Bristows LLP - True Picture

From tech to life sciences, Bristows is a firm with a track record of getting things right in IP-rich sectors.

Bristows training contract review 2024 

The Firm

In the words of Aristotle, we are what we repeatedly do. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that law firms known for their work in specific sectors become synonymous with them. Enter Bristows, one of the go-to destinations for trainees with an interest in tech and life sciences. “I wasn’t setting out knowing what type of lawyer I wanted to be,” one trainee at the firm told us, “but I had a life sciences background, and Bristows stood out as having the right kind of client base.”

"Bristows stood out as having the right kind of client base.”

While a science background definitely slots in with a lot of the firm’s work, it isn’t essential, and there are plenty of lawyers at Bristows with academic backgrounds in other disciplines. As insiders will tell you, the team at Bristows don’t try to cover everything, but there is a focus on ‘dynamic, IP-rich sectors’ that permeates through the firm. This emphasis has translated to a hefty reputation in these areas too. Bristows scoops top Chambers UK rankings in data protection & information law and life sciences patent litigation, as well as top-tier rankings in London for IT & outsourcing, IP, and patent litigation.

Thinking about becoming an IP lawyer? Read our interview with Bristows to find out more.

The Seats 

One of the unique things about a training contract at Bristows is that there is a mixture of three and six-month seats, with most trainees completing five or six seats in total. All trainees will get at least some experience in IP, with patent litigation a compulsory six-month seat for all new starters, and chances are, you’ll spend time in at least one of corporate and real estate too. “Because of this set-up, certain departments will have two different cycles going on at once, whereas others will only take on trainees for three or six-month stints,” one source explained, “so there’s a bit of variety, but the firm is very transparent about which of those are which.”

Another characteristic of the training contract at Bristows is that seat options are decided for the entire year, “so you’ll always have your year set out ahead of you.” Before trainees start, they receive an overview of the seat options, with the opportunity to hear from the trainees that are already at the firm. “We then send an email ranking the eight seat options from one to eight, with a sentence or two explaining why, although you don’t have to include this,” one trainee recalled. Come the beginning of the second year, there is a sit-down conversation with HR and graduate recruitment to discuss “which of those left you want to do, what your career goals are, and how that fits in.” Among the seat options, it’s common for trainees at Bristows to do a client secondment, usually to companies with brands or technology at the centre, in or near London including the likes of Google.

"Part of the reason they get you on expert calls is that where they are explaining the technology behind the patent, you learn a lot.”

As a compulsory seat, patent litigation is a group that all trainees making their way through the ranks at Bristows will get to know. As one source put it: “Patent litigation is the firm’s biggest and busiest department, with sub teams split into life sciences and technology,” both of which benefit from plenty of overlap with Bristows’ competition and life sciences regulatory practices. “In patent litigation, we do what it says on the tin, we litigate patents,” one trainee explained, “where you are assigned cases, you become the trainee on those cases, and chances are you’ll be able to see it through.” In one recent case, the firm represented Novartis in a matter surrounding its multiple sclerosis treatment Gilenya. Trainees are assigned to a handful of cases at the beginning of the seat, which you sit in on for the duration of the six months, “it’s very structured. You’ll attend expert meetings and take notes, file important documents, and get involved in some weighty legal and scientific research to substantiate expert reports,” one recalled. An interest in these sorts of topics helps too, after all: “You’ll probably have to dip into some scientific journals and source some textbooks from the British Library as part of that.” As a general rule, trainees in patent litigation can expect to hit the ground running in terms of workload, “but they are not expecting you to understand everything straight away. Part of the reason they get you on expert calls is that where they are explaining the technology behind the patent, you learn a lot.”

As the title suggests, the commercial IP/IT & data team at Bristows “is essentially three teams in one, and you’ll get work from each of them as a trainee,” one told us. As the second largest department after patent litigation, variety is the name of the game in commercial IP: “Unlike in patent litigation, trainee work is quite ad hoc, where they will email round with particular tasks and see which of us has space.” There’s the opportunity for a bit of contentious work too, with IP litigation running alongside the more advisory side of advertising and trade mark work. “You get the opportunity to do some drafting quite early,” one source recalled, “NDAs to begin with, but then moving on to master service agreements or supplier agreements. On the data side, we’ve got quite a big data team that does a lot of work with social media companies on things like standard data access requests.” On the data side, the firm’s client list includes the likes of Google, Twitter and Meta (Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram).

“... looking for evidence of someone infringing on our client’s trade marks.”

