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 2020-21.
Insiders rave particularly about 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: “Of course, there is a lot of admin work, which is common across all training providers, but once you’ve proved you can do the easy stuff, the challenging work comes your way.”
The mix of work has helped Bristows boost revenue by 12% to over £38 million in the firm’s most recently disclosed set of financial results. This breaks down to give a profit per equity partner (PEP) figure just shy of £400,000. Certainly, Bristows’ top dogs, who enjoy some of the best work/life balance in the legal world, have a rather nice set-up.
According to our data, Bristows’ lawyers arrive in the office on average around 9am and leave just before 7pm. One rookie describes how that feels in practice: “Mostly it’s been amazing — leaving at 6:30 to 7 most nights, getting in at 9. Occasionally the very late night (and once no night at all) but this is very much the exception, rather than the norm.”
“For the quality of work, especially in relation to IP, the hours are pretty,” says one trainee. “However, hours are creeping upwards and perhaps now not totally commensurate with the below market remuneration.” Pay is on the lower side for biglaw, with NQs earning £66,000.
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: “I’ve never hesitated to ask my supervisors for advice or clarifications and I’ve never experienced anything but a helpful and understanding attitude from them.”
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.
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”. Oh, and Bristows’ impressive office on Victoria Embankment at the edge of the City has no firm canteen. 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.