Extend your search beyond the confines of the City and you'll find Covent Garden-based Fladgate, where “the clients are entrepreneurial, just like the firm.”
West End pearls
You've all seen Dragons' Den. Budding entrepreneurs nervously pitch and try not to burst into tears while Deborah Meaden rips their ideas to shreds – what's not to love? But that's a doddle compared to what some entrepreneurs have to do to get their start-ups off the ground. To help make things easier, Fladgate has built a go-to practice for those wanting to get their feet onto that imposing corporate ladder. For example, the firm's recently helped a group of friends who met at uni as they expanded their coffee chain start-up, Black Sheep Coffee.
With this emphasis on new ideas and fledgling entrepreneurs, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Fladgate is a relative newbie too. But in fact this modest-sized firm has been plying its trade in the capital since 1760 – and it soon built up quite a reputation. Fladgate's lawyers helped Prince Albert realise his vision for the Great Exhibition, and received an instruction from none other than President Abraham Lincoln, who needed the firm to pull a few legal strings to get the Smithsonian Institution up and running. Proximity to London's West End also proved valuable, as the firm nabbed playwright Noël Coward as a client, secured a prime site on Shaftesbury Avenue for the English Opera House (now home to the Palace Theatre), and assisted Theatreland's fanciest retreats – Claridge's and The Savoy.
But let's get back to the here and now: incoming trainees can expect to work for a mix of individuals and companies. Much of the work revolves around corporate, real estate and litigation matters, but Fladgate also has a range of other practices at its disposal, including private wealth, construction and employment. Chambers UK top ranks Fladgate's lower mid-market corporate/M&A work, but also rates its real estate and construction expertise, especially in the hotels and leisure sector.
“Many of our clients are growing businesses,” said trainees, “so there's a real entrepreneurial spirit here: we're growing too and have made a few new hires, but we're still a nice size and you can get to know everyone.” Fladgate recently opened its gates to a trio of partners from Canadian firm Fasken Martineau, boosting its corporate and employment practices in the process. It's also witnessed an impressive 14% revenue leap two years on the trot, allowing it to break past the £40 million barrier for the first time in 2015/16.
“Entrepreneurial clients are usually characters, and they can be quite demanding, but always fun!”
There's another assumption that's easy to make about Fladgate: with its lone Covent Garden hub, all work must be limited to London. Wrong. While Fladgate remains committed to its single-site strategy, over 40% of its revenue is derived from international work. To pull this off, the firm utilises a gang of local lawyer chums on foreign shores, and has its own series of international groups within the office with multilingual and multi-qualified solicitors covering Israel, German-speaking countries, the rest of continental Europe, India, the Middle East, South Africa, South-East Asia and the USA. Key client Merlin Entertainments has been providing Fladgate with plenty of overseas projects of late: the firm's helped it to establish a SEA LIFE aquarium in Istanbul; a LEGOLAND theme park in Japan; and a new Madame Tussauds in Chongqing, in China.
Corporate, real estate and litigation are compulsory pit stops for trainees; the remaining seat can be a repeat of an old favourite or a brand new stint in one of the more specialist areas, like tax, employment or ICT/commercial. While the selection may seem quite narrow, trainees pointed out that “the firm specialises in these seats, so you'd be crazy not to do them! You get a great understanding of the firm and its clients, and a good mix of things to do.”
Real estate is one of Fladgate's two largest departments neck and neck with corporate; it covers various specialist areas including the hotel and leisure sector, as well as construction, planning, property finance and litigation. Recently the firm advised Odeon Cinemas on the opening of a new multiplex in Milton Keynes, and represented Aldgate Tower Investments as it let out office space in its brand spanking new Aldgate Tower to swift-journey saviours Uber. Other clients on the books include developers, high net worth individuals and an increasing number of institutional clients. “You're given the most responsibility here out of all the departments,” enthused trainees, who'd been able to run their own small residential files. “You can get involved in everything from the initial drafting of the contracts, to sending over all the sale documents to the buyer's solicitors, to responding to enquiries right through to exchange and completion.”
“There's a massive spread of clients from investors to small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies,” said sources in the corporate department. But it was the group's entrepreneurial clients that our interviewees held most dear: “They're are usually characters, and they can be quite demanding, but always fun!” Again, the firm's strength in the hotel sector is evident here; the group recently represented a group of companies as they sold two luxury hotels in the North West of England, and, further afield, assisted an investment vehicle as it snapped up a five-star hotel in St Barts. There may be “lots of admin stuff” for trainees to tackle, “but there's also the opportunity to get involved with great work.” Those who had got stuck in had been “excited to work with a small company from the very beginning – I helped them get listed on AIM by drafting prospectuses and verified the notes that have to go out to investors."
