Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP - True Picture

A new managing partner is heralding a period of international expansion and practice development at silver circler BLP.


Stroll along London's South Bank and take a gander at the City skyline – chances are you'll see a building or two that BLP's lawyers have had a hand in shaping. A few years back the real estate giant helped develop the 'Walkie Talkie' skyscraper (which famously fried some cars with searing rays of reflected sunlight during its construction), and more recently has been busy getting The Pinnacle project off the ground – the Bishopsgate skyscraper will be the City's tallest tower once it's completed in 2018.

“Everyone knows real estate is the main thing we do,” the firm's trainees noted. It is indeed BLP's largest practice area (accounting for almost a third of the firm's business), and Chambers UK deems the firm one of the top four in London for big-ticket work, placing it in the same league as Clifford Chance. There's also a real estate sector focus which draws in work connected to lots of other practices. The firm receives top rankings for its real estate litigation and construction practices, and a nod on the real estate finance side. “We have a really strong client base in real estate," interviewees said, rattling off industry big'uns like Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group, "and that's something the firm plans to use going forward. There'll be even more cross-selling in the future so that those clients can utilise our other practices too.”

Not that BLP's other big practices – corporate, litigation and finance – don't reel in their own big fish. Corporate in particular has expanded a lot recently and in 2014 won a role on Italian chocolatier Ferrero's £112 million purchase of UK choccy fave Thorntons. Here the firm wins top Chambers UK marks for its mid-market M&A and AIM capital markets capabilities.

The firm managed to thrive during the recession, but the past few years have been rocky, marred by partner departures, redundancies, salary slashes, and dips in both profits and revenue. That said, “a more positive feeling has taken hold again,” our trainee interviewees insisted. They put their optimism down to rising financials – turnover increased by 6% to £259 million in 2014/15 and partner profits by 22% to £650,000 – and the 2015 appointment of Lisa Mayhew to managing partner. “She's a contentious employment partner, and that fits with the firm's desire to move away from being seen as a one-trick real estate pony.” This goal will also require some expansion overseas, they continued. “Until BLP increases its international footprint, many clients will continue to see Clifford Chance's letterhead as more valuable than ours. Lisa is keen to grow our scope.” Along with its London and Manchester bases (the latter of which BLP opened in 2014 to house a new legal service delivery team), the firm has 11 overseas offices across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “We've invested a lot in Asia,” says graduate recruitment partner Michael Anderson, pointing to the Hong Kong office's recent nine-lawyer lateral hiring spree.

The firm takes on 40 to 45 trainees a year, all in London. Trainees are expected to complete seats in real estate and litigation, as well as in a corporate-related area (corporate finance, restructuring and insolvency, investment management, or commercial). They get to submit five preferences and chat with graduate recruitment before each rotation. “Most people get something on that list.” There are a few client secondments available at each rotation – previous destinations include Goldman Sachs, AIG and Tesco plus overseas seats in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brussels and Moscow.

Get real

BLP's real estate expertise covers everything from financings and joint ventures to regenerations and construction projects. Major clients include property developer Great Portland Estates, private equity hotshot Blackstone and supermarket giant Tesco. Among the department's big highlights of late have been the purchase of London’s iconic Old Spitalfields Market and the sale of a site in King’s Cross to Google for the tech giant's new digs. “We handle a lot of London properties. It's really cool to walk past somewhere and say, ‘I worked on that!’”

The department is split into five teams, with trainees assigned to one for the duration of their seat. “It’s difficult to break the teams down, as there’s so much cross-departmental work." That said, each team tends to have a focus or two – team one, for example, does a lot of hotel and leisure work, while team five combines broader development matters with social housing projects. Across all teams trainees can expect a mix of small standalone matters (like short-form leases and licences) and big corporate deals. "On a small file, you're in charge of taking instructions from the client and negotiating the terms; on a larger transaction, you have more of a support role – you're expected to know what's happening at all times and what the status of ‘x’ is," a source helpfully explained. "You might get some input in documents like development and facility agreements, but that usually means reviewing comments rather than drafting clauses.”

