Bright Bristows brings buckets of brains to bear when it comes to tech, life sciences and IP.
The owls are not what they seem
“I’d say nerdy isn’t a bad way of describing us!” exclaimed one Bristows trainee. And it's no wonder the firm has a geeky reputation: Bristows has a primary focus on the tech and life sciences sectors and a penchant for all things IP. The firm works with many household names in these fields, including Google, Samsung, BBC, Amazon, Mastercard, Bupa and Sony. With top clients come top Chambers UK nods for IP, patents, trade marks, data protection, IT and life sciences, which demonstrate this firm's heritage perfectly. However, it's important to note Bristows offers a full service to businesses in its target sectors through its corporate, employment and real estate practices.
“Life sciences and technology is what we’re about," training partner Miranda Cass tells us. "We do work in other sectors too, but even our real estate team are engaged with technology through their work with smart buildings.” In addition, the firm is currently helping Ofcom get 5G rolled out across the UK, working with Amazon on infrastructure and personal data services, and advising British American Tobacco on regulations surrounding e-cigarettes and their advertising. Bristows also does some interesting non-tech work, for the food and drink industry for instance: it's recently been defending Toblerone owner Mondelez in a dispute with Poundland over the similarity of its Twin Peaks bar to the distinctive Alpine snack.
“Technology is what we’re about."
Speaking of continental Europe, the firm recently opened its first international office in Brussels in May 2018. Given the current uncertainty in the EU, Cass tells us that the strategic move is “about maintaining our presence in Europe after Brexit.” Back in London, the latest news is that the firm recently took on a large brands group from Berwin Leighton Paisner (now BCLP). “That’s really boosted our brands and trade mark work,” Cass tells us. Despite all these changes, the firm “isn’t looking to be huge. We’re just growing organically as we need to. We’re still going to be focusing on life sciences and technology.”
It's no surprise that this slant is a significant draw for science grads. “I wanted to work in a field that involves the science work I did in my degree, but somewhere that had commercial relevance as well,” one source shared. There's been a consistent 50/50 split between science and non-science grads among Bristows trainees in recent years: among the current cohort are English, history, biochemistry, management and engineering grads. Cass tells us: “Having the mixture makes it a richer environment – people approach life in a different way!”
Bristows offers trainees stints of either three or six months in most departments. Trainees can specify a preference for their first seat, but more often than not it's automatically assigned. From then on, trainees “have a one on one meeting with HR two months before each seat ends – you say which seat you want to do and which are ones you’re not interested in.” We heard that “in general people get what they want,” but for some people “that has not been the case – sometimes you don’t get what you want. I thought you’d have a greater say in what you do. It’s something I hadn’t anticipated!” Take note that all trainees must complete six months in IP litigation, but given that IP is one of Bristows' big selling points, many interviewees told us that the compulsory IP seat was “one of the main reasons I applied to Bristows!”
Secondments are a big deal at Bristows. The firm regularly dispatches trainees to clients including Sony, WPP, Capgemini and Google and GlaxoSmithKline. Sources found that secondments provided an opportunity to “be given quite a lot of responsibility and liaise with various people outside the company” and also loved “working on the cutting-edge issues that you’re seeing on the news all the time.”
With over 90 lawyers, Bristows' IP department is its largest and the firm's pièce de résistance. Everything from patent litigation to brand protection to digital disputes is covered here, for clients from sectors like life sciences (Novartis), tech (Samsung), media (the FT), food and beverages (McDonald's), and luxury goods (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).
The work in IP litigation is “pretty much just patent litigation,” though there is the opportunity to pick up work from the trade mark or copyright teams. In one recent case the team represented Cadbury during Nestle’s attempted registration of the four-finger KitKat, which involved actions before the UK and European IP courts. As is common in litigation seats, coming up to trial “there will be an inevitable amount of bundling – it’s a rite of passage!” Other work in the department includes life sciences cases such as the recent defence of ResMed in relation to alleged patent infringements of its respiratory devices for sleep disorders. Another life sciences case saw lawyers defend tech company Varian in a case over its precision cancer treatment technology. On these cases, trainees typically take meeting notes, manage deadlines and communicate details of the case to clients and others. Trainees felt they “had a real role on the case,” emphasising that they were often called upon to voice their opinion on issues. “I go to every single case meeting and really get involved with experts to try and understand the technology,” one source shared.
"... getting into the nitty-gritty of what clients are doing with personal data.”