Over in litigation, cases regularly have an international dimension. Recent highlights have seen the team act for London-based private equity firm PCP Capital Partners against the former Prime Minister of Qatar and his investment companies, during a £100 million dispute over a portfolio of hotels; they also represented Capstan Capital Partners as it made a $20 million claim against a German shipping conglomerate, Rickmers Holdings, for unpaid fees. Other clients include Samsung Engineering, Lidl and Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer. Beyond commercial disputes, “there’s also a family group catering to high net worth individuals – but that's all I can say!” Trainees here “took attendance notes in the High Court, but also helped to prepare bundles and the relevant documents for further disclosure.” Some assignments do fall on the more adrenaline-inducing side of the spectrum though: “We had a worldwide freezing application made against our client. I had to quickly research how the injunction worked and prepare affidavits to build our defence!”
Quest-lovers, rejoice, as things get off to an expedition-driven start at Fladgate: “When you first join, HR gets the trainees to organise a quest for the rest of the firm to do. Our intake went out and counted all the wigs in the surrounding shops and then asked the rest of the firm to go and find out how many there were!” Despite maintaining a “very focused and professional approach,” the atmosphere in the office is nonetheless “quite informal: you can joke with the partners and there's a close-knit family vibe here – everyone talks to you in the lift.” Office-wide social events – like pub quizzes and bowling nights – are organised once every couple of months, and many bonding activities have a fund-raising dimension to them: “We recently did the London Legal Walk and we're planning to abseil down Senate House Library. I think we've underestimated the height, but we're doing it for St Mungo's, which helps homeless people.”
When they're not flinging themselves down buildings, Fladgate's lawyers are working hard. “Everyone wants to do their best!” But compared to neighbouring City firms, the hours are quite reasonable. “The latest I've stayed is 11pm, but that was a one-off – normally you're working from 9am until 6.30pm.” Another trainee pointed out that “there's no face time; a partner told me that I didn't need to stay if there was nothing to do.” These factors clearly impressed 2016's crop of qualifiers, as all elected to stay and all four were offered NQ positions at the firm.
And finally... Fladgate now recruits six trainees every year and pays GDL and LPC fees, which it didn't previously.
Fladgate now recruits six trainees every year and pays GDL and LPC fees, which it didn't previously.
How to get a Fladgate training contract
Training contract deadline: TBC (application window opens early 2017)
Fladgate recently changed its recruitment timetable so that it now recruits trainees every year; it's upped its intake too. Previously trainees were recruited every other year for the following two years, but going forward the firm will be recruiting two years in advance like other mid-sizers. In 2016 it played catch-up recruiting a bumper round of six trainees each for both September 2017 and September 2018 starts. In 2017 the firm will be recruiting six trainees to start in 2019.
Another change is that Fladgate now sponsors future trainees through the GDL and LPC if they have not yet undertaken those courses. It also offers a maintenance loan of £6,000 for those studying in London and £5,000 outside. No doubt these changes have in part been fuelled by the firm's recent expansion. In 2015/16 revenue grew by 14% – the third year in a row of double-digit revenue growth – rising to £43.5 million up from just £28 million in 2012/13.
The initial application
The first stage requires candidates to complete an application form via Apply4law. The firm looks for a minimum of ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree, although senior recruitment advisor Nicola Thomas notes that “we look at each application on its merits, so if an application is outstanding this may occasionally outweigh a minor academic hiccup.”
The form includes several questions “designed to give applicants the opportunity to stand out and show what's different about them.” Work experience is important: “We prefer candidates who have managed to squeeze in a good range of legal work experience and ideally some office or other commercial experience alongside their academic studies.”
The assessment centre and interview
The firm receives around 500 applications a year. About 40 candidates per intake are invited to an assessment centre. “We're aiming to give people a chance to shine,” says Thomas. The day consists of individual and group tasks designed to test written communication, intellectual ability and interpersonal skills. Demonstrating a high level of commercial awareness is key for a Fladgate trainee. “Our clients are largely entrepreneurs, so trainees need to be able to empathise and understand their needs,” comments Thomas.
As well as having the right academic credentials, being “confident and very organised” is essential. “It is important that trainees are competent multi-taskers who enjoy direct client contact.” Around 15 candidates are chosen to go through to the interview stage. There's usually just one interview and it's held with a mixture of partners and HR. After that, it's decision time.
Nicola Thomas advises: “Read your application over and over again to eliminate careless errors. White spaces are okay, because we like concise answers rather than masses of written text, and they make it easy to read. And remember that the application is to Fladgate, so tailor your application to the firm and don’t make the mistake of copying information containing the name of another law firm!” She adds: “We are looking for future partners, so candidates should show us that they are bright, ambitious, confident, commercially minded individuals who want to be at Fladgate and identify that this is somewhere they can flourish and succeed.”
Interview with training partner Philip Turner and chairman Charles Wander
Student Guide: Fladgate represents many entrepreneurial clients. How does that feed into what type of a person you look for and how can they impress at interview?
