Old money meets new money at Farrer: a force to be reckoned with in the private client space, but one that's looking to make a bigger commercial splash too.
Because you're high net worth it
“We survived the French and American revolutions so we will be fine with Brexit,” declared one very assured Farrer trainee. Many would take a less rose-tinted view, but the plucky people of Farrer & Co can afford to take a relaxed view. After all, the firm has remained robust enough to weather every crisis since its inception in 1701, when it was founded by an uncle-nephew duo both called – a tad confusingly – Tempest Slinger. Since then Farrer has become London's go-to firm for the uber wealthy, with a client list comprising royalty, landed gentry and business-savvy entrepreneurs. No wonder, then, that the firm's private wealth expertise is lauded in Chambers High Net Worth, alongside high rankings in Chambers UK for private client, family, contentious trusts and rural affairs.
“We don't work by candlelight, wear tweed OR smoke pipes at our desks!”
With its illustrious history, affluent clientele and fancy digs (a 17th century pad on the corner of Holborn's Lincoln's Inn Fields) Farrer has suffered from what one trainee described as “being tagged old-man-crusty” – an image that doesn't sit at the top of any firm's marketing agenda. In the face of this, graduate recruitment partner Kate Allass tells us: “We aim to deliver a sophisticated message, which shows that we are steeped in history – reflecting the Farrer & Co hallmark of quality – while simultaneously getting across that we're a young, interesting and forward-thinking firm.” Our trainee interviewees were quick to agree: “We don't work by candlelight, wear tweed OR smoke pipes at our desks!”
Aiding this more modern image is the fact that Farrer isn't just about wills, wills, wills. “As a firm we are roughly split 50/50 between private client and commercial work,” Allass explains: “Our corporate, commercial and IP teams have been growing especially; we've taken on laterals from Slaughter and May and Allen & Overy in those areas.” Allass adds that these practices “throw out some interesting and quirky work,” like that conducted on behalf of The Natural History Museum as 'Dippy' – the museum's famous 26 metre-long diplodocus skeleton – went on a UK tour across eight venues, requiring Farrer to arrange the necessary exhibit touring agreements. Alongside commercial growth, trainees highlighted the firm's resources – “we're well equipped with new tech and are open to new ways of doing things” – and female partner stats – 71% of partner promotions over the last three years have been given to women – as further evidence that Farrer is very much a modern outfit.
Trainees navigate a more unusual seat structure at Farrer: six seats lasting four months each. The first four seats are completed within each of the firm's broad practice areas: property (commercial, residential or estates); private client (onshore, international or tax); contentious (reputation management, media or family) and commercial (corporate, banking and financial services, charity and community, employment or IP and commercial). The fifth is a 'wild card' seat that can be selected from any of the aforementioned areas, while the sixth is usually a repeat stint in the area desired for qualification.
The perks of this arrangement? “Farrer has a broad range of practices, so it's a great way of allowing you to see what's out there – especially if you have no idea where you want to qualify when you begin.” Any cons? “It can be tough doing four-month seats, as by the time you get to the end of the seat – when you feel like you've finally grasped it – you have to move on and feel stupid all over again!” Most of our sources got at least two or three of their top choices: “You don't have much of a say when it comes to your first seat, but after that you just sit down with HR and tell them which seats you're interested in; they take account of your preferences and just try to fit you in.”
“I've been to quite a few of the clients' houses.”
Farrer's private clients are precisely that: private. However, we can tell you that in this top-ranked department you can expect to work with a range of high net worth families and individuals – “a good mix of old and new money,” as one source put it. Direct client contact is par for the course here. “I've been to quite a few of the clients' houses in London,” said one, adding: “Going to their home makes them feel more comfortable and it’s nice because it breaks up the day!” Keeping clients comfortable can mean a range of things, as trainees reported “drafting wills and letters of wishes; conducting research; transferring deceased clients’ investments into trusts; providing tax advice; and reviewing trust documents.”
In Farrer's family department trainees have their plates full drafting divorce petitions and handling “crazy spouses,” arranging asset schedules for prenups and often “acting as the first point of contact for clients.” A high amount of bundling is normal, but even this is “interesting because you get to read the whole case and the human aspect makes it much more relatable to daily life.” The opportunity to attendcourt was another plus, with one recalling: “I went to the court at 9am and left at 9pm after we'd solved a divorce and secured child custody. I felt like an important part of the team.” While divorces make up the majority of the work here, we also heard of trainees assisting with citizenship applications and helping to manage family finances.
