Bird & Bird - True Picture

This good egg among City firms recently swooped into San Francisco, showing it's in fine feather for owl things tech and IP.

Bird & Bird are go!

“Internationally we’re very much in expansion mode,” training principal Ian Edwards tells us. In November 2017 the firm signed a co-operation agreement with AllBright, a top Chinese law firm, and in summer 2018 it opened an office in San Francisco. “It’ll be great to have a foothold there,” Edwards tells us. “We’re focusing on building our presence in the States and bolstering relationships with US clients.”

It is perhaps surprising that the firm didn’t already have a San Fran or Silicon Valley base given it's “all about tech and IP,” according to trainees. Lawyers work on cutting-edge stuff like clean energy storage, blockchain, AI, cybersecurity and quantum computing. “We’re always looking forward to where the next tech revolution will be,” Edwards tells us.

The firm’s techie prowess leads to a host of tip-top Chambers UK rankings for areas like IP, IT, data protection, life sciences and telecoms. But Twobirds is also Chambers-ranked for areas including commercial contracts, energy, sports, venture capital, employment, asset finance, capital markets and mid-market corporate M&A. So while a keen interest in technology won’t go amiss when applying, you don’t need to be a Silicon Valley tech head to flap into Twobirds' nest. “I’m not a technology genius or anything," one source shared. "This firm just really captured my imagination.” We heard of trainees joining from previous careers in the military, banking, pharmaceuticals and paralegalling, as well as straight from uni. “The firm's accepting of alternative backgrounds," one source asserted. "They appreciate the fact you’ve got added experience.”

Despite Twobirds' increasing international reach, overseas seats are “not super common – they don’t just send you away on a jolly!” A trainee hinted: “One way to improve your chances is to either have dual citizenship or be fluent in another language.” Options include Brussels, Madrid, Düsseldorf, Dubai and Sydney. Newbies are more likely to land themselves a spot on one of the firm's client secondments, which include a three-month IP placement and a confidential sports secondment. Seat allocation generally doesn't lead to any ruffling of feathers: “Usually people get the seats they want – getting three of your four first choices is expected.” Seats are allocated through an initial email and conversations with HR. No seats are compulsory, but “certain seats are more popular – commercial and IP are the most sought after.”

Flying close to the sun

The firm sells itself on its sector expertise, and the commercial department is living proof of that.” Commercial is the firm's biggest department, and has several “clearly delineated” subgroups including aerospace, energy, media, procurement, data protection, sports, franchising and defence (military). Though generalists do exist, “because of the supervisors’ niche work, you may as well call your seat after the sector.” Trainees estimated that 60% to 80% of their work came from the sector area of their supervisor, although there’s “still the chance to go out and explore other work.” At the time of our research the data protection team was extremely busy because of GDPR, “making sure clients are compliant.” For trainees this means “drafting privacy notices, marking up contracts to see if they’re compliant, suggesting contract changes, and emailing lawyers in different jurisdictions asking for local law opinion.” Clients which Twobirds has been advising on GDPR compliance include big names like the FA and Domino's Pizza.

The energy team mostly does renewables work: solar, wind and biogas farms – “selling, buying and setting them up.” Lawyers recently advised Abbey Renewables on the sale of 14 wind farms across the UK worth £40 million, and advised Bluefield Solar on the acquisition of a solar farm on the site of the old Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire. Trainees were relieved to find “you’re not doing the dirty work” – literally – and told us they spent their time “looking into government subsidies, proofreading contracts and doing lots of research.”

“You feel like you’re doing a hundred different things!”

Meanwhile, the sports group has been advising the International Olympic Committee on the inclusion of transgender athletes, and the media group worked on a product placement deal that will see the Costa brand infiltrate ITV’s Coronation Street. Regardless of the sector focus, “you’re ultimately doing similar commercial work – the underlying concepts make it more interesting though.” Trainees across the board can expect to be proofreading, managing deadlines and other “mechanical work like putting in changes to documents and note taking.” Given the scope of work available, trainees often opt for a repeat seat in the department.

