Gerrards Cross is the location for a training contract that offers a heady mix of high responsibility and excellent social opps...
On me 'ed son
Gerrards Cross might sound like a site of pilgrimage, or something that Andy Carroll needs to get his head on the end of. What it probably doesn't sound like is the home of a thriving full-service regional law firm – but that's what it also is. Nestled in an affluent corner of South Bucks, BP Collins counts Brangelina (or whatever they're now called), the Osbournes and James Corden among its neighbours. But despite the local glitz and glam, the firm is unpretentious about what it is and what it wants to be – “they're not a cookie-cutter firm. It's clear during recruitment that they know what their strengths are and they don't pretend to be anything else.” Or, to put it more bluntly: “great clients, good work, but with a great work/life balance.” Recently the firm has been called “a London firm outside London,” but sources insisted this was a simplification: “We do have a few London clients because we can be competitive compared to City firms but we're not inexpensive, and people still come here for top-notch work.”
This aforementioned perception is compounded by the fact that the firm employs a lot of former City lawyers as partners – “they move down here for the better work/life balance and the firm gets access to their contacts.” But the firm is also trying to temper this by promoting organic growth: “It's nice to see that there are a few partners who have come through – I think they look favourably on local applicants.” All that said, of the current trainee class, over half do the 'reverse-commute' from London and, with trains to Marylebone taking a mere 25 minutes and the office being located “very conveniently for cars, sandwiched between the M4 and M25,” who can blame them? Those that make it to the right motorway exit will experience an informally structured training contract with an unusual five-seat rotation system. Trainees spend five-month stints in four seats and then repeat one – “that you'll hopefully qualify into” – for another four months at the end. As with many things, the firm takes a fairly casual approach to allocation, as well as hiring. In fact, because BP is fairly flexible with start dates, trainees start at different times throughout the year. Though this was praised by some, who thought it an adaptable system, others were less encouraged: “There aren't many jobs here and if someone who has started a few months before you qualifies into the department that you are keen on, it probably means there won't be a job for you there.”
Anyway, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. New starters are asked which seats, out of the available six, they'd most like to do, and which they'd least like. You can change your mind during the next two years, but on the whole, interviewees were very happy with the way HR had allocated their choices. The corporate/commercial team remains a popular choice, although at the moment it's “a bit partner-heavy,” with four partners matching up with two associates and two trainees. Nonetheless, sources were overjoyed that this meant fewer menial tasks: “It's very hands-on, considering it's a commercial seat. I went to meetings with partners and did distribution.” Most of the team's clients are “expanding start-ups that have grown and developed quite well – 200 employees, that kind of size.” Biffa, one of the UK's largest waste management companies, is a long-standing client, and recently the team acted in connection with its £2.6 million acquisition of North West recycling supremos Blakeley's.On larger deals like this, trainees' work is stuff like “sharing buyback transactions, drafting minutes and doing due diligence.”
Property remains BP's largest department and is split between commercial and residential, or 'ressy' as it's affectionately known. Clients are quite typical of the firm, in that there's a mixture of commercial clients and private individuals, meaning matters can range from securing large land acquisitions for developers, to selling a duke's country estate. With regards to the former, clients include the UK arm of French crocodile-embroidering clothiers Lacoste, as well as retro bowling alley operators Hollywood Bowl. And as for ressy clients, they are usually local homeowners and buyers operating at the top-end of the market. Sources spoke of a slight disparity in responsibility levels; in ressy, “a lot of the time you run your own files and are the main point of contact. I was having solo meetings with clients by the end; you are very much independently running your caseload.” While in commercial, “you are mostly just assisting, helping with the drawing up of leases and reports.”
"In the long run the better you are, the easier their job will be."
