Nothing beats going somewhere in person
Ahead of Burges Salmon‘s vacation scheme application deadline on 14 January, Legal Cheek Careers popped along to its recent London presentation evening to take notes on behalf of all students who have never attended a law firm open day before. This is what we learnt….
1. Open days give you an authentic sense of how a firm sees itself
Reading the various adjectives that a firm uses to describe itself in a brochure is a very different experience to listening to someone with a stake in the business explain why they are passionate about it.
At its recent London presentation evening, Burges Salmon partner and head of IP Jeremy Dickerson told the audience of around 40 students about how his firm is neither full-service, niche nor regional, shares a host of clients with the magic circle and derives a high proportion of its revenue from high-end international work — despite having just two offices, its headquarters in Bristol and an annexe in the City of London. He explained in summary:
We are the reverse of the outsourcing proposal: no one is like us.
But what made Dickerson’s presentation memorable was the animated way in which he delivered it — clearly taking enormous pride in his firm’s unique approach. In particular Dickerson seemed to enjoy Burges Salmon’s capacity to snag top clients from bigger rivals and was evidently delighted by some news he had just received about it being appointed to the John Lewis/Waitrose panel.
2. Open days give you an insight into the wider legal market
Dickerson also devoted several minutes to speaking about the state of the wider legal business scene. His key point was that the UK legal market is currently in a low-growth phase defined by defensive mergers which his firm was delighted to have no need for. Firms, he explained, were battling it out over domestic market share while looking at growth opportunities abroad.
Burges Salmon was doing this, he continued, by developing certain key practice area strengths — such as transport and energy — headed by senior lawyers whose expertise extended beyond the law to advising the government on policy. Meanwhile, Dickerson reported that a Slaughter and May-style network of alliances with top firms in the US, mainland Europe and China was responsible for the firm’s disproportionate presence on international deals and cases.
3. Open days literally give you a flavour of the firm
Without overplaying the significance of canapés and snacks served at open days, they can be revealing about the nature of an organisation. Burges Salmon’s were of the no-expense-spared variety, giving a further sense of where the firm positions itself in the market.
Hearing about the way the firm uses its London office — located in the New Square development off Fleet Street that is popular with City law firms — was also telling, with 40 hot desks being shared by whichever of Burges Salmon’s lawyers found themselves in London that day for a deal, case or social event. Attendees were all given an open invite to visit the firm’s Bristol base, underlining where its centre of gravity lies.
Seeing a firm’s lawyers in person is something else that is worth doing — alongside Dickerson were two trainees who looked roughly the same age as most of the students in attendance, but spoke with a confidence borne of some experience in a working environment that has a reputation for being non-hierarchical (for a law firm).
4. Open days give you an idea of what the culture is like
Before attending the evening we had no idea that the toilets in Burges Salmon’s Bristol office were flushed with rainwater, or that the building’s environmental credentials had helped it win a host of big name clients like Virgin which favour green law firms.
Nor would most attendees have been aware that there is a tradition of Burges Salmon’s first year trainees going for an annual weekend away together in Devon, that the firm has a legendary cake trolley that delivers treats to everyone on a Friday afternoon at 2pm, or that its lawyers do two days of paid corporate social responsibility work annually.
The message was that this is an organisation with a gentler, friendlier culture than many — which at times could be seen as almost alternative (for a law firm). Match that with the quality work and you seem to have the ethos of the firm.
5. Open days give you an unofficial insight into a firm’s graduate recruitment philosophy and processes
Lots of important details often don’t feature in firms’ graduate recruitment literature. Burges Salmon graduate recruitment manager Frances Bennett used the open evening to reveal that she and her colleagues read all the applications they receive, adding that the firm takes a “big picture approach” to its minimum academic requirements. She went on:
We want people who can handle the intellectually challenging nature of the work we do. That’s all.
Bennett also confided that, unlike many of its competitors, the firm does not fill trainee places on a rolling basis throughout the year. So she advised students not to rush their applications, and if necessary hold off until a bit later than they might have otherwise in order to include as much detail about grades and other achievements as possible.
The final useful titbit of advice was three application form tips that Bennett gave: to make responses as specific to the firm as possible, to prioritise clear communication over formal writing structures (“bullet points are fine!” she urged), and to pay hyper-attention to detail when spell-checking the form. The latter seemed obvious, she added, but it was what did for many good candidates in the final cut for assessment centre places.
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