The Legal Cheek View
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 2022-23.
“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. The “very cool and interesting” clients include the likes of Sony, Google, The Guardian and the BBC. Plus insiders say they are able to get stuck into “really interesting” work for these clients and “where we have smaller clients, there is opportunity to take on more responsibility”.
One details: “I was treated like a full member of the team from day one and given the chance to get stuck into real legal work instead of being left to just do donkey work like bundling and attendance notes. On the flipside, I wasn’t given too many formal training sessions on the legal sources that I work with day to day, so it was a bit of a steep learning curve at times.”
“Awesome” three-month secondments to Google are common. Indeed, client secondments are a strong point, with nearly 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”.
This mix of work has been paying off nicely too: the firm’s last available financial year revenues sat at £51.9 million, whilst profit per equity partner (PEP) fell 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. “I start around 9-9:30 in the morning and am usually finished by around 6. Late nights are few and far between. I don’t think it gets much better than that in the City,” remarks one. Though be warned, this does vary between departments with patent litigation gaining a reputation for being more of a slog. This spy sums up the worst case scenario: “Sometimes late nights can’t be avoided (e.g. a deal, a call with counsel in the US, or ahead of a trial or hearing), but these have been relatively infrequent.”
Pay is on the lower side for BigLaw, with NQs earning £80,000, 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”. The occasional free breakfast is also a greatly appreciated perk and the firm provides all equipment you need to work from home plus an additional budget to order other items besides standard equipment.
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. “No one comes to Bristows to be a cutthroat legal shark. People come for the friendly culture and the interesting and techy legal work. If you want to be a shark, there are other places which will encourage you to act like that and will pay you a lot more money to do so” explains one spy.
“There’s a real open door policy — meaning that if I leave the door to my office open, my superiors are likely to stop by for a chat,” says another. Also contributing to the utopian vibes may be Bristows’ policy of paying associates entirely on the basis of seniority rather than perceived merit.
And there’s a great fondness amongst cohorts. One loving trainee heart-warmingly confessed, “amazing people, wouldn’t have made it up to now without them. <3 you all” whilst another admitted that rookies really couldn’t get enough of one another: “we had a weekend away in January together that we organised.”
A social scene that is positively pumping (by corporate law standards) further deepens bonds. This is facilitated by the partners who often plan social activities for their departments, or even just send around a Friday work drinks email to whoever has come into the office on Fridays. On top of that, there’s also 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.
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). The legal tech “gets the job done” even if it sometimes “needs to be turned off and on again”.
The London office is said to be “a little cramped”, though the grade II listed 100 Victoria Embankment gaff has an “amazing” exterior and “a great view over Blackfriars Bridge and the Tate Modern”. There is also no canteen, though, 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.