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, particularly for speakers of the local languages. Client secondments to big name companies including John Lewis and EDF Energy are becoming more common (nearly 20% of trainees did one last year).
The six-seat (rather than the typical four) trainee rotation model is highly-regarded, with the training – rated A* in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19 — 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, received an A* themselves in our survey for their mutual supportiveness. They are said to be “very friendly and will step in to help [each other] out if you are very busy”. It helps that many join the firm as friends. “Completing the LPC with the majority of my intake before starting at BS meant we were able to get to know each other in a less formal setting to begin with,” one tells us. 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. A weekly ‘cake trolley’ augments the culinary experience. And even the firm coffee is said to be nice. Burges Salmon also boasts among the lowest commute times of any major UK outfit – a higher proportion of its junior lawyers walking to work than any other. This may not be unrelated to its buoyant social life. “The firm’s events are always really well done with good food, lots of alcohol and everyone gets involved – from a senior partner dressing as Mick Jagger to an NQ doing a James Bond tango with another partner,” reports a trainee. Another tells us: “I’ve just been to an escape room experience and cider tasting and I’m heading off to our summer party/festival at the zoo tonight with wine tasting next week…next question?”
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 in late into the night.” Others note that hours vary widely between departments and tells us that when they do leave late that partners “are very appreciative”. Legal Cheek’s 2018-19 survey data shows that Burges Salmon’s average leave the office time has got later, but not hugely so, extending from 6:44pm last year to 6:57pm. This is mitigated to an extent by a flexible working push that has seen all of the firm’s lawyers given new Surface Book laptops, and a recent pay rise.
With London lawyer remuneration rises starting to filter out of London, Burges Salmon has made sure that its young lawyers continue to be the joint highest earners in Bristol — recently upping its newly qualified solicitor salary in the city to £50,000.
The raise comes despite two consecutive years of falls in profit per equity partner (PEP), which now stands at £430,000 – down from a high of £523,000. The effect of this has been felt on the firm’s trainee intake which has been reduced to 20. The good news is that revenue hit a record high this year, reaching £90 million, teeing the firm up for a likely PEP comeback next year.