Birds of a techy feather flock to Bird & Bird.
“When I got to Bird & Bird, I thought, ‘It’s like the Facebook of law!’” one enthusiastic trainee told us. “It’s so well known for the quality of its IP work and its expertise is second to none.” Bird & Bird is a leader in tech and IP law, acting for companies as they adjust to technologies developing at meteoric speed. In 2020, that’s everyone, right? Bird & Bird’s client wingspan touches on the automotive, aviation, defence, energy, financial services, healthcare, media, entertainment, sport and retail sectors. To understand how it flew to such heights, a little history might be useful. Bird & Bird was one of the first firms to focus on the emerging computer industry – former senior partner Alan Woods co-founded the Society for Computers and Law in 1973. From the mid-80s the firm built up its telecoms practice, acquiring mega clients in the space like BT. At the end of the 90s, Bird & Bird had just three offices in London, Brussels and Hong Kong. From 2000 onwards (i.e. the age of the internet) it expanded rapidly across Europe, China and Australia. Today the firm has 29 offices in 20 countries.
“It’s like the Facebook of law!”
Bird & Bird rules the roost in Chambers UK for IP, patent litigation, IT, data protection, franchising, life sciences, outsourcing, sport, and telecommunications law. For most of our sources, the firm’s IP expertise was “an important reason” for joining the firm, as was its culture. Even with its impressive technological chops, trainees say it’s one of those firms where “they’re smart, but not snobbish. It’s cool!”
Firms that have such a strong tech focus often recruit trainees with science degrees. There were certainly a few scientists in the nest here (around 50% of trainees surveyed), but there were also enough humanities grads to feel confident that B&B is open-minded about who it hires. Training principal Ian Edwards tells us: “There’s not a cookie-cutter approach to what defines someone who works at Bird & Bird." Many trainees did have work experience prior to joining the firm. Out of a trainee intake of around 18 a year, one fresh-faced interviewee told us, ”I’m one of just three who came straight from university.” Work experience certainly isn't a requirement for applicants though, and Edwards continues: "I’m always surprised and fascinated at the end of the day by the variety of people we see in interviews.” Read our full interview with Edwards online.
The fledgling birds do four six-month seats. In the month leading up to starting the training contract, “every department does a short pitch” to show trainees what they’re all about. Trainees then submit their preferred seats ranked one to sevento HR. We heard everyone gets their first choice at least once. While none of the seats are compulsory, “intellectual property is massive” – making it a likely destination.
Secondments "with cool clients" are on offer in every rotation, including an IP secondment with a well-known bank. Trainees can let the firm know if they’re interested in spending time in an overseas office, but a secondment isn’t guaranteed: “With the exception of Brussels and some of the Asian offices, you have to speak the language beyond basic fluency to go” to a country where English is not the main language. Trainees have also previously been seconded to Milan and Sydney.
B&B’s commercial team is massive, occupying several floors of the office. It’s broken down into sector-based sub-groups which include energy, media/entertainment/sport (MES), retail and consumer, defence, technology transactions, IT and infrastructure. Trainees technically sit in one sector but are encouraged to pick up work in other areas. “If you’re doing a sports seat, for example, the work isn’t necessarily confined to that stream.”
“A UK client, a US lender and an Indonesian local counsel.”
The aviation team advises clients like airports, airlines, aviation authorities and aerospace companies. It recently advised Keflavik Airport in Reykjavík on its expansion programme of over $1 billion, and Air Arabia on its $14 billion purchase of 120 Airbus A320s. There’s also contentious work, as the firm recently represented Fiji Airways in a dispute with Abbotswood Shipping Corporation over alleged breach of aircraft leases. As you can tell from these examples, the work often has an international element to it. On one matter, a trainee described dealing with “a UK client, a US lender and an Indonesian local counsel.” Trainees typically worked on several “small-scale deals,” rather than getting stuck into one big transaction. Because of the team’s relatively smaller size, trainees said you “get a lot of responsibility,” which included “liaising with local counsel, taking calls directly with clients, and drafting progress reports.”
Like commercial, the IP department is “huge” at B&B, with over 90 lawyers. Among the team you’ll find lawyers working on patents, trade marks (both contentious and brand management), design and copyright issues, and transactional IP matters for clients in sectors like communications, life sciences and media and entertainment. The team advises jewellery company Fabergé and the Daily Mail on their global trade mark portfolios. In a recent matter, the IP team acted for Rockstar Games and Take-Two against the developers of cheats for Grand Theft Auto V. Trainees found “one of the advantages of a big department” was that “you’re able to pick your own work to a certain extent.” The majority of trainees’ work comes from their supervisors, “but you’re not boxed in – I’ve been able to say I want to do other work and do that.” Trainees got involved in everything from patent litigation and life sciences matters to copyright and trade mark issues. “If you’re working on a large matter,” like advising Vista Equity Partners on its $1.5 billion acquisition of tech company Accelya, for example, “then you’ll do classic trainee work: bundling, filing, and admin tasks basically.”
