Charlotte Erskine is the graduate talent and DEI manager at Bristows. She is based in London and has been at the firm for three years.
My favourite part of the calendar is qualification because it’s such a big milestone to work towards. It’s exciting to see everything come together for trainees who we have seen grow and develop professionally throughout law school and their two years of training with the firm. It’s lovely to see them achieve their dream job at the firm.
At Bristows, we run one-day workshops instead of vacation schemes. These are classroom based and focus on the firm’s IP specialism. In 2021, we are running four workshops in the winter – two of those are tailored to scientists and engineers and the other two are tailored towards undergraduates from a range of degrees, including law, humanities and business.
We will also be running a first-year specific workshop next summer, which will offer a glimpse into IP law. So, there will be five workshops running across the 2021-22 recruitment cycle.
They will remain online because we found that the virtual events offer greater accessibility for candidates who don’t live near London, and it’s great to have people attend from wherever they’re based. We received positive feedback from the virtual sessions in 2020 as candidates still finished the workshops with a sense of the Bristows culture and the type of work our lawyers do through the case study and networking sessions.
We view the workshops as a positive experience for aspiring lawyers interested in training with Bristows to engage with, but it is not a direct feed through to training contract interviews, so we do treat them separately.
In the past we did connect them quite closely but have found that by opening them to younger year groups it became much more of a learning process as opposed to an assessment process.
So, while it is positive to engage with, it is not a requirement to then be considered for a training contract, and it will not put candidates at a disadvantage if they have not attended one because our assessment process is separate now.
The workshops usually start with a general introduction to Bristows, our strategy and how the firm operates as a full-service firm with a large IP practice.
Candidates on the workshop will then have the chance to go through a case study, which is run by associates and is often patent- or brand-focused. The case study is very interactive and offers the chance to talk through potential solutions in the same way you would explore options as a lawyer. Attendees who have not studied law yet will be given all the information they need to be able to take part, so there’s no need to do any background reading before you attend.
It’s interesting for the candidates to work in groups in the same way they would with colleagues at the firm. The case study topics reflect past matters that our litigators have worked on with clients, so it’s a very realistic task to take part in.
It’s important that applicants share an alignment of interest with what the firm has to offer – our IP practice is a large part of the training experience so we expect candidates to have some interest in this area. Candidates must also demonstrate an understanding of the commercial issues in our key sectors – life sciences and technology – and how this might impact the firm as a business, its clients and the industry.
More generally, we expect candidates to have good communication skills, problem-solving abilities, an inquisitive mind and confidence sharing ideas. We really value curiosity in our trainees, the desire to ask lots of questions and an interest in exploring their own ideas rather than just being expected to follow the ideas of their peers.
Finally, as Bristows is a full-service firm, we do appreciate candidates who bring an open mind to their training experience. Some of our trainees have qualified into practice areas they never dreamed of pursuing when they joined the firm, but having an open mind throughout their training allowed them to see new interests develop while at the firm.
We expect the group that we are recruiting now – our 2024 cohort – to be the first to qualify through the SQE. However, we imagine this may be a mixed cohort if we recruit candidates who have already started the PGDL/LPC route to qualify.
The process remains fairly similar to what we are doing now. So, we will still have a PGDL and LPC equivalent, which we expect to include SQE preparation as well. While we do not yet have firm decisions on the timings, we hope that most of the SQE will be front-loaded so our trainees do not have any added pressure of taking exams in the middle of their training period.
We will still be bringing candidates in to do a full two years of training with the firm because we believe it is beneficial not only for their experience, but also so they have enough time to see different parts of Bristows and consider as many qualification options with the firm as possible.
Applications that come across as generic are not going to win graduate recruitment (or the partners) over. It’s quite easy to find the unique points about the firm, whether it’s our culture, values, or the sector focus. Applications must be firm-specific to stand out because competition for an intake of 10 trainees is very high.
Absolutely – a lot of candidates underestimate non-legal work experience and are disadvantaged because they don’t include it on their application. We are not expecting trainees to start with years of legal experience because it is an entry-level position. However, we are keen to see evidence of transferrable skills, so if you work in customer service, for example, think about how the skills you’ve developed in that role can be transferred to client interactions in a law firm.
Bristows started working from home a week before the government announced the UK’s official lockdown. There was lots of support on offer; the firm provided us with an allowance to buy desks and screens to ensure we were all working safely and comfortably, rather than from the kitchen table.
Trainees received a lot of extra support from their supervisors and the wider trainee committee. We had a cohort start in the midst of lockdown and they’ve responded well to the additional check-ins that the firm implemented.
We also expanded our wellbeing initiative – it is a comprehensive offering, which includes financial, mental, community and physical wellbeing.
Bristows no longer attends university specific law fairs because we feel that it restricts our access to students and graduates who do not attend those universities. We are a small recruitment team, so providing as much information as possible through our website gives far wider access to the firm. We advise aspiring solicitors interested in a career at Bristows to attend our workshops, where they will be given the opportunity to ask lots of questions, network with our trainees and associates, and gain some hands-on experience through our case study exercises.
We do attend law fairs with organisations like Aspiring Solicitors as we can connect with a variety of students and graduates who have specified their interest in the firm. This makes our time with the attendees worthwhile, as we know they have done some initial research on Bristows and what the firm has to offer in a training contract.
I would encourage aspiring solicitors to research the firm’s sectors, so technology and life sciences, and start your research early to identify whether you will enjoy the work on offer at the firm. Bristows lawyers have a genuine interest in their work and the clients they work with and we want our future trainees to have that same interest as they train with us.
It would have to be Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits!