Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP - True Picture

When two become one – a Transatlantic love story that forged a legal behemoth, soaring to new heights whilst caring for its domestic real estate “golden child.” 

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner training contract review 2021

The Firm

BCLP is technically one of the youngest firms in our guide, born from a 2018 merger between UK-based Berwin Leighton Paisner and Missourian Bryan Cave – two high-performing firms in their own right coming together to create an international superhit. “I was attracted to BCLP because they had a modern, fresh take on a law firm,” a trainee told us. “They’re more open-minded about things and seemed less hierarchical.” The glamorous modus vivendi of working at an internationally recognised law firm with over 1,400 lawyers across 31 locations still “doesn’t go to people’s heads – we’re all very down to earth. The firm feels unpretentious despite its prestige.”

In its former Berwin Leighton Paisner incarnation, the firm’s UK practice was a titan in the real estate sector. “It used to be the case that it was just real estate all over the place, but since the merger there’s been a huge diversification,” we heard. Chambers UK continues to recognise BCLP as a leader in construction, planning and real estate, though the firm’s less prestigious rankings also span banking and finance, energy, commercial contracts, capital markets, contentious regulatory and hotels work among others. American legacy firm Bryan Cave added 17 US offices to the network – on the junior end, it seems “so far away” that it was very rarely even brought up by our interviewees; but the merger’s brought cross-Atlantic fare into the firm’s workstream. BCLP picks up worldwide Chambers Global rankings in agribusiness, construction, international private client and outsourcing.

“The firm feels unpretentious despite its prestige.”

Moving to diversify further, the London office has recently brought in lateral hires to bolster its M&A, corporate finance and aviation teams. Trainees no longer have to complete a real estate seat, but those we spoke to described it as “the golden child” of the firm: “If you’re applying here you have to, at the very least, not hate real estate.” Trainees list five seat preferences before each rotation. “Allocation can be hit and miss”according to one. “I got my first choice in two seats, but I’ve also had one that wasn’t on my list at all.”The vast majority of trainees are in London; Manchester recruits two or three a year.

The Seats

Five sub-teams make up the real estate department, “an enormous enterprise within the firm.”These each break down into further divisions; some teams are “distinguished by their focus on transactional matters, asset management or otherwise, but others are rather broad.” As a whole BCLP’s real estate practice handles site acquisitions, lease renewals and purchases and sales of properties for businesses and investment groups. Trainees can have as many as 30 different matters on the go at once, which some found gives a “surface knowledge of lots of things – but I’d rather have got to know a few things well.”The firm recently advised real estate giant URW (owner of Westfield and its shopping centres) on the formation of a partnership with the Canadian public pension fund property group to fund a £670 million build-to-rent scheme near its Stratford site. Other clients here include Transport for London and Heathrow Airport. Asset management work took a dive during the Covid-19 crisis and “trainee workload dropped significantly in lockdown, so the team drafted a fictional case study for us to work on, which kept training going.”

A seat in real estate was marmite for trainees – some said your opinion could come down to “the team you’re in. Some trainee tasks seem like they could be automated – there’s a lot of chasing emails all day for 100 different things, with no real application of the law.”Others reported “getting lots of responsibility, independence and trust” to draft licences, leases and deeds. The culture of sub-teams varies too, with some reporting they “had no time to ever take a break or chat due to the stress and competition.”Overall, interviewees agreed that a spell in real estate “gets you a bird’s-eye view of the work the firm does.”

“An enormous enterprise within the firm.”

Though it’s “complementary to the RE team,”real estate finance is “completely its own machine”at BLCP. Welcoming six trainees at a time, the department deal with “higher value” real estate deals – we’re talking hundreds of millions. This team steps up “whenever there’s a finance or loan element to a real estate deal.” Trainees get to see both borrower and lender side deals: “it’s great to not get tied to one side of the market.” The firm recently advised hotel group Globalgrange on its restructuring of the £1.5 billion Grange Hotels portfolio; Barclays, Homes England and Allianz are also on the books. Trainees told us that around half of their work is managing conditions precedent checklists of “50 or so items, chasing people to get documents in on time, keeping track of their status and sending them to the right place.” Higher-responsibility tasks include working through comments in negotiations and drafting security packages and board minutes. Interviewees found it “exciting to be able to get stuck into documents, understand how they work and negotiate what you can and can’t accept.”

