With a legacy dating back to 1760, this Covent Garden-based firm has plenty of lawyerly wisdom to impart on fledgling entrepreneurs and established corporates alike.
What links Prince Albert, Abraham Lincoln, playwriting legend Sir Noel Coward and football superstar Gareth Bale? Rather predictably, they've all been clients of West End stalwart Fladgate. Despite this list of high-profile names, the firm's trainees felt that “recognition of the great work we do isn't at the level it should be,” and consequently highlighted “a real push to get our brand out there. From my perspective, that's quite exciting.” Chairman Charles Wander weighs in: “Historically, we've worked with a lot of private clients so can't publicise what we do. When we can wave the flag about our success, we do, and we're gradually working on heightening our market position. It's a slow process – you won't see any Fladgate ads on TV!”
Our sources felt there was quite a lot to shout about: “The entrepreneurial aspect of Fladgate's practice really pushed me to apply,” said one, pointing to the firm's work for start-ups and the brains behind them. You'll also find established companies (like Samsung Engineering and Lidl) and public sector bodies on the client roster. Fladgate's lower mid-market corporate work picks up a top-tier ranking in Chambers UK, while the firm's real estate and construction know-how is also recognised.
“There's a good ratio of partners to associates.”
Next up was “the international scope” of Fladgate's matters: despite being a single-site firm, almost 40% of its work is derived from non-UK clients – a stat achieved by the presence of dedicated international groups within the office (covering the likes of Germany, Russia, India, South Africa and the US) and membership of an international referral network. Finally, Fladgate's manageable size was deemed a major draw: “There's a good ratio of partners to associates, meaning that as trainees we get to work with senior lawyers more often, more quickly.”
All trainees must do a seat in each of the firm's three core departments: property, litigation and corporate. The fourth can either be in a more niche area or a repeat of a prior seat; some sources grumbled that “because the first seat is automatically assigned, you might get your more niche seat first and then have no choice but to do the core seats subsequently.” Most trainees had “a good experience overall: the range of seats isn't huge, but coming in it's made clear how the system works.” Sources also welcomed new seat options in private client and banking.
Bales of deals
Fladgate's real estate department covers various specialist areas including construction, planning, property finance and litigation. The hotel and leisure sector is a particular strength here; the group recently advised on a £40 million lease to enable the construction of a swish new hotel in Grosvenor Square. Elsewhere the team advised long-time client Odeon on the opening of a new cinema in Bournemouth, and assisted with the £35 million disposal of the last brownfield site in St Pancras. Trainees found the department “a really great place to start as you get a lot of responsibility running your own files, and there's a lot of training from the full-time professional support lawyer.” One newbie got the chance to “negotiate the terms of a lease with the other side five or so weeks in – it was daunting, but I was just told not to concede anything!”
Corporate vies with real estate to take the crown of Fladgate's largest department; its two big money-spinners are capital markets (“getting companies listed on the AIM”) and traditional private M&A. The latter largely requires “the drafting of disclosure letters and board minutes, or even deeds of release and completion ancillaries.” International matters – such as “a big travel company deal on the French stock exchange” – are not uncommon, but premier league Fladgate has also tackled a lot of football-related work lately, from advising shareholders on selling a majority stake in £110 million club Swansea City to working with Gareth Bale on the opening of his Cardiff sports bar. A Spurs-supporting source told us that “working on that was hugely exciting – being able to relate to the work puts a different spin on it.” Arsenal fans, meanwhile, kept quiet... But no matter who your team is, team corporate “is very welcoming and you get to see transactions in full” across the course of a seat.
“It was daunting, but I was just told not to concede anything!”
