Osborne Clarke LLP - True Picture

The future's bright, the future's Osborne – technology's just one piece of the jigsaw at this Bristol-founded firm.

Technological marvel

As a superhero, Black Panther's pretty much the whole package: he's armed not only with enhanced strength and speed, but also has the advanced tech of his native Wakanda. The parallels with Osborne Clarke are obvious with its knack for all things tech and digital, advising clients like Facebook, Expedia and Vodafone, and its striking logo features a panther (an orange one, admittedly, but close enough). Tech work “comes hand in hand” with the Osborne Clarke name according to trainees: “We pride ourselves on that sector focus.”

But tech is not the only sector Osborne Clarke focuses on and this full-service firm has plenty of practice area depth too. It picks up top Chambers UK in Bristol for a host of areas including core practices like corporate, banking, real estate and litigation, and is recognised in London and UK-wide for a whole bunch of areas ranging from IT to asset finance and retail to financial services. The firm focuses on eight key sectors: digital business, energy and utilities, financial services, life sciences and healthcare, real estate and infrastructure, recruitment, retail and consumer, and transport and automotive. This mixture of breadth and focus seems to have paid off, as global revenue have doubled in the past five years from £112 million to £240 million. As for the next five, management has a 2020 and 2025 vision plan in place. Training principal Catherine Wolfenden tells us: “As the firm grows internationally, trainees will do more multi-jurisdictional work.”

OC was born in Bristol but London is now the HQ. It also has an office in Reading, just down the road from Microsoft, as well as 18 overseas offices including one in Silicon Valley and a recent addition in Shanghai. “They're trying to tighten links between us and the international offices,” observed one source, and our interviewees were used to working across the UK network already – “when we all come together everyone gets on really well.” Asked to pin down an OC type, one suggested: “We're all people who value hard work and get excited by the work Osborne Clarke does.”

At the time of our research Bristol was home to 19 trainees, London to 17 and Reading to five. Before starting, trainees submit five preferences for their first seat; after joining they discuss with HR “anything you definitely do or don't want” before each rotation. The majority were happy to say “the firm's usually good at taking your preferences into account when they can.” Everybody ideally does at least one seat in corporate or banking, one in real estate and another in disputes, though there's some flexibility. It's worth noting Reading only has six seat options (corporate, commercial litigation, commercial, banking, real estate and employment).

Sussex sells

Commercial is a popular pitstop as it's the place to go for the big tech/digital clients (including Facebook and Vodafone) that OC is known for and “trainees do a lot of really interesting work for them.” For example, the firm recently helped BT and EE's in-house teams during a judicial review of Ofcom's 5G auction awards. It's not all fancy gadgets and super-fast phones, though – Homebase and L'Oréal are also recent clients and the firm assisted Rush Hair on reorganising its franchise model. Typical trainee tasks include drafting advice notes and company policies, plus doing contract review. At the time of our research we heard that “the team was busy with GDPR – the trainees could have spent the whole seat doing just that but the firm recognised the importance of us getting a broad experience.” Cross-jurisdiction matters crop up quite a bit. For instance, the firm advised London-based AI outfit Cytora – which uses machine learning to model risk for the insurance sector – on licensing agreements with big US and Australian insurers. “A lot of the advice pieces I've contributed to involved 30-odd jurisdiction,” a trainee told us, “so I've worked a lot with the overseas offices.”

“I've worked a lot with the overseas offices.”

Commercial litigation is a seat in high demand – the firm handles national and international cases particularly for the energy, technology and financial services sectors. Arbitration also rears its jurisdiction-spanning head, which for one trainee meant “reviewing witness statements and having a go at drafting.” Across the board we heard the seat is “very research-heavy, but towards the end you move towards negotiating settlement agreements,” though a trainee pointed out: “Everything's checked before you send it.” Bundling is a “rite of passage.” BT recently called on the firm for a Court of Appeal case related to the requirement that Sky sells Sky Sports wholesale. Meanwhile OC Bristol acted for Northampton Borough Council in a case involving a football club and millions of pounds of allegedly misappropriated funding. Trainees can also sit in property litigation and construction litigation (in London). In the former “matters are smaller so trainees get to run more things themselves”– for instance right to light or landlord/tenant cases.

A stint in real estate itself involves “a lot of negotiating and agreeing documents.” Trainees get to run smaller matters like licences to assign and to alter themselves, “from setting fees to billing the client at the end.” Examples of bigger matters include the Bristol squad working for Marks & Spencer on the real estate affairs of more than 60 Simply Food stores, and the Reading team advising insurer Gryphon on its lease of the town's Forbury Works development. Trainees help out on these larger matters too. 

The projects team subdivides into construction, energy/environment and projects subgroups (yes, you read that right). Lawyers recently advised a solar energy provider on financing for a rooftop energy storage project, and helped Balfour Beatty with a bid to finance, design and build £200 million of new student housing at the University of Sussex. The work is “very technical,” but “really fascinating.” Why? The fact it involves property, financial and regulatory concerns means “you get a sense of the whole spectrum of what we do as a firm.”

