Ashurst is something of a projects powerhouse, but there are plenty more practice areas for trainees to explore at this large City firm (as well as enviable secondment options).
Ashurst training contract review 2022
Celebrating its 200th birthday in 2022, Ashurst has been a staple of the London legal scene since inception but has of course come a long way since. Rather than dwelling on the past, we’ll focus on what the firm looks like today – and if you’re looking for a “large corporate-focused international firm that stands toe to toe with the best in the market,” then you’ve come to the right place. Some of our trainee sources reckoned that “Ashurst is best knownfor its flagship projects department,” and true enough the firm’s infrastructure, projects, and transport practices all get top marks from Chambers UK. This is far from a one-department pony, however – among 40 or so strong rankings, top spots for mid-market banking (both borrowing and lending) stand out. If the funding and building of railways, power plants, wind turbines and bridges is your thing, you're in good company here.
Having expanded way beyond its London birthplace, Ashurst now has a presence in 29 countries worldwide including bases in key economic hubs like Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong. As well as providing trainees with an enviable list of secondment opportunities, the firm’s network also benefits its clients. “We pride ourselves on being able to offer a 24-hour service,” trainees noted. Keen to talk up the resultant advantages, one gave this example: “In our digital economy group, which works for big tech clients like Facebook, our team in Australia is able to seamlessly take over our work streams when we go to bed.”
“The firm knows its strengths and is confident in its market position without needing to make itself look grander than it is.”
This 24/7 approach obviously comes with some long hours, but many of our interviewees flocked to Ashurst in the hopes of side-stepping the more toxic traits of corporate life in the City. For one, a healthy dose of humility kept any snobbery at bay: “Ashurst has a frank and honest self-perception. Nobody will tell you that we are the number-one best firm on the planet. The firm knows its strengths and is confident in its market position without needing to make itself look grander than it is.”
Clearly comfortable in its skin, the firm has also earned some headlines recently thanks to progressive changes up and down the ranks. With A-level grades in chaos in 2020 due to Covid-19, Ashurst dropped its pre-degree entry-level requirements for trainees, a move that could boost social mobility for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2021, Karen Davies took over as the firm’s first female elected chair.
All trainees must complete a seat in finance and transactional but are otherwise free to craft their training contracts how they wish. As at every large firm, we heard from some who had secured most of their preferences and were very happy with the seat allocation system, and others who were less pleased. One frustrated trainee felt “it isn’t very personal, and it sometimes feels like HR doesn’t take into account how you want to navigate your training contract.” Trainees rank up to 15 options in order of preference at each rotation, but our insiders suggested that most trainees tactfully only list a maximum of three preferences. While Ashurst certainly isn’t a litigation-averse firm, incoming trainees should expect a transactional-heavy training contract, with most of our survey respondents having completed three transactional to one disputes seat. Trainees can also apply for a six-month dedicated pro bono seat, where they will work as part of a team of four lawyers on various global pro bono initiatives. The seat was described as "especially good for those looking to qualify into the contentious side of law."
“The secondment opportunities are excellent.”
A variety of both international and client secondments are also available. “Ashurst’s secondment opportunities are excellent,” one insider stated, reasoning that “because there are around ten international seats and only 20 trainees [each intake], if you wanted to go somewhere there’s a high chance that you’ll be able to.” Singapore and Tokyo are popular choices but the firm offers a range of other secondments across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Insiders explained that “you have to write a small essay on where you want to go and why,” to go with a CV. “Some people choose to highlight language skills; others focus on why they love the country.”
Ashurst has one of the world’s pre-eminent projects law departments and there’s no shortage of high-profile deals here – infrastructure, energy and natural resources projects all fall in here. Clients include the European Investment Bank, China General Nuclear Power Group and Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The firm also handles matters closer to home, advising the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the landmark £4.2 billion Thames Tideway Tunnel project. Ashurst has also acted as the lead legal adviser to TfL for the Silvertown Tunnel, one of the largest PPPs closed in the UK in recent years.
“The tangibility of the work makes it distinct and interesting,” trainees in this seat reflected. They’re typically placed into a subgroup within the wider team: these include project finance, oil & gas, social infrastructure and defence, and transport. Trainees here were kept busy running conditions precedent checklists, conducting due diligence, and even helping on business development. “I was involved in helping to pitch,” one source told us, adding that they “got to prepare engagement letters and conduct background research into prospective clients.”
“The project management skills you develop during your time in banking are second to none.”
