Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer - True Picture

A training contract at Freshfields will set you up for an exciting, border-crossing legal career. You may not feel so Fresh after a mega-deal, but the opportunity to develop is first-class.

Freshfields training contract review 2021

The Firm

“The prestige was a huge draw,” one trainee quickly flagged when discussing their reasons for choosing Freshfields (a very common reason for sources!). If you want prestige, you can certainly get it in spade-loads at this magic circle outfit, with this interviewee commenting on the acclaim Freshfields draws from “the work it does with the biggest clients, resulting in stories you’d see on the front page of the Financial Times.” Indeed: where do we even begin when it comes to top rankings from Chambers and Partners? In Chambers Global, Freshfields essentially the legal world when it comes to corporate/M&A, competition, dispute resolution, public international law, employee benefits, and tax work (these are just the top rankings – there are many more high accolades awarded across several practices and jurisdictions). Closer to home, you’ll find many of these areas top-rated in Chambers UK, alongside London-based nods for pristine banking & finance (borrowers), equity capital markets, financial crime (corporates), and restructuring and insolvency know-how. On a UK-wide basis, Freshfields especially stands out for its financial services, private equity, product liability, public procurement and retail expertise. In summer 2020, the firm sent a bold strategic message when it opened up an office in Silicon Valley, becoming the first big UK firm to build a presence in California's tech and life-sciences hot-bed.

To sum this all up: Freshfields is a high-end, full-service firm that caters for the legal needs of the world’s biggest corporations and financial institutions. It’s not just about sparkling rankings and headline-generating client matters, however. Sources also pointed to Freshfields’ “excellent reputation” for training its most junior members, with interviewees pointing to the firm’s unique eight-seat rotation system as a real boon for receiving a first-class introduction to practising law: “The eight-seat rotation is more beneficial for us than it is for the firm.” In addition, we more or less only heard good things about the firm’s culture. Again and again we were told how “friendly, down to earth and supportive everyone seemed.” And with all those overseas offices dotted across the globe, isn’t the opportunity to work abroad the icing on the cake? Be prepared to put your all into that cover letter though, as Freshfields receives over 3,000 applications for its 80-odd training contracts each year (all of which are London-based).

The Seats 

“I wasn't sure what area I wanted to qualify into, so the flexibility of the eight-seat contract was great,” enthused one trainee. Though, with just three months in each seat to make an impression, “you’ve got to hit the ground running," though doubling up a seat is possible.As part of this system, “the firm wants all its trainees to do a six-month secondment, either international or client, in your final two seats.” Sources also explained that “you have to do the compulsory core seats,” which include two in the global transactions (GT) area – comprised of corporate, finance and real estate seats – and one in disputes “within your first 12 months, with the rest entirely at our discretion.” In terms of choices, “you can put down up to 12 preferences,” at each rotation, with six dispute resolution options, four corporate, four finance and five others available (antitrust, competition and trade; tax; IP; people and reward; and real estate). Very few reported getting their first choices for the first couple of seats, but we were told that this preference hit rate improved as trainees progressed in their contract.

“You would get into work and hear, ‘This person who has just been on the news has just instructed us…’”

The firm’s commercial disputes team does “bread-and-butter litigation,” as well as “investigations, crisis management matters and some arbitrations" (although there is a separate arbitration department).One source relayed that “Ninety per cent of our clients are firms you’ve heard of. Everyone has. I’m talking big names.” Some names are certainly recognisable, like Debenhams, Deutsche Bank, Sotheby’s and Volkswagen, while others are still a big deal but not necessarily household names: South African multinational telecoms company MTN and US food conglomerate Cargill, for example. One recent case is fit for a screen adaptation: Freshfields successfully represented Sotheby’s in its bid to retrieve the proceeds made by the fraudulent sellers of a fake painting credited to Dutch artist Frans Hals (which was sold for close to a not-so-shabby $11 million). In another high-profile case, the team has been acting for Volkswagen on a matter focused on the emissions from certain vehicles that the company manufactures (the group litigation also involves other car manufacturers and currently consists of 91,300 claims, making it likely to be the largest group action ever seen in English courts). Some interviewees were involved in “Serious Fraud Office-style investigations for big corporates things like anti-bribery and corruption investigations after journalistic scoops.” On the crisis management side, it was normally “breaking-news stuff. You would get into work and hear, ‘This person who has just been on the news has just instructed us…’” In terms of trainee tasks, yes, you can expect the standard bundling and admin work on large, ongoing cases. However, on “more bespoke matters you’d be doing legal research, as well as drafting client statements, outlines and instructions to counsel.” 

