Even with a heart in Mayfair, a firm grasp on London's property market and a wealthy clientele, Boodle's not too big for its boots.
Where you hang your Hatfield
Despite being a fun word to say for all the family, 'Boodle' isn't exactly a household name. Yet there are a few households where it's very well known – the Grosvenors being a prime example. The links between this family and Boodle Hatfield stretch all the way back to 1772, when the Grosvenors' estate manager founded the firm. Since then, Boodle's lawyers have been looking after the family's property interests (think: pretty much all of Mayfair), and the ties are still strong: the late Gerald Grosvenor – aka the Duke of Westminster – even pitched up to officially open the firm's new Blackfriars HQ when it moved from Mayfair in 2014.
This should give you a pretty good picture of Boodle's strong suits: providing wealthy clients – whether they're families, businesses or entrepreneurs – with top-notch property and private client advice. Examine Boodle's books and you'll also find the Russell family's Bedford Estate (think: a big chunk of Bloomsbury), as well as American hotel heavyweights Marriott International. Corporate and litigation practices round out Boodle's offering, as does a small Oxford office which scores top marks from Chambers UK for its agricultural finesse.
While the bulk of the workforce moved to Boodle's snazzy new Blackfriars digs, it still maintains a petite Mayfair presence in the aptly named Grosvenor Street. “I got my training contract just as they announced the move,” said one trainee, “and I thought everyone would be really disappointed, but the new office is so convenient, with great views of St Paul's.” A change of scenery isn't the only plus: Boodle will save oodles of cash now that it's shifted to a less pricey postcode. In 2013/14 revenues ballooned by almost 20% to £24.6 million, and while 2014/15's results didn't match those heights (with turnover falling slightly to £23.9 million due to a period of investment), our sources were confident the future was looking bright. Boodle's demonstrated its pulling power by attracting a private client partner from US big shot Baker & McKenzie, and bolstered its rep for gender diversity by hiring its first female senior partner, Sara Maccallum. In fact, Boodle has scored well on this front for some time, and today 50% of its partners are women.
In the face of such stats, trainees urged readers not to equate Boodle's specialisms with an office that's chock-full of tweed blazers and the fug of old-school stuffiness. “My interview was informal and enjoyable,” said one, while another was swayed by their vac scheme experience: “I found the working environment comfortable and charming.”
“It's sink or swim, but it's really fun.”
New joiners get to submit preferences for their first seat. “There's an expectation that you'll do at least one property seat – often two – so that guides your initial choices.” Before each new rotation, trainees have a chat with HR about what they want to do next. Some sources frequently got their desired seats, while others felt that “the system's a bit opaque and you can't expect to get what you want every time.” Not that our sources were too bothered: “We only have five departments so you do pretty much get to do it all at some point anyway.”
Boodle's property department is its largest. Concerns over 2015's general election result may have wobbled the real estate market, but Boodle's long-term clients like Grosvenor, LJ Capital and IBM UK Pensions Trust kept all hands on deck. A trend to convert office and retail space into residential digs has kept lawyers busy, but elsewhere the team is also known for its commercial know-how, particularly when it comes to hotels. A recent highlight involved representing Malaysian property developer IGB Corporation as it snapped up a site on London's South Bank – in a few years it'll be adorned with a plush hotel, offices and residential blocks.
Trainees can complete property seats in residential, commercial or estates teams. Commonly referred to as 'rezzy', sources found it to be “a broad seat, which includes landed estate stuff, agricultural work and residential conveyancing.” The matters here are “usually worth less than a million,” and trainees often get to assume the position of “primary contact” on larger transactions. On the smaller deals, they can run the whole file: “You get a lot of independence. It's sink or swim, but it's really fun.” Those in commercial property mostly “assisted with the larger deals, like the refinancing of an office building in the City and the development of a shopping centre.” A sojourn to estates was particularly praised, thanks to the chance to manage “up to 60 active files at once, which were mostly centred on licences and small leases.”
Homes under the gavel
Private client and tax trainees enjoyed the variety on offer. “One day you're doing lots of random and interesting research, the next attending client meetings and the next drafting wills.” Navigating the client base can be quite tricky though: “There's a huge mix. Some clients we've known for generations, and the way we relate to each one differs – it's daunting!” The Grosvenor and Bedford Estates are regulars here, as is (in comparison) a younger family business: Surrey-based Wates Group, a construction outfit that's in its fourth generation of family ownership. The group regularly advises the owners and trustees of these family operations on matters like succession planning and asset protection, as well as their philanthropic intentions. Those with a hankering for international work will be happy here: most matters have a cross-border element, often tied to issues like tax and wealth devolution. A fresh crop of clients from Russia and the Middle East have also been added to the books thanks to Boodle's recent partner poach from Baker & McKenzie.
