BWB blends a wholesome chunk of charities work with a commercial practice.
Waite with bated braith
Known for its extensive work for the charities sector, BWB was described by its trainees as “a City firm with a conscience.” It recently became the first law firm to acquire 'B Corp' status, which means that (like Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia) it's a public-spirited type of business, committed to social and environmental betterment. How nice.
“I wanted to work in an environment where there's a public interest ethos and BWB stood out as having that set of values,” a trainee told us. BWB's identity is bound up with the charities sector. More than 65% of turnover comes from this sector and it has perhaps the UK's largest dedicated charity law teams, acting for household names like Amnesty International and the Samaritans.
"The firm no longer wants recruits who are exclusively into charity law."
However, there's more to BWB than its third sector endeavours. It's a growing firm with serious commercial and corporate ambitions. One interviewee noted that “BWB is much more commercial than when I started” and advised prospective trainees to be “clued up about what the firm does and how it portrays itself: the firm no longer wants recruits who are exclusively into charity law. People who really want to be commercial lawyers impress them. It can get tiring when every applicant says 'I love charities!'”
Incoming trainees pitch up at BWB's 10 Queen Street offices, right in the heart of the City just a stone's throw from Southwark Bridge. Before their first day, all will have chosen one of four pre-designated combinations of seats (aka 'flight paths'). Each consists of two six-month seats followed by three four-month seats, and all involve stop-offs in charities and dispute resolution, which are both mandatory seats, together with public and regulatory.
The charities department is the largest in the firm and divided into groups like culture and creative, social finance, education, election campaigns, public sector spin-outs, and trusts. All our interviewees who'd experienced the seat mentioned that setting up charities is a big part of the work. One told us: “I drafted articles of association, charity incorporations and trust deeds as well as looking into the particular legal basis for the formation of different types of charities.” Other tasks might include “researching regulations concerning charities and political campaigns” or “navigating regulatory investigations initiated by the Charity Commission.” There's also the chance to work on “bigger matters like mergers between charities.” BWB's solicitors recently advised the Samaritans on one of the biggest charity mergers ever, in which all the 200-plus Samaritans charities from around the UK became part of the central charity or converted from unincorporated associations into charitable incorporated organisations. Lawyers have also been busy with a new client, the Royal Albert Hall (a registered charity), which the firm is advising on governance, management, fund-raising and Charity Commission regulation.
“Researching regulations concerning charities and political campaigns.”
As well as stepping in to help charity clients with contractual wrangles, BWB's dispute resolution lawyers work with corporate clients, individuals and public sector bodies on commercial, fraud, employment, property, intellectual property and media cases. “It's a growing department but it's not massive, so you get good hands-on experience,” reckoned trainees, noting that typical tasks include “attending court, due diligence, research, and drafting witness statements, orders and application notices.” One highlighted that “the department handles a lot of trade mark disputes. On those I typically draft merits of claim and potential defences.” Recent IP clients include the Booker Prize Foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Foundation, the International Paralympic Committee, WaterAid and Trinity College London. There are also “disputes over inheritances in which charities are involved. At the moment I'm preparing for quite a big case for which I'm dealing with the bundles and going to court to file applications.”
The corporate commercial team works on mid-market M&A deals, private equity transactions, restructurings and commercial contracts. The firm recently advised the British Film Institute on food and drink outsourcing for a new international film centre due to open in 2022. "The commercial work is quite tech-heavy, so I was advising on changes to data protection regulations,” a trainee told us. “I also drafted website terms and conditions and negotiated the terms of a fund-raising agreement." Of late, corporate folk at BWB acted for infrastructure company Conway on the acquisition of tarmac makers Berkshire Macadams. Also on the books are Chatham Capital Management, Prospect Publishing and homelessness charity Shelter. Trainees take charge of “completions and looking after all the documents." One told us: "I drafted ancillary documents like board minutes and on smaller transactions I drafted share purchase and loan agreements."
Sources appreciated the petite proportions of the immigration team, which has just five lawyers. “It's nice because you get a real sense of all the work that's going on,” one said. The team handles both personal and commercial immigration matters. Solicitors recently advised TV production company Endemol (known for programmes like Big Brother) on the entry of well-known celebrities into the UK to take part in the Soccer Aid and Stand Up To Cancer campaigns. “I did a lot of legal research for fee earners, attended meetings, took notes and turned them into letters of advice," an interviewee told us. "I also drafted forms to be submitted to the Home Office and had to chase up and liaise with people a lot.” Trainees also highlighted that the department's been busy fielding queries from companies and individuals in the wake of the Brexit vote.
BWB may be based in the City, but thankfully trainees don't have to work City hours: home time tends to come around by 6.30pm. Even when there's the occasional longer slog, it's only because something is pressing, like a court deadline or deal closing. “Sometimes the corporate commercial seat is really busy," said a source. "When there were a lot of completions I did work 12-hour days, but otherwise the hours are reasonable and you can make plans for the evening.”
United we stand
Asked about BWB's culture, some sources intimated there's a tension between the firm's progressive image and the reality of being an expanding firm in the City. One commented: “It's impossible not to struggle with the two concepts – having a growing corporate commercial team and a prevalent charities side." The divide is being bridged somewhat by the fact there's still crossover between the two realms. "Even in corporate commercial, the charities law side of things is still important," a trainee said. "For example, we have a banking and finance partner who handles loans to charities, so that theme is present wherever you are in the firm.”
