Revealed: The shortlist for the Trainee and Junior Lawyer Firm of the Year 2017

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By Legal Cheek on

Ahead of the Legal Cheek Awards tomorrow evening in London, the final shortlist is unveiled

Over the last few months we have published 14 shortlists for the Legal Cheek Awards. Now, ahead of the big day tomorrow, we are revealing the final one.

Based on the combined results of the Legal Cheek Survey, the Trainee and Junior Lawyer Firm of the Year 2017 recognises the strongest overall performer. In no particular order, the contenders are…

Osborne Clarke

Osborne Clarke “may be possibly the nicest and most down to earth law firm ever,” one insider tells Legal Cheek, “but you still have to work hard”. That statement is a pithy summary of OC, which is currently on a journey from respected regional firm to international player. As it opens more offices — the latest were in San Francisco and Amsterdam — Osborne Clarke has so far managed to preserve the famously nice culture that prevails within it.

The firm hauls in four A*s in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, with top marks for training, quality of work, peer support and partner approachability.

Trainees — who socialise between the offices in firm-organised meet-ups — describe each other as “lovely”, while they reckon partners are about as nice as they come for people burdened by the demands of running a £200 million business. As one Osborne Clarke rookie tells us: “I can be honest with them and most importantly, make fun of them!”

What’s more, with the firm habitually clocking up strong retention rates, even the above quoted joker is likely to end up with a full-time job at the end of the training process. With a further four As for work/life balance, perks, office and social life, few firms offer a more delightful incubation to one’s career.

Check out the Legal Cheek Osborne Clarke firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Travers Smith

With four A*s (for quality of training, peer support, partner approachability and social life), and three As (for quality of work, perks and office), Travers Smith is among the most highly rated firms in the UK by its trainees and junior lawyers.

The positive energy comes amid the stellar growth which Travers has enjoyed since 2010. In this period the firm’s revenue and profits have jumped by 40%, with the journey capped last summer as profit per equity partner surpassed the £1 million mark for the first time.

There is apparently a “great, warm atmosphere based on shared knowledge and support (and a sense of humour)” prevailing at the moment, with bonds deepened through regular social events, including trips to the pub, visits to the Globe to see Shakespeare and ‘decathlon day outs’. Reports one insider: “There has even been recent talk of a department camping trip or ‘Total Wipe Out’ competition”.

Meanwhile, the flush partners are said to be “all pretty human” and set a tone of approachability that “filters down throughout the firm” — aided by a cross generational set-up that sees rooms shared by one partner, one associate and one trainee.

Check out the Legal Cheek Travers Smith firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Shearman & Sterling

One of the larger US firms in London, offering 17 training contracts each year, global finance-focused Shearman & Sterling is often seen by top students as an alternative to the magic circle — or even, dare we say it in these days of soaring US firm salaries, a step up.

Shearman trainee solicitors report some of the highest satisfaction levels of any rookies in the capital in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, with associates apparently making “a conscious effort to give trainees more interesting work”. The trade off is higher levels of responsibility than at many firms. Development is furthered by the keenness of the firm to send trainees on international secondments, with over half of the current cohort having done one or spent time on firm business overseas. Popular locations include New York, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Brussels.

Partners — who make mind-boggling sums of money — are some of the nicest you’ll find, but also have high expectations. Trainees need to be able to work in intense bursts when required, but aren’t expected to put in face time when it’s quiet. One reports: “Stamina is a skill you learn quickly, but if there is no work to be done associates will wonder why you are sticking around.”

This philosophy accounts for Shearman’s pretty respectable work-life balance scores, achieved in spite of the sometimes long hours its lawyers are required to work.

Check out the Legal Cheek Shearman & Sterling firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Baker McKenzie

With A*s for peer support, partner approachability and social life, Baker McKenzie’s is one of the friendliest law firms in the City. Reports one insider: “You can approach partners here to discuss work issues, but also to talk about plans for the weekend or last night’s football match. It’s an office run by very down to earth and likeable people in the main.”

The firm’s social life is said to be among the best in legal London. The Blackfriar Pub is apparently “B&M HQ after 5:30pm on a Friday”, while the firm’s rookies are said to be “close to arranging a permanent trainee secondment to Book Club in Shoreditch”.

