'If there's something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?' Blandy & Blandy!
By a spooky coincidence, we interviewed Blandy & Blandy's trainees just as the long-awaited remake of Ghostbusters hit our cinema screens. Why is this relevant? Well, this nearly 300-year-old Thames Valley firm – new to the Student Guide in 2016 – has a resident ghost in its “gorgeous Georgian” creaky headquarters in the old part of Reading. The ghost is Mary Blandy, who in the 18th century bumped off another Blandy, her dad, because he disagreed with her choice of beau. “Only the cleaners have seen her, though,” one trainee confessed with a sigh of relief. “But it can get creepy in the corridors at night when you're all alone, bundling...”
This home counties stalwart is proud of its long history, and portraits of the various generations of Blandys who worked here adorn the main staircase's walls. Drinks connoisseurs among you may be interested to know that one branch of the family founded the Blandy's Madeira wine business in 1811, which is still going strong. But while Blandy & Blandy's name may sound like something from a P.G. Wodehouse story, trainees stressed that this “traditional” firm is “modernising” and “very forward-thinking now: there's a lot of change going on at the moment, and many young partners have been made up.” Originally a private client firm, Blandy & Blandy has built up various corporate and employment practices over the years, and new partners have “brought in a lot of really interesting clients” in areas like intellectual property, IT, and even sport. The seven seat options on offer reflect this spread: as well as private client and family, stints are available in corporate and commercial (coco), dispute resolution, employment, property (commercial and residential), and planning.
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. 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 chairman, Brenda Long, one of many senior lawyers who trained here. “The partnership as a whole recognises that the business and legal markets are changing,” one NQ emphasised. “Our heritage is in Reading but we don't want to be seen to be resting on our laurels. We are a full-service law firm acting for individuals and companies, but we are innovative, forward-facing, always looking to develop and take on new areas to keep the business fresh.”
Thanks to Blandy's size, interviewees relished the opportunity to work in “close-knit teams” with the resultant “real exposure to legal work” and “lots of client contact.” Most had done a seat in dispute resolution, but broadly speaking trainees are permitted to visit the departments that interest them. The current batch had avoided the family team, where the “emotional” work means you should only apply if you're genuinely passionate about it. In 2016, two out of three qualifiers were retained in the coco and planning departments. The third was offered a six-month contract in employment, but took up a position elsewhere.
“I was running my own files under supervision.”
Dispute resolution can be “a really good seat to do” if you don't mind handling lots of debt recovery claims – chasing people for unpaid bills on behalf of clients and also the firm itself. Trainees felt a stint here provided a great opportunity to take on responsibility and manage their own files. On the plus side it allows “a lot of communication with clients, as you advise them on how a matter is progressing and the next steps,” though on the downside it can become “repetitive after a while” and slightly disheartening. Debt recovery aside, assignments here can overlap with other departments, like contested wills and property disputes. Interviewees enjoyed “preparing bundles, reviewing documents and making sure everything is ready for the court,” which they sometimes attend with a partner. Trainees are likely to work with one of the firm's two joint managing partners, Phil D'Arcy, and are supervised by the “very accommodating” commercial litigation and insolvency head David Murray. Most work highlights are confidential, but we can tell you that the firm acted for client FHS Motor Racing to recover a six-figure sum from the Lotus Formula 1 Team.
Property likewise offers a mix of “running my own files under supervision” as well as “assisting solicitors.” The team acts chiefly for landlords – “the University of Reading is a client” – and typical trainee tasks include “drafting leases and lease renewals, rent deposit deeds, and taking care of other landlord/tenant issues.” Occasionally things crop up like “complex adverse possession claims,” which can give trainees the chance to take witness statements, among other things. Residential property work can also feature (the “sale and purchase of people's houses”) and while “properties are generally in the Thames Valley, this team has a lot of experience with landed estates further afield.” Other clients include Lloyds Bank and the Englefield Estate.
The combined corporate and commercial (coco) seat is split between M&A work and other commercial work, including business agreements and intellectual property. “I was doing due diligence on a big deal – the other side had 30 people working on it! The sale was to a Taiwanese buyer, which added an international element.” The company in question, long-term client Box Technologies, was bought by Taiwan's Flytech Technology. Most deals are “for businesses based in the Thames Valley, where Blandy & Blandy has an established presence.” Duties include the usual “drafting of board minutes, Companies House forms and other ancillary documents throughout a transaction.” On the commercial IP side, “I did quite a few applications to the UK Intellectual Property Office [IPO] and EUIPO [European Union Intellectual Property Office]. I was very pleased with the responsibility. There were a few smaller matters too, where clients would email me.”
