Corporate law firms often struggle to differentiate themselves, but Burges Salmon genuinely stands out from the crowd with a model that sees it do a large amount of City of London work mostly from Bristol. Allied to a prevailing organisational niceness, this makes it a really good place to start one’s career, current trainees tell us.
“They make an effort to ensure we are involved with interesting work”, one rookie reports, explaining that “if boring work is given it is always done so with an apology and an explanation as to why it is important.” Some “excellent”, albeit not particularly numerous, secondments — to Burges Salmon’s international alliance firms in Copenhagen, Brussels and Paris — also come highly recommended. Client secondments to big name companies including Amazon, John Lewis and EDF Energy are becoming more common (around 15% of trainees typically do one each year).
The six-seat (rather than the typical four) trainee rotation model is highly regarded, with the training — consistently top-rated in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey — described as “top-notch and well-structured with lots of help and resources available” both in respect of “the law and personal development”. High levels of responsibility are a theme, with supervisors said to be “keen to get trainees involved in substantive work and ensure we get a varied and broad experience.”
Trainees, meanwhile, are said to be “very friendly and will step in to help [each other] out if you are very busy”. One tells us: “My intake is extremely close; many of us choose to live and socialise together. The atmosphere is genuinely collegiate; retention rates at the firm mean there really is no sense of in-cohort competition you hear of at other firms.” In the age of agile working, juniors maintain close bonds through “lots of virtual catch-ups” and even a WhatsApp group. Partners have “a genuine open door policy” and “the ones you click with want you to love working here as much as they do”.
To add to the utopian vibe, Burges Salmon has one of the most delightful offices out there. “I love it, I feel inspired every time I walk in the building,” exclaims one rookie. The office is nestled by the river just a couple of minutes walk from Temple Meads railway station, from which London (where the firm has a smaller office) is an hour and 45 minutes away. Business train trips to the firm’s second office in the capital are in first class — even for trainees.
What’s more, the Bristol canteen is apparently better than many top restaurants — and good value too. “Bakery-quality cakes for £1.30 — who could say no?” an insider reports. A weekly ‘cake trolley’ augments the culinary experience. And even the firm coffee is said to be nice (single use cups have been dropped in a bid to “be more eco-friendly”). “The catering facilities are the envy of everyone who experiences them,” another trainee adds.
Where tensions sometimes arise is where the high-level work carries similarly high-level expectations. Indeed, to some extent the firm is a victim of its own success in this respect. The “hours are getting longer and longer”, an insider tell us, with another adding: “I don’t doubt that the hours are generally better than City firms, but there does seem to be a number of trainees on any given day working late into the night.” Others note that hours vary widely between departments and tell us that when they do leave late, partners “are very appreciative”. Legal Cheek’s survey data shows that Burges Salmon’s average leave the office time is creeping towards 7pm.
This is mitigated to an extent by a recent flexible working drive that meant it was “extremely well placed” to transition to home-working in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The move has been excellently managed”, with “only a few” IT issues that the firm’s technicians were able to resolve remotely, one rookie says. On the tech-front, “some parts are a bit basic” but this is changing. “For example, we are moving to get rid of sharing large numbers of documents by USBs to using an online transfer.” Plus we hear the business solutions team promotes lawtech potential and offers clients “bespoke legal app solutions”.
Burges Salmon’s 2019/20 financial results show an average profit per equity partner (PEP) of about £446,000 — a figure that remains down from a 2015 high of £523,000, partly due to investment in, among other things, a new Edinburgh office (opened in May 2019 but not offering training contracts for now) and new lawtech infrastructure. Revenue, meanwhile, is up 11% from £94.6 million to £104.9 million.