Osborne Clarke LLP - True Picture

Future-facing Osborne Clarke has a decidedly ‘unstuffy’ approach to practising law – a stance that pays dividends for trainee happiness across its UK network in Bristol, London and Reading.

Osborne Clarke training contract review 2021

The Firm

If you were to create a word cloud of OC’s homepage, it’s very clear which words would loom large. There are (at the time of writing) five mentions of the word 'digital', four variations of 'transform', a handful of appearances of 'strategy' and a few of 'evolve'. The message OC is putting out there is received loud and clear: this is a firm that’s gearing up for the future. It’s certainly a message and image that piqued the interest of many interviewees. “The tech focus was a big draw,” one confirmed, adding that “it does pervade everything we do. The OC solutions team are always presenting new ideas to clients, and the transition to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic has been very smooth.” Others were attracted by the firm’s track record of expansion: “It’s great to be with a firm that’s aspirational. While we started as a regional firm in Bristol, we have gone on to expand throughout much of the world.” Indeed, today OC boasts a network of nearly 1,000 lawyers spread across 26 offices worldwide.

“We are a leader in Bristol for sure.”

“Alongside CMS and Burges Salmon, we are a leader in Bristol for sure,” a source confidently declared, while another billed OC as “the top firm in Reading.” Their claims are largely supported by Chambers UK, which rates the firm highly as a national leader outside of London in a host of areas including corporate/M&A, banking, employment, and information technology. Across Bristol and Reading, OC picks up a clutch of 14 top rankings in most commercial areas of practice, including IP, corporate, banking, and real estate. In London, sources were humbler, reflecting that “we don’t yet have the resources to be considered a major player.” However, they remained assured of the firm’s ongoing ability to “attract high-quality work," as evidenced by top-bracket nods to the office’s mid-market real estate expertise, as well as its IP, employment, and corporate/M&A abilities.

Bristol and London take on a fairly even split of OC’s trainee pool, while the Reading office typically takes on around three newbies every year. Before starting, all trainees are provided with a list of the available seats in their office from which they are required to submit their top five preferences. It’s worth emphasising that while Bristol and London have largely similar offerings in terms of seats, Reading is more “limited to the core areas," sources pointed out. This includes seats in disputes, employment, commercial, corporate, banking, and property. We were also informed that moving offices between seats is "feasible but not too common" and done on a case-by-case basis. None of our interviewees reported any significant issues with the assignment system. One insider appreciated the “firm's personal approach to the process" and explained that "they take the time to meet with everyone for a proper chat.” However, there were some grumbles concerning “how late in the process you find out what your next seat will be.”

The Seats

Under OC’s disputes umbrella, you will find construction, regulatory, insolvency, IP disputes and employment litigation teams. Trainees can also opt to spend a stint within OC’s commercial litigation team, which “handles lots of cool stuff, including arbitrations, data protection issues and corporate disputes, often in the technology, energy and projects sectors." Clients include BB Energy Group, PWC, Vodafone, Dell and the master of mouth-watering food advertisements, Marks & Spencer. “You tend to have your own section of a case to manage,” sources explained, “which involves a lot of tracking documents, conducting research and acting as a point of contact for our overseas offices." We also heard of trainees in their second year drafting applications, witness statements and court orders. Recently the team represented BB Energy Group in a $130 million claim over oil-trading losses incurred from the liquidation of Moroccan oil refinery SAMIR.

The regulatory disputes team mainly focuses on product liability and public procurement cases – “a pressing subject in the current climate resulting from Covid-19,” as sources pointed out. Food and products are specialisms, but OC also handles health and safety crisis management. One trainee provided us with a rather vivid example: “If someone fell down a lift shaft in a shop and died, we would be called in to handle all the legal aspects.” On a less traumatising note, the firm recently represented Siemens Mobility as it secured a contract from London Underground to supply new trains (worth over £1.5 billion) for the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central lines. “Your responsibility can be limited on the basis that cases are incredibly technical," one insider told us. "However, the team is fantastic and they make an effort to include you as much as possible. I’ve sat in on strategy calls, attended hearings and drafted a lot of the correspondence to the other side.”

