Blandy & Blandy's no blandie – this bustling regional firm comes with its own ghost.
Thames Valley visions
A trainee can reasonably expect to be haunted by bundling mishaps or the spectre of a heavy deadline. But at 300-year-old Thames Valley stalwart Blandy & Blandy, it's not the partners or the paperwork that's spooking people, it's a ghost. Yes, that's right, AN ACTUAL GHOST: the spirit of Mary Blandy who, in 1751, poisoned her father Francis Blandy with arsenic because he didn't approve of her choice of suitor. Mary was hanged outside Oxford Castle but, according to Blandy folk, she continues to make her presence felt, supernatural-style, at the firm's HQ – a Georgian building in the old part of Reading. But before you start speed-dialling Derek Acorah, it's probably worth noting that none of our interviewees actually claimed to have seen Mary, though newcomers are told all about her antics when they first arrive. One admitted that “there's a giant safe downstairs in the basement where we keep all the wills and probate documents and I don't like going down there, especially after 5pm. It's certainly colder – whether that's just because it's a cellar or down to Mary's ghost...I don't know!”
“I’d been to a number of open days at City law firms... I much preferred the friendliness and vibe that I got when I came here."
Originally a private client firm, Blandy & Blandy has built up various corporate and employment practices over the years, with work in areas like intellectual property, IT and sport. Expansion across the board led to the opening of a second Reading office in 2015, just a stone's throw from the Friar Street HQ. The former base houses the corporate and commercial, disputes and employment teams, while the rest reside in the latter. Although it's a Georgian building, the Friar Street mothership is mostly open plan, thanks to Blandy's modernising tendencies. “Nobody's shut away and everyone is accessible,” noted trainees. In the summer of 2016, Blandy's acquired a Henley-on-Thames firm, further strengthening its ties with the South Oxfordshire region. On the diversity front, the firm recently appointed its first female chairperson, Brenda Long, one of many senior lawyers who trained here.
Sources reiterated that the firm's size and culture attracted them. “I’d been to a number of open days at City law firms and they didn't suit my personality. I much preferred the friendliness and vibe that I got when I came here. The smaller intake certainly means that you get access to some really good work and responsibility. I wanted the best insight into how to be a solicitor.” Eight potential seat options greet trainees upon their arrival: probate; family; corporate and commercial (coco); dispute resolution; employment; commercial property; residential property; and planning and environment. First seats are allocated automatically, but before subsequent rotations trainees submit two preferences. “They definitely take our choices into account. I've had several discussions with our training partner, who knows where my head's at. It all depends on how busy a department is and whether a second-year's preference is prioritised.”
In the dispute resolution team, trainees often handle debt recovery work “for the firm itself or for our bigger clients.” On the scent of payments, industrious novices “liaise with the High Court enforcement group if it gets to that point; correspond with the debtor; and draft letters, claim forms and default judgments.” However, there's also the chance to help out “partners and solicitors on the bigger matters. For example, I assisted with a Court of Appeal case. I did the bundles, attended the trial and sat in on telephone calls.” Sources hastened to add that since Blandy is “a fairly old firm there are quite a lot of family-style clients with landed estates, so we do work for them, like boundary disputes, land disputes and contentious probate.” Aside from looking after the rolling acres of wealthy families – such as the Englefield Estate – the firm represents companies and clients from the charity, education, technology and hospitality sectors, such as the University of Reading and ePayroll Services. Solicitors recently acted for a local private school with charity status on an acquisition dispute valued in excess of half a million pounds.
Meanwhile, over in the property department, “the crux of the work is landlord and tenant-related, so I did a lot of leases solely on behalf of landlords. The clients I tended to deal with were businesses, management companies or private individual landlords who have a wide portfolio of commercial properties that they let out.” Sources also mentioned doing some “really interesting work for a landed estate relating to unregistered land,” and taking on “secured lending matters for banks, like Lloyds.” On the bigger deals interviewees had “assisted with Land Registry applications and handling the standard enquiries that come in over the course of a transaction.” Recent highlights here include advising Cove Construction on its £1.3 million purchase of a site upon which it will build six residential properties; acting for a large manufacturer during its £5 million (plus) sale of an industrial warehouse; and assisting a Surrey-based group of landowners with issues tied to a 30-acre site near Farnham.
“It's all the rage to build gyms or swimming pools under terraced properties.”
Over in the corporate and commercial seat (coco), sources reported that they'd “drafted corporate documents, including share purchase agreements and disclosure letters, sat in on meetings, and done the usual due diligence.” One told us: “I was mainly focused on the corporate side, and involved in a number of deals ranging from £1 million to £5 million. The clients aren't huge listed companies, but there's a nice range.” Well known names on the client roster include Lloyds Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland, plus there are regional businesses like Higgs Printing Group, a Henley stalwart. Recently solicitors represented the shareholders of Box Technologies during the company's sale to a Taiwanese manufacturer for £12.5 million, and advised Ecrebo as it received a £13.2 million investment from individuals and a venture capital firm.