Of the three seats discussed in this feature, employment is the only one that includes a contentious element. The team acts for employers and employees, and so there is also the small matter of drawing up contracts and codes of conduct that represents the non-contentious aspects of the seat. With the latter, sources spoke of a new dimension to the team's work following uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote: “There have been a lot of requests by firms looking to clarify the rights of their EU workers in the wake of the referendum.” Interviewees spoke of being “included in the process throughout,” indeed many had “dealt directly with the other side” for the entire duration of a case. This includes frequently attending court – “whenever there was a hearing I'd get sent along to take notes.” Another source told of a four-day hearing that involved a diverse range of activities: “I was preparing bundles, drafting witness statements and putting together documents lists and indexes.”
A small firm with big clients means excellent exposure – “on smaller matters, particularly when the fee earners are on annual leave, you even get the chance to take meetings.” However, this approach is not just out of necessity: “Partners want you to get as much experience as you can, because in the long run the better you are, the easier their job will be. They also never abuse the fact that they have you to help them, they are genuinely committed to ensuring that you enjoy the process, and they want you to like the firm.” This affection is likely enhanced by the fact that hours at BP are reasonable, and positively cushty when compared with the City. Experiences varied but none of those that we spoke to had “had to burn the midnight oil.” In fact, the latest any of them had stayed in the office was 9.30pm!
Can't escape the fun
Another consequence of hands-on trainee work is that there is less need for formalised training. There are lunchtime sessions once a month when “a senior lawyer will run through a topic” but otherwise, “it's pretty much work-as-you-go.” Praise was heaped on the role that trainees' supervisors played: “You meet on a weekly or monthly informal basis and just make sure you are not overloaded and have a good variety of work. They're also really good at giving feedback.” An informal mentorship scheme is complemented by a good heap of organised fun. Trainees get to be part of a very active social committee, which puts on things like an annual quiz night, a trip to Lord's to watch the cricket and a summer outing to an open-air theatre. On top of this there is a quarterly trainee get-together with a £25-a-head budget – “last time we did Escape the Room, which was a good way of getting everyone to bond.” Despite the gregariousness of most, sources lamented the fact that, due to most lawyers commuting by car, “sometimes it's hard to get people to stick around and have a drink.”
On the flip side, the firm gives every fee earner a free parking space. For trainees there's a £30-a-week parking allowance for those that choose to park in the Waitrose car park. BP HQ was described as “perfectly adequate but nothing special,” though there was slight criticism for the fact that the firm was split between two buildings – “it's fine for trainees because we move seats but having everybody spread out isn't great for cohesion.” When it comes to qualification, at the end of the fourth seat trainees have a discussion with HR during which they're asked which seat they'd like to return to – “you're given a bit of an idea informally which departments have the capacity to take on more lawyers. They kind of let you know so that you can make an informed decision.” In 2017 the firm kept on two of its four qualifiers.
Not used a pen in a while? Time to practise your best copperplate: B P Collins asks for a handwritten cover letter.
How to get a B P Collins training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 May 2018 (opens 1 March 2018)
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.
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 that "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 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. Senior Partner Simon Deans concludes: “We are looking for people who are personable, loyal, good-humoured and self-motivated. Our aim is to provide excellent training with a view to preparing trainees for a long career as a lawyer at the firm.”
Typically, more than 50 candidates apply for placements at B P Collins, also with 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.
B P Collins LLP
32-38 Station Road,
- Partners 16
- Associates 44
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices Gerrards Cross
- Overseas offices None
- Graduate recruiter: Mrs Jacqui Symons, HR manager
- Training partner: David Smellie, email@example.com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3-4
- Applications pa: 55
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: As and Bs at A level
- Vacation scheme places pa: 25p/week
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 May
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 January
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 March
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,400
- Second-year salary: £27,400
- Post-qualification salary: £40,000
- Holiday entitlement: 23
- LPC fees: Contribution
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Gerrards Cross
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: None
Main areas of work
• Commercial and residential property
• Employment law
• Family law
• Litigation and dispute resolution
• Private client
University law careers 2018