Big fish Burges Salmon reels trainees in with quality work, but CSR initiatives, mental health awareness and ice cream keep ’em hooked.
Where in the world can you see world-famous street art, take in views of the River Avon from over 200 feet high, and finish up in a cosy pub for a delicious pint of cider? Why, Bristol of course. Home of Banksy, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, cracking cider – and law firm Burges Salmon. The firm also has small bases in London and Edinburgh, but every single trainee joins HQ in good old Brizzle. Naturally, Burges Salmon appeals to those who already know how awesome the city is. But it was also an appealing package for those who weren’t familiar. “I moved here not knowing anyone,” one such trainee shared, “but you end up making very good friends” – incoming trainees all do the LPC together in Bristol. “Burges Salmon was always on my radar,” said another, “but I was initially focused on London. When I looked into it more, I realised the firm has quality work and really good clients.”
Burges Salmon is swimming in Chambers UK rankings, with no fewer than 43 accolades spanning 28 practice areas. In Bristol and the South West, it gets no less than top marks for every single ranking it has (17 in total), and nationally its public procurement and rail work is among the best. Outside London the firm is a national leader in construction, corporate/M&A, employment, IP, real estate and, according to Chambers High Net Worth, private wealth law. The firm’s energy work is also highly ranked by Chambers Global. All considered, this makes it one of the best firms working outside of London, competing with prestigious City firms and big national firms alike.
Burges Salmon has eight core practices: banking, commercial, corporate, dispute resolution, employment, private client, projects and real estate. This breadth could be one reason why the firm operates with the less conventional six-seat system, each seat lasting four months. This structure put Burges Salmon at “the top of the list” for rookies. Aside from the fact that trainees get experience in more areas, “you know what you like after four months, so staying in a seat for another two months could be painful!” Trainees rank their preferred seats from one to three before each rotation. To boost the chances of getting what you want, “have a clear plan,” one advised. “I said why I wanted a particular seat every step of the way and I got every single seat I wanted.” Not all of our interviewees were so lucky.
Trainees are likely to do a seat in real estate, which is one of the firm’s biggest groups.Six trainees sit here per rotation, and sources felt “it’s a really good place to kick off the training contract because there are a lot of juniors to support you.” For trainees, there’s “a lot of form filling” to be done, like completing Stamp Duty Land Tax forms: “They’re nice to do because once you’ve done one you’ve got your head around them.” Rookies often run smaller bits of “chunky” deals as well, which entailed “collating the documents needed for transactions, plus some heavy drafting of ancillary documents." Trainees described plenty of “intellectually challenging” work like writing letters to HMRC, “which involved some exceptionally complicated maths!” The client base is “a real mixed bag” of companies in the energy, transport, hotels and leisure sectors, as well as banks like HSBC and retailers like John Lewis and Waterstones. The firm recently advised Malaysian property developer YTL on its development of the Filton airfield site in Bristol, which will include 2,600 homes. Trainees also got in on some “smaller residential transactions” for high net worth individuals.
“I was up and down to London filing claims with the High Court.”
If a real estate dispute arises, it’ll be handled by the disputes team. Other subgroups include IP, energy, pensions, financial services, transport and agriculture. As the firm’s largest department, it takes ten trainees at a time and everyone is guaranteed to do a stint here at some point in the training contract. “It’s incredibly fast-paced and pressurised,” sources told us, with trainees “thrown in the deep end straight away.” For one trainee, “I was up and down to London filing claims with the High Court and getting witnesses’ evidence.” For another, “a super urgent injunction” kept them occupied over a busy few days: “I travelled on three hours' sleep to turn around the work, but I never felt like an expendable source.” Less scintillating “research tasks and bundling sadly come with the territory” too, but interviewees noted they “got the most exposure to big clients” in this seat. None come much bigger than Coca-Cola, Virgin, the BBC and The Crown Estate, all firm clients. The team recently defended Benefit Cosmetics in a £1 million trademark infringement claim.
The corporate finance team handles mid-market M&A and private equity work for public and private companies, many of which are AIM-listed. Trainees liked the fact that “we don’t just work for big clients, we help the little guy too,” pointing out that Bristol is “well known for its incubator hubs and start-up companies.” One told us: “I helped lots of cool tech start-ups with their fund-raising rounds.” The team recently advised ITM Power, which manufactures hydrogen energy equipment, on a £58.8 million fund-raising round. Corporate finance is a highly regulated area of law, so trainees felt the pressure to “make sure we crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's.” As one told us, “I went to lots of client board meetings to facilitate signatures.” Getting this kind of client contact was a highlight for trainees in this seat.
