Norton Rose Fulbright - True Picture

Full of industry expertise, Norton Rose shines brightly in energy, tech, transport and finance.

Norton Rose Fulbright training contract review 2024

The Firm

“My main consideration when I was looking for a firm to train at was an international scope and a renewable energy focus,” one trainee told us, “and Norton Rose was a one-stop shop for all of the things I was looking for!” In fact, when it comes to an international scope, NRF has steered into the old adage – if you’re going to do it, do it properly. The firm has a whopping 50 offices worldwide, from New York to Sydney (and back again).

It’s also a firm that has been shaped by its industry focus, with the teams arranged into ‘headlight’ groups like energy, finance, tech, transport, life sciences, and consumer markets like retail and leisure. It’s an industry focus that is recognised by Chambers UK, bestowing top-tier rankings in energy, renewables and insurance, as well as finance in aviation, rail, and shipping sectors. The firm also gets nods in industries like hotels & leisure, and telecoms. On the international stage, the firm is recognised as one of the best in the world for projects and energy according to Chambers Global.

“You are acting for clients in particular industry sectors.”

Back in 2016, NRF established itself as a trailblazer by opening a legal tech and operations hub called ‘NRF Transform’ in Newcastle and London. A team made up of current and former lawyers, as well as designers, project managers and tech specialists work to develop digital solutions for clients and offer consultancy services. While the hub doesn’t take trainees, the firm’s decision to get ahead of the game when it came to legal tech was a big part of the draw among our interviewees.

Interested in the intellectual challenges of being a lawyer? Read our interview with Norton Rose Fulbright to find out more.

The Seats

As any one of the firm’s trainees will tell you, “having to allocate 70+ trainees to their preferences is difficult.” That being said, NRF makes a concerted effort to give trainees as much of a say in the process as they can: “There’s a big seat selection process where we can meet with the different teams, ask questions and attend talks,” one of the current cohort explained, “so you can really build up a picture there.” The firm then sends round a form for trainees to indicate four seat preferences. All trainees are required to do a corporate and a banking seat at some stage, “but there are around four teams in each of those, so there is quite a wide range within that.” There is also the option to list a potential supervisor you would be interested in working alongside.

There’s a good chance that one of the seats of the training contract will be a client or international secondment too, which trainees are able to apply for from their second seat onwards. The client secondment options at NRF include visits to names like HSBC, Goldman Sachs or easyJet, while international options include seats in Singapore, Paris, Dubai, Brisbane, Brussels and Hong Kong.

The banking practice at NRF is one of the firm’s core practices: “As a general rule, the hours in a banking seat are long,” one trainee recalled, “but there was a very defined trainee role, so you will be doing things like running conditions precedent checklists from the beginning.” The firm’s banking practice has worked with about as many big bank clients as you could name, from NatWest, Barclays and HSBC to Deutsche Bank.

“I had a fair amount of responsibility considering I was a first-seat trainee.”

While the banking work at NRF encompasses the full spectrum of finance matters, the firm’s asset finance team is one that carries a particularly big reputation. Trainees were quick to highlight that the firm’s structure “makes for quite a varied seat, because you are acting for clients in particular industry sectors.” For the most part, “there is more finance work on the shipping side than there is on the aviation side, although there definitely is some on the aviation side as well.” As one of the firm’s oldest industry focuses, shipping finance is the most important strand of the firm’s work in the industry, covering leasing deals, complex restructurings, ship sales and acquisitions. As is common for a banking seat at NRF, “it’s quite a process-driven seat, which has meant that it’s quite beneficial as a first-seat trainee because you get a lot of responsibility from the get-go.” For newbies, this meant “a significant project management element, just because there are so many documents.” Typical trainee tasks in the seat included “checking any conditions precedents that were outstanding, proof-reading documents, and dealing with outside counsel.” In one recent deal, the team acted as lead counsel on a series of loan agreements for Viking Ocean Cruises to finance the purchase of four new-build passenger cruise vessels.

