Kent(ish) Cripps gives London firms a run for their money in real estate, private client and corporate matters.
“The new office is a dream,” gushed a trainee about the firm's Tunbridge Wells HQ. "There's a massive state-of-the-art coffee machine and a sky lounge on the top floor," added another. “The move has given everyone a massive buzz.” Managing partner Gavin Tyler chipped in: “We're already feeling the benefits of increased collaboration and everyone getting to know each other better.” The office, we expect, must stick out like a beacon of modernity set against the famously priggish – yet charming – spa town of Tunbridge Wells.
"The office is like being at a London firm."
Another clue to the firm's new identity: "The office is like being at a London firm," one trainee felt. The firm's prestige in the regional market and offering of a plausible alternative to a London firm was attractive to trainees. Cripps tempts clients and applicants alike away from London firms with a winning combo of high-quality work and more affordable fees. Though largely based in Kent – the firm also has offices in Kings Hill and London – Cripps doesn't just set its sights on local work: “A lot of our work comes from London or overseas. There seems to be an increasing emphasis on winning international work currently.” The Kings Hill office was a result of a 2013 merger with commercial firm Vertex Law, and still houses the firm's growing corporate and commercial departments. Cripps also maintains its prowess in the real estate and private client sector, as demonstrated by its consistently high regional Chambers UK rankings in construction, planning, private client, family/matrimonial, and real estate among others.
No seats are compulsory at Cripps, though it is advised that trainees take one of the numerous property seats on offer. In terms of allocation, trainees put down four preferences and “most got three out of their four seat preferences.” Sources appreciated knowing all their seat rotations beforehand: “It's a really good thing as you know where you are going. Plus, how are you going to plan your career if you don't know what's next?” They also noted there's a smidge of flexibility where “if at any point you want to swap with someone you can do that.”
"You're doing what you'd be doing if you were qualified."
Under the banner of the firm's real estate department you'll find five subgroups: commercial, residential, construction, property disputes and planning. Real estate still makes up nearly half of the firm's work and revenue, even with the rise in corporate and commercial work. The team recently advised Crossrail on a deal at Paddington New Yard for the temporary relocation of a bus deck while work for the Crossrail project was completed. Other big-name clients include South East Water, the University of Kent and the Home Office. There's also a number of high net worth individuals on the residential conveyancing side. This inevitably crosses over with the firm's corporate and private client work.
The construction and development team looks at urban regeneration, infrastructure, and residential development projects. A trainee's work might involve planning permission for a building site and issues that come up within that, such as drainage issues and electrical connections. Clients are usually housing developers. Investment real estate tends to involve “big clients who own and invest in shopping centres” and “working on letting out units to businesses that want to be there.” Property disputes sources noted getting a fair bit of referral work from the investment team to deal with any disputes that pop up there. The team also deals with conveyancing advice, boundaries and trespasses, and debt recovery. Similarly to investment, corporate real estate usually deals with retail outlets and hotels, and does “all corporate transactions for real estate matters, including purchase and sale of commercial property, granting of new leases, and Telecom leases.” Residential conveyancing crosses over most with private client as it often takes on farm work and expensive properties – or “ones with more tricky tenancies.” Each real estate seat involved drafting leases and deeds of assignment, licence alterations, client reports, and research tasks. Development involved more specific tasks like reviewing the sites and planning applications. “You're never sitting there doing loads of scanning and bundling – it's proper law stuff, not just admin. You're doing what you'd be doing if you were qualified, just before it goes out it's checked.”
"It was good to see the difference between academic studies of law and the professional practice.”
General commercial work has been on the rise since the 2013 merger, but is still based in Kings Hill. Commercial disputes in particular has been favoured by trainees for its range of areas within the larger practice.Specialisms include IP matters, shareholder disputes, corporate governance disputes, and insolvency. “A lot of work gets referred from other areas of the firm – for instance, the transactional side refer to us when things go wrong, essentially.” Trainees got involved in drafting letters for claims and defences, attending hearings to take notes, and researching and analysing cases. “I was given a case and told 'this is our client's position, go research and tell me how strong our case is'. I had to look up different areas of law and how that applied to our fact pattern, and from that develop an understanding of how strong of a case we had. It was good to see the difference between academic studies of law and the professional practice.” Notable clients for the team include Eurotunnel/Channel Tunnel Group and alcohol company Rémy Cointreau.
In corporate there's a lot of M&A. as well as banking and finance, private equity and funds work. At first, sources described “dipping your toe in with corporate documents, drafting ancillary documents, and watching your supervisor do what he does – it was really impressive.” By the end of the seat, trainees reported “running small investment rounds by myself.” The team continue to act for independent pharmacy group Paydens on buying pharmacy businesses and companies, most recently the acquisition of the SG Court pharmacy group. They also recently advised the sellers on the sale of Vantage Holdings to US insurance broker NSM Insurance Group.
The private client team is mostly based in Tunbridge Wells, with about 25% based in the Kings Hill office. Interviewees explained: “A lot of the work is drafting wills, advising on tax planning, and LPAs.” There's also a substantial charity practice which sees the team doing a lot of work with various trusts. “A number of partners are trustees on a range of different trusts, so bring in work through that.” On top of the expected drafting, trainees often attended client meetings, reviewed medical records, and one “negotiated licences for images to include in a book one of our trusts clients was commissioning, which was cool.”