Banking is“a great seat because trainees take on lots of responsibility,” one insider praised. “Granted, we don’t draft agreements from day one, but we’re still a crucial part of the deal process.” To keep deals ticking along, trainees were responsible for updating documents and running conditions precedent lists.Trainees might also get called on to assist on matters with the insolvency team. Banks on the client list include Lloyds, HSBC and Dutch bank NIBC. This group recently negotiated with the government to secure public funding for the Eden Geothermal Project in Cornwall on behalf of the project sponsors, and advised private equity company Capital Dynamics on £64 million of debt finance for a wind farm in southern Scotland.
“I really felt part of the team and really got to know the clients.”
As the examples above demonstrate, energy is a key sector for Burges Salmon, and environmentally-conscious trainees were drawn to “a real focus on renewables rather than fossil fuels” – although the firm does work in both arenas. The projects team does transactional and advisory work on a “wide array” of nuclear power, transport, waste and water management, renewables and defence projects. In that last category, the team recently advised the Ministry of Defence on its £30 billion procurement of Dreadnought submarines, which will replace Trident. Trainees spent a lot of time negotiating contracts with the other side, and sources “really loved” the seat for the high amount of client contact. “I really felt part of the team and really got to know the clients,” said one. Some even got involved in pitches for new clients. Trainees were also given research tasks, like brushing up on niche areas of procurement law to advise clients.
We heard a lot of secondmentopportunities come up in the energy sphere, including a client secondment with EDF Energy. Trainees might second to the Edinburgh offices, and the firm also does an ‘internal secondment’ with the innovation and client solutions team. “It was great to see that side of Burges Salmon,” one insider told us. “I did a lot of research into AI solutions.”
“The culture is one of the strongest things about this firm,” interviewees praised. “What strikes me most is how lovely everyone is,” said one. “Every partner I’ve met is so willing to impart their wisdom and give you the time of day.” Trainees felt the firm’s “real focus on teaching breeds mutual respect throughout all the ranks.” Several highlighted a “non-hierarchical” atmosphere, with one telling us: “I feel fine walking into a partner’s office for a chat.” Plus, with a trainee intake of between 25 and 30 a year, “there’s a strong support system amongst us, so I’ve never felt isolated.”
Our interviewees were all conscious of “the stigma around the impact of the legal industry on mental health,” which made them especially appreciative of the firm’s efforts. Trainees highlighted talks made by senior lawyers at the firm, “where they stand up in front of their peers saying, ‘Look at me, I’m fine now but I’ve had to ask for help.’” We also heard the firm was particularly attentive to mental health during lockdown, with “weekly wellbeing updates and communication from people at the top of the firm.”
“People practise for ages and the costumes are brilliant."
Everyone at the firm is “strongly encouraged” to get involved in the firm’s corporate social responsibility initiatives through two dedicated volunteering days, like helping out at a food share organisation or gardening at a local farm “which was really cool, though it did rain the whole day.” Others got involved with mentoring schemes such as giving careers advice to high school students. This year, Burges Salmon chose the theme of ‘no child goes hungry’ to focus on through its charity work, so it sponsors charities that work to address food poverty. The firm also hosts an annual charity dance competition called Strictly Legal, complete with a raffle and auction. It’s a bit of a social highlight as well. “People practise for ages and the costumes are brilliant,” one trainee told us. “The lawyers get into groups then dance in our atrium – they play the Strictly theme tune too!” Interviewees were delighted to report that the trainee group won the most recent one.
Bristol’s dragon boat race is another highlight on the social calendar. “We build a raft and race down the river,” the rowers explained. “Us trainees do try, but the Bristol firefighters always win.” There’s lots more on offer for sporty trainees, like a running club and a bouldering club: “I couldn’t wait for lockdown to end so I could go back to bouldering!” But if you’re less about rippling abs and more about raspberry ripple, there’s plenty on offer for you too: the firm hired an ice cream van as a treat after the disputes group “smashed their billing target.”