The real estate finance team primarily represents lenders, though borrowers and private equity investors occasionally crop up on the client roster. Recent clients include Barclays, RBS, HSBC, M&G Investments and Lodha – lawyers recently oversaw the financing of the latter's £235 million acquisition of the Canadian Embassy building in London. They also advised DekaBank Deutsche Girozentrale on its £113.1 million loan to Hines for the acquisition of Sixty London – online giant Amazon’s London headquarters. It’s a world of “big transactions and tight deadlines,” and our sources suggested “doing it as a third or fourth seat if you can help it, as you’re plunged straight in.” Luckily, there are “lots of paralegals, so trainees don’t tend to do much of the nightmare post-completion stuff,” freeing up time to “draft security agreements and get stuck into negotiations.”

An asset finance seat is "all about the financing of planes, trains and ships.” The team specialises in leasing arrangements and recently oversaw the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's leasing of 11 aircraft to Indonesian airline Garuda – a deal so complex that it took two years to complete. “The work is really technical, so the trainee role is pretty limited here – there's quite a bit of drudge work like bibling and managing conditions precedent checklists.” We did hear of trainees drafting supporting documentation like airframe warranties and stock franchise agreements, though.

Share and share alike

Nearly half of BLP's corporate finance work has an international dimension. The team recently advised Taiwanese Cathay Life Insurance on its £311 million acquisition of a Jersey property unit trust, BGO Investments on its sale of Mandalay Media to Toronto-listed The Intertain Group, and First International Bank of Israel on the £30 million sale of its UK banking subsidiary. The team's sector specialisms include real estate, financial services, oil and gas, healthcare, and gaming. Trainees who'd sat here had encountered a mix of M&A and equity capital markets matters, both of which involve some pretty low-level tasks: “Bibling is terrible, and verification is so tedious! There's a lot of both.” It's not all running document lists and taking notes, though: “Sometimes more interesting tasks come along, like drafting due diligence reports and contributing to share-purchase agreements. A big highlight for me was attending a signing meeting – they let me go alone to the client’s office to explain what all of the documents meant.”

The commercial team handles technology, telecoms and outsourcing contracts for clients as varied as Nike, The Guardian and Thames Water. Lawyers recently advised RBS on a voice and data network outsourcing project covering 43 countries worldwide, and helped National Grid with the contractual structure of its mobile telephone service. "Around a quarter of your time as a trainee is devoted to corporate support work like reviewing contracts and flagging issues, while the rest is spent on things like drafting IT outsourcing agreements or working on pro bono licensing agreements." IP, meanwhile, mixes contentious and non-contentious work for the likes of Fatface, the FT and BAFTA. "The team is small, so you get a lot of responsibility," said a source here. "On one dispute I did the technical research, drafted the particulars of claim and even contributed to the strategy of the case, which was challenging and intellectually refreshing.”

BLP's commercial disputes lawyers handle regulatory cases, as well as general commercial, financial crime, insurance and banking disputes. A recent headline-hitter involved a spat between shareholders in coal mining group Bumi: the Indonesian investors eventually sold their stake, and the company was renamed Asia Resource Minerals. Trainees here can expect to “dabble in a bit of everything – there's bundling on large cases, but you also get to attend court for things like case management hearings." As one reported: "I’ve been to court more than 20 times in the past six months!” Small cases tend to offer up the most drafting opportunities: “On those you have a go at first drafts of everything – all of the applications and defences. And you get to attend all client and settlement meetings too.”

Ice Ice Baby

BLP's London headquarters are split between two sites – Adelaide and Magnus House – next to London Bridge. “We don't have the flashy offices our competitors have – Adelaide, where most people are based, is a lovely Art Deco building with bright offices and river views, but Magnus, where most of the contentious teams are based, is less so. It's a bit dark. Having to move between the two can be a pain in the backside.”

Luckily, there's a good atmosphere inside to make up for it. “BLP doesn't choose people who are up themselves or snobby; you won't find arrogant people here, even at the top. Partners have their doors open all of the time. Trainees don't just sit there and struggle." It helps that “we're all encouraged to pursue our interests outside of work. That makes people happier when they're here." And 'here' they are quite frequently. “It's a top City firm – you can’t expect to work nine to five,” sources shrugged, noting that transactional stints can be especially gruelling. “You can’t really make plans in this seat," said a corporate finance trainee. "Last Friday there was an exchange, so I stayed until 2.30am.” That's not to say litigation is an easy ride, though. As a contentious construction trainee revealed: “If there’s a large submission you’ll be here until 2am. It can be brutal.”