Several interviewees had sampled life in the planning department (where Mary's ghost is said to roam). “You deal a lot with individual freeholders who either want to submit planning applications to the local planning authorities or would like to oppose planning applications that neighbours have made. I went on a number of site visits in London, to places like Wimbledon and Chelsea, to look at underground extensions – it's all the rage to build gyms or swimming pools under terraced properties.” Trainees also get stuck into planning appeals: “If a developer client had their application for 100 residential properties rejected, we would appeal the decision to the planning inspectorate.” Of late, planning lawyers have helped the University of Reading with a £60 million mixed-use development in Oxfordshire.
It's common for trainees to arrive in the office at about 8.30am and leave around 6pm, although “there are occasions when you have to stay later – it's quite reasonable though, and I didn't come here expecting a 9am to 5pm job.” When asked about the Blandy culture, sources told us that “you don't feel people treat you with an air of superiority just because you're a trainee. Actually people are more than willing to go through things and sit down with you, which is beneficial to me as trainee and to the firm. They reiterate from day one that we're the future of the firm and so it's in the interests of the partners to nurture and teach trainees.” Interviewees characterised it as a “relaxed” place where “you can have a joke with people. It surprised me how interested people are in learning about you and what you've done.”
"They reiterate from day one that we're the future of the firm."
Being a small firm, Blandy doesn't have masses of carousing social dates in the diary, but the firm has recently established pay-day drinks on a Thursday evening. Different departments also organise their own shindigs and there's a yearly away day – 2016 was at Center Parcs. While there aren't heaps of trainee-specific events, “on the whole the group gets on very well and we meet up almost every lunchtime.” Warmer weather heralds a few more firm-organised get-togethers including picnics and games of rounders. Respondents opined that “most trainees are outgoing and chatty. The firm wouldn't like someone who'd hide – they want people who'll get involved and go to events where trainees are given a prominent role, greeting clients and stuff.”
When qualification vacancies are announced, “if there are two people going for the same job then they do more of a formal interview process.” 2017 proved to be a blip year for Blandy retention-wise; both of the firm's qualifiers decided to go elsewhere owing to the lack of vacancies in their desired department.
How to get into Blandy & Blandy
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018
Blandy & Blandy usually offers unpaid one-week placements in the spring and summer. Interns get to sample a range of practices and do some legal work. The scheme is open to second-year and final-year law students, final-year non-law students and post-grads. Accommodation and travel expenses are not provided. Hours are 9.30am to 5.30pm, with an hour for lunch.
Candidates should apply via Blandy's online application form and provide a covering letter. Around 15 to 20 applicants are invited to the assessment day in July. There isn't usually an interview, unless the assessment day is inconclusive. Candidates are given three written exercises on three areas of law – for example, writing a letter to a 'client' based on information given. After these individual written exercises, there are group exercises which are designed to assess personality. A recent example was having to argue for or against inviting particular people to a dinner party, then deciding as a group who to invite. Another exercise was putting together a two-minute advert about the firm, based on marketing information supplied.
How can you impress?
Excellent academics are important – a 2:1 degree and decent A levels. Recruiters are also trying to find out whether you're a natural 'Blandy's person' – someone who's able to demonstrate the three core values of approachability, integrity and excellence. The firm looks for good all-rounders, so varied interests and previous work experience on your CV (anything from shelf-stacking to charity volunteering) should count in your favour.
Interview with training partner Jonathan Williamson
Student Guide: You took over from Debbie Brett as training partner in summer 2016. What is your role, in a nutshell?
JW: I'm in charge of the recruitment of trainees, how their time with the firm is structured and assisting with the decision on whether they will stay on. We have a strong history of retaining trainees on qualification. The two years are a huge investment in terms of time and money for the firm, so we work with the trainees to ensure that they stand the best chance of taking an NQ position with the firm.
SG: Blandy & Blandy was in the Student Guide for the first time in 2016/17. Was this indicative of a broader move by the firm to raise its profile?
JW: Yes, I think we are keen to continue to raise the firm’s profile. The view internally and externally is that we're exceptionally good at what we do but we need to be more confident about that in terms of letting the market know. The firm is exceptionally well regarded, and while it is not the firm’s style to be too brash, we feel we could probably shout a little louder about our success stories. Our business development strategy message has always been strong but I think we are now just spreading the message more confidently. The decision to be in the Student Guide is not as a result of us struggling to recruit good trainees, but as part of our profile-raising.
SG: How would you characterise where the firm is at, and its strategy going forward?
