Like the beef in a burrito, this Bristol-founded firm's tech work gets a lot of attention; but this training contract is filled with much more goodness, and we're not talking about guac.
Osborne This Way
“It’s fate. It’s destiny. We both like burritos.” This is not an Osborne Clarke trainee reflecting on how much they love their firm – though it could be. These are actually the words of Seth Cohen, protagonist of 2000s teen drama The OC. Orange County is known for its low-key way of life on the US West Coast. This OC (Osborne Clarke) is headquartered in London, but it was founded in Bristol, and with its 'West Coast' vibe trainees feel it strikes the right balance: “On our very first day we had a talk from the training principal and she said, ‘The first two pieces of advice I’ll give you are: one, take all your holiday and, two, have a life outside work.’”
But first, business. OC operates in eight core sectors: energy, financial services, life sciences and healthcare, real estate, recruitment, retail, transport, and digital business. It was the firm’s expertise in the last of these “that was quite attractive and really exciting” for many trainees we spoke to. “When I was looking at training contracts, the firm had just been instructed by Beats for its acquisition by Apple.” More recently the firm advised games studio Ninja Theory on its sale to Microsoft. Other tech clients include Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, Dell and Vodafone.
“… an international reach.”
OC's prowess is further exemplified by its Chambers UK rankings, which range from national recognition for AIM capital markets, venture capital and media work to London nods for mid-market real estate and corporate M&A. It's also seen as a national leader outside London for corporate, banking, employment and litigation, and shines brightest in the South West with a terrific ten top rankings. In addition, the firm is one of few firms in the Bristol market with international reach; none have as many offices as OC. It has 24 bases overseas, with plenty of strength in Europe. Among the three sites in the UK, Bristol and London both recruit about ten trainees per year while Reading takes three.
Osborne To Be Wild
For their first seat, newbies get a list of seat options and submit five preferences. They then meet with HR midway through each seat to get an idea of where they want to go next. The happiest trainees said being “frank and upfront” is the best approach: “I felt I could be quite honest about what I had and hadn’t enjoyed.” Where it isn’t possible for trainees to get exactly what they want, the firm sometimes offers split seats. Trainees did want more notice on which department they were going to next – “we found out about a week before rotating.” The firm prefers everyone to do a stint in either corporate, banking or real estate, but some trainees reckoned: “In practice there’s a bit of wiggle room.”
In corporate trainees might go into either M&A or private equity (London also has an equity capital markets option). In M&A, trainees work on share sales, venture capital, investment rounds and “traditional M&A deals” on both the buyer and seller side. London lawyers recently worked with colleagues in Amsterdam to advise the owners of Dutch digital company MediaMonks on its £300 million sale to marketing firm S4 Capital. Meanwhile Bristol lawyers advised renewable energy trust TRIG on its £82 million acquisition of an onshore wind farm project in Scotland. Trainees described having “a lot of control over the due diligence report, liaising with different specialist teams” for internal project management, as well as drafting board minutes and written resolutions. There's also “a lot of contact with the other side to negotiate ancillary documents.” Reading trainees commonly work on the same deals as their London counterparts, travelling to the capital for completions and sometimes staying overnight.
OC private equity lawyers in London recently advised Tenzing Private Equity on both its acquisitions of car video tech company CitNOW and bus ticketing provider Ticketer. On the seller side, both London and Bristol advised the National Exhibition Centre on its £815 million sale to Blackstone, while London lawyers advised sex toy business Lovehoney on an investment from private equity investor Telemos. “On a deal where the client is buying a company, I’m assisting with due diligence, reviewing ancillary documents, participating in conference calls, and possibly negotiating with opposing lawyers on ancillary documents,” one source reported. A trainee’s role may differ on the seller side and involve “assisting with the disclosure process and drafting ancillary documents like board minutes and written resolutions.”
Osborne To Be Filed
OC’s banking team acts for both borrowers and lenders on matters including syndicated lending, acquisition finance and private equity transactions. On the lender side London lawyers acted for Santander in the £22 million financing of The Royal Yacht Hotel on Jersey, while Bristol lawyers recently advised a Swindon contract staff agency as it borrowed £11 million from Lloyds as part of a restructuring. Like in M&A, trainees described their role in banking as one of project management, and additionally highlighted multi-jurisdictional work as one of the perks.
“Sewage was cascading into people’s homes…”
London’s real estate team does predominantly commercial work while Bristol also has a residential side, working with large housebuilders like Barratt, Galliford Try and Taylor Wimpey. Bristol also recently advised CBRE on the £62 million sale of a portfolio of seven industrial estates to Knight Frank Investors and helped Marks & Spencer open a new branch in St Helens. London advised property developer U+I on the £66 million refinancing of its mortgage of seven shopping centres. The teams work quite separately from each other, as one Bristol trainee noted: “My work has been everywhere but London.” Residential work sees trainees “reviewing agreements, draftinglicences and renewing leases,” plus assisting on the transfer of land – “with smaller pieces of land trainees are effectively allowed to run the file.” In London, trainees “deal with all post-completion tasks. Once a lease been signed, you do the registration process with the Land Registry.” Trainees reported “absolutely loads” of client contact from the get-go, and one trainee really rose to the occasion: “Sewage was cascading into people’s homes and we needed to find out the obligations of different landowners – our client was one. I was going through files that stretched back years!”
