Torn between pursuing commercial law or private client? Stop deliberating: both doors open at Blaser Mills.
“It covered all the bases,” summed up one trainee when asked why they signed the dotted line at Blaser Mills. “I wanted to do commercial and private client matters, and both contentious and non-litigious work.” In addition, the prospect of soaking up this mix of work in various locations was another draw: Blaser Mills trainees usually move around three of the firm's four bases.
That range of destinations has become more limited in recent years. The firm shuttered its offices in Harrow, Aylesbury and Staines as part of a strategy revamp designed to “narrow our scope to what we're good at, ensuring we make maximum impact in those areas,” trainees informed us. "We've chosen to consolidate our offices to present a more corporate image that sits in line with our growth plan," training principal Minesh Thakrar tells us. "This move has assisted us in attracting new business and high net worth clients. And having more people under one roof means work can flow between departments far easier." Practice area-wise, this strategy has meant jettisoning the firm's legal aid crime team; bolstering its commercial side; drawing in more high net worth clients; and targeting high-value probate, personal injury and residential property matters.
At the time of our calls there were three trainees apiece in High Wycombe, Rickmansworth and Amersham. The seat allocation system has just been changed a bit. Previously it was very informal (“you just picked up the phone or dropped an email to the training principal and chatted with partners about what you wanted to do”). Now the training principal meets with trainees before each rotation to enquire where they'd like to go next, as well as speaking to trainees-in-waiting to find out the same. Be aware that “the firm expects you to work out of any office,” so flexibility is essential. In 2017 the firm retained four of its five qualifiers.
“I'm now being encouraged to take more control over the files I'm working on.”
Commercial is Blaser Mills' largest department and covers employment, dispute resolution, commercial property, commercial recoveries and corporate matters. Seats here are focused on one of these areas. The corporate team's work largely covers the sale and purchase of public companies and privately-owned businesses: the group recently assisted Berkshire-based Northcroft Fabrics during the £350,000 sale of its assets to chic fabric boutique Tissus d'Hélène in London. The commercial property department mainly advises small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – particularly dentist practices and hotels. Swanky Covent Garden boutique hotel One Aldwych recently called upon the team to help secure a lease for the hotel's administrative offices. Form filling – to change the registry of a property or to transfer registers of land – and reviewing and drafting leases are typical trainee tasks here.
Blaser Mills' dispute resolution lawyers, meanwhile, deal with property spats as well as commercial disputes and insolvency actions. Debt recovery firm First Collect, manufacturer Stannah Lifts and Bedfordshire-based tool hire company THX are all on the group's eclectic client roster; lawyers here recently acted for a Swiss private school to claw back £60,000 in unpaid school fees from Gibraltar-based guardians. Although interviewees admitted that there's “a little bit of bundling, there really isn't too much!” One told us: “I've done a lot of drafting and was able to attend court. I'm now being encouraged to take more control over the files I'm working on.”
Over in wills, trusts and probate the work is largely what it says on the tin, though trainees had also overseen a few lasting powers of attorney. “We receive many word-of-mouth recommendations so we work with a range of people, from your ordinary Joe to a high-end client with lots of assets,” one source told us. Another beamed: “I go with my supervisor to every initial client meeting. After that it's my role to open the file, draft the client care letters and the will and then send it to the clients. Everything's checked but my supervisor's not making many amendments any more – which is quite nice!” Other tasks include drafting joint wills, codicils and completing HMRC inheritance tax forms.
The firm's personal injury know-how in the Watford area receives top-tier praise from Chambers UK. The group has been busy of late handling serious injury claims, particularly those affecting the spine or brain. Although trainees pitch in on these larger cases, they're much more likely to be tackling low-value slip and trips, road traffic accidents or small employee and public liability claims. “It's really interesting because no two cases are ever the same,” one interviewee enthused. “You're doing a variety of things from drafting letters of claim and witness statements to negotiating settlements with the other side and figuring out what the quantum [costs] should be on the files.” There's a lot of client contact as trainees “meet and question clients about the circumstances which led to the injury,” plus your medical knowledge will likely get a boost: “I did a lot of research into medical issues as it's important for the fee earner to understand the affliction behind the claim.”