Private client work (probate, tax & trusts) remains Blandy & Blandy's bread and butter –“it makes the most money of all the departments,” one trainee thought – and was said to be “a good first seat to do, as it eases you into the work.” Supervised by the head of department, trainees here do “a whole raft of things like helping to administer estates, organising grants of probate, writing to building societies to ascertain what assets people had, will drafting and handling funeral wishes.” New clients come mostly “through word of mouth, and off the street – I had a lot of client meetings, which was great.” The separate and larger 13-strong family team does a lot of “prenups and postnups, divorces, and arrangements for children of couples who are splitting up. The rules for unmarried couples are very different and that's a growing area for us. We also deal with applications from grandparents, for example, so what we cover is a bit wider than normal parent disputes.”
The basement, the ghost and the other abodes
Employment is “a mix of contentious and non-contentious work – drafting employment contracts and handbooks, advising on settlement agreements and attending tribunals (often in Reading but also Watford and London). Client contact is mainly through new enquiries, and if anyone's away.” Customers include Ascot Racecourse, Padworth College and Launch Diagnostics. The final seat on offer, planning, is “a niche department. Not many firms, especially regional ones, have a department for this area. We focus on big planning developments in the local area, including enforcement of planning contraventions; if an individual is prosecuted, we either defend or prosecute them. It's a really varied seat.”
When we phoned, Blandy & Blandy's employees were looking forward to bonding at the firm's annual away day (“always fun”) – this year it was held at Center Parcs Longleat. Such a tradition is more valuable than ever these days, as staff are split across the two sites in Reading, and now also Henley. In Reading, the “more modern, more officey” Blagrave Street site houses coco, disputes and employment, while the other teams remain within spitting distance in the Friar Street mothership. This Georgian building has been extended and is now mostly open-plan. Nevertheless, it still feels “a bit like Narnia when you look at the front” because it's so big inside and “quite mazey.” Its deep, dark basement was a bomb shelter in World War II and now stores countless deeds and other files. Venture down at your peril because, thanks to Mary Blandy's ghost, it is “the creepiest room on the planet!”
Blandy & Blandy's small London outpost is used mainly for meetings as “many clients live in the Thames Valley and work in the City.” Lawyers pop into the Big Smoke regularly, but none are based here permanently – although this may change.
How to get into Blandy & Blandy
Training contract deadline (2019): 30 June 2017
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 31 January 2017 (spring); 30 April 2017 (summer)
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', able to demonstrate 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 is in the Student Guide for the first time in 2016/17. Is 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 recently invested heavily in what some would consider non-traditional Blandy hires in order to open up new client sources. Jo Frears is an IP and technology specialist with specific expertise in cybersecurity and augmented reality. Andrew Bond brought with him a substantial Asian property finance portfolio. My background is cross-border M&A and financing. In the Thames Valley, these hires 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 then 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 19
- Solicitors 30
- Trainees 5
- Contact Anne Laflin, HR manager, 01189 516945
- Method of application Please apply by online application on our website.
- Selection procedure Assessment day. This all day event allows us to observe the candidates completing various task both as an individual and as part of a tem. Occasionally we may also supplement this with an interview.
- Closing date for 2017 30 June 2017
- No of training contracts pa 2-3
- % interviewed Approximately 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £21,500
- Second year: £23,000
- Holiday entitlement 22 days
- Post-qualification salary £37,000
- % of trainees offered a job on qualification We aim to be able to offer all of qualifying trainees a position within the firm
- Overseas/regional offices London
- All trainee positions are in Reading office
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 partnerled service and outstanding client care.
Main areas of work
Each trainee will spend six months in four different seats and complete a professional skills course. Trainees normally share an office space with their assigned partner or an experienced solicitor, providing the best opportunity for supervision and continuous professional development and for the trainee to experience the day-to-day challenges of a qualified solicitor.
Work experience scheme
Whether you are a law or non-law student the firm will introduce you to life in a law firm.
Our programme is a week-long and runs at Easter and summer providing experience in all of the client departments with opportunities to shadow our solicitors both in and outside of the office. Please apply via the firm’s website at www.blandy.co.uk. The closing date for applications is 31 January 2017. The firm also regularly attends careers fairs throughout the year.