less day-to-day legal work than associates or senior associates.

You’re better off going to a big firm where the formal training is good and the work is of a high quality.

(2)(4)

Not Amused

This is true, but I would caveat it by saying that you are better off training at the most respected firm you can.

No one will ever know or check the quality of your training. The NAME of your training firm is however with you for life. If you want to be as employable as possible then you need the best name.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Exactly. Doesn’t get any bigger or more prestigious than LL/FF/AO/S&M/CC

(0)(0)

Anonymous

To the staff of legal cheek (all 3 or 4 of you? How big is this blog anyways?),

I know that the big money and corporate law firm life is enticing and sexy, and yes a lot of students and recent grads that frequent your page are interested in their stuffed wallets opening for the LPC and high NQ salaries, but being a banking or M&A lawyer isn’t for everyone! I’m sure readers would love to hear about boutique firms that get high profile cases before the UKSC, or to use your favourite word, ‘top’ firms across the U.K. in criminal or family law. Several of my friends and I are interested in hearing insights to the various litigation boutiques like Stewarts Law and any other firm that does commercial disputes, or corporate crime and investigations. I know you have obligations to your sponsors and a love affair with big law (and the new money law?), but it’s ok to broaden your horizons occasionally.

(3)(0)

Entertained

Thanks for the cheeky promo, HR lady.

(4)(1)

Comments are closed.