Mental health awareness, check. CSR and charity initiatives, check. Dragon boat races and free ice cream, check. What’s not to love? Well, sources were a bit disappointed with the salary. “It’s OK,” said one trainee, “but nothing to write home about.” With £50,000 on qualification, salaries here are not quite as high as those of competitors Osborne Clarke and Simmons & Simmons. That said, it’s still at the higher end of what you’ll find outside London. Insiders also made it clear that “with Burges Salmon, you’re not just choosing the work, you’re choosing the lifestyle.” Sources reported finishing by 7pm most days, but they weren’t exempt from the occasional 9 or 10pm finishes in seats like disputes, real estate and corporate finance. Trainees liked the fact that several lawyers “tell us to go home when we’re not busy.”
Trainees can only apply for one NQ position, but they were reassured by the levels of transparency around the whole process. “HR speaks with us a lot before we make our final decision,” they explained, “and you get a pretty clear indication whether departments want you or not.” Trainees submit a CV and cover letter to their chosen group, and there’ll only be an interview if too many people apply for the same department. There isn’t a painfully long wait either: “We hear whether we’ve been successful a week or two after we’ve applied.” In 2020, the firm impressively retained 29 out of 30 qualifiers.
Diversity at BSalmon: The firm has LGBTQ+ and BAME networks called BProud and BCultured.
How to get a Burges Salmon training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 29 October 2020 (winter); 7 January 2021 (spring and summer)
Open days (2021): opens 1 October 2020
Training contract deadline (2023): 24 June 2021
Application and assessment
This should go without saying, but remember to pay close attention to spelling and grammar when submitting your online application. "We reject a lot of forms instantly because they haven't been checked properly,” says resourcing specialist Anna Dixon, who adds: “The forms that stand out come from people who have done research into the firm beyond what can be found on the recruitment page, and who demonstrate a good understanding of our culture."
Both vac scheme and direct training contract applicants who nail this stage are invited to an assessment centre, complete with psychometric tests, group exercises and interviews.
At this point, vac scheme applicants who score highly enough go on to complete their vac scheme (see below). Meanwhile, between 35 and 40 training contract applicants are called back for an hour-long interview with a partner and member of HR. “They were really thorough and probed all aspects of my application,” recalled one trainee. “They also presented me with certain situations to gauge how I would react to them and seemed genuinely interested in my responses." Another remembered: "I was asked quite a lot of business questions – like how the current legal market might affect a firm like Burges Salmon – and what decisions I would make if I was in charge. You really need to be up to date with your firm knowledge to do well."
Candidates are also likely to be asked why they want to live and work in Bristol, but you don't need to have a local connection to be successful – only about half of newcomers do.
Burges Salmon runs winter (one week), spring and summer (two weeks) schemes across the year. The firm takes on just 40 candidates in total, spread out across the schemes, in an effort to closely mentor and give enough work to each attendee.
Vac schemers normally visit two departments during their placement and have a trainee buddy on hand to assist throughout. In addition to skills sessions, the firm holds breakfast talks that give participants the chance to learn more about specific practice areas. Current trainees gave the programme a big thumbs up: "It's a well-planned scheme, and the work is meaningful.” Indeed, one told of drafting an article for a weekly publication, while another mentioned “writing something that ended up going to the partners,” and a third reported attending court with an associate and helping out on a pro bono project.
Vac schemers are automatically offered a training contract interview. Dixon tells us successful interviewees are the ones who "think about how the work they've been doing fits into the bigger picture of the matters at hand." She adds that applicants need to be "enthusiastic, keen to get involved, and also have sensible questions to ask." The interview lasts for about an hour and is usually conducted by a partner and a member of HR.
The ideal candidate
You'll need at least a 2:1 degree and 136 UCAS points to get a training contract here. In the past the firm has made exceptions, but the vast majority of applicants who don't have the above requirements face the chop.
