By nature it's less hawkish than surrounding City firms, but Twobirds rules the roost when it comes to IP and tech.
Are you 'The Inquisitive Thinker?' How about 'The Proactive Linguist?' Or maybe you're 'The Swift-Thinking Scientist?' If any of these or the three other 'professional profiles' on Twobirds' website sound eerily familiar, you might want to check out this legal eagle. The idea is to “attract individuals from a whole range of backgrounds, not just those fresh out of university,” trainees told us. Soldiers, doctors, historians, linguists and even sportspeople have all nestled themselves into the firm's trainee programme, which offers aspiring lawyers work in 'of the moment' sectors like tech, media, life sciences and energy. “People will often ask you for help if you have a background that informs the piece of work at hand,” insiders explained.
This isn't to say that you need to be tenured professor of economics to apply for a training contract; those 'fresh out of university' are still very much invited to join Twobirds, which attains a clutch of tip-top Chambers UK rankings in IP, IT, data protection, life sciences and telecommunications. Insiders felt these areas were central to the firm's plan to “be the best when it comes to assisting technology-driven businesses.” It's a plan that's now being enacted from fresh new digs at 12 New Fetter Lane. Complete with “incredible views of every landmark in London,” the new building brings the entire Twobirds flock under one roof for the first time: “It's definitely an improvement on our previous set-up where we were spread across three buildings,” partner Ian Edwards tell us.
With 147,000 square feet now at its disposal, Edwards says that Twobirds is “still very much in growth mode,” and will look to boost its London headcount by around a quarter in the years ahead. Making headway, the firm recently hired a team from PwC's legal arm to launch a specialist tax unit within the firm's international disputes practice. But it's not just about London: Twobirds' wingspan covers 28 offices around the globe, across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. How has the firm solved the problem of bringing people together? Partly through its annual firm-wide football tournament, which is hosted by a different office each year: in 2016 trainees went to Budapest to participate/support, while in 2017 they headed to The Hague.
Despite this international reach, “overseas secondments aren't as easy to obtain as expected,” insiders agreed. Apart from a regular stint in the Brussels office, other stints abroad “are feasible but very competitive and require a strong business case.” One trainee did manage to bag a trip down under last year (“that person had dual citizenship, making the process easier”)and rumours were circulating about one Bird potentially flapping their way to Hong Kong. Edwards tell us: “We are looking to grow our international secondments and there is no rule saying you can only go to Brussels.”
Newbies are more likely to land themselves a spot on one of the firm's client secondments, which include a rolling three-month IP placement and a confidential sporty secondment. If you're eager to get a headstart, a six-month client secondment is also available for those caught in the lull between their LPC and the training contract. Seat allocation generally doesn't require any ruffling of feathers: “Before the training contract starts, you just send off an email with your preferences. I only asked for one seat but you can rank every department if you like.” After that trainees have an “ongoing dialogue” with HR: “Nothing is set in stone and you can update your preferences before each seat rotation.”
“...even did some tech-y stuff relating to bitcoins.”
The firm's biggest department is commercial, which, being very sector-focused, is split into a number of subgroups including sports, healthcare and energy. “Most of the subgroups operate as teams, so you're normally allocated to one and work exclusively within that field,” insiders explained. Those who'd worked in the data protection team highlighted “the massive focus on the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into force in 2018: we're updating clients, drafting privacy policies and looking into cookie consent on websites.” Trainees can also be assigned on a more general basis and “sample a range of work:I got involved with media regulation, commercial management, and even did some tech-y stuff relating to bitcoins.” Given the scope of work available, trainees often opt for a repeat seat in the department.
Nabbing a commercial seat in sports requires a competitive spirit, as the team signs on just one trainee a season. “It's split between a commercial side – that's all about sponsorship, licensing and broadcasting agreements – and a regulatory side that deals with disciplinary decisions and sports disputes,” insiders explained, adding: “Between the two you gain so much knowledge about the industry.” It's a research-heavy seat with plenty of opportunity for drafting, with one insider having a “first whack at a licensing agreement for a race ourse.” Chelsea Football Club is now on the firm's books, as well as the FA, Six Nations Rugby and the International Paralympic Committee; the group advised the latter on its decision to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee's membership status due to its failure to comply with anti-doping obligations.
Nando's and don'ts
Trainees in Twobirds' second largest department, IP, get the all-inclusive treatment: expertise covers everything contentious and non-contentious, as well as hard and soft IP law. “You can speak up and get involved in anything that interests you,” trainees explained. Recent matters here have seen the team help Nando's clamp down on takeaway delivery services that use the restaurant chain's brand to advertise; act for pharma company Teva as a rival outfit applied to revoke its patents for a drug used to treat MS; and handle British designer Sophie Hulme's trademark portfolio. A lot of the work here can be “quite admin heavy” due to “the value of the matters,” so opting for a double stint can be rewarding: “By the end of my repeat seat I was analysing past judgments, preparing for Court of Appeal hearings, liaising with counsel and even working on a huge international design filing project – it felt like we co-ordinated with every country in the world!”
“It felt like we co-ordinated with every country in the world!”
