An office move and rebrand has asserted Ashurst’s place among the top dogs in the City.
Welcome to my crib
A lot can happen in a year: City stalwart Ashurst knows that better than most. First and foremost, the firm’s relocated to swanky new premises off of Spitalfields Market complete with a “brand new canteen, rooftop terraces and cycling facilities.” There’s also been a firm-wide rebrand built around a vision ‘to be the most progressive global law firm.’
That’s a bold claim to make, but trainees had some evidence to back up the marketing. The office move was the first talking point for many: “It’s been the single biggest recent improvement. Having been previously split over two buildings, where you wouldn’t see some of your colleagues for months, it’s a much better set-up and everything is now a lot more cohesive.” There’s also been a “huge new roll-out of technology” and all trainees now receive brand new touch-screen laptops and docking stations upon joining the firm.
There’s no use being progressive if you’ve not got strong foundations, and Ashurst doesn’t struggle there thanks to nearly 200 years of storied history. The firm’s famous for its work in the energy and projects spaces, picking up a range of rankings from Chambers UK including for railways, oil and gas, renewable energy, PPP-PFI and infrastructure work. Elsewhere the firm is also highly regarded for its banking, big-ticket real estate and capital markets practices. Sources took this hoard of rankings and the fact that “we’re always sitting across the table from magic circle and American firms” as evidence of Ashurst’s “formidable place in the market.” The firm’s also got 16 other offices worldwide and trainees felt an “international outlook” differentiated Ashurst from City rivals like Macfarlanes and Travers Smith.
“We’re always sitting across the table from magic circle and American firms.”
Each new trainee cohort is invited to a series of department-led talks to get a better idea of the work they will do. All trainees must complete a compulsory finance seat in either banking, global markets or restructuring, and ahead of each rotation are free to submit as many preferences as they would like – though many submit just two. “The way you’re sold it is you will be able to do most of the seats you want, just not necessarily in the order you put forward,” sources explained. “If you’re placed in your third option or one outside your preferences then HR make the effort to personally explain why that would be the case, that’s a nice touch.”
The seat roster features various international secondments. Recent examples include Luxembourg, Brussels, Madrid, Frankfurt, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Tokyo. “You have to submit an application form with a paragraph outlining your reasons for wanting to go, along with an updated CV with the work you have done in each department.” Several of the placements come with an extra cost of living bonus, and all include free flights with extra baggage and paid accommodation – swish!
Dairy to dream
Within the firm’s corporate transactions department you’ll find public and private M&A, private equity and capital markets subgroups. “There’s a work allocation manager who can help secure you work from across those teams,” a source explained. Ashurst operates over a number of different sectors, reflected in the diversity of its client base, which includes everyone from Morrisons and Sports Direct to petroleum exploration group EnQuest and property investors Helical. The group has also recently advised Stafford Capital Partners on its £197 million hostile takeover offer of Phaunos Timber Fund and assisted Arla Foods on its acquisition of Yeo Valley Dairies. One trainee detailed their time working on “a complex three-way M&A deal. At the basic level I was keeping the work streams up to date – that meant attending meetings and co-ordinating with other internal departments to feed their work back into the team.” Sources also got opportunities to draft more substantive disclosure schedules, conduct document redaction, review retentions of title and check legal opinions.
Most of the work in Ashurst’s leading projects department “is about the corporate side of massive infrastructure works. You can see projects we advise on springing up around London and it’s very satisfying to walk past a trainline or building and say ‘hey, I worked on that!’” Energy, defence, natural resources and social infrastructure all fall under the team’s remit: clients include the European Investment Bank. Ashurst advised them in relation to the €700 million financing of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which supplies natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan to Western Europe. The firm has also acted for Transport for London on preparation for the Silvertown Tunnel, a multibillion-pound PPP project to design, build, operate and maintain a road tunnel under the Thames. We heard reports from trainees about working on various local landmarks too. “If you like the subject matter I feel it matters less what you’re actually doing day to day,” one suggested, adding that “my overall experience in projects was more interesting than in banking, where you’re dealing with more abstract concepts.” For those who are interested in the day-to-day, common trainee tasks include document management, due diligence and some drafting.
“It’s very satisfying to walk past a trainline or building and say 'hey, I worked on that!”