JW: The firm has been around since 1733 and therefore the private client side of the business is exceptionally strong. The commercial side is a bit younger and while also now highly regarded it is part of the firm's strategy to build on this. The two sides of the business complement each other well and the strategy of being a full-service firm is vital.
The firm is financially very sound and so, as a partnership, we can concentrate on purely positive strategic decisions. This is surprisingly rare in the current climate. The firm has invested heavily in what some would consider non-traditional Blandy hires in order to open up new client sources such as IP and technology. My background is cross-border M&A and financing. In the Thames Valley, new hires in these areas were well publicised and show the firm to be taking a more aggressive approach. This is off the back of the second consecutive year of high growth in terms of turnover and profit.
SG: What was the rationale for the acquisition of Henley-on-Thames firm Collins Dryland & Thorowgood (CDT)?
JW: We already have many clients with a Henley connection. CDT was a firm with a solid reputation for client service and is very much part of the Henley establishment. This merger of our operations and greater investment in Henley will widen access to our full range of legal services and enable more clients to benefit from our partner-led approach and commitment to client care. Our intention is to commit to being in Henley and grow that business. We will be investing in new premises and it is likely that a trainee will spend time there as the business grows.
Similarly, the London office near Chancery Lane is proving to be more successful than we expected. It may well be that we open permanent premises there too. It helps to service our London clients and also the international work we do as part of Law Firm Network. We are willing to take opportunities as they arise.
SG: What is the vacation scheme like?
JW: We have a formal vacation scheme, and offer more informal work experience too. You don't have to have done a vacation scheme to apply for a training contract. We try to give students as broad a view of the firm as possible, and find out what they'd like to do. If there are court visits or meetings going on, they'll be allocated there or if there is a large corporate transaction on, they may be better off in that team.
SG: What is the recruitment process for a training contract?
JW: There's an online application form and covering letter. We then invite around 15 candidates to an assessment day. We don't interview, unless the assessment day is inconclusive. There are three individual written exercises on three different areas of law, as well as group exercises which are designed to get a feel for the candidates’ personality and ability to work as a team. For example, this year they each had to nominate two people to invite to a dinner party, then argue for and then against their own choices to eventually decide as a group who to pick. Another exercise involved giving them a selection of marketing material about the firm, some digital recording equipment asking them to record a two-minute promotional advert for the firm.
Strong academics are important but we are also trying to find out if they are a 'Blandy's person'. The candidates are taken on tours of the office where they get to speak to each team. There's a lunch, with partners invited, which gives them more informal intermingling with partners, then drinks at the end of the day.
SG: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?
JW: We focus on three key values a lot internally that make a 'Blandy's person': approachability, integrity, and excellence. This ensures we take those values out into the market and apply them to what we do for our clients and referrers. In terms of approachability, we look for sociability and an ability to simply get on with others. This wins work and keeps clients at the same time as enhancing our reputation with other professionals. In terms of excellence, all of our partners are ranked in the key legal directories as are many other fee earners. We have integrity in everything we do both internally and externally. It is the cornerstone of our business.
Because we only take three or four trainees, they have to be good all rounders and people who we can see having a future with the firm. When taking on a much larger pool of trainees it is sometimes possible to be more flexible; for example, in terms of academics if a candidate has other exceptional strengths, but we look for strong all-round ability.
SG: What advice would you give to applicants to help them stand out?
JW: Be enthusiastic. A lack of enthusiasm baffles me given how competitive the process is. Be honest. That means being yourself which usually shows character. I also personally quite like a varied scope of work experience. I feel that experience coaching swimming or working in a pub can sometimes be as valuable as week after week of photocopying at law firms.
SG: Have you seen the ghost of Mary Blandy?
JW: I work in the new building so have not had that experience yet. I was told about it when I was given the tour of the main building when I joined and so would like to think the rumours are true!
Blandy & Blandy
1 Friar Street,
- Partners 20
- Associates 6
- Solicitors 59
- Total trainees 5
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected]
- Training partner: Jonathon Williamson, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2-3
- Applications pa: 100+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 3
- Vacation scheme places pa: None
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 30 June 2018
- Training contract deadline: 30 June 2018
- Work experience deadline: 31 Janaury 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £21,500
- Second-year salary: £23,000
- Post-qualification salary: £37,000 pa (reviewed annually)
- Holiday entitlement: 22+ days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Reading
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: None
The firm has provided trusted legal advice to individuals and families for nearly 300 years. Commercially, it provides a full range of legal services to clients including banks and lenders, SMEs and owner-managed businesses, charities and educational institutions, professional practices, landowners and developers and venue and event operators.
Blandy & Blandy enjoys a reputation for high-quality, high value expertise, providing a partner-led service and outstanding client care.
Main areas of work
Each trainee spends six months in four different seats and completes a professional skills course. Trainees receive the best supervision and continuous professional development.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
• Reading University - November 2018