Tech, life sciences and brands are the focal points of Bristows, the firm that’s been solving IP problems long before geek-chic was the in thing.
One of the earliest pieces of work Bristows did was to draw up patent agreements for the first ever electrical telegraph in the 1830s. This set the tone quite nicely for the work it’s been doing ever since, from the agreements behind the first transatlantic phone cable to the image rights for the TARDIS (yes, Doctor Who’s ship), and from the UK’s first ever biotechnology case to litigation over the invention of the Y-front (yes, the underwear). Upon this strong foundation, Bristows mixes with clients in the tech, life sciences, pharma, science and media spaces, including Google, Sony and the Financial Times.
“I looked for firms that were good in the IP sphere,” one interviewee shared, “and Bristows is basically number one.” Chambers UK nods in agreement: Bristows is one of just two firms to score an uppermost IP ranking in London, where the firm also bags top marks in IT and patent litigation. Nationally, the firm is top-ranked in data protection and life sciences. Trainees came from “all kinds of degree backgrounds.” Several held STEM degrees like chemistry, biology and biochemistry, but there were also trainees who’d studied history, business and law. Sources figured this mix made for a diverse culture. “Bristows tries hard to find quirkier people with a bit of personality,” one reckoned. “They aren’t looking for someone who’ll fit a lawyer-shaped box.”
Owing to the intake size (up to ten a year) sources felt “there’s more opportunity to get the seats you really want.” Trainees send graduate recruitment a list of their preferences and get placed from there. First seats are typically six months long; trainees then do either six- or three-month seats with a mandatory stint in patent litigation, and either real estate or corporate. The majority of trainees have the opportunity to go on a client secondment to clients including Google and Capgemini.
Commercial IP and IT was a popular seat. The department handles three strands of work: IP transactions, IT transactions, and data protection. “There’s a vast range of work across the department,” trainees told us. “It almost feels like three mini teams.” Clients include tech giants like Google, Amazon and Sony, and well-known names from other sectors such as McDonald's and Louis Vuitton. Trainees reported liaising with “a mix of IP, life sciences and pharmaceutical companies.” On the IT side, the firm advises on technology outsourcing projects, contracting, and a host of areas like FinTech, AdTech and HealthTech. Data protection work involved matters like GDPR compliance and cybersecurity issues. The firm recently advised Spotify on the collection of data in one of its employee surveys. A trainee gave us a snippet of their work: “I helped draft a non-disclosure agreement for an inventor who’d created a medical device that improves sleep by inducing a meditative state.” Not that every day is like being in TheMatrix – trainees were also responsible for drafting privacy policies and IP licences, proofreading non-disclosures and reviewing data agreements. “I work on a lot of IT contracts,” another told us, “which involves reading and analysing the master service agreements and then discussing any amendments with my supervisor.”
“I was running laboratory tests and sourcing lab equipment.”
Patent disputes are the name of the game in patent litigation. The firm recently represented Heineken in a case involving counter-top beer kegs. It also acted for Philips after a revocation action was launched against one of its patents for a GPS athletic performance monitor. Trainees often spend the duration of this seat on one or two trials, getting to grips with attending client meetings, drafting opening and closing submissions, and preparing bundles. Disputes often had an international element to them, with one trainee reflecting: “It was interesting to see how UK litigation was used to help the client win in other jurisdictions.” Others got stuck into multimillion-pound pharmaceutical lawsuits. “It was hugely scientific work,” one reflected. “I was doing a large portion of the research.” In another matter, “I was running laboratory tests and sourcing lab equipment.” Working for an alcoholic drinks company of course meant “I absolutely had to sample the beverages!”
A seat with the brands, designs and copyright team was another popular option – “it’s the sexy area of law where you get to work with a lot of top brands!” Clients include organisations like BAFTA, FatFace and Diageo. The firm is currently advising Mondelez International (which owns Cadbury’s) in a long-running dispute over whether the shape of a Kit-Kat can be trademarked. The department does tons of trademark work advising on the ‘life cycle’ of products, from brand creation and protection, to litigation before UK and EU courts and portfolio management – Bristows manages the worldwide trademark portfolios for both the Guardian and Financial Times. “One day you’re working on a big litigation case,” said trainees; “the next you’re doing a tiny bit of copyright advice.” Trainees also pointed out that “what’s not obvious in the name [of the seat] is that we do a lot of advertising and marketing advice, such as when adverts get banned.” On one such matter, “our client wanted to create a gambling game. Gambling companies can’t advertise to children, so we had to make arguments to the Advertising Standards Authority in support of the game.”
