From projects to banking, this venerable firm runs a varied training contract and puts an emphasis on being “a well-rounded lawyer.”
Ashurst training contract review 2024
Ashurst recently celebrated its 200th birthday, making it a veteran on London’s legal scene. A firm of such maturity has built a strong name in a variety of practices, especially when it comes to projects, infrastructure, telecommunications, transport, and banking and finance. For proof, look no further than Chambers UK, which rates Ashurst among the best in the country for its expertise in projects, telecommunications, and rail work. In London, Ashurst stands out for mid-market banking and finance on both the lender and borrower side.
Outside of the UK, Ashurst’s haul of 30 or so international offices covers North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. The firm’s “big domestic and international presence” was one of many reasons trainees told us they were drawn to Ashurst, not least because it brings with it quite the selection of secondment opportunities, which we’ll come back to later on.
“It’s really infectious when you listen to a trainee talk about experiences with the firm and you pick up on their genuine passion.”
Aside from the scope and scale, it was the people that attracted the trainees we spoke to the most. “I heard great things about the firm through word of mouth,” said one. “It’s really infectious when you listen to a trainee talk about experiences with the firm and you pick up on their genuine passion.” Upon their own arrival at the firm, trainees were pleased to find themselves at a firm that “encourages you to be a well-rounded lawyer,” whether that meant attending career insights days at schools, conducting pro bono work for the Center for Reproductive Rights, or getting involved with the firm’s internal diversity networks.
At Ashurst, everyone is expected to do a finance and transactional seat. In terms of seat rotation, it works on the basis of trainee preference and business need. “We get sent a list of departments that have openings,” one source explained. “You’re able to express a preference about where you would like to sit next.” Some sources wanted a bit more transparency around the process, admitting it’s “a difficult job and you can’t please everyone, but they could be more open. No one knows how they make those decisions.” Despite this, trainees appreciated the efforts to slot everyone’s preferences in: “If you don’t get your first choice the first time round, they’ll do their best to give you your first choice second time round.”
There’s also a wide range of secondment options at the firm. On the client side, destinations include Goldman Sachs, while international opportunities can be found in such places as Brussels, Dubai, Tokyo, Madrid and Paris, but be warned, getting a spot can be competitive – “Abu Dhabi and Dubai are particularly oversubscribed.” Around ten trainees out of 85 go on secondment at each rotation. To be selected, trainees send over their CV and an application stating why they’re suitable and why they want to go. One secondee shared their words of wisdom: “I’d advise people to go somewhere with secondments, because it’s been amazing and hugely beneficial to my career to work in a different culture.” Depending on business need, secondments are often projects or finance seats.
“Projects is always really popular.”
And as for one of the most sought after seats in London, the answer was overwhelmingly clear. “Projects is always really popular,” trainees indicated. The department’s “broad practice” encompasses energy and infrastructure, defence, rail, and international projects, as well as project financing. There’s also social infrastructure project development work. Around seven or eight trainees sit here at any given time. One told us they got involved in “doing initial amends to contracts – a huge amount of contracts needed updating!” Then there were board minutes to take, signings to manage, conditions precedent checklists to run, and company search reports to pull together, “to make sure all the companies were agreeing to the arrangements.” The clients range from financial sponsors and lenders to government bodies.The firm recently advised HS2 on the new Rail Systems Alliance between several contractors in the rail industry in relation to the high-profile HS2 project. “I had a lot of direct contact with clients,” another interviewee shared. “I was working on a distressed project on my first seat and coordinating meetings with various parties.”
Running close behind projects in terms of popularity was the disputes department. Representing a plethora of financial corporations and big clients like Meta and Virgin Media in an assortment of contractual spats. There’s been a boost in data and privacy litigation, as well as ESG cases and matters pertaining to shareholder activism. In the crypto space, the firm recently acted for Crypton in a High Court claim for copyright infringement against Blockchain SA and several other defendants regarding a cryptocurrency trading platform. There’s also an international arbitration arm covering sectors such as energy, mining, construction, and manufacturing. Oil and gas disputes involving jurisdictions across Africa and the Middle East are common too.“You get the chance to be involved in more written pieces of work,” we heard from one trainee. “I’ll often get the first crack at working on a lengthy piece of advice that’s several pages long.” Many trainees noted that they were treated as an equal part of the team from the get-go, with one giving us the run down on what to expect: “You have a large influence over the amount of responsibility you’re given. If you shy away from it, you’ll get less; if you take it, you’ll get more.” Traditional trainee tasks include “drafting of letters, agreements, specialist agreements, bundling, and file management.”
“Banking, generally, is very busy and juniors are given responsibility very early on, which I loved.”