OC's projects group has three strands: energy, renewables and regulation; project finance; and construction. Insiders told us that incoming trainees should be mindful that most of the project finance work is done in London, while Bristol tackles most of the construction issues. “The projects team deals with large-scale developments such as hospitals and student accommodation, plus developments for the armed forces,” one source summarised, before adding: “We will take that project from its infancy in terms of investment, all the way through to construction, operation, management and refinancing.” Recently the team acted for EE on the £896 million Emergency Services Network project contract, which was designed to provide a next-generation communication system for the three emergency services and public safety users; advised fund Foresight Solar on a £245 million debt refinancing for a portfolio of solar assets; and represented private sector partner Equitix and Graham on a bid to build new student residences on the University of York’s East Campus.

“I was running the whole completion call with the directors of a big housing company!”

London’s real estate team focuses on commercial matters, while Bristol tackles a fair bit of residential work too, representing large housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey. In Bristol, the firm recently advised housing association Sovereign on setting up a joint venture with Crest to develop 1,200 homes, as well as a school and shops, on the outskirts of Bristol. In London, OC’s lawyers acted for private equity-backed Uncommon on its £80 million acquisition of Templar House in High Holborn (the former site of London Underground’s headquarters); they also advised Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs on the real estate due diligence aspects of a senior loan that was being provided to logistics group Logicor. Smaller transactions, “which can involve selling garden land for £10,000 to a residential buyer,” are also available for trainees to take charge of. On larger transactions, trainees may be “reviewing certificates of title on an energy deal,” drafting reports on title or even “running the whole completion call with the directors of a big housing company – scary but great experience!” The firm also has a smaller property litigation arm, which kept one trainee busy with lots of ‘right to light’ cases. "It's an archaic area of law where you have to serve and keep track of notices on every single interested party. It involves a lot of paper!" Recently, the team in London defended fund manager Foresight Group after one of its subsidiaries, Kent Solar, was accused of trespassing due to its placement of an electricity cable (across the River Medway) to connect its solar farm to the national electricity grid. The matter was settled on favourable terms.

“Your workload can be incredibly broad…”

OC’s commercial team has a wide remit and was flagged as one of the firm’s more popular seats by our insiders. “You have partners who focus on transport and energy; partners who focus on gaming and apps; retail; aviation; as well as advertisement and technology.” Aviation in particular was identified as a hot topic due to the impact of Covid-19 on the industry. However, other businesses have thrived under Covid-19, like Amazon: the firm recently worked with Leaseplan to review the contractual framework governing the purchasing, leasing and maintenance of delivery vehicles to Amazon's UK local delivery network. The department also acted for Eversholt Rail Group during its collaboration with Alstom to develop a new hydrogen-powered train. The future is now! “Your workload can be incredibly broad,” trainees emphasised; they were kept busy on everything from drafting sponsor agreements to reviewing supply contracts.

Trainee Life

OC makes its intentions clear on its website: ‘For us, stuffy stereotypes and fussy formality have been left in the past – where they belong. We push forward because we don’t have time for rigid hierarchies and inflated egos, but we make time for energy and ambition.’ This sounds pretty ideal to us, but how does this refreshing stance stand up to reality? Quite a lot apparently. “I have quite a loud, outgoing personality and I was conscious that I might not fit in the serious world of law, but everyone has been very willing to chat and make me feel welcome,” one relieved source relayed. To keep things casual, there's also "a dress for the day policy, so most people will be wearing jeans and a jumper,” another pointed out (although more formal attire is worn for client meetings and court visits, etc...). Our interviewees also expressed surprise at the willingness of senior members to train the firm’s junior members, as this trainee detailed: “I was recently tasked to review a certificate of title and add my comments. The partner took the time to go through the document page by page for a couple of hours to make sure I understood the task.”

