Age ain't nothing but a number: this 180-year-old is very much at the forefront of all things tech and IP.
On the edge of tomorrow
If there's one firm with a keen eye on the future, it's Bristows. With its primary focus on the life sciences and TMT sectors, this London-based mid-sizer boasts an enviable client list including Google, Samsung, the BBC and pharma giant Johnson & Johnson. Top Chambers UK nods for all things IP point to this firm's heritage, but Bristows is ensuring that it's known for more than just superb copyright, trade mark and patent advice; it's pursuing a full-service strategy for its techy clients, augmenting its traditional strengths with the likes of corporate, employment and real estate expertise.
Bristows has seen its revenue consistently climb over the past six years, with a very respectable 12% increase to £42.5 million posted in 2015/16. Top-notch work highlights also show that Bristows still has the magic touch: the firm recently represented Genomics England as it managed a £300 million project to map 100,000 human genomes to identify cancer-causing genes; it also acted for gaming extraordinaire Blizzard Entertainment as it took on the developers of cheat tools for use on its multi-player online platforms. What else is new? Training partner Miranda Cass tells us that the firm's data protection team has “acquired a lot of new household-name clients in the past year.” In addition, Cass tells us: “The competition team has been very busy, particularly with regards to litigation, and we're anticipating growth in our brands group too.”
Unsurprisingly, the firm's key areas were a major draw for trainees. “Firstly it was the IP focus,” enthused one, while another added: “They deal with tech and life sciences, and I really wanted to so something where I could use my science degree.” But are all of Bristows' trainees wielding hefty biochemistry qualifications? Some are, some aren't. Cass tells us that there's been a consistent 50:50 split between those with humanities and science degrees in recent years. Providing applicants "demonstrate a real interest in the technology involved," Cass explains, those with more artsy credentials shouldn't shy away.
“Demonstrate a real interest in the technology.”
Bristows is quite flexible when it comes to seat duration, offering trainees stints of either three or six months in most departments. First seats are automatically assigned and while this “takes the pressure off,” some sources did feel that asking “incoming trainees what they're interested in” could avoid “a lost six months” in a potentially undesirable seat. From then on the majority of our sources had been assigned most – if not all – of their preferred seats, after “a consultation process with HR; you express where you want to go and they try to fit you in.” This insider mirrored others when they cheerily stated: "I've been able to map out my training contract pretty much how I wanted it to be." Take note that all trainees must complete six months in IP litigation, but given that this is one of Bristows' main attractions, our interviewees weren't complaining.
Secondments are a big deal at Bristows. Although it has no foreign offices, the firm regularly dispatches trainees to clients, including Sony, WPP, Capgemini and Google. Sources found that these sojourns provided a unique – if slightly scary – opportunity to be "the first point of contact for the company, totake on a lot more responsibility and bepushed outside your comfort zone." But don't fear, aspiring Bristownians: interviewees praised the "great support networks" at the firm, and found that the placement gave them "more confidence in their abilities," equipping them with a host of transferable skills to bring back to base.
Let's get digital, digital
With over 90 lawyers, Bristows' IP department is its largest and the firm's pièce de résistance. Everything from patent litigation to brand protection to digital disputes is covered here, and you won't just find clients in the life sciences and TMT sectors; matters also involve those hailing from spheres such as fashion, renewable energy and aviation.
A stint in IP litigation is “mostly focused on patents.” Lawyers here recently forged a joint defence on behalf of Google and Samsung after Unwired Planet – a mobile software supplier – accused the tech maestros of infringing five patents. Elsewhere, the team has also been busy helping Swiss pharma company Novartis enforce patents tied to its cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's drugs. Trainees noted that “the pace of life ratchets up quite dramatically” here. As is common with litigation cases, “there is a lot of case management, so you're taking notes at meetings, answering phone calls, bundling, filing court documents, etc...” However, “you're not just the guy on the bottom rung making bundles,” and sources emphasised that they were often called upon to voice their opinions on issues. Luckily, they're equipped with the knowledge they need to competently do so, as meetings with experts provide crash courses on any case-relevant tech. The icing on the cake? The opportunity to enjoy some direct client contact and even the odd court hearing.
Interviewees felt more responsibility was up for grabs in the firm's commercial, technology and copyright disputes seat. “You generally get given a wide variety of tasks early on,” which include research, drafting emails to the other side and attending expert meetings. “Toward the end of the seat I was doing more drafting of things like witness statements and parts of expert reports,” one source chirped. Disputes arising in the life sciences, consumer products and IT sectors are common here, and spats over the misuse of confidential information are on the rise: the department has been acting for Gee 7 – a provider of employee benefit schemes – after the company lost a breach of confidence case, leaving it the target of further damages claims.