Country estates and juggling plates
Seats in property were likened to “juggling with multiple spinning plates.” Trainees can complete an entire seat in one of the department's three sub-teams: commercial, estates and residential. Mid-market transactions are dealt with by the commercial group, but “there are smaller matters that you can manage yourself as well. Most trainees get given a new lease that needs issuing, for example. I ran a whole new lease grant, right through to exchange and completion.” This comes with the “bonus of getting to visit the properties,” some of which are very old: “I had to use a book from the 1880s to help interpret an unregistered title my client was purchasing.” Outside the city's bright lights, Farrer is known for managing country estates, purchasing agricultural land and even selling the odd castle. Dealing with property “involves a lot more external contact” than most seats, so be prepared to liaise your head off with clients, surveyors, agents and the Land Registry.
“We're not doing huge M&A deals,” sources who'd sampled the corporate department told us. “There's still a family element, which is nice: I ended up helping to sell a series of schools that had been in a family's hands for years and years.” But it's not just about entrepreneurs and family offices: you'll find the likes of British clothing company Boden on the books, as well as dim sum masters Ping Pong and academic publisher SAGE Publications; the group represented the latter as it snapped up a journal from a rival publisher for $3.75 million. Over in commercial and IP the group is known for its expertise in the arts and heritage, media and education sectors. Imperial College London is a prominent client, and the team recently advised the university as it partnered up with the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) to establish the Cancer Research Centre of Excellence. Trainees enjoyed this “broad seat, which encompasses IP, data protection and a lot of drafting commercial contracts like licensing, distribution and venue hire agreements.”
Education-related work continues in Farrer's employment department, where one source had “completed a safeguarding review on behalf of a university, which involved reviewing their policies and procedures tied to dealing with vulnerable adults.” The team is top-ranked for its senior executive work, especially when it comes to severance negotiations and restrictive covenants. The firm's charities expertise also scores top points in Chambers UK; Age UK, Breast Cancer Now, BAFTA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are all on the books. Matters here can be sensitive and high profile: the group has been busy advising the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham in relation to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – the largest public inquiry ever to take place in England and Wales. “It's a complex area of law,” said one source, who felt they were given more responsibility in other seats. Still, trainees are kept on their toes “registering new charities with HMRC, drafting their constitutions and dealing with any questions from the Charity Commission.”
If this “blue blood, red trouser reputation” doesn't hold up, then what is Farrer's culture actually like? “People are... well, people people,” offered one. “Everyone is really collaborative and we have a lot of time for one another: if I need a bit of help to understand how a particular trust operates, for example, I know who to ring to get that support – that's really nice to know.” Other sources felt the same: “We like spending time with one another. Even at evening training sessions there'll be some beer and wine laid on. There's a lot of free booze kicking around!” Firm-wide Christmas and summer parties provide ample opportunity to mingle, as do monthly lunches, “which are usually themed – everyone just pitches up and has a nice subsidised meal.” The trainees are particularly close too: “We do a lot outside of work; we're involved in sports teams, but also do things with a charity focus, like hosting bake sales and participating in the London Legal Walk.” You're also likely to find a group of Farrer trainees at nearby watering hole Ye Old White Horse on a Friday night.
“We are absolutely not expected to work weekends.”
A more active social life is made possible thanks to Farrer's kinder working hours. “We are absolutely not expected to work weekends or evenings,” insisted sources. Most trainees tend to work from 9am until 6.30pm, but that doesn't mean that some seats – like reputation management and family – don't come with the potential for longer hours. “It's more up and down in the contentious seats. The latest I worked was midnight, but typically a late night would be around 9pm.” While the hours are “definitely better than those at the magic circle,” insiders wanted to make clear that “we do work hard here; yes, we have a life outside of work but we're encouraged to self-manage effectively to get the work done.”
Where better to get that work done than in Newcastle House, Farrer's plush 17th century listed building? “Well, there are pluses and minuses,” one source qualified. “It's gorgeous and you can feel the history of the firm – the charter for the Bank of England was signed here!” Sounds good to us – what's not so great then? “We don't have a canteen.” Yes, interviewees were universally perturbed by the lack of a communal eating space, but fortunately they're located just a stone's throw away from the many adequate eateries around Holborn and Covent Garden. Take note that not all of Farrer's lawyers work out of Newcastle House: some work in 'IB3,' an “open-plan attachment behind NH,” while others are based just down the road in Farrer's second site, where “the more commercial departments sit, as well as the IT, HR and marketing teams.”
