Looking for top-quality legal work, but London makes you feel like a fish out of water? One of Bristol’s finest might just be the catch of the day…
Burges Salmon training contract review 2022
One of the big lessons of Covid-19 – especially for lawyers – is that you don’t need to be in London to get a slice of the most exciting action. With remote working becoming more widespread, expect the bright legal minds of the future to look beyond the capital more often when making career decisions. Burges Salmon’s trainees were taking this approach before it was cool: “Bristol was very tempting,” one reflected. “I definitely wasn’t looking for a City elite London-based firm.” It may be a UK top 50 firm with mega clients like Virgin, Amazon and Starbucks on the books, but Burges recruits trainees exclusively in its Bristol HQ.
The vast majority of our trainee sources had the firm on their radar when searching for a major player outside of London, and one reckoned that in this category “Burges Salmon was the standout firm, by quite a long way.” Others were especially drawn to the impressive energy and environment practice area, as well as the firm’s internal environment: “I loved the atmosphere at Burges,” one happy source gushed. Other attractions include the six-seat training contract, which allows trainees to “try all the firm’s different departments, even practice areas you haven’t thought of.”
While it offers the seats you’d expect of a large law firm’s training contract (corporate, dispute resolution, real estate etc.), Burges Salmon has some standout specialisms including transport, projects and renewable energy, plus a strong private client practice. With 28 top-ranked departments in Chambers UK and High Net Worth, including national leader outside London status for construction, corporate, employment, IP and real estate, it’s fair to say this is a big fish. As well as its Bristol base (15 of those top spots are in the South West), Burges also has offices in London and Edinburgh, neither of which currently recruit trainees.
Burges Salmon trainees are afforded six four-month seats to explore the majority of the firm’s five core departments: corporate & financial institutions; tax, trusts and funds; disputes, planning & construction; projects; and real estate. Trainees submit three choices for their next stop halfway through each seat, and while the firm “tries to give everyone their first choice it can be hindered by business need.” We heard no complaints and our survey similarly indicated high levels of satisfaction with the seat allocation process. “You do five seats; the sixth is a repeat of the seat you’re going to qualify into,” trainees explained. Dispute resolution is the only mandatory seat; client secondment opportunities are available on an ad-hoc basis, often with one of the energy companies that make up a decent proportion of the firm’s client base.
Our trainees described real estate as a “really good first seat with lots of responsibility available. It’s one of the biggest departments in the firm and is very popular.” Clients here include public sector bodies like the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Greater London Authority (the firm recently advised the latter over a £1 billion residential development in Dagenham) as well as private companies including Pure Scooters and Albion Community Power. Burges acted for Albion on its £56.8 million refinancing of its onshore wind, solar and hydro renewables portfolio. Trainees confirmed a real estate seat offers a mix of “big deals, obviously, but also lots of small stuff that trainees can run more or less by themselves.” Bigger matters nonetheless come with “a good mix” of responsibility from “admin, which is part and parcel of deals, to taking client instructions and working on main documents.”
"Multimillion-pound harbour development deals, agriculture, infrastructure and higher education projects. There’s so much variety in terms of the sectors you can sample!”
Sources had worked on “multimillion-pound harbour development deals, agriculture, infrastructure and higher education projects. There’s so much variety in terms of the sectors you can sample!” Trainees liked that “you can build responsibility quite quickly and have lots of autonomy,” but sought to reassure future cohorts that they won’t be left without support. “It’s a good environment to start your training contract in,” one confirmed. “You can stretch yourself without feeling overwhelmed.”
When clients need to lock (metaphorical) swords with another party, it’s over to dispute resolution, the firm’s largest department and a mandatory seat. Cases come from all over the firm including “corporate, pensions, IP, agriculture, health and safety, transport, financial services and real estate,” and there are even some “high net worth trusts disputes” in the mix. BS acts for plenty of names you’ll have heard of including John Lewis/Waitrose, Coca-Cola and the BBC. Some of the most exciting recent cases have included representing First Trenitalia West Coast Rail in a rail franchising lawsuit over more than £1 billion annual revenue; and a dispute over the alleged unauthorised diversion of significant sums of money between a private healthcare business and its former CEO. The majority of trainees “mainly worked on two or three matters” during their seat, while some were “doing mostly small aspects of bigger matters.” Others still had been “involved in business development work, which I didn’t think I’d want to do in just a four-month seat! It is helpful to know what the partners are doing, because that’s a big part of their job.”
Sources described litigation as “definitely a learning seat,” but found they were well supported and that their supervisors were patient. Litigation seats at law firms are often “more hierarchical than others” due to the importance of double-checking info in a dispute, and Burges is no exception. Some found “there’s not as much responsibility” as in other groups, but a well-equipped support team means “you don’t have to do all the scanning and printing. Trainees get to do a fair amount of drafting, legal research and submitting instructions to counsel.” Cases can be on the cutting edge: a trainee described research into “law that was put into place before the invention of the bicycle and seeing how it still applies to vehicles that don’t exist yet.” When you can time-travel like that, who needs a TARDIS?
“One trainee was kept on for another three weeks because they were an instrumental part of the deal team.”