Share and share alike
While a visit to commercial IP/IT isn't mandatory, it is highly in demand, with trainees drawn to the mix of transactional IP, data protection and commercial IT matters available. Which area trainees focus on “depends on who needs support and when.” Our sources encountered “a lot of high-value IT work, where you proof read enormous agreements but also sit in on telephone negotiations and conferences.” The group has recently negotiated over 25 IT deals for client Bupa, as the healthcare provider refines web and app-based tools for its customers to use. Data protection work was deemed more interesting, with trainees getting to grips with “binding contract rules.” Trainees were also involved in multi-jurisdictional privacy cases for some top names in the tech world.
The IP theme continues in Bristows' competition department, which handles a mix of licensing policies, mergers, investigations and compliance issues. Google once again turned to Bristows' capable hands when Streetmap – a UK-based internet mapping company – accused Google of abusing its dominant position in the market. Our sources enjoyed getting “stuck into mergers and document reviews,” with one highlighting their experience on a patent competition case in particular: “I was thrown in at the deep end, and had to navigate confidentiality issues and who could see what documents. It's a small team, so you're usually working with just an associate and a partner.”
“The right amount of autonomy.”
The 12-lawyer real estate team may be a smaller component of Bristows' operations, but it offers trainees “an absolutely fantastic experience: I was given the right amount of autonomy and felt I could contribute usefully to matters.” Clients surface from a broader range of sectors than elsewhere, and include banks (Santander), national academies (Royal Academy of Engineering) and – surprisingly – garden centre operators (Blue Diamond). “The department deals with the management of properties with small leases, which trainees get to lead on,” interviewees revealed, “so you get drafting experience and can interact directly with clients.”
The technical nature of the work may lend itself to a steep learning curve, but sources praised the firm for promoting a very "supportive environment" where "you never feel scared to ask questions or feel that you just have to get on with it by yourself." In addition, “the initial in-house training is fantastic" one informant explained; "you spend a couple of weeks going through a number of training exercises, covering things like how to use Excel and speed reading." Weekly lunchtime sessions follow, “which are directed at trainees so we learn more about the firm and the other departments.” However, these trainings “tail off” by the second year, leaving some requesting their continuation. Still, firm-wide trainings “keep you up-to-date on recent IP and technology developments,” while Bristows' membership of the Inn Group – a collaborative effort between firms to host lectures and talks – also helps to keep trainees informed. Appraisals occur at the end of each seat, although trainees did note that supervisors endeavour to give feedback throughout their stint so "there are no surprises at the end."
“Everyone is driven but it's a collaborative place.”
With no billable hours targets, “people aren't fighting for work,” according to our sources. “Everyone is driven but it's a very collaborative place – if someone was pushy and stepping on others to get ahead it would be picked up in a negative way.” This creates a “reduced sense of hierarchy” where “you can have good chats with people across all levels of seniority.” It also means that the working hours are more reasonable than you'd find elsewhere in the City: “We don't have any grinders working 60-hour weeks to get up the ladder. People are switched on and work the hours they need to get their work done.” This translates into “typical” 9am to 6.30pm days, but as matters heat up – especially as trials beckon – “you can expect to work later – until 8pm if it's a busy day and up until 10pm if it's a super busy day, but that's only happened once in the past year!” The trade-off is a salary “at the lower end of the scale” compared to some of the City's hotshots, but not by much (trainees still start on £38,000, after all), and interviewees agreed that “given the size of the firm and the work/life balance we have, it's competitive.”
The firm's location mirrors its cultural vibes: “We're based in Unilever House just across from Blackfriars station – not in the City proper, a little outside.” The building itself – a grand rendering of neoclassical design – is a big hit with trainees. “Walking into the office never gets old; the layout is great and the offices look out over the Thames and the Tate Modern.” Behind these Romanesque doors lies a thriving social life too: “They pitch it just right. Every month there are firm-funded drinks in the common room, and we also have a couple of big firm events: a 'dinner dance' in March, plus an autumn party, which was most recently held at Swingers [FYI: London's first crazy golf club, beneath the Gherkin].” Departmental Christmas parties (“as a trainee you hop between them – I went to four!”), quizzes and team barbecues at partners' houses also keep trainees in a whir of social activity.
