For its commercial offering, international reach and “open culture,” trainees give Ashurst an A* – but even the firm says grades aren’t everything.
During the Great Grades Debacle of 2020, Ashurst was one of the first firms to announce it was dropping A-level requirements in its training contract applications. The news probably didn’t come as a surprise to the firm’s current trainees, who praised its efforts in promoting social mobility. In the last few years they launched Ahead with Ashurst, a week-long programme for first-year or second-year law students. “I like the fact that my colleagues come from a variety of backgrounds,” one of our trainee interviewees told us, “be it from other countries, places within the UK, or a range of universities.” At the time of our calls, Ashurst’s trainees had come from up and down the country, including graduates of Exeter, Newcastle, Cardiff, Manchester, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge.
“High-calibre work and clients coupled with an open culture.”
For these trainees, “Ashurst's offer of high-calibre work and clients coupled with an open culture and inclusiveness” was a winning combination. Ashurst is a prestigious, full-service commercial outfit renowned for its energy and projects work in particular. It nabs top national rankings in Chambers UK for oil and gas, infrastructure, projects, and transport. It also gets high praise for its AIM capital markets and renewables practices. In London specifically, the firm excels in mid-market banking and finance, and gets high rankings for competition law, real estate finance and big-ticket real estate.
Another big pull for our interviewees was the firm’s international reach of a 27-office network spanning the UK, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. They also liked their chances of getting an international secondment. Pre-pandemic, trainees were jet-setting to destinations like Luxembourg, Brussels, Madrid, Frankfurt, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Tokyo. To make the deal extra sweet, a fair few secondments also come with a living bonus, paid accommodation and free flights. To apply for a spot, trainees send off their CV and an application form with a snippet of writing explaining why they'd be a good fit. Client secondments are also sprinkled into the training contract. “It gave me a lot of exposure on how to do business with a variety of clients,” said one former secondee. “I got more independence and confidence.”
Ahead of each seat rotation, trainees may submit as many preferences as they please. There are just two rules: everyone has to do a finance seat in either banking, global markets or restructuring, as well as a transactional seat in either real estate, corporate transactions or projects. But trainees suggested there’s wiggle room within those rules – split seats and repeat seats are not unheard of, for example.
“I worked on a lot of social infrastructure, defence deals, and transport deals.”
In the projects seat, lawyers work on projects (duh) across the energy, natural resources and infrastructure sectors. The team handles both project development and project finance deals for sponsors, lenders and government bodies. Ashurst is especially well known for its expertise in public-private partnerships (whereby the government contracts a private company to manage a project). For example, the firm recently advised TfL as the procuring authority on the £2.5 billion Silvertown Tunnel project in East London. The group has also advised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) since 2015 on the £4.2 billion Thames Tideway Tunnel project. “There are lots of different sub-teams” in this enormous group, so trainees’ experiences could vary. “I worked on a lot of social infrastructure, defence deals and transport deals,” one noted. Another told us about their day-to-day work: “I draft a lot of legal opinions and ancillary documents. I also review comments and engagement letters.”
Trainees may do a seat in global loans, i.e. the firm’s banking and finance team. You’ll find three main sub-teams here: fund finance, leveraged finance and real estate finance. The trainees we spoke to primarily worked on the fund finance side of the seat, which meant a lot of loans and investment funds work. The firm does some borrower-side deals but mostly works with lenders such as HSBC, NatWest and investment management company BlackRock. Ashurst recently advised J.P. Morgan on a $2.5 billion debt funding package for the Woodsmith Mine project in North Yorkshire. “Because of the regular turnover of deals it’s a good first seat,” a source noted. At the very start of the seat, newbies worked on conditions precedent checklists, and by the end of the seat we heard they were responsible for “running security agreements and amendment agreements.” Other common trainee tasks include checking board minutes, drafting fee letters and liaising with local counsel overseas. Sources signposted global loans as quite a heavy seat in terms of workload. “I felt like I was thrown in the deep end,” one noted, “but I received great legal training and a lot of client contact. By the end, I felt equipped to handle NQ-level work.”
“They show you all the buildings Ashurst has worked on.”
As part of the ‘seat initiation’ in real estate, newbies can enjoy a complimentary tour around London courtesy of a couple of partners, where “they show you all the buildings Ashurst has worked on.” Much of the work in this department concerns acquisitions and divestments, development schemes, construction and urban regeneration projects... the list goes on. To any shopaholic’s delight, the group recently advised Westfield on a multibillion-pound project to redevelop two of Croydon’s shopping centres. There are sub-groups to be found here too, like construction, but from a trainee’s point of view, work is pretty fluid throughout the seat. With such variety, they said, “you’re always kept on your toes.” One told us: “I did a lot of drafting,” and others said: “There is plenty of due diligence to go around!” Other jobs include running licences, drafting wayleaves (annual agreements that can be renewed or terminated by either party), organising payment, and setting up conference calls and meetings.
Ashurst’s tax lawyers advise on both direct and indirect tax, ranging from corporation tax to VAT and stamp duty land tax. “Often as a trainee, you are pulled into matters from all over the firm,” including supporting on deals in the corporate, real estate and projects departments. Trainees said there’s also some tax litigation in this seat, which involves more standalone cases. Trainees in this seat were responsible for drafting applications, tax structuring papers and tax feeds, and doing “lots of research into different pieces of tax legislation.” The clientele includes private equity house Inflexion as well as property companies Oxford Properties and Lendlease. Alongside the real estate and finance teams, the tax group recently advised on the €400 million acquisition of three Amazon logistics warehouses in the UK, Barcelona and Paris by investment bank Korean Investment & Securities.