An international dimension can often be found in litigation: cases of late include a £105 million shareholder dispute with links to Israel, as well as a $50 million joint venture spat that combined elements of German, English, Cypriot and Gibraltar law. The group also made the headlines recently as it pursued a £720 million fraudulent misrepresentation claim against Barclays on behalf of London-based private equity firm PCP Capital Partners. A trainee's average day includes “bundling, disclosure tasks, preparing ancillary documents and reviewing thousands of emails to find out if they're relevant to the case or not.” We got mixed reports on how much client contact is on offer, with some highlighting that “it's harder to get lots of responsibility doing contentious work because a lot of the time there's a rush to get applications done.” Fortunately, geography is on a trainee's side – close proximity to the courts means “you get to go there on Friday afternoons and get a lot of experience sitting in on trials.”
“IP is the sexy side of law.”
Among the optional seats Fladgate offers, “commercial is definitely the most sought after.” So what's the appeal? “You never know what to expect when you come into the office!” replied our enthusiastic sources, who listed “big online gambling clients, sports deals, domain name transfers and hotel management work.” Plus “IP is the sexy side of law,” with a lot of trademark work for the likes of colourful start-ups and entrepreneurs on offer (“they can be quite wacky!”). Fladgate is also the port of call for settled businesses like brand manager The Licensing Company, which employed the firm as one of its subsidiaries made a trademark registration sale to Sports Direct. “It's a really fun, small team that gives you good exposure,” said sources, who'd “drafted games licences and terms and conditions, but also researched copyright and trade mark issues for the corporate department when a big deal was going through.”
A trainee's typical day runs from 9am to 6.30pm. “There isn't a noticeable hours variation between seats – it all just comes down to what's going on in the department at a particular time.” Interviewees' latest nights went “just beyond midnight at the latest, but that's when the workload is craziest and it's not a regular occurrence. This isn't a face-time firm, and if you're here late people will ask why.” One trainee concluded: “It's a really refreshing attitude to work/life balance – an area where London firms generally don't have a great reputation!” That may partly be down to the irresistible lure of the firm's surroundings: Fladgate sits “between Holborn and Covent Garden, so it's difficult not to spend money every lunchtime as there's a lot going on here compared to the City where you're surrounded by the concrete jungle.”
“If you're here late people will ask why.”
Newcomers get to know the local area via “a treasure hunt 'quest'; we go out together then set tasks for the partners and associates. We had them re-enact pictures from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!” It's important that everybody gets along as “the contact you get with partners makes Fladgate distinctive compared to other firms.” Sources added: “It's not a hierarchical place – I can always go straight to a partner to ask questions.” Though Fladgate “isn't a very late-night-socialising type of firm,” there's a healthy annual programme of events including a bowling competition and a pub quiz, as well as various sports teams to exhaust yourself in. A new well-being initiative offers counselling sessions, yoga classes and gym memberships to trainees, “emphasising the importance of physical and mental health.” The latter is something the firm's management is particularly keen to encourage, and in 2016 Fladgate committed to supporting national mental health charity Mind.
HR begins to discuss with trainees where they would like to qualify midway through seat three. Fladgate traditionally has strong retention rates – in 2017 four of five qualifiers stayed on.
How to get a Fladgate training contract
In 2017 the firm recruited six trainees to start in 2019. The recruitment process for 2020 opens in January 2018.
Fladgate 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.
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 to 50 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.”
16 Great Queen Street,
- Partners 76
- Assistant solicitors 72
- Total trainees 11
- UK Offices 1
- Contact Nicola Thomas, [email protected] 0203 036 7139
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Selection procedure: Assessment day plus interview
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: January 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020: 29 July 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: £63,000
- Holiday entitlement: 26 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance loan pa:£6,000 within London and £5,000 for regional study
Main areas of work
The firm has a strong international dimension based on multi-lingual and multi-qualified lawyers working in London and complemented by access to an extensive network of overseas lawyers. The firm operates specialist teams which serve continental Europe, India, Israel, South Africa, the US, Russia/CIS and the Middle East.
The firm’s principal departments comprise corporate (which includes tax, private capital, restructuring, employment, IP and technology), litigation and real estate (which includes planning, construction and real estate litigation). These are supported by specialist cross-departmental teams that provide co-ordinated advice on a range of issues.
The firm has a modern culture and an open-door policy where trainees are given early responsibility and encouraged to achieve their full potential.