Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer - True Picture - Chambers Student Guide (2024)

Freshfields trainee associate programme review 2024

The Firm 

Love Island must have restarted when we came calling, because our sources were keen to tell us about the firm’s “vibes,” somethingwhich cemented their decision to train at Freshfields: “The vibes during recruitment were just much better than at other firms.” It’s a pretty bold claim to take at face value from anyone, let alone a firm insider, but rest assured Freshfield’s long cultivated, top-of-the-market, magic circle status comes with receipts.Since the firm’s inception in the mid-18th century it has cumulated a suite of teams across almost all areas of practice, now racks up over £1.5 billion annually, and continues to pile up the trophy cabinet – Chambers UK currently has the firm ranked in over 40 departments. The highest accolades go to its finance-related practices, in addition to competition, litigation, tax and public procurement. Freshfields’ international standing is reflected in Chambers Global, where the firm picks up more than 50 rankings.

Graduate recruitment partner, Cyrus Poch, tells us that the firm is actively growing its US footprint, “so we have that domestic US work but also aim for cross-pollination between the offices.” Poch also highlights that, closer to home Freshfields has had some standout deals and has also worked on large dispute mandates. “The London office is really optimistic,” Poch grins, and nationally Freshfields’ bragging rights extend across both contentious and non-contentious practices too, including in: banking litigation; contentious financial services; non-contentious financial services; product liability and public procurement among others – a litany of practice matters that newbies get the chance to dip their toes into…

The Seats 

With the firm’s penchant for keeping things freshit should come as no surprise that Freshfields does things a little differently in the seats department. Trainees’ seats are conducted in six three-month stints for the most part, although for most seats outside of disputes you can “double up” to make a seat six-months. The two years are then concluded with a six-month secondment which most people spend in one of the firm’s international offices, but a good proportion of trainees also go on client secondment in London: “There are like ten client options… wait… there must be more! Everyone goes on secondment!” Though the firm tells us its actually a huge 20 options on offer, on average.

Every three months trainees submit preferences for their next seat, with those further along in their training given priority. Secondments are allocated based on preference and performance, and sometimes experience working with the client. International secondments understandably benefit from those who speak a second language, so “it definitely helps.” We heard that Spanish is a requirement for arbitration in DC.

"A good split of corporate and litigation.”

Outside of secondments, trainees are presented with what they felt was “a good split of corporate and litigation.”Dispute resolution encompasses commercial disputes, antitrust, environment products regulation (EPR), international arbitration, financial institutions disputes and the global products disputes practice (GPDP.) “The commercial disputes group is big and pretty popular,” one trainee told us, something that’s served as a consequence of the firm’s reputation in the space. Freshfields recently acted for Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi in defending a Commercial Court claim arising out of the October 2021 sale of Newcastle United Football Club.Of course, “you don’t get as much client contact in disputes” given the nature of the work, but newbies were pleased to find “you’re still working with counsel and experts outside the firm.” We heard that antitrustis a little different in this regard as, “you’re basically emailing clients daily,” alongside communicating with the CMA (Competitions and Markets Authority) and drafting responses to RFIs (Requests for Information). “Hefty legal research” also plays a part in day-to-day proceedings, not only in antitrust but across the spectrum of disputes seats. This is especially true of EPRwhere trainees told us they worked on memos – “that people still use!” – blogs, and a lot of business development.

Over on the transactional side of things the firm’s global transactions groupencompasses corporate, finance and real estate teams. Corporate focuses on tech, media, telecoms, pharmaceuticals… actually there’s quite a range of things!” Freshfields has an internal grouping system for its corporate work labelled A, B, C and D: Team A has a focus on financial services clients; Team B is private equity; Team C covers M&A and capital markets; and Team D does work for telecoms, media and tech, energy, resources and infrastructure, and leisure. In reality though, “while groups C and D are more general a lot of the corporate teams work together a lot of the time, so there aren’t really distinct boundaries – if you’re into life sciences or PE or financial stuff you know where to go.”

If you are into “financial stuff” it’s probably worth noting that the firm’s financeseats cover corporate finance, leveraged finance, and restructuring and insolvency. As is customary for Freshfields, the department works for high profile clients - banks like JP Morgan, Visa and the Saudi National Bank – but also with a range of clients outside of banking sphere. For example, the firm recently advised the London Stock Exchange Group on a new long-term strategic partnership with Microsoft to architect the group’s data infrastructure using Microsoft cloud. “In corporate finance the stuff I learned on the LPC was very applicable, so it felt like it was designed to follow on from the LPC,” one newbie outlined, explaining that, “the things you’re asked to do are very similar – for example we’d have certain exercises on debt financing on the LPC, and here you’re doing the exact same thing!”

