With clients spanning the Premier League's football clubs to the high street's hotshots, Brabners continues to woo trainees with its broad offering in Liverpool and Manchester.
If your first response to hearing 'North West' is to think 'Kardashian,' you'll need to do some homework before interviewing at Brabners. After all, “we pride ourselves on our North-West-of-England focus and it's important that you're as invested in the region as the firm is,” our trainee sources stressed. “This is not a second option if you don't get an offer from a London firm.” This staunch North Westerner has bases in two of the region's biggest cities – Manchester and Liverpool – plus a small offering in Preston. Brabners' commitment to its local stomping ground has earned the firm a flurry of Chambers UK rankings in the region; it comes top of the pack for its social housing work in the North West, and also earns high praise for areas like IP, litigation M&A and employment. In Liverpool the firm is especially respected for its private client, crime, family and agriculture work.
“the common pitfall of pinning us as just a sports firm.”
If you've heard of Brabners' sporting law prowess, we should point out that a large proportion of this department struck out to establish a new sport and media boutique in 2015, so don't trip up on “the common pitfall of pinning us as just a sports firm,” one trainee warned. As a result sport only makes up a small part of Brabners' current offering, and while “we do still have big sporting clients [like Liverpool FC] we also have plenty of other departments and clients too.”
At the time of our calls, six trainees were beavering away in Brabners' Liverpool branch, and another six were based in Manchester. New joiners don't get a say in where they head to first but “toward the end of each seat we set out our top three preferences with our training principal. Looking back I've always had one of my top two choices, and it's worked out that way for everyone else too.” Retention rates have been reasonably healthy over the past couple of years, and in 2017 Brabners scored well again, retaining five of six qualifiers.
Footie, pint and a cheeky Nando's?
Most trainees are put to work in the firm's employment department at some point. Matters span day-to-day HR support, corporate transactions, business reorganisations and litigation. Big clients include Nando's, Liverpool FC and Travelodge. The seat's fairly pen-heavy, with interviewees “drafting loads of employment contracts, staff handbooks and company policies and procedures.” Brabners recently had a hand in advising nationwide charity Autism Initiatives on its employment contracts and HR policies following a restructuring. On the contentious side trainees found themselves assisting on unfair dismissals, minimum wage spats and discrimination cases, like Brabners' successful defence of JD Wetherspoon during a £30k disability-related claim. Disclosure, bundling and legal research all crop up here, but interviewees had also drafted witness statements and instructions to counsel. “I attended a couple of employment tribunals and I wasn't just taking notes,” one source added. “I was also given responsibility for engaging directly with clients and counsel too.”
Primark, newsagents Martin McColl and Home Bargains' owners TJ Morris all call upon Brabners real estate team. Property trainees get “involved in the selling, purchasing and leasing of commercial property, as well as development funding. I was surprised to find we have a big agriculture and landed estates team too, and I really enjoyed that aspect; the land is often unregistered and has been in the family for hundreds of years. It throws up some very complicated issues of the kind I thought I wouldn't see out of a law school textbook.” On smaller cases trainees act as the client's point of contact, researching and reporting back on any queries they might have. Bigger matters are often research-heavy and feature the more administrative post-completion tasks. On both types of case trainees had also drafted due diligence reports, deeds and contracts: “I got to draft some commercial leases from scratch, basing them on previous examples,” one source elaborated. Several had tried their hand at negotiating terms too.
“My supervisor increasingly let me run client calls.”
Brabners' Merseyside contingent has the option of spending six months in the firm's housing and regeneration team – commonly referred to as 'social housing.' The group acts for national and regional social housing providers – like Liverpool Mutual Homes – and small housing co-operatives on anything from procurement and planning issues to grant-funding and tenancy spats. They also handle evictions concerning anti-social behaviour, with the group recently acting for housing providers Riverside as they evicted a tenant who'd been convicted of racial harassment and assault. Alongside bundling, preparing documents for disclosure and attending conferences with clients, trainees had “conducted advocacy in injunction hearings so housing providers can gain property access to conduct gas safety checks. The other side don't turn up very often for those.” Non-contentious work often covers the sale of social housing and Right to Buy transactions. “It's pretty much residential conveyancing,” sources told us, with plenty of contract drafting, due diligence reports and completions.
Many of our sources had completed a corporate seat too. The department focuses on mid-market deals and clients in a range of sectors, like retail (Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and leisure (Unstuffy Hotel Company). It recently acted for digital marketing firm Jaywing during its £8.2 million acquisition of film production company Bloom Media. One deal-doer told us: “I experienced a pretty decent mix of tasks. There wasn't too much photocopying or admin, and I also got to draft warranties, conduct due diligence and work on disclosure tasks.” Another source praised the abundance of “client involvement; my supervisor increasingly let me run client calls and meetings by myself.” A stint here does come with the longest hours – “you're typically finishing around 7pm, but if deals are wrapping up it could be later.” Elsewhere trainees were generally heading for the door at 6pm.