OC’s commercial litigation team handles corporate disputes, often in the technology, energy and projects sectors, but trainees described clients as wide-ranging as retailers and Russian shareholders. London lawyers recently acted for Dell, which was seeking £2 million and facing a £15 million counterclaim from its Moroccan distributor. They also advised Western Power Distribution (WDP) as it sought £3.8 million in damages from a Norwegian ship owner, when the anchor of a passing ship severed WPD’s undersea cable linking Land’s End to the Isles of Scilly. The firm also has a “burgeoning” data breach practice – the team recently acted for Yahoo on various UK issues connected to some global data security incidents.Research and “trips to court to file things” are prominent trainee tasks, as is document disclosure. “I was going through documents working out what I thought was relevant to the dispute and what wasn’t,” one trainee explained. Trainees might also draft witness statements, and while there's less client contact than in other seats, opportunities do crop up. “We were looking at how our client could separate two companies,” one source told us. “I had a lot of long meetings with the client going over how the business had been run for the past ten years.” Trainees can also do contentious seats in construction disputes and property disputes.
“I myself am contacting OC France and OC Germany.”
The commercial team advises on agreements across a range of sectors and jurisdictions. For example, it recently helped car leaser Leaseplan review its contractual framework for the leasing of vehicles to Amazon’s UK delivery network. It also advised Eversholt Rail Group on its collaboration with French rail company Alstom for the development of a hydrogen-powered train. This “research-heavy seat” has partners with various specialisms including data protection, IT, outsourcing, and artificial intelligence. Trainees had also worked for food clients with “advertising queries about labelling, like what gluten percentage a product has to have to be gluten-free.” There's lots of collaboration with the corporate team: “Trainees get involved in due diligence for corporate deals, so you quickly learn how to get around a contract.” There's an international slant to the work too: “I myself am contacting OC France and OC Germany and building relationships.”
On your Clarkes, get set, go!
At present OC doesn't offer overseas seats, but given the firm's 25 international offices, trainees wanted to see a more formalised overseas seat programme. “OC prides itself on being in these key jurisdictions, so it’d be interesting to go out there and see how things are being developed.” one felt, before admitting: “Mainly because I’d like to go to San Francisco.” There are rolling client secondments with a mix of businesses.
The firm’s ‘core hours’ are 9.30am to 5.30pm (or 9-to-5 in Bristol), and London trainees commented that “it’s very unusual if you see people in the office past 7pm.” Busy times in commercial litigation, corporate and projects saw some 11pm finishes though (and at least one instance of 3am in corporate), but trainees felt their hours meant “you actually get a chance to spend your money.” First-year trainees are paid between £38,000 and £43,000 (with London at the higher end). Reading and London trainees are paid the same salary, but on qualification London overtakes Reading, which was the only salary grumble we heard: “Why would I work in Reading when I could get paid more in London?”
“I reckon a lot of the London trainees think they’re working harder,” one interviewee teased, “but I don’t think it’s true at all!” Sources suggested more people in Bristol and Reading “leave to pick up kids from school and log back on later.” This leads to some “alternative” socialising, like office lunches every quarter. There's also a cross-office summer party with a festival theme: “We find a manor house with a field and set up a stage with music. We even had an inflatable assault course!” Picture the partners lolloping down an inflatable racecourse and “it’s fair to say the parties are casual – there’s no heavy networking.” The European offices get an invite as well, but networking is more likely to take place on the football pitch than in a meeting room.
Renovations in the London office were keeping trainees on their toes at the time of our calls: “As I speak I can hear hammering upstairs!” One benefit of the now finished refurb is “you don’t have people’s little soy sauce sachets and shoes lying around – we’ve now all got lockers, which sounds like school but they’re modern and shiny.” A hot-desking set-up means “the managing partner sits alongside the PAs. And as a result I don’t feel any qualms about challenging things if I think something could be done differently.” Managing partner Ray Berg was another “definite draw” for a couple of trainees we spoke to. “He’s the son of a cab driver and has worked his way up. He’s very outspoken about diversity.”
“...fantastic for letting trainees run with ideas.”
Trainees mentioned active diversity groups such as OC Gender and OC Pride. OC BAME is only in its second year but it’s off to a strong start – it’s piloting a mentoring scheme: “I mentor a student from SOAS along with a partner.” The idea for the scheme came from one of the trainees, and interviewees felt the firm is “fantastic for letting trainees run with ideas.” Another arranged a spin challenge to raise money for Smart Works, a charity that coaches unemployed women into work.
