This regional firm puts Cheltenham on the legal map. It offers a mix of property, private client and some tech-flavoured commercial work.
Country walks and fine dining
Some aspiring lawyers may not look beyond the allure of training in a big city, but BPE's trainees are adamant that going regional doesn't meant compromising on quality or lifestyle. “Cheltenham may be small but there's a lot going on!” one piped up – for one thing, there are more spies per square inch than anywhere in the UK. “There are music, food and literature festivals in the summer, we have one of the few two-Michelin-star restaurants in the country, plus we have the Cotswolds on our doorstep.”
Work-wise, interviewees revealed that “many of our senior lawyers have come from large City firms" (including Clifford Chance, DLA Piper and Eversheds), and that BPE draws clients “not just in Gloucestershire but from around the country.” The firm acts for both individuals and companies; its clients include regional businesses like Newspace Containers, Cirencester-based mobile games developer Neon Play and care home provider Lilian Faithfull, as well as national names like NatWest, Tiger, Superdry and Lloyds Bank.
“Cheltenham may be small but there is a lot going on!”
The biggest development at BPE in recent years has been the growth of the private client team to complement the firm's established commercial practice.In April 2017 two trainees qualified into private client – the team's first ever NQs – and a seat in family is now available during the training contract. “The expansion has been driven by our desire to have a more balanced mix of practice areas,” head of commercial litigation Philip Radford tells us. “But we also see private client as an area not affected by recessions or economic turndowns. People will carry on dying and divorcing whether they like it or not!” While Radford makes clear the firm remains “principally a business adviser,” trainees praised the “variety of work on offer” and felt the firm “fits the bill for anyone unsure of what area they want to qualify into.” In 2017 the firm retained three of its six qualifiers.
"People will carry on dying and divorcing whether they like it or not!”
To shoulder all this extra work, BPE has significantly increased its head count in recent years and now takes on up to six trainees a year, having a total of 66 lawyers (up from 46 in 2013). These developments have not gone unnoticed: the firm is now ranked regionally by Chambers for its family and private client work, as well as for lower mid-market corporate M&A, employment and real estate.
The great outdoors and the smallest room
With the expansion of the private client practice, “seats in private client and family are now just as likely as commercial ones,” our sources claimed.That said, "the firm still prefers all trainees to start in the commercial property team” and some may not do a seat in private client or family at all.Seats are allocated after a series of informal chats with HR and the training principal who “are generally very good a listening to your views.” Most sources were satisfied with the system although some voiced minor criticisms of “the delay in being told what your next seat is.”
Commercial property is the firm's biggest department, harbouring expertise in everything from the retail and leisure sectors to real estate finance and healthcare. Rookies in the seat can expect “a lot of extra training and high levels of supervision” to help ease them in. Trainees don't have their hand held for too long though: once up to speed sources reported working on “small retail matters and commercial deals in excess of £40 million.” Lease reviews, statutory returns and investigations on title are routine tasks, with Land Registry applications providing the chance for some first shots at drafting. Recently the team acted for logistics company Eddie Stobart on a £15 million acquisition, sub-sale and leaseback of the head office for Levi Strauss in Northampton.
The commercial department handles both general company commercial work and IP matters, though “you aren't pigeonholed” into one of these areas. Trainees said that recently “ahell of a lot of work has related to making sure clients are compliant with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation.” This includes getting companies to adopt an approach called "privacy by design," which takes privacy and data protection into account from the very start of a project. The firm's IP clients include outdoor store Cotswold and Thomas Crapper & Co of toilet fame. Trainees are kept busy “assisting with the maintenance of trademark portfolios and handling early-stage infringements.”
“Making sure clients are compliant with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation.”
Lovers of data and technology can also do a seat with the firm's science and technology team, which “addresses all sorts of issues for science and tech clients.” Many of those clients are from the research or public sectors and sources reported assisting them with everything from concerns about state aid and procurement to research, the drafting of terms and conditions, and preparing employment service agreements. “It's an interesting seat because you get to try a little bit of everything,” one source summarised, flagging up occasional opportunities for trainees to spend short stints working in-house for clients.
“The rapid expansion of the private client department over the past three to four years is an indication that it's doing very well,” observed one insider. “The level of client contact here is great and makes the transition to being an associate much easier. After the first month I was even arranging my own client meetings.” The firm advises Cheltenham's finest on a variety of matters including long-term tax planning, wealth management and more standards wills and probate questions (eg 'Who will inherit grandfather's racehorse?'). All the clients are confidential, but besides wealthy locals they include trusts and the odd non-dom.
Over in family, one source chirped: “I've conducted initial meetings with clients, drafted divorce petitions and been to a court hearing independently with counsel.” Given Cheltenham is brimming with millionaires (according to The Guardian the town had 41 multimillionnaires in 2012), it shouldn’t be surprising that “clients are mostly high net worth individuals.” Lawyers work mostly on financial matters related to divorce with some private children work thrown in; matter values frequently exceed the £1 million mark and can reach into eight figures.
Made in Cheltenham
While it's not mandatory, BPE prefers its trainees to live locally “to better integrate into the firm” and Cheltenham life. It's a move that was successfully embraced by many of our interviewees, who hailed generally from across the South West. One told us: “Living in Cheltenham allows us to be more sociable and it's nice have that friendship group at the firm immediately.” For BPE trainees 'being sociable' seems to be synonymous with 'drinking': one team's summer day out consisted of a walk in the Cotswolds, a visit to a gin distillery and a pub lunch, while another involved renting a couple of riverboats and sailing up to a pub. "We had a nice boozy lunch and sailed back!" a source reported. One candid insider confessed: “Christmas events tend just to consist of drinking and eating. Things can get quite messy...” Luckily trainees don't have too far to stumble home: most live a short walk from the office.
