A training contract with this Kentish gang offers “a high standard of work, an exceptional quality of life and a genuine split between real estate, private client and corporate practice areas.”
Throw up your 'Cs'
Often derided for its particularly twee brand of little England living, Royal Tunbridge Wells can now also lay claim to being home to one of the hottest regional firms in the country. In fact, if our sources are anything to go by – and they most certainly are – 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' is what you definitely won't be on the Cripps training contract. Its name might conjure up images of blue bandana-wearing gangsters but the only people that need to watch their backs are the London big dogs. Offering top-notch lawyers at affordable fees, tempting clients away from the blue-chips is part of the game plan: “Companies in London look at the work we do, see we're cheaper and realise its a 'win-win'.”
An increasingly impressive haul of big household names more than vindicates their 2013 decision to subsume local commercial law rivals Vertex Law. This move also added a King's Hill base to Cripps' coterie, which includes offices in Tunbridge Wells, Sandwich and a small advance outpost in central London. Following hot on the heels of a trendy new website launch in 2015, the firm is building from scratch new headquarters in Tunbridge Wells and also overhauling its IT and secretarial systems. The latter has seen the creation of a paralegal team “just like in a large London firm” and greatly improve the cross-selling for which Cripps has become known. All in all “there's a lot of recruitment” and there's a sense that “the firm is growing.” A view more than reflected in the most recent Chambers UK rankings, which saw Cripps scoop up top-tier rankings for its banking & finance, planning, real estate litigation and corporate/M&A practices.
HR organises seat allocation but they now do it through consultation with second years, because “they know when it's best to do your seats and that, for example, you don't want to do your top preference first.” Those wary of a rollercoaster ride should know that the firm pads the seats to ensure a seamless rotation: “Its quite terrifying when you haven't done the seat before. Normally you'll pop up the day before. They'll take you out for lunch and introduce you to everyone.”
Cripps' commercial crew represents the core of the old Vertex practice and is still entirely housed in the firm's old offices. Though they are open-plan, modern and even have their own games room, there's no getting away from the fact that they're on an industrial estate in west Kent. And, while this might not seem like the perfect place for a burgeoning business law practice, its just off the motorway and far easier to get to than the clogged-up Tunbridge Wells. The team's client base varies from “large international media and ad agencies” like the Omnicom Group, to “medium-sized tech companies” like Amsphere, “all the way down to people that are starting up for the first time.” As such, trainees had “been on the opposite side of telephone conferences with international retailers” but also “on the phone with small business owners who need an IP assignment.” Fluidity is the name of the game in this relatively small seat –“you have a designated supervisor but the idea is to work for as many people as you can. You'll get brought along to meetings and into telephone conferences and encouraged to pick up the phone as much as possible.”
Underneath the real estate parasol sits five seats: residential conveyancing, investment, corporate real estate, property disputes and construction/development. And the department itself accounts for nearly half of the whole firm's revenue. Frequently trainees will land in a real estate seat first since “the firm sees it as an area that, while not easy, has the resources that mean a trainee can do quality work without much experience.” It also boasts some of the firm's most high-profile clients such as Waitrose, the Home Office and the University of Kent. They work on large-scale projects both local – the £50 million rebuild of Kent Uni's main campus – and increasingly in London, such as the ongoing renovation of the former BBC World Service building (Bush House) on the Strand. Other ongoing work includes acting for local boy and billionaire businessman Sir Roger de Haan in his plans to build a £7 million multistorey skate park in his home town Folkestone.
“Tasked with establishing a trust fund for a wealthy individual..."
Because of the close connection between the corporate and private client and the real estate teams, cross-selling is rife. This means throughout their contracts “trainees get to see all aspects of a deal.” Most of residential investment's clients are investors from abroad interested in English real estate. Our sources had “actively and independently run overseas investor and assignment files – a lot of it with regards to big developments in London.” Another spoke of “drafting legal reports, contracts and leases. This included securing a new facility for a £10 million investment.” The team also reaps the rewards of the Mexican-Wave initiative – an agreement with Hogan Lovells whereby that firm sends surplus burritos, sorry, we mean, transactional work Cripps' way.
With about 20 lawyers, commercial property is the biggest team in the real estate marquee. Until fairly recently it was part of the private client team and so has its own digs separate from the rest of the gang. The team mostly “looks at leases and acts for landlords of shopping centres” and other “multiple-unit type things.” Responsibility levels are through the roof in the seat –“I did a lot of looking at leases and drafting them. I actually ended up dealing with someone's caseload when they were on sabbatical.” Recent work includes acting for local developers Wates in the purchase and sale of a £63 million site in Horsham, in West Sussex.
