Tech, IP and innovation are the wind beneath the wings of this free-flying London-based firm.
TwoBirds in the hand
Picture it now – winter chill gives way to the promise of spring. A flock of birds emerges from the trees and takes to the skies, setting their course for new horizons. The rise and rise of Bird & Bird doesn’t fit that image exactly, but with a wingspan that now stretches across 19 countries it’s fair to say that B&B has come a long way from its first nest in Gray’s Inn, London. Expansion has come quickly: 27 of the firm’s 30 offices opened their doors post-millennium, and in 2019 the firm made up a record 23 new partners.
The Bird & Bird story isn’t just grow, grow, grow – the firm’s made its name by carving a powerful niche in cutting-edge technology law. “I wanted to be part of the tech boom that B&B is really riding,” one trainee told us; another said they “didn’t want to be doing generic or traditional legal work. I wanted to see new law being developed.” For an idea of where the firm is breaking new ground, take a look at its Chambers UK rankings – top prizes galore in telecommunications, sport, outsourcing, life sciences, data protection and franchising law. The pièce de résistance might just be B&B’s similarly top-ranked IP practice. Trainees described it as a “really big draw” and “ubiquitously popular.”
Bird & Bird’s legal work often overlaps with scientific disciplines, and while trainees don’t need Mr. Robot levels of tech wizardry, it’s true that “the firm embraces eclectic routes into the profession. They like if you’ve got outside interests to bring to the legal context.” That doesn’t necessarily mean tech or science: “Anything is advantageous here. We value and pride ourselves on moving beyond traditions.” In one of the firm’s recent intakes, only six of 18 trainees studied law at undergraduate level. The big message to take away from all this is that your background is less important than showing “real love for technology and innovative approaches to law” when you’re making your application.
There are no mandatory seats but the firm’s IP and commercial departments are large enough that “it would be odd not to pass through at least one of those.” Trainees rank five seat preferences, and conversations with HR dictate where they end up. Trainees were largely happy with how things worked out, though they warned that you won't get all your preferences. One advised that in order to maximise your chances of securing your top option “you should give one preference and be really specific about who you want to sit with!” We also heard some grumbles about “not finding out where you’re going until two weeks before the rotation.”
Spread your wings
We described the commercial team as large – it’s so big in fact that it covers three floors of B&B’s office and breaks down into ‘swimming lanes’. Grab your armbands – the group spans energy, media/entertainment/sport (MES), retail and consumer, defence, aviation, technology transactions, IT and infrastructure. Trainees are “technically sat in one sector, but I was very much encouraged to pick up work in other areas and you can pursue your own interests. You’re given leeway to try and find your feet.”
Let’s talk energy first. The practice is split between traditional oil and gas and renewable and alternative energies; the latter is mostly solar-focused and, at the time of writing, one of the firm’s fastest-growing sectors. Clients include game-changers like smart meter company Honeywell alongside Bluefield Partners, Next Energy and other investment firms: B&B recently advised private partnership Pioneer Point on its £800 million acquisition of Brockwell Energy. Proofreading and notetaking are among the more menial trainee tasks, but they’re not the ceiling for trainees. One described their highlight: “A large telecoms company was looking at changing their contract with one of their providers so I assisted with analysis of their existing contact and explained how it would change. I even got to attempt the first redraft of the contract itself.”
“It was a genuine highlight to be on a cutting-edge and high-profile matter.”
Bird & Bird’s sport lawyers sit primarily in the non-contentious and regulatory side of the industry. Household-name clients including the Premier League, Arsenal FC, Celtic Rugby and the International Cricket Council call on the firm’s expertise; two members of the team represented the International Association of Athletics Federations in a much-publicised dispute over the eligibility regulations of testosterone levels in female sporting classifications. “I did all the bundling for a really high-profile case,” one source revealed. “It was a genuine highlight to be on a cutting-edge and high-profile matter, working with lots of regulatory bodies and federations.” Trainees also played a role in more everyday sponsorship and staging agreements, kit deals and anti-doping and disciplinary hearings.
