This centuries-old stalwart keeps things fresh with short seats and plenty of pro bono.
Freshfields trainee associate programme review 2024
Love Island must have restarted when we came calling, because our sources were keen to tell us about the firm’s “vibes,” somethingwhich cemented their decision to train at Freshfields: “The vibes during recruitment were just much better than at other firms.” It’s a pretty bold claim to take at face value from anyone, let alone a firm insider, but rest assured Freshfield’s long cultivated, top-of-the-market, magic circle status comes with receipts. Since the firm’s inception in the mid-18th century it has cumulated a suite of teams across almost all areas of practice, now racks up over £1.5 billion annually, and continues to pile up the trophy cabinet – Chambers UK currently has the firm ranked in over 40 departments. The highest accolades go to its finance-related practices, in addition to competition, litigation, tax and public procurement. Freshfields’ international standing is reflected in Chambers Global, where the firm picks up more than 50 rankings.
Graduate recruitment partner, Cyrus Poch, tells us that the firm is actively growing its US footprint, “so we have that domestic US work but also aim for cross-pollination between the offices.” Poch also highlights that, closer to home Freshfields has had some standout deals and has also worked on large dispute mandates. “The London office is really optimistic,” Poch grins, and nationally Freshfields’ bragging rights extend across both contentious and non-contentious practices too, including in: banking litigation; contentious financial services; non-contentious financial services; product liability and public procurement among others – a litany of practice matters that newbies get the chance to dip their toes into…
With the firm’s penchant for keeping things freshit should come as no surprise that Freshfields does things a little differently in the seats department. Trainees’ seats are conducted in six three-month stints for the most part, although for most seats outside of disputes you can “double up” to make a seat six-months. The two years are then concluded with a six-month secondment which most people spend in one of the firm’s international offices, but a good proportion of trainees also go on client secondment in London: “There are like ten client options… wait… there must be more! Everyone goes on secondment!” Though the firm tells us its actually a huge 20 options on offer, on average.
Every three months trainees submit preferences for their next seat, with those further along in their training given priority. Secondments are allocated based on preference and performance, and sometimes experience working with the client. International secondments understandably benefit from those who speak a second language, so “it definitely helps.” We heard that Spanish is a requirement for arbitration in DC.
"A good split of corporate and litigation.”
Outside of secondments, trainees are presented with what they felt was “a good split of corporate and litigation.”Dispute resolution encompasses commercial disputes, antitrust, environment products regulation (EPR), international arbitration, financial institutions disputes and the global products disputes practice (GPDP.) “The commercial disputes group is big and pretty popular,” one trainee told us, something that’s served as a consequence of the firm’s reputation in the space. Freshfields recently acted for Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi in defending a Commercial Court claim arising out of the October 2021 sale of Newcastle United Football Club. Of course, “you don’t get as much client contact in disputes” given the nature of the work, but newbies were pleased to find “you’re still working with counsel and experts outside the firm.” We heard that antitrustis a little different in this regard as, “you’re basically emailing clients daily,” alongside communicating with the CMA (Competitions and Markets Authority) and drafting responses to RFIs (Requests for Information). “Hefty legal research” also plays a part in day-to-day proceedings, not only in antitrust but across the spectrum of disputes seats. This is especially true of EPRwhere trainees told us they worked on memos – “that people still use!” – blogs, and a lot of business development.
Over on the transactional side of things the firm’s global transactions groupencompasses corporate, finance and real estate teams. “Corporate focuses on tech, media, telecoms, pharmaceuticals… actually there’s quite a range of things!” Freshfields has an internal grouping system for its corporate work labelled A, B, C and D: Team A has a focus on financial services clients; Team B is private equity; Team C covers M&A and capital markets; and Team D does work for telecoms, media and tech, energy, resources and infrastructure, and leisure. In reality though, “while groups C and D are more general a lot of the corporate teams work together a lot of the time, so there aren’t really distinct boundaries – if you’re into life sciences or PE or financial stuff you know where to go.”
If you are into “financial stuff” it’s probably worth noting that the firm’s financeseats cover corporate finance, leveraged finance, and restructuring and insolvency. As is customary for Freshfields, the department works for high profile clients - banks like JP Morgan, Visa and the Saudi National Bank – but also with a range of clients outside of banking sphere. For example, the firm recently advised the London Stock Exchange Group on a new long-term strategic partnership with Microsoft to architect the group’s data infrastructure using Microsoft cloud. “In corporate finance the stuff I learned on the LPC was very applicable, so it felt like it was designed to follow on from the LPC,” one newbie outlined, explaining that, “the things you’re asked to do are very similar – for example we’d have certain exercises on debt financing on the LPC, and here you’re doing the exact same thing!”