“If the worst complaint we have about the firm is that there's no canteen then I think that's pretty good,” one sage trainee pointed out. Indeed, our insiders were more than happy enough to stick around upon qualification. “Traditionally Farrer keeps on most of its trainees; last year they took on seven out of ten, so that bodes quite well.” At the time of writing in March 2017, second-year trainees had been told which departments would be hiring. “We've just had an informal conversation with our training principal for now, but I expect we'll have to make a more formal submission soon.” Ultimately nine out of ten qualifiers were retained by the firm.
At every Christmas party trainees perform a pantomime they've written. The details are kept securely under wraps until the curtains are drawn back, but this trainee did reveal that “every character is based on a partner – it's our way of gently poking fun at them!”
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How to get into Farrer & Co
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
Applications and interviews
Both those applying for the vac scheme and those applying directly for a training contract are asked to answer a set of questions and send a cover letter.
Graduate recruitment consultant Donna Davies tells us the content and structure of the covering letter play an important part in the assessment process. “Ideally we want the letter to be well constructed, matching their skills to our specific requirement and outlining what attracts them to our practice areas and training programme." From here, the top 100 vac scheme applicants who impress are invited to an open day that involves a Q&A, plus group and written exercises.
Meanwhile, the lucky 40 training contract applicants who make it through the first round are invited to an interview with a partner, which generally lasts between an hour and a half and two hours. Instead of facing set questions, interviewees “are really allowed to run with it,” Davies tells us. Current trainees recalled the experience as “interesting and free-flowing,” with one telling us “it felt like they were really trying to get to know me and were prepared to challenge me on certain points to see if I could back up my opinions.”
Around 30 go on to a second interview, which takes place with two partners. Candidates are given a brief scenario on arrival and asked a few questions on that, before moving on to a more general discussion about their application. The case study portion usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes, while the rest is an hour to an hour and a half.
Farrer holds three two-week vacation schemes across Easter and summer, taking on ten candidates at a time. Each vac schemer is assigned a trainee buddy and sits with a different team each week. Our sources recalled that they’d been treated “just like trainees,” having drafted board minutes, conducted research and been taken to client meetings. Alongside such tasks, vac schemers are given a case study to work on over the course of their visit. This exercise culminates in them pitching for fictitious clients.
To make the most of their vac scheme, Davies advises candidates to “show a real interest in the firm and your desire to work here. At the same time, remember that it’s also a chance for you to find out about us.”
Completing the vac scheme doesn’t automatically entitle candidates to a training contract interview, but those who are granted one skip straight to the second interview round, as outlined above.
How to wow
The firm asks for a minimum 2:1 degree and 300 UCAS points. Beyond that, “work experience – casual work, informal shadowing or a vacation scheme – is valued as it's a good way to demonstrate general commercial awareness,” according to Davies.
Given the firm's abundance of private client work, as well as family and employment law, “applicants need to have a certain sensitivity and be sympathetic towards individuals,” partner Jonathan Eley points out. “Our clients expect confidentiality and discretion at all times, so candidates who recognise the importance of that will certainly get a tick in the box.”
Dickens and the law
Farrer & Co LLP
66 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
- Partners 74
- Assistant solicitors 183
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Claire Roche [email protected]
- Graduate recruitment partner: Kate Allass
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 900
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: £7,000 per year of study
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: There are a number of opportunites for secondments on qualification.
Main areas of work
Whilst the firm is based in London it also offers its clients a seamless service across a range of jurisdictions. Its international strategy remains one of independence and the firm is not a member of any global network (formal or informal) and so remains free to work with or recommend the most appropriate firm in a particular jurisdiction to meet its clients’ specific needs. The firm acts for international private clients giving advice on both their onshore and offshore requirements, frequently meeting them in their own jurisdiction. It also advises international clients on their UK affairs, and UK organisations on international matters. Many of the firm’s lawyers have extensive international experience in their specialist areas, and between them are fluent or highly proficient in over 20 languages.
The training programme involves each trainee in the widest range of cases, clients and issues possible in a single law firm, taking full advantage of the extensive array of practice areas at Farrer & Co by offering six seats, rather than the usual four. This provides a broad foundation of knowledge and experience and the opportunity to make an informed choice about the area of law in which to specialise. A high degree of involvement is encouraged under the direct supervision of associates and partners. Trainees attend an induction programme and regular internal lectures. The training partner reviews trainees’ progress at the end of each seat and extensive feedback is given. The firm has a very friendly atmosphere and regular sporting and social events.
Open days and first-year opportunities