“We don't have to submit applications or anything like that,” said trainees of the qualification process. Instead, NQ hopefuls submit two top choices and can expect to be interviewed by partners on the training committee before discovering their fate. Our sources were hopeful though: “The retention rate is usually good. If the department you want isn't taking on NQs – and if you're open minded – they will try and put you somewhere else.” In the end,six out of nine qualifiersbecame fully fledged Bristownians in 2017.
“We have a very international outlook and it's important for us to have connections around the world,” Cass emphasises. “In particular, we're cementing good links with clients and firms in the US.”
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How to get a Bristows training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 January 2018 (first cycle); 31 July 2018 (second cycle)
Bristows runs two open days every year. These take place in the spring/summer period, and offer details on the firm's training contract as well as becoming a solicitor in general.
The first is aimed specifically at science and engineering students. The event includes talks on the practice areas in which scientific expertise is a particular advantage, and how to convert a science background into a legal career.
The second open day is aimed at all undergraduate students. Attendees are given a broad introduction to different types of law firms, as well as talks on what a training contract involves. There's also an opportunity to meet Bristows' current trainees and have a brief chat with some of the partners.
There are up to 30 spots available on each open day. Applicants are required to complete a short online application form.
In 2013 the firm replaced its vac scheme with a series of two-day workshops that take place across the winter, spring and summer. Corporate partner Mark Hawes explains the change: “In the past we found that offering people a week or more on a vacation scheme meant that we placed too many eggs in one basket. By introducing these workshops, we aim to see far more people and recruit more of them for training contracts.”
Applications begin with a comprehensive online form. We're told that those who pass this stage are the ones who demonstrate excellent academic performance and a clear interest in a career at the firm. “We want to see evidence of research and that candidates have looked at a range of sources,” says graduate resourcing and alumni manager, May Worvill, touching on the importance of providing answers that are well structured and tailored to the firm.
Shortlisted candidates go on to participate in a short video interview which is reviewed by HR. Questions revolve around key competencies (like business acumen, interpersonal and communication skills) as well as a candidate's motivation to pursue a legal career at Bristows.
“We ensure that those on the workshop receive intensive exposure to the firm,” says Hawes. Indeed, across the two days there are presentations on the different kinds of work each department handles, interactive case studies and a series of meet-and-greets, including a ‘speed-networking’ event between candidates and representatives across the firm. There's also lunch and drinks with the current trainee crop as well as a meal with the trainee committee. “We want participants to have had quality time with partners, associates, trainees and support staff by the time they leave us,” Hawes tells us.
Note that those who attend a workshop are still required to submit a separate application for a training contract.
Training contract applications
Unusually, the firm has two recruitment rounds throughout the year: the spring recruitment (application deadline: 31 January) round is aimed at final year undergraduates and graduates, while the summer round is open to all applicants (application deadline: 31 July).
Like workshop applicants, those applying directly for a training contract begin with an online form, albeit a slightly more comprehensive one which includes a personal statement in addition to the usual 'Why Bristows?' and 'Why law?' questions.
Candidates who clear this first hurdle participate in a video interview like the one outlined above, followed by a face-to-face interview with a partner and an associate. The third (and thankfully final!) round of interviews takes place with two partners on the training committee, at which point applicants are also required to complete a written exercise.
According to Hawes, “it's personality that's most important during the actual interview. Lots of our work is client-facing, and in the sectors we operate in – life sciences and media – this means you're often dealing with whiz-kid inventors. We're looking for charming people who will be able to talk to these kinds of clients and maintain their interest.”
Trends in the technology sector
100 Victoria Embankment,
- Partners 41
- Associates 91
- Total trainees 20
- UKoffices London
- Graduate recruiter: May Worvill, graduate resourcing manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Around 10
- Applications pa: 1500
- Minimumrequired degree grade: 2:1 (preferred)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 36
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 January 2018 (for spring interviews), 31 July 2018 (for summer interviews)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 22 November 2017 (winter), 31t January 2018 (spring and summer)
- Open day deadline: 28 February 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £41,000
- Post-qualification salary: £63,000
- Holiday entitlement: 23 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Final year undergraduates and graduates are eligible to apply for all schemes. Penultimate year students are eligible to apply for the summer scheme only.
Open days and first-year opportunities
• The Science and Engineering open day is for all undergraduates and graduates of STEM subjects.
• The Undergraduate open day is open to all undergraduates of any degree discipline.
Please apply online via our website.
University law careers fairs 2017