Burges Salmon is a big fish in Bristol, offering top-quality work amid an active social scene.
Burges Salmon training contract review 2024
“In the Southwest, Burges Salmon stands out quite a lot.” It certainly does and, if anything, this trainee was understating it slightly. Bristol-based Burges Salmon does “high-quality commercial work outside of London,” placing it high up on the shortlist for those who “didn’t want to be in London, but didn’t want to compromise on the quality of work.” Several trainees mentioned the firm’s work “in the energy sector, specifically renewables,” as particularly appealing, along with pensions.
But we’re cherry-picking there. In the Southwest, Burges swims to the top in every single area it is recognised for in Chambers UK, from banking & finance, litigation, and real estate, to agriculture, employment and tax (you can get the full list hereto save us reeling them off!). Nationally, the firm leads the pack for its expertise in rail. And just to make sure all its bases are covered, the firm gets top billing in ChambersHigh Net Worth as a national leader outside of London for private wealth law.
“Having moved to Bristol, going to a sociable firm was important.”
The firm’s six-seat structure means trainees can get experience in several of these areas – always a big appeal factor for people who want variety to figure out which practice area they want to qualify into. “I didn’t want to be restricted by not having all those options,” said one. “That variety was important.” Others had caught wind ofthe firm’s well-known reputation for having a welcoming culture – “people couldn’t speak highly enough of Burges Salmon!” said one insider. “You’re encouraged to be friends with your colleagues here. Having moved to Bristol, going to a sociable firm was important.” The firm also has offices in London and Edinburgh, but all 25 trainees are recruited into the Bristol base.
Before trainees start the training contract, they rank three practice areas they’re interested in, in order of preference. The SRA’s requirement for contentious experience is normally satisfied by a seat in disputes, but could also be met with work in planning, construction or employment. Interviewees were overwhelmingly positive about the seat allocation process. Even those who missed out on their top preference told us “the firm is honest and open about it.” Sources warned, however, that “everyone wants to do employment, but they only take two trainees at a time.” With around 50 trainees across both years… well, you do the maths.
Trainees also had access to client secondments at each rotation, with three going to EDF Energy and one doing a stint at BP. To be in with a chance, trainees simply list it as a preference and submit that along with their CV. Trainees also have the option to do a seat up in Edinburgh in either banking, construction or corporate finance).
“Quite a lot of work in the energy sector, which was really interesting.”
Burges’ top-ranked real estate team “is one where you’re likely to go,” sources said, “because it’s big” – 75 people in fact. “You’ve got a two-supervisor structure,” with each supervisor specialising in something different. Sources we spoke to had got involved in agricultural work “with large landowners, like dairy companies,” as well as “commercial properties, like hotels.” What about residential property? “Trainees don’t do that – the team is so small.” Got it. The commercial team acts for clients from both private and public sectors, such as local authorities, landowners, landlords, construction companies, funders and retailers. On the books you’ll find HMRC, property developers St Modwen, utilities company ENGIE, luxury product brand Beauty Pie, and the University of Bristol, which Burges advised on the £350 million development of its Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.
Trainees mentioned “quite a lot of work in the energy sector, which was really interesting.” They also got to see a bit of real estate finance, and work more closely with the banking teams on the lender side. Day to day, trainees would get involved with “title searches, standard transfers and Land Registry forms.” Commercial properties might involve “two titles you have to look at, while on the agricultural side, there might be 50 parcels of land.” Sources explained there was a “lot more unregistered land” in agricultural property, which for trainees meant “rooting through a box trying to find the right document. You’d see them wheeling the box in and you think, ‘that’s the rest of my day,’” this interviewee laughed ruefully. “You’ve really got to enjoy it and I really did.”
Planning and compulsory purchase was another common seat among our interviewees. You might be familiar with planning, which is shorthand for the law governing land development. Compulsory purchase refers to “the process of public bodies acquiring land that’s not given voluntarily” – in other words, if the government needs to build a road through a field that you have property on, the government gives you money for the house, and you go quietly – or not. “That’s why the seat can be contentious and non-contentious,” one added blithely. But mostly, “it’s quite an advisory seat.” The team does “development consent orders (DCOs) for nationally significant infrastructure projects, like motorway junctions and offshore windfarms that require planning permission.” Trainees told us they even got to do “some drafting of DCOs on a small scale.”