Data protection was another popular ‘lane’ for our sources to swim down. At the time of our research, GDPR was filling trainee workloads as quickly as it was your email inbox: “This is one of the biggest departments of its type in the country so we were very busy.” With a client base including Eurostar, eBay, Domino’s Pizza and Nespresso, that might be an understatement. Interviewees were “reviewing privacy policies and implementing what was necessary for GDPR compliance.” In an unrelated matter, Bird & Bird’s team also gave evidence to the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee. “Responsibility” was the key draw for trainees here: “Even as a first-seater I went to client meetings on my own and interviewed clients. You’re thrust into the limelight, they treat trainees like long-term resources rather than temporary help.”
There are no swimming lanes to navigate in the IP department, but a mix of specialties means there’s plenty of variety here too. “Scientific backgrounds will stand you in good stead if you want to do pharmaceuticals or biotech,” one source said. “But that shouldn’t scare people without that background.” Other specialisms include telecoms, brand management and employment. “There’s definitely integration” between the different subsections and “it’s a less clearly divided department than commercial. The work you do often depends on when you arrive.” Nokia, Allergan and Monster Beverages can all be found on the client roster. Whether working on brand audits, trade mark portfolios or drafting an appeal (“which was wild for a trainee to be doing”), each of our interviewees spoke with genuine enthusiasm about their time in the department. “The culture is designed to stretch juniors, you get to feel like an actual lawyer,” we heard.
One junior celebrated progress over time in the soft trade marks end of the firm’s practice: “You look at the whole lifecycle of a trade mark from application, to watch notices, to cease and desist letters, then negotiation to avoid opposition proceedings.” It’s helpful to be good with names in this department: the firm recently acted for science company Merck KGaA in an appeal brought by healthcare giant Merck Sharp & Dohme after it was found to be infringing copyright via its use of the word MERCK. Trainees weren’t at all mercked (whatever that may mean) with their role on big cases with an international dimension: “We had to ring experts around the world. If you’re a science nerd, like me, it’s really exciting because you’ve read all their papers while studying.” As you’d expect, the firm’s also maintaining an eye on the “hot topics” in tech including AI, data mining and 5G “to see how we can provide the best advice going forward.”
“If you’re a science nerd, like me, it’s really exciting.”
The smaller dispute resolution department gets to grips with cases in sectors ranging from tech and comms to product liability, financial services, media, entertainment and sport. It’s only appropriate that KFC called for Bird & Bird’s help following its 2018 supply chain crisis, causing it to run out of chicken – the disputes team assisted commercial lawyers on the matter. A mixed client base including Bank of China Aviation and cloud-based business platform Tradeshift means “trainee tasks vary broadly depending on who you’re sat with.” Some proofreading and bundling “is inevitable,” along with “random pursuits of research and running things to court. I got to see a tiny bit of master advocacy – it was amazing that I could stand in front of someone so important to put an application in.”
M&A, equity capital markets and venture capital all play a role in corporate. B&B operates mostly in the mid-market and unsurprisingly thrives in tech and IP-related deals for media, energy and retail clients like F-Secure, Secret Escapes and JustEat. “There’s quite a lot of assisting on smaller venture capital deals,” according to one insider. “My role has typically been drafting ancillary documents, board minutes, transfer forms and share certificates.” Trainees tend to play more of a support role on larger M&A deals like insurance broker Beach & Associate’s $130 million purchase by larger broker Acrisure. There’s also tax work available: “I helped advise a company that wanted to open in Europe but didn’t care where. They made their decision based on our advice.”
Flying the nest
The firm's qualification process drew some complaints from interviewees. “There’s a lack of clarity around the amount of jobs and where they might be,” one source found. Another noticed that: “We don’t really talk about the politics of the process.” The best approach, apparently, is “to start having coffees with the right people six months in advance. It tends to be quite cloak and dagger before the formal interviews start.” That being said – in 2019, 13 of 16 took NQ jobs at Bird & Bird. Tea drinkers, take note.