While a visit to commercial IP/IT isn't mandatory, it comes highly recommended, as a mix of transactional IP, data protection and commercial IT work is available. The seat is really popular when it comes to qualification, as “you can go in as an NQ across all three sections” – IP, IT and data protection – “and they’re all really fascinating!” Trainees in this seat get to tackle “everything on the commercial side – licences, material transfer agreements, settlement agreements – as well as big infrastructure commercial deals, transfers of technology and data protection.” This means trainees' day-to-day work is varied too. “It’s not copy and paste – every client’s really different.” Rookies do contract review and policy research, and sit in on calls and negotiations as well as getting “organisational-level direct client contact.” The group works with well-known tech clients such as Sony, Facebook, Dropbox and Spotify having recently advised on the latter’s use of AdTech on the platform. The team also recently advised on Google’s DeepMind project regarding data protection in hospitals. With data protection being such a hot topic at the moment, trainees said they really enjoyed the experience in this seat: “It’s really interesting getting into the nitty-gritty of what clients are doing with personal data.”
The firm’s 19-strong corporate group is “relatively small compared to other departments,” but the range of work is still “very varied – we’ve worked on share issues for publishing companies, setting up media companies, alcohol manufacturing and distribution, processing minerals and manufacturing medical devices and oxygen.” The team recently worked on Amazon’s acquisition of Sensible Objects, a game studio that uses voice AI in its games. It also advised on Canon’s acquisition of Shoreditch-based e-commerce software company Kite.ly, which is used by Ticketmaster, PhotoBox and Polaroid. Trainees in this seat take on tasks such as proofreading, managing signature pages, attending client meetings and writing up attendance notes, with the “occasional bit of drafting.” Typically, “you don’t tend to see deals from start to finish – you just help out on small, discreet parts of a transaction, so it’s not worthwhile reading too much into the matter.”
The seven-lawyer real estate team may be a smaller component of Bristows' operations, but it offers trainees “a hands-on seat that provides a unique skill set.” The team is working on the ongoing redevelopment of Lincoln’s Inn and acted for Kodak in the sale of its Harrow industrial complex, which will lead to the creation of 1,150 new homes in the area. The group works on “a lot of commercial leases and purchases where the transactions are not too big.” Though the figures aren’t sky-high, the levels of responsibility are. “You get your own cases and transactions to run, and you're expected to ring the client and solicitor on other side,” trainees told us. “We then do the negotiations and you’re often told to take the reins!”
Getting to know you
Interviewees praised the firm for promoting a "supportive environment," where “there are no stupid questions and everyone will have time for you.” Appraisals occur at the end of each seat and as well as getting formal feedback, “you do a self-appraisal assessing yourself against a competency framework.” Trainees pointed out that “partners really take time to get to know you – 90% of the partners I’ve not worked with know me on a first-name basis.” One source praised the fact that “the partners knew my name and background before I even met them! I thought, ‘wow, partners at a busy law firm have taken the time to read about me.’”
Trainees praised the firm's “more gentle, collaborative culture.” This is paired with a decent work/life balance – most people tend to get in at 9am and leave by 6pm, though there are occasional late nights. “I haven’t stayed past 7pm yet!” a first-year told us. There’s no working on evenings or at weekends either. “I did one piece of work at the weekend and I got an email telling me not to work out of hours!” one startled trainee reported. The trade-off is a salary that's lower than at some of the City's hotshots, but not by much – trainees still start on £38,000, after all.
"The partners knew my name and background before I even met them!"
Bristows does its fair share to promote wellbeing and inclusivity. “From induction we’re told that the mantra is ‘bring yourself to work'.” The internal LGBT group, the Turing Network, organises socials and talks. One recent event was a talk by transgender campaigner Emma Cusdin. “She started from the beginning and gave a list of dos and don'ts, then talked to us about her experiences of being transgender in the workplace,” a source told us. “Everyone’s really really busy, but the talk was so popular – it was the most well-attended session at Bristows I’ve ever seen!” Miranda Cass tells us at that at Bristows “LGBT inclusivity starts at the top”– several of the firm’s partners openly identify as LGBT.
Additionally, Bristows is introducing gender-neutral toilets in its latest mini-redevelopment of the office. The refurb of the corporate and real estate teams' space will pilot a new open-plan seating arrangement (previously all trainees shared an office with their supervisor and most will continue to). Overall, trainees were in favour of the reshuffle: “It will encourage walking around and create a collaborative working space.” The building itself, Unilever House next to Blackfriars Bridge, is a grand rendering of neoclassical design. “I’m still struck by it now!" one source swooned. "It's such a cool building to work in and in an amazing location.”
Behind the art deco exterior lies a thriving social life too. Every Friday, there are drinks in the Hub, the social area. The Hub has “table football, coffee machines, the Financial Times and Guardian daily – and a big biscuit tin which everyone loves!” There are also annual events such as an autumn party, which has been held at fun local places like Swingers (crazy-golf) and Flight Club (“silly darts”).