In litigation, “30% of the seat involves helping on bigger commercial cases, which for trainees means bog-standard stuff like court admin.” It's clearly not all just a drag though: “You do come across some great cases. We're doing a lot of art litigation at the moment, and various members of the team were asked to do interviews by the BBC following our work on a disputed Caravaggio painting.” The team also snared the press's attention recently on a case concerning a Banksy mural: they successfully acted for a Folkestone-based arts charity which fought against the mural's removal and shipment to a potential US buyer – setting a precedent for the ownership of street art in the process. However, the bulk of trainees' time was devoted to property litigation, “especially cases involving Grosvenor-related entities. It's a vast estate and sometimes that causes problems with tenants, as you'd expect.” Still, juniors were pleased that they'd attended hearings, instructed counsel and managed their own files: “Everything is checked, but it's still a lot of responsibility.”
Young Boodlers reckoned their schedule wasn't “too bad compared to lots of other firms.” While there are variations between seats, trainees hadn't experienced many late nights or weekend work. “Staying past 7pm is a rarity, and in some seats you're out by 6pm every day. Once there was a trial the next day so I stayed until 10.30pm, but that was a total one-off.” It's always good to know that you can expect to see the light of day, but even better to know that things are pretty bright indoors too: “People are interested in your personal life and ask about your family,” one told us, “and you're basically on speaking terms with everyone at the firm.” Another flagged that “everyone acknowledges you have a life outside of work; there's a common-sense approach to that.”
And people certainly do pursue that life outside of work – just not with their colleagues that much. Boodle, we hear, “isn't that kind of Friday-night-pub firm.” Even so, the private client group wheels out afternoon G&Ts once a month, litigation has a wine club, and the firm's Christmas and summer parties are reportedly “big dos.” If you'd rather put your stamina to the test than your liver, lawyers also get all extracurricularly to play football and netball, or do some yoga together. Evidently happy with their life here, all respondents were hoping to stay on and become a bonafide Boodlite. The firm usually retains most of its qualifiers with three of five kept on in 2016.
With an increasing amount of art litigation cropping up, trainees visit the nearby Tate Modern at lunch to get up to speed. They can also put their new-found expertise to use by writing an article for Boodle's blog, Art Law & More.
How to get a Boodle Hatfield training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines (2017): 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2017
Application and assessment
Boodle receives approximately 600 applications a year for its vacation scheme and training contract combined. Both direct training contract and vacation scheme applications begin with an online form. Once it's submitted, applicants can add updates until the submission deadline – for example, further work experience placements or exam results.
Vac scheme applicants face an interview with HR to land a spot. Once on the scheme, they have another two interviews for the training contract: one with HR and another with a pair of partners. These take place on the same day, either during or after their placement, and there's a verbal reasoning assessment involved. Direct training contract applicants also face these latter interviews and test.
Vac scheme applicants who do well at interview but don't manage to make the cut might instead be offered a place on the open day, which involves some team-building activities and the chance to speak to current trainees. The open day isn't assessed.
How to wow
When it comes to selecting future trainees, “academics are very important,” HR director Katie Kirkhope tells us, “particularly as a solicitor progresses and becomes more senior. The work we do is complicated, and clients expect the highest quality.” Indeed, the firm maintains relationships with some long-established clients, so a potential Boodelian also needs “good interpersonal skills to gain the confidence of clients,” we're told. “Trainees in the property seat in particular run a lot of their own files, and they've got to be able to ring up a client or the other side, and be confident in what they're doing.”
Kirkhope goes on to say: “We want somebody who's able to think, to form opinions, to explain why they think that. When candidates come to interview they need to have confidence in their abilities, and be ready to have a sensible discussion in which they explain why they think something rather than just giving a pre-prepared answer. Do your research, know the firm you're coming to, and understand the types of work it does.” At the same time, she reminds us, “you can't be someone who's afraid to seek guidance, advice or clarification when necessary.”
The firm usually offers six spots on its fortnight-long vac scheme. During their placement vac schemers visit two departments, though those keen to sample another one can request to spend an afternoon shadowing a lawyer there. “We aim to give them exposure to as much work as possible,” says Kirkhope. “We want to bring vac schemers into the day-to-day life of a lawyer here. Joining a law firm is a big decision, and we want to find people who'll join and stay for a long time.”
Social outings like bowling dot the calendar during the vac scheme. There's also a development session on skills like teamwork and presentation delivery.
More on the Grosvenor family
Caravaggio or copycat: the world of art law
Private client law explained
Boodle Hatfield LLP
240 Blackfriars Road,
- Partners 30
- Other fee earners 46
- Total trainees 10
- Contact Natasha Rowe, (020) 7079 8281
- Method of application Online application
- Selection procedure Interviews with the training principal, a partner and the HR director plus an ability test in verbal reasoning
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 5
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £35,500
- Second year: £37,500
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary£57,000
- Regional offices Oxford
Main areas of work