Over in Ashurst’s funds practice, the team works with private equity funds, real estate funds, infrastructure funds, debt and credit funds and more. Clients include Credit Suisse, fund manager Equitix, and investment firm Sprints Capital. Interviewees told us that a lot of their work revolved around carrier schemes. The team recently advised private equity house Inflexion on the simultaneous closings of two private equity funds valued at £1 billion. An interviewee was pleased with the responsibility they got in the seat, telling us: “I was able to manage a junior trainee on the transaction.” Trainees were also kept busy “drafting transfer agreements and focusing on document management skills.”
When pondering the firm’s culture, one millennial enthused: “We have an open convo culture.” Trainees thought this open ‘convo’ could be down to the firm’s open-door policy, or perhaps the level of supervision and support they got from senior colleagues. Interviewees noted weekly chit-chats to discuss workload and career development. “People are receptive to progression,” they told us, with one pointing out that “some teams shine due to the invested and compassionate leadership of the partners – other teams can be a lot harder.”
“The whole European practice travels to one city for a weekend of networking.”
It’s safe to say the firm’s recent office relocation to Spitalfields has only had positive cultural repercussions for its inhabitants, with a new canteen, fitness facilities and a rooftop terrace to enjoy. Each department has its own social committee and there are social events at every seat rotation to keep trainees merry, such as a trainee ball, a summer party, quizzes, dinners, mini-golf and drinks (we heard the firm often hires out a whole bar!) And trainees were quick to mention much anticipated annual away days, when “the whole European practice travels to one city for a weekend of networking and activities.”
Interviewees said pro bono work is a big focus at Ashurst – it’s even a seat option for trainees. Trainees reported providing legal assistance in matters related to the climate crisis, death row and the criminal justice system, LGBTQ+ issues, and modern slavery. “The firm has a genuine desire to give back through pro bono,” one said. “I feel supported whenever I take it on.” One trainee told us about their experience helping on an LGBTQ+ matter: “I researched the London Boroughs to see what policies they have in place for LGBTQ+ rights and wrote up on how they can improve.”
The firm received a lot of praise from interviewees when it came to diversity and inclusion. “You get the sense that Ashurst is genuinely interested in your individuality,” one felt. “It’s important that people feel that they can bring their full self to work.” The firm has ‘diversity strands’ focused on disability, gender, multiculturalism and LGBTQ+. The firm’s D&I events were a big talking point, from a drag show organised under the LGBTQ+ strand, to a celebration marking 100 years of women being able to practise law. The firm also recently held a ‘hijab day’ to share the experiences of women who wear the hijab. “The first hijab-wearing model came in to talk about her experiences in the fashion industry,” trainees said.
A couple of trainees did suggest “there’s not always the necessary understanding from some senior staff” on D&I topics, but we heard “mental health is taken seriously firmwide.” The firm supports the Mindful Business Charter (a collaboration to promote wellbeing at work). What’s more, “puppies sometimes come into the office” for a bit of cuddle therapy. “It’s so cute!”
“Jekyll and Hyde.”
And some days may well call for a bit of mental TLC. When asked for the downside of the training contract, trainees brought up some long hours. One described their workload as “Jekyll and Hyde” depending on which seat they were in: “I would not trade my experience with some teams for the world, but other teams have taken a lot out of me.” Seats on the Hyde sideincluded projects, global loans and global markets, with 12-hour days a familiar story. “I worked really long hours, mostly without any junior associates,” one grumbled. “My practical skills vastly improved but it was not enjoyable.” Real estate and tax fell into the Jekyll category, with good days running from 9am to 7pm. Fortunately, these trainees didn’t go into the training blind. “I knew before I started how busy working in a commercial law firm can be,” said one. Consider yourself warned.
Interviewees were satisfied with their salary at trainee level, which rises to £84,000 or NQ associates. When qualification time rolls around, trainees submit their preferences to HR along with their CV. In our survey, the firm didn’t score particularly highly for its transparency in the qualification process, but most were still hopeful they’d be kept on, and retention rates tend to be strong. In 2020, the firm retained 18 of its 20 qualifiers.
Computer Says Yes: Ashurst’s Glasgow office houses technology schemes to assist lawyers with work like doc review and auto contract generation.
How to get an Ashurst training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 8 January 2021
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.
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 2020 Winter vacation scheme deadline: 4th November 2020 Summer vacation scheme deadline: 5th January 2021 Ahead with Ashurst deadline: 5th January 2021 Training contract applications open, 2023 start: 1st September 2020Training contract deadlines, 2023 start: 5th January 2021
- 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 2023/March 2024 from 1st September 2020. The deadline for this is 5th January 2021. We may then re-open applications in Summer 2021.
Winter Vacation Scheme: A one-week scheme designed for final-year students and graduates from any degree discipline. Applications open on 1st September 2020 and close on 3rd November 2020.
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 2020 and close on 5th January 2021.
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 2021. Apply online between 1st September 2020 and 5th January 2021.
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 2020
Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, KCL, Leicester, LSE, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Warwick, UCL and York.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- 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)