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, once again scored highly in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2021-22.
“Best firm in the UK for tech work” rave insiders, enamoured by 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. “Awesome” three-month secondments to the former are common. Indeed, client secondments are a strong point, with over two-thirds of trainees doing one this year. Other not quite so glamorous practice areas, such as corporate, litigation and real estate, help bring in further bacon. One insider reports: “Ultimately, every firm has work that pays the bills and work that’s genuinely interesting and exciting. Luckily we get a lot more of the latter”.
The mix of work helped Bristows boost revenue by 12% in the 19/20 financial year and then a slightly tamer 2% in 20/21 to £51.9 million. This trend is mirrored in its profit per equity partner (PEP) figure which grew 14% in 19/20 and 4.6% in 20/21 to £499,000, just shy of the half a million mark. Certainly, Bristows’ top dogs, who enjoy some of the best work/life balance in the legal world, have a rather nice set-up.
On the whole, juniors are “very happy” with their work/life balance. One rookie details their experience: “I feel trusted to manage my own workload and deliver work on time without being nagged or my hand held. I usually log on between 9-9.30am and log off between 5.30-7.00pm. If I send emails later than 8pm then I will usually receive a message in the morning telling me not to work late unless there is an urgent piece of work”. Though be warned, this does vary between departments with patent litigation gaining a reputation for being more of a slog.
That said, most feel they are getting a good deal. “For the quality of work, especially in relation to IP, the hours are pretty good,” says one trainee. Pay is on the lower side for BigLaw, with NQs earning £72,000, but again that doesn’t seem a problem for some: “The best perks are the nice colleagues and the decent salary given the hours worked”.
A mood of happiness pervades the firm, with Magic Circle-style backstabbing notably absent among the trainees, and senior lawyers maintaining the most open of open door policies. Also contributing to the utopian vibes may be Bristows’ policy of paying associates entirely on the basis of seniority rather than perceived merit.
“The small trainee community is very close-knit and there’s always people to lend a helping hand when one of us is swamped with work,” one of its members tells us. Another comments: “Open door culture doesn’t even cover it. Partners are extremely friendly”. One loving trainee heart-warmingly confessed, “amazing people, wouldn’t have made it up to now without them. <3 you all”.
A social scene that is positively pumping (by corporate law standards) further deepens bonds. This is facilitated by a firm-wide drinks event on the last Friday of every month, departmental Christmas celebrations, a “big all-out glitzy dinner dance” in the spring and an autumn party. We are told that there are also loads of sporting and charity events that get a very good turnout, including an annual cycle challenge which last year took participants from Brighton to London. The camaraderie continued under lockdown with trainees praising the “great support network” in place and “unprompted check-ins” from partners, associates, and HR. Other pandemic highlights included a coffee and cake allowance, various surprise gift hampers sent by the firm and a firm-wide day off, dubbed “Bristows Retreat Day”, in June .
Still, not everything is perfect. As you might imagine for a firm with just two offices in London and Brussels, international secondment opportunities are rare (although trainees and junior lawyers do get the odd business trip). Nor are there loads of eye-catching perks (aside from being able to skip out of the office at 7pm most days). And their “top of the range laptops” apparently “don’t stop Outlook crashing five times a day”.
The London office is said to be “a little cramped”, though the grade II listed 100 Victoria Embankment gaff has an “amazing” exterior. There is also no canteen and Bristow toilers do not have access to the gym or roof terrace in the building. There is, however, a café that’s shared with other businesses in the building’s atrium.
If you can tolerate such horrors, then this could be the place for you. The only problem 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.