Cross-border transactions are the deal in the corporate department, where lawyers have recently acted for Flutter Entertainment (the parent company of Paddy Power Betfair) on its combination with Canadian company Stars, which created the world’s largest online betting operator by revenue. The team were also kept busy by a combination that spanned over 30 jurisdictions: it involved advising the owner of Perform Content (sports media outfit DAZN Group) on the combination between PC and a sports company specialising in AI technology, STATS. Other clients here include Visa, US plastics manufacturer Berry Global and US toy company Hasbro. Here sources felt there was a “balance of cerebral and process-driven work.” Tasks could include “a fair bit of drafting and research,” along with “organising coordination between different offices, liaising with financial advisers, and inputting comments into documents.” There’s the requisite trainee duty of project management here, which sources conducted on both buyer and seller transactions: “It’s nice to get a perspective on both.” Sources were also happy to “see deals in all stages” and felt that the “team is good at giving us good responsibility, even if you’ve just joined.” What’s more, “the team is really nice!”

Private equity falls under the corporate department’s umbrella, and – you guessed it – “we represent the big private equity houses” like Blackstone, Carlyle, Advent and KKR. These heavy hitters turn to Freshfields for more than just advice on acquisition targets; they also come for legal wisdom on breaking into new markets and sectors, as well as for answers to regulatory and antitrust questions. The group recently advised CVC on its investment into Premiership Rugby, which will come as welcome news to rugby fans wanting to see their favourite sport bolstered with a cash injection. Interviewees who’d sat in this area said that the work was “client-focused,” allowing them to “deal with the client and local counsel.”We were told that the separate finance team handles the financing aspects of private equity deals, while this team handles “the acquisition and selling work”for clients’ portfolios. As you can imagine, private equity firms want to know everything about potential target companies before acquiring them, so trainees spent a lot time conducting due diligence and “know-your-customer (KYC) checks.”

Over in the intellectual property, data and commercial seat, trainees told us that it’s all about getting “into the technical details of the agreements.”These agreements take place in the context of mega deals, such as Liberty’s (the world’s largest TV and broadband company) €19 billion sale of its German/Eastern European operations to Vodafone, as well as AB InBev (the world’s largest brewer) on the $11.3 billion sale of its Australian subsidiary to Japanese food and drinks company Asahi. Such agreements could cover anything related to IP elements (such as brand rights and software licences) to commercial supply arrangements to the transfer of data assets. “Once you get past the trust barrier,” one source explained, “then you get good work.”

When you represent the world’s biggest firms that are looking to make the biggest moves, antitrust, competition and tradeis an essential practice. The firm acts on behalf of clients like Australian investment bank Macquarie, Tesco, Pret A Manger, insurance outfit AON and private equity firm CVC. Freshfields recently worked with tech company Yandex on the European Commission’s investigation into Google with regard to its Android devices, which resulted in a record €4.34 billion fine for Google. It also advised the London Stock Exchange Group on its proposed acquisition of Refinitiv, which is a global provider of financial data and valued at $27 billion. We were not surprised to hear that trainees had worked “on a very high-profile case for a very large multinational company that all of us use.”Sources liked that “Freshfields was instructed because there wasn’t precedence. It was a novel matter on both sides, and it was interesting how everything was approached.”