International arbitration and construction disputes used to be two separate seats, but now live under one IACD roof. “It does still feel there’s a distinction between them in many respects,”insiders felt. “They’re trying to make it as cohesive as possible.” Trainees do indeed get staffed on one side but can work in the other if they’d like – “the firm is keen on enabling you to get involved with different types of work if you want to.”International arbitration is fittingly enough “an international practice in ways that a lot of other departments at BCLP aren’t.”The firm handles large disputes for Russian and Eastern European clients; has a presence in Singapore; and there’s been “a push for more Abu Dhabi and Dubai work recently too.” Commercial clients from the tech, energy, infrastructure and transport worlds (as well as the odd sovereign entity) call on BCLP’s expertise. Trainees can get their hands on “meaty tasks, including substantial drafting exercises and technical research.” They also do plenty of disclosure, but typically dodge the dreaded bundling thanks to the growing trend of ‘e-bundles’ in arbitrations. Long live the internet.

“… remarkably clever, you can just absorb wisdom off them.”

Over in construction disputes, “a lot of the work feeds off real estate clients as you’d expect.” Examples include litigation avoidance and “disputes against contractors when a building goes wrong or when, a few years down the line, they find faults with it.” Much like in arbitration, cases are kept confidential – think projects that reach the billions, resulting in arbitrations all over the world. BCLP’s practice also involves adjudications, “a shorter process of resolving a dispute – perhaps over how much a contractor is owed.” The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a landslide of construction suspensions, leading to questions of whether contractors are entitled to stop work. Construction is “quite a technical area of the law. Trainees do lots of research into specific niches – I now know lots about the chemical composition of concrete!” Our sources also attended witness interviews, drafted documents like witness statements and letters, and helped partners form arguments. Some said their role is “spreadsheet-heavy, using a lot of numbers, which can be frustrating!” They were happier to say that senior colleagues are “remarkably clever, you can just absorb wisdom off them.”

With 30 offices, international secondments are practically a given – BCLP comes through here, with potential destinations including New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Brussels and Abu Dhabi. The firm also runs client secondments to the likes of Goldman Sachs and Heathrow Airport. Some spots are competitive (shout out NYC) “but if you want to go on a secondment, you can. Just be a bit proactive and let HR know early on.” Trainees apply during the standard seat allocation process, ranking up to five secondment preferences with a pitch of why they’d suit the spot. In-demand seats require video interviews, though they’re “pretty informal and laidback.” Client secondees thoroughly enjoyed their six months: “The work and responsibilities you’re given are fantastic. You’re treated like a member of the team.”Another source who’d gone overseas suggested “it’s similar to working in the UK but it’s sunnier and people speak with a different accent.”

Trainee Life

BCLP’s London office was due to relocate when the 2020 lockdown hit. “We’re really looking forward to going in,”trainees said. “It’ll be fully open plan and we have new desks, though they do look a bit crammed in from the artist impression… like an IT suite at school!” Some were disheartened to lose their “old view of the river, the heart of the City is such a soulless area.”It’s hard to beat for socials, though – trainees can get involved in sports, pub outings and various “shindigs.” The trainee social committee organises nights out for the whole cohort, “they go for simple things like loads of food and money behind a bar.”

“There’s a general acknowledgement of your existence outside the job.”

Interviewees were very passionate about “genuine recognition of diversity and inclusion.”The firm runs webinars, research projects and events, which have a large trainee turnout as “it’s considered part of the trainee role to play an active part in diversity at BCLP.” That doesn’t mean things are perfect, but we heard the firm is “trying very hard to bring in more black lawyers, for example, and concede it’s not historically gone as well as they’d like.”Trainees also dived into pro bono projects with the Financial Services Lawyers Association and Amicus, which represents people on death row in the US. Other options are a weekly legal advice clinic in Tower Hamlets, cases with LawWorks and a new project that examines how prisons are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. “The system fails so many, so we get people their justice,”sources proudly reported.

Some felt that BCLP “didn’t do as well as some other firms”in reaction to the worldwide lockdown. Initially “we weren’t given laptops, screens, desktops or chairs and have to use our own equipment. It makes us less productive.” That said, trainees credited the firm as “really good at keeping everyone updated and in good spirits,”reflecting a more general “emphasis on mental health”and good-natured firm culture. “Everyone’s so friendly – people couldn't be nicer. There’s a general acknowledgement of your existence outside the job.” Sources implied that while partners in some seats are “old-fashioned and less approachable,” most are “happy to help you and take an interest in your development.” At the start of each seat, trainees complete “very comprehensive training. I always look back at my notes for common issues and tips!” There’s an emphasis on building client relationships and a “very early push to get you out talking to juniors in clients’ departments. We’ll bond with them because in the long term, they’ll be the ones creating business.”

“A very early push to get you out talking to juniors in clients’ departments.”

