This South Bucks firm offers an interesting mix of commercial and personal work in a star-studded location.
Little big Bucks
In sun-drenched LA, you can sign up for a 'Map to the Stars' tour and trundle around in an open-top bus gazing at celeb mansions and hangouts. But why bother, when you can simply hop on a train at London Marylebone and arrive in a town dubbed 'mini-Hollywood' a mere 25 minutes later? Yes, we're talking about Gerrards Cross, of course. It's based in an area of South Bucks that's managed to attract its fair share of famous faces, including Brad and Ange, the Osbournes and everyone's favourite carpool companion, James Corden.
Among the glitz and glamour sits B P Collins, a firm that started out specialising in property but has since evolved into a full-service outfit. Its locale has much to do with its ongoing success: given Gerrards Cross's status as one of the most attractive – and expensive – commuter towns, it attracts a glut of high net worth individuals requiring a host of personal legal services. But this desirable town also draws in businesses looking to maintain City connections without paying sky-high rates – exposing B P Collins to a range of corporate and commercial work. You'll therefore find the firm's corporate/M&A, litigation, employment, private client and family expertise all ranked highly by Chambers UK.
And it's an exciting time for B P Collins. “It's going to be a year of change,” senior partner Chris Hardy tells us. A new CEO, Ian Hopkins, has been appointed, and at the time of our research he was busy revising the firm's strategy. “The aim will be to promote sensible growth, and we'll be looking to recruit more in the future too,” Hardy reveals. “Given that we're celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2016, it's an ideal time to consider our future.” Watch this space.
Our interviewees were chuffed that their seat preference list – submitted before they join – was largely adhered to. “HR definitely do their best to accommodate you. You get to list three seats that you definitely want and one seat that you definitely don't.” Seats are typically divided into four five-month stints, followed by one four-month stretch in a department that trainees aim to qualify into.
However, due to B P Collins' more flexible stance on trainee start dates, this seat pattern is subject to change. “Some seats might be shorter or longer than the standard five months,” leaving a few insiders craving more consistency. Having newbies join at different times was seen to impact on qualification options too: “If someone starts and qualifies two months before you, it's unlikely you'll get hired into the same department they go into. Everyone starting at the same time would make life easier and fairer.” In 2016, three out of four qualifiers stayed with the firm.
"If I was considering a divorce, I'd come here."
Property – the largest department – gives rookies a taster of both residential and commercial work. Matters can range from securing large land acquisitions on behalf of companies to selling an individual's country estate. Key commercial clients include waste management specialists Biffa, the UK arm of French clothing company Lacoste and ten-pin bowling outfit Hollywood Bowl. Trainees spend a lot of time running their own smaller files: “It's great because you learn how to take care of clients. You basically do it all. In other departments you're completing discrete tasks while the fee earner manages the file.” However, trainees do sit with their supervisors, who monitor and check the work produced.
Litigation encompasses property, general commercial and probate disputes. Tech, pharma and waste management clients fill the books, with cases regularly involving contract, shareholder, IP and professional negligence issues. It's a busy seat for trainees, who “rarely say no to work,” but can, we were assured, if they're absolutely swamped. Alongside research and drafting claims, sources received plenty of client contact. “We were told that being stuck behind a photocopier won't make us good solicitors, so they put us in front of the clients.” Indeed: off the back of some recently conducted research, one trainee was invited to lead a client meeting. “It came as a bit of a shock!”
Corporate/commercial is a popular choice, with most trainees listing it as a preference. Biffa is a major client here as well, with the company keeping lawyers particularly busy of late: they've helped it snap up two related businesses from competitors, as well as the entire share capital of another. On larger transactions, trainees can get bogged down with due diligence, but smaller deals offer “more hands-on work”: sources had drafted ancillary documents and even had a stab at a share purchase agreement. On the commercial side, interviewees had reviewed distribution agreements and once again rated their exposure to clients. “I was able to advise a client on how the Consumer Rights Act 2015 could impact their business,” one enthused.
"Neither I nor my supervisor could speak Polish, so we started learning it together!”
Wills, trusts and probate matters can be encountered in the private client department. The client list is (of course) private, but we can tell you that managing directors and chief execs feature heavily. Our sources had been more involved in the trusts and wills side, with one explaining: “It's not about knocking up a standard will – these are large, complicated estates, so the wills we help to draft have to take into account various family circumstances.” Probate matters can be equally challenging, especially when there are international elements involved. “We were trying to get a valuation of a property in Poland, but neither I nor my supervisor could speak Polish, so we started learning it together!”
“If I was considering a divorce, I'd come here,” one interviewee joked. Family lawyers here handle a mix of prenups, divorces and guardianship matters. Insiders advised requesting family as a first seat, “as the supervisors are very good at guiding you.” Doing it later, they added, can feel a bit restrictive: “You can't send anything to the client without it being reviewed and you can't speak in meetings!” Given the contentious nature of the work, common trainee tasks include preparing bundles, compiling cost schedules and finalising instructions to counsel.
“The people are what stand out for me,” one insider reflected. “Everyone is energetic, ambitious and outgoing!” Being on the more extroverted end of the scale helps, our sources agreed, as the majority of seats are “so client-facing from the beginning.” At the same time trainees felt that B P Collins couldn't match the after-work buzz at London firms: “It's not as social as we would like, mainly because a lot of people drive in or commute from London.” However, the social committee does have the occasional treat up its sleeve; previous outings have included champagne soirées and trips to the races at Windsor. The firm also pays for trainees to take the party to London once a quarter too. But the award for “the best team building event” goes to... the Three Peaks Challenge! A group of partners and trainees recently tackled the UK's three highest peaks in just 24 hours. We felt exhausted just hearing about it. Nevertheless rookies relished this “adventure.”