In Reading, we were unsurprised to hear of a more intimate office environment. “We don’t have a high turnover of staff, so you tend to be the new person for a long time,” one insider pointed out, adding that “it means everyone is keen to check in on you all the time.” Some sources felt that social cohesion may be more limited in London where the office is spread over three floors compared to Bristol, “where we have the building to ourselves and our own atrium.” However, London sources felt their newly revamped cafe created ample mingling opportunities for everyone at mid-morning and lunchtime, remarking that "it's been great way of getting people to mix together from all the different floors." There are many opportunities to socialise outside the office too. We were told that “the banking team loves going for a beer after work" and that trainees have a budget to put on a social every six weeks (one of the last socials pre-lockdown was held at Bounce in Farringdon). There’s also an annual Christmas party (which, in the past, has been held at the Oxo Tower and the Hilton Hotel), a summer party and a variety of sports teams to join.

“It’s recognised that bad mental health comes from being overworked and under-supervised.”

Bringing it back to the style of supervision, our interviewees reflected that “they always want you to be busy, but never overworked. It’s recognised that bad mental health comes from being overworked and under-supervised.” Thankfully, sources were pleased to report that “by the standards of a City firm, it’s pretty good in terms of work/life balance.” One trainee expanded on this point: “I’m currently averaging 9am until 6.30pm. In transactional seats, you might be busy for a week and be in consistently late. For example, in banking I did around three of those weeks in a six-month period.” On the whole, there wasn't a huge discrepancy in hours between trainees in Bristol and Reading, with those working in London clocking in a handful of extra hours a week.

OC opts for a structured approach to qualification. One trainee provided a helpful breakdown: “We speak to HR about our preferences, which they then relay back to the business and provide a list of the jobs available. Typically, you’re required to do an application and go through an interview process with the head of the department." The resulting experience is "not overwhelmingly scary, and the firm makes an effort to keep everyone on.” True enough, OC's retention rate has been consistently decent over the years. 2020 proved no different, as all but one out of 23 qualifiers were kept on.

How to get an Osborne Clarke training contract


Vacation scheme deadline: 15 January 2021

Training contract deadline: 15 January 2021

Trainee profile 

Landing a training contract at OC is competitive business. Training principal Catherine Wolfenden tells us that the firm only interviews around 10% of the 1,500-plus candidates who apply each year. Trainees come from a mix of universities, and Wolfenden informs us that “those invited to interview have generally achieved a First or a 2:1 throughout their studies. They will also have given really strong answers to our competency-based questions.” As part of the firms commitment to social inclusion they also use the Rare Contextualised Recruitment System throughout the entire recruitment process.  

The firm is particularly welcoming to those with second careers. Among the current trainee intake are those with backgrounds in fields as varied as teaching, telecoms and the armed forces. Confidence is their unifying factor, Wolfenden tells us. “You need to be intelligent but also have the ability to hold your own in a room full of people you don’t know, including partners.” As our trainee sources added: “You also need to be very sociable, outgoing and willing to get stuck into everything.” 

Applications and assessments 

The firm now recruits almost only through its vac scheme (the direct route is for those who are unable to complete a vac scheme for practical reasons). Applications for spots begin with an online form and verbal reasoning test. Strong written communication skills and attention to detail are essential to pass these. 

Those who impress are invited to an assessment centre that involves a group exercise, written exercise and a formal interview. “It’s really about showing an interest in what the firm does and having done research beforehand,”  Wolfenden says. “We can tell which candidates are interested in the firm as their answers are tailored to our specialities and what we’re doing in the market.” The firm makes its vac scheme offers after this. 

Those who want to take their chances at applying directly for training contract complete the same online form as vac scheme applicants. If they pass the initial screening, they go on to participate in an assessment centre like the one detailed above, followed by a partner interview. 