As you might expect for a sector-focused firm, NRF’s corporate practice covers the breadth of M&A, insurance, financial institutions, and regulatory work for clients in its key industries. “It’s one of the largest teams at the firm,” one source explained. “Your primary obligation is to the partner you’re sat with, but they encourage you to work with as many people as possible. So, I’ve worked with about 75% of the team.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this led to a range of work within the corporate umbrella: “I’ve done verification on public deals, a lot of key documentation on corporate transactions, and research into different parts of the client’s business – working out how to sell that as part of an IPO.” There are, of course, more general corporate admin tasks, “so things like proofing, board minutes, some drafting and due diligence reports as well.” One thing to note about a corporate seat is that the hours can be more demanding. “I had a fair amount of responsibility considering I was a first-seat trainee,” one source reflected, “but that often translated to very long hours, so I ended up working some weekends.” In one recent corporate deal, the firm advised Barclays on the £538 million sale of its remaining stake in what was previously known as the Barclays Africa Group, as part of its exit from banking in Africa.

“Historically, the firm has had quite a big transport footprint, particularly in shipping, so there’s still plenty of shipping work.”

Despite forming one of the three main disputes practices, transport litigation is “a relatively small team, so they only take a handful of trainees.” Despite this, the group forms an important part of the firm’s disputes work, as this source explained: “Historically, the firm has had quite a big transport footprint, particularly in shipping, so there’s still plenty of shipping work.” On the shipping side, trainees could touch on anything from major casualties to marine insurance claims and criminal prosecutions. There’s even a 24/7 emergency response service for clients who need in-the-moment legal assistance. The war in Ukraine over the last year has also ramped up the firm’s sanctions work in particular, “so there was plenty of opportunities to get stuck into the drafting that comes with that, which probably isn’t typical” – but it’s a good example of how sector-based work is affected by global events. On the aviation side of things, one recent case saw the firm defend Qatar Airways against a $20 million claim from Italian seatmanufacturer Optimares over the termination of seat supply contracts.

According to trainees, the corporate insurance seat “is very similar to corporate in terms of providing a full service to an industry focus. So, if a client is looking to merge with or acquire an insurance business in a standard M&A deal, we can assist with that.” Alongside the more corporate-related work, “it’s a heavily regulated industry, so there’s a lot of advisory work too.” This regulatory advice spans things like business regulation, product compliance, and the regulatory implications of transactions or closing down businesses. In one recent deal, the firm acted as regulatory and international insurance counsel for insurance broker Howden on its regulatory assessment of target company TigerRisk. In matters like this, trainee tasks can revolve around “drafting memos on a relatively niche regulatory point,” one trainee explained, “but that comes alongside standard corporate tasks like drafting ancillaries.”

Trainee Life

Somewhat befitting of the firm’s long-lasting love affair with the world of shipping, NRF’s office is “right by the water” in the More London Riverside area on the Thames. For a firm with so much history, trainees did highlight that there were some traditional elements in the firm’s culture. “There can be a clear hierarchy at times,” they said. “We are now hotdesking, and if a more senior person is sitting at the desk you’ve booked, it can be a bit hard to move them! It’s usually easier to just sit somewhere else.” That being said, trainees were also clear that “this depends on the partner. We recently had a karaoke social, and one of the team leaders was the first one to start things off!”

Trainees sit down for a mid-seat review with supervisors (which is a more informal conversation), and an end-of-seat review, during which “you grade yourself on a scale, then discuss it with your supervisor, before they provide a final grade.”

“We recently had a karaoke social, and one of the team leaders was the first one to start things off!”

Pro bono forms an important part of the trainee experience at Norton Rose Fulbright: “We have a phone-in clinic, where once a month, each trainee is assigned a particular client and given a bit of background ahead of the call,” one explained. “It’s then a case of interviewing them over the phone to find out more, before putting together a letter of advice.” While the cases can be tricky, the consensus was that it’s well worth the effort: “These situations can be quite difficult or harrowing, but they are very rewarding. You can often feel like you are the only person that has properly listened to them up to this point.” Other pro bono projects include a partnership with Save the Children, and work with Safe Passage helping people in Ukraine to safely flee the conflict.