Gimme some sugar
While sources dismissed the idea of there being a particular Brabners type, they did agree that “most people are commercially savvy. We're not all wannabe Alan Sugars but we can arrive at both a legal and commercial decision when advising a client.” They're also pretty outgoing too, so you're unlikely to find any shrinking violets. “We have a good sense of humour, especially in Liverpool,” one source in the city reckoned.
Sources in both offices praised the firm's welcoming nature, telling us: “When you join a new seat there's always someone – whether it's a secretary or a senior associate – who keeps an eye out for you.” Another agreed: “I feel part of the team 'cos people have taken me under their wing.” Trainees are also encouraged to “be active on the staff social committee; Brabners is very committed to ensuring you know your colleagues.” Both offices lay on end-of-the-month Friday drinks (which are organised by the trainees), but you can also expect to mingle during breakfast feasts, crazy golf trips and lunchtime museum jaunts: “Next week we're visiting the Liverpool War Museum – its underground rooms actually run underneath our office!” Each department has its own social budget too.
"people have taken me under their wing.”
Those commercial skills we mentioned above come in handy for the annual 'Big Idea.' Trainees from Liverpool and Manchester compete in an Apprentice-style day of charity fund-raising: they start with £50 and are tasked with turning it into big bucks via the creative deployment of bake sales and raffles. This year Liverpool trumped Manchester for the third year running, though Mancunians were keen to stress that they “were only about £11 short of Liverpool.”
The annual Lake District charity challenge also pits two Brabners teams against each other, this time in a “gruelling” kayaking, biking and hiking race. Best brush up on your compass skills if you're game though: “Last year two lads in the year above flew off super fast and then got lost and ended up adding a five-mile detour onto the end of the hike.” Oh the blisters!
Sources wanted us to emphasise that “you don't have to be from the area, but you need to be able to show a connection to the North West and demonstrate why you're passionate about working here.”
How to get a Brabners training contract
The initial application
All prospective trainees must apply directly for a training contact. The recruitment process is overseen by the firm’s director of training, Dr Tony Harvey, though both Manchester and Liverpool have designated training partners who are “very hands on” during the process, according to trainees.
Applications begin with an online form through Apply4Law. “You get all the standard questions,” a trainee told us. “The only unusual one is that you have to explain any connection you have to the North West and why you want to work in this region.” According to Harvey, “it's not crucial to have links to the North West, but if an applicant has no connection here, it makes us suspicious of whether they'll stay after the training contract. We want them to be committed to the practice in the long term.”
We're told the most common mistake during the application round is neglecting to research the firm properly. It's imperative to get a handle on where Brabners is placed within its market and focus your application accordingly.
The assessment centre
Of the 500-plus candidates who apply each year, between 50 and 60 candidates are invited to a two-stage assessment centre. The order of these stages is not set in stone, and is often reversed.
The first stage involves a presentation on a topic of the candidate’s choice prepared ahead of time, plus an interview with a panel of partners chaired by Dr Harvey. “They did a little bit of a grilling with some technical questions, but a lot of it was about what I had been up to as a student,” a trainee recalled. “Overall it was pretty informal, and they definitely weren't mean in any way.” The second stage sees candidates divided into groups and tasked with a non-legal negotiation exercise.
How to impress
Dr Harvey tells us recruiters are on the lookout for “well-rounded candidates with strong commercial awareness – although not necessarily in law. Good grades are essential, and we like to see some indication you've worked in a position that requires responsibility and trust.” He adds: “Build up a personal profile on the pro bono front, for example, or become a treasurer of a society. Work on more than just your grades.”
Our trainee sources corroborated this view, adding: “It's not just about having sterling academics; it's about being someone the interviewers want to work with, someone who will fit in when staff drinks roll around on a Friday. You'll need to be able to make an effort here socially.” As Harvey concludes, ideal recruits are “bright, enthusiastic, and have a sense of humour. We don't like dull people.”
Lawyering in the North West
55 King Street,
7-8 Chapel Street,
- Partners 64
- Senior associates 19
- Associate 23
- Fee-earners 75
- Total trainees 12
- Graduate recruiter: Liverpool office: Dr Tony Harvey, Director of training, risk and compliance
- Training partners: Rupert Gill, Helen Brown, Sam Mabon, Lydia Edgar
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or post-graduate degree
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 11 December 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: No less than £24,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Main areas of work
Trainees are given a high degree of responsibility and are an integral part of our culture. Each has partner-level supervision, and the training programme is overseen by the director of training, dr Tony Harvey. Our culture is supportive and friendly, plus we have an excellent social programme. We do not believe in presenteeism – there is no long-hour culture here, rather a focus on you finding a work-life balance from the outset. Many of our partners undertook their training with us, and a high proportion of our staff are long-standing.
University law careers fairs 2017