“Charity is a big part of the firm,” sources praised. Monthly 'bun runs' and dress down days are regular happenings at Cripps, but it's events like Tour de Cripps and Get Cripps to Rio that stood out to trainees. The former involves a 55-mile charity bike ride from the London office to the Tunbridge Wells office. The latter was around the Rio Olympics when the firm “tried to collectively travel the number of miles from the Cripps office to Rio.” And succeeded.
These charitable folk were also described as “really friendly and relaxed” with “no real sense of hierarchy.” One source ventured: “You wouldn't know if someone was a partner or an NQ.” Another emphasised: “You really do feel like part of the firm.” On the social scene, “there's always something going on somewhere.” The new office's sky lounge is “increasingly being used for social events.” There are also end of quarter drinks that the firm foots the bill for, and “most of the firm ends up at.” Alcohol aside, there's a variety of sports to get involved in, including football, netball, tennis, yoga and even curling. “If there's something you want to do, suggest it and people will generally get on board.” The Cripps summer ball was another highlight for trainees. This year the theme was Alice in Wonderland – curiouser and curiouser!
“In general, working hours averaged out across the training contract would probably be 9am to 6.30pm.” Sources understood that “if completion comes along and you have to be there until midnight, that's just what you do.” But overall, interviewees reckoned it balanced out: “It's not a culture where you're expected to stay late for the sake of it. During less busy times you are able to leave at around 5.30pm.” Many also admitted: “If comparing our hours to other firms, it's not bad at all.”
Retention has been consistently high for the firm: “The general emphasis is that they want to keep all of their trainees. People occasionally leave, but usually it's because the area they want to qualify into isn't available.” In 2017, Cripps retained eight out of ten.
How to get a Cripps training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 30 April 2018 (opens 1 December 2017)
Training contract applications
Cripps receives around 120 applications for the seven to ten training contracts it offers each year. Candidates submit a CV, covering letter and application form. “There are no bizarre questions; it simply asks why you want to work for Cripps and what you can offer them,” insiders told us.
The firm shortlists 40 or so candidates for the first stage interview, which is held with two associates and the recruitment advisor. Around 20 candidates typically pass this stage and are invited back for a final interview, this time with a partner and the managing partner, and then the head of HR.
At this point contenders undergo a blind test. “The content is a closely guarded secret, but it won't be a legal question,” managing partner Gavin Tyler confirms.
Cripps runs a two-week vacation scheme every summer for second and third-year undergraduates or those studying the GDL. There are only a few spots up for grabs (around eight in total), so superb academics are a must. Applicants are required to submit an online application form, then undergo one interview with two members of HR, followed by further questions posed by two associates.
Participants spend their scheme rotating through three practice areas, completing an assessment after each rotation. “We would like those on our scheme to experience working with people at different levels,” head of HR Emma Brooks says, “so they will have exposure to partners, associates and trainees during the programme.” On the social front, standard activities like firm-led lunches and drinks take place. Cripps doesn't recruit trainees directly off the back of its vacation scheme, although students are encouraged to submit a training contract application afterwards.
When it comes to stand-out applicants, “excellent academics are our starting point, but we also look for strong verbal and communication skills,” Brooks informs us. Aspiring trainees need a 2:1 degree and a minimum BBB at A level. “Good grades are valuable, but we also look for commercial awareness and practical problem-solving skills,” Brooks adds. “If you can demonstrate that you want a long-term career with us and really want to work with us, you'll catch our attention.”
She goes on to tell us that “practising your interview technique is crucial. Interviewees should behave professionally but also be themselves. Make sure you research the firm thoroughly and are clear on your reasons for applying to Cripps in particular.”
A glance at Tunbridge Wells
- Partners 49
- Associates 142
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices Tunbridge Wells, Kings Hill and London
- Overseas offices None
- Graduate recruiter: Katie McConnell, [email protected] 01892 506328
- Application criteria:
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 120
- Minimum required degree grade: 2.1 or above
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Three A level Bs or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 6
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December every year
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December every year
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 30 April 2018
- Open day deadline: None
- LPC fees: Partial - 50% funded, 50% interest-free loan
- GDL fees: No, but Cripps discount
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Tunbridge Wells and Kings Hill
- Overseas seats: No
- Client secondments: Yes - subject to needs of clients
Cripps has a particularly strong client service culture. With over 350 people it is non-hierarchical, open and highly flexible. It works closely and sympathetically with clients, offering commercially astute solutions. Everything is designed around the needs of the individual clients, with the firm adapting itself to each client and their particular objectives.
Main areas of work
■ Dispute resolution: 20%
■ Private client: 10%
■ Real estate: 46%
Trainee solicitors will experience four six month seats, providing a range of different practice areas to provide a diverse experience. They will also undertake a project with the business services side of the firm to help develop their understanding of law as a business.
The firm accepts applications from second or third-year undergraduate students or those currently studying the GDL and keen to benefit from the opportunity of a two week placement during the summer.
University law fairs 2017
■ University of Sussex
■ University of Surrey
■ University of Southampton
■ BPP Law School
■ University of Law