“I was helping New York with some due diligence.”

Over in real estate,Freshfields’ trainees are exposed to work a little different from your regular real estate seat as, while there is a still a fair bit of drafting, “it’s more of a corporate seat with a real estate tinge; you’re working on big corporate deals with real estate deals.” To give an example, the firm recently advised on the restructuring to facilitate a refinancing and development of the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, a joint venture between Brookfield and the UK Government. So, “you’re buying and selling companies and the assets are things like hotels and science parks,” not solely restricted to the UK: “I was helping New York with some due diligence, researching into land law and lease regulations.”

If it’s merger control and competition investigations you’re interested in, the firm’s group is worth a look-in. Trainees generally help with merger filings by working on doc review and drafting responses to regulators like the CMA or the European Commission in what is typically a pretty intense seat with rapid turnarounds. The firm is working on some pretty large and landmark cases in the space. Freshfields is currently advising Mastercard in the largest opt-out competition class action concerning to the Consumer Rights Act (2015), a claim brought on behalf of over 46 million UK customers and which is valued at over £16 billion – so pretty hefty stuff.

The firm also provides trainees with the opportunity to take on a pro bono seat – something of a rarity for UK firms. “The pro bono team is run by the incredibly cool Paul Yates, who is the head of global pro bono),” one trainee outlined, explaining that there a number of pro bono secondment placements on offer including the Tower Hamlets advice clinic, Liberty and Save the Children. Aside from this dedicated seat, those in other seats can also hop on to pro bono work by helping at a legal advice centre: “You could be giving advice on housing law, like helping people who are seeking council housing.”

Trainee Life 

When speaking with trainees it came as no surprise to hear talk of the magic circle seeming “incredibly intimidating” given the group’s reputation. Regardless, the trainees we spoke with were overwhelmingly positive about both the working and social culture at Freshfields: “Where there have been times people have been less approachable or more difficult to work with it’s been acknowledged that’s not the norm and isn’t tolerated.”

For the most part though, “supervisors actively work hard to look out for you, and to make sure you don’t take on too much work – I have a tendency to try and say yes to as many things as possible!” It is understandably common for newbies trying to make an impression to load themselves up with matters when starting out, but thankfully we heard that “people are rational – they’re quite receptive to you saying you have a lot on.” A number of trainees also commented on the firm’s approach to mental health, which includes “a lot of emphasis on strategies when you’re just starting out.” Supervisors also play a significant role in trainees’ working hours. “I was astounded by how much support they gave me,” one trainee told us, adding that “if you’re struggling with mental health or anything they can put you on reduced hours.”

Freshfields’ approach to work from home is similarly flexible as, while there is a three days in, two days out policy, “it’s not heavily policed – if you need to work from home for the week it’s fine.” Either way, trainees spoke positively of the firm’s “stunning!” office where “the walls are glass, and the view is… London!” In addition to the café, restaurant and kitchens on each floor, other perks insiders felt worthy of note were “a Deliveroo allowance of £20 if you’re working late, taxis home after 9pm, sleeping pods (apparently those exist… I don’t know if anyone uses them) and free lunches on random days?!” While socials aren’t usually particularly “wild,” for trainees who are interested and have the time the opportunities are out there for impromptu drinks, Christmas and summer parties and a dinner halfway through your two years.

“You can find your tribe… but not in a cliquey way!”

The same extends to the firm’s “really well supported affinity groups,” which each have their own dedicated partner sponsors. Freshfields has a woman’s network split into junior and senior women, a mental health network, an LGBTQ champions network for allies, and what we heard was a very active LGBTQ network, HALO. “The HALO network recently put on a film night where they invited clients,” one trainee commented. “We’re rewriting the HR guidance because at the moment it’s geared towards just men and women,” another grinned, “so you can find your tribe… but not in a cliquey way!”

On the training side of things, “it’s more on the job” than one insider expected, “but I think it works better for most people – it can seem quite abstract otherwise!” The three-month seats “can be quite intense. You’re settling in then moving on, so you’re always outside of your comfort zone, but it accelerates the learning process!” Trainees are supported with team-specific training to ensure things don’t get too intense though, and we heard trainings are “quite practical – you’re not expected to learn everything, but it’s something you can go back to when you need to.”

All this helps trainees swing into qualification at the end of the two years in a process that’s seen as “pretty transparent.” Training solicitor partners, who are in control of looking after trainees in the team act as gatekeepers on qualification, so trainees told us, “you do need to butter them up to the extent you want to slip into their team,” but there are also conversations with the partner in charge of trainees so that everyone is clear on where they stand.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer - True Picture - Chambers Student Guide (2024)
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