Bristows LLP - True Picture

Bristows bestows its trainees with expert knowledge in IP.

It's not rocket science

Bristows is almost in a league of its own for all things IP: Chambers UK shows that the firm outranks all of the magic and silver circle firms for IP in London, not to mention it is one of only two firms to garner the highest ranking. “The firm's name is synonymous with IP,” one interviewee asserted. “It offers the opportunity to work with specialist and interesting clients, but not in a typical City firm environment.” Another chimed in: “I heard the work/life balance is pretty good as well for a City firm.” We can confirm that they're not wrong, and this combination of expertise and culture proves to be very popular: the firm receives around 1,200 applications annually for its ten training contracts.

So what's a good Bristows recruit made of then? Well, at the time of our calls roughly half of trainees had done a science degree and were encouraged by seeing that the firm actively recruits people with that background. “It was nice feeling that my background was going to be an asset to my career, rather than a hindrance,” one science grad reflected. It's also worth pointing out that half of trainees don't have a STEM background (they studied things like law, English and history) and that Bristows is not an IP boutique: it's a full-service firm that also has commercial, corporate and property departments, which act mainly for clients from the world of tech, pharma and science. So an interest in science and IP will definitely serve you well here, especially because a seat in patent litigation is compulsory.

The opportunity for client secondments was another large draw for many. “They’re pretty common,” sources explained – “almost everyone does a client secondment.” Over the years, trainees have spent time with a mix of tech, pharma and consumer product clients and at big names like Google and Capgemini.

Do trainees dream of electric cars?

Before starting, trainees receive a few possible seat options and have the chance to indicate a preference. Trainees are then allocated a first seat with those preferences considered. For each subsequent seat, trainees have regular meetings with HR before the switch to discuss their preferences. One second-year source reflected: “I’ve been lucky and have been able to do all the seats I wanted to do. Those who didn’t get their first choices in their first year were made a priority in their second year.” Alongside the compulsory patent litigation seat, trainees must also sit in either real estate or corporate at some point.

“It’s important that you’re organised and make sure everything runs smoothly.”

In patent litigation “tech and life sciences are the two main areas of work.” The team recently acted for pharma company Vectura in proceedings over the validity of five of its patents and their infringement by GlaxoSmithKline’s series of Ellipta inhaler products. Many trainees spend their six months in the team on one or two sizeable trials, handling tasks like bundling, attending client and expert meetings, drafting correspondence, reviewing arguments, and case management – “it’s important that you’re organised and make sure everything runs smoothly.” Research tasks are also a prominent feature of this seat – that means “reading up on the patents and looking into background materials.” Many found this aspect of the work to be “quite technical” and explained that given this “having a background in science is helpful.” That said, those without a science background found that “the team is so friendly that you can ask any questions and talk to the previous trainee to understand things better.”

Trainees can also do a soft IP litigation seat covering brands, designs and copyright. There’s often a bit of a crossover with patent litigation. The team sees a mix of trademark litigation as well as some advisory work and pre-action correspondence. The firm manages the worldwide trademark portfolios of the Financial Times and The Guardian, and also acts for several other media clients – WPP, Vice, BuzzFeed – as well as consumer brands like McDonald's, Cadbury and Heineken.

Commercial IP and IT is where “most of the firm’s sexy work is.” The department handles things like IP licensing, data protection and procurement projects. Trainees get stuck into a range of work: some mentioned working on “life sciences agreements between pharma companies and inventors,” while others dealt with “IT supply contracts.” Interviewees admitted “there might be less client contact in this seat,” but still found it “cool to see really cutting-edge products before they go to market.” For example, one recalled “working with a gaming client looking at virtual reality and how to better model movements to build a better in-game depiction.” Recently, the team also worked with Google on the development of facial recognition software and dealt with legal agreements and policies for Cray Supercomputers, a Seattle-based data storage and analytics manufacturer. Besides Google, this team has several other big-name clients including Amazon, British Airways, IBM and Sony. Contract review, proofreading and due diligence come up regularly in this seat, and trainees might also find themselves “drafting website terms and conditions” and “putting together privacy policies for companies to be compliant with GDPR.”

“Working with a gaming client looking at virtual reality.”

The corporateand tax seat encompasses M&A and employment. On the M&A side, trainees reported working on “mid-size private acquisitions” and are often tasked with transaction management. This means conducting company house checks, sorting out completion bibles and “helping out with share purchase agreements.” Trainees usually tackle the ancillary documents, but one source recalled “in the first month I was drafting board minutes and resolutions, but in the latter stages of the seat I was drafting part of the actual agreement.” The team recently advised Amazon on an investment in UK game studio Sensible Object, and advised Boeing HorizonX (the aerospace giant's investment arm) on its first UK investment.