"Even in corporate commercial, the charities law side of things is still important."
Sources also told us BWB has a “pleasant working environment and people are willing to help and make you feel at home.” Although the offices were described as “nothing special” aesthetically, the newish open-plan layout has enhanced the genial atmosphere – “we're all on one large floor and so it feels very much like one firm.” Don't think the firm's charities focus means you should start weaving flowers into your hair though; the bottom line counts here. “It's a friendly firm, but it still remains the case that everyone has their targets to meet,” remarked a trainee sternly.
There's a social committee “which is always arranging things throughout the year, like trips to museums, a pub quiz, wine tasting, crazy golf and walking tours.” Due to the small trainee intake, rookies “naturally form close friendships.” As well as firm-organised events, trainees “do ad hoc stuff like going for lunch and meeting up for drinks.”
As in previous years, sources expressed how the qualification process is unexpectedly "opaque" for a firm which appears so big-hearted. “The process is struggling to catch up with the growth of the firm,” said one ruefully. “It can be a painful process: you can go 18 months getting very good appraisals and then come out without a job.” A source elaborated on how the NQ process works: “The firm tries to give trainees the independence to seek their own connections rather than having a rigid formal process with interviews. The decision is actually made by the head of the department in question, based on their personal feelings towards the trainee. The graduate recruitment team tries to put in the correct procedures to make it a smooth process, but departments aren't willing to take on a trainee unless they like them.” Thankfully, all anxiety was assuaged with an excellent retention round in 2017, when all four qualifiers were retained.
Mind your language: this firm used to be called Bates Wells & Braithwaite. It dropped the ampersand a few years ago, so make sure you use the correct name for the firm.
How to get a Bates Wells Braithwaite training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018
Training contract deadline: 1June 2018
The vacation scheme
Bates Wells Braithwaite hosts three vacation schemes over Easter and the summer. Each lasts for two weeks, and there are four spaces per placement.
Around 500 candidates apply using the same application process as the one adopted for direct training contract applications (details below).
Vac schemers spend each week in a different department. Before they join, they submit their top three preferences for where they'd like to sit, and the firm endeavours to accommodate the first two. Senior graduate recruitment and HR advisor Hayley Ferraro tells us that during their placement candidates “usually have the opportunity to attend client meetings, draft documents, take minutes and even go to a trial or an employment tribunal, depending what is happening in the relevant department.” Attendees must also complete a half-day assessment, which culminates in a group debating exercise. On the social side there are lunches and evening drinks with the current trainees, and vac schemers are also invited to any firm-wide events occurring during their visit.
Applications and assessments
BWB receives around 400 direct training contract applications each year. Candidates must first complete an online application form. If successful, applicants complete a psychometric test and if successful, will then be asked to complete a video interview.
The firm selects just 20 to attend an assessment day (vac schemers do this during their time with the firm). This usually takes place at the beginning of July. The day begins with a trainee breakfast and Hayley Ferraro and the training principal Paul Seath delivering a brief introduction. Then there is a group and written exercise. Following this, candidates undergo an interview with a panel of two partners and one associate. “It's focused on your CV, grades and experiences,” a current trainee revealed, adding: “They also throw in a couple of general questions to test your knowledge and ability to think logically. It's quite relaxed, though – it's more like a conversation than a grilling.”
The day also involves a trainee-led tour and concludes with an informal drinks session.
The final interview
The firm invites around five candidates from the half-day assessment back for a final interview. When factoring in BWB's internal pool of paralegals and star vac schemers, the total number of candidates who reach this stage is usually around 20.
“At this stage the interviewers are looking to fully understand the candidate's interest in BWB and why they are applying to this firm over other City law firms,” Hayley Ferraro explains. “Candidates who have researched the firm and understand its ethos as well as current issues impacting the legal industry will stand out.”
Our trainee sources agreed that this interview is tougher than the first. “It's more formal and more focused on the law, although there is the acknowledgement that you might not have attended law school yet,” said one. “The legal questions are pitched in broad terms – for example, they might ask you what law you'd like to see changed, or ask you to talk about a recent legal development you feel is important.”
According to a current trainee, “a number of people who've come through in recent years have been in their late twenties/early thirties and have had other career experiences.” Between them, their work experience spans the charity, broadcasting, politics and publishing spheres.
That said, we're assured this is not the result of some fixed design on BWB's part. As Hayley Ferraro says: “we're open to all applicants, whether they're coming straight from university or changing career.”
Trainees do typically have an interest in and experience of charity work, however. As one pointed out: “Everyone here has done some kind of voluntary work at some point, or at least has a strong interest in the third sector. That's what BWB is mostly about, and they like people to demonstrate that.”
Social impact finance
Bates Wells Braithwaite
10 Queen Street Place,
- Partners 38
- Associates 66
- Total trainees 10
- UK office London
- Graduate recruiters: Hayley Ferraro & Nicole Cardinali, [email protected]
- Training partner: Paul Seath
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 400+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 1 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Post-qualification salary: £58,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2017
• Bristol Law Fair: Tuesday 31 October
• University of East Anglia: Wednesday 8 November
• University of Manchester: Tuesday 14 November