Bird & Bird
The Legal Cheek View
Bird & Bird continues to fly high thanks to the tech boom, with the latest financial results available showing a revenue increase of almost 10% to £445.6 million. This follows a 5.6% rise the previous year and a 5.3% increase in the year before that — so the upward trend is consistent. Profit per equity partner (PEP) also rose by more than 11% to £651,000.
The firm has expanded, opening a Dublin office in June 2022 to focus on privacy, data protection, technology, life sciences, IP and corporate. This brings its total number of offices to 31. It made 24 lateral partner hires globally, including two to run the Dublin office, and nine in London. It also changed CEO, with Christian Bartsch taking over in April from David Kerr, who wanted to step down after 28 years of leading the firm.
Since 2016, Bird & Bird’s UK team has been ensconced in its sleek London eyrie on 12 New Fetter Lane. It continues to impress, with trainees extolling the “lovely views” of parliament and the London Eye. They speak fondly of the “fancy staircase” and “pretty swish toilets”. The first and 12th floors are dedicated client floors, but according to one trainee, “the best floor is floor 11 (the canteen and coffee bar) where all the coffee is free and there is a great balcony to get some fresh air”. As for the rest of the building, “the working floors are semi-open-plan (in pods rather than offices) and department heads are constantly coming up with new plans to make collaborative working easier”.
The training depends on the team and matters at hand, “some seats have formal training programmes, but all the partners/associates take the time needed to explain things”. One trainee says: “Training can vary based on the department that you are in. The variety and quality of work, as well as the accompanying training that I have received during my time in our IP department has been outstanding.”
The work “is cutting edge, pretty much everything I’ve done somehow relates to NFTs and crypto,” says one techie-minded insider. Others note there are “some typically trainee tasks such as reviewing documents but you have the opportunity to work on some great matters”, and “a large variety of work is given to trainees on a mix of large and small cases. The most interesting thing about the work is definitely the client”.
Eco-minded trainees praise the firm’s recycling of coffee grounds into the next day’s brownies, its efforts on recycling and energy-saving automatic lights across the building.
The rise of Bird & Bird as the cool tech-bro of the legal world is no piece of good fortune. In the early days of the internet, it became one of the first law firms to establish its own website, choosing the quirky domain name twobirds.com way back in 1995. Since then it has built out from its core of telecommunications, media and technology (TMT) work to widen its focus towards more standard corporate and finance instructions — with its top-ranked intellectual property (IP) practice a big draw for clients and aspiring lawyers alike. In 2017, the firm ventured across the pond to launch a new base in tech paradise San Francisco.
As for the firm’s own tech, there is some appetite for improvement. “The tech that we offer our clients is very advanced, however the tech within the firm isn’t the best,” a Bird in training reveals. “I have often had issues with my laptop and sometimes the document management system runs very slow. The post and copy room are very efficient though, as is the document production team.” For working from home, lawyers are provided with a laptop and phone and given £250 toward extras such as laptop stands, monitors, chairs and desk. An insider reports WFH is fairly stress-free and it is “easy” to contact people over the firm’s messaging system.
Over the years Bird & Bird has taken care to foster a strong internal culture — and this year again scores highly for peer support and for partner approachability in The Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “We are an extremely close cohort and I can reach out to any of them if I need help with work or something outside of work,” says one rookie. “We often meet up socially out of work too.” The trainee intake is made up of “generally fantastic people to work with”, says another, adding: “Rachel Boyle in grad recruitment should be singled out for how supportive and brilliant she is!” The warm atmosphere extends up the ladder, with partners “generally very approachable and happy to take the time to help you and make sure you are ok. There are obviously some which are nicer than others but that often comes down to who you personally get on with more”. As an example, one trainee reports they “have a social coffee with a partner every week”. The semi-open plan office design helps keep hierarchies to a minimum.
Friendships have been formed at the legendary mini firm World Cup football tournament, an annual event which is “really good”. The competition between teams from the firm’s international offices is held in a different city each year. As you would expect, the footie is optional, with most just enjoying the opportunity to “meet international colleagues over a weekend of partying”. While the pandemic may have forced the players off pitch for the past year or so, the tradition is likely to be revived as soon as possible.
International secondments have also been scuppered in recent years by the pandemic, but one in four of previous intakes have enjoyed time abroad at one of the firm’s offices in 26 different countries. One third of trainees do client secondments, and sports fans will be in their element here – recent examples include three months at the Football Association and six months at e-sports brand Fnatic. Other typical secondment destinations include large banks, tech companies and global retailers.
As for the fun side of life: “I make evening social plans, and I’ve only had to work on the weekend when busy,” says one trainee. “Everyone respects when you’re on annual leave and if you’re working late, people want to know why and if they can help.” Another Birdee says their supervisors encourage them to leave early during quiet periods although there have been some “very late nights and the weekends worked. This is the exception and not the rule though.”
The pay had elicited the odd grumble, although the firm seems to have addressed this recently by upping NQ rates to £92,400. Plus, associate rates rise swiftly through the ranks for those who stick around. Birdees also receive pretty “solid” perks — including private health insurance, cycle to work incentives, access to mortgage advisors, corporate gym rates, pop-up ice cream stalls, annual summer and Christmas parties and department socials, as well as “Deliveroo budgets after 7pm and taxis home after 9pm”.