On the plus side, “it’s the general consensus that BLP is one of the best in the City for formal training. Even on the LPC you have weekly sessions from BLP fee earners.” Once they're at the firm, trainees can expect weekly training sessions in most departments. “In real estate you have three a week. It's really helpful – they give trainees specific examples and precedents to use.” When they're not on the clock, BLP trainees know how to have a good time. Drinks at the pub are a weekly occurrence, and the trainee committee organises two much-anticipated socials per year. “HR gives us a large budget to blow on a big party.” Recently they blitzed it on a summer boat party on the Thames, and last Christmas spent it chillin' at London’s ICEBAR.  

The qualification process is a “rigorous” one, insiders revealed. Trainees submit a CV for each role they're applying for, and then undergo an interview, and complete a case study or other written exercise. “It feels like it’s more work than applying for the training contract! It’s designed to give everyone a fair chance, to bridge the gap between those who may have sat in a department as a first-seater and those who did it as a fourth. They take a holistic view of everyone, which is why they examine all your appraisals. It doesn’t just come down to the interview.” In 2015, 31 out of BLP's 47 qualifiers took up NQ positions with the firm.

And finally...

Trainees were excited to report that Lisa Mayhew "is really enthusiastic about diversity, and is rolling out mandatory inclusivity training for all partners and managers to educate them about unconscious bias.” The firm's set itself the target of a 30% female partnership by 2018.

You may also be interested in...

The other silver circle firms:  

- Herbert Smith Freehills
- King & Wood Mallesons
- Macfarlanes
- Travers Smith

These large commercial City firms:  

- Baker & McKenzie
- Hogan Lovells
- Latham & Watkins
- Norton Rose Fulbright

How to get a Berwin Leighton Paisner training contract


Vacation scheme deadline: 31 October 2015 (winter); 31 January 2016 (spring and summer)

Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016

Application and assessments 

BLP gets around 2,000 applications each year for its 40 to 45 trainee places on offer. These flood in via online forms that detail applicants' knowledge of the firm, reasons for considering a career in law, and work experience. The application process is the same for those aiming for a vacation scheme spot as well as straight-to-training-contract hopefuls.

Those whose forms impress sit an online verbal aptitude test, and from here the graduate recruitment team select between 550 and 600 candidates to attend an assessment day. This begins with a drafting exercise in which applicants write a report on the basis of various documents they're provided with. A one-on-one role-play and group negotiation follow. The day concludes after a group lunch and trainee-led tour around the office.

The next step to getting a training contract for both vac schemers and direct entrants is an interview with two partners or associate directors. This usually includes questions on applicants' technical knowledge, core knowledge of law, and motivation for wanting to work at BLP. “We hope to make our interviews quite informal, so there's often a lot of discussion around topical events or news stories that will affect our clients,” graduate recruitment and development manager Alan Demirkaya tells us.

Vacation scheme 

Between 60 and 70% of BLP's trainee intake comes in through its vacations scheme. BLP takes around 100 vac schemers a year, spread across five placements. There are week-long winter and spring schemes, plus three two-week schemes in the summer.

Each placement features presentations from partners from the firm's core areas, a strategy talk by a member of the management board, and a few socials like a CR activity or ping pong tournaments. Still, it's not all fun and games: Demirkaya warns that “throughout their time here vac schemers are assessed for a training contract. We give them real tasks so we can get a real indication of how they'd perform trainee-level tasks, and ultimately how they'd fit in with our culture.”

Alongside these tasks attendees complete a group task – for example, a client pitch involving an international topic – in which they produce a draft of written work and deliver a presentation in groups of four.

Trainee profile 

Demirkaya elaborates on what BLP is looking for: “One of the core qualities we look at is someone's motivation levels and how driven they are to succeed in a career in law. A lot of applicants will still have two years' study ahead, so we need to know they're fully committed to us, and that we can see them potentially making partner here.”

The firm targets over 20 universities across the country in search of its future partnership. A good whack of trainees have traditionally come from Russell Group institutions, though our sources noticed a growing number of Oxbridge recruits joining ranks. Mature applicants also get a look in. “We have people coming from previous careers in industries like finance and construction – areas that resonate well with our clients,” Demirkaya tells us. “It's essential to have a mix of backgrounds as our five core practice areas are so different.”