We reported last year that BCLP trainees were disgruntled about their salaries and lack of bonuses. Spirits rose after increases at trainee and NQ level. The firm did ask anyone earning over £30,000 to consider taking a pay cut during the Covid-19 pandemic (at first it was pitched at 15% and then subsequently lowered to 7.5%). While not everyone was pleased with the firm's request, others argued that it was “proactive. It’s better to do it early rather than wait until it’s too late and people get fired. Those moaning about the money are missing the point.” Though some declared they “could be doing the same hours for more at a US firm,” most told us they are “invested in BCLP. I’ve seen the quality of associates they can produce and it’s a very good place to continue to develop and learn.” The firm went on to confirm a new (lower) London NQ pay rate of £78,000 in summer 2020.

Trainees meet with HR to discuss qualification preferences, then get a list of available jobs before submitting applications. “Each team has a different approach to interviews, depending on how many people apply.” BCLP failed to disclose its 2019 retention figure, but it’s sometimes been low by City standards. This put off trainees who felt they were “there to serve as a cheap resource for two years before needing to move on.” Covid-19 and a lateral hiring freeze added further uncertainty to the mix, but recent changes in the graduate recruitment team left many “hopeful – they’re being interactive with trainees and trying to listen more.” In 2020, BCLP retained 16 of 21 trainees including both of its Manchester qualifiers.

Cave dwellers 

Though we heard of “odd late nights” or “regular 10.30pm finishes,” trainees wrapped up work by 7pm on average. Private client and IACD are known for friendlier hours, whereas finance departments can call for “ridiculous hours, squeezing every minute of the day for working.” 

How to get a BCLP training contract


Vacation scheme deadlines: 31 January 2021 (summer)

Training contract deadline (2022): 31 May 2021

Insight programme deadline (2020): 31 January 2021 - for first-year law (or second-year law for those on a four-year course) and second-year non-law (or third-year non-law for those on a four-year course)

Open days deadlines (December 2020-February 2021): 10 November 2020; 31 January 2021


BCLP gets around 1,500 applications each year for its 32 training contract places. The firm also offers two or three places in Manchester and Hong Kong. These flood in via online forms that detail applicants' knowledge of the firm, reasons for considering a career in law, and work experience. The firm also recently added also added a situational judgement question onto the form to assess candidates' ability to problem solve. The application process is the same for those aiming for a vacation scheme spot and straight-to-training-contract hopefuls.

The graduate recruitment team screen every application and in 2019 the team removed the online verbal aptitude test. Up to 150 candidates are invited to attend an assessment day, with about one in five of these offered a place on a summer vacation scheme. Assessment centres include a written exercise, with a case-study element, a group negotiation and a 30-minute interview with a member of HR and a senior associate. The day includes a group lunch and trainee-led tour around the office.

The next step to getting a training contract for both vac schemers and direct entrants is an interview with two partners. If you are on a vacation scheme the interview will take place during the scheme. The interview usually includes questions to assess your career motivation, legal excellence, client-relationship, commercial and people skills. The interview is competency based and candidates can be expected to answer at least one scenario-based question.

Vacation scheme

Between 70 and 80% of BCLP's trainee intake comes in through its vacation schemes. BCLP takes around 30 vac schemers a year, spread across two placements, both held during the summer.

According to the firm, the two-week vac scheme provides those who are invited "the chance to gain some first-hand experience of life at BCLP and the work we do." Vac schemers are required to get "involved in everything from research and client meetings to court runs and presentations." Previous tasks have involved "advising a charity on how they could help prevent the use of the death penalty in Sri Lanka, and delivering a mock M&A pitch to a client." On top of work experience, the firm tells us that "you'll also get to attend a series of partner-led talks and workshops, have a sit-down lunch with partners and meet regularly with your supervisor." 

Trainee profile

BCLP recruits students and graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds. Targeting over 35 universities across the UK, the firm recruit a mix of Russell Group, Oxbridge and non-Russell group students from a range of degree disciplines. According to Chloe Muir, BCLP's senior graduate recruitment manager, “we value individuals that are proactive, motivated and creative thinkers. Adaptability is a core quality that we look for in our trainees coupled with an ability to maintain resilience.” Mature applicants and career changers are also valued at BCLP for their prior experience. “We have trainees from a range of backgrounds such as Finance, Teaching, Engineering and Construction; all of which are areas that resonate well with our clients and present transferable skills,” Muir adds.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP

Governor’s House,
5 Laurence Pountney Hill,

  • Partners: 150 (547 Globally)
  • Associates: 348
  • Total trainees: 74 UK offices: London, Manchester
  • Overseas offices: 28
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruitment:
  • 020 3400 1000
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 35
  • Minimum required degree: 2:1
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 30
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st May 2020
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st September 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £44,000 (London) *
  • Second-year salary: £48,000 (London) *
  • Post-qualification salary: £78,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £7,200
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London, Manchester, Hong Kong Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York
  • Client secondments: Argent, AIG, Goldman Sachs, MUFG Bank, Heathrow, Reprieve

Firm profile
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner is a market leader formed by one of the biggest transatlantic mergers in recent times, we now have over 1,400 lawyers in 30 offices around the globe. Join us as a trainee and you’ll be at the heart of it all, working with industry leading teams and award winning technology allowing you to focus on more exciting work.

