It's hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about Bristows. Indeed one insider says, “Sometimes everything is too 'nice'”. The firm itself makes a big play of providing a genuine balance between work and play, saying that it offers "quality of life without sacrificing quality of work." Most people seem to agree.
There will always be occasions at any firm where you'll have to burn the midnight oil, but they do seem to be pretty thin on the ground at Bristows. Part of the reason for this is the type of work that it does. Bristows is most famous for its 'hard IP' practice, which is probably one of the best in the City. Bristows has advised Guardian News and Media on social media product launches and recently acted for Google in its Streetview saga. Other clients include Samsung, IBM, Canon, BBC, Everything Everywhere, L’Oreal and Sony. It also excels in 'soft IP' work, advising the likes of Cadbury and Diageo on copyright, trademarks and design rights. It’s also branched out into technology law and has a growing reputation in advising on matters related to data protection and informational law advising British Airways amongst others.
Aside from IP, the firm is also looking to grow its Real Estate, Employment and Corporate departments which have all expanded over the last couple of years. However, as one lawyer comments, “the firm ... has a long way to go to become a proper full service firm”.
Bristows certainly has a different style to the City standard. There are no official chargeable targets (although one assistant comments that "the firm budgets for every assistant to bill 1,400 hours a year"). However, a trade-off is that there are no individual bonuses, although in good times the partners have been known to dish out one-off bonuses to the whole firm. Salaries are based solely on seniority as there is (very unusually) no banding. The overwhelming response to this is positive - "the pay structure assumes that everyone is good at his job, this is not a competitive place" being a typical comment.
Whilst Bristows lawyers aren't the highest paid in the city, staff praised the work-life balance, with some commenting that its not unusual to slip away at 6pm on a regular basis. But this doesn't mean the firm lacks ambition: it still manages to boast very respectable financial results.
The IP firm only has 39 partners, and just under 90 other lawyers. A tenth of its total staff work flexibly, and around 20% of its workforce describe themselves as being other than white or British. The firm also has a fairly high percentage of female partners compared with other City firms. So it is reasonably diverse. And trainee retention is typically high - as one might expect (or at least hope for) for a firm at which the work is not typically economy-dependent.
Bristows has received high praise from its associates, particularly for its friendly atmosphere: “There is a genuine desire for everyone to be treated with respect and for people to be nice to each other”; “Shock horror - we actually like each other at Bristows”. Another associate says they couldn't "find a better work-life balance for the same quality of clients" elsewhere, and the only negative point was that their "office doesn't have a view over the river."
As one senior solicitor put it, "Bristows is a strange place. It's like a tree-hugging socialist hippy commune pretending to be a law firm. We don't have targets (by that I mean we actually genuinely don't have targets), in fact most associates have no idea what they bill or record. This means that we don't really get proper bonuses either. However, everyone has made peace with this, safe in the knowledge that we're much better than those psychos at most other firms".
However there were also comments that sometimes things can be “too nice” at the firm and one insider goes as far as to say that “a stressed, shouty partner might make a refreshing change once in a while!” Be careful what you wish for.
The flip-side, of course, is that it doesn't have the same breadth of opportunities for top-quality work as the bigger City firms and that it doesn't pay top dollar. But then, that's not what everyone is looking for.