Some trainees in the IP seat split it with a three-month IP secondment to a client of the firm (a well-known bank). One key strand of work on the secondment involves “a large brand protection programme that Bird & Bird does for the client.” Once secondees are “back at the nest, about half of your work is dealing with the clientfrom the firm’s side.” Sources enjoyed seeing both sides, but felt like they “didn’t have a full crack at IP” and wanted more time to get to know the team. “In terms of the short-term goal of qualifying into IP, it isn’t the best,” one felt. After trainees had “pushed for a second chance,” the firm tells us that in exceptional circumstances they can sit in IP twice in the training contract.
“As soon as you find something interesting you can ask the partner to give you more – and they do!”
Unlike IP, the dispute resolution team “is relatively small” (about 16 lawyers) which meant “there’s a lot of opportunity to get stuck in” as a trainee. “When you hear that you’re going into litigation, you think you’re just going to be bundling for six months,” one reflected, “and I did do a bit of that, but you get a lot of responsibility too.” Alongside the necessary but unglamorous tasks like filing, sources highlighted the chance to see trials and mediations,drafting correspondence, “maybe speaking to the client and definitely speaking with counsel.” Some were also tasked with communicating with the court, “which takes up a lot of time.” Trainees also mentioned “interesting research tasks,” as well as “drafting memos, which would sometimes be sent directly to the client.” Trainees liked the “cool clients” in this seat and got to see some “highly technical” matters. KFC’s very public chicken shortage because of a supply chain problem dominated the headlines for a short while in 2018, but Bird & Bird is still advising the company on the repercussions of the crisis, which amounted to financial losses of more than £20 million. The team also recently acted for Citibank in a £7 million dispute with a Dutch software company over a software licence agreement.
Trainees experienced “a lot of peaks and troughs” in the corporate seat. “There would be times when I was in the office until the late hours and then other times I was sitting around twiddling my thumbs,” one told us. As is the case in corporate departments, “it got pretty busy in the run-up to Christmas with deal closings and completions.” Trainees were kept busydoing mark-ups of articles of investment documents, share purchase agreements, board minutes and post-completion filings. One highlighted getting “a good go at the first cut of the first documents” on a venture capital deal. The trainees who thrived in the “exciting” up periods liked that “as soon as you find something interesting you can ask the partner to give you more – and they do!” Insiders added that “it’s a really great seat if you’re interested in equity capital markets.” The team does a lot of mid-market M&A, and has advised Just Eat on several transactions as part of its international expansion, including the acquisition of software service Practi.
Interviewees described Bird & Bird’s culture as “one of the best things about the firm,” highlighting working with “highly intelligent people but without the ego.” And while “there are a couple of partners who’re harder to work with, overall everyone is friendly and approachable.” Another pro is the firm “has a visibly good work/life balance for staff.” Our research indicated that spending eight to ten hours in the office each day was the norm at B&B. Trainees said: “There’s an expectation to be in the office if you need to work late, but there’s no point in sitting around looking pretty” during quieter stretches. Contractual hours are 9.30am to 5.30pm, which was close to what trainees described as "a quiet week." When it’s busy, “I’m up at 6am.”
“Highly intelligent people but without the ego.”
Trainees often start their day at the firm at the office’s popular complimentary coffee bar, complete with a barista. “First thing in the morning, people bump into each other there and have a quick chat.” The firm also has “a great lunchtime culture,” thanks partly to the firm’s popular cafeteria with free food and “panoramic views.” And after a hard week’s work, “everyone goes to the pub on Friday.”
Sources described a “team-focused” atmosphere at B&B. “The attitude is that no one should be left out,” one trainee said.Another member of this experienced cohort noticed that “in comparison to other places I’ve worked, you feel more valued as an asset to the team, rather than cannon fodder to business need.” A “non-hierarchical” vibe made trainees feel like “you can always go and ask partners for help.” We heard the Bird & Bird flock always “has your training and development in mind.” Each department provides “a structured training programme” covering topics like drafting, or even “how to respond to certain documents.” The firm also offers a formal mentoring scheme to all lawyers. “People who do it say it’s fantastic,” trainees told us.
Reviews of the firm’s diversity initiatives were a bit more mixed. For some, B&B “is doing a great job!” Others weren’t as convinced, with one telling us they found some attitudes “superficial.” A more balanced source said “the firm is getting better, but I think they could do more.” The firm has a global women’s development programme that aims to improve retention of female associates, but trainees wanted to see more at the junior end. Despite “not seeing the diversity that I want in senior leadership” for now, trainees scored the firm highly for inclusivity training and its efforts to recruit diverse talent.