"We had a nice boozy lunch and sailed back!"
The firm values social skills: “it strives to maintain a mantra of being very entrepreneurial," one source reported. "They encourage all fee earners to engage with clients to bring in new work; from day one as a trainee you are thrown into all the networking events.” Moreover, though hours may be less gruelling than those at firms in London and other big cities, that doesn't mean lawyers here don't know how to roll up their sleeves. One source said: “If it's busy you are expected to stay,although there is respect for a good work/life balance.” On an average day most trainees are out of the office before 6pm, with busy periods meaning home time is around 7pm; rare super-busy periods might see trainees leaving at 10pm.
In-keeping with the rural surroundings of Cheltenham, we heard that BPE is full of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people” – ready for anything. Which is good because “the office is open plan and the managing partner is always walking about – we have very supportive senior management.” As well as making healthy contributions to the revenues of local pubs, BPEers make an effort to contribute to the wellbeing of the local community “in a way that's meaningful and doesn't feel tokenistic.” The firm has a long-term partnership with the local branch of Macmillan Cancer Support and (less locally) BPE trainees even recently went to Africa to do aid work.
All BPE's lawyers are based in Cheltenham, but the firm also has 'access points' in Cirencester, Bristol and London to allow lawyers to meet clients there.
How to get a BPE training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018 (opens 1 January 2018)
Training contract deadlines (2020): 31 May 2018
BPE received around 60 applications for training contracts in 2017 – “the highest number since pre-recession,” HR manager Amanda Coleman tells us. The first stage of the application process requires candidates to complete an online application form detailing all their work experience (both legal and non-legal),as well as questions regarding their “business acumen and criteria that make a good lawyer,” says Coleman.
So what makes an application stand out? “Somebody who has tried to get work experience off their own bat is a plus,” Coleman responds. “Any volunteering which shows the applicant has given something to the community without receiving anything back is also very attractive and resonates with our ethos of being inclusive and collaborative.” On the flip side “we don't want applications where it looks like people have recycled their CVs. We want to know why you want to work at BPE, not just why you want a training contract,” Coleman warns. When it comes to academics, good A levels and a 2:1 will stand you in good stead although “there is some flexibility there providing candidates can explain an unrepresentative grade.”
Interviews and assessments
Once whittled down to 25, successful candidates are invited to an assessment day which runs from around 9am to 4pm. Coleman did not want to give much away about what the day entails, but emphasises it's “not a super-formal occasion.” A few presentations and team-building tasks await training contract hopefuls as well as a networking lunch to talk to senior BPE lawyers and associates. “Don't try to impress us with your legal knowledge,” Coleman advises. “What we are looking for is some common sense, good negotiating skills and an idea of your personality.”
Ten of the 25 candidates are invited back for an interview with Coleman and head of commercial litigation Philip Radford. The interview is more formal than the assessment day, we heard. Candidates are also required to complete psychometric tests and a legal case study exam. The whole process takes around three hours.
BPE offers a week-long vacation scheme between July and September. Places are awarded after an informal application on a first-come, first-served basis. Coleman says the vacation scheme's content can be catered to participants' preferences: “If somebody requests a few days in one department and a few days in another, we do our best to accommodate that providing there's work available.” Vac schemers who perform well are “highly encouraged to apply to the firm's training contract.”
Finally, it's worth mentioning that BPE encourages all of its trainees to move to the Cheltenham area. Nearly all our 2017 had previously lived in the South West.
BPE Solicitors LLP
St James' House,
St James' Square,
- Partners 25
- Associates 41
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices Cheltenham and Stonehouse
- Graduate recruiter: Amanda Coleman, [email protected], 01242 248231
- Training partner: Philip Radford, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4-6
- Applications pa: 30-40
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: B or higher
- Vacation scheme places pa: 6 over 8 weeks
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 June 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 May 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 January 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 31 May 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year: salary £24,500
- Second-year salary: Undisclosed
- Post-qualification salary: Undisclosed
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Cheltenham
With more than 130 staff including 60 lawyers, BPE continues to grow through its collaborative approach, providing clients with a team of specialists. Its lawyers have extensive sector experience and great networks of contacts. BPE provides versatility, expertise and a personal approach whether working with owner-managers and directors, in-house counsel or private clients seeking help with family issues.
Headquartered in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with offices in the Cotswolds and Central London, and a presence in Bristol and Oxford, BPE clients are located throughout the UK.
Operating for close to 35 years, for the past 12 the firm has been led by senior partner John Workman, who was joined in 2017 by chief executive Paul Browne in steering its continued growth.
Main areas of work
- Commercial property: 24.77%
- Commercial litigation: 10.20%
- Construction and engineering: 5.69%
- Corporate: 15.15%
- Employment: 8.85%
- Family: 6.99%
- Private client: 7.11%
- Residential property: 4.04%
- Science and technology: 9.82%
You will have regular meetings with the training principle Philip Radford and the HR Manager Amanda Coleman who will discuss the outcome of your seat appraisals with you and also discuss and agree the direction of your training contract within the different teams of BPE.
Each team provides an exciting and stimulating training environment. You could find yourself getting involved in conference calls, networking at a seminar, attending an employment tribunal.
The ethos of the firm is 'work hard, play hard' and we make the most of any opportunity to get together and have fun. There are plenty of opportunities to get to know your colleagues outside of work at our firm-wide summer and Christmas parties and our team away days.
- Your birthday off every year after two years of service
- Free conveyancing for you and a friends and family discount for others
- Childcare vouchers
- Health assured
- Employee Assistance Programme
- Enhanced maternity benefits
University law careers fairs 2017
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