Main areas of work
The firm is structured into four large departments: real estate, corporate, finance, and litigation and corporate risk. Trainees work on challenging projects from the outset and are given a high level of responsibility. A handful of our internationally renowned clients are names such as Deliveroo, Nike, Goldman Sachs, Heathrow, EDF, BT, Deutsche Bank, Tesco and eBay to name a few.

Training opportunities
The firm is structured into three large departments: Real Estate, Corporate and Financial Transactions and Litigation and Investigations. We deliver legal solutions to a wide range of major companies, financial institutions, prominent public sector bodies and private clients. As part of our team, you will be exposed to how they work, the problems they face and the opportunities they have to grow. As their adviser, they will rely on your guidance, skill and thought leadership to help them achieve their commercial objectives. The level of client contact is high for our trainees and trainees are exposed to a high caliber of clients including, Deliveroo, Nike, EBay and Tesco. Working in partner-led teams, you’ll be exposed to a client base that includes over 50 Global Fortune 500 & FTSE 100 companies, and over half of the world's top 20 banks.

Training opportunities
At BCLP we are fully committed to providing continual, high-quality training and support to our trainees. We offer four seat rotations of 6 months, with flexible seat choices across all core departments and a wide range of practice areas in the business. Each trainee receives regular 1:1 support from the Graduate Recruitment team and the Training Principal, a Partner mentor to provide wider career guidance and a designated supervisor within each department. Trainees have access to individual coaching and training from the Learning and Development team, as well as quarterly ‘Lunch and Learn’ updates. We aim to continuously improve our trainee experience and accordingly run a Trainee Discussion Forum with representatives from each trainee intake to facilitate active information sharing between management and trainees. We also have an active Trainee Social Committee to ensure trainees get together outside of the office.

Vacation scheme
We run our vacation schemes in the summer for up to 15 candidates per scheme across June and July. We aim to keep our schemes very interactive. We want to make you feel like you are a trainee through out your time at the firm and the work you do will often make a real impact and be presented to our clients. During our summer vacation schemes you can also expect to attend case study workshops, complete a pro bono project and take part in a mock pitch with a real client. It is not all hard work and no play, we want you to experience our culture first hand through our speed networking lunches and social events.

Open days and first-year opportunities
We are hosting an Open Day in December 2020 and February 2021. These opportunities are open to candidates at any stage of their career (university level and above) that are interested in apply¬ing to BCLP. We also host a week long Insight Scheme in April which is for first year law students and second year non law students. If you perform well whilst on the scheme, you can apply for a direct training contract in September. If your application is successful, we will consider you early on in the process to ensure you have a space at one of our first assessment centres of the year.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has a deep commitment to inclusion and diversity, supported by well-established goals, programs, campaigns and leadership engagement. We believe that diversity enriches the quality and fabric of our culture and makes us a stronger, better firm. At BCLP, we are dedicated to fostering an environment where everyone feels celebrated for their difference, is able be themselves and can contribute meaningfully to our firm’s success. We believe that no one should be held back because of their age, disability, genetic information, parental or family status, religion or belief, race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity (or expression), veteran status, or indeed any other aspect of who they are. We focus not only on the diversity of the people we bring to the firm, but in nurturing an inclusive, supportive and meritocratic environment, designed to inspire, develop and promote the trainees, associates and partners of tomorrow. At BCLP, we work with our colleagues and our clients to bring diversity and inclusivity into every aspect of our work and culture. While we recognize that we are on a journey and the work is not done, we are proud of the progress we have made so far and we are steadfast in our commitment to promote and sustain an open, inclusive and supportive working environment. BCLP’s Global Inclusion & Diversity Action Board is responsible for shaping the strategic direction of diversity across the firm. The board comprises partners and leaders from Germany, Hong Kong, UAE, the US and the UK. Reporting directly to BCLP’s Board and co-chairs, the Global Diversity & Inclusion Board’s remit is mapped across four pillars: Inclusive Culture; Leadership Accountability; Talent Pipeline; and Community Engagement. We have a number of active diversity networks, for disability, family, gender representation, LGBTQ*, mental health, and social inclusion and ethnicity. Our diversity networks ensure those from marginalized groups have a voice – raising awareness and understanding across our firm of what it can feel like if you are in the minority. Our networks actively inform and shape our approach to diversity, empowering members with an opportunity to develop new skills and to create connections with senior figures or those in different parts of our business.

Social media


This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Licensing (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Competition Law (Band 4)
    • Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 3)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
    • Information Technology (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • Sport (Band 5)
    • Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)