The firm represents government departments and local authorities like National Highways, the Department for Transport, and the Isle of Anglesey County Council, which it advised on its multibillion Energy Island programme. Trainees worked on “some smaller projects up to quite large projects as well, across a range of sectors,” doing “quite a lot of research-based tasks” before writing up “advice notes for planning issues.” As one detailed, “it’s looking at everything from road development through to energy (renewable, wind, solar), to housing developments.” Trainees could also be in charge of more administrative things, like arranging meetings and taking the minutes. “I’d give it an eight out of then,” our judge scored.
Projects is “one of our biggest departments,” and trainees described it as “multidisciplinary,” encompassing work in defence, transport, energy, environment, and procurement. “And depending on how proactive you are, you can either do quite a broad range of work, or end up quite specialised,” insiders advised. The work is based around large projects and the contracts that sit at the heart of them. This meant a lot of lengthy negotiations with the lawyers on the other side of a transaction, looking at questions like, “‘Whose responsibility is it to repair things? How do you justify this cost?’” Clients include the Department of Transport, Bristol City Council, and the Ministry of Defence, which the team advised on the purchase of Dreadnought submarines valued at over £30 billion. Given the enormity of such matters, trainee tasks were “usually more admin-based,” reflected one. “I worked on a big project, and I did some proofreading and checking through contracts – looking at amendments to see if we should accept them.”
“… an area they’re looking to grow – it’s something that future trainees might get involved in.”
While projects transactions take months to years, in banking & finance“you have a client coming in and saying ‘we need this in six to eight weeks.’” With truncated time scales, “you need to be quicker and more flexible with times.” Sources added the team does “real estate finance work, project finance, corporate banking, and insolvency,” which insiders said “is an area they’re looking to grow – it’s something that future trainees might get involved in.” For example, it recently acted for a subsidiary of Bluefield Solar Income Fund (an investment company) on a £200 million loan to refinance its debt and acquire a solar and wind portfolio. Clients also include banks like Investec and developers like Cardiff Parkway Developments. We heard that there are “different trainee roles,” depending on the deal, “but there are certain things, like conditions precedent lists, which are definitely a trainee’s responsibility.” Other trainee tasks we heard across our interviews were due diligence and “drafting documents like the board minutes or short contracts, like deeds of releases, and making small changes to bigger documents.”
Banking also had a bit of reputation for longer hours, but sources said no matter what the seat, there were “peaks and troughs,” with the latest stay “maybe 9.30 or 10pm, which was really unusual. If you’re finished at 5.15pm, they want you to go home, because there’s a chance that at some other point you’ll be working late.” Sources added that “there’s a buzz around the office and I like being in for that reason.” We heard there’s “no expectation to go in five days a week,” but trainees are expected to be in at least three days a week.
“As trainees, you’re encouraged to socialise.”
In addition to humane hours, “we had different invitations to social events, as soon as we were taken through induction.” The firm’s social reputation is well justified, we heard, with sources mentioning a summer party and Oktoberfest celebrations. “The teams themselves do different things,” sources said, and “as trainees, you’re encouraged to socialise.” This lot didn’t need much encouragement. “Trainees meet for drinks after work,” and we heard “there’s a group chat to ask questions you don’t want to ask other people…” The trainee social committee “has a budget to organise trainee events,” which have included things like “darts at Flight Club and activity nights at Roxy Lanes, which is a bar with things like bowling and batting cages.”
For those who are worried it might be too loud, the firm “recently had a quiet room put into the office,” a trainee told us. “There’s more of an awareness of mental health.” Trainees were also positive about the firm’s gender diversity, but acknowledged “there’s always things that firms could do better.” Burges Salmon has several affinity groups including: BProud, the LGBTQ+ group; BCultured, which educates around different cultures; BSustainable, which is focused on the environment; and BBalanced, the firm’s gender inclusion group, with recently ran an event on women in sport.