Digital or nothing

Team corporate subdivides into M&A, private equity, and corporate finance (covering funds, payments and financial regulation). Trainees can do a seat in all three, and the London office also offers a seat in equity capital markets, while in Reading the sole option is M&A. The team is big and trainee tasks fairly low-level: drafting board minutes and ancillary documents, plus project management. Undaunted by this, interviewees relished “getting exposure to the whole deal so you understand how it all works.” Digital business is a corporate cornerstone, and OC recently advised the shareholders of HR software business Fairsail on its sale to industry giant Sage. Certain trainees “did less tech work and more on real estate and infrastructure,” while those in corporate finance reported “a mix of online payments and regulatory work. It can be quite complicated.”

If a smaller team's more your thing, competition might be just the ticket. The group deals with state aid and merger control. EE and News UK are both clients. Lawyers delve into “any issue which might trigger EU regulations.” Brexit means there's been “some concern about how things will change, but that's true of most departments and a lot of our work is at the national level.” Rookies get swift client contact, “updating them on new laws, as they're always changing.” One source shared: “The best thing about the seat is the work crosses a lot of different areas, which is brilliant for building general legal knowledge.”

“Relationships with a lot of new American West Coast funds.”

You might not associate banking with California sunshine, but OC's banking bods have built “relationships with a lot of new American West Coast funds. Working with them is a lot more fluid and reactive than the more traditional bank clients, where it's a bit like trudging through mud.” One source reported: “At times it was intimidating, but the client contact was really good and I got to draft security documents.” The team handles energy-related matters – for example, advising Oxford Capital Partners on the £78.8 million refinancing of a 17-company solar power portfolio – as well as tech work, acting for both borrowers and lenders.

There are opportunities for client secondments, advertised cross-office – trainees have previously spent time at media firms, investment funds and tech companies. We heard “there have been opportunities at every rotation, including some really cool ones.” When a particularly cool option attracts multiple applicants, they're interviewed first at OC then by the client. The firm's also piloted brief one or two-week stints in overseas offices.

Dancing in the moonlight

Struck by the positivity and energy buzzing around,” trainees remarked: “Everyone at the firm's excited about what they're doing. It's so far from any preconceptions I had about a law firm being stuffy.” Several brought up “a really good effort on transparency” as one of OC's big strengths, pointing towards regular briefings from managing partner Ray Berg and “a clearly set out progression from trainee to partner level.”

Sources also said there's “a real emphasis on work/life balance.” Working 9am to 6.30pm is an average day for most, but things “hugely vary by team and the project you're on – if you've got three big deals in one week you might not see daylight.” Corporate and other transactional areas are the worst offenders. “There can be peaks,” one source reflected. “I had a mad time towards the end of one month when I was having consistent midnight finishes, which was hard to deal with.”

Several interviewees said the open-plan layout of each office “feeds into the open, friendly atmosphere.” The canteen of the “pretty awesome” Bristol office is a common trainee lunch spot. London will also soon get its own on-site canteen following a “massive interior overhaul.” OC Reading has pioneered a hotdesking scheme where “everybody sits with their department but you can move around to be next to who you need.” There's also a drive towards paperless offices and remote working.

“Knowledge lawyers provide regular training.”

We heard that “in each department knowledge lawyers provide regular training,” often on woolly or complicated subjects like the 'digital revolution', artificial intelligence or cryptocurrencies. “The talks have been amazing and fill up whole boardrooms across consecutive days,” one trainee cooed. There are also dedicated Brexit updates, “filling us in on exactly what's going on without the taint of the media.”

Socialising at Osborne Clarke is mostly centred around sports (football, netball, softball) and drinking. “We're quite a sociable firm and it gets busier around Christmas,” trainees said. In Bristol “the 12 pubs of Christmas crawl has become tradition. It was started by a small group in property and now everyone's invited.” Trainees get a budget to spend on their own events, leading one to conclude: “They certainly keep us happy.”

Come April, trainees tell HR where they want to qualify, and then HR liaises with trainees' departments of interest – an interview is usually involved “if the position's contested.” There were some fears among our interviewees that a switch from spring and autumn intakes to just one big intake “might impact retention” in 2018, but their fears were proven unfounded as 18 of 20 qualifiers stayed on.

If a trainee can find an overseas air fare to a destination with an Osborne Clarke office cheaper than a London–Bristol return train ticket (£59.50 at the time of writing), they're entitled to visit that office.


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How to get an Osborne Clarke training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 15 January 2019

Training contract deadline (2021): 15 January 2019

Trainee profile

Osborne Clarke attends law fairs at 14 or so universities each year. The list changes from year to year, but the firm does have a core set that it always attends: Bristol, Exeter, Reading, Birmingham, Cardiff, UCL and Oxford all feature.