“I was helping New York with some due diligence.”
Over in real estate,Freshfields’ trainees are exposed to work a little different from your regular real estate seat as, while there is a still a fair bit of drafting, “it’s more of a corporate seat with a real estate tinge; you’re working on big corporate deals with real estate deals.” To give an example, the firm recently advised on the restructuring to facilitate a refinancing and development of the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, a joint venture between Brookfield and the UK Government. So, “you’re buying and selling companies and the assets are things like hotels and science parks,” not solely restricted to the UK: “I was helping New York with some due diligence, researching into land law and lease regulations.”
If it’s merger control and competition investigations you’re interested in, the firm’s antitrust, competition & trade (ACT)group is worth a look-in. Trainees generally help with merger filings by working on doc review and drafting responses to regulators like the CMA or the European Commission in what is typically a pretty intense seat with rapid turnarounds. The firm is working on some pretty large and landmark cases in the space. Freshfields is currently advising Mastercard in the largest opt-out competition class action concerning to the Consumer Rights Act (2015), a claim brought on behalf of over 46 million UK customers and which is valued at over £16 billion – so pretty hefty stuff.
The firm also provides trainees with the opportunity to take on a pro bono seat – something of a rarity for UK firms. “The pro bono team is run by the incredibly cool Paul Yates, who is the head of global pro bono),” one trainee outlined, explaining that there a number of pro bono secondment placements on offer including the Tower Hamlets advice clinic, Liberty and Save the Children. Aside from this dedicated seat, those in other seats can also hop on to pro bono work by helping at a legal advice centre: “You could be giving advice on housing law, like helping people who are seeking council housing.”
When speaking with trainees it came as no surprise to hear talk of the magic circle seeming “incredibly intimidating” given the group’s reputation. Regardless, the trainees we spoke with were overwhelmingly positive about both the working and social culture at Freshfields: “Where there have been times people have been less approachable or more difficult to work with it’s been acknowledged that’s not the norm and isn’t tolerated.”
For the most part though, “supervisors actively work hard to look out for you, and to make sure you don’t take on too much work – I have a tendency to try and say yes to as many things as possible!” It is understandably common for newbies trying to make an impression to load themselves up with matters when starting out, but thankfully we heard that “people are rational – they’re quite receptive to you saying you have a lot on.” A number of trainees also commented on the firm’s approach to mental health, which includes “a lot of emphasis on strategies when you’re just starting out.” Supervisors also play a significant role in trainees’ working hours. “I was astounded by how much support they gave me,” one trainee told us, adding that “if you’re struggling with mental health or anything they can put you on reduced hours.”
Freshfields’ approach to work from home is similarly flexible as, while there is a three days in, two days out policy, “it’s not heavily policed – if you need to work from home for the week it’s fine.” Either way, trainees spoke positively of the firm’s “stunning!” office where “the walls are glass, and the view is… London!” In addition to the café, restaurant and kitchens on each floor, other perks insiders felt worthy of note were “a Deliveroo allowance of £20 if you’re working late, taxis home after 9pm, sleeping pods (apparently those exist… I don’t know if anyone uses them) and free lunches on random days?!” While socials aren’t usually particularly “wild,” for trainees who are interested and have the time the opportunities are out there for impromptu drinks, Christmas and summer parties and a dinner halfway through your two years.
“You can find your tribe… but not in a cliquey way!”
The same extends to the firm’s “really well supported affinity groups,” which each have their own dedicated partner sponsors. Freshfields has a woman’s network split into junior and senior women, a mental health network, an LGBTQ champions network for allies, and what we heard was a very active LGBTQ network, HALO. “The HALO network recently put on a film night where they invited clients,” one trainee commented. “We’re rewriting the HR guidance because at the moment it’s geared towards just men and women,” another grinned, “so you can find your tribe… but not in a cliquey way!”
On the training side of things, “it’s more on the job” than one insider expected, “but I think it works better for most people – it can seem quite abstract otherwise!” The three-month seats “can be quite intense. You’re settling in then moving on, so you’re always outside of your comfort zone, but it accelerates the learning process!” Trainees are supported with team-specific training to ensure things don’t get too intense though, and we heard trainings are “quite practical – you’re not expected to learn everything, but it’s something you can go back to when you need to.”
