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 2023-24.
“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”.
“I have been lucky during my TC so far and I have been given plenty of responsibility and interesting work,” echoes another source. “Of course,” they continue, there is also the usual “admin” type stuff such as “bundling [and] attendance notes” which “is just unavoidable in a City commercial firm”.
Another details their experience as this: “I was treated like a full member of the team from day one and given the chance to get stuck into real legal work. 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 major selling point, with over three-quarters of respondents doing one. Other destinations include Capgemini, GSK and a “clinical AI company”. “Ultimately, every firm has work that pays the bills and work that’s genuinely interesting and exciting,” one insider says. “Luckily we get a lot more of the latter.”
The firm’s latest financial results published at the start of 2023 show revenues dipped slightly from £51.9 million to £50.9 million, following a period of growth in the previous 12 months. Operating profit came in at £17.9 million, again down slightly on the 2021 figures, while profit per equity partner (PEP) is understood to sit around the £500,000 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 consistently finish between 6:30 and 7:30pm, subject to a handful of late nights for urgent matters. Compared to my peers at other law firms, the work-life balance is incomparable,” 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 the equipment you need to work from home, plus an additional budget to order other items besides standard equipment. Other sweeteners mentioned by rookies include private health insurance, a medical cash plan and subsidised gym membership. “Nothing flashy,” says one, “but what else could I really want?”
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. “Cut-throats would not fit in here,” one source tells us. “People come for the friendly culture and the interesting and techy legal work.” Another describes their fellow trainees as “infallibly kind and supportive”. As for the more senior members of the firm, one source tells us: “I have never felt unable to raise a question or issue with partners and feel that my input is genuinely respected and valued.”
“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.
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 three offices in London, Brussels and as of June 2023, Dublin, international secondment opportunities are rare (although trainees and junior lawyers do get the odd business trip). The firm’s tech isn’t much to write home about either, according to insiders. “IT and tech is a weakness of the firm that needs fixing,” says one. “Printing and application issues galore!” Another describes the work laptops as “decent” but “cloud storage has an irritating tendency to ‘fail to connect’, so you have to restart it three times to get to your documents”.
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. “Sitting in an open plan area is very much the exception and most of the internal offices are pretty comfortable,” one spy explains. “The client meeting rooms are nice and light with reasonable snacks and coffee facilities. Internal meeting rooms and social areas are a bit ropey and there’s some very bizarre artwork in places.” 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.