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.
Trainees receive “a very diverse range of work” with “a real emphasis on the key sector approach”, one insider reports. The “work can be menial at times but it is always appreciated in the broader picture and training is overall of a high standard”, another explains. 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 ENGIE and EDF Energy as well as organisations including The National Crime Agency are becoming more common (around 30% 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 “second to none” thanks to “regular training sessions specific to the department you are in as well as a generally good level of support from supervisors”. 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 “one big team pulling in the same direction”, with the pandemic only serving to solidify rookie bonds. 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.” Another junior praises the lack of hierarchy when it comes to peer support. “I’m just as likely to Teams the managing partner for a catch-up as I am my secretary,” they tell us.
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’ coupled with “fantastic stroop waffles” augments the culinary experience. And even the firm coffee is said to be “excellent” (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. “Hours are creeping up across all teams which leads to feelings that the firm is walking a fine line between London hours on a Bristol salary,” one source informs us. “Work in the evenings is a reality,” another adds. But some have had a more positive experience. “Actually very good,” another explains. “There are busy days but if you work efficiently then as a trainee hours are not long.” Legal Cheek’s survey data shows that Burges Salmon’s average leave the office time is creeping towards 7pm.
Where trainees and juniors do agree is home-working support. “Fantastic”, one remote rookie says. “We have been provided with surface books, mobile phones, additional screens, risers, desk chairs, remote keyboard and mouse — the lot!” Another praises the “really supportive IT team” and regular “supervisor check-ins”. On the tech-front, juniors are said to be using “AI more and more” with an opportunity to do a seat in legal tech. Plus we hear the business solutions team promotes lawtech potential and offers clients “bespoke legal app solutions”.
Burges Salmon’s most recently available 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, sits at £108.7 million.