Moving over to the world of banking, up to 12 trainees sit with Ashurst’s global loans team, which handles the financing arrangements for all kinds of multi-jurisdictional transactions and projects, and advises on everything from leveraged finance to fund finance to sustainability finance “Banking, generally, is very busy and juniors are given responsibility very early on, which I loved.” For this reason, one source told us a colleague “advised global loans be my first seat.” Some of the typical tasks included managing the conditions required for a deal. “I was also involved in drafting ancillary documents, not to mention drafting legal opinions, which is a big task towards the deal’s conclusion, and I was also the point man on managing the signing of documents.” Ashurst recently advised HSBC on its underwriting of loans totalling £900 million for the Vistry Group.
Pivoting into corporate, this practice consists of equity capital markets, private M&A, public M&A, and alternative finance such as debt. “I would say being able to run a smaller transaction is the most responsibility I’ve been given,” one recalled. “We had this piece of work coming in, and my supervisor said, ‘We’re interested in your professional development, so take it and run with it.’” Ashurst recently represented Morrisons in the store’s takeover of McColl’s after the latter fell into insolvency.“I worked on that takeover,” one interviewee divulged. “I was allowed to have a first go at different announcements, proofreading documents, being on calls with clients, and handling some of the smaller due diligence. So, I'm feeling slightly battered now, but I was involved to the extent that that's possible with a large M&A transaction and sense the fun and interest from my colleagues, which I don't get the same sense of when speaking to trainees at other firms.”
“Every single person I have spoken to has been hospitable and incredibly welcoming. I’m yet to have a negative interaction with anyone.” This was one of many similar sentiments we heard in our interviews. Overwhelmingly, sources felt the firm’s culture was a huge driving point of their enjoyment at the firm. “Everyone is excited to get to know you and work with you,” one elaborated. “You’re a valued member of the team. They give you a good shot to get involved with everything going on.”
“It’s fantastic for feedback.”
As for formal training, initially trainees experience a few weeks of general induction sessions before department specific training at the start of each seat. Trainees also sit with their supervisors in the office, making them “a very easy port of call to ask questions. It doesn’t feel hierarchal and it’s fantastic for feedback.” While some sources pointed out they’d had the odd supervisor they didn’t see much, most had a pretty consistent relationship. “I see mine three days a week,” one shared. “Having her has been invaluable as she’ll always take the time to explain things.” Every supervisor has to volunteer for the position and is expected to undertake training including unconscious bias training). “It pays dividends because they’re in contact with you every day,” one said. There are also more formal mid- and end-of-seat reviews with supervisors.
The qualification process kicks off about a month into trainees’ fourth and final seat. The firm releases a list of which departments are hiring without specifying how many roles are available, “so people don’t self-select, which I think is a good,” one assessed. “They will let you know if they want to interview but usually it’s an informal process.” In 2023, the firm kept on 34 out of 39 qualifiers as NQ associates.
In terms of hours, how late you work is not just department dependent, but can also depend on the time of year. An interviewee working in construction said they’d had finish times ranging from 7pm to midnight. They did stress the firm’s efforts to support trainees when hours get tough: “Sometimes you’re in a deal and everything goes wrong, but even on my worst weeks, I’m with a senior associate who is trying to send me home!” For one interviewee, this sort of attitude “links back to why I chose Ashurst in the first place. They’re big on mental health and having a work-life balance.” On this note, trainees told us the firm runs regular training on positive working practices. As this trainee explained, “if you're sending an email late, but the recipient doesn't need to do anything with it until tomorrow, writing ‘for tomorrow’ in the subject line is one way to reduce late night stress.”
“A lot of the trainees play very active roles in the D&I space.”
As for broader diversity efforts, this newbie said “one thing that really featured when we came in is the firm’s efforts in the D&I space. A lot of the trainees play very active roles.” Even if “you’re not part of a specific group, they encourage you to join as allies.” Some pointed out that representation thinned out at the more senior end, but their own personal experiences were positive. “I'm part of the LGBTQ+ community, so coming into a law firm, I was really conscious that I wanted to be at a firm that was happy with me being myself at work.”
From an “away day in Barcelona for the loans team” to the “projects ski trip,” Ashurst keeps an active social calendar allowing plenty of opportunities for trainees and partners alike to hang out outside of work hours – “as much or as little as you want to get involved with. There are plenty of socials within teams and departments, like sports and ping pong. There’s even a summer party for the whole firm,” as well as an annual ball. Fancy! On a more routine, chill basis, there’s “free drinks in the office on Thursdays that is often well attended” in the office restaurant (the Exchange, which also offers free lunch on Mondays). “Intakes very much hang out,” one trainee shared. “Even when I first arrived, we were very close and saw each other outside of work.”
Crash(urst) course in clubs: Ashurst has a variety of social clubs to join including netball, yoga, HIIT, spin, sailing, and (for the indoor people) a choir and a book club.
How to get an Ashurst training contract
Winter deadline: Friday, 29 September 2023 at 12 noon
Summer deadline: Friday 5 January 2024 at 12 noon
Training contract deadline (September 2026 & March 2027): Friday 29 March 2024, 12 noon
Applications and interviews
Around 2,500 applicants gun for the 40 training contracts Ashurst offers each year. The first step to landing the job is completing an online application form. This is the same for both vacation scheme and straight-to-training-contract applicants. Once submitted, you will receive an invitation to complete three online ability tests.