Similarly, overseas seats could be an opportunity for those with the drive to make it happen. What's 'drive' you ask? Well, language skills were the most tangible prerequisite. Brussels is the only regular option, while stints in other offices are more ad hoc. “Although we’re spread across the world, there’s no clear-cut or direct application” to go abroad. It’s far more likely that trainees will do a client secondment. On the other hand, cross-border work from within the London base is very much on the cards. “I’m shocked about how international the work is,” a trainee declared. “It’s not just lip service and it’s super interesting to see how the law is applied in different areas of the world.” The firm tightened its globe-spanning network in 2019 with the introduction of an Early Careers network, aimed at connecting juniors that might feel “disconnected from the mother hub.”
Bird & Bird’s London “hub” relocated to New Fetter Lane relatively recently. Departments now sit closer together than previously, and an open-door policy is made easier by the total lack of doors. Given the rate of change, trainees were “surprised how much of the firm’s character has still been retained. Things may be changing but the culture doesn’t seem to be.” Wholesome social happenings like music lessons, a firm choir and an environment society keep people sweet; there’s also “a team for every sport you can think of!” B&B lawyers from across continental Europe were about to kick off a firm-wide annual football tournament in Brussels. There’s also a fair amount of spontaneous fun on the side, but “you’re not expected to join in on a relentless number of trips to the pub.”
“Things may be changing but the culture doesn’t seem to be.”
As for all-nighters in the office, sources suggested “it’s rare for people to still be here at midnight.” 7pm is the closest we could get to calculating an average finish time across all the firm’s departments – it’s especially hard to predict hours in a corporate seat, which “can be pretty full-on.” In dispute resolution, a source remembered "11pm finishes four or five times throughout the seat." We did hear of a few long nights stretching as late as 4am, but “those are super rare. The firm might be becoming a bit more corporate but there’s still a focus on having a holistic life outside work.”
By becoming ‘more corporate’, our sources didn’t mean turning everybody into mindless robots: “Personalities aren’t straitjacketed here. They look for qualities in applicants that make them stand out rather than trying to create a drone workforce.” The training contract isn’t a Hunger Games either – “there’s no Darwinian competition or people trampling over each other.” Like at many tech pioneers, the dress code is more jeans and less suit-and-tie than at some firms; Bird & Bird’s tech leanings make for a “curious” group of people according to our sources. “What’s most important is to be interested in other people, and to be interesting – they’re open to people with different stripes so bring your own quirk!”
“If you want to work at a huge firm, apply to one because you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get,” one B&B trainee suggested. “If you want to balance law with creativity and flair, apply here.”
How to get a Bird & Bird training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 13 December 2019 (opened 22 August 2019)
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.
The firm runs two two-week schemes (22nd June – 3rd July 2020, and 13th – 24th July 2020).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 there are numerous opportunities for them engage with lawyers across the firm.
Vac schemers are automatically assessed for a training contract.
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. – could we add in one of our target unis, maybe Leicester?
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,
Bird & Bird
12 New Fetter Lane,
- Partners 91
- Associates 151
- Total trainees 36
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 30
- Graduate recruiter: Lynne Walters [email protected] 0207 415 6000
- Training partner: Ian Edwards 0207 415 6000
- Application critera
- Training contracts pa: 18
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: August 2019
- Training contract deadline 2022 start: 13th December 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: August 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 13th December 219
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Second-year salary: £44,000
- Post-qualification salary: £71,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- 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.
Main areas of work
We have a variety of international secondment opportunities including:
• Summer vacation scheme 1 – 22nd June - 3rd July 2020
• Summer vacation scheme 2 – 13th July - 24th July 2020
To be eligible, students must be in their penultimate year or above.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- 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 3)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Franchising (Band 1)
- 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)