Unlike some firms, Osborne Clarke does not recruit for the short and medium-term needs of the business, but is committed to trainees’ long-term career progression with the firm, whatever path they choose. Every trainee in every diverse annual intake benefits from bespoke support that begins even before the training contract officially starts. And once a trainee is through the doors, the firm ensures they experience a wide variety of work areas, which helps to develop a well-rounded skillset ahead of qualifying.
From the first industrial revolution to the fourth one we’re currently living through, Osborne Clarke has always had its feet set firmly in the present with eyes fixed on the future. Having worked doggedly to help realise the unique visions of innovator clients from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Microsoft, TripAdvisor and the latest ground-breaking tech start-ups, the firm maintains the same commitment to maximising the potential of its trainee lawyers – catering to both their immediate needs and long-term interests. As partner and training principal Catherine Wolfenden explains, this necessitates a keenly personal touch. “Our approach is to recruit the lawyers of the future, whatever career path they might ultimately choose – although we hope it’s a long career with us! To do that, we focus on two things over the two years of the training contract: first, working out whether this is the right firm for you – we do this throughout the recruitment process – and second, customising the experience to you, allowing you the best opportunity to progress as quickly as you want through to the next stages of your career. In practice, this means really getting to know each trainee as an individual during the two years they are with us.”
Trainee Harry Chapman can attest to this, having experienced it from the very beginning of his engagements with Osborne Clarke: “The assessment day was quite different from what I’ve heard goes on with other firms. The interview itself was actually quite relaxed. I was really nervous beforehand, but within a few minutes of walking into the room I was completely put at ease. It felt more like a chat, them just getting to know me – not like some places where they try to trip you up. As far as interviews go, it was about as good as it can get. It was the same in the training contract interview.”
Like the vast majority of trainees at Osborne Clarke, Harry gained his first hands-on experience with the firm through its two-week vacation scheme, which Catherine sees as an integral part of the assessment process: “Throughout it all there are so many opportunities for people to be themselves, and that’s the key thing – to understand the person, not just what’s on paper, or what could be presented at an interview. We think that this approach to recruitment supports our goal to have a diverse trainee intake. We want to give everyone a chance to shine during the assessment period, giving every applicant an equal opportunity to work at Osborne Clarke.”
This drive to accommodate a diverse range of future lawyers works in perfect lockstep with the bespoke support provided to each trainee throughout the four six-month seats that comprise Osborne Clarke’s training programme. Trainees are brought into the Osborne Clarke fold from the moment they accept their offer, notes graduate recruitment adviser Katie Deering: “We keep in contact throughout their studies by holding networking events and socials. Through these, trainees can better understand what each practice area entails and make a more informed decision about which areas of law they’d like to experience during their training, while our learning and development team conduct skills analyses for each individual. Each trainee is also assigned a buddy to keep them up to date.” Harry affirms that “it’s much more comfortable when you know your colleagues before you start.”
We want to ensure that our trainees get the opportunity to experience a wide variety of seats to enable them to qualify with a broad skill set.
Katie goes on to underline the collaborative, forward-thinking approach at the heart of the seat selection process. “First-seat trainees are asked to give their top five preferences before they start and we try to place them within those choices. We meet with every trainee at the middle of each seat to discuss what is going well, the type of work they enjoy and what they need more experience in. We want to ensure that our trainees get the opportunity to experience a wide variety of seats to enable them to qualify with a broad skill set. This in-depth discussion is very much a two-way process.” That said, Catherine encourages trainees to keep an open mind, “because what you studied at law school or did during a work placement could be very different from what life is like on the ground in a particular department here. As part of building that trust between the professionals in the firm and the trainees, if we see that someone has an aptitude for a certain area of law, we may encourage them to go to a seat or client secondment that perhaps they hadn’t previously thought of, to give them the best chance to develop professionally and be the best they can.”
As for day-to-day life on the front line, Osborne Clarke aims to strike a perfect balance: giving trainees the independence and responsibilities needed to develop confidence in their skills, but without throwing them into the deep end. “We’re a big enough law firm to offer interesting work with interesting clients, but still with a small enough trainee intake that they can get stuck in with really engaging work, all while getting the support they need,” says Katie. Harry agrees: “I’d never worked in this kind of environment before, so it was all new to me. But the teams know this and are patient, and take time to explain things. My first seat was in projects and I really appreciated it when the senior associate on the deal would sit me down and draw a diagram to explain the whole deal, so that when I was doing tasks, I would know how they fit in the wider picture. That’s a big plus – the associates and partners you’re working with take the time to make sure that you really understand what’s going on before you start doing tasks.”