Those who impress are invited to an assessment centre, which takes place virtually and lasts approximately one hour. The candidates are given documents to read through and have to respond to a scenario. It is said that there is a lot to read, but part of the task is to see how well people manage their time.
The next stage is an invitation to attend the office where you will have the opportunity to quiz current trainees, have an office tour and complete an interview with a member of the early careers team and an Associate/Senior Associate. The interview includes competency-based questions, scenario questions and tests your commercial acumen. For Direct training contract applicants the next stage is an interview with two partners focusing on behavioural and scenario-based questions and also includes a commercial case study .
Ashurst runs two vac schemes: a week-long placement that takes place in December; and one three-week placement over the summer. The winter scheme is designed for finalists and graduates from all degree disciplines; the summer scheme is aimed at final year students and graduates of all degree disciplines, as well as penultimate year law students.
The only major difference between the winter and summer scheme is that participants on the former only sample one department during their visit, while summer schemers try out two. Each placement includes presentations from lawyers across various practice areas, networking sessions with trainees and numerous social events.
Vac schemers undergo a training contract interview at the end or following their placement. This is conducted by two partners and takes the same format as the final interview direct training contract applicants complete on their interview day.
How to wow
Ashurst requests a 2:1 degree (predicted or already achieved) from prospective trainees. The firm also uses a contextual recruitment plug-in, which enables it to analyse every applicant's social mobility characteristics. If you're confident you can demonstrate and satisfy all the firm's competencies, you should certainly look to apply. FYI, those competencies are analytical ability, commercial instinct, communication skills, teamwork/interpersonal skills, flexibility, determination and drive.
Prior work experience tends to stand candidates in good stead, and this doesn't have to be in the legal sector. Any type of experience that has helped someone develop the skills needed to be an effective lawyer will be appreciated.
London Fruit & Wool Exchange,
1 Duval Square,
With 30 offices in 20 countries and 11 time zones, Ashurst offers the reach and insight of a global network, combined with the knowledge and understanding of local markets. Our 1850 partners and lawyers work across 11 different time zones, responding to our clients wherever and whenever they need us. Our clients are at the heart of our thinking and our ambition is to be the most progressive global law firm. We are able to achieve this by being at the forefront of legal technology innovation with initiatives such as Ashurst Advance Digital, which is dedicated to designing, developing and delivering technology-based solutions for our clients' ever-evolving needs
We build strong partnerships with our prestigious client base, working closely together on large and complex multi-jurisdictional transactions to deliver incisive commercial solutions. Our global reach provides opportunities for our people to work in numerous jurisdictions with leading international organisations across the world.
We also foster an inclusive working environment which genuinely values the breadth of individual perspectives and contributions that we gain from having a diverse workforce. It’s a strong, shared culture that will enable you to apply your intellect, develop yourself and thrive as an international commercial lawyer.
Main areas of work
Ashurst advance; banking and finance; capital markets; competition and antitrust; corporate and M&A; digital economy; dispute resolution; employment; financial regulation; insurance and reinsurance; intellectual property; investigations; investment funds; pro bono; projects; real estate; restructuring, insolvency and special situations; tax.
A training contract at Ashurst will move your mind beyond technical knowledge of the law. Ultimately, we want to help you become a thought leader with a reputation for clear, perceptive and influential advice – a professional in whom governments and leading businesses over the world can place their trust.
This isn’t an easy route to take. You’ll need to become a shrewd negotiator, have an ability to read both balance sheets and behaviours, and become a commercial strategist with a deep understanding of specific industries. Our training contract will start you on that road. We will plan closely with you four seats of six months each, that will broaden your world view and hone your talents. At least one seat will be in a finance practice and we will also encourage you to join an overseas office or go on secondment to one of our most valued clients.
We will be accepting training contract applications to start in 2026 and 2027 from 08 January 2024. The deadline for this is Friday 29 March 2024. We may then re-open applications in Summer 2024.
Winter Vacation Scheme: A one-week scheme designed for final-year students and graduates from any degree discipline. Applications closed at midday on Friday 29 September 2023.
Summer Vacation Scheme: A three-week scheme designed for final years and graduates of all degree disciplines as well as penultimate-year law students. Applications close at midday on Friday 05 January 2024.
Future trainee loan, private medical insurance, life assurance and income protection are provided by Ashurst. Pension (including contribution from Ashurst), season ticket loan (interest free), dental insurance, ISA savings account, technology purchase plan, holiday purchase, travel insurance, reduced rate gym membership, childcare vouchers, cycle to work scheme, give as you earn, onsite services including doctor, physiotherapist and masseuse. 25 days holiday (plus bank holidays) and staff restaurant.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Fund Finance (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Environment & Climate Change (Band 3)
- Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: £150 million and above (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Structured Products (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 3)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Investor Representation (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Projects (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 4)
- Telecommunications (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)