Bristol is probably going to get its own refurb down the line, but the firm should take away the canteen at its peril: “It’s the best thing about the office. There’d be outrage!” There’s also a beehive on the balcony of this environmentally conscious office, and “we’ve swapped from tea bags to loose-leaf tea,” which is, as everyone knows, the superior form.
OC’s strong retention rates reassured trainees: in 2019 it kept 18 of 20 qualifiers.
How to get an Osborne Clarke training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 15 January 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
Training contract deadline (2022): 15 January 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
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,” 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.
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.
Interview with training principal Catherine Wolfenden
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights or significant developments from the last year that you’d like our student readers to know about?
Catherine Wolfenden: The firm headlines are that we’ve had another great year of growth with revenue increasing 11% on 2017/18. We continue to invest in our people and infrastructure – we’ve just completed a complete refurbishment of our One London Wall head office giving our people and clients a fabulous modern workspace.
We're growing our firm and have recruited to provide strength and depth in some of the key areas where we excel, including our financial services payment practice and across service lines that advise clients in technology, media, and the communications sectors.
We also invest to ensure all our lawyers understand how transformative tech is changing our clients' sectors. We combine our award-winning digital expertise with our deep knowledge and understanding of sectors to support our clients at all stages of their ongoing digital transformation.
I think the message for students thinking, ‘Would Osborne Clarke be a great home for me?’ is that the firm continues to grow in areas where we think we have great potential.
CS: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve over the next few years?
Catherine: We want to be the go-to firm for our clients that are looking to transform their businesses through technology. What really makes us standout is that we bring specialist skills and knowledge of new technologies that are transforming business as well as a long history of working across key sectors. We work in partnership with our clients to support their business strategies as they change and evolve.
We continue to invest in our people and we have a people development programme for lawyers at every stage of their careers. Our lawyers have a clear idea of what they need to do to progress and open discussions with line managers to discuss their ambitions.
We’ve just launched a new career path and destination role called Legal Director, which is an alternative to partnership. We spend a lot of time investing to support the diverse community of people we have in the firm. It's hugely important we ensure everyone can be themselves and achieve their full potential. We want Osborne Clarke to be representative of the world outside and that's why we focus on being an inclusive employer.
We continue to invest in growing our international offices to support growth on our international platform as well here in the UK.
CS: Is the firm planning any office openings in the near future?
Catherine: We’re always looking at markets where our clients need us to be. We have international offices across Europe, three offices in the US, four in Asia and a strong 'best friend' firm network globally. At this stage, we don't have an office opening to announce, but our International Board regularly discuss scale and reach.
CS: We asked last year whether Brexit was affecting the firm or clients’ businesses in any way. What challenges or opportunities do you foresee Brexit posing for the firm?
Catherine: Brexit is a principal business risk at the moment. It’s may well be the biggest political change in a generation. The uncertainty is causing clients to think twice or three times about investment decisions. Certainly we’re supporting in-house legal teams to understand the potential impact on their supply chain, employment strategy and in relation to the potential change in regulations and regulators. Looking at Brexit as an opportunity, we can help support our clients in a time of change and ensure their response to Brexit is a success.
CS: Are there any plans to grow trainee numbers?
Catherine: One of the key pillars of our business strategy is our people. We need to factor in the SRA changes around SQE and work experience qualification periods. We need to look at how we can use that change to develop our training offering to ensure Osborne Clarke is an even more attractive choice for those looking to qualify in the profession. We continue to grow the firm and obviously organic growth is massively important, but I think it's likely trainee numbers will continue to increase as the firm grows.
We’re also just about to expand our solicitor apprentices programme; we’ve got two currently and will have four more joining us in September. We are really enthusiastic about the programme because it offers us the chance to work with a cohort of people considering a career as a commercial lawyer at an earlier stage.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
Catherine: It sounds so cliché to talk about culture, but there is something really special about Osborne Clarke as a place to work. We consistently have feedback from colleagues, new joiners and clients alike about how collegiate we are. We celebrate that everybody is different and we support our lawyers to be the best they can be.
People develop at different speeds and everyone has different strengths. The legal sector is competitive and new joiners expect firms to offer than just the day job, so we encourage them to get involved with our CSR programme, pro bono opportunities, our sustainability group and social life.
If you like engaging with people and can take ownership of getting involved with things you will thrive at Osborne Clarke.
Osborne Clarke LLP
2 Temple Back East,
One London Wall,
- Partners 270+
- Associates 850+
- Total trainees 45
- UK offices Bristol, London, Reading
- Overseas offices: 24
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start 15 January 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open 1 November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline 15 January 2020
- 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
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, London, Reading
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- 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 1)
- 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 (Band 2)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives Recognised Practitioner
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 5)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 3)
- 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 2)