Depending on the team, the general requirement is that trainees will be in the office two days a week, “but there is a bit of an expectation that it will be more than that.” Prospective trainees should be aware that hours at the firm are not for the faint-hearted. Our survey stats indicate that trainees worked significantly higher hours than the market average. “A good week would be finishing at about 7pm,” said one insider. “During a bad week, I had a few 12am finishes, sometimes even later, and sometimes consistently.” Another trainee agreed: “It can be intense. There is generally the expectation that you will be available at all hours.” But this was balanced with the fact that “the firm is good at recognising this." The firm runs a scheme called Simply Thanks, which happens every quarter.  You are nominated by a supervisor or manager, and you can get either £100, £250 or £500 as a thank you. The starting salaryof £48,500 is roughly in line with other large commercial firms in the City. It rises to £105,000 for NQs.

As trainees approach qualification, NRF has a handy traffic light system that is released before the list of NQ positions is made available. “It’s a simple red, amber or green, depending on whether a team is hiring, thinking about hiring, or not hiring at all,” one explained. “So, you can get a sense of which teams will or won’t recruit.” At the application stage, candidates can apply for as many teams as they want, although sources did flag that the firm prefers you to have some experience in that team. “Theyconsider the reputation you had in the team and which partners back you. But it’s based on business need, so there are no guarantees that a seat will be there.” Whether or not there will be subsequent interviews or assessments depends on the department, but neither are unheard of. In 2023, the firm did not disclose its retention statistics.

It's the little things: “We’ve got subsidised food and the gym around the corner offers discounted membership as well, which is really helpful.”

How to get a Norton Rose Fulbright training contract

  • Training contract deadline: 7 July 2024
  • Winter vacation scheme deadline: 13 October 2023
  • Summer vacation scheme deadline: 18 February 2024
  • First Year Open Days deadline: Please visit website
  • Business Legal Operation Graduate Scheme deadline: 2 January 2024
  • Solicitor Apprenticeship Programme (London) deadline: 18 February 2024
  • Paralegal Apprenticeship Programme (Newcastle) deadline: 18 February 2024

Trainee profile

Norton Rose Fulbright requires prospective trainees to have obtained a minimum AAB at A-level and a 2:1 degree, though like many firms it takes extenuating circumstances into consideration, and also utilises a contextualised recruitment tool. Early Careers Manager Philippa Wilson tells us that a global mindset is highly valued: “We really want people who would like to work for a global law firm and make the most of the opportunities it brings, such as completing a secondment, either internationally or at one of our clients – a flexible approach is important.”

The firm targets a range of UK universities each year: while typically the firm works closely with university careers services and societies on targeting careers events, they will continue to attend more generic virtual law fairs, ensuring they are reaching a wide demographic of students. They will also be hosting a range of more bespoke events. 

The vacation scheme

The firm runs three vacation schemes each year: a two-week programme in winter and two programmes in the summer. There are up to 60 places available across the three schemes, and candidates are paid £450 per week. Around 2,000 people apply for the vacation scheme every year. We're told 80% of the most recent trainee intake have completed the scheme.

Applications for the vacation scheme begin with an online form that allows applicants to fill in their work experience and academics, accompanied by a covering letter. “We're looking at the skills and qualities which an individual can bring to the practice, along with a genuine interest in and awareness of commercial issues,” our trainee recruitment sources say. “Accurate spelling and grammar are essential too.”

After an initial screen, candidates who impress will be invited to complete an online psychometric test, and if they pass this they will then be invited to a telephone interview, all prior to the assessment day.

Vac schemers spend their visit in one department, sharing an office with an associate or a partner. They're also assigned a trainee buddy. In the past, attendees have completed drafting assignments, attended meetings, sat in on conference calls and undertaken research tasks. “Get to know as many people as you can here – the partners in particular,” advised one of the firm's current trainees.

The training contract application process

Around 1,000 people apply directly for Norton Rose Fulbright's training contract each year. The form is exactly the same as the one for the vacation scheme. Applications for the training contract open from 27 May to 7 July 2024 and are for students in their final years and graduates of all subjects.

“We expect to see some legal work experience from our training contract applicants,” says Wilson. “You don't have to have completed our vacation scheme or one at another firm, but you do need to show commercial experience.” She goes on to explain: “We're client-facing and place a huge emphasis on teamwork, so if you've taken part in something like sport, drama or volunteering, we want to hear about that too.”

