Despite losing some of its superstar sports team on a free transfer, you won't find this North West firm resting on the sidelines.
They think it's all over... but it probably isn't
Year after year, Brabners' trainees have waxed lyrical about this firm's firecracker sports practice, which has represented the Professional Footballers’ Association, over three-quarters of FA Premier League clubs and even 'King Eric' Cantona himself. But for this North Westerner – which has offices in Manchester and Liverpool, plus a small Preston branch – there's been a big shake-up of late. In a departure that trainees described as “harmonious and mutually beneficial,” 2015 saw nine of the firm's sports gurus leave to form sport and media boutique Centrefield. However, good squad depth has allayed any relegation fears over Brabners' standing in the premier league. Its corporate, private client, family, social housing and agriculture practices score top regional rankings from Chambers UK, and it boasts strong IP and employment practices to boot.
As director of training Tony Harvey points out, “we are trusted advisers for businesses in need of corporate and commercial guidance, as well as for people in business, who often require counsel relating to tax and trusts matters. For property and private client work Brabners is one of the region's best, and although everyone hears about our sports-related work in the newspapers it's only ever represented around 10% of the firm's activity.”
At the time of our calls, six trainees were plying their trade in Brabners' Liverpool branch, and another five were based in Manchester.
“You won't have to miss out on the weekly six-a-side kickabout!”
When it comes to seat allocation, second-year trainees' choices are prioritised. “It's the luck of the draw” for new joiners, who don't get a say in where they head to first. Still, most sources had been happy with their initial destination, thanks in part to the fact that “HR puts you with partners who are particularly good teachers.” Before subsequent rotations, “you schedule an informal meeting with the training principal to state your preferences, and they liaise with the entire trainee cohort to try and get everybody what they want.”
You'll never sit alone
“In our cohort, employment is the seat everyone wants to do,” one Manchester-based interviewee highlighted. Wetherspoons, Nando's and Liverpool FC are just a few of the “large number of household-name clients” that draw trainees to the seat. The department's “exciting and varied workload” is another pull factor, with matters spanning day-to-day HR support, corporate transactions, business reorganisations, litigation and (this one sounds a tad ominous) executive terminations. “I was able to work with fee earners on entire cases,” one junior bragged. “After gathering witness statements and drafting instructions to counsel, I got the opportunity to have a go at completing the initial claim form, under supervision. I even got to attend the resulting employment tribunal.” Best of all, “the hours are more regular than they are in corporate,” one Liverpudlian beamed. “You won't have to miss out on the weekly six-a-side kickabout!”
Brabners' Merseyside contingent has the option to spend six months in the firm's housing and regeneration team – commonly referred to as 'social housing'. The group acts for national social housing providers – like The Riverside Group – and small housing co-operatives on anything from procurement and planning issues to grant-funding and tenancy spats. “It's a useful seat to do early on,” one Liverpudlian advised. “The mix of contentious and non-contentious work helps you to develop different skills.” Whether you're on your feet presenting gas access injunctions and eviction cases in front of a judge, or running your own conveyancing files, a stint here “leaves you better equipped to gauge how you'd like your training contract to progress.”
"Attention to detail is crucial.”
Corporate is also a common go-to seat for Brabners' protégés. It focuses on mid-market deals – “which largely fall around the £30–50 million mark” – and clients in a range of sectors, like shipping and transportation (Peel Ports), retail (The Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and hotels and leisure (New York-based Gansevoort Hotel Group). A recent £56 million deal had a pharma bent: the group advised a company called Vaccicure on the contractual and governance structure of a fund it's raising to develop a drug that will hopefully be used to prolong the life expectancy of cancer sufferers. “Trainees are largely responsible for sorting out post-completion matters,” one number-cruncher explained. “There's plenty of bibling to be done, but you'll also get to sit in on completion meetings and draft due diligence reports prior to the completion. Attention to detail is crucial.” Like many corporate seats across the country, “it has a bit of a reputation for later nights.” But how late are we talking here? “Perhaps 7.30pm,” one source estimated. “Generally speaking people will tell you to head off if you're still here at half six!”
You want some?
Trainees' manageable schedules pass by even quicker thanks to the “respectful and inclusive environment” present in both offices. “From the very start partners and associates do their best to make you feel welcome and invested in, so you're not just photocopying all the time.” When a drafting opportunity arose for one first-seater, “my nerves were instantly calmed by my supervisor, who sat me down and told me to take as long as I needed with it. They just wanted to see me try my best to get it as close to perfect as possible.” With the added guidance of mid and end-of-seat appraisals, as well as a second-year buddy to bounce ideas off, rookies happily reported that “our development is well managed; there's a real feeling that we're here to push the firm forward.” Some pretty good retention rates help to bolster that feeling too: 2016 saw four of six qualifiers call Brabners their home ground.
In previous years we've stated that the Liverpool office tips the balance on the social stakes. This year's Mancunian contingent, however, were determined to point out that “there's plenty of partying over here too!” Still, none of their stories could compare with this one, which emerged from Liverpool's employment team: a recent trip to a Greek restaurant “ended with a more senior figure taking it upon themselves to lead a troupe of Greek dancers around the restaurant!” We also heard that “the firm's made a real effort to improve its social events in the past year,” after “a couple of complaints were raised at the recent staff conference.” Both offices now lay on Friday drinks at the end of each month, and “each department has been allocated a social budget, which they're encouraged to use!”
The annual staff conference also gives trainees the chance to submit feedback and receive strategic updates on the firm's plans. “It's also fun to catch up with the Manchester lot,” one Merseyside rookie added, “because we don't tend to work on many cases together.” A healthy rivalry exists between the two offices, and each year ‘The Big Idea’ pits Liverpool's trainees against Manchester's, during “an Apprentice-style day of charity fund-raising.” Each cohort is given £50 and tasked with accruing a higher return than the other office by the end of the day. Bake-sales, sponsored cycles and raffles always tend to be good earners, and the Liverpool bunch have now claimed Manchester's scalp two years on the bounce. “It's all very unfair,” joked one Mancunian. “They've got an extra trainee, so obviously they'll make more! They didn't even win by that much!”
It's important to demonstrate a commitment to staying in the North West during interviews. “If you're asked which firms you've applied for, it's probably a bad idea to list ten London firms and Brabners,” one trainee advised.
How to get a Brabners training contract
Training contact deadline (2019): 30 June 2017
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.”
Lawyers in the North West
55 King Street,
7-8 Chapel Street,
- Partners 59
- Senior associates 22
- Associates 23
- Fee earners 46
- Total trainees 11
- Contact Liverpool office: dr Tony Harvey, director of training, risk and compliance
- Email email@example.com
- Method of application Online
- Selection procedure Interview and assessment day
- Closing date for 2019 Apply by 30 June 2017 for training contracts commencing in September 2019
- Training contracts pa 6
- Required degree grade 2:1 or postgraduate degree
- Training salary Not less than £22,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Offices Liverpool, Manchester, Preston
Main areas of work