First Nottingham, then the Midlands, and now the world? A growing London offering is certainly a good start...
Midlands, not middling
Browne Jacobson's lawyers must be feeling pretty chuffed. Their firm has enjoyed a healthy growth spurt in recent years – revenue was up 9% in 2015/16 – and the future of the new London office, opened in 2015, is looking rosy. "The headcount there doubled in 2016/17,” training principal Mark Hughes tells us, and London now offers training contracts as Nottingham and Birmingham already did. “There will definitely be more opportunities there as we build up our base,” says Hughes. During the course of our research the firm was in advanced merger talks with City construction and insurance specialists Beale & Co but just before we went to press the mooted coupling fell apart.
However, no deal is better than a bad deal (as certain politicians are fond of saying), and merger or no merger Browne Jacobson's trainees were “quite excited” by the direction the firm is going in: “There's potential for massive things to come.” Mark Hughes suggests that overseas ambitions are part of the blueprint, stating that “some of our work already involves an international element, and that's definitely a sign of where Browne Jacobson is going.” The firm's office network is exclusively on British shores, but it does offer occasional client secondments for trainees to stretch their legs.
"Trainees move between the offices quite frequently."
Chambers UK currently acknowledges Browne Jacobson's work in the Midlands, where it wins rankings for real estate, litigation, mid-market corporate M&A, employment, professional negligence and other areas; it also achieves UK-wide rankings in a dozen areas including clinical negligence, personal injury, public law, health and safety, education and healthcare. As these last few rankings suggest, the public sector is something of focus, though there are many commercial clients too.
The majority of new starters train in the firm's Nottingham HQ, with a couple joining both the Birmingham and London offices each year, though this may change as expansion steams ahead. At the time of our research in spring 2017 there were 15 trainees in Nottingham, four in Birmingham and three in London. Manchester recruited its first trainee to start in 2017 and Exeter may follow suit in 2018. "Trainees move between the offices quite frequently," so some in Nottingham can expect to up sticks and move to Birmingham for a seat and vice versa; stints in London for those elsewhere do happen too. Regional links are common among Midlands trainees. “People tend to have studied locally,” noted one source. “That might be indicative of the firm's strategy of supporting the local area.”
BJ has a bit of a complicated departmental structure. Seats fall into five umbrella areas: business services (BS); business and professional risk (BPR); insurance and public risk (IPR); health advisory and litigation (HAL); and property. Each trainee's first seat is allocated by HR, after taking into account what you're interested in. Following that, everybody puts forward three preferences before each rotation, with second-years getting first dibs. Our interviewees were largely happy with the system as sometimes “you get to experience something you wouldn't have otherwise picked,” though we heard some didn't get any of their three preferences due to over-subscription. “HR have realised it's an issue,” we heard.
The business services arm comprises banking, commercial, corporate, tax, private client and charities, education, and government and infrastructure seats. M&A (both purchaser and seller side) constitutes the core of corporate, topped up by private equity and shareholding reorganisations. “A lot of the grunt work” is done by trainees, including “proof-reading, board minutes and disclosure letters.” Browne Jacobson recently advised on clothing brand Joules' £140 million AIM listing and acted for laboratory group Source BioScience as it acquired £64.8 million of stock from shareholders.
Much of the tax department's work connects to corporate and property, often relating to stamp duty and VAT matters. “There's lots of black-letter law,” and trainees should be prepared for “getting to grips with complex technicalities. There is supervision but you definitely need to develop your research skills.”
“Competition is fierce” for a seat in commercial: of the trainee cohort we surveyed, more than half picked it as a first preference. According to our sources, “it's a busy time for the group,” which counts the London Taxi Company, luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and National Lottery organisers Camelot as clients. Trainees handle case management andgain experience doing research and reviewing contracts.
“A nice opportunity to do international work.”