All this helps trainees swing into qualification at the end of the two years in a process that’s seen as “pretty transparent.” Training solicitor partners, who are in control of looking after trainees in the team act as gatekeepers on qualification, so trainees told us, “you do need to butter them up to the extent you want to slip into their team,” but there are also conversations with the partner in charge of trainees so that everyone is clear on where they stand.
The Fresh Prince of Manchester
Freshfields has a hub up North to free up trainees from process-driven tasks like doc review.
How to get into Freshfields
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 2 October – 4 Jan
Winter TC 2026: 2 October – 18 Jan
Summer TC 2026: 17 June – 1 August
Every single one of the 3,000-plus applications Freshfields receives each year is read from beginning to end by a member of the early careers team.
The firm tries to evaluate these applications in the round rather than in a mechanistic way, so those unexpected Bs in your A-levels won’t automatically cut you from the running. The firm also uses Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System, which (among other things) rates candidates’ exam performance against the average for their school, recognising that getting a B from a less well-performing school may demonstrate just as much graft and potential as getting an A* from another.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Freshfields application form is the big blank box. The firm basically says: ‘Tell us about yourself in 850 words,’ and leaves it up to you what to fill in. Early careers sources tell us they're distinctly unimpressed by those who write “with an element of routine or cliché or received wisdom.” Indeed, glib catchphrases like ‘cutting-edge deals’ rarely go down well, even when the sentiment behind them is genuine. The most successful applications are simply written in a direct and unaffected way and explain why the candidate is interested in commercial law at an international firm like Freshfields. And for a good reason: why would anyone be impressed by a form that could have been written by 500 other applicants?
There is also a Watson Glaser test to complete.
The assessment day
About 10% of applicants are invited to the firm's assessment stage, which involves three components that last half a day in total. Both vacation scheme and direct trainee associate programme applicants go through this.
There's a written assessment, which lasts 60 minutes and candidates are asked to review draft documents, highlight the mistakes, discuss the ambiguous elements and redraft an extract so it is clear and correct. This does not require any knowledge of law and is designed to assess a candidate's ability to analyse the written word.
There's a general interview that also lasts an hour and is usually done with a partner and associate. This interview centres on competency-based questions designed to draw out attributes like motivation, organisational skills, capacity for teamwork, degree of curiosity, level of common sense, openness to change, and “stickability” – that is, the ability to demonstrate your understanding of what being a Freshfields trainee entails. There is also a chance for candidates to ask questions at the end of the interview.
Finally, there's also what the firm calls an ‘analytical interview’ during which applicants’ analytical skills are assessed. This lasts an hour and takes place with a different partner and an associate. Candidates are given 30 minutes to read a business-based article, and are then quizzed on it. “You could be asked how the subject of the article could bring work into the firm, or what parts of the firm could be involved,” recalled a trainee of the process. “Mine was an article about Airbus – we ended up talking about the price of oil, the merits or otherwise of cheap airlines and new markets the firm could move into. They didn’t expect me to know that Freshfields had just done a huge Airbus deal, although obviously it would have been great if I had.”
The vacation scheme
Insiders tell us the firm's “very structured” three-week vacation scheme is “focused on commercial awareness and thinking about things from a business perspective.” It includes a day spent on a mock transaction with some of the partners – plus lunchtime departmental talks that allow candidates to get to know more about different parts of the firm and find out more about the mechanics of how law firms operate and make money.
On the social side, there are plenty of lunches with trainees and partners, plus outings like curries in Brick Lane, a Thames RIB (speedboat) experience, and a night at The Comedy Store.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer helps some of the world’s biggest companies to grow, strengthen and defend their operations. If you’re keen to pursue a career in commercial law, we can offer you some of the most interesting and challenging work around. We support clients wherever in the world they operate so we must deliver a consistently high-quality service across the globe.
Main areas of work
As a trainee, you’ll work in a team, usually with an associate and a partner. It’s the team’s job to work out how we can help clients achieve their ambitions. Is it possible? What’s the best way to structure the deal or tackle the problem? What are the risks? You and your team will need to create solutions that work in the real, commercial world, not just the ones that reflect what’s right or wrong in law. We’ll show you how. Our lawyers focus on at least one industry sector and work in one of five practice groups: global transactions;dispute resolution; anti-trust, competition and trade; people and reward; and tax. Freshfields also has a leading sustainability practice, providing strategic legal advice to support clients through their transitions towards a more sustainable, resilient future.