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 top and mid-range universities, and Wolfenden informs us that “those invited to interview have generally scored a First or a 2:1 throughout their studies. They will also have given really strong answers to our competency-based questions.”

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,” Catherine 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 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.

Interview with training principal Catherine Wolfenden

Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?

Catherine Wolfenden: As I'm speaking to you we're coming up to the end of our financial year and it's been a fantastic 12 months with unprecedented growth, as it was the previous 12 months. At Osborne Clarke our strategy has been to focus on key sectors and we've been successful as a result. We want to make sure our lawyers and staff are genuinely motivated and excited to work here.

CS: What sort of person thrives at Osborne Clarke?

CW: We're looking for people who are genuinely enthusiastic about the sectors we work within, and for people will be able to engage with clients from a business standpoint. At the same time, we want people who are fun to work with and are looking to make this workplace as diverse as possible. Just as our clients are diverse we want to be able to keep up with rapid change and bring in people who are aware of that. Culture is at the heart of everything we do here and it's why I'm most proud of working at Osborne Clarke. This is a place where people want to come into work, there's no Sunday night feeling.

CS: An OC women's network has been set up recently. Could you tell us about it?

CW: We need to live and breathe diversity in our firm, so we're looking at how we support women coming through to the senior stages of their career. This involves thinking about actually getting women into senior positions, as well as considering why some women don't stay on. The women's network puts in place a culture in which you will feel comfortable saying 'I want to take parental leave'; it creates a culture where women feel they can talk to their line managers to get the support they need to move forward and it serves as a clear visual statement that we're having these conversations. We've also appointed a full-time diversity and well-being manager, Su Akgun, who is bringing new ideas into the practice.

CS: Last year you told us the firm was pushing forward international growth. What will this mean for the trainee experience?

CW: Osborne Clarke as an international business is still in its infancy, we've only been in our current structure for five years. As that network grows and partners internationalise the clients we work with, trainees will do far more multi-jurisdictional work. The firm's taking on bigger mandates for bigger clients and when recruiting lateral partners we're ensuring they're able to develop their practice internationally.

CS: What makes an Osborne Clarke training contract distinctive to those offered by other firms?

CW: Ownership of matters. Trainees here are given the opportunity to engage with clients far earlier than at firms of our size and larger. With support from a great supervisor you're given opportunities to stretch yourself and get experiences that those at other firms won't enjoy until they're qualified. At Osborne Clarke we focus on the individual. Our trainees spend time with our personal development team to find out what seats would work best for them long-term.

CS: Agile working is offered across the firm, and is particularly a feature at the Reading office. What does it aim to do?

CW: The firm takes its time to make sure we feel empowered and there is a drive from the top down to make sure that we can work flexibly – right down to making sure every trainee and lawyer has a laptop. Flexible hours are offered across all the offices, and lawyers can work in any office. Reading is also a paperless office with no allocated desks; instead you have a locker to store your things. All of this allows you to consider what the client needs you to be doing: be that sitting with the corporate team, or deciding to meet with clients.

CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?

CW: I think it will allow firms to personalise their training contracts a bit more, while testing the same skill seats and ensuring trainees have as broad an experience as possible. Some of the technological developments coming through will mean that trainees will not only be excellent black letter lawyers but also more business focused.

We're already looking for business development skills, and will continue to look for people who appreciate that being a lawyer is a long-term career. It's not only about understanding clients' pressure but how you can support them with their problems and become a trusted advisor. Going forward we'll be making sure we recruit people who are not just intellectually at the top of their game but bringing in other things that make Osborne Clarke as good as it can be.

CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?

CW: I think there's a bit of a misconception that our UK structure is focused solely on London, and that Bristol and Reading lawyers and trainees are secondary, that's not true. Our trainees get the same quality of work no matter which office they're in.

A rough guide to Bristol

Find out more about living and working in beautiful Bristol here.

Osborne Clarke LLP

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

  • Partners 133
  • Associates 276
  • Total trainees 42
  • UK offices Bristol, London, Reading
  • Overseas offices: 25
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Zoe Reid
  • Training partner: Catherine Wolfenden
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 20
  • 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 1 November 2018
  • Training contract deadline, 2021 start 15 January 2019
  • Vacation scheme applications open 1 November 2018
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline 15 January 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £37,500-£42,500
  • Second-year salary: £38,750-£44,500
  • Post-qualification salary: £57,000-£70,000
  • 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 25 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, 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.

University law careers fairs 2018

Please visit our website for up-to-date information on events.

Social media

Twitter @OC_Trainee

Facebook osborneclarketrainee

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Planning (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • 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)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 5)
    • Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 1)
    • Health & Safety (Band 4)
    • Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • 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 3)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 2)
    • Retail (Band 3)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 3)