When it comes to qualification, trainees told us it’s “positive that the intake is small and there’s a consistently high retention rate.” In the ten years from 2007 to 2017 the firm retained 70 of 82 trainees on qualification (85%). NQ hopefuls submit two top choices and can expect to be interviewed by partners on the training committee before discovering their fate. Our sources said they were hopeful: “They’re open to discussions and generally bend over backwards to make sure you’re happy.” In the end, all ten qualifiers became fully fledged Bristows solicitors in 2018.
Feeling stressed? Bristows runs a wellbeing week for its employees every January with massages, pilates, an on-site nutritionist and all the fresh fruit you can eat.
How to get a Bristows training contract
Workshop deadlines: 18 November 2018 (winter); 31 January 2019 (spring and summer)
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 January 2019 (final year undergraduates and graduates; opens 1 October 2018); 31 July 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Bristows runs two open days every year. These take place in the spring/summer period, and offer details on the firm's training contract as well as becoming a solicitor in general.
The first is aimed specifically at science and engineering students. The event includes talks on the practice areas in which scientific expertise is a particular advantage, and how to convert a science background into a legal career.
The second open day is aimed at all undergraduate students. Attendees are given a broad introduction to different types of law firms, as well as talks on what a training contract involves. There's also an opportunity to meet Bristows' current trainees and have a brief chat with some of the partners.
There are up to 30 spots available on each open day. Applicants are required to complete a short online application form.
In 2013 the firm replaced its vac scheme with a series of two-day workshops that take place across the winter, spring and summer. Corporate partner Mark Hawes explains the change: “In the past we found that offering people a week or more on a vacation scheme meant that we placed too many eggs in one basket. By introducing these workshops, we aim to see far more people and recruit more of them for training contracts.”
Applications begin with a comprehensive online form. We're told that those who pass this stage are the ones who demonstrate excellent academic performance and a clear interest in a career at the firm. “We want to see evidence of research and that candidates have looked at a range of sources,” says graduate resourcing and alumni manager, May Worvill, touching on the importance of providing answers that are well structured and tailored to the firm.
Shortlisted candidates go on to participate in a short video interview which is reviewed by HR. Questions revolve around key competencies (like business acumen, interpersonal and communication skills) as well as a candidate's motivation to pursue a legal career at Bristows.
“We ensure that those on the workshop receive intensive exposure to the firm,” says Hawes. Indeed, across the two days there are presentations on the different kinds of work each department handles, interactive case studies and a series of meet-and-greets, including a ‘speed-networking’ event between candidates and representatives across the firm. There's also lunch and drinks with the current trainee crop as well as a meal with the trainee committee. “We want participants to have had quality time with partners, associates, trainees and support staff by the time they leave us,” Hawes tells us.
Note that those who attend a workshop are still required to submit a separate application for a training contract.
Training contract applications
Unusually, the firm has two recruitment rounds throughout the year: the spring recruitment round is aimed at final year undergraduates and graduates, while the summer round is open to all applicants.
Like workshop applicants, those applying directly for a training contract begin with an online form, albeit a slightly more comprehensive one which includes a personal statement in addition to the usual 'Why Bristows?' and 'Why law?' questions.
Candidates who clear this first hurdle participate in a video interview like the one outlined above, followed by a face-to-face interview with a partner and an associate. The third (and thankfully final!) round of interviews takes place with two partners on the training committee, at which point applicants are also required to complete a written exercise.
According to Hawes, “it's personality that's most important during the actual interview. Lots of our work is client-facing, and in the sectors we operate in – life sciences and technology– this means you're often dealing with whiz-kid inventors. We're looking for charming people who will be able to talk to these kinds of clients and maintain their interest.”
Interview with training partner Miranda Cass
100 Victoria Embankment,
- Partners 40
- Associates 91
- Total trainees 20
- UKoffices London
- Contact Graduate recruitment manager
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Around 10
- Applications pa: 1200
- Minimumrequired degree grade: 2:1 (preferred)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 36
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 January 2019 (for spring interviews) 31 July 2019 (for summer interviews)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 18 November 2018 (winter), 31 January 2019 (spring and summer)
- Open day deadline: 28 February 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £41,000
- Post-qualification salary: £63,000
- Holiday entitlement: 23 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Our core practice areas are: Intellectual property; information technology and data protection; corporate; commercial, technology and copyright disputes; real estate; regulatory; EU and competition; employment and tax..
Final year undergraduates and graduates are eligible to apply for all schemes. Penultimate year students are eligible to apply for the summer scheme only.
Open days and first-year opportunities
• The science and engineering open day is for all undergraduates and graduates of STEM subjects
• The undergraduate open day is open to all undergraduates of any degree discipline
Please apply online via our website.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Competition Law (Band 5)
- 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)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 4)
- Telecommunications (Band 4)