With a steady increase in revenue and size, this Nottingham-headquartered firm is building up its presence across the country.
Nottingham's biggest law firm, weighing in with over 800 staff across its five offices, has had yet another good year in terms of revenue and new clients. The Nottingham HQ is joined by hubs in Birmingham, Exeter, London and Manchester with all bar Exeter either having full-time or seconded trainees. As of 2016 London is taking in a trainee cohort of its own, showing that the firm has “grown quite a bit,” say trainees. But by how much? Over the last five years, BJ's lawyer head count has increased 50% – and that's without any major mergers. Revenues are showing the same upward trend: 2015/16's revenue was up by 9% to £64 million. And there are new names on the client roster too: National Lottery operator Camelot, rehab clinic The Priory and Italian jewellery brand Bulgari.
And it's not just the client list that sparkles with bling like a rapper's Rolls-Royce. Browne Jacobson is studded with Chambers UK rankings ranging from regional hat tips for employment, litigation, real estate, professional negligence and corporate to a dozen UK-wide rankings for areas including personal injury, clinical negligence, insurance, Court of Protection work and education; BJ's clients in the education sector include the National College of Teaching & Leadership and the Academy Transformation Trust.
At the time of our calls, BJ had 11 trainees in Nottingham, five in Birmingham, two in London and one in Manchester. Nottingham trainees frequently head to Birmingham for a seat and vice versa; stints in London are also pretty commonplace. Seats fall into five umbrella areas: business and professional risk (BPR); business services (BS); insurance and public risk (IPR); health advisory and litigation (HAL); and property. The first seat is allocated by HR, after taking into account the type of law you're interested in. After that, everybody gets to put forward three preferences before each rotation, though "allocation for second-years is dealt with first, and then first-years get to pick from what's left.'' Sources were happy with this system –"everyone normally gets at least their second choice every rotation." One thing that our insiders did want to point out was this: “BJ doesn't assign trainees to a specific office. It's not like you're a Nottingham trainee or a London trainee. When the seat list is released before each rotation, you can apply for any seat in any location, so you could move all over the place if you want, or you could just stay in one place.”
"There's a lot of court work."
Trainees in construction told us the work is split between contentious and non-contentious, though it can often lean a little more towards the former. A source said they'd worked on “a case for a client who had not been paid for construction work they'd done. I had to draft witness statements, statements of case and letters to court. I also wrote blog posts and articles for our website about construction law.” Another trainee told us about their involvement in a construction adjudication: “We initiated proceedings for our client against a subcontractor. My tasks were very research-heavy and I relished getting involved.” In one non-contentious matter the firm is advising service company Serco on contracts to design and build four new leisure centres across the country. Willmott Dixon, Robert McAlpine and the Portakabin Group are also clients of the construction department.
The commercial dispute resolution department handles disputes for the insurance, marketing, retail, financial services and technology sectors. Among its diverse group of clients are British Gas, NHS England, the London Borough of Brent and Vision Express. Last year we reported that the firm was acting for a trustee of Bernie Madoff's consolidated SIPA liquidation who's trying to recover hundreds of millions from one of his feeder funds. Well, that case is still going on. In fact, one trainee reported: “The bulk of our work is Madoff-related, with smaller matters coming and going alongside.” Trainees spend their time drafting witness statements, producing instructions to counsel and doing research. "Research can cover anything from minor procedural points to meaty sections of the core argument that counsel are grappling with. The research note you write is like a mini dissertation.”
“The research note you write is like a mini dissertation.”
The firm's business services arm comprises banking, commercial, corporate, tax, private client and charities, education, and government and infrastructure seats. Commercial was a big hit with trainees this year, with some undertaking a combined commercial and IP seat. “It's a real mixture of both contentious and non-contentious work, with IP falling on both sides,” we were told. Matters at hand can involve “anything from straight-up commercial contracts to IP, tech and brands work.” We heard that the commercial teams in Nottingham, Birmingham and London are all about the same size and do broadly similar work. However, a trainee revealed: "IP work was traditionally always focused in Nottingham, but now it's increasingly shifting to London as that's where all the IP courts are." The department's clients include Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the National Trust and construction firm Mace. One interesting recent IP case saw the firm defend Rapiscan, a company which makes x-ray machines for airports and the like, against a High Court patent infringement claim brought by a rival over equipment used to detect radiation caused by x-ray scanners. On a case like this trainee tasks include “drafting affidavits and witness statements and going to client meetings. The work is quite paper-heavy – you do a lot of document review and disclosure.”
Over in the IPR division there are seats in administrative law, social care and personal injury. The social care team acts for local authorities, charities, care providers and insurers on procurement, commissioning and contractual issues. Trainees who'd done the seat told us they spent their days meeting with clients, undertaking research and co-ordinating paralegals. The healthcare department used to fall under IPR, but is now part of the HAL group. It's one of BJ's biggest teams and has more than 150 local authorities and 50 NHS bodies on its client roster. BJ is one of just six law firms on the NHS England advisory panel and recently became the sole legal provider for the Office of the Public Guardian, a mediation pilot scheme for lack of capacity disputes. The firm also recently advised the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in the inquest and gross negligence manslaughter trial on the death of a little boy with learning difficulties; he died from septic shock a few hours after being admitted to hospital and the doctor and nurse who treated him were found guilty at trial as they had confused him with another patient and failed to resuscitate him. Dealing with cases like this obviously has the potential to be emotionally taxing, but our interviewees also relished the opportunities given to them in the seat. “I spent a lot of time attending conferences with counsel and experts," a source said. "I've also sat in on negotiations, and drafted reports and pleadings. I've attended two trials and observed the full litigation process.” There are plenty of documents to review – one case involved "98 lever-arch folders, 20 of which related to costs" – but lucky trainees also get to attend cases at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. "It makes you realise you're a real lawyer!" one yelped.
