Oh, how things have changed since I wrote my last Open Day review! From virtual vacation schemes to remote (net)working, the legal profession has changed significantly since the pandemic hit. A firm that has dealt particularly well with this change is Bird & Bird, which recently hosted a fantastic Open Day that I shall be reviewing in this article! So, without further ado…
The Open Day was structured as follows:
- Introduction Talk
- AI in the Law Workshop
- D&I & Networks
- IP Workshop
- Trainee Panel
- Interview Skills Workshop
* Please note that each talk was accompanied by a Q&A session, parts of which will be featured in this article. Some answers have been paraphrased for length purposes.*
To kick off the Open Day, we were introduced to the firm by Ian Edwards (Partner in the Tech Transactions team and Training Principal).
Ian’s talk began with a brief explanation of how law firms interact with clients. The reality is that most clients come to a firm with a problem or a project. They usually don’t know if they need an IP lawyer or a Corporate lawyer…they simply want a solution! Ian made this point very clear, and tied it back to the current commercial landscape – the world is much more complex now than it used to be! Therefore, there is no use in categorising lawyers into boxes. For example, technology is revolutionising nearly every industry and even creating new industries that never existed 10-15 years ago! Law firms therefore must become more forward-thinking and anticipate changes in both the legal and business spheres overall.
The Firm: A Fact File:
BIRD & BIRD IN A NUTSHELL: Bird & Bird is a full service, international commercial firm largely known for its intellectual property practice (IP), particularly in the tech, consumer and life sciences sectors. As most of you will know, each firm is different. Firms operate on a range of different values and structures, and the Open Day did a fantastic job of explaining this.
THE FIRM’S GOAL: The firm’s long-term vision is to be the world’s top firm helping organisations being changed by technology and the digital world or those leading that change.
FIRM STRUCTURE: The way that Bird & Bird is structured is incredibly unusual! While most law firms are set up around practice areas, Bird & Bird is structured around sectors. As an innovative law firm, it probably comes to no surprise that it was one of the first firms to organise itself this way (all the way back in the 1990s)! This structure has several benefits:
- Allows lawyers to build their expertise and tailor advice to the particular sector that their clients operate in;
- Different industries face different challenges. Operating along a sector approach allows lawyers to better understand the issues that their clients are facing; and
- Gives the firm the opportunity to explore and build a dominant position in emerging sectors before its competitors.
INTERNATIONAL REACH: From London to Sydney, Bird & Bird has established its name in almost every corner of the world! With 29 offices, it’s safe to say that Bird & Bird is a truly international firm.
RECENT MOVES: In 2018, the firm added San Francisco to its impressive collection of international offices. The reason for this move was rather strategic. Firstly, this is the firm’s first US office. The US legal market is notoriously difficult to break into – especially for firms on the other side of the pond! However, as Bird & Bird has many US clients, it is useful to have a base in the same time zone. Secondly, the location of the office puts the firm in the heart of Silicon Valley (home to some of the world’s biggest tech giants and start-ups!) – perfect for generating further tech-related work for the rest of the firm!
Has the firm seen any tech innovations over the past few years? If so, what impact has this had on Bird & Bird? Legal tech has been a big opportunity (or threat to some!). Luckily, Bird & Bird has always spread a positive message about legal tech – our firm has always looked for legal tech solutions to problems. We don’t take on a large number of trainees anyway, and our business has never been based on throwing trainees at manual documents – forcing creative people to work on dull tasks isn’t a good use of your brain! For example, the firm uses a tool that helps with the due diligence process. We expose our trainees to these tools from ‘Day 1’, and we genuinely believe that legal tech holds a very bright future!
How has Bird & Bird tackled the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and remote working? Unfortunately, there is no magic wand tech solution that will replicate face-to-face contact. However, we have tried very hard to recreate the ‘water cooler’ moment through Zoom quizzes and other fun activities! We have paid particular attention to supporting trainees that have just joined our firm, and regularly keep track of their progress and wellbeing.
AI in the Law Workshop:
This workshop was presented by Toby Bond, a Senior Associate in Bird & Bird’s Intellectual Property Group.
Toby started with a simple question: what is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
Understandably, this term is extremely difficult to define as the face of AI is always evolving in line with modern advancements. However, Toby defined AI as ‘an attempt to replicate processes which were previously only available to humans. For example, identifying and understanding speech, spotting objects, and many more’.
From ethical concerns to its potential threat to the future job market, AI has been a contentious topic since the very beginning! While computers are not yet anywhere near as intelligent as humankind (or we’d like to think!), they are developing at an extremely rapid pace. Here is a brief timeline to illustrate the progress of AI:
- 1997: IBM’s Deep Blue beat world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in a six-game chess match. This was an extremely significant event as chess is the preserve of the human mind – it has many possible moves. More interestingly, Deep Blue had suffered a malfunction in an earlier match, making a completely random move. Of course, this was a mistake, but it had deeply confused Kasparov, and some argue is the reason for his defeat.
