The Legal Cheek View
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 ranges “from the more classic ‘trainee’ tasks to leading workstreams, drafting contracts and leading on client calls”. 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 20% 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”. In three adjectives, the training is “consistent, well planned and practical”. High levels of responsibility are a prominent 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 this rookie confirming that they are “yet to meet an arsehole in 2.5 years.” One tells us: “The firm’s culture is amazing. Everyone in the firm is really supportive and that permeates throughout the firm. I look forward to coming into the office every day.” Another junior praises the firm’s openness and how senior members actively spur on trainees. “Lawyers at Burges Salmon are truly a great bunch. I’m consistently encouraged to take on more challenging work, invited along to important internal and external meetings and never feel scared to put my hand up when I’m lost or have made a mistake,” 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. However, there has been some trouble in paradise with renovations to make the office open-plan proving “controversial”. The Bristol HQ 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.
Many of these much-loved pastries were even offered as freebies (eg free doughnuts on a Thursday and free cakes on a Friday) to lure trainees back to the office following widespread remote working. However, this luxury has since been reversed to the disappointment of many. This comes off the back of “fantastic” agile working experiences for most rookies who are provided with “surface books, mobile phones, additional screens, risers, desk chairs, remote keyboard and mouse” plus any extras you might desire. 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”. “We have lots of tools available, regular IT training and a team dedicated to developing our legal tech offering,” explains one spy.
Some tensions, however, arise in relation to the work/life balance with the firm to a certain extent becoming a victim of its own success. “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. “Generally excellent, but there are obviously busy periods in which it is non-existent,” another explains. “It varies from time to time depending on what projects I have on, but is generally very good.” The firm is also said to be recruiting more paralegals to help out.
Burges Salmon’s financial results for the financial year 2021/2022 show an average profit per equity partner (PEP) of about £517,000 (up 1% from £512,000). This figure that is now only slightly off the firm’s 2015 high of £523,000 with a dip coming about 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. In terms of revenue, meanwhile, these investments are paying off: the firm grew a healthy 10% from £108.7 million to £119.2 million.