Property seats include retail, development and health property. Morrisons is a big client on the retail front, as is parcels delivery company DPD. The development side, meanwhile, recently won Scunthorpe United FC as a new client, and chiefly works on regeneration projects where private and public sector bodies are working together. For instance, the Nottingham office recently advised the Homes & Communities Agency's on a major new development of over 1,000 homes and a new local centre on the 50 hectare site of the former Gedling Colliery. On the retail side, Nottingham lawyers also acted for designer brand Kate Spade in the acquisition of its new flagship store on Regent Street, which involved liaising with the client's in-house legal team in New York.
Year after year BJ trainees tell us how “friendly and approachable” their colleagues are. Insiders said that the positive atmosphere was palpable even on the assessment day. “It's one of the things that drew me here," said one source. "Everyone is in it together and working towards the same goal.” This feeling has been helped along by a shift to an open-plan set-up across all locations. “You might have a paralegal, an equity partner and a trainee all sat next to each other and you wouldn't be able to tell who's who.” Does the firm still feel like a single entity now it has five distinct offices? “Obviously with offices everywhere it can be hard to get everything in sync," said one source, "but that's only because Nottingham and Birmingham are bigger than the other offices. There are more similarities between those two.” And even though the firm is growing, especially in places like London, we hear that it's trying to be careful not to get too big for its proverbial britches. “We don't want to jeopardise the culture," one trainee told us. "That's why we are mostly growing organically not through acquisitions.”
Keeping the culture intact is also the task of the sports and social committee, which has representatives in all offices and organises regular events. These recently included a summer barbecue at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, a golf day, trampolining at Planet Bounce, and a trainee challenge in the form of an 'alternate triathlon' – “the first leg was tough mudder, the second leg a smoothie-cycle for which we used spin bikes in the office to power smoothie machines; then we sold the smoothies to raise money for charity. The last leg was a partners versus trainees dragon boat race.” We also heard that one of the firm's partners is in a band. “A lot of us travelled up from London to watch him play a gig,” one fan told us. While firm-wide events are usually hosted in Nottingham, individual hubs have their own get-togethers too – think lunches and pub trips. “You can be as involved as you want, but nothing is forced,” said one trainee.
The firm's growth has meant good retention rates in the past few years and this trend continued in 2016 with eight of ten trainees kept on. When asked to explain the NQ process most sources chuckled that “it's a bit of a funny one. There is a formal process, but everyone is 90% sure whether they will have a job beforehand.” Normally, a list of jobs is sent round by HR, and trainees talk to partners to let them know their interests. “To apply, you then fill out a form for as many departments as you want, stating why you want to qualify into that area and what you think you'd bring to the team.” Trainees are interviewed whether or not there is competition for a role, but if they are the sole applicant the interview is “a bit more relaxed” rather than being a structured affair.
Browne Jacobson's application process has changed a bit recently. Applicants now do verbal and numerical tests online before the assessment day. Click on the Bonus Features tab above to find out more.
How to get a Browne Jacobson training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 1 February 2017
Training contract deadline: 1 April 2017
In 2015 Browne Jacobson rolled out its first summer vacation scheme, having previously only offered open days. “There’s been an ongoing debate about vacation schemes – about whether they're helpful or not – but having seen the way recruitment's gone recently we thought it would be beneficial,” training principal Mark Hughes tells us. Vacation schemers are selected based on their performance during an assessment centre, which is held in spring each year.
Applications and assessments
The firm usually receives around 800 training contracts applications annually. Prospective trainees are asked to apply by completing an online form. Those who pique the firm's interest undertake online testing and a telephone interview; roughly 40 candidates are invited to assessment days in August. The day involves an interview, case study presentation and group exercises.
“Generally we go for people who will be good with clients, and who will make good lawyers,” Mark Hughes tells us. He adds: “People who have had a job previously – law or non, but somehow customer facing – do better at interview and at the assessment day, we find. But we do still have plenty of people who've come through the traditional process too, who we recruit while they're in their second year of university. It's about a balance.”
Historically, a good chunk of BJ trainees have held degrees from universities in or around the Midlands. In addition, having links to the region has proved beneficial for previous applicants. However, the firm assures us that this is no longer a priority for recruiters. The firm currently attends law fairs at Nottingham, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Sheffield and Warwick universities.
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Browne Jacobson LLP
Castle Meadow Road,
Victoria Square House,
15th Floor, 6 Bevis Marks,
3 Piccadilly Place,
1 Manor Court,
- Partners 109
- Associates 87
- Assistant solicitors 121
- Total trainees 19
- Total staff 828
- Contact Our recruitment team at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website www.brownejacobsoncareers.com
- Method of application Apply online at www.brownejacobsoncareers.com
- Selection procedure Telephone interview, psychometric testing, assessment centre and interview
- Closing date for 2019 1 April 2017
- Training contracts p.a. 20
- Applications pa. 800
- % interviewed p.a. 10%
- Training salary
- First year (2014): £25,500 (Midlands)
- Second year (2014): £26,500 (Midlands)
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 50%
- Post-qualification salary Market rate
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
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