With steep ambitions and a pocketful of moxie, TLT isn't a place content with standing still for long. Since its conception in 2000 off the back of two merging Bristol firms, the Y2K baby's built itself into a sturdy operation with six domestic offices, plus a hub in Piraeus. Along the way it's steadily scaled the revenue ranks, posting a healthy £49m in turnover in 2012/13 – a 10% rise from the year prior and more than triple that of a decade ago.
The firm shows no signs of slowing down, either; TLT kicked off its teen years by opening three offices across Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2012, supplementing the Bristol headquarters and London branch, and upgrading the firm's status from South-West powerhouse to bona fide national entity. Most recently, a new Manchester base debuted in summer 2013. According to training principal Maria Connolly, the Mancunian digs will initially focus on commercial contracts and disputes, and will “hopefully” recruit trainees in due course. “They're really focusing on strengthening our brand identity as a UK-wide firm,” insiders said of all this recent expansion. “We're growing and regularly winning new clients, which suggests trainees have a lot to look forward to in the future.” A spurt of new lateral hires and promotions across the board has also turned heads, both internally and in the legal press.
TLT has upped its game in the financial services sector in recent years, widening its client cache to include household names like Barclays, Lloyds Banking, The Co-operative Bank and RBS. Such clients now account for more than 40% of the firm's overall undertakings. TLT's sector-focused strategy also lends itself to specialities in the retail and leisure, housing, renewables, public and technology, and media industries, encompassing a diverse swath of name-brand clients, from EDF Energy and WHSmith to Ladbrokes and TUI Travel.
Trainees get no choice in their first seat, but from there on they submit five preferences each time rotations roll around: “We're prioritised as we go along, so by your third or fourth seat you can expect to get one of your top choices.” In Bristol, “there are plenty of seat options,” but things are “a little more limited” in London, home to just five trainees at the time of our calls. On the upside, Londoners “have it a bit easier in that we can sit down with each other and chat about where we want to go. The whole process is pretty transparent.” No seats are compulsory, but “the vast majority” of trainees spend time in a property or banking seat at some point during their training contract.
The banking and finance team advises numerous financial institutions in the UK, plus a good deal of international banks. A recent cross-border matter saw lawyers strike a deal for a syndicate of lenders including Bank of India and Punjab National Bank (Hong Kong) in a $110m loan to an oil and gas exploration company. Retail and leisure is an area of expertise, as is the renewables sector – TLT regularly advises Dutch ethical bank Triodos on projects such as its £2.2m financing of a Dagenham wind farm extension and £1.8m funding of a hydroelectric project in Wales. “Both clients and transactions are usually pretty big, so your role as a trainee often revolves around file management,” insiders reported. “Partners deal with the main loan agreements, and ancillary tasks like drafting minutes and overseeing share charges are left to us.”
According to trainees, “you can't do much better than a BFSL seat when it comes to responsibility.” The BFSL team – that's banking and financial services litigation, by the way – is one of the country's largest and acts for insurers, banks and mortgage lenders across the commercial, corporate and retail sectors. The details of most cases are kept under wraps, but the majority tend to revolve around recovering fraudulent losses and deterring similar mishaps in the future. “Sometimes you're chasing up the bank because somebody can't afford their mortgage, and other times you're dealing with complicated lending that needs securing.” In keeping with its Chambers UK top-tier recognition, sample clients include big names like Bank of Ireland, Nationwide Building Society and Lloyds. Despite this high-profile rep, however, “trainees really get the opportunity to think for themselves in this department,” one said. “We're constantly running our own files and corresponding with clients. I even got to conduct my own advocacy at a hearing and attend a trial.”
Financial services regulation is a “small but growing” team in London. “The work is pretty technical – we respond to ad hoc regulatory queries by reading through documents like the FSA Handbook or the Consumer Credit Act and drafting the advice. You end up performing a lot of intensive research on very specific subjects.” TLT occasionally seconds trainees to financial services clients such as Barclays, though placements only occur “as and when the client needs.” Said one trainee who'd completed a secondment: “I got to deal with a huge variety of matters every day and see how the client operates from the inside out. That exposure proved beneficial when I returned to the firm and resumed dealing with them from the other side.”
TLT's regional property capabilities – including its planning, real estate litigation, construction and social housing work – are deemed among the best in Chambers UK. Department successes of late include scoring the role of sole property legal adviser to the BBC – whose portfolio includes more than 300 properties – and acting for the Canal and River Trust in an arrangement to allow a luxury boating service ferry sport fans to and from the 2012 Olympic site. On the client front, commercial giants like WHSmith, EDF Energy and Everything Everywhere complement public sector pillars like the Environment Agency, Energy Saving Trust and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (the new name for the Metropolitan Police Authority).