About 30% of Cripps' private client team is based in King's Hill, with the rest in the Tunbridge Wells HQ. The firm's private client practice dominates the Kent market, according to Chambers UK. It mostly deals with wills, trusts and tax planning for high net worth individuals. Unusually for a regional firm, though not for Cripps, a lot of the team's work comes from London and abroad. Sources described the level of client contact as “intimidating at first” but something “you quickly get used to.” A typical day goes like this: “You attend the client meeting and ascertain what needs to be done, then you create attendance notes and kick-start all the documents required.” Another told of being “tasked with establishing a trust fund for a wealthy individual that will be managed by Cripps and closely overseen by one particular trusted lawyer.”
Cripps is drawing more and more NQs from London but the firm is also hoping to snap up trainees from the capital as well. And the appeal of a training contract in which “the intention is always to give a trainee the type of work they'd get as an NQ” is hard to deny. The hours are pretty decent as well. Of all the seats, residential investment is probably the busiest – meaning you won't be leaving until 7.30 most evenings. In all the others, “a long day finishes at 6.30.” This allows time for plenty of socialising and luckily Cripps folk are a gregarious bunch. The highlight of the social calendar is the Summer Ball. Organised by the second-years, the details are top secret until the night and none of our sources would give even a hint as to the location or theme; however, they did divulge that “last year was a circus theme and it was at Hop Farm in Paddock Wood, and it was bloody good fun.” On top of this there's a “bake-off; cricket, netball, and football teams; end of quarter drinks; and most Fridays there's something going on.” In fact, one interviewee had to excuse themselves because, “tonight we're going to the Pantiles for a jazz evening” – fair enough.
"... it was bloody good fun.”
The only false note we could really find on the Cripps training contract was in the qualification process. It's on the whole an informal affair and, even though the retention rates are typically high at Cripps (seven out of nine stayed in 2016 and 100% stayed in 2015) sources agreed that a bit more structure might not go amiss. A slight lack of transparency was attributed to the fact that “Cripps are good about telling everybody big things but not the small stuff.” At every end of seat appraisal trainees are encouraged to talk about where they might want to qualify and then “around late May” they all have a meeting with the managing partner, a list of vacancies is released and “everyone has a couple of weeks to make choices on that basis.”
Each summer there is the 'Tour de Cripps' – a 53-mile charity bike ride between Cripps' offices, starting in London and ending in Tunbridge Wells.
How to get a Cripps training contract
Training contract deadlines (2019): 31 July 2017
Work placement deadline (2017): TBA
Training contract applications
Cripps receives around 100 applications for the 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 two interviews: the first with two associates, and the second with someone in recruitment. 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 work placement (Cripps' version of a vac scheme) every summer for second and third-year undergraduates. 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 an interview with a member of HR. Following this, shortlisted candidates attend a second-stage interview with two associates.
Participants spend their work placement rotating through three practice areas, completing an assessment after each rotation. “We would like those on our placements 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 these work placements, although students can 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 “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
12 Mount Ephraim Road,
- Partners 48
- Assistant solicitors 95
- Total trainees 17
- Contact Emma Brooks, head of HR
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter @crippslaw
- Website: www.cripps.co.uk
- Method of application Application form available on website
- Selection procedure First stage is an interview with two Associates and then an interview with our Recruitment Advisor. Second stage is a written paper, an interview with the Managing Partner and a divisional Partner and also an interview with our Head of HR
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 10
- Applications pa Up to 200
- % interviewed pa 20%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 19%
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2015) 100%
- % of assistants/associates (as at 2014) who joined as trainees 53%
- % of partners (as at 1/5/2014) who joined as trainees 19%
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.
The unusual combination of personal, responsive service and the highest quality of advice is equally attractive to large businesses and institutions as it is to entrepreneurial organisations and wealthy individuals.
This makes Cripps large enough to offer the desired breadth of experience but not so big that our trainees get lost in a hierarchical structure. Our lawyers experience a great variety in their work as they seek to build close and highly effective personal relationships with a broad range of clients across numerous sectors. Our trainee programme offers you the opportunity to work with wealthy families, the owners of entrepreneurial businesses and private capital and senior in-house lawyers at major corporate organisations.
Internally, you’ll get to know, and hopefully work with, not only the heads of our legal divisions, but also members of the management team, together with senior managers. You will be part of a firm that is in control of its own destiny and is sufficiently agile to adapt to the rapidly changing legal and commercial marketplaces.
Our lawyers are of the highest quality (either home-grown or frequently from the City or other eminent firms). Business services professionals will work closely with you to ensure that you’re properly supported.
Main areas of work
Dispute resolution: 17%
Private client: 16%
Real estate: 44%.