Talk to the Trainee: Life at Baker McKenzie

By Phoebe Anderson


One of the few positive side effects of the pandemic is that the rapid shift to virtual platforms significantly increased access to work experience schemes, seminars (‘webinars’) and open days.


However, trying to replicate the culture of a law firm online seems nearly impossible. Fortunately, we’ve interviewed Jacob Turner - Newly Qualified Associate at Baker McKenzie - to give you guys an insight into what working at this prestigious firm would really be like.


WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT BAKER MCKENZIE?

The culture. At university, I had a job where I got paid to attend various graduate recruitment events and give anonymous feedback on how the events went. Each time I attended a Bakers event I got a clear sense that everyone I met was incredibly friendly, inclusive and honest. Now that I'm nearing the end of my training contract, it's clear that the firm's culture is deliberately friendly, inclusive and international; we take our work very seriously but not ourselves. There's a very good reason that one of the first questions on the vac scheme application form is around diversity and inclusion; it's something the firm actively cares about and it's something I love about the firm.


CAN YOU GIVE OUR READERS AN INSIGHT INTO THE DAY-TO-DAY LIFE AT YOUR FIRM?

There's always time for a coffee (personal wellbeing is taken very seriously at Bakers) but my day-to-day depends hugely on what deals and what seat I'm in. In employment, my day could involve everything from reviewing various employee emails and witness statements as part of a sexual harassment investigation and drafting settlement agreements as part of redundancy consultations to assisting a client in court on a high-profile age discrimination claim. In M&A my day would often revolve around reviewing data room documents and compiling due diligence reports to advise clients on how best to structure their sale or purchase.


HOW MUCH CLIENT INTERACTION DO YOU GET AS A TRAINEE?

It varies greatly depending on what you're working on but on average client interaction was high and constant. I would often be emailing the client with advice (mind you, after running my advice past an Associate) or networking and meeting with clients in person (pre-lockdown!). I also took part in several business development events where we are treated as key representatives of the firm. It's expected that trainees are capable of networking and taking on the responsibility demanded by directly interacting with clients. There's also always the chance to go on client secondment and gain a stronger appreciation of how clients interact in-house; I've been on secondment to bp's exploration & access team for 6 months for example.


HOW DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE DO YOU THINK BAKER MCKENZIE IS?

I wouldn't have joined the firm if it wasn't at the forefront of improving diversity and inclusion across the industry. The whole legal profession could do more on D&I, but what really struck me about Bakers was its willingness to not just talk about D&I but to put significant resources and effort into improving D&I. Being at such an international firm with a culture of openness and friendliness, it is little surprise that people actively care about making sure the firm recruits the best people regardless of their background.


For an example of how Bakers is taking active strides to boost D&I in recruitment, the firm has replaced its usual roster of open days for individual open days tailored towards Non-law, Black Lawyers & Allies, Opportunity/Social Mobility, LGBT+ & Allies, Women+, Mental Wellbeing & Disability and First Years. Bakers is also an early partner of Aspiring Solicitors and Rare Recruitment and an early adopter of the latter's contextual recruitment software. Bakers also runs work experience programs with PRIME and Career Ready and is regularly ranked as one of the UK's best employers for workplace equality by Stonewall. I've also personally assisted on D&I Open Days, a trainee led Futuready scheme for sixth formers (run by Bakers and Barclays) and on Lawyers in Schools workshops.


HOW HAVE FOUND THE WORK/LIFE BALANCE AT BAKER MCKENZIE?

In line with the firm's friendly and sociable culture, there is no emphasis on unnecessary face-time; if it gets to 5 pm and you're quiet with nothing else to work on there is no reason for you to be in the office. In complete honesty, in line with other high-end city firms, the hours can be grueling at times. I have done a few all-nighters and even worked a few weekends over my training contract. More often than not this has been due to sudden court deadlines and a couple of tactical data dumps from the other side.


On work/life balance, the difference between firms comes from both how frequently you'll need to work late and how it's treated. Working late isn't a regular thing at Bakers. I won't be working late on my own and the team actively try very hard to avoid it happening by shifting further resources towards the matter I'm working on. Working late also often results in me being given days off in lieu, particularly in recognition of just how unusual and annoying working late can be.


HOW MUCH PRO BONO WORK ARE YOU ABLE TO DO AS A TRAINEE?

Bakers' culture tends to lead to recruiting people who actively care about the world around them. This often results in a healthy degree of pro bono engagement across the firm and particularly amongst trainees. From the induction week onwards, trainees are told about the various ways in which they can get involved and it's rare that a trainee goes through their training contract without completing any pro bono work.


There's also a healthy culture of allowing trainees to do pro bono work alongside their client work. Pro bono time is recorded as billable time and despite sitting in 2 corporate seats I completed upwards of 100 pro bono hours in my first year as a trainee and have recently been on a mini-secondment to Reprieve's London HQ. The amount of pro bono activities you can assist on is incredibly varied; everything from helping Amicus with death penalty reviews in the United States to assisting Coram with disputed child citizenship applications.


ARE THERE ANY CONTINUING LEARNING PROGRAMMES IN PLACE AT YOUR FIRM?

Alongside the mandatory professional skills courses we have to complete as Trainees, Bakers maintains a large learning and development team which run various soft skills workshops throughout the year. These are also so popular that various clients regularly join them too.


Each department also runs initial training sessions for new trainees in the team and an ongoing variety of training sessions on developments in the law. For example, in Employment, we had a weekly lunch where we all met up and discussed any key updates in the law.


WHAT IS THE SOCIAL SCENE LIKE AT BAKER MCKENZIE?

We regularly take part in the legal football, netball and touch rugby leagues and have an office choir. We also regularly host a variety of charity events, book launches, industry think tanks and keynote speakers on D&I, climate change and civil society initiatives.

Within departments there are regular drinks events and socials to enjoy; I took part in a mystery Christmas advent calendar with each day featuring prizes (good or comical) donated by the Partners and Senior Associates - I won a 2 hour hula hooping workshop for 2 in Shoreditch. We also always welcome each cohort of Trainees with a social, hold an annual Trainee summer party and an office-wide Christmas party. You can also regularly find a load of Trainees and Associates in either el Vino or the Blackfriar round the corner from the office after work.


I've also been part of various completion dinners that we've held to celebrate closing deals we've worked on. This has involved dinner at COYA and the Ritz and lunch on the Isle of Wight. These are great fun and often involve celebrating alongside some of the most senior people at the client.


If you want to learn more about Baker McKenzie, then you should check out their graduate website: https://uk-graduates.bakermckenzie.com/events/


They’re also hosting a huge range of virtual open days, several of which are tailored to underrepresented groups in the legal profession. To keep up to date on opportunities like this and more, you should follow their Instagram page @bakermckenzie_londongraduates.


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