Similarly popular is the education group, which has built a national reputation for its expertise in academy conversions. Over time the team's racked up more than 1,000. "It's quite process driven," one trainee told us. "I had a case load of conversion files I dealt with under supervision." There's advisory work too “if you're not overly keen on conversion work.” We heard that "the firm has a special legal advice product that academies can buy into, which means they can get 30 minutes of advice on anything they might need." Trainees enjoy the "short, sharp emails and calls" this pastoral work throws up. The firm also deals with tribunal and discrimination cases for the education sector.
Commercial dispute resolution, construction, employment, and financial and professional risk seats all fall under the BPR umbrella. In dispute resolution, newbies “get to run some small claims themselves – that provided a good chance to cut my teeth on progressing a case through the courts.” This comes alongside work on bigger cases for “hallowed clients” like British Gas, NHS England and Ted Baker, as well as asset tracing suits following the Bernard Madoff investment scandal – “a nice opportunity to do international work.” BJ's litigators were also recently active on a High Court claim against Swiss timepiece manufacturer Franck Muller, worth 5.3 million Swiss francs (about £4.1 million). Trainees spend their time “managing debt collection, drafting witness statements and negotiating with the other side.”
“You get out and about quite a lot."
Team employment acts for private and public sector clients, often from the healthcare sector: several local councils and NHS trusts are on the books. “It's more interesting than I expected,” a trainee told us. “Some of the technical points we worked on hadn't yet been settled in the courts.” There's also some whizzy work related to the financial sector – the London team recently advised a former bank director as part of a cross-border investigation. “There's a lot of contract review,” a source reported, “but I also got to draft a staff handbook from scratch and there are lots of opportunities to attend tribunals.” Here too, work comes in through the firm's 'quickcall' subscription service which offers education clients 30 minutes' advice at a time.
Administrative law, social care and personal injury seats are on offer in the IPR division. Health and public sector work again defines the administrative department, which also dabbles in environmental regulation. To give you an idea: the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy recently called on the firm to help with a multimillion-pound transfer of assets from the government to the newly created Oil and Gas Authority. A mix of advisory and contentious projects means trainees “never knew what's coming up when you get into work. You get to tackle a little bit of everything.”
The social care team acts for local authorities, charities, care providers and insurers on procurement, commissioning and contractual issues. A trainee said they had "predominantly encountered abuse cases, acting on the defendant side for local authorities." It's a "pretty document-heavy seat, involving reviewing social care records and medical expert reports, as well as making assessments of liability." Trainees also get the chance to interview witnesses and attend court hearings – “you get out and about quite a lot."
There's a similarly mobile approach to working in HAL, where one trainee was “getting out of the office at least once a week.” The group is one of BJ's largest and has more than 150 local authorities and 50 NHS bodies on its client roster. Lawyers here tackle litigation, commercial projects and governance matters. The firm was recently brought in by NHS England to draft national guidelines on the problem of delayed discharges from hospital (known as 'bed blocking'), specifically related to people with mental health issues. A lot of entry-level work relates to negligence, with trainees drafting witness statements and responses as well as meeting with counsel. Emotional intelligence is required on some cases – for instance, the firm recently acted for Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust on a six-day inquest into a death following spinal surgery. The duration and importance of such matters means you usually "won't see one from start to finish" and trainees often find themselves doing “ghost writing” (producing work that goes out under the name of another lawyer).
Property seats include retail, development, health property and property litigation. In the Midlands, the team “works for a lot of big high-street retailers” including Boots and Morrisons. There's public sector work here too: the Nottingham team advised London's Enfield Council when it undertook a £150 million tower block regeneration. "The bulk of the work involves reviewing leases, drafting bits of the lease itself, producing reports on title, and handling other ancillary documents like licences to alter and reports on rent deposits," a trainee told us. "Sometimes I had to deal with ad hoc queries from other parts of the firm, for instance asking for the NHS trust policy on leases."