Trainee Life

As a magic circle firm, Freshfields comes with “high standards and high expectations.” What this means for prospective trainees is that good academics are a must, as well as a whole host of other important skills like being able to prioritise workload and having the ability to take in a vast amount of complicated information. In addition, “the hours can be long and intense,” with most sources reporting working (on average) a nine to ten-hour day. There are late nights when deals hit their flow or cases build to a crescendo. “The hours in the corporate seats can vary from you being able to leave at 5.30pm to you leaving at 11am the next morning!”one sleepy source told us. Others added that on those late nights “people appreciate the work that you do, and it does get noticed.” Some flagged that while there may be a “couple of one-off all-nighters where you receive little to no thanks for working hard, these are the exception not the rule.” On the whole, “people wouldn’t ask you to stay unless they were staying too.” Those who are still toiling away past 7.30pm can expense their dinner (up to £15) and also a cab home if they’re still at their desk past 9.30pm. It's also worth noting that Freshfields was the only magic circle firm to keep NQ pay at £100,000 in the wake of Covid-19.

“The quality and variety of the work, throughout all my seats, has been exceptional.”

Several people thought that “one of the main perks of being here is the people. There’s a range of personalities and most lawyers are very approachable, kind and enthusiastic.”As with any workplace, there are some people who might not be quite so lovely, but we were told that “HR makes valiant efforts to tackle” any poor and distinctly ‘un-Freshfields’ behaviour. In terms of human capital, the firm’s reputation for training seems well founded, with most interviewees across seats and departments giving it a thumbs-up. In addition to the assistance gained from “friendly and helpful”colleagues in various departments (“people are always open to answering questions”), trainees also undergo “a fortnight of induction and training exercises” at the beginning of the training contract. Trainees said that while there was “quite a lot of time spent on IT training, there needs to be more.” While there may be little niggles here and there, every person we surveyed felt they had chosen the right firm to train at and no one reported being unhappy. Around half of our sources did report being a bit stressed, but when all was said and done, this source encapsulated the overall feeling nicely: “The quality and variety of the work, throughout all my seats, has been exceptional and I've been encouraged to volunteer for projects that I'm interested in, with the aim of shaping my practice as a lawyer.”

Diversity at the firm was also spoke about positively by our sources. “The firm’s approach to diversity is not a tick-box exercise; it seems like something the firm has really bought into,” one interviewee reflected. The overwhelming majority were encouraging about the firm’s mental health initiatives, which have been highlighted by the firm’s support of knowledge lawyer Lloyd Rees, who has publicly shared his battle with mental ill-health. Sources also spoke highly of “Halo, the firm’s LGBT+ network. It’s something active that the firm has bought into.” Several mentioned the firm’s Stephen Lawrence Scholarship, which addresses “the disproportionate under-representation in large commercial law firms and other City institutions of black men from less socially mobile backgrounds.”Those who are awarded the scholarship receive career mentorship from members of the firm and Freshfields clients.

For those who want to stay as an NQ, the first step involves submitting a list of qualification preferences. The teams similarly “rank the trainees in the order they’d like to accept them in.” The good news is that “when placing us for qualification, the firm works off our preferences.” In other words, the “priority is what we want, rather than what the team wants.” Trainees described quite an informal process, as there’s “no CV required, nothing like that.” However, we were told that international positions in practice areas trainees haven’t sat in may well require an interview and a more formal application. Any concerns about favouritism were dismissed: “Each team puts their preferences down and discusses them among the entire group, which should shake out favouritism. It’s quite a well-rounded process.” In 2020, 67 of 77 qualifiers stayed with the firm.

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How to get into Freshfields


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 7 January 2021 (opens 5 October 2020)

Training contract deadline (2022): 7 January 2021 (opens 5 October 2020), 15 July 2021 (opens 1 June 2021)


Every single one of the 3,000-plus applications Freshfields receives each year is read from beginning to end by a member of the graduate recruitment 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. Graduate recruitment 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 12% 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 training contract applicants go through this.

There's a written assessment, which lasts 45 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 20 minutes to read a business-based article, usually from The Economist or Financial Times, 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 – "quite rushed obviously, but quite useful nonetheless” – 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.