Global loans is the important-sounding name for the banking & finance team at Ashurst. You’ll find a range of high-profile clients on the firm’s books including McLaren Automotive, HSBC, Santander and J.P. Morgan. The last of those called on the firm to advise on the $2.5 billion debt funding package for Sirius Mineral's Woodsmith Mine project. “The project management skills you develop during your time in banking are second to none,” trainees agreed. Their main task was running conditions precedent checklists, “which can get you feeling panicked if you have multiple signings in a week!” Other responsibilities include drafting fee letters and liaising with local counsel overseas. Ashurst advises borrowers and lenders in equal measure, giving a fair amount of variety for trainees. Though some flagged this as a more punishing seat in terms of hours, most agreed that “you leave the team so much more confident in your abilities than when you started. You’re thrown in at the deep end, but you learn so much over the course of the seat.”
In similarly finance-oriented global markets, trainees slot into one of four subgroups: derivatives, debt capital markets, corporate trustees or structured products. “You’re often working with in-house lawyers in banks so it can be a demanding seat,” trainees explained. One in the derivatives subgroup highlighted that “it’s an interesting area of law and one that you don’t learn about during your studies at university.” Capital markets clients include huge names like Barclays and Deutsche; Ashurst recently acted for Morgan Stanley as sponsor in the proposed £1.5 billion+ rescue of Thomas Cook. On the debtor side, the firm acted for international waste-to-product company Renewi on its issuance of €75 million in green bonds due to retail investors in Belgium. Sources told us “you’re typically working on multiple deals – managing signings, compiling documents and registering securities” in this seat.
Digital economy is so named “because there’s a view that the term TMT is very 2000s,” one source revealed. Technology, media and telecoms clients are the focus here, including leading lights like O2, Facebook and Virgin Media. “We do a lot work with Facebook and their telecoms projects by helping to develop 4G networks in Africa,” a trainee noted. The team also recently acted for infrastructure giant Brookfield on its $3.7 billion acquisition of Indian telecom tower company Reliance Jio Infratel. “It’s similar to corporate transactions, but working for IT-focused clients,” we heard. Some of the work in this seat is at the cutting edge: trainees we spoke to had worked on matters pertaining to AI and blockchain technology for start-ups.
As at many firms, a restructuring seat offers both litigious and transactional work. Trainees gave a shout-out to department head honcho Lynn Dunn, by all accounts “a force to be reckoned with.” Compared to deals in more strictly transactional seats, sources said “restructurings go on for a long time. You’re typically managing two years’ worth of emails.” As well as inbox deep dives, trainees were able to conduct “lots of super interesting research.” Ashurst has worked on some very prominent restructurings recently. The firm acted in the compulsory winding-up of 26 companies core to the Thomas Cook Group; and for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on British Steel’s insolvency process.
It quickly became clear in our interviews that Ashurst’s trainees were keen to define the firm’s culture (positively) against its magic circle rivals. Many described what they saw as a less formal working environment “where partners will just call you up to talk about life” and where team meetings come with “a bit of banter.” One source put this different vibe down to the “greater diversity of university backgrounds,” telling us: “Oxbridge personalities don’t dominate the intake.” Our survey results do indeed reveal that just under 20% of trainees attended Oxbridge and just over 20% attended a fee-paying school in the UK – both noticeably lower figures than any magic circle firm.
“…greater diversity of university backgrounds.”
Interviewees also felt the firm shows good sensitivity to religious holidays, noting that “they are always putting on events and sending out informative newsletters to raise awareness and try and build a sense of community at Ashurst.” One insider offered specific praise to the firm’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests: “The firm quickly set up an internal learning centre called the Anti-Racism Hub. There’s been so many people around the Ashurst network from Australia to East Asia contributing and it’s full of recommended podcasts, books and movies – the buy-in has been excellent.” The firm’s first female chairman isn’t the only internal D&I success: more than three quarters of Ashurst’s latest partnership promotions (at the time of writing) were women, the largest proportion in the firm’s history.
Returning to that magic circle comparison, trainees reflected that they “probably have similar hours demands. We are paid the exact same as their trainees so it makes sense our experiences would be similar.” After a Covid-prompted decrease, Ashurst re-lifted NQ pay to £90,000 in 2021, slightly below magic circle rates. Our trainee survey respondents told us they worked an average of 50 hours in a week, which is in line with other UK-based City firms. Of course, our interviewees had a range of experiences working late nights: one said they’d typically “finish between 7 and 7.30pm, and that’s been pretty consistent.” They did admit they’d not yet done one of the compulsory finance seats – trainees repeatedly flagged banking and finance as the most gruelling section of the firm. “There were some weeks where I would be finishing past 12pm every night and also losing some of my weekend too,” one said. “That’s only happened around three times during my training contract, but the average week in finance has been around 12 hours a day.”