Philip Turner: We want strong personalities. People who show independence and dedication so that we can see whether or not they'd be capable of standing up for clients. How can they show this? Well, take this as an example. I recently read a most persuasive request from a current trainee to do a specific seat. It was reasoned and pitched exactly right. It showed us that this person had the nous to take charge of the direction they wanted their career to take and it makes a good impression in that way.
Our trainees need to be able to deal with entrepreneurial clients, who don't really want us to tell them the law, they want us to help advise them what to do. So we need people who can empathise with clients and understand that this can be a daunting time for these people. Especially those who are starting out and investing so much of their resources into their projects. Experience in client-led businesses, like working in a call centre, or at a supermarket till or paralegalling can be really helpful.
After the initial application, where you should really shine is the assessment day. We structure it so that candidates have to engage in several written exercises and two or three social events. There is one formal arrangement, where they perform a group exercise. Here, candidates are set particular topics to discuss, but we leave them to it. We get to see who are the natural leaders. But the greatest skill you can possess as a lawyer is that you have to listen, so we see how that plays out. The second is less formal and is a Q&A with the current trainees. We like this second situation because firstly you see how candidates react in a less structured setting, but also you get a sense of how they fiot with our current trainees.., Then there is a lunch. We let them eat first, don't worry. But then we send in the partners and we see who can hold a conversation, because entrepreneurial clients want people who are actually interested in their businesses and who can also talk to them.
Charles Wander: We are looking for great interpersonal skills and people that we would be confident would make a good contribution to the firm and impress clients. So candidates should understand that these are the qualities that we look for so when it comes to the assessment day and the social environment we put you in, that is your time to show us that this is what you have.
SG: Can you talk us through some of the training trainees get?
PT: It varies by department. There's usually around six or seven sessions in property, corporate and litigation that tackle the basics like leases or licences for example. You can attend other departmental training sessions. When we identify special training that is needed we ensure this is provided . Also when there are new updates in different areas of law, our trainees are encouraged to help write new articles that explain this.
CW: For the firm as a whole, we've also been expanding our practice capabilities. We have our three core practice areas in middle-market corporate, property/real estate, and commercial litigation and arbitration. But from that we're growing life sciences, employment, construction as well as tax and IP specifically in the corporate area. To do this we've been taking on a lot of new partners so that we have a one-to-one partner to associate ratio. This is really positive for training at a more senior level, so that associates will be able to learn at the shoulders of partners and the same for trainees.
SG: You've recently started recruiting for training contracts two years ahead. Can you tell us more about that?
PT: We're really excited about the new system and recruiting two years ahead. We are now sponsoring the GDL and the LPC fees and offering maintenance loans. This is because we want as diverse a group of people to apply as possible. There is a place for people who want to be involved in a breadth and depth of different areas that also has international aspects to the work as well. If you are the type of person however, that is purely academic who would be too frightened to speak to clients really early on, there are probably other law firms where you can hide a bit more, but not here.
CW: It's actually quite an unusual level of client interaction that trainees get here. Possibly in bigger firms you wouldn't get that chance. Which is why we wanted more trainees. We appreciate that it's difficult for some to get into the profession, this is why we do our bit to ensure greater access. This is why we've changed the financial incentives through the funding of the GDL and the LPC.
SG: What would be your advice to people considering pursuing a legal career?
PT: A law degree is always useful even if you don't use it to go directly into the law. Also you should try to get work experience as early as possible. Try to do summer placements in as many types of firm as you can, because that's the only way to find out what's right for you. But with that make sure you are yourself in all of these experiences. It's no good coming in saying I'm going to be a Fladgate person. It has to be what works for you. If you do that, you'll find the right fit and then you'll fly.
CW: I would even suggest considering doing a non-law degree and then doing the GDL. It's only an extra year, and if you are successful with us [in applying] then we cover your fees. It in no way stops you, but instead only contributes to what you can bring to a firm. For example, science or tech would serve you well for a life sciences practice or IP. Language backgrounds would give you the chance to deal with international work. Roughly 40% of our business is made up by non-UK sources, so we want to continue to develop these international desks in the firm. At present we speak over 30 different languages in the firm. We want to develop our Eastern European focus as we have a good number of Russian speakers including partners. So in a way it's almost inevitable that four out of every ten matters we work on will have an international aspect. While we tend not to offer secondments, trainees do have the chance to occasionally travel. Recently one went to Singapore but only for a day.
16 Great Queen Street,
- Partners 74
- Assistant solicitors 58
- Total trainees 10
- Contact Holly Keaney, human resources officer
- Method of application Information and an application form are available at the firm’s website www.fladgate.com
- Selection procedure Assessment day plus interview
- Application For more details please visit www.fladgate.com
- Training contracts pa 6
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £35,000
- Second year: £37,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary £60,000
- % trainees offered job on qualification in 2016 100%
Main areas of work