Interview with managing partner Lisa Mayhew

Student Guide: How would you describe BLP's current position in the legal market?

Lisa Mayhew: We are in a strong position, and our financial performance during the year leading up to April 2015 was robust: our revenue grew by 6% and profitability increased by 22%. We also ended the year with zero debt and a positive bank balance of £12 million. These results show that the firm is in a good place and that we have a strong platform for future success. We won't be resting on our laurels though – we're an ambitious firm and we'll be striving to continue this upward trajectory we've witnessed.

SG: Which practice areas are the largest at BLP? 

LM: Our two largest practice areas – in terms of sector performers – are real estate and litigation, and both have experienced substantial growth over the last year. But that's not to say that they are the entire story. Our corporate, tax and finance practices have all experienced growth, as have a number of our smaller practice groups, like commercial and asset finance.

SG: Trainees pointed to BLP's “innovative strategies” like its 'Lawyers On Demand' service and legal service delivery team in Manchester. How have these initiatives developed over the past year?

LM: We've been particularly pleased with how both have developed. Our 'Lawyers on Demand' service saw a 42% growth in turnover to £12 million. Over the last five years, LOD has seen an incredible 700% growth in revenue. It's been a differentiator for us, and we've had a first-mover advantage in this area. We have ambitions to grow this side of the business, and we recruited a new managing director, Tom Hartley, who came over to us from [risk consultancy firm] Kroll in March 2015.

August 2015 marked our first anniversary in Manchester. In one year the legal service delivery team has gone from start-up mode to a point where we're seeing high utilisation levels across the employees based there. A number of our lawyers in London have been partnering with colleagues in Manchester on client instructions. It's not just our real estate and litigation lawyers who are using these services – we're seeing a whole cross section of practice areas and groups doing so.

SG: Looking back over the past year, what have been the highlights?

LM: Bob Charlton joined us from Freshfields as our new head of Asia, and his hire reflects our broader ambition to grow our business lines in that region. We were also joined by nine lawyers from Hong Kong firm Haley & Co in May 2015: their addition has been a huge success and they've given us an arbitration offering there. In London, our corporate practice was strengthened by the arrival of Katherine Mulhern and Bobby Schrader, who together have added a new US securities capability.

In terms of leadership changes, we have a new global head of corporate, Jonathan Morris, who's been with us for 25 years. We also appointed Nathan Willmott as global head of litigation and dispute resolution. Again, Nathan has been with us for many years and has a very strong practice in financial services litigation in particular.

As for work highlights, we worked with Highways England on its £1.5 billion smart motorways programme, which involved three packages of contracts. We also acted for Haversham Holdings on its £1.2 billion acquisition of the British Car Auction Group, and advised Aviva on its £937 million refinancing of a number of properties. Lastly, we advised Ferrero on its £112 million takeover of AIM-listed Thorntons.

SG: Let's flash-forward a couple of years: where do you hope BLP will be?

LM: It will be a firm that is still travelling. We are committed to delivering the best services we can for our clients, and from a hiring perspective we will be focusing on attracting talented, collaborative people, so that the firm is culturally – as well as financially – strong.

SG: Other silver circle firms like Ashurst, Herbert Smith and SJ Berwin merged in recent years. Is a merger something that BLP would be willing to consider?

LM: We don't have any plans for a merger at this point.

SG: Have you earmarked certain practice areas for growth?

LM: We will always look to invest in our core areas, which are real estate, litigation, corporate, finance and tax.

SG: Would you like to grow BLP's international presence in the years ahead?

LM: The key word for us here is focused: we are focused on growing our firm in established markets like Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Singapore. We would also be open to developing opportunities in growth markets like Myanmar. In terms of other jurisdictions, we are constantly talking to our clients about how we can improve our ability to service them. While we don't have plans to expand in another jurisdiction at the moment, we would never say never.

SG: Trainees were enthusiastic about BLP's approach to diversity and inclusion. Can you tell us more about what's in place, and what you hope to achieve in this respect?

