A broad range of quality work, a friendly team and a healthy work/life balance make South West firm Ashfords a popular choice, but the crunch factor for many could be canine. Paws at the desk are a distinct possibility on Fridays, when the firm has an open-door policy on dogs. Pets at work reduce stress, apparently, and this particular wellbeing initiative has gone down a storm.
To the uninitiated, this may conjure scenes of dachshunds and lhasa apsos a-snooze in the corner while a whippet stares at nothing whatsoever, labradors courier documents between desks, collies round up clients and a genial St Bernard delivers brandy to those in need. Don’t worry, however, as this national firm is a finely-tuned operation with a commercial focus. Turnover has grown by over 70% in the past few years and the firm employs 550 staff across offices in Bristol, Exeter, London, Plymouth, Taunton and Tiverton.
Trainees have a choice of either a Bristol or a South West-based training contract. 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 a network of independent law firms.
Ashfords received positive reviews on the topic of training, with the firm “willing to give you significant responsibility so you learn on the job as such”. Consequently, you may find yourself out of your depth on occasion. “The approach of ‘here’s a task, try it and ask for help when/if you need it’ can be a great way to learn but isn’t all the time.”
Mini-gripes are that the training can sometimes be “inconsistent” and differ “hugely between seats”. Regardless, rookies tell us there’s a mix of department-specific and general practice training sessions supplemented by a professional skills course and occasional external speakers giving in-depth talks. “Helpful” team training sessions continued over Skype in the wake of COVID-19. 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”.
The quality of work is high, with “challenging work from day one”. Involvement varies between “associate level” and “scanning and filing”, and you can expect to get involved in complex matters. You may have unsupervised meetings with clients towards the end of your training contract. Overall, the firm provides “a good range of experience, a high level of responsibility for light matters and a high degree of involvement in heavy matters”.
The general ethos is one of “friends as well as colleagues”. Trainees are not only enthusiastically complimentary about each other, 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: “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. The pandemic hasn’t put a stop to plans, and we’re told the network hosts events online.
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. “Usually out of the office by 5.30/6pm. Never had to work beyond 8pm.” This differs according to department, of course. 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”.
The pay is average and there are few chances of either international or client secondment. Though some rookies report spending a week in Berlin, Milan or Munich as part of the firm’s junior lawyer placement scheme. Technology-wise, you will be given an iPhone and a laptop. In terms of perks, apart from the dogs, there is a small gym in the office, 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.
Sadly, Exeter is the only office with a canteen and it receives a peculiarly withering review: “They changed supplier and now I make sure I bring my own lunch every day.” And if the refreshments don’t impress, neither does the decor. It depends on location, of course. Exeter is “well kitted out with good break out areas and parking. Bristol and London are fairly standard commercial offices 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.
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 a well-rounded training.