In Bristol, trainees are assigned to sub-teams such as residential or social housing, while the London team operates as a one-stop shop. “I did everything from lease renewals and high-value residential conveyancing work to property sales and commercial licensing matters,” a source in the capital said. “You're pretty much left to your own devices – I ran numerous files myself and conducted my own client meetings.” Over in Bristol, we heard from trainees who'd negotiated leases, handled property registrations, worked on insolvency issues and performed corporate support roles: “The responsibility's yours for the taking. Very early on, I worked alongside a partner to devise a social housing project implementing solar panels. I got to meet with the client regularly and even had a sub-team at my disposal.”
Those on the construction side of things get involved in a mix of contentious and transactional matters, “quite often” renewables-related ones: “I've drafted framework agreements and negotiated building contracts, as well as taken witness statements for a contract dispute.” Meanwhile, over in professional negligence it's mainly claimant work for financial services clients. “Seeing how claims get put together is really interesting,” said one source. “I was involved in a mediation and got to attend settlement discussions for a residential mortgage claim on behalf of a bank.” The team works closely with its colleagues over in BFSL, particularly in the fraud arena, and handled more than 2,000 different matters in 2012.
Much of TLT's corporate work falls into the renewables sphere – in fact, there's a specialist team devoted to handling fundraising and M&A work for clean energy projects involving wind, wave, hydro and solar technologies. Lawyers recently advised on a finance vehicle's £4.2m acquisition of a solar farm in Buckinghamshire, as well as kitchen and washroom system provider The Frank Artemis Group's acquisition of a water-saving technology specialist company. The firm's also big in the private equity and retail industries – sample matters include advising on the sale of professional indemnity firm Prime Professions and that of Rileys, Britain's biggest pool and snooker club chain. Trainees praised their role as “not too prescriptive,” reporting a variety of “standalone tasks” such as drafting collaboration agreements and powers of attorney, and running data rooms during the disclosure process.
Eyes on the prize
Our sources were quick to praise the firm for its emphasis on trainee development: “We're encouraged to take our own initiative, but there's quality control – partners are receptive to trainees' needs and make it clear they're interested in our progression.” As one pointed out, “they regularly ask us what we'd like to work on next, which suggests they value our interests and input. Some firms look to bend trainees to a certain mould, but TLT is more interested in encouraging people to shape their own path.” When it comes to supervision, efforts are “more structured than they used to be – we now have a supervision meeting once a month to review our progress and set objectives.” What's more, the open-plan office set-up means “you end up with multiple supervisors because there are always senior people around to ask questions to and observe.” Insiders agreed all these factors contribute to “an environment where trainees can settle quickly and contribute a lot.”
Likewise, interviewees had nothing but positive comments on the firm's recent growth, insisting “it's an exciting time to be here. Everybody's first thoughts of the Bristol legal market involve Burges Salmon or Osborne Clarke, but TLT is really making a name for itself lately.” Indeed, many pointed to “innovative pricing structures” and the recent “abundance” of lateral hires from the likes of DLA Piper and Eversheds as evidence of TLT's determination to land a bigger market share. “The general level of optimism and excitement surrounding our development contributes to a great atmosphere – people all over the firm are striving to better themselves and take us forward.” On another promising note, NQ vacancies in 2013 outnumbered the amount of qualifying trainees, with ten of 12 kept on in the end.
Relaxin' all cool
Trainees acknowledged a “technical hierarchy” but insisted “there's little need to take a different approach with people more senior than you.” Indeed, we heard about “plenty” of banter and sport and entertainment-related chatter, largely facilitated by the open seating plan: “Lots of people approach each other face-to-face rather than by e-mail.” There “isn't loads” of crossover between London and Bristol, but we detected a similarly comfortable vibe present in each. “It's clear they look for applicants with good people skills,” sources from both locations agreed.
The Bristol office – or “TLT Towers,” as one interviewee put it – is housed in a 1970s tower block adjacent to the Avon: “I think we can agree it's not very attractive from the outside, but the inside is fine – we have great panoramic views of the city.” We paid a little visit not so long ago and can attest to the fact that there are few buildings with such good prospects of Bristol. That said, “it would be nice to have a place to sit down for lunch – we have a little room upstairs, but it's not big enough to congregate.” London trainees had similar opinions of their Cheapside digs, praising the “modern, clean” interior and “excellent views” while lamenting the lack of canteen. On the upside, hours are “reasonable” at each branch, so lawyers have plenty of time to take advantage of the myriad social activities on offer.
“A lot of people get involved in wider firm life,” we heard, with third-seaters taking on the task of organising occasional trainee events like Laser Quest and bowling outings. In Bristol, extracurricular highlights include the football league and networking events, while Londoners have monthly drinks dos and impromptu nights at their local. An annual trainee gathering in Bristol each June sees new and future joiners welcomed to the firm, and there's also a “cracking” firmwide summer party held every other year. Last year's shindig was held at Ashton Court Mansion, complete with “doughnuts, drinks, funfair rides and great weather.”
We reckon this is a firm that's going places. Current trainees recommend getting on board “if you're someone who wants to contribute to and be part of a growing entity.”