Lawyers within competition work on mergers, cartel investigations and something called FRAND licensing, which stands for fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory – it relates to the terms on which an IP rights owner grants a licence. The team recently handled several FRAND issues for IP licensing company IPCom against several other companies including Vodafone and Lenovo. Other recent work saw the firm defending Google against a claim brought by an online price comparison site. Trainees here usually do a mix of litigious, advisory and transactional work. “It’s more maths-based than I thought,” one said.Another enthused over how “intellectually stimulating” and “fast-paced” this seat was: “I was working on the kind of cases you see on the news.” A trainee working on a FRAND matter recalled: “I had to look through lots of US case law to see if a phone company's patents were valid.” Trainees were also called on to draft correspondence between parties and interact with the Competition and Markets Authority. “I’ve been to client meetings,” one shared. “It's been great for my professional development.”
Much like the work, the Bristows culture was a big hit with trainees: “I wasn’t looking for a big firm with long hours and higher pay – I wanted a better work/life balance.” Bristows trainees were happy with a first-year salary of £39,500, “given I can leave the office before 7pm.” Most interviewees finished at around 7pm, which isn’t bad by City standards. Some pointed out the office isn’t designed for late nights anyway, bemoaning: “There’s no canteen – if you do end up staying late you have to organise for food to be dropped off.” Sources said the only rule imposed on trainees is that “once your work is done, so is the working day – a partner once threatened to turn the lights off at 6pm on a Friday!”
“A partner once gave me his socks when I came in from a rainstorm.”
The overall vibe of the firm was tagged with words like “approachable,” “friendly” and “relaxed.” An open-plan layout means “everyone is physically very approachable.” Much to the delight of the trainees, Bristows “cemented its laid-back atmosphere” by changing to a ‘dress for your day’ dress code. Sticking with the clothes theme, it might be overstating it to say Bristows solicitors will give each other the shirts off their backs, but socks are another question: “A partner once gave me his socks when I came in from a rainstorm and mine were sodden.”
The warm feel was attributed not just to partners’ dry socks, but to the small intake. “A lot of the trainees did the LPC together,” one explained. “We’ve become true friends.” Trainees acknowledged “it’s naive to say this is a firm of 300 angels,” with patent litigation described as “a bit more serious.” For socials, trainees often enjoyed a casual drink with one another, while sporty types can get a kickabout in a charity five-aside. The firm’s diversitycommittee also organises monthly activities, such as events to mark Black History Month.
The NQ process starts withan email to second-years outlining which departments are hiring and the timeline for NQ offers. Trainees then have “a casual chat” with the training principal and a partner to discuss their preferences. In 2020, the firm retained all ten qualifiers.
If trainees qualify into patent litigation or brands, the firm automatically signs them up for an IP diploma at Oxford University.
How to get a Bristows training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 10 January 2021
We offer 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 where applicants can bring their application to life. “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 resourcing manager Charlotte Erskine, 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. The workshop offers intensive exposure to the firm that allows attendees to consider Bristows as the place they may build their legal career, so we always advise they come along with lots of curiosity and questions.
Training contract applications
The firm has one recruitment round in the spring, and the deadline to apply for a training contract is 10 January 2021. We will be recruiting for those eligible to start in August 2023, so all final-year students, penultimate-year law students and graduates can apply. If you are a non-law graduate completing a postgraduate course that is more than one year of study or a PhD, please apply in the final year of your study so you have two years to complete the PGDL and LPC (or equivalent) prior to your training contract start date.
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 in-person interview process includes two interviews with senior associates and partners of the firm, a written exercise and a problem question exercise. You will also have the opportunity to meet with a current trainee in an informal setting to get their perspective on training at the firm.
According to corporate partner Mark Hawes, “it is 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 are 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.”
100 Victoria Embankment,
- Partners 43
- Associates 100
- Total trainees 20
- UKoffices London
- Overseas offices: Brussels
- Graduate recruiter: Charlotte Erskine, Graduate Resourcing and D&I Manager
- Training Partner: Miranda Cass
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 10
- Applications pa: 1500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 (preferred)
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st September 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 10th January 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st September 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 1st November 2020 (winter and STEM workshops), 28th February 2021 (1st years workshops)
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £39,500
- Second-year salary: £42,500
- Post-qualification salary: £66,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: Yes
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.
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. Trainees typically undertake five or six seats during the training contract with a mix of three- and six-month seats. One of these seats may 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.
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 workshop 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 18 and 26 November. All STEM students and graduates are eligible for the 2 December workshop that is tailored to scientists and engineers.
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. Open days and first-year opportunities We will hold a workshop for first-year students on 31 March 2021.
Please apply online via our website.
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, 2020
- 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)