Real estate is a “reasonably small department” and as a result trainees felt it was “the seat where you get most responsibility.” The team focuses on commercial property and handles lots of landlord/tenant matters. This means a hefty amount of drafting, in the form of licences and leases. “There are quite a few tricky bits in the leases,” one trainee said. “I enjoyed getting stuck into that.” Sources mentioned “managing 15 to 20 files each at different stages. Some are dormant while other are active.” In one bigger recent matter the team worked with NIO Nextev – a Chinese electric car manufacturer – on the leasing and redevelopment of an existing building on Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park to house NIO’s research and development arm.

From your bed to Bris-toes

There’s a lot of cross-departmental work and people are comfortable bouncing ideas off each other,” one source told us about Bristows' culture. “That helps people build rapport with different lawyers across the firm.” This rapport probably explains why trainees “struggled to describe the firm without clichés… It's just super friendly!” Others added that it helps that trainees usually share an office with a partner which means “you don’t have that fear about talking to a partner. Right from the start I felt partners knew who I was and knew all our names.”

“On average I’m in for 9am and leave somewhere between 6pm and 7pm.”

Most interviewees reported “fairly good” working hours. “On average I’m in for 9am and leave somewhere between 6pm and 7pm,” one said. As you can imagine, there are “inevitable times when you leave later than that, but that’s part of working in private practice.” The latest we heard of a trainee staying was one 11pm finish. Trainees also added that the firm promotes agile working and trainees are given a laptop so that they’re not “chained to the office.”

When it comes to qualification, second-years receive an email setting out the timeline for NQ offers. Trainees then have a meeting with the training principal to confirm first and second preferences for where they'd like to go. We heard that “in most cases, if you don’t get your first choice you’ll have another meeting and they’ll suggest other departments where there’s space.” In the ten years from 2009 to 2018 the firm retained 72 of its 86 qualifiers (84%), but 2019 saw a dip in fortunes as just five of ten qualifiers stayed on.

Bristows also has a base in Brussels, though there are currently no lawyers permanently based there.

How to get a Bristows training contract 


Workshop deadlines: 17 November 2019 (winter); 31 January 2020 (spring and summer) 

Training contract deadline (2022): 30 June 2020

Open days 

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 Manager, Charlotte Erskine, 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 trainees 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 an application for a training contract in the form of a cover letter following the workshop. 

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 (including penultimate year law students). 

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 a Senior 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.” 


Bristows LLP

100 Victoria Embankment,

  • Partners 43
  • Associates 100
  • 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 September 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31st January 2020 (for spring interviews), 30th June 2020 (for summer interviews)
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1 September 2018
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 17th November 2019 (winter), 31st January 2020 (spring and summer)
  • Open day deadline: 29 February 2020
  • [NOTE - open day and 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £39,500
  • Second-year salary: £42,500
  • Post-qualification salary: £66,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile

Bristows is a medium-sized firm that handles the kind of work that you might normally associate with only the very largest of firms. Established over 180 years ago, Bristows has built up a client list that includes leading businesses from a variety of sectors whether global corporations, fast-growing start-ups, high profile charities or financial institutions. Working with so many ambitious organisations, Bristows is often advising on issues that shape entire industries and on which a company’s future might depend. For example, advising on whether the business is entitled to launch a new product or assisting a client to buy a rival business.

Main areas of work

Bristows is a full service firm with one of the foremost intellectual property practices in the world. We work with a variety of sectors, but have a particular focus on life sciences, technology and brands.

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.

Training opportunites

During the two year traineeship, you’ll spend time in each of the firm’s main departments and are guaranteed a seat within intellectual property litigation. Each seat lasts for three or six months, so trainees typically undertake five to six seats during their training. One of these seats may be a UK secondment to the in-house legal department of one of the firm’s leading multinational clients. As part of a select and high calibre intake, trainees work alongside our partners dealing directly with clients right from the start. There’s plenty of responsibility but this is matched by an extremely supportive and friendly culture. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in life at the firm, for example taking part in charity fundraising events, playing in one of the sports teams or joining our LGBT+ network, the Turing Network. 

Vacation scheme

We run two-day vacation workshops in the winter, spring and summer holidays. These schemes offer you the chance to find out more about Bristows and the work that we do through interactive case study and networking sessions. They are a great opportunity to assess whether law as a career, and Bristows as a firm, are for you.

Final year undergraduates and graduates are eligible to apply for all schemes. Penultimate year law students are eligible to apply for the summer scheme only.

Other benefits

We offer a flexible benefits package including: life assurance; pension scheme; private medical insurance; holiday ‘buy and sell’; cycle to work scheme; gym membership; travel insurance and season ticket loan. 

Open days and first-year opportunities

We hold two open days each year.

• 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 2019

Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, Warwick, York.

Social media

Twitter @BristowsGrad

Facebook BristowsLawFirm

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • 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)
    • Telecommunications (Band 4)