Culture – What Does It Matter?


I had thought about pursuing a legal career for quite some time before beginning the training contract hunting process. Having studied History and Politics (further evidence that Bristows does not exclusively recruit scientists), it seemed like a relatively natural progression. Following some work experience at a number of law firms and chambers, a few open days and speaking to people at various law fairs it was time to submit some applications (see Kate’s blog post on application advice from 26 September).

At this initial stage it was hard to separate the seemingly identical firms from one another. Of course, as I continued with my research, an interest in certain practice areas and industries developed and helped to whittle down the list. However, I was relatively naïve as to the different ways law firms approached their work, recruited and treated their applicants and then their eventual employees. Although culture was certainly a big factor informing my decision to apply to Bristows, I didn’t really appreciated just how important culture and ethos was to working life and helping to maintain motivation at work until I started my training contract. It’s hard to make a judgment on that based just on recruitment/marketing literature.

Having sat in Competition, Real Estate, Commercial IP/IT, placed on a secondment at a large IT company and now currently in the IP Litigation group with the best part of a year to go, I have been fortunate enough to have had exposure to a large cross-section of the firm. My experience so far has been fun and engaging but also challenging, with trainees here generally being given a lot of responsibility. I won’t go into detail about the ins and outs of my day-to-day life at Bristows but wanted to highlight just how unique I think the culture is here and how much of a big factor the office environment and the people should play when making decisions about which law firms to apply to. There are clearly a number of firms that will have collegiate, fun, supportive cultures, Bristows is just my experience.

At the risk of being too gushing, I have picked out a few examples of how I think Bristows has shown just how much it cares about its people being close and the effort management makes to create a supportive and inclusive culture:

1. The firm invited a leading advocate for Trans rights to come and speak at the firm about the challenges and opportunities for commercial businesses to advance these rights in the workplace. It was definitely the most well attended internal event that I have been to since I joined last September, with the majority of partners there leading the way. The commitment to diversity and creating an inclusive environment at all levels of the firm – if not completely clear beforehand – was made all the more prominent.

2. Bristows socials are a regular occurrence and there are opportunities for everyone to come together and get involved (usually with very high attendance rates): Film evenings (including themed nights for black history month and LGBT Awareness Week), BYOB canal cruises, karaoke evenings, cheese and wine nights, an array of sports teams, an all-day (and all-night for some) festival in the office, Halloween parties, formal dinner dances and of course monthly drinks and nibbles in the Hub (the staff common room/kitchen area) provided by the partners.

3. As a trainee you have so many people to talk to and get support from. Not including the associates who are always keen to give advice and support, we have: (i) May – Bristows’ amazing grad recruitment manager; (ii) an assigned supervisor in whatever seat you are in; (iii) a senior associate mentor; (iv) a training contract diary review partner; and of course (v) the other trainees.

Ultimately, Bristows is a great place to train and hopefully some of the examples above illustrate that. The partners and senior members of staff put a lot of time and effort into getting to know us on a personal level and encourage us to get to know them. Seeing how close those more senior to us are is also really motivating.

Again, the purpose of this post is not just to share my thoughts on life at Bristows but to stress just how much a law firm’s ethos can impact your training and the extent to which you will enjoy your work. As far as is possible, I would thoroughly recommend trying to meet as many people from the firms you are applying to as you can – be that at open days, law fairs, vacation schemes, workshops or other law firm events – after all, you do have to spend at least two years of your life with them.

Good luck