In terms of training“it depends on the department,” we heard. “Real estate chuck you in and see how you get on,” said one source, while banking – which can be quite jargon-heavy as a practice – “hada really comprehensive training programme in the first couple of weeks. I’d never done anything like banking work before,” recalled one trainee, “and I was very nervous. But the training was really back to basics and there were also one-hour seminars. I found those ridiculously helpful!”
Trainees told us “the firm has a strong sense of responsibility in the community” with one highlighting that “there’s lots of opportunity to do volunteering – everyone encourages me to do that.” There are also “lots of charity events.” Several interviewees mentioned the firm’s masked singer event for charity, where anyone at the firm could, much like the TV show, sing anonymously in a mask. “We raised £15,000!” sources boasted. The charity changes every year, and “this year it was No Child Goes Hungry.”
For those who want to stay, “trainees’ sixth seat is typically the one they want to qualify into,” we heard and hopeful candidates can submit a CV and cover letter for a vacancy in one department. The firm did not disclose its 2023 retention figures.
Burges bucks… At £45,000, Bristol's first-year trainees were “very happy with the salary.”
How to get a Burges Salmon training contract
All applications open 2 October 2023
Vacation scheme deadlines (2023/2024)
- 31 October 2023 (winter)
- 12 January 2024 (spring and summer)
- 12 January 2024 (spring)
Open days (Bristol, 18 & 20 March 2024)
- Opens: 2 October 2023
- Deadline: 29 February 2024
- Training contract deadline (2026): 21 June 2024
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 Business Partner 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 a psychometric test, written exercise, group exercise and interview.
At this point, vac scheme applicants who score highly enough go on to complete their vac scheme (see below). All vac scheme attendees are guaranteed a training contract interview at the end of their scheme.
At the interview, 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.
Burges Salmon runs winter (one week), spring (two weeks) and two summer (two weeks each) schemes across the year in their Bristol office. Excitingly, the firm has now launched a spring vacation scheme based in their Edinburgh office for those wanting to apply for an Edinburgh based training contract. The firm takes on just 50 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 learning sessions, the firm holds talks that give participants the chance to learn more about specific practice areas. Vac schemers are also taken out in Bristol for an informal social with their trainee buddies and the graduate recruitment team. 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 a half and is usually conducted by a partner and a member of the Recruitment team.
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,
Burges Salmon is an ambitious, sustainable and law inclusive firm that ensures its clients, people and wider communities flourish.
Our vision is to be the market-leading independent UK law firm that provides the best proposition for our people and our clients.
By focusing on the markets and areas of expertise where we have extensive knowledge and experience, we achieve the best outcomes for our clients, who range from large organisations, entrepreneurial businesses and public sector bodies, to individuals, families and their global wealth. We are trusted to help them with everything from their everyday legal needs to their business critical issues and all points in between.
With offices in Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Dublin and Cardiff, the firm’s people work wherever clients need them to be, both within the UK and internationally. The firm works across the UK, with lawyers who are qualified to work in all three legal jurisdictions in the UK — England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Burges Salmon’s clients include organisations such as Yeo Valley, EDF, Octopus, Spire Healthcar,e The John Lewis Partnership, The Financial Services Compensation Scheme, FirstGroup, HSBC Bank plc, Virgin GROUP, Costain Group, The Crown Commercial Service, Babcock International Group and Highways England.
The quality of the firm’s expertise is widely recognised across its main departments including corporate and financial institutions, dispute resolution, planning, construction and engineering, projects, real estate and private client. The key sectors in which we operate are energy, power and utilities, financial services, infrastructure, private wealth, the public sector, real estate, and transport.
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, Burges Salmon’s includes six four-month placements. This ensures you gain the maximum exposure to it’s varied practice areas and experience a wide range of contentious and non-contentious work from across their main departments.
As a trainee you will be given early responsibility balanced with truly open-door support. From the beginning you will be learning from lawyers recognised as experts in their fields who are able to offer the advice and guidance you will need to develop into a trusted business adviser.