According to Dixon, work experience in a commercial environment is something recruiters look out for. “That could come from a law firm or any business really – for example, a part-time job in a shop, an internship in a bank or a stint in sales. Anything that involves providing a service and seeing how that makes money will stand applicants in good stead." Past trainees we've spoken with have beefed up their applications with administrative jobs, paralegal work and time spent with a local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Burges Salmon LLP
1 Glass Wharf,
- Partners: 95
- Associates: 311
- Trainees: 50
- UK offices: Bristol, Edingburgh, London
- Graduate recruitment: Anna Dixon
- [email protected]
- 0117 307 6938
- Training partner: Mark Shepherd
- [email protected] com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 22
- Applications pa: 1000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: BBB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 24th June 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: Winter 29 October 2020, Spring./Summer 7 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year salary: £36,000
- Post-qualification salary: £50,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol
Burges Salmon is the independent UK law firm which delivers the best mix of advice, service and value. The firm prides itself on delivering an excellent standard of legal and business advice to its clients, which has led to many of the firm’s practice areas and sectors winning awards and recognition as best in class. Burges Salmon’s national and international client base ranges from private individuals to government departments and FTSE 100 companies including The Crown Estate, Nationwide, Lloyds Banking Group, John Lewis, The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, First- Group and the Crown Commercial Service.
Main areas of work
The quality of the firm’s expertise is widely recognised across its main practice areas includingbanking and finance, commercial, corporate, dispute resolution, employment, private client, projects and real estate. The firm operates within seven key sectors; energy, power and utilities, infrastructure, public sector, transport, financial services, private wealth and real estate.
Burges Salmon’s six seat training contract is designed to provide you with the greatest breadth of experience possible as a trainee. While traditional training contracts normally include four six month seats, ours include six four-month placements. This affords you the maximum exposure to our varied practice areas and experience of a wide range of contentious (you can expect to sit in dispute resolution) and non-contentious work from across the firm’s departments.
Burges Salmon runs winter (one week), spring and summer (two weeks) schemes across the year. During the scheme you will have the opportunity to visit two departments of your choice. The emphasis is on ‘real work’ and, under the guidance of your supervisor, you will have the chance to attend court or client meetings as well as skills sessions run by trainees and solicitors. In addition to this, there are many social and sports events throughout the placement that offer a real insight into life as a trainee solicitor. Allowance: £300 per week.
Annually reviewed competitive salary, 25 days paid annual leave, bonus scheme, pension scheme, private health care membership, life assurance, mobile phone, Christmas gift, corporate gym membership, sports and social club.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This year the firm will run three virtual open evenings in November and December. Presentations are given by current trainees, a recruitment partner and the graduate recruitment team about life at the firm and the application process. There are also various other insigt events throughout the year including open days and Food for thought' skills sessions.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
1. Improving gender diversity in senior roles We are particularly focused on the development and progression of our female lawyers and business professionals. Our career focussed training equips our future talent with the necessary skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed decisions about their own progression. We have worked with the Law Society on their Women in Leadership in Law study and we have collaborated with Thomson Reuters as part of their Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law programme, exploring factors that may be contributing to the loss of female talent and the steps needed to address this.
2. Improving ethnic diversity across the firm We are committed to increasing ethnic diversity across the firm, recognising the importance of cultural awareness and reaching out to different sections of the community. Race is a visual and obvious difference, as a protected characteristic, where possible we utilise blind recruitment practices and have invested in unconscious bias training. We support the Stepping Up Programme, a diversity leadership programme for future leaders in Bristol, developing a talent pipeline that more meaningfully reflects our population and community.
3. Supporting and developing our LGBT community We have worked closely with Stonewall since 2012 and we are proud to be ranked 101st in the Stonewall Employer Index. We take part in the annual Stonewall Index which helps us to benchmark our progress on LGBT+ inclusion across the firm. We play an active role in the Pride Festival each year, marching in the parade and taking part in the festival itself. We are proud winners of Best Law Firm 2017 and 2018 at the Bristol Pride Awards.
4. Improving inclusivity for those with disability We have partnered with the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) to help us better understand disability in the workplace and accessibility so that we take the appropriate actions.
5. Social mobility and widening access to the profession We are committed to improving social inclusion and access to the legal profession. We are founder members of the Social Mobility Pledge and the Social Mobility Business Partnership and signatories of PRIME. We raise aspirations of young people in the local community through our Working with Schools programme. We have partnered with Rare Recruitment, using their Contextual Recruitment System which allows us to consider applicants’ achievements in the context in which those achievements were gained, taking into consideration several socioeconomic factors including postcode, school quality, and eligibility for free school meals.
Our legal apprenticeship programme was successfully launched in 2016 as part of the Trailblazers initiative and we were the first law firm in Bristol to recruit using these standards. In 2018 we launched our business professionals apprenticeship programme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Bristol and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 1)
- Financial Crime (Band 2)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Open-ended Funds (Band 3)
- Partnership (Band 4)
- Pensions Litigation (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)