LM: It's a hugely important priority for our firm, as I believe it should be for the sector as a whole. We have introduced gender targets in our partnership: our goal is to have a 30% female partnership across the firm by the end of 2018. We also appointed Claire England as our new full-time inclusivity manager. Claire and the leadership have formed various focus groups with our employees and partners: we're addressing a broad spectrum of factors, tied to ethnicity, sexuality, gender and family. It is our mantra that individuals should be allowed to be themselves when they come to work, in whatever role they are assuming at our firm.

SG: What are you looking for in future trainees? 

LM: We are looking to hire bright individuals with proven academic credentials – but more than just that. We want to see candidates who have good people skills; those who will be able to build strong relationships with clients and colleagues alike. It's vital that we find candidates who have the intellect and ability to communicate in a clear and accessible way with our clients.

Interview with graduate recruitment partner Michael Anderson

Student Guide: How will BLP grow over the next couple of years?

Michael Anderson: Let's start in London, where we'll be looking for depth in our core practice areas. We're already very strong in real estate, which continues to go from strength to strength, as does our litigation practice. We're continuing to invest in corporate where we have had a strong year, and we have further scope here to develop.

In terms of our overseas offering, we've invested a lot in Asia, and in the future there will definitely be more opportunities for our trainees to complete seats in the region. We are also looking at recruiting graduates directly in the region, so that it's not just a London-centric process.

The firm will also be developing its Manchester office. It's not somewhere I can see trainees going, but in terms of how we service clients it is an important part of the tool kit, and it will allow us to expand into areas which we don’t currently service out of London. LOD continues to be successful: we use them, our clients use them and other firms use them. It all fits in with the firm's move toward more flexible working arrangements.

SG: Trainees mentioned BLP's flexible working policy. Can you tell us more about it?

MA: Informal flexible working has been trialled through a number of our departments and is becoming more commonplace across the firm. Many of our fee-earners are able to work from home one day a week and a lot of people have benefited from that – even if it’s just to get their head down on a document away from the office. We are also very encouraging if people want to work on a more structured flexible basis. We have set ourselves a target of 30% females in the UK partnership by the end of 2018, and flexible working policies are an important tool that will help us to achieve that.

SG: What are you looking for in trainee candidates? 

MA: It all just comes down to what we are doing here, and what we are doing is providing legal services to our clients. Therefore, we need people who socialise well, will work well within the teams here, and get on well with our clients. Good academics are a given for the standard of people we will be interviewing. We're after people who we know we can leave with a client, and be confident that they'll be able to hold their own, even if they don't know the answer to a question – they'll know who they can refer it to, for example.

People talk a lot about commercial awareness, but really it's about how you communicate that awareness to clients; how can you help clients with the decisions that they need to make? In that sense we act as business advisors, and we need to offer tailored advice that will make the lives of our clients easier. Trainees coming through need to have developed those people skills, so they can put them into practice during meetings, to bring people together and generally not hide behind a computer screen!

SG: How does seat allocation work at BLP? 

MA: It comes down to a mixture of the trainees' preferences and priorities – which we obviously bend over backwards to try and fulfil – as well as our preference to have them experience our core areas like real estate, litigation and corporate. Overall, we would hope to give everyone their first choice at least once in their training contract. In the few rounds of our seat moves over 85% of our trainees received their first or second choice seat.

I realise these choices may shape our trainees’ future careers and there is support to help guide you. At every seat change you will sit down with your partner mentor and a member of the graduate recruitment team to discuss your options and help you make the right choice for your career with us.

Trainees don't have to complete a seat in corporate finance to meet our corporate expectation. That can also be fulfilled restructuring and insolvency, investment management or commercial.

SG: BLP offers both client and overseas secondments. What can you tell us about these opportunities?

MA: Germany and Moscow do their own trainee recruitment, so those offices are self-contained. We've been sending our trainees to Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East recently, and the options are reviewed from time to time. Certainly in Asia we are looking to expand the opportunities that will be available to our trainees.

Our client secondment opportunities do change from year to year, and sometimes they are ad hoc. At the moment we have people at AIG, Tesco and Goldman Sachs, by way of example. It all depends on what the client is looking for; some look for a trainee for one seat, while others are looking for a more permanent arrangement.

Trainees are very interested in these opportunities, but they also tend to bear in mind the timing. Most try to do a secondment in their second or third seat, so they can return to the office for their final seat. They often have qualification options in mind, but returning for the final seat is not a rule that we impose. We have a fourth-seater at Goldman Sachs at the moment, so we're not very rigid about when trainees decide to do a secondment.