Vacation scheme 

OC's Bristol, London and Reading offices each run a two-week summer vacation scheme. These run concurrently. Bristol and London each host around 15 students at a time, while Reading hosts five. Vac schemers split their time between two different departments and are assigned a trainee buddy each. Past attendees told us they'd got to grips with hands-on tasks and “actually assumed the role of a trainee solicitor.” The scheme tends to go easy on the social side, an approach our trainee sources appreciated at the time. “It’s nice to be wined and dined, but that’s not what it’s actually like as a trainee. Also, too many evening events can wear you out.” 

According to trainees, “the vac schemers who impress the most are the ones who make an effort to speak to people and ask as many questions as they want.” On the final day of their placement, vac schemers interview for a training contract with two partners.

Osborne Clarke LLP

2 Temple Back East,
Temple Quay,
Website www.osborneclarke.com

One London Wall,

  • Partners 270+
  • Associates 850+
  • Total trainees 45
  • UK offices Bristol, London, Reading
  • Overseas offices: 26
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Zoe Reid
  • Training partner: Catherine Wolfenden
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 25
  • Applications pa: 1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 35
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open:1st October 2020
  • Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 15th January 2021
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 15th January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £38,000 –£43,000
  • Second-year salary: £39,250 –£45,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £52,000 –£71,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £6,500
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Bristol, London, Reading
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile

Osborne Clarke LLP is an award-winning multinational law firm. The firm has grown rapidly, with 26 global offices and it is proud to say that its influence and impact can now be applied almost anywhere. The core sectors Osborne Clarke works in all thrive on innovation; digital business, energy, financial services, life sciences, real estate, retail, recruitment and transport. The firm’s sector teams include lawyers from all legal disciplines, effortlessly blending expertise, insight and enthusiasm. Crucially, they think sector-first, organising themselves around the current affairs and future challenges of the industries they serve, rather than traditional legal practice areas.

Main areas of work

Main areas of expertise include; banking and finance, business regulation, commercial, corporate, employment and benefits, litigation, pensions, projects, real estate, restructuring and insolvency and tax.

Trainee opportunities

Osborne Clarke’s high profile clients expect the firm to be brilliant, so they put a lot of effort into helping their people be the best they can throughout their careers — not just at the start of it. The firm fosters the brightest and the best, with class-leading training and development programmes, and a unique climate of learning and discovery for everyone. Osborne Clarke places value on individuals and respect their needs, motivations and choices. Workplaces are designed to promote collaboration, often featuring open plan structures that make it easy to fit-in, mix and get involved. Trainees will also find flexible and imaginative approaches to everyone’s work/life needs, with a connected infrastructure that is adaptive and tailored to bringing out the best in people. Trainees will complete four seats: corporate or banking, real estate or tax, litigation, and one other. In each seat, a senior lawyer will supervise their day-to-day progress and give trainees regular feedback, so they know how they’re doing. They’re there to help trainees up their game. Every three months, there will be a formal progress review to help trainees track their development. Osborne Clarke’s trainees get lots of responsibility. And they find that it’s what differentiates their training contracts from others.

Vacation scheme

Each of the firm’s vacation scheme placements runs for two weeks over the summer and offers a great opportunity for candidates to really get to know the firm. The placement follows a structured programme which allows candidates to spend time in two different departments and get involved in real client work. Beyond work there are plenty of social events organised by our trainees.

Other benefits

25 days’ holiday (plus a Christmas shopping day), pension, permanent health insurance, private medical insurance, life assurance, cycle to work scheme, employee assistance programme and season ticket loan.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Osborne Clarke’s two-day Insight Scheme for first-year law and second-year non-law students is designed to equip candidates with the tools needed to apply for the firm’s vacation scheme. The two-day programme, which runs over Easter, will give an insight into the firm from partners, trainees and the recruitment team, along with the opportunity to shadow one of the firm’s lawyers.

Social media

Twitter @OC_Trainee

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Contentious (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
    • Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 1)
    • Health & Safety (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Pensions Litigation (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Food (Band 3)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 2)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)

More from Osborne Clarke:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.

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