“If I had a particularly demanding few weeks, I would feel comfortable telling my supervisor I need a reprieve.”
One insider suggested intense hours had caused high attrition rates at junior associate level: “There are two kinds of people who leave the firm. Those who leave to go to US firms when they think there will be comparable hours but higher pay; and those who are willing to take a pay cut to work fewer hours.” Fortunately, trainee interviewees generally agreed that "the firm's senior leadership is very focused on wellbeing.” One told us: “If I had a particularly demanding few weeks, I would feel comfortable telling my supervisor I need a reprieve.”
There are multiple layers of supervision at Ashurst, including a popular “senior mentorship scheme.” Each trainee is partnered with a senior member of the firm, who’s there to relay feedback and ideas for change. Commitment to trainees “doesn’t feel like lip service in that sense," according to one. That comes in handy when qualification time nears – trainees are able to submit their preference for multiple departments. Most applications require a CV, to go alongside reviews of trainees' performance in each of their seats. Interviews take place if the number of applicants exceeds the number of available positions. This year, the firm did not disclose the number of trainees it retained.
Fields of dreams
The firm hadn’t yet spent a year in its new Spitalfields base when Covid-19 sent everyone into their own home office. Expect some parties on the rooftop terrace when restrictions are rolled back!
How to get an Ashurst training contract
Summer Vacation Scheme Deadline: Wednesday 05 January 2022 at 12.00 noon
Training Contract Deadline (March/September 2024 & March 2025): Thursday 31 March 2022
Applications and interviews
Around 1,200 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.
Those who impress are invited to an interview day, which takes place in the London office and lasts between three and four hours. First up is an interview with someone from the early careers team and an Associate/Senior Associate that involves competency-based questions, plus a chat through the candidate's application form. For training contract applicants, an interview with two partners focusing on behavioural and scenario-based questions follows this.
The day also involves, for both vacation scheme and training contract applicants alike, an hour-long written case study exercise. 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.
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,
- Partners 400+
- Total trainees 80
- UK offices London, Glasgow
- Overseas offices 27
- Graduate recruiter: Lesley Murray, HR Coordinator (Early Careers), email@example.com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 40
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: No minimum requirement
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40-50
- Dates and deadlines
- The firm's Winter Vacation Scheme will take place from 6 – 10 December 2021 and applications will shut at midday on 13 October 2021.
- The Summer scheme will take place from 20 June – 8 July 2022 and applications will shut at midday on 5 January 2022
- Applications for the firm's direct training contract will open on 5 January 2022 and close on 31 March 2022.
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £47,000
- Second-year salary: £52,000
- Post-qualification salary: £90,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- Overseas seats
- Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Madrid, Singapore and Tokyo (subject to availability each rotation)
Ashurst is a leading international law firm with world class capability and a prestigious global client base. We have 29 offices in 17 countries and offer the reach and insight of a global network, combined with the knowledge and understanding of local markets. With 400 partners and a further 1,600 lawyers working across 11 different time zones, we are able to respond to clients wherever and whenever required. As a global team, we have a reputation for successfully managing large and complex multi-jurisdictional transactions, disputes and projects and delivering outstanding outcomes for clients.
Our in-depth understanding of our clients and commitment to providing exceptional standards of service has seen it become a trusted adviser to local and global corporates, financial institutions and governments on all areas of commercial law. Our people are our greatest asset and we bring together lawyers of the highest calibre with the technical knowledge, industry experience and regional know-how to provide the incisive advice clients need.
Our vision is to be the most progressive global law firm. For us, "progressive" is a mindset, an approach to how we do things. We instinctively take a fresh perspective on situations, exploring whether there are better ways of delivering practical, commercial solutions to the challenges our clients face in today's rapidly changing business landscape. To help us achieve our vision, we recently announced our 2023 Strategic Plan which provides us with a framework so that we can hold ourselves accountable for our ongoing success. It unites us globally and enables us to work together towards the same goals, with a clearly aligned view on the firm's priorities and purpose: Together, we create the extraordinary.
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.
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 the world over 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 another within a transactional department. You will also have the opportunity to apply for an overseas or client secondment.
We will be accepting training contract applications to start in 2024 and 2025 from 5 January 2022. The deadline for this is 31 March 2022. We may then re-open applications in Summer 2022.
Winter Vacation Scheme: A one-week scheme designed for final-year students and graduates from any degree discipline. Applications close at midday on 13 October 2021.
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 5 January 2022.
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), staff restaurant, daily fruit breakfast.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 3)
- Infrastructure (Band 2)
- Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Projects (Band 3)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 4)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)