“Construction disputes are governed by the Construction Act and the adjudication and court proceedings are different to the norm,” so they’re only available to trainees in a construction seat – which also comes with transactional work. Energy and transport are big money-spinners here: Transport for Wales and the Welsh Government called for Burges’ advice on the construction aspects of their £5 billion national rail infrastructure project. The firm’s also acted for Highways England, HSBC and the National Trust. While some trainees “mainly worked on one big project, and got quite into the details,” others had a “massive diversity of work. One week I was doing energy and environment, the next rolling stock rail projects.” Disputes come with lots of “project management: reviewing ancillaries, drafting and some document review.” While trainees agreed this seat is “not as hands-on as real estate,” that didn’t stop them from being “let loose on big agreements.One trainee was kept on for another three weeks because they were an instrumental part of the deal team.”
Mid-market M&A and private equity work for public and private companies, many of which are AIM-listed, can be found in corporate. “The team is incredibly supportive,” sources noted. “There’s a similar structure to litigation but without the same stringency.” Energy is a core strand once again and comes with international work – in a recent example, Burges advised joint venture Ocean Winds on a partnership to develop offshore wind projects in the Lithuanian Baltic Sea. ITM Power called on the firm during its £172 million AIM fundraising, the third largest of 2020. BS also regularly acts for healthcare and transport clients. Interviewees told us the seat comes with “lots of plate-spinning as you need to juggle multiple matters at once,” though they reckoned you “feel like you’re closer to the client” than in certain other departments. “It’s deadline-heavy but attracts people who love the adrenaline,” we heard. “Corporate is tough for hours but I feel as if I have done a lot of varied work in the process.”
Across our survey as a whole, trainees were averaging just shy of 45 hours each week – not too bad. We heard from some that “the hours you work depend on the department,” and that while “real estate is good, a projects seat is slightly longer hours,” as is the aforementioned corporate finance. “Generally it’s nowhere near City firms,” all agreed. “There’s no expectation to work when you don’t need to.” A caring ethic among supervisors goes beyond the bare minimum of making sure their charges aren’t slaving away for no reason: “When it wasn’t busy and I was working, my supervisor was asking why I was still at it,” a source divulged. “The firm is proactive at making sure you’re not putting hours in unnecessarily.” Burges trainees are also more likely to get a Saturday lie-in than City firm counterparts: “Weekend work? Never done it!”
“I’m able to send a message to someone senior and say ‘I’m a bit stuck’ without fear and they are quick to respond.”
Our interviewees frequently described Burges Salmon as “massively big on their culture.” That doesn’t mean the firm’s lawyers all love debating modern art or theatre in the hallways, but that “everyone is a genuine and friendly person,” and that the firm does what it can to keep things that way. “You do the work, but there’s a clear division between let’s get the work done and let’s get it done in a way that’s sustainable.” In other words, there’s not much BS going around at Burges Salmon. “We’re learning a lot and they want you to take in as much as you can,” a trainee said. “If you have a problem, they want there to be no barriers to talk to them about it. I’m able to send a message to someone senior and say ‘I’m a bit stuck’ without fear and they are quick to respond.” Lawyers don’t just care about their colleagues: everyone’s encouraged to get involved in corporate social responsibility initiatives during two dedicated volunteering days.
“Obviously new starters during the pandemic weren’t able to really meet,” encouraging the firm to set up “coffee roulette among the trainees and within departments so you can meet people virtually.” Burges Salmon has also introduced a new mentoring system (which comprises a designated supervisor, training partner and people team contact per department); trainees told us it “doesn’t come across as a box-ticking exercise. Our chats weren’t about work and my mentor showed real care for my wellbeing.” Mental health has been a concern across the legal industry of late, and Burges “organised a lot of mental health talks which have really helped. No matter how good a firm is, this has been a difficult time.” Rather than a purely Covid-inspired measure, sources suggested the firm’s been good at tracking employee wellbeing “even before the pandemic. Higher-ups are open about their mental health issues and that helps you feel like you can be too, and that you’re not struggling just because you’re a junior.”
“Weekend work? Never done it!"
Past trainee cohorts have been hugely positive about the pre-pandemic social scene at the firm (including multiple sports teams), but some grumbled about what they saw as a low salary. Burges’ NQ pay packet however was recently upped to £60,000 which certainly puts it towards the top end outside of London. Our most recent interviewees were more contented, noting the firm pays “one of the best trainee salaries in Bristol.” One source said this: “The pay to work-life balance is fine for me but some departments are busier and if you're working long hours you might be grumpier about the salary.”
Trainees can only apply for a position in one department when qualifying, but interviewees revealed that “the firm wants to keep everyone, so if they can’t accommodate you in one team then they’ll try to see if you’re interested in another.” They also weren’t worried about battling it out with others in their class for a spot: “I consider a lot of the other trainees to be friends first and colleagues second,” one said. “It doesn’t feel like anyone’s in competition with each other.” Burges Salmon retained 22of 26qualifiers in 2021.
Burges' recent partnership class was majority women and our trainee sources were confident that gender diversity at the top would continue to improve.
How to get a Burges Salmon training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021/2022): 28 October 2021 (winter); 10 January 2022 (spring and summer)
Open days (2022): opens 1 October 2021
Training contract deadline (2024): 23 June 2022
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: 100
- Associates: 335
- Trainees: 52
- UK offices: Bristol, Edinburgh, London
- Graduate recruitment: Bessie Phelps
- (0)117 307 6312
- Training partner: Mark Shepherd
- mark.shepherd@burges-salmon. com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 24
- 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: 4th October 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 23rd June 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: 4th October 2021
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: Winter 28th October 2021, Spring./Summer 10 January 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £44,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,500
- 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 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, 2021
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)