The dispute resolution department is informally split into a number of subgroups, including finance, IT, media and energy. It's particularly well regarded for its finance expertise, and lawyers here recently represented the Property Alliance Group (PAG) as it pushed on with LIBOR-rigging claims worth £32 million against RBS. Its rep is also growing on the communications side, where the team acted for Airwave Solutions as it challenged the Home Office's £1 billion procurement contract for a new emergency services network. Sources here had sampled a mix of smaller cases (“where you draft letters to the other side and various court forms”) and larger matters where “you do lots of research: any time someone on the team needs to know relevant case law on a certain point, you're the go-to person and will produce notes for them.”
Real estate at Twobirds “is a bit unorthodox in that it's really a hybrid of commercial property and finance,” trainees explained, cautioning: “If you want a pure real estate seat it's probably not what you'll be expecting.” On the finance side, sources told us that there's a lot of work for lenders and banks, especially when property is being used as a security in a deal; Santander's a key client, and the group recently advised it on the £12 million financing of budget chain easyHotel. Those looking for that 'pure' real estate work can get their fill by managing tenancy agreements. “It's a seat where they let you get on with things. Trainees conduct reports on title, draft ancillary documents and negotiate their own wayleaves. You often serve as the direct point of contact, so you end up building good relationships with clients.”
Birds of a feather flock together
When probed about hours, it turns out that Twobirds employees are both early birds and night owls. Trainees flagged IP as one of the more “manageable seats,” as they “consistently left at 6.30pm.” In other departments a working day tended to last from 9am to 7.30pm. Sources disagreed on the consistency of late nights, however: some said that “working late is very rare,” while others – who had a more consistent run of 11 and 12-hour days in areas like dispute resolution and aviation – told us: “I had no work/life balance last week, but then there are times when I'm able to play rugby after work. Overall the hours are reasonable though.”
Staying late isn't so bad when you have a brand new office to enjoy. The cafeteria is “so nice you never want to leave,” while the free coffee bars and adjustable standing desks (“from which you can see halfway across London”) were just some of the perks brought to our attention. Sources were a bit more tentative about the new pod layout, which sees lawyers clustered together in little groups: “The pods are only six foot high so you can hear everyone in the office: that's not ideal when you have a stupid question to ask, but on the plus side it also means you can listen in on the more seasoned lawyers as they make calls – especially if they sound interesting!” Edwards explains that the main reason for this hybrid office/open plan layout is to ensure “long-term flexibility: configurations will change in line with our anticipated growth, and that's harder to accommodate if you're stuck with walls.”
“Sometimes I think it's too social...”
The cafeteria also transforms into a subsidised bar once a month – a popular evening with trainees, who like to let their hair down on a pretty regular basis: “Sometimes I think it's too social; we go out a lot! The last event we organised was Bowlaoke – a combination of bowling and karaoke which most people came to.” We clarified that the two things were done sequentially, not simultaneously (the latter would've been particularly impressive). Christmas parties at the Tropicana Beach Club; summer shindigs in partners' homes; regular departmental drinks at nearby watering hole The Draft House; a smart-casual dress code; and “lots of friendly, colourful personalities” help to distance TwoBirds from what sources dubbed “the traditional stuffy law firm.” Newbies noted “a lack of hierarchy – everyone checks their titles at the door.” Edwards brings this back to the pod layout: “We don't have any doors so it's common for trainees, associates and partners to be chatting, asking each other questions and working properly as teams. On big projects it's often the trainees telling me to go off and finalise this or that document!”
Trainees were clear that qualification isn't a formal process but not on much else: “Everything is very opaque. People would almost feel more confident if there was a formal structure as currently we don't know if we are missing the mark.” Most of the second-years we spoke to had simply stated their preferences to HR and tactfully approached the heads of the departments they wished to qualify into. Trainees need not worry too much though: Twobirds consistently posts a retention rate above 80%, and 2017 was no exception, with 15 of 18 qualifiers of kept on.
“We're not looking for world domination,” said sources, commenting on Twobirds' strategy. “We want to continue to focus on those sectors that are being disrupted by developments in technology.” Read our technology practice area overview to pick up on current trends worth exploring further.
How to get a Bird & Bird training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 30 April 2018(opens 1 October 2017)
Training contract applications and assessments
Bird & Bird receives around 1,000 applications each year for its training contract. The first step in the process is a critical reasoning test, after which recruiters invite 60 candidates who made the grade to complete an online video interview in which they're sent a link and given a week to record their answers to a set of questions. From here, around 16 candidates are asked to attend an insight and selection day.
This sees candidates asked to demonstrate various competencies through three activities: a presentation and interview, a group task and a written task. Those who impress go on to a formal panel interview, which further tests these competencies. Insiders suggest coming armed with a thorough knowledge of your CV and just how your skill set equips you to work at the firm, and being prepared to defend your interest in Bird & Bird over its peer firms. As one trainee pointed out: “The firm is into deep sector knowledge, so make sure you're ready to talk about the industries we work in.”
From here, training contract offers are made.