But if I’m ever unsure about something, I can just pop my head up and ask someone – everyone’s very approachable here.
He describes his work in projects, predominantly within the energy and utilities sector, as “really interesting, because it’s an exciting time for the field, but it’s also quite varied; you get exposure to the advisory side, with a lot of contractual matters, but also to project finance. I’m now on my second seat in banking and it really suits me. I get a significant amount of responsibility; I’m five months in and have one month left, and I’m very much supported in running my own deals, but even from a few months in I was talking to clients directly and my supervisors trusted and supported me to do so – banking is a very good seat with lots of responsibility and client contact. But if I’m ever unsure about something, I can just pop my head up and ask someone – everyone’s very approachable here. Just last week I went for coffee with one of the banking partners; I asked if I could get some feedback and talk about careers, and he was very happy to take an hour out of his day to have a chat.”
Harry also enthuses over the healthy work-life balance, which has lured many of his colleagues to Osborne Clarke from other firms. “Obviously there’s the occasional late night, but you’re always rewarded and thanked for it – you don’t sacrifice for work. For example, the former head of banking who’s just stepped down is having the whole team over to his house for a barbecue next week as a thank-you for all of our hard work!”
When asked about the highlight of his work with Osborne Clarke thus far, Harry encapsulates the firm’s approach to training as both a buttress and a booster rocket. “I was working on a deal with a partner and an associate, and the completion was delayed to when they were both on holiday; but they both had complete confidence in me to close the deal. Although another partner was supervising me and I always could have asked had I needed anything, the fact that they had that confidence in me to complete a deal felt really good.”
Speaking to Catherine and Katie, you immediately get the sense of just how much care Osborne Clarke puts into its training programme and how proud they are of it as a key USP. “We have a group within the firm called the Trainee and Apprenticeship Leadership Group,” notes Catherine, “which is made up of our graduate recruitment professionals, the people development team, the trainee partners for each of our three UK offices, myself and our head of people. We meet quarterly to discuss the whole process, from how to engage with GCSE and A-level students who might want to become apprentices, through to how to support our latest group of trainees in the transition to qualification.” Katie points out the crucial planning meetings in which no stone is left unturned in the quest to maintain a dynamic training scheme that can quickly adapt to the fast-changing needs of today’s trainees, with vital input from all four corners of the firm: “We discuss a wide range of ongoing topics – for example, if there are any additional seats we need to offer – and we’re currently running focus groups on the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, where we meet with partners, senior associates, associates and newly qualified lawyers to get their views on how we can evolve the training we offer. I think running those groups shows just how important our trainees are to us.”
So how can a budding lawyer know if Osborne Clarke is a good fit for them? Ensuring you have the right skill set is an indispensable first step. Above all, Catherine emphasises the necessity of interpersonal skills. “We talk a lot about technology now and the next generation coming through are very well versed in tech and using it to communicate, but ultimately what makes a good lawyer is how you develop long-term relationships with your clients. It’s about becoming a trusted adviser, especially with high-end commercial work.” Katie echoes this stance: “Lawyers aren’t just lawyers anymore; they’re expected not just to give legal advice, but to submerge themselves in their clients’ markets and to keep up to date with what’s going on – for example, how a client likes to be billed or the technology that start-up clients are starting to use.” According to Katie, a stand-out potential Osborne Clarke trainee is “someone who’s resilient, who can disrupt traditional expectations, think creatively, embrace new ideas and who can adapt and change with the times” – in essence, the same suite of qualities that characterise the firm’s trailblazing clients. For those who can relate to this description, Osborne Clarke offers the prime environment in which to thrive. As Harry puts it: “Osborne Clarke has the full package: amazing clients, friendly colleagues, high-calibre work and a good work-life balance. I’d struggle to find a reason why I’d want to leave.”
By Jeremy White
Best Trainer – National/Large Regional Firm
I feel well supported and encouraged rather than afraid to ask questions. The firm is really sociable and there are a lot of opportunities to speak to NQs and second-seat trainees about their experiences, and get tips on how to be a good trainee in your seat.