Dispute resolution is another broad church and houses corporate, banking, procurement and IP disputes groups as well as arbitration and real property litigation sub-teams. “You’re assigned to one of the areas but you act as a resource to the whole department,” sources clarified, adding that “the firm is keen to make sure you have the broadest experience possible.” Trainees here tend to focus on matter management and keeping on top of correspondence: “In projects you’re sending off emails without review, whereas there is much less client contact and more supervision.” The good news is that “there isn’t too much doc review either” – that’s outsourced to the firm’s Glasgow office. Trainees were instead interviewing witnesses, attending case management hearings and conducting discrete pieces of research. The team has recently assisted London Underground in the procurement of £1 billion worth of new trains for the Piccadilly Line; they’ve also defended Daiwa Capital Markets against a $200 million+ suit brought by liquidated Singularis Holdings over breach of duty and dishonest assistance.
“There’s a steep learning curve” for trainees who opt for a seat in global markets, which comprises three specialised areas: debt capital markets, structured products and derivatives. One trainee in DCM described the pace as “a lot flatter compared to the ups and downs in the corporate seats. We have long-term clients we do similar work for on a repeat basis.” Barclays, UBS, Time Out and Deutsche Bank are just a few of those clients. “A bank might have a bond programme that needs annually updating to comply with regulations, but the more interesting work is setting out a new programme from scratch. As a trainee I might be given a large standard document that needs to be broken down into 50 global bond certificates that can all be tweaked appropriately.” Another source confirmed responsibility on offer: “Compared to disputes there’s a massive amount of client contact. At one point I was working on around 60 matters at a time, doing everything from preparing the basic agreements to reviewing the terms and conditions for bond issuances.”
Alongside global markets sits global loans – basically a fancy name for banking. As well as standard leveraged finance funds work there’s a separate real estate finance subgroup which takes on one trainee exclusively. “We do a few borrower-side deals but for the most part we are doing lender-side work for big banking institutions,” sources in the main group explained. True enough you can find big names such as HSBC, Santander and RBS here. Ashurst advised multiple large financers on a £375 million multicurrency revolving syndicated facility to geotechnical contractor Keller Group. Energy plays a big role too: the firm advised international waste-to-product company Renewi on an amendment and extension to its main banking facility, converting it to a €550 million Green Loan. This is a seat where “pretty much everything has an international element to it” and “responsibility is as much as you can take.” That said, we also heard that “senior associates will often just give you a task to get on with,” be that reviewing CP checklists or drafting shareholder agreements and board minutes.
Tech me out
The introduction of the snazzy new tech we mentioned above may be a big help to trainees' day-to-day lives, but there’s no escaping the reality of long hours at Ashurst. For those whose tastes lean on the transactional side, consistent stints of 12-hour days await. “When I first started there some reasonable weeks where I was leaving at 5.30pm but recently I’ve been averaging 10pm,” one source told us. Less brutal seats include tax, “where it’s rare to leave beyond 7pm,” but given that most trainees will spend at least two of their seats in the finance and corporate departments, some sleep deprivation is inevitable. “In disputes and projects I was leaving between 7pm and 9pm consistently, and longer when we neared a closing.” That source also told us that “in finance the hours have been longer, and I’ve been getting out between 9pm and 10pm. I was aware it would be long hours but expected a few more quieter days.” Still, sources also felt the firm was “good at letting you know of upcoming hours peaks” and appreciated that the attitudes from above were understanding: “If you have a dinner appointment or something, the firm is happy for you to go and hop online later at home.”
Tech isn’t just helping trainees spend more time in their pyjamas: sources were also excited to talk about the Ashurst Digital Ventures and Ashurst Advance schemes in Glasgow, which collectively provide legal support and focus on providing technology-led solutions to the firm’s clients. “The firm wants to be at the forefront of AI,” one newbie emphasised, pointing to the use of new software to assist with doc review and auto contract generation. “They’re also overhauling how feedback works so it’s more of a two-way process with partners.”
That all sounds ‘progressive’ indeed, and trainees felt the firm was pulling its weight in other ways too. Ashurst aims to have 33% female partners by 2022 and “Ruth Harris, the London office managing partner, has been very forward setting out the agenda.” One source talked about their involvement in the Women’s Mentoring Network: “We’re split into subgroups and each one has a female partner representative. Our last discussion was about appraisals and making sure we’re putting ourselves on a par with men and not selling ourselves short.” The firm’s last two rounds of partner promotions rounds were majority women but some still felt the pace was “too slow,” adding that “I think we could take a lesson from our Australian offices, which have much better statistics.”