Another of the more common departments for trainees to dip into is Bristow’s brands, designs & copyright team, which covers “a lot of soft IP litigation – trade mark litigation ranging from jewellery designers to clothing and various luxury brands.” For trainees in the seat however, there’s a host of industries that you’ll be likely to come across at some stage, with past clients including Samsung and the Guardian, to McDonald’s and LADbible – how’s that for an eclectic mix?! There’s some advisory work on offer too, with research into the regulations around drinks and recipes, and copyright claims. Typical trainee tasks in brands involved a lot of what you might expect from the litigious side of things – preparing bundles for an appeal, drafting cease and desist notices, client correspondence, and “looking for evidence of someone infringing on our client’s trade marks.”

As one of the few transactional seats available at Bristows (along with real estate), the corporate offering at the firm is divided into corporate, tax and employment. On the corporate side, the M&A transactions at Bristows revolve around the firm’s key sectors - life sciences, technology and other IP-rich businesses. In one recent deal, the firm advised Intelligent Fingerprinting Limited (IFP) on its merger with Intelligent Bio Solutions (INBS) – as a part of its development of non-invasive diagnostic testing for patients and health practitioners. As one trainee explained: “Because I had an interest in the employment side of things, they made sure I got some of that. I helped with COVID-related employment queries around mandatory vaccinations or COVID guidelines, and did a bit of immigration work around the Ukrainian visa situation at the time.”

“Our competition team is divided between a litigation side and a mergers side, which is based on our two joint department heads,” one source explained, “but it can be a bit of a pot luck depending on what side you’re interested in.” As one of the firm’s smaller teams, a competition seat at Bristows is likely to involve some crossover with other departments, and it’s likely that you’ll get to know the group you’re working with well. “It’s a mix,” one trainee told us, “but I’ve worked on disclosure reviews, due diligence, managing redactions, and a lot of particular research topics.” The miniature-sized Brussels team focuses on competition law too, so the firm keeps its toes in the water when it comes to EU law.  In one recent case, the firm acted for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) on a joint intervention into the Supreme Court appeals of Pfizer and Flynn.

Trainee Life

The consensus among trainees at Bristows was that the firm thinks carefully about how new recruits will fit into the team. “They really try to build a trainee cohort that will get along,” one source told us. What’s more, it’s something the firm has a good track record of getting right: “It really works. There’s ten of us in our current cohort, and we’ve been on holiday together twice!” Part of this emphasis on personality comes from the fact that collaboration between teams is a part of life at Bristows. As one source put it: “The culture is collaborative, and it’s something you really notice. As a trainee, you are moving through the departments, so you get a good cross-section of the people at the firm. You’ll often come across people you’ve worked with before in previous departments.” This translates to a more active social life at the firm too: “We’ve got the standard firm-wide quizzes and black-tie dinners, but there are smaller team events too that include things like theatre trips, so they try to mix it up. It’s not just focused on evening drinking events.”

“There’s ten of us in our current cohort, and we’ve been on holiday together twice!”

When it comes to remote work, the official guidance from the firm is that trainees should be in more often that they’re not, “which probably translates to around three days a week,” trainees confirmed. There are anchor days when everyone from a particular department is expected to come in, and “certain teams have calendars where partners will add when they are going to be in, which can be a really helpful guide when choosing when to come in as a trainee.” Trainees reported that hours at the firm were fairly standard, with typical hours sitting at around 9m to 7pm, though there will always be busy times regardless of the department you find yourself in: “In the commercial team, for example, I was working until 8.00pm or 9.00pm most evenings, until midnight sometimes, and I once worked two weekends back to back.”

As a general rule, trainees won’t have an interview process to navigate come qualification time: “The idea is very much that your two years at the firm will speak for itself,” one trainee approaching qualification quipped. As one source put it: “The rough expectation is that the eight departments will announce who is or isn’t hiring around the end of March, start of April, before we have conversations internally where we decide where to apply, and then tell them our preference.” In 2023, the firm retained nine of ten qualifiers.

Learn about Bristows' approach to social mobility.

Leading by example: Bristows runs a mentoring scheme at a local girls’ school, where women at the firm run hour-long sessions once a month with students: “You get to meet them and provide sessions on applying for college, CVs, jobs etc. And it lasts two years, so you really get to see them develop.”


How to get a Bristows training contract

Workshop deadlines: IP Workshops 31 October 2023, STEM IP Workshop 13 November 2023, Undergraduate Open Day 31 May 2024

Training contract deadline: 02 January 2024


Bristows offers intensive one-day IP workshops to give students and graduates the opportunity to learn more about intellectual property law and the career opportunities available at Bristows. The application process starts with a comprehensive online form where candidates can show their academic background, experience to date, and interest in a career at Bristows. This is followed by a recorded video interview. “We want to see evidence of research into the firm and an authentic interest in the specialist areas that we have to offer,” says graduate talent manager Harriet Jones, touching on the importance of providing answers that are well structured and tailored to the firm. The workshop offers learning opportunities, interactive case studies and networking opportunities between the attendees and Bristows’ trainees and lawyers. This year the firm will be hosting three workshops in winter 2023 and one workshop for first-year undergraduates in summer 2024.