- 2011: IBM’s Watson won ‘Jeopardy!’, an American quiz show. This game required the computer to understand human language, questions and cross-reference to a database of human knowledge.
- May 2017: AlphaGo beat Ke Jie, the world’s number one player at ‘Go’ (which is even more complex than chess!). Why is this impressive? Because there are more potential moves in Go than there are atoms in the universe!
- October 2017: AlphaGoZero beat AlphaGo by 100 games to zero! AlphaGo Zero wasn’t even told the rules of Go – it was just allowed to run lots of simulations of matches!
- 2020: the UK High Court refused two European patent applications naming an AI algorithm (DABUS) as an inventor. More on this topic can be read here.
At this stage of modern technology, the capabilities of AI algorithms are pretty restricted – they can only be trained to carry out a specific and well-defined task. Therefore, all AI that surrounds us today is called “narrow AI”. We are yet to see the day where a machine will perform any intellectual task that a human being can – let’s leave it to the Hollywood films for now!
The legal implications of AI are quite interesting. Above all, AI is software. Therefore, it can often face different implications to a legal person. Here are a few examples:
As illustrated in the above infographic, data ownership is a huge issue in the world of AI! As data is a type of information, it is not strictly classed in the UK as property. Toby went on further to explain key questions regarding this debate, categorising them in three main groups: access to data, use of data, and disclosure of data. Examples from each category include:
- Access: Are we allowed to have this data? Will we have to return the data?
- Use: Can we use this data for the benefit of other customers? Can we use it if we anonymise it?
- Disclosure: Can we sell this data? Can we share this data as part of a collaboration?
What would be your advice for non-STEM students (such as Law students) who would like to develop their knowledge regarding AI and legal tech, as these are not topics that we have much opportunity to discuss during a Law degree. The best starting point is to read books on AI – one of the best introductions to AI is ‘Hello World’ by Hannah Fry. YouTube videos are also a great resource to build your knowledge. Don’t feel that you can’t get into AI due to your non-STEM background. Be fearless and get stuck into it!
D&I & Networks:
As an international commercial firm, it probably comes to no surprise that the lawyers at Bird & Bird come from a wide range of backgrounds! In this session, we were introduced to the various initiatives at Bird & Bird to champion diversity both in the firm and the legal profession as a whole.
What are some steps that Bird & Bird has taken to ensure gender balance at the more senior levels in the firm?We have been running a global development programme since 2015 specifically to address this issue. Around 20 participants are nominated by the heads of their country per year. During this programme, we support the participants in various ways including coaching sessions, webinars and having a partner sponsor them to help support their career. This has been extremely successful so far – we have won 2 awards for it! The overarching aims of programme are to:
- Educate participants on the partnership route; and
- Allow the firm to learn what it can do better to support them.
As the Black Lives Matter movement has been a huge influence this year, and following it a lot of companies and firms made promises to encourage more diversity, what has Bird & Bird been doing following the movement? We run a podcast discussing race issues within the firm – this can be found on our firm’s website.We also distribute firmwide newsletters and regularly hold virtual events. For Black History Month, we participated in a virtual tour called ‘Slavery in the City’ – it is a virtually guided tour which points out landmarks in London related to slavery. We have done a lot both as a firm and as a network to support and encourage diversity!
Are there any religious networks at Bird & Bird? Yes! We have a Muslim and Christian prayer group. Our Muslim group was actually started by two trainees to help spread awareness and educate the firm about Ramadan.
In light of the climate change emergency, has Bird & Bird taken any steps to reduce its carbon footprint? Our London office has an Environment Committee which regularly works alongside external organisations to reduce the firm’s carbon footprint. For example, there has been much emphasis on limiting the number of flights that our lawyers take (pre-Covid-19, of course!). Furthermore, our London office is a new build so it comes with several environmental benefits. These include solar panels, a plastic-free canteen where everything is recyclable, and even an insect hotel! The Graduate Recruitment Team has also taken several steps to reduce its carbon footprint including hosting all assessment centres online and making the Graduate Recruitment brochure completely virtual.
This workshop was hosted by Jae Park and Heather Randles (both Associates in the firm’s IP Group). Jae and Heather began by giving an overview of IP. Here are some of the main (but not all!) Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and their functions.
Why is IP important? Intellectual Property is crucial to businesses as it can be used to protect creations or to create commerce. IP also creates a mini monopoly– it’s very interesting how this interplays with competition law. For example, this contradiction can be particularly illustrated by patents in telecoms law because everyone has to use the same technology in order to work in the same system. IP is also important as it is one of the most diverse and valuable assets a company or individual can have. For example, IP can be developed sold, licensed or sold to third parties.
Bird & Bird is internationally renowned for its IP practice, having one of the largest IP teams in the world boasting with 401 specialist IP lawyers. Consequently, the majority of the firm’s work features a cross-border element, with several offices working together on cases. While Bird & Bird covers all forms of IP, the main work-generating areas are patents and trade marks (with each generating 50% and 20% of the firm’s workload respectively). Furthermore, the majority of the firm’s patent-related work is generated from the pharma/biotech and technology and communications industries.