The firm invites the strongest applicants to an assessment day that involves an interview with two partners, an individual case study, and a group negotiation exercise. The interview aims to test an applicant's motivations for joining Norton Rose Fulbright, their commitment to the law and their commercial knowledge. Meanwhile, the assessment and exercise aim to measure critical thinking, commercial awareness, and how well someone works as part of a team.  There is no way to prepare for these exercises, so it’s a great way to test how you think on your feet and interpret the information in front of you.

Assessment centres continue to be virtual, but they are still very thorough. “It is quite a full-on day, but we've deliberately designed it to be like that,” our sources tell us. “We want to give people a real impression of what we're like as a business, and we want to see how they respond to that.”

Norton Rose Fulbright

3 More London Riverside,

3 More London Riverside,

Firm profile

We provide the world’s preeminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have more than 3,700 lawyers and other legal staff based in Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.

Recognised for our industry focus, we are strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare. Through our global risk advisory group, we leverage our industry experience with our knowledge of legal, regulatory, compliance and governance issues to provide our clients with practical solutions to the legal and regulatory risks facing their businesses.

Wherever we are, we operate in accordance with our global business principles of quality, unity and integrity. We aim to provide the highest possible standard of legal service in each of our offices and to maintain that level of quality at every point of contact.  

Main areas of work

Our London office delivers domestic and multi-jurisdictional legal services to corporates, financial institutions, governments and other public sector organisations. We excel across a range of legal practices, including corporate, M&A and securities; banking and finance; dispute resolution and litigation; real estate; antitrust and competition; tax; employment and labour; intellectual property; regulation and investigations; and risk advisory. We also advise on US law, and we have a world leading Islamic finance practice. We are particularly well-known for our focus on industry sectors and are strong in financial institutions, including insurance; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare.

Who should apply/Trainee profile

There’s no progress more vital than what you’ll experience on our training contracts. Over two years – broken into four six-month seats – you’ll hit all kinds of new firsts with us, big and small. You’ll explore new areas, for instance. Each seat will take you through different sectors and practice areas, with compulsory seats in both banking and corporate. One of your seats will almost certainly be on secondment too – your first encounter with working in a new country, or maybe six months spent working in a client office. As you move from one milestone to the next, you’ll have a sizeable team at your back. A partner mentor to turn to and to learn from. A trainee buddy to teach you the ropes. And the whole trainee development team, to keep you on track from day to day.

An impeccable academic record and intellectual rigour are prerequisites. We expect successful candidates to have at least AAB at A level (or equivalent) and be on track for a 2:1 (or equivalent).

You’ll have an enquiring mind, strong interpersonal skills, and the motivation to make constant progress. You’ll never stop pushing yourself forward, grasping every opportunity – both at home and abroad – that our firm has to offer. You’ll be interested in business too, and keen to build relationships within a firm that’ll help you make progress with purpose. 

Training Programme

We offer up to 50 training contracts each year across two intakes.

For both our March 2026 and September 2026 intakes, all finalists and graduates of any subject should apply from the 27th May to 7th July, once they have received their final year grades.

At Norton Rose Fulbright we look for intelligent, ambitious, internationally focused and commercially-minded individuals to drive our business. We will expect you to think creatively and find new ways to solve problems. We expect our trainees to deliver work that meets the highest professional, ethical and business standards for our clients. All applicants must have achieved at least AAB in their A levels or equivalent and be on course to achieve (or to have achieved already) a 2.1 degree or above. 

Our mentoring scheme will help you make the most of the incredible depth of knowledge and experience across the organisation. Your mentor will offer you everything from career insights to resolving any concerns you may have.

Working together
We pride ourselves on our supportive culture that thrives on collaboration and encourages networking with your trainee colleagues, lawyers and partners. You will also help to choose - or become - one of two trainee representatives. These meet once a quarter to provide feedback, raise concerns and generate ideas to ensure your training contract is a rewarding experience.

Your development
When we hire you, we are making an investment. We ensure we all get the maximum return on this by providing the highest standards of training. Becoming an outstanding lawyer is about continuous development - we will make sure you are challenged and rewarded in equal measure.