Over in IP, Twobirds' second-largest department, there are six seats available every rotation. The team at Twobirds has acted for Nokia in 94 (!) patent cases against Apple across ten countries recently and advised Swedish power tool supremos Husqvarna in a patent dispute over robotic lawnmowers. On the soft IP side lawyers advised Qatar Airways on an IP case related to its luxury new ‘Q Suite’ business class seating and helped Matthew Vaughn's production company protect the 'Kingsman' trademark. As well as doing research and letter drafting, trainees handle “a lot of logistics and document management.” The department’s large size can mean “you feel like you’re doing a hundred different things!” Despite the workload, doing a second stint in the seat is quite common and is especially recommended to anyone who wants to qualify into the department.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

The aviation practice works on “a mix of finance, aircraft leasing and other commercial work related to aircraft.” Clients include major global airlines, plus Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia, aircraft leasing company BOC and private jet firm VistaJet. The team recently helped airport refuelling company North Air with its existing and new contracts for UK airports. Lawyers also do more cutting-edge work related to drones and unmanned vehicles. Trainees noted the international reach of the work: “In one case we had an African airline borrowing money from European banks, with money moving through the Caymans and Mauritius and lawyers based in Paris and London – there were all kinds of translation issues!” Trainees' work is pretty standard managing documents and inputting changes but they enjoyed “having an umbrella view of everything.”

The dispute resolution department is informally split into subgroups including finance, IT, media and energy. The team recently showed its energy sector prowess when acting for oil and gas company Honeywell after negligent advice caused the closure of one of its petrochemical plants. The team also recently defended BNP Paribas' Italian subsidiary in a case brought by Playboy, which claimed the bank’s negligence led to a fraudster forging two cheques at a Playboy casino worth £1.2 million. Trainees proof witness statements and try their hand at drafting documents like expert reports. Interviewees particularly enjoyed the arbitration work on offer, as “you don’t have any of the red tape that you get with the courts.”

"It’s comforting to not be worried about making mistakes."

Seemingly Twobirds is obsessed with dividing its departments into yet smaller groupings: corporate has M&A, capital markets and venture capital sub-teams. The department recently advised travel website Secret Escapes on its acquisition of Slevomat Group, a European travel and experiences company. Others clients include BT, Just Eat, Sony Pictures and defence contractor Northrop Grumman. Trainees work on “verification, checklists, replies to warranties, inter-department co-ordination and contract review.” The last of these could be a thing of the past soon as the firm is bringing in AI software Luminance for contract review. The venture capital group, where the firm supports early-stage businesses up to their first investment round, had trainees buzzing. “It’s really fun getting involved with that," beamed one trainee. "The clients are all cool, techy people with cool, techy ideas – the firm always says that one of them will be the next Facebook.” Trainees were pleased to do “a lot of client-facing stuff like presentations.”

Bird's new nest

Interviewees highlighted Twobirds’ “friendly and quirky” culture, such as one of the hotshot partners “listening to The Archers with the radio on loudly every day!” Trainees said “random stuff like that” helps aid the sense that the firm wants you “to be yourself in the office.” Supervisors were praised for offering trainees the opportunity to “have a stab at things, even if you’re completely wrong. It’s comforting to not be worried about making mistakes. Supervisors are always there for you and they say: ‘If you’ve got any questions, just spin around and ask’!”

After visiting the new pad on New Fetter Lane, we can ratify trainees' description of their home as "swanky."  The new 'pods' attracted comment: “They’re rooms with six-foot walls that don’t go to the ceiling, all facing into the middle of the office. There are two parallel desks facing out, so your supervisor sits directly behind you – it’s odd.” It certainly is an unusual office layout, but many rated having relative privacy along with “an open-door policy – there are literally no doors!” Interviewees were also huge fans of the office’s “banging canteen – it’s subsidised so you can get a big plate of salad for like £2.50!” The free barista bar was also a hit, with trainees loving the freedom to “take 15 minutes to clear your head.”

"The firm's not losing its character; its character is just evolving.”

The cafeteria also transforms into a subsidised bar once a month – a popular evening with trainees, who like to let their hair down on a pretty regular basis. Outside of drinking, there are also holistic activities such as Monday night yoga and a visiting masseuse on Tuesdays. Trainees also get to show their competitive streak in football, cricket and softball teams. The main sporting event of the year is the inter-office international football tournament, held in Hamburg in 2018. “The vibe is very cool and there’s a great friendly spirit,” a spectator relayed from the touchline. Sources felt these sporting and social events show Twobirds is a firm of people with “a good sense of humour who are really nice and approachable.”

However, this harmonious balance may be experiencing turbulence. Many trainees felt “it’s not the same firm I applied to – it’s changing slightly.” This was put down to the slick new office impacting the “homely feel,” and a whole bunch of recent lateral hires who “don’t quite get the Bird & Bird culture.” The most apparent changes so far have been slightly longer working hours – “it feels like there’s a drive to be more corporate,” noted some, concerned that the firm's quirky culture may be at risk. However, most trainees agreed change “isn’t necessarily a bad thing! The firm's not losing its character; its character is just evolving.”