The folksy vibe is not necessarily what you expect from one of the top three biggest law firms by revenue in the world, and seems to be partly fostered by the large but not massive size of Bakers’ London office. With A grades for training, quality of work, perks and chances of secondment abroad, alongside some of the lower average hours worked, the firm is a strong all round performer.

Check out the Legal Cheek Baker McKenzie firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Trowers & Hamlins

A firm that doesn’t attract the column inches of many larger City rivals, Trowers did really well in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.

With four A* stars (for quality of work, peer support, partner approachability and work/life balance) and five As (for training, perks, office, social life and chances of secondment abroad), rookies who work here are clearly in good spirits. “I have lots of my own files to run and I have been given really varied and interesting work,” reports one.

Work/life balance, meanwhile, is among the best in corporate law, with an average going home time of 6:17pm. Part of that is thanks to the relatively early average arrival time of 8:43am. Free breakfasts before 8:30am lure the early risers.

As you would expect for a firm with a strong international focus, there are very good opportunities for international secondments. Around 40% of trainees spend time abroad with the firm, with Abu Dhabi and Oman the most common destinations.

Check out the Legal Cheek Trowers & Hamlins firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Taylor Wessing

Through a combination of its top-rated technology practice and high profile sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Prize, Taylor Wessing has managed to achieve something extremely rare for a corporate law firm: coolness. But how does the perception live up to the reality? Surprisingly well, it turns out, with Taylor Wessing scoring a highly impressive sweep of six A*s and three As in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.

The training is great and extremely thorough — with a two-week training period before you start in your first seat, and then department specific training within each seat. Partners are said to be “busy yet approachable” and the mood among trainees is apparently excellent. One tells us: “The great thing about moving departments is becoming friends with new trainees and they are always there for support.” The camaraderie often continues outside work, with a regular drinks scene. It helps that the work/life balance is some of the best in the City. However, be warned if you are in corporate or finance, “where you could be paid a lot more for the hours you’re doing”.

The office is lovely, with great views over legal London and the City. What’s more, it has a canteen that puts many restaurants to shame. Meanwhile, the perks are first rate, with free dinner after 8pm, generously subsidised membership and free tickets regularly made available to some of the glamorous events that Taylor Wessing sponsors.

Check out the Legal Cheek Taylor Wessing firm profile and survey scorecard here.


As major London law firms go, there are few more delightful places to work than Bristows. The firm, which is well known for its market-leading intellectual property practice, scored A*s in an eye-catching five categories of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. For training, quality of work, peer support, partner approachability and work/life balance, Bristows is pretty much as good as you get.

Insiders rave particularly about the quality of work, which extends from IP to other sexy areas like technology, media and communications. Clients include Google, The Guardian and the BBC. Other not quite so glamorous practice areas, such as corporate, litigation and real estate, help bring in the bacon.

Magic circle-style backstabbing is said to be notably absent among the trainees, and senior lawyers maintaining the most open of open door policies. Also contributing to the utopian atmosphere may be Bristows’ policy of paying associates entirely on the basis of seniority rather than perceived merit.

The catch is bagging a training contract: the firm offers just ten annually and, with IP work in mind, several of those often go to candidates with science PhDs.

Check out the Legal Cheek Bristows firm profile and survey scorecard here.

Burges Salmon

A whopping five A*s, two of which are in key categories quality of training and quality of work, make Bristol-based Burges Salmon a highly attractive proposition for students.

Rookies are said to benefit from a diet of work that is up a notch from most firms with a system that sees training contracts split across six departments rather than the usual four. Allied to a prevailing organisational niceness, this makes Burges Salmon a really good place to start out, current trainees tell us.

To add to the utopian vibe, Burges Salmon has one of the most delightful offices out there — nestled on the river less than five minutes 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 some top restaurants. A weekly ‘cake trolley’ augments the culinary experience. And even the firm coffee is said to be nice.

Meanwhile, lawyers tend to get away from the office by 6-7pm in the evenings, with weekends and late nights “very few and far between”. It’s also worth noting that Burges Salmon has among the lowest commute times, with a higher proportion of its junior lawyers walking to work than any other major UK law firm.

Check out the Legal Cheek Burges Salmon firm profile and survey scorecard here.

The full collection of shortlists for the Legal Cheek Awards is here. We look forward to welcoming invited guests to the hottest ticket in town this Thursday evening.