Work placements

Finding the place you want to start your career is a moment you’ll always remember, and that’s exactly the kind of insight we offer on our vacation schemes. Whether you’re with us virtually or in person, we pack a lot into these four schemes. You’ll network with colleagues, attend talks with some of our leading lawyers, join exciting workshops, and even present group projects on legal issues. It’s a lot of new ground to cover, but if you want to understand what it’s really like to work here, nothing else comes close.

First-year opportunities

Everyone remembers the first day they walked through the doors of their future firm. For many of our lawyers, that happens on our First Year Open Day, a day designed to give all first year undergraduates of all degree subjects (and second years of a 4 year course) a taste of life at a global law firm. This is a great opportunity to make a first impression, talk to our trainees and partners, and learn about the culture of Norton Rose Fulbright, determining if law is the career for you. 

Vacation Schemes

Finding the place you want to start your career is a moment you’ll always remember, and that’s exactly the kind of insight we offer on our vacation schemes. The scheme will involve interactive sessions with senior stakeholders, group and individual assessments, engaging workshops, as well as a Partner Supervisor and trainee buddy to support you throughout the week. There will also be a training contract interview on the last day. Our vacation schemes offer you an unparalleled insight into the life, work and culture of who we are, giving you the chance to see if we are the firm for you. 

Business & Legal Operations Graduate Scheme

The delivery of legal services is changing. This doesn't just involve the emergence of new technology, it involves the increasingly crucial role played by other technical disciplines in providing more complex and sophisticated client solutions, and optimising our performance as a business.

Our Business and Legal Operations Graduate Scheme is a two year programme encompassing every aspect of the rapid changes currently underway in the delivery of high end legal services. This two year programme will mirror our traditional training contract for new lawyers, but with a focus on different disciplines, including innovation, commercial management, and legal product design. This is an exciting opportunity for those who want to progress and be at the forefront of driving our business strategy in the years to come. 

Apprentice Programmes

Have you thought about law? Are you worried about the costs of university or put off by how competitive it is to obtain a job once you graduate? Perhaps you are simply keen to get into the world of work and start building a career. If so, our Apprenticeship Programme might be for you.

We have two Apprentice Programmes; a Solicitor Apprentice Programme in London, after which you will obtain an LLB degree and become a qualified solicitor, and a Paralegal Apprentice Programme based in our Newcastle office, which upon completion you will achieve a Level 3 Apprenticeship Certificate of Higher Education.

Our Apprentices will work alongside and learn from some of the brightest minds in their field, helping to solve some of our clients' most complex legal and business problems while learning the academic and practical skills needed to excel as a lawyer. Both programmes start in September 2022, and we are looking for lawyers of the future - enterprising, digitally minded individuals with the intellectual curiosity and aptitude needed to thrive in our legal business. 

Application details


Training contract
If you are a finalist or graduate (of any subject) you should apply from 4th March – 7th April 2024.

Vacation schemes
Our Winter Vacation Scheme is for penultimate year students, finalists and graduates from law and non-law subjects. Applications will open from 11th September –13th October 2023 and virtual assessment days will be held in November.

Our Summer Vacation Schemes are for penultimate year students, finalists and graduates from law and non-law subjects. Applications will open from 5th January – 4th February 2024 and assessment days will be held in March / April. 

First Year Open Days
First-year undergraduates and those in the 2nd year of a four year course may apply for our First Year Open Days, which will take place in March and April. For more information of how and when to apply please visit our website. 

Business & Legal Operations Graduate Scheme
If you are a finalist or graduate (of any subject) you can apply from 6th November to 9th January 2024. Assessment centres will be held in February 2024.

Apprentice Programmes
We run two Apprentice programmes; one in London for aspiring Solicitors and one in Newcastle for Paralegals. Both programmes are open for all final year A Level students or school leavers to apply, with applications opening from 6th November – 18th February 2024. Assessment centres will be held in April 2024. These programmes are not open to candidates who are already studying at university. 

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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 5)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 5)
    • Environment & Climate Change (Band 2)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
    • Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 2)
    • Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 5)
    • Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: £150 million and above (Band 4)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 1)
    • Aviation (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 1)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining: International (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 2)
    • Projects (Band 2)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
    • Shipping (Band 3)
    • Tax: Contentious (Band 4)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)

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