You won't find a restrictive hierarchy at Burges Salmon. Throughout your training contract you will be an integral part of the team, working alongside lawyers who are experts in their field and sharing a room with a supervisor who will support your growth and development. Working with a range of associates, senior associates and partners means you hit the ground running and experience a real variety of work from a range of personalities.
Every year the firm runs a winter vacation scheme (one week), a spring vacation scheme (two weeks) and two summer vacation schemes (two weeks each), which are open to anyone who is eligible to apply for a training contract – regardless of your degree discipline or the length of time since you graduated.
We are excited to launch our Edinburgh spring vacation scheme (one week). The firm will be recruiting trainees to be based from the Edinburgh office through the Edinburgh vacation scheme.
You will need to complete a Scots law degree (LLB) and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (PEAT STAGE 1).
During the scheme you will have the opportunity to visit one or 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.
This year the firm will run three presentation evenings in November:
• 21 November 2023 – in our Bristol office
• 28 November 2023 – virtual event
• 23 November 2023 – in our Edinburgh office
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 insight events throughout the year including open days and Food for thought' skills sessions. You can find out more by visiting our website.
We want our firm to represent the diverse communities in which we operate and we encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and identities. 98% of our people believe we have an open and inclusive workplace – come join them.
four key areas: gender, disability, ethnicity and LGBT+, all of which are underpinned with the ambition to provide social mobility within each of these groups. Each focus area has a strategic action plan and people-led networks to ensure engagement and support delivery.
We have a Gender Action Plan focussed on delivering gender balance across the firm, particularly in the partnership and senior business professional roles; designing a workplace accessible to those with additional caring responsibilities and ensuring all our people feel confident to progress in the workplace. We have been recognised as a Times Top 50 Employer for Women for the second year running, demonstrating the innovative work we’ve done in this area.
We have strong LGBT+ representation within our organisation. We are long-standing sponsors of Bristol Pride and Edinburgh Pride and we have a people-led network championing LGBT+ issues, BProud. We continue to implement best practice in LGBT+ inclusion through our involvement with Stonewall.
We have a Race Action Plan to continue to improve our ethnicity diversity representation within our workforce. Internally, we have an ethnic diversity reverse mentoring programme for key senior leaders, to ensure they continue to build inclusive and representative departments and processes.
We are committed to employing people with long-term health conditions, disabilities or impairments. We are a Disability Confident Employer, ensuring that we provide best practice in supporting out people and providing any adjustments or tools needed in the workplace.
Social mobility follows through each of our diversity and inclusion strands and we have been recognised as a Top 75 Employer for Social Mobility. We follow best practice, such as the Prime Commitment, and take part in local schemes, such as Bristol Future Talent Partnership and Women’s Work Lab.
We have developed active relationships with a number of community partners and local charities to support our efforts in diversity and inclusion. We continue to work with them to implement best practice for our people. To see the work we are doing in this area, please refer to the Responsible Business Report.
We support our people with a number of internal diversity networks:
BProud is our well established LGBT+ network. BProud welcomes both LGBT+ members and allies. The network promotes a culture where everyone is able to be open about their sexual orientation. BProud members run and attend many LGBT+ events through the year.
BCultured is our BAME network, established in 2018. BCultured aims to promote ethnic diversity and inclusion across all aspects of the firm. Through reverse mentoring, BCultured has helped us to build awareness and better understanding of different cultural perspectives and experiences.
Family Matters is a network that has been established for those with caring responsibilities in the firm. Family Matters aims to provide a space for people to discuss and share experiences openly and hold regular information events.
BEnabled is open to anyone who identifies as disabled, cares for someone with a disability or has a general interest in this area and wants to support the Firm in being an accessible and inclusive place to work. The aim of the forum is to ensure that our working environment is supportive, accessible and suitable for all of our people.
BBalanced is our gender network to help support better gender balance, to identify actions and working practices that better support and enable women in the workplace and to help direct certain benefits, traditionally geared towards a specific gender, more fairly to all.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 3)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: £25 million and above (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 3)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Open-ended Funds (Band 3)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Pensions Litigation (Band 2)
- Product Liability: Food (Band 3)
- Public Procurement (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)