Last year, we heard there were some angry birds when it came to qualification time. “It was a bit of a car crash,” one trainee confided. “There was very little clarity in terms of numbers and managing expectations. This year there’s much more clarity.” Phew! Trainees explained that grad recruitment sets out the timetable around Christmas time. Trainees have a couple of meeting with the head of grad recruitment and the training principal to express their interests and eventually confirm what they’re interested in qualifying into.After this, trainees undergo an interviewwhich includes a short presentation – “only five to ten minutes.” In 2020, the firm retained 16 of 18 qualifiers.
Spread your wings:“At Bird & Bird, scientists come in thinking they want to do IP but end up doing something else!”
How to get a Bird & Bird training contract
Summer Vacation Scheme deadline (21st June – 2nd July 2021): 31st December 2020 (opened 3rd September 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 December 2020 (opened 3rd September 2020)
Bird & Bird receives around 2,000 applications each year for its training contract. The first step in the process is a critical reasoning test, after which recruiters invite 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, candidates are asked to attend an insight and selection day.
This sees candidates asked to demonstrate various competencies through three activities: an interview, a group task and a written task. Those who impress go on to a panel interview, which further tests these competencies. Insiders suggest coming armed with a thorough knowledge of your application form 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.
The firm runs two two-week schemes (12th April – 23rd April 2021, and 21st June – 2nd July 2021). In total there are around 40 places available each year across both schemes.
Bagging a place starts with an online application form. The firm usually receives around 2000 of these each year, and after a critical reasoning test it invites around 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 there are numerous opportunities for them engage with lawyers across the firm.
Vac schemers are automatically assessed for a training contract.
In 2020, our two vacation schemes were online experiences due to Covid-19. Each virtual scheme was a week long and carried out using a video conferencing platform. The schemes involved practical skills sessions, insight presentations, and interactive Q&A sessions. Participants were given the opportunity to speak to and network with partners, associates, trainees and the graduate team, and participated in a virtual social event. The vacation scheme still formed part of our recruitment process for a training contract and we held individual interviews throughout the week. Participants also received a task to complete during the scheme.
Our current trainees have a wide range of degrees between them, from neuroscience and mechanical engineering to languages and geography to name just a few. They also attended a mix of universities, such as Leicester, Nottingham, Bristol and Oxford.
That said, the usual credentials – 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.
Interview with partner and training principal Ian Edwards
Bird & Bird
12 New Fetter Lane,
- Partners 88
- Associates 150
- Total trainees 37
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 29
- Graduate recruiter: Lara Machnicki
- [email protected]
- 0207 415 6000
- Training partner: Ian Edwards
- 0207 415 6000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: up to 18
- Applications pa: 2,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: up to 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 3rd September 2020
- Training contract deadline 2023 start: 31st December 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 3rd September 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: Spring: 13th December 2020
- Summer: 31st December 2020
- Open day deadline: 30th October 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £71,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, UK.
- Please apply directly to international offices.
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 1300 lawyers globally in 29 offices across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia, as well as close ties with firms in other parts of the world. We understand the trends that are shaping the markets, and the technological and regulatory issues that are transforming industries.
Main areas of work
We're involved in a range of sectors, from Aviation and Defence through to Communications and Technology, Energy and Utilities, Retail & Consumer, Financial Services, as well as IT, Life Sciences, Media and Sport.
Trainees complete 4x6 month seats from the following, and there are opportunities to go on an international or client secondment:
• Dispute Resolution
• Intellectual Property
• Real Estate
We recruit the majority of our trainees from vacation schemes.
• Spring 2021: 12 April – 23 April 2021
• Summer 2021: 21 June – 2 July 2021
Law students should apply from their penultimate year onwards; non-law students should apply from their final year. Graduates can apply at any time. Each vacation scheme runs for two weeks and we pay the London Living Wage.
Private healthcare, life assurance, pension scheme, computer loans, season ticket loan, cycle to work scheme, gym membership, employee assistance programme, corporate discount, 2 days paid volunteering opportunities.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Students not yet eligible to apply for a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme with us can apply to attend our Early Bird Virtual Workshop which takes place on 13-14 January 2021. It is a virtual experience for students to gain an insight into Bird & Bird and develop their interest in law. Applications close 15 November 2020. We also run open days, with a separate day for STEM students. Applications close 30 October 2020.
University law careers fairs 2020
We aren't attenting any university career fairs in 2020 but we will be attending a number of Legal Cheek, AllAboutLaw and Aspiring Solicitors virtual law fairs. Please see our website and social media for more details of our events programme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
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- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
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- Outsourcing (Band 2)
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