Our unique eight-seat training contract means you can experience a wide variety of practice groups across the two years. You’ll spend at least one seat in dispute resolution, as well as at least two seats in our global transactions group (across corporate, finance and real estate). You can submit preferences for where you want to spend each seat, and you can decide as you go through your training contract. During the final six months of your training contract, you’ll also get opportunities to apply for international, client and pro bono secondments.
Joining Freshfields opens the door to a comprehensive range of benefits, access to the many social networks that connect people across our 28 offices, and opportunities to take part in our award-winning pro bono programme. As well as agile remote-working arrangements, our London office at 100 Bishopsgate has been carefully thought-out to facilitate collaboration and innovation, as well as support wellbeing and reduce environmental impact.
Open to penultimate year undergraduate students, our three-week vacation schemes are an exciting way to find out more about life at Freshfields. You’ll meet and work with trainees, associates and partners and learn about the market-leading work that we do on a day-to-day basis.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Applications for workshops and other virtual events open 02 October 2023, with various deadlines throughout the year. We’ll show you what life as an international commercial lawyer is like, and what sets us apart from other firms, so you can make a confident decision on whether to apply for a vacation scheme or training contract.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Diversity and inclusion are central to our strategic goals as a firm. Creating an inclusive environment, where diversity of thought is valued, and people feel they belong and can thrive is important to us all. We recognise that promoting diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it is also key to making us a stronger firm, with a diverse pool of talent, delivering better outcomes for our clients and enhancing the experience of colleagues in teams.
Our diversity and inclusion work aligns with our purpose and values, responsible business and people strategies, and is focused on ensuring all colleagues can belong, engage and excel:
1. Belong – building our inclusive culture, where all feel they can contribute and excel. This includes a focus on the principles of ‘Being Freshfields’ (our internal behavioural principles), and our mental health and wellbeing strategy, including our global mental health support team.
2. Engage – to encourage action for inclusion across multiple diversity dimensions, increasing engagement with our colleagues, clients and community to drive change.
3. Excel – to enhance the career experience of diverse professionals, and to recruit, retain and promote diverse talent to senior roles. This includes our Global Sponsorship Programme and Future Leaders Programme.
Our continually evolving approach recognises the complexity and interwoven nature of diversity. As well as targeted initiatives and programs, we look for opportunities to bring together different groups, both within our firm and in partnership with external organizations. Our six key areas of focus globally are:
- Race and ethnicity
- Social background
- Mental health and wellbeing
- Sexual orientation and gender identity
Ourfive-year global commitments to diversity and inclusion and targets for gender, race and ethnicity, and LGBTQ+ representation reflect a refreshed focus across the firm on action and progress in this area. We have reported on our progress each year since the launch of our targets and commitments. You can find the latest report here.
Our targets and commitments are ambitious; they build on the progress we have made in recent years and, in recognising that we need to go much further, support our desire to accelerate the pace of change.
The firm’s global leadership team actively lead our inclusion and responsible business efforts ensuring it is treated as a core business issue, regularly including D&I on the agenda of senior committee meetings and leading on initiatives. Georgia Dawson is our senior partner, but we have additional partner / senior director sponsors for our employee networks and ‘partner champions’, who take responsibility for different areas of our D&I strategy, as well as local diversity or HR partners in each region that we operate in.
We additionally have a dedicated global diversity and inclusion team who welcome discussions on any of our initiatives and opportunities for collaboration.
Mental wellbeing is and will remain an important topic of conversation at Freshfields, and our ongoing commitment to create the right environment to foster open and frank communication on mental health issues.
Our Global Wellbeing Hub has multiple resources available to colleagues in one place, with a global wellbeing strategy focused on three key pillars: mind, body and balance. We have increased support for colleagues through evolved people policies, including agile working, enhanced family leave policies and family forming benefits.
We also have targeted initiatives and programmes that are aligned to our six key areas of focus. Our continually evolving approach additionally recognises the complexity and interwoven nature of diversity.
We recognise the need for targeted initiatives and programmes, but also continue to evolve efforts to recognise the complexity and intersectional nature of diversity, so are seeking opportunities to bring together different groups, both within the firm and in partnership with external organisations. Examples of our partnerships include Out Leadership, Stonewall, The Valuable 500, Business Disability Forum, 30% Club and This Can Happen.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 1)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer: High Court Litigation Spotlight
- Environment & Climate Change (Band 4)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 3)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Real Estate: £150 million and above (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law: Mainly Commercial (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Infrastructure (Band 3)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: £500 million and above (Band 2)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 2)
- Sanctions (Band 2)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 1)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)