SG: Does every department have a formal training programme for incoming trainees?

MA: Training is coordinated by the central learning and development group, and is supplemented by each department. It is generally included in an induction when trainees first join a department, followed by ongoing sessions throughout the seat, but the arrangement of sessions does depend on the department. In corporate finance, we run the induction sessions over the first couple of weeks, and then put on weekly morning sessions, plus ad hoc bits and pieces.

SG: Trainees said that the qualification process is quite formal, and some found it stressful. Why has BLP opted for this more formal process?

MA: When you get to a firm of this size, and you have a lot of trainees coming through, you have to have a formal, transparent system that works for everyone and puts everyone in the same position. In other firms you can get individual departments going ahead of the gun and picking off their chosen trainees. Given the investment that we've made in our trainees, and the investment that they've made in us, everyone should be on a level playing field and should go through the same qualification process.

People shouldn't stress out too much about it, but they shouldn't treat it lightly either. The interview process is a platform for trainees to demonstrate why we should offer them a job. It is an opportunity to shine, and we'd be delighted to come out of the process having offered everybody a job. It should be seen as a positive rather than a negative. Given the importance of the decisions made at this point, it's in everyone's best interest that there's a formal process to go through.

SG: How would you describe BLP's culture? 

MA: Look, I'm too long in the tooth to say that we're unique. I trained here and I've been here for the past 26 years, so unless I'm a complete fool it really can't be that bad! It all comes down to whether you work with a good bunch of people and whether your clients are an interesting and engaging bunch of people; those are the two constituencies which define whether you enjoy your work or not. We have an excellent range of people here, spanning different backgrounds, nationalities and interests.

SG: We heard that BLP has revamped its diversity initiatives recently. What can you tell us about the firm's focus on diversity?

MA: Lisa Mayhew's big theme going forward is diversity. We have a 30% target for the number of women in the partnership by the end of 2018, and we are very much looking into social inclusion and broadening our net. It can only be a good thing; if we have a bigger constituency to recruit from, then we have a better chance of finding good people. There is an overarching diversity and inclusion group, which basically covers family, women, LGBT, culture and social inclusion initiatives. So diversity will certainly be a hallmark of Lisa's tenure, and we've recently revamped and relaunched our initiatives, which have been spearheaded by her.

I co-chair the LGBT group here, and we try to make sure that everyone is happy and comfortable in terms of being out at work. It's also been about increasing the visibility of myself and other LGBT lawyers who have moved up the ranks, and also engaging with clients and other business networks. We've been engaging to the extent we can with students, and we run a diversity event in December each year (along with other firms) which focuses on any concerns students might have about being an LGBT lawyer in the City. It's a course that lasts for a day in London. We will also be looking to expand our connections with established LGBT groups in our preferred network of firms, particularly those in North America.

Big-ticket London property work

Whatever angle you survey property from, BLP's a good place to be. The firm's 61-partner commercial real estate team is the largest of its kind in London, and is top-ranked in Chambers UK for its performance in the real estate litigation, big-ticket real estate, retail and planning spheres. The team also receives nods for its social housing, real estate finance and construction work. Here's more on how BLP's clients fit into the bigger picture of the London property scene.

Scraping the sky 

Whatever angle you survey property from, BLP's a good place to be. The firm's 61-partner commercial real estate team is the largest of its kind in London, and is top-ranked in Chambers UK for its performance in the real estate litigation, big-ticket real estate, retail and planning spheres. The team also receives nods for its social housing, real estate finance and construction work. Here's more on how BLP's clients fit into the bigger picture of the London property scene.

BLP also works with global property developer Oxford Properties, which built London's latest skyscraper: the Leadenhall Building, nicknamed the 'Cheesegrater' for its wedge-shaped, metal-framed exterior. High-end commercial property in the capital is a crucial investment for countries like asset-hungry China, as well Singapore: BLP recently acted for the UOL Group – one of Asia's largest property companies – as it made its first foray into the London market by snapping up Heron Plaza for a tidy £97 million. The company will be erecting a 43-storey hotel, retail and residential complex next to the Heron Tower. The London market has also been attracting private investors from less stable (and less savoury) regions like Russia and the Middle East.