It's not all wining and mountain climbing though. The official working hours are 8.45am to 5.30pm, but workload isn't always that predictable. In family, for example, “they expect you to stay. The latest I've been here is midnight, but I usually leave by 7pm.” Both the litigation and private client departments have an open-plan area, a set-up trainees appreciated: “It means we get a lot of supervision and people can get us heavily involved in the work. The partners' offices surround the area, but their doors are open and we just wheel our chairs in to work with them!” Further integration is hindered by the fact that B P Collins is spread across two buildings (albeit right next door to one another). “It would be lovely if we were all in the same space, as it can be difficult to get to know everyone,” grumbled one trainee. Still, the firm has two prime pieces of real estate on its hands: “We're smack bang in the centre of Gerrards Cross. You can't miss us. Everyone knows about us here!”
Interested in B P Collins? Then be sure to perfect your handwriting, as the initial application is by handwritten letter.
How to get a B P Collins training contract
Work experience deadline (2017): 31 March 2017
Training contract deadline (2018): 31 May 2017
B P Collins recruits two to three trainees each year. To apply for a training contract applicants must submit a handwritten covering letter along with their CV. "This helps us identify those who are really interested in joining B P Collins specifically as a handwritten letter requires a lot of effort and attention" says HR Manager Jacqui Symons. Senior partner Chris Hardy adds: “We ask this partly because in the modern world it is so easy to produce computer-generated CVs. We feel it tells us something more about the candidate.”
In terms of the content, the firm expects to learn "why a candidate is interested in applying to B P Collins in particular. We put a premium on attention to detail, so spelling, grammar and the structure of the letter are really important to us. We are also looking for well-rounded candidates who can demonstrate other interests beyond work and studies."
Interviews and assessment day
Successful candidates are invited to attend group test sessions and screening interviews which are held between May and September each year. A successful candidate assured us "it really isn't scary at all. I was just asked standard questions about myself, my motivations and my interest in the firm." Nine of those interviewed are selected to attend to a full-day assessment in the autumn. This includes presentations from Ian Hopkins, the firm's CEO, and training partner Matthew Brandis. Candidates deliver a short, prepared presentation on a subject of their choice, which is followed by a short Q&A session. Candidates are then quizzed on the presentation. Topics of past presentations have included the optimum time at which to place a bid in an online eBay auction (12 seconds before the end apparently!), the life of Andy Warhol and why Boris Johnson is such a canny politician.
The morning finishes with in-tray and group exercises, followed by lunch and an office tour conducted by current trainees. Finally, candidates are interviewed by two partners and/or senior associates. One eventually successful candidate told us “It's gruelling but they're good at putting you at ease.” The firm lets candidates know if they have been successful within 24 hours.
Typically, more than 50 candidates apply for placements at B P Collins, again by way of a handwritten covering letter and CV. Up to 20 are interviewed and selected to attend a one or two-week placement between May and October each year. A student who completed a placement said that the firm "makes a real effort to get you as involved as possible – some of us even got to go to court!"
Applications for training contracts and work experience placements are dealt with separately so you will need to complete one for each if you are interested in both opportunities.
What goes on in Gerrards Cross
Gerrards Cross, an upmarket village in Buckinghamshire, is consistently rated one of England’s most desirable places to live. It's located on the border of Greater London, a 25-minute train ride from Marylebone, and is sometimes referred to as ‘mini-Hollywood’ owing to several celebrity residents. Noel Gallagher, The Osbournes, Fern Britton and James Corden are just some of the glitterati who own properties there. Brad and Ange do too, but they're nobodies by comparison, really.
Gerrards Cross is famous for its exclusivity, with house prices considerably higher than the national average. The average house price is somewhere in the region of £800k plus. In fact, in February 2010 the BBC dubbed it ‘Britain's richest town’. We have it on good authority that the local charity shops are well worth a rummage, as some residents give away designer clothes without thinking anything of it.
Close by at Latimer Minster, Stampwell Farm is home to a number of micro-pigs, one of whom made an appearance in Britain's Next Top Model. Not, we should point out, as a contestant. Visitors to the farm can play with the pigs, learn how to look after them or buy one. Just outside GC is the scenic chalk escarpment of the Chiltern hills – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1965. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, try taking a trip down the A40 to Beaconsfield to visit the first model village in the world – that should do the trick.
Gerrards Cross has a number of other interesting claims to fame. In 1969 the singer Lulu married Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees in the local church. Miss Marple actress Margaret Rutherford was buried in the same church's graveyard after her death in 1972, and Stanley Kubrick filmed some of the exterior shots for his 1962 film adaptation of Nabokov's Lolita in the village. Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was born in the nearby village of Chalfont St Giles, and the alumni of local schools includes Roger Moore, Guardian journalist Alexis Petridis and beatboxing artist Shlomo.
When we visited B P Collins, we got the chance to scope out the town. It’s really very charming, and if you’re looking for ease of access it’s unbeatable. If you see the rat race of the City as your mortal enemy, then Gerrards Cross might be just the type of place you want to live. Got to have the dosh, though.
B P Collins LLP
32-38 Station Road,
- Partners 13
- Assistant solicitors 46
- Total trainees 6-8
- Contact Jacqui Symons, HR manager
- Method of application Handwritten covering letter & CV
- Selection procedure Screening interview and assessment day
- Closing date Applications for the firm’s 2018 intake will be accepted from 1 March to 31 May 2017
- Required degree grade 2:1; grades A & B at A level
- Training salary
- First year: £26,400
- Second year: £27,400
Types of work
• Commercial and residential property
• Employment law
• Family law
• Litigation and dispute resolution
• Private client