Jae and Heather then went on to discuss their roles in the firm as IP lawyers and the firm’s culture as a whole. Bird & Bird prides itself on its collegiate atmosphere and close working relationship with its international offices, which explains why Jae and Heather agreed that the people were the most important reason why they chose to apply to Bird & Bird!
Have you seen any recent trends in litigation in the pharma/biotech sector? There is a lot of ongoing litigation in this sector regarding medical devices. It’s not just about the formula, it’s also about the technique of getting the drugs into the patient. However, the work we do in this sector is not just about litigation and patent disputes. There is currently a lot of work concerning data protection in this sector.
What do you find to be the most interesting element of contentious work? Contrary to popular belief, litigation is about dispute resolution – not going all the way and fighting! The aim is to find a solution for both parties as the best outcome is where both sides are happy. This is rare with litigation, hence why settlements are often the way forward.
In this section of the Open Day, we were split into several breakout rooms with a trainee. We were given roughly 35 minutes to ask questions and discuss any queries about the application process (one trainee even featured puppies!).
I really enjoyed this experience as it facilitated a more personal conversation about the firm and its application process, as well as giving plenty of opportunities to ask questions and create discussion! Our trainee spoke very openly about her experience at Bird & Bird, particularly applauding the firm’s friendly culture and efforts to align the trainees’ seats with their interests.
Regarding applications, our trainee gave the following advice:
- Tailor each sentence of your application to the firm – this really makes a difference!
- Try to feature at least 2-3 skills per question.
- Don’t apply to too many firms – this will allow you to really perfect your application and show your interest in the particular firm that you have applied to.
Interview Skills Workshop:
This workshop was hosted by Lara Machnicki, Graduate Recruitment Manager at Bird & Bird. In this workshop, Lara discussed each stage of the application process. Here are some of her top tips for each stage:
- The earlier you begin your research, the better!
- Take advantage of the vast number of resources available to you (e.g. LawCareers.Net, AllAboutLaw, Legal Cheek, Chambers Student, firm websites, university careers service etc).
- Attend Open Days/Insight events (Top Tip from ATALS: attend webinars hosted by the firm!).
- Complete one application form at a time.
- Get someone else to proof-read your application before submitting it.
- Look for key competencies in the firm’s literature and try to reflect these in your answers (for example, click here).
- Know what’s in your application and be prepared to expand on it (if invited for an interview).
- Do not wait until the deadline – Bird & Bird recruits on a rolling basis.
Psychometric testing (Watson Glaser):
- Practice as many psychometric tests as you can – Bird & Bird uses the Watson Glaser test.
The video interview is pre-recorded. This means that candidates will be shown a question, and have a limited period of time to answer it. Answers can only be recorded once.
- The interviewer will be given a chance to see how you come across visually, vocally, and verbally. Therefore, body language and non-verbal communication is really important! This advice also applies to the interview at the Assessment Centre stage.
- As the interview is pre-recorded, pretend that someone is on the other side of the interview – it makes it feel much less artificial!
- AVOID: filler phrases (e.g. like, you know, erm etc), overly informal language, speaking too quickly / slowly, reading from your notes!
The assessment centre features a group exercise, written exercise and an interview.
- Enthusiasm speaks volumes – be ready and on time for your interview, and convey your excitement for the role through your voice and body language.
- The interviewer will have the opportunity to refer back to your application – bear this in mind when you are preparing for your interview.
- Prepare yourself for the obvious questions: Why Law? Why us? Why you? Why a career as a solicitor?
Lara also stressed the importance of first impressions. As she put very tastefully, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression! In short, all communication with the firm is a fantastic opportunity to create a great first impression. Therefore, it is extremely important to think about how you come across in emails and networking platforms such as LinkedIn.
How are the online applications assessed? For example, are our grades weighted more than our written answers or vice versa? At Bird & Bird, the whole application will be considered – no part is weighted more than another.
At which stage of the application process are you eligible to receive feedback? We give feedback to all of our unsuccessful Assessment Centre candidates.
Does Bird & Bird have a preference on whether candidate should use bullet points in the work experience section? While this is largely a matter of personal preference, and varies across different firms, we do not have a preferred format for displaying your work experience information.
Overall, I would like to say that I was incredibly impressed by the Open Day hosted by Bird & Bird. In particular, it was really interesting to learn about the inner workings of the firm’s sector-focussed structure, from both a UK and international perspective. It also became quickly evident why Bird & Bird is one of the world’s top commercial firms – all our speakers were friendly, engaging, and most importantly, genuinely enthusiastic about their work. The Open Day was adapted very well to the current circumstances of remote (net)working, and overall, it was a fantastic event!
This article was written by April Parker, a final year Law LLB student and the Founder of According To A Law Student (ATALS). April’s main blogging interests consist of brands and intellectual property, and she hopes to pursue a career in commercial law in the future.