Private equity 

BLP represents private equity super-firms Carlyle and Blackstone, both of which are canny investors in the UK market. Private equity firms are traditionally known for buying struggling businesses, investing in them enough to get them back on their feet, then putting them back on the market to make a huge profit. Blackstone bought 50% of office and retail development Broadgate back in 2009 for £77 million, taking advantage of previous site owner British Land's recessionary woes. Four years later, Blackstone sold the investment on for more than £1.7 billion. The improved market these days means there are fewer bargains to be scored, so private equity investors are increasingly setting their sights on new real estate targets – in the case of Blackstone, industrial property in the Midlands and North of England.

Social housing 

They might not have the headline-grabbing glitz of commercial real estate deals, but BLP's work on social housing transactions can involve equally dizzying sums. The firm regularly works with local authorities and the Homes and Communities Agency, and recently advised housebuilding company Berkeley on the £1 billion, 4,600-home Woodberry Down redevelopment in Hackney. The current buzz-phrases in social housing are 'mixed-use developments' and 'urban regeneration', with contracts up for grabs to developers willing to blend social housing, luxury flats, retail spaces and leisure facilities into one handy package. Such deals are not without consequences, though: since its redevelopment Woodberry Down has been criticised for increasing living costs for existing social housing residents. As it happens, more than 55% of the first phase flats were sold to overseas investors, a move that artificially inflated property prices in the area. One flat in Woodberry's private block went for a staggering one million pounds.

And finally... 

As London's economy continues to grow and its property prices keep on going up, London real estate is seen as a safe-as-houses investment in an increasingly volatile global economy. The sums exchanged at the top end of the capital's property market look set to continue rise, with transactions becoming more and more complex and sophisticated. So a stint in one of BLP's real estate seats is miles away from the experience of a trainee in residential conveyancing at a high-street firm, and for trainees with their eye on corporate, it could prove streets ahead too.

Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP

Adelaide House,
London Bridge,

  • Partners 199
  • Assistant solicitors 395
  • Associate directors 39
  • Total trainees 82
  • Contact Alan Demirkaya, graduate recruitment and trainee manager
  • Method of application Online application form
  • Selection procedure Online test, assessment centre, partner interview
  • Closing date for 2017/2018 31 July 2016
  • Training contracts p.a. 40-45
  • Required degree grade 2:1
  • Required UCAs points 340
  • Training salary 
  • 1st year£40,000
  • 2nd year£45,000
  • Holiday entitlement 25 days
  • % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. 50%
  • No. of seats available abroad p.a. 7
  • Post-qualification salary (2014) £66,000
  • % of trainees offered job on qualification (March 2015) 75% offered 70% accepted
  • Offices Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Moscow, Paris and Singapore

Firm profile

BLP is an exciting, ambitious, and dynamic full service international law fi rm with over 820 feeearners. BLP currently has offi ces in eleven international locations, and has acted for or completed work in 130 countries in the last two years.

Main areas of work

Our client base includes more than 30 FTSE 100 companies and some of the world’s top banks. We support each of the country’s largest retail, water and construction companies. There are over 70 legal disciplines in which we are ranked. These include: commercial contracts; corporate finance; dispute resolution; energy and natural resources; EU and competition; finance; hotels, leisure and gaming; human resources; insurance; intellectual property; outsourcing; public sector; real estate; retail; regulatory and compliance; restructuring and insolvency; tax; and transport and infrastructure.

Trainee profile

In addition to talented individuals with brilliant minds and bright attitudes, we are looking for people who can take complex, often pressurised, commercial situations in their stride. The sort of people our clients want on their side and will ask for by name. People they can trust to help them succeed.

Training environment

Trainees spend six months in four seats and progress is reviewed every three months. Client secondments are a popular choice, and there is the opportunity to undertake an international seat in either our Brussels, Moscow, Singapore, Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi offices.


The firm developed and runs a tailor-made LPC, called the LLM+ launched in 2014. All trainees study at the University of Law, where tutors are joined by BLP lawyers and trainers who help to deliver some of the sessions, using BLP precedents and documents, and discuss how theory is applied to real cases and transactions. In 2011 we also introduced the GDL+; a programme of BLP led workshops which supplement the content that you study on the GDL course.


CPE/GDL and LLM+ fees paid and £7,200 maintenance p.a.