When probed about hours, it turns out Twobirds trainees are both early birds and night owls. Rookies receive regular capacity requests and can turn work down if they need to – but “in a smaller team, it’s hard to say no!” Sources chirruped different tunes on hours: in corporate, we heard that when a trainee does a few late nights “it's seen as an achievement and a one-off” and they might get a day in lieu and a commendation. At the same time sources in areas like dispute resolution and aviation told us things like this: “I had a couple of weeks working until midnight as an average... I’m a machine!” In seats like IP and employment midnight finished are “an exception,” with 8pm considered a late night.

Qualification isn't a formal process and interviewees were a little hazy on the details. “It’s not very clear and a bit prolonged," one source opined. "It feels like the whole world finds out about qualification before us!” Most second-years we spoke to had simply stated their preferences to HR and tactfully approached the heads of the departments they wished to qualify into. Retention is usually pretty good (80%) and in 2018 14 of 18 qualifiers were kept on.

Twobirds has a BME diversity network called Embrace, "bringing awareness of different cultures and showing that's a good thing for a business to do."


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How to get a Bird & Bird training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 27 December 2018 (opens 1 October 2018)

Training contract deadline (2021): 27 December 2018 (opens 1 October 2018)

Bird & Bird receives around 1,000 applications each year for its training contract. The first step in the process is a critical reasoning test, after which recruiters invite 60 candidates who made the grade to complete an online video interview in which they're sent a link and given a week to record their answers to a set of questions. From here, around 16 candidates are asked to attend an insight and selection day.

This sees candidates asked to demonstrate various competencies through three activities: a presentation and interview, a group task and a written task. Those who impress go on to a formal panel interview, which further tests these competencies. Insiders suggest coming armed with a thorough knowledge of your CV and just how your skill set equips you to work at the firm, and being prepared to defend your interest in Bird & Bird over its peer firms. As one trainee pointed out: “The firm is into deep sector knowledge, so make sure you're ready to talk about the industries we work in.”

From here, training contract offers are made.

Vacation scheme

The majority of trainees at Bird & Bird enter the firm through its spring and summer placement schemes. “They see it as an extended interview and a good way for you to suss out how much you actually like the firm,” one trainee explained. The firm runs a one-week spring scheme in April (9 to 13 April 2018) and two one-week summer schemes in July (16 to 20 and 23 to 26 July 2018). In total there are around 40 places available each year.

Bagging a place starts with an online application form. The firm usually receives around 1,200 of these each year, and after a critical reasoning test it invites 250 applicants to undergo an online video interview. Around 90 of those who impress go on to complete the insight and selection day outlined above (minus the panel interview), and from here the firm decides who gets a place.

Attendees are assigned a trainee buddy and a supervisor each, and they sit in a single department during their visit, though they work on an ongoing task over the course of the two weeks that sees them engage with lawyers across the firm.

Vac schemers are automatically assessed for a training contract, and attend a short interview with a member of graduate recruitment and the training principal at the end of their placement.

Trainee profile

Bird & Bird doesn't have a cookie-cutter trainee type. In 2017 our sample of interviewees had a wide range of degrees between them – from languages to psychology to technology, to name just a few – as well a decent spread of universities, with Nottingham, Newcastle and Oxford all cropping up.

That said, the usual credentials – 2:1-plus results, excellent A levels, commercial awareness and interpersonal skills – are firmly required. Insiders told us Bird & Bird is particularly interested in “people who are willing to engage with the firm more broadly than simply doing their work and going home.” At the same time, they agreed it's important for applicants to have other interests outside of law. “You'll find trainees here with all sorts of strings to their bow,” said one. As such, be sure to mention in your application if you're a keen volleyballer, watercolour wizard or crochet champ.

Interview with Ian Edwards, training principal at Bird & Bird

Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the past year you think are important to mention?

Ian Edwards: It's been a really exciting year for Bird & Bird, particularly regarding international expansion. This summer we're opening our first US office in downtown San Francisco. It'll be a representative office, focusing on building our presence in the States and bolstering our relationships with our US clients. We're really excited to be on the ground in one of the world's most innovative, technology and IP rich-cities.

Beyond the US we're also expanding our presence in Asia-Pacific. In November, we signed a cooperation agreement with AllBright Law Offices, a Chinese firm. It’s one of the top five domestic law firms in China, so it’s very exciting. We'll be working closely with their domestic Chinese clients on their international legal requirements outside China. 