“It's really interesting because no two cases are ever the same.”
Residential property encompasses “a mixture of freehold and leasehold sales and purchases, as well as lease extensions.” Clients range from individuals buying homes to property investors or larger developers and housing associations. A seat here has “a completely different pace to the others: my supervisor gave me prompt instructions on what to do, so showing confidence and ability will get you more responsibility early on.” Interviewees hadprepared title, search and mortgage reports; corresponded with clients; and drafted reports and contracts on their behalf.
A few early starters and late workers put in the extra time by choice, but overall the days rarely stretch beyond 9am to 5pm. Late evenings occur when necessary but “when I say late, I mean 8pm,” one source admitted. At the time of our calls trainees described their salary as “underwhelming,” but since then the firm has upped pay, so first-years earn £27,000 – that's £5,000 more than before, and in fact one of the boldest increases in the market this year. A few interviewees did confide that there is a lack of transparency around NQ pay, and interviewees stressed that “although you'd earn more in the City, the hours wouldn't be as great. It's worth having less money for better hours.”
The Amersham and High Wycombe offices are both “very modern” and open plan “so you can ask anyone a question.” The layout also helps to dispel “any sense of hierarchy” among the solicitors. “Amersham is like Wycombe's little brother,” we're told, but has “less of a corporate feel; as it's smaller you get to know everyone fairly well.” Rickmansworth “is a bit older and has a lot of charm” but is less bustling as “everyone is tucked away” in offices of twos and threes. Regardless of location trainees told us the firm's lawyers have “a good sense of humour. They're so friendly: each morning you walk in and are basically greeted by heaps of happy people.”
Most socialising happens informally but the trainees do get together every year to welcome the new cohort; last year they popped down to London to play Escape the Room: “Two sets of trainee lawyers competing against each other? It got messy, but it was fun!” Trainees also get to enjoy similar adventure-fuelled outings with NQs as part of the firm's mentorship scheme. However, the big blow-out event of the year is the firm-wide party, which was most recently held at the very fancy Danesfield House in Buckinghamshire.
Routes into the firm are “pretty varied. Some of us came straight from uni; some of us had already worked as paralegals or in other industries; some of us are local; and some of us are not,” sources told us. One common thread between our interviewees was the ability to be direct and ambitious: “You don't get anywhere here unless you really ask for what you want. If you do they give it to you, if you don't they won't just hand it to you.” With regular court trips, home visits and the inevitable switching between offices, it would also help to have some wheels to motor yourself between locations.
Blaser Mills' trainees recently went on a cocktail-making class. Chin-chin!
How to get a Blaser Mills training contract
*Blaser Mills is not offering a vacation scheme in 2018
The application form
The firm generally recruits its trainees two years in advance. To secure a training contract, candidates must first submit an online application via Apply4Law. The firm tends to receive between 100 and 150 applications each year.
On the application form candidates are asked to supply all the standard info concerning their university grades and work history. If applicants meet those criteria – happy days – their application is then passed on to the training team. If not, all isn't lost. The leader of that training team, training principal Minesh Thakrar, tells us “the applications of those who do not meet the academic criteria are always considered before any final decision is made as other aspects of their application may indicate other valuable qualities or experience.”
The applications aren't judged on strict black or white criteria: a number of questions are posed to draw out some of the applicant's personality and add colour to the picture. “The questions are designed to make the candidate think outside the box,” says Minesh, “and to give us an idea of how well they will fit in with our firm.” Pay attention to these questions – they might just get you over the line. A long list of around 50 candidates is drawn up, and is further whittled down to the lucky 15 to 20 who make it through to the assessment day.