Pro bono at Freshfields

“There are always pro bono projects you can get involved in,”we heard. “When we joined, we had induction sessions with the pro bono partner and the pro bono organisations we partner with. It was a great way of showing the firm's commitment to pro bono work.” The firm has partnered with organisations such as the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), who it acted for in relation to a human trafficking case against the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Supreme Court found in favour of the AIRE Centre. Our sources said that pro bono work was “definitely encouraged” and “is treated no different to client work. If you’ve got a matter going on, it’s not something you have to do on top of what you’re doing. It’s part of your overall picture of your capacity.” Sources said that the “work has not been limited to one seat. I started one pro bono matter in my first seat and when I moved I wanted to keep it on. I spoke to both teams and the firm was actively encouraging of that.” However, some said: “I don't think the motto of ‘we value this as much chargeable work’ is respected in all teams.” The firm also works with several “large charities like Save the Children.”One interviewee enthused: “I'm encouraged to spend days at the various charities that we support, and I can charge this time as if it were a normal working day.”

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

65 Fleet Street,

  • Partners 139
  • Associates 400
  • Total trainees 157
  • UKoffices  London, Manchester
  • Overseas offices 26
  • Contacts
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: up to 80
  • Minimum required degree grade: None
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: None
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 60
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 5th October 2020 (Winter); 1st June 2021 (Summer)
  • Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 7th January 2021 (Winter); 15th July 2021 (Summer)
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 5th October 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline date: 7th January 2021
  • NOTE - 2020 first year programme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak
  • 2020 Workshop deadline: Various throughout the year
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £45,000
  • Second-year salary: £51,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £100,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 26 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £10,000 for the GDL and £10,000 for the LPC
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London

Firm profile

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 consistent 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.

Training opportunities

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.

Other benefits

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 awardwinning pro bono programme. As well as agile remote-working arrangements in response to COVID-19, our new London office at 100 Bishopsgate has been carefully thought-out to facilitate collaboration and innovation, as well as support wellbeing and reduce environmental impact.

Vacation scheme

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 5th October 2020, 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
At Freshfields, we are working together to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can achieve their potential. Responsibility is at the heart of our firm, inextricably intertwined with our character, our values and our ethos. We want to reflect our clients’ diversity and be connected to our many local communities. We value the varied perspectives that diversity brings.

Freshfields is committed to widening access for the best students, irrespective of background, ethnicity, sexual orientation or anything else. We partner with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, Aspiring Solicitors, Women in the City Afro-Caribbean Network (or WCAN) and My Plus Consulting.

We want to broaden the firm’s representation among different races and ethnicities. Our global Black Affinity Network brings together lawyers of black African and black African Caribbean heritage. Our award-winning Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme addresses the disproportionate under-representation in commercial law and the City of black men from low-income households. (Some scholars have joined Freshfields.)

Helping talented female lawyers reach their potential needs long-term intervention. The EDGE Commitment, developed by our London Women’s Network in collaboration with colleagues across the firm, promotes gender equality. Our female lawyers can access a 12-month global sponsorship programme of tailored learning and development. We support wider change through our founding membership with the 30% Club.

Freshfields strives to ensure that LGBT+ employees feel supported in all of our offices. We sponsor the LGBT Bar’s annual Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair and the LGBT Leaders graduate recruitment event. We also have an active global LGBT+ network, Halo, a close relationship with Stonewall and have earned a number of recognitions in this area.

Freshfields is committed to being a disability-inclusive employer, including ways to attract and progress disabled talent, and support colleagues affected by disability.

Our ongoing commitment to create the right environment to foster open and frank communication underlines the importance placed on mental wellbeing at Freshfields (itself part of our broader thinking on employee wellbeing). We are driving this conversation at all levels in a number of ways, including (in partnership with Mental Health First Aid England) a fully trained Global Mental Health Support team, equipped with the skills to recognise, support and provide guidance to those who may be experiencing mental health issues.

We are making progress but there is more to do. You can help.

Social media

Twitter @FreshfieldsGrad

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Competition Law (Band 1)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Public International Law (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 4)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
    • Projects (Band 3)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Public Procurement (Band 1)
    • Tax: Contentious (Band 2)
    • Telecommunications (Band 2)