Still, the efforts won the praise of many of our interviewees who thought the efforts “were important in securing people’s longevity with the firm.” Other recent steps to keep trainees happy have included an international food fair and “a big summer party on the roof terraces. That was a good way to mark the office move!” Each department runs its own Christmas party and other social happenings; we heard that “in bigger departments you’re one of eight or nine trainees and you all have lunch together. People regularly put on drinks and it’s a pretty social firm overall.”
At the time of our calls in mid-June, trainees were awaiting the results of NQ job applications. “It’s a simple process – we submit our preferences to HR with an updated CV and then wait to hear back.” From there, different departments may have different approaches. Recently, interviews have only happened in certain departments such as real estate and disputes; whereas corporate and finance groups don’t typically interview. The firm retained 38 of its 44 trainees in 2019.
Ashurst has just introduced a dedicated pro bono seat to the training contract where “you can spend six months just doing pro bono. The firm takes on a lot of human rights cases.”
How to get an Ashurst training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 5 January 2020
Applications and interviews
Around 1,200 applicants gun for the 40 to 45 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, and is accompanied by a cover letter that serves as a chance for applicants to demonstrate key competencies and really sell themselves.
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 graduate recruitment team 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 vac 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 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 a dinner with partners.
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 one training contract applicants complete on their interview day.
Ashurst also runs a first-year programme – Ahead with Ashurst – for a week in April. This involves a blend of work experience, mentoring, support, and training. Those who secure a spot on the first-year programme will be given priority if being considered for a vacation scheme and/or a campus ambassador role. The programme is open to first year law students and those in their second year of a four-year course.
How to wow
Ashurst requests a minimum of AAB at A-Level (or equivalent) and 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, academic 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 necessarily 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.
The silver circle explained
London Fruit & Wool Exchange,
1 Duval Square,
- Partners 400+
- Total trainees 80
- UK offices London, Glasgow
- Overseas offices 25 including two associates offices and one support office.
- Contacts Graduate recruiter: Nicola Stafford, HR Consultant, Early Careers, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 40
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 65-75
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation schemes and Ahead with Ashurt applications open: 1st September 2019 Winter vacation scheme deadline: 4th November 2019 Summer vacation scheme deadline: 5th January 2020 Ahead with Ashurst deadline: 5th January 2020 Training contract applications open, 2022 start: 1st September 2019 Training contract deadlines, 2022 start: 5th January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £84,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- Overseas seats
- Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Singapore, Tokyo
Clients are at the heart of our thinking, our ambition is to be our clients’ most incisive partner. We are able to reach this aim by remaining at the forefront of legal technology innovation with initiatives such as Ashurst Advance and Ashurst Digital Ventures. You will see we have a prestigious client base, with whom we build strong partnerships working closely together on large and complex multi-jurisdictional transactions to deliver insightful commercial solutions. Our global reach provides opportunities for our people to work in numerous jurisdictions with leading international organisations across the world. At Ashurst you will work as part of a team of high calibre individuals operating in a high performance environment. We are creative, innovative and agile thinkers always looking for new and better ways of doing things. Working this way we will achieve our goals to be the best advisor and an exceptional place to work.
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 September 2022/March 2023 from 1st September 2019. The deadline for this is 5th January 2020. We may then re-open applications in Summer 2020.
Winter Vacation Scheme: A one-week scheme designed for final-year students and graduates from any degree discipline. Applications open on 1st September 2019 and close on 3rd November 2019.
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 open on 1st September 2019 and close on 5th January 2020.
First-year opportunitie: Ahead with Ashurst
We also offer a first year law work experience programme called ‘Ahead with Ashurst’ which will be held from 6th to 9th April 2020. Apply online between 1st September 2019 and 5th January 2020.
Future trainee loan, £500 language bursary, £500 first class degree prize, 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.
University law careers fairs 2019
Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, KCL, Leicester, LSE, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Warwick, UCL and York.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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: Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 5)
- Environment Recognised Practitioner
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- 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 2)
- 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 4)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Projects (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Public Procurement Recognised Practitioner
- Telecommunications (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)