Lurkin' by the Gherkin
A typical day in the office runs from 9am to 6pm for most trainees, though “there are some variations and later nights,” and a stint in corporate or commercial necessitates “working until at least 7pm most nights, and longer if a completion's coming up.” It all sounds relatively tame, but sources reported: “The firm has two sides: its traditional base in personal injury and insurance work and the newer, sexier corporate and commercial side which is growing in London in particular.” What effect is that having on Browne Jacobson's culture? One insider who'd perhaps read too much fantasy fiction outlined “a battle for the firm's soul” between old and new, but all were keen to stress “there's been no negativity” and instead appreciated “a real sense of enterprise.” Every office has an open plan layout, and trainees claimed that an outsider “could never tell who's a partner or who's more junior.” The firm's new 'agile working' system, which allows hot desking, reinforces this.
Our interviewees noted that the Nottingham office is very “on-brand with lots of reds and purples.” There's a cosy ground-floor canteen and “great support services." One source told us: "It's nice to have the whole building to ourselves – it's a lot more modern than the firm's other offices.” Contrastingly, the Birmingham team is “all on one floor, slap bang in the middle of the city on Victoria Square.” Trainees suggested the atmosphere in London “feels a lot more corporate” in part thanks to the “very swanky” office across the road from the Gherkin.
“As the firm grows, there will need to be more focus on cross-office socials.”
A firm-wide Christmas party brings everyone together each year, and interviewees acknowledged that “as the firm grows, there will need to be more focus on cross-office socials.” As it is, there are plenty of opportunities to let your hair down. In Nottingham, lawyers “often migrate to The Navigation pub after work – it's how you get to know people.” Each office has its own social traditions.
Trainees can keep an eye on their standing via an online mentoring system that tracks their progress, as well as reviews every three months in which “feedback comes from all fee earners regardless of how much you've worked with them.” The system itself drew mixed feedback: some felt “the assessment criteria could be more tightly defined, as variation between seats is massive.” Another appreciated that “reviews didn't feel formal because my supervisor was there for me constantly.”
When qualification time rolls around, a list of NQ jobs is sent out by HR and trainees talk to partners to voice their interests. “It's what you make of it,” according to our sources. “Partners are happy to discuss options prior to interviews.” In 2017 nine of 12 qualifiers eventually signed on the dotted line.
Browne Jacobson recently launched a legal support service for start-ups called 'Grow', which doubles as a means for junior lawyers to learn how to build client relations.
How to get a Browne Jacobson training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 1 April 2018
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 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. Successful candidates are then invited to an assessment day. The day currently involves an interview, a case study presentation, a written exercise and a group exercise.
“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-law, 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, Exeter and Warwick universities.
Living and working in Nottingham
Browne Jacobson LLP
Castle Meadow Road,
Victoria Square House,
15th Floor, 6 Bevis Marks,
5th Floor, Tower 12,
18-22 Bridge Street,
1 Manor Court,
- Partners 115
- Associates 86
- Totaltrainees 32
- UK offices Nottingham, Birmingham, London, Manchester, Exeter
- Graduate recrutier: Recruitment team, [email protected], 08081789064
- Training partner: Mark Hughes
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 20
- Applications pa: 800
- Minimum required degree grade: No minimum
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: No minimum
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 1 April 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 1 February 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £25,500 (Midlands)
- Second-year salary: £26,500 (Midlands)
- Post-qualification salary: Market Rate
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Nottingham, Birmingham, London, Manchester, Exeter
We have delivered consecutive organic growth over the last seven years which is a testament to a successful sector strategy, our commitment to invest in people and infrastructure and an ability to develop long term client relationships based on trust and a true partnership approach.
We attract talent from across the country, whilst retaining a supportive, flexible and progressive working environment. Our people are the key to our success and we have a track record of attracting and retaining the best.
Main areas of work
You will start with a comprehensive induction programme, a fast track professional skills course and then go on to undertake an extensive internal trainee development programme. You’ll spend four periods of six months in some of the principle areas of the firm, gaining an overview of the practice. You’ll get great training, a friendly and supportive working environment and real career opportunities. You will also be given quality work and exposure to clients from early on, but will be supported in achieving results and recognised for your contribution. Training contracts are currently offered across all our office locations. To help with your development, and to meet the firm’s needs, it’s likely you will be supported to take a seat in a different office during your training contract.
University law careers fairs 2017