The assessment day
The assessment day is held in Buckinghamshire and involves a mix of group exercises, an individual presentation and a final interview. There are also talks and Q&As with a selection of partners and current trainees. All of the exercises are observed, marked and assigned a score by a team of partners. Minesh explains: “As well as finding out whether the candidate is suitable for our firm, we want the candidate to be able to make an informed decision about the type of law firm we are and to decide that Blaser Mills is a good fit for them.”
The final interview
This takes place with two partners. Minesh tells us that “candidates are able to sit down and have a conversational-style interview where they can really show their true personality.” It's not exactly a walk in the park, though: the yearly trainee intake is roughly half of the number of those who make it through to the assessment day. Whether candidates have the job or not, they are informed within a couple of days.
Interview with training principal Minesh Thakrar
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the past year that you'd like our readers to know about?
Minesh Thakrar: Over the past year we've moved into more corporate-style offices in both High Wycombe and Amersham. We are looking to extend our commercial offering in those locations, while at the same time not alienating our more local individual and family clients.
CS: Can you tell us a bit more about that strategy?
MT: We're definitely not going full-scale commercial. What we're doing is consolidating a firm where businesses can come and speak to us and have services tailored to their needs, while retaining the quality of the services that we have offered to individuals for a long time.
CS: You've shut a couple of offices in recent years – has that had anything to do with the firm's shift toward a more commercial offering?
MT: What we've done is consolidate the firm's offices so that we can better focus on them. Historically we have had small offices spread over a wide area, but in the future we want to have more people under one roof, so that it's easier for work to flow between departments.
Following our office moves, we now have much more space at our disposal, so we've been able to fit in members of staff from the offices that closed. The new spaces have really allowed for more interaction too. I'm surprised by how much of a difference it has made – certainly if you came here you'd see people from one department calling over to their colleagues in another and saying things like 'we should do this' or 'let's phone this person', etc... From a trainee perspective it's good for them to see how the departments interact.
CS:Trainees do move between your offices – what do you think are the benefits of this flexible approach?
MT: I think it's very important as it enables the trainees to get to know staff members across the firm. Upon qualification, it's especially beneficial as NQs know who's based where and already have personal connections in place – that makes life so much easier. Having that level of exposure to how things are done across the offices can only be beneficial.
CS: What kind of person are you looking for when recruiting trainees?
MT: We really don't have a 'one size fits all' approach. We like to see as broad a range of people as possible, and if someone has a good attitude and an affable personality then that really makes an impression. Candidates don't have to come from a particular university or background. If you look at the firm, the people in the partnership come from all walks of life and bring new ideas to the table, which we like to see replicated at all levels across the firm.
One thing that candidates should bear in mind is getting relevant work experience. It's really important that they get a bit of experience in a law firm, so they know what it's all about beforehand. Just having that knowledge when you start the training contract is really helpful.
CS: Will the firm be looking to increase trainee numbers or do you think they'll stay roughly the same?
MT: I think that trainee numbers will increase in line with the growth of the business. We'll continue to recruit trainees in the numbers that are needed at that particular time. We tend to keep on a good number of trainees each year – in 2017 we retained four out of five qualifiers. As the departments expand, I anticipate there being more NQ positions over the next few years, on both the commercial side and in the individual-oriented teams like private client and family.
40 Oxford Road,
- Partners 22
- Assistant solicitors 35
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices High Wycombe, Amersham, Rickmansworth, London
- Graduate recruiter: Apply4Law - our online application form
- Training partner: Minesh Thakrar, [email protected], 01923 725001
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4-5
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 2 March 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 29 June 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £27,000
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: High Wycombe, Amersham, Rickmansworth
Types of work
• Residential property and development - 20%
• Wills, trusts and probate - 15%
• Personal and serious injury - 15%
• Family and divorce (including child care) - 10%
• Criminal defence - 9%