A couple of months ago a large delegation from AllBright came to visit some of our European offices, discussing all things from the Belt and Road initiative in China, to the key legal issues clients are currently facing in the different countries. In the UK, we’re doing really well. Bird & Bird's always been entrenched in tech and IP and how that’s impacting and disrupting industries; looking at sectors like autonomous vehicles, smart cities, retail technology, health tech, smart energy and so on. We’re always looking forward to where the next tech revolution will be. 

Two of the big tech developments we’re looking at now are AI and blockchain. We’ve got a bunch of people looking at these areas and the legal issues relating to them, delivering client seminars and working with our clients to implement these technologies in their business. In years to come, my view is that blockchain and AI will have revolutionised our lives to the same extent the internet has today.

CS: With the recent growth of the firm and the office move, have you noticed a shift in Bird & Bird working culture?

IE: I’ve been at Bird & Bird 10 years this year. Part of the reason I joined Bird & Bird was because of the friendly, open culture. I work very hard as head of graduate recruitment to make sure it doesn’t change!

We're definitely very busy in the London office – for example, our Data Protection team are just resurfacing after a tough few months in the lead up to the enactment of GDPR, but we all muck in together and still make sure we have a work-life balance.  

Our new building helps with that. I was on the project team for the design of the building, and we wanted to make sure our staff floor on the 11th floor was a space for everyone. It has a really good canteen, free barista coffee bar for all staff and incredible views over London. And with more mobile technology being rolled out in the office, people can increasingly work up there in booths and on benches. It’s nice to get more flexibility about how you work, rather than just being tied to your desk. We all spend a lot of time at work, so we’re making sure the environment is as comfortable as possible!

CS: Where will the firm be in two or three years, when our readers are ready to join?

IE: I’d hope that it’d be a similar experience. Because we work in really innovative spaces like tech and IP, we are always looking at the future. By the time today’s readers are joining, it might be that AI and blockchain have become part of the mainstream (in the same way that technologies like cloud computing are now commonplace). We’re looking to what’s next and what’s after that. For example, we’ve currently got people looking at quantum computing – we don’t know yet how it will impact society, but we want to make sure that we understand new technologies before our clients ask us about them!

Bird & Bird

12 New Fetter Lane,

  • Partners 91
  • Associates 151
  • Total trainees 36
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices 28
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Lynne Walters [email protected] 0207 415 6000
  • Training partner: Ian Edwards 0207 415 6000
  • Application critera  
  • Training contracts pa: 18
  • Applications pa: 2,000
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 40
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
  • Training contract deadline 2021 start: 27 December 2018
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 27 December 2018
  • Salary and benefits  
  • First-year salary: £38,000
  • Second-year salary: £40,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £60,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £5,500 per study year
  • International and regional  
  • Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, UK
  • Please apply directly to international offices.

Firm profile

Bird & Bird is an international law firm, with a rare and invaluable grasp of strategic commercial issues. We combine exceptional legal expertise with deep industry knowledge and refreshingly creative thinking, to help clients achieve their commercial goals. We have over 1,182 lawyers globally in 28 offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as close ties with firms in other parts of the world. Our professionals don’t just understand the law in these sectors; they enjoy learning about the wider context of their clients’ businesses so that they can apply their skills to the commercial challenges of some of the world’s most exciting companies. We understand the trends that are shaping the markets, and the technological and regulatory issues that are transforming industries.

Main areas of work

We focus on the following sectors: automotive, aviation and defence, energy and utilities, financial services, life sciences and healthcare, media, entertainment and sport, retail and consumer, technology and communications.

Trainee opportunities

4x6-month seats

We have a variety of international secondment opportunities including: 
• Madrid
• Abu Dhabi
• Frankfurt
• Sydney
• Hong Kong
• Singapore

Vacation scheme

We recruit the majority of our trainees through our vacation schemes:

• Spring scheme – one week in April
• Summer vacation scheme 1 – one week in June
• Summer vacation scheme 2 – one week in July

To be eligible, students must be in their penultimate year or above. The spring scheme is aimed at non law students or those students that have already graduated and/or are working

Other benefits

Private healthcare, life assurance, pension scheme – 5% company contribution, computer loan, season ticket loan, cycle to work, gym membership, employee assistance programme, corporate discount.

University law careers fairs 2018

Oxford, Cambridge, Strathclyde and BPP.

Social media

Facebook Bird & Bird Graduates UK

Twitter twobirdsgrads

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 4)
    • Gaming (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
    • Aviation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 4)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 3)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Franchising (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Healthcare (Band 5)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 3)
    • Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
    • Public Procurement (Band 2)
    • Retail (Band 4)
    • Sport (Band 1)
    • Telecommunications (Band 1)