A broad range of quality work, a friendly team and a healthy work/life balance make South West firm Ashfords a popular choice. This national firm is a finely-tuned operation with a commercial focus. Turnover, which is understood to sit somewhere around the £50 million mark, has grown by a whopping 85% in the last decade or so and the firm employs over 500 staff across offices in Bristol, Exeter, London and Plymouth.
Trainees have a choice of either a Bristol or a South West-based training contract, which spans across the Exeter and Plymouth offices, although trainees can also complete a seat in another office, such as the London office, if the opportunity arises.
The Bristol office does a lot of technology work, such as data security when developing a new app or advising on venture capital investment from Silicon Valley. The firm has worked on several innovative renewable energy projects, and private client work also features strongly. Ashfords has specialist teams in sports law, aviation and intellectual property as well as commercial/corporate, real estate and infrastructure, employment, litigation, family and media and technology. International clients are advised through Advoc, a network of independent law firms.
Ashfords receives positive reviews on the topic of training, which is a good mix of giving trainees a fair amount of responsibility while providing support when needed. The firm offers a “very high level of exposure including covering senior fee earner’s inboxes when on leave and dealing directly with their matters and clients in their absence”. Rookies are also given free range to manage some of their own matters: “I am also given a lot of responsibility to draft and create legal documents from scratch, allowing me to get creative and put my own touch on it. It is always a nice feeling to see a finished product that is massively influenced by my personal work.” Trainees are generally positive about the breadth of the work they are given, with one describing it as “really varied”, with litigation elements “keep[ing] the work exciting”, although the inevitability of administrative tasks strikes from time to time, as is natural during any training contract.
Further, approachable colleagues who “are all very knowledgeable and experienced” make for a supportive atmosphere and “partners really take the time to go through work with you and explain concepts”. As expected though, all this can vary from department to department, but one trainee notes that it’s “overall fantastic in terms of the support, materials and information provided, both at the outset of the seat and throughout”. This might explain the firm’s recent 100% trainee retention rate.
One insider details: “I currently have three supervisors all specialising in different areas of Regulatory Law. They are known to be expert lawyers in their field and represent many prominent companies in the Waste, Agriculture, Health and Safety and Maritime sectors. Therefore, the training I receive is extremely varied and thorough”.
The general ethos is one of supportive camaraderie, with trainees feeling comfortable “to approach anyone in the firm if [I] have an issue”. Trainees are not only enthusiastically complimentary about each other, with one enthusing, “we are all great friends and get on very well”, but also speak highly of the partners. Typical comments include “my current supervisors are great fun to work with” and “I get on really well with my boss”. Ashfords’ partners are “approachable and welcoming and willing to give their time to help”.
The firm is “very social” with frequent events. The partners do not always dip into their pockets for these though: “To partake usually involves paying for yourself.” Plus, the headquarters in Exeter are “out of town” which makes scheduling after-work drinks tricky. Nevertheless, they can be “great fun”. The Ashfords lot are a sociable bunch with plenty of shindigs scheduled in the calendar. The firm even has its own social networking group ‘XYBC’ which organises events for rookies to meet with local professionals and develop their networks. “Trainee-organised office socials and away days” are other highlights of the social life at Ashfords.
Although everybody is incredibly busy, the long hours culture so prevalent at City firms is mercifully absent at Ashfords and the partners “encourage you to leave on time”. Late nights are a relative rarity. “It is very rare that I work past 5.30pm and I have never had to do work on a weekend,” says one. That said, there are some departments that work you harder than others. Litigation can be an unpredictable business, property “was pretty good with average working hours” and “in corporate/commercial your personal life can take a serious hit at times”. Despite variations between seats, the general sentiment shared by trainees is that Ashfords’ work/life balance is “very good”.
We’re told Ashfords is “very flexible with work from home arrangements,” allowing its employees to choose what suits them. This comes with a common-sense caveat: “If you are supervising/being supervised it is recommended you spend more time in the office to benefit from this, however, there is an element of using your own discretion and typically most people spend at least a day or two of the week working from home most weeks,” one source explains. A common gripe seems to be that the firm does not provide an IT allowance for remote working, with one trainee grumbling that “the firm-provided laptops are very small, so we have to purchase our own extra screens and office chairs”. Also on the technology front, trainees point out that the firm can benefit from systems updates and the implementation of a decent case management system, with one noting that “the firm does not use a great deal of legal tech”. You are given an iPhone, though.
The pay is average and your chances of getting a client secondment are slim — one trainee reports on having completed a three month secondment to the Post Office. In fact, you are less likely to do a secondment than you are to see a wagging tail and paws at desks: Ashfords has an open-door policy on dogs! In terms of perks, there is a small gym in the office, a cycle-to-work scheme and ‘Calm’ app membership to help employees wind down, as well as money back for some medical and dental treatments, “good” pension contributions, a “pretty good” maternity package and “good” holiday allowance. Trainees get a day’s holiday on their birthday, too. Ashfords also offers a “holiday purchase scheme”, which one trainee describes as “the best perk”, allowing its employees “to buy up to 5 days extra holiday for the following year”.
The Exeter office continues to impress after a refurb a couple of years back, and is well kitted out with good break-out areas and parking. The office in Bristol overlooks the river, and is “really lovely”, with a “nice client space downstairs”, an open plan set-up and lots of vegetation. The London office is said to be a fairly standard commercial office but “could do with a little more colour”. A more cheerful colleague notes that the firm is “very accommodating” and offers the option of standing desks. On the firm’s efforts to protect mother nature, one rookie reports that it supports an environmental charity and also contributes by carrying out beach cleans.
Overall, the quality of work, range of seats, genuinely supportive environment and generous work/life balance make Ashfords a serious catch for anyone looking for well-rounded training.