Training contract applications

The firm has one recruitment round in the spring, and the deadline to apply for a training contract is 2 January 2024. If you are a non-law graduate completing a postgraduate course that is more than one year of study, or a PhD, the firm advises applying in the final year of your study, so applicants have two years to complete their legal studies and SQE exams prior to the training contract start date.  The firm also welcomes applications from graduates who have already started or completed their legal studies (SQE 1 and/or 2, as well as PGDL and/or LPC).

Those applying for a training contract begin with a comprehensive online application form, which includes a personal statement. Candidates who clear this first hurdle will be invited to complete a video interview to accompany your paper application. The face-to-face interview process includes two interviews with senior associates and partners of the firm, a written exercise and a problem question exercise. Applicants will also have the opportunity to meet with a current trainee in an informal setting to get their perspective on training at the firm.


Bristows LLP

100 Victoria Embankment,

Firm profile
We are Bristows, the world’s leading specialist law firm for clients that innovate. We are a European headquartered hub for litigation, transactions and advice throughout the world. We help clients grow in life sciences, technology and other dynamic sectors. We provide advice on all their legal matters and are proud to be different.

Main areas of work
We focus on dynamic, IP-rich sectors and have the expertise to solve a broad range of litigation, transactional, and advisory challenges. We have a true cross-disciplinary practice encompassing our renowned IP, competition, regulatory, corporate and commercial, dispute resolution, IT and data protection teams. The strength of each individual practice complements the others to provide a fully integrated and comprehensive service.

Training opportunities
During the two-year period of training you will spend time in each of the firm’s core practice groups, including a guaranteed seat in Patent Litigation. You will also have the opportunity to explore other areas of Intellectual Property law including Commercial IP and Brands, Designs and Copyright. As a full-service firm, trainees can also experience areas of law including commercial IT, cata protection, commercial and technology disputes, life sciences regulatory and competition law. Trainees typically undertake five or six seats during the training contract with a mix of three- and six-month seats. One of these seats can be a UK secondment to the in-house legal department of one of the firm’s leading multinational clients. Bristows trainees work alongside partners dealing directly with clients from the start of their training. There is plenty of responsibility and this is matched by an extremely supportive and friendly culture. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in life at the firm through charity fundraising events, sports teams, social events, community initiatives and a number of staff committees and networks. 

Vacation scheme
We offer intensive one-day IP workshops (instead of longer vacation schemes) to give students and graduates the opportunity to learn more about Intellectual Property law and the career opportunities available at Bristows. The workshops offers learning opportunities, interactive case studies and networking sessions. They are a great opportunity to assess whether law as a career, and Bristows as a firm, are for you. Undergraduates in their second-, penultimate- and final-year of study and graduates of all degree disciplines are eligible for the winter workshops on 16 and 24 November. All STEM students and graduates are eligible for the 7 December workshop that is tailored to scientists and engineers. There will also be a workshop for first-year undergraduates on 14 June.

Other benefits
We offer a flexible benefits package including: life assurance; matched pension contributions; private medical insurance; holiday 'buy and sell'; cycle to work scheme; gym membership; travel insurance; dental insurance; an employee assistance programme; and season ticket loan.

Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing:
Bristows established its 'Equality and Diversity Committee' in 2007, with the aim of championing equality of opportunity and diversity in all aspects of the firm’s business. Committee members include a number of partners, associates of all levels, secretaries and business support staff. While having a diverse workforce is key to success, making sure that everyone within the firm feels included is also an important factor, so the committee recently re-branded to become 'The Inclusion Group'. This refreshed focus on the inclusion of everyone at Bristows was launched in 2020 and has offered a new lease of life to the activities that members of the Inclusion Group organise across each year. In the past year, events hosted by the group have included a Black History Month talk on the forgotten stories of black history within Britain and a celebration of the first 100 years of women in law. The firm now has a number of staff networks for LGBT+, Women and Working Families and Carers. The Turing Network for the LGBT+ community and allies was formed in 2007 and was the firm’s first employee network group. The Women’s Network was launched as part of the 2020 celebration of International Women’s Day with sponsorship from both female and male partners. The Working Families and Carers Network launched in Carers Week 2020 to provide both firm and peer support for all working parents and carers at the firm. In addition to the network groups, the firm also has an extensive Wellbeing Programme that offers support, advice and resources for all four pillars of wellbeing: mental, physical, financial and community wellbeing. This programme includes Mental Health training, nutritional advice, community initiatives and financial support resources. The firm also has a number of mental health first aiders who can offer support and direction to all employees in a time of need.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Competition Law (Band 5)
    • Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 4)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Games, Interactive Entertainment & Social Media (Band 3)
    • Telecommunications (Band 4)