The majority of trainees at Bird & Bird enter the firm through its spring & summer placement schemes. “They see it as an extended interview and a good way for you to suss out how much you actually like the firm,” one trainee explained. The firm runs a one-week spring scheme as well as a two-week summer scheme. In total there are around 30 places available each year.
Bagging a place starts with an online application form. The firm usually receives around 1,200 of these each year, and after a critical reasoning test it invites 250 applicants to undergo an online video interview. Around 90 of those who impress go on to complete the insight and selection day outlined above (minus the panel interview), and from here the firm decides who gets a place.
Attendees are assigned a trainee buddy and a supervisor each, and they sit in a single department during their visit, though they work on an ongoing task over the course of the two weeks that sees them engage with lawyers across the firm.
Vac schemers are automatically assessed for a training contract, and attend a short interview with a member of graduate recruitment and the training principal at the end of their placement.
Bird & Bird doesn't have a cookie-cutter trainee type. In 2017 our sample of interviewees had a wide range of degrees between them – from languages to psychology to technology, to name just a few – as well a decent spread of universities, with Nottingham, Newcastle and Oxford all cropping up.
That said, the usual credentials – 2:1-plus results, excellent A levels, commercial awareness and interpersonal skills – are firmly required. Insiders told us Bird & Bird is particularly interested in “people who are willing to engage with the firm more broadly than simply doing their work and going home.” At the same time, they agreed it's important for applicants to have other interests outside of law. “You'll find trainees here with all sorts of strings to their bow,” said one. As such, be sure to mention in your application if you're a keen volleyballer, watercolour wizard or crochet champ.
Trends in the technology sector
Interview with training principal Ian Edwards
Chambers Student: The firm recently moved its London base to 12 New Fetter Lane. What's the new office like?
Ian Edwards: It's fantastic. We used to be in three separate offices, and one of the main goals for the move was to have everyone in one modern building. Prior to moving, we put a lot of thought into the facilities for the new building and did a lot of research into what our clients and employees want. We now have a great working environment. My favourite space is the 11th floor, which has our staff restaurant and lots of room for our lawyers and clients to work and relax. It has some fantastic views of London too!
CS: So now you've moved offices, what's the plan going forward?
IE: As a firm, we remain focused on working with clients and industries that are being impacted by technology. This has been a very successful strategy for Bird & Bird for a number of years, and we are continuously looking at new areas for growth. A good example of this is our Energy & Utilities sector group: we have worked hard over the past ten years to establish ourselves in the energy sector and have developed a really thriving practice that offers something a lot of other firms do not.
CS: What impact do you think Brexit will have on the firm's plans for the future?
IE: Like a lot of other industries, there are both challenges and opportunities for us in relation to Brexit. We have a team from across the firm that's looked at the issues for quite some time and worked with a number of clients and industry bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Clearly, Brexit is going to have a major impact on a number of the sectors that we operate in, from life sciences to aviation to automotive. There are also a large number of legal issues that we are advising our clients on, such as what the UK's data protection landscape might look like post-Brexit.
CS: What overseas seats are available? We heard from trainees that Brussels is the only regular option.
IE: This is certainly an area that we are looking to grow. There are numerous seats which are available to our trainees across the firm in various jurisdictions. We also offer some really great client secondments. Trainees are now strongly encouraged to undertake either an international secondment or a client secondment during their training contract.
CS: Do you think that Bird & Bird has a distinct culture that makes it stand out against other firms?
IE: I came to Bird & Bird after having worked in the magic circle and do feel there is a difference in culture here. A lot of us were attracted to the firm because of its culture and it is something that we are very protective of. We try to keep a very friendly, non-hierarchical atmosphere where trainees, associates and partners all work together as part of the same team. In fact, on a lot of projects a trainee will have a really pivotal role in managing the project and co-ordinating both the Bird & Bird team and the client team. In other words, I am pretty used to have a trainee bossing me around!
CS: How can a candidate really impress at interview?
IE: The most impressive candidates are always those who have thoroughly researched the firm and what makes us different – such as our focus on specific sectors – and have taken the time to think about why that appeals to them and how they can contribute to the firm in the future. The first question in an interview at Bird & Bird is often: "What excites you about Bird & Bird?". The candidates who stand out from the crowd are those who explain how their experience and interests fit in with the strategy of the firm.
Bird & Bird
12 New Fetter Lane,
- Partners 89
- Associates 143
- Total trainees 36
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 28
- Graduate recruiter: Lynne Walters [email protected] 0207 415 6000
- Training partner: Ian Edwards 0207 415 6000
- Application critera
- Training contracts pa: 18
- Applications pa: 3,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline 2020 start: 30 April 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 28 December 2017
- Salary and Benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:£5,500 per study year
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, UK
- Please apply directly to international offices.
Main areas of work
We have a variety of international secondment opportunities including Brussels, Madrid and Abu Dhabi.
• Spring vacation scheme: one week during April
• Summer vacation scheme: one to two weeks during June
• Summer vacation scheme: two weeks during July
To be eligible, students must be in their penultimate year or above. The spring scheme is aimed at non law students or those students that have already graduated and/or are working.
University law careers fairs 2017