Something's afoot at one of the South West's finest firms, and it bodes well for future trainees looking for a tour of the region.
Fleet of foot
Over the past few years, we’ve heard a similar story at Foot Anstey. “I’ve been extremely impressed by the firm's organic growth,” said one trainee, reflecting the views of this year's cohort. And this South West player has certainly grown: over the past five years its revenue has swelled by 60%, and its latest 2015/16 results show a 12% increase to £36 million. Training partner Helen Wallwork tells us: “Based on where we are at the moment and the investments that we’ve made, we'll continue to grow and increase our turnover by making the most of our recruits.” This is good news for those of you interested in joining Foot Anstey’s ranks: the number of trainees rose from 15 to 21 in September 2016, and the retention rates at the firm are usually high. In 2016, all six qualifiers were retained.
The work that is driving this growth comes from a mix of regional, national and international clients, who are all serviced out of the firm's five South West offices, plus its London base (which opened in 2015). A large number of these clients are derived from the firm’s four key sectors: banking and financial services; media and technology; retail and leisure; and property, infrastructure and construction. Chambers UK especially recognises the firm’s regional work in clinical negligence, personal injury, employment and agriculture, but its M&A and real estate practices also come in for high praise.
To sample Foot Anstey’s offering, trainees must move between its offices for different seats; they express preferences for both practice area and location before each rotation. In addition, seats are usually allocated a year in advance, all of which can be quite a feat for HR to pull off, and trainees have to be flexible. Tweaks have been made to make the system more accommodating. “We’re shifting to a structure of six four-month seats,” says Wallwork, “to give trainees a better overview of the practice areas, to make room for secondments which we are working on, and to allow trainees to spend their last seat in their area of qualification.” As of October 2016 there were eight trainees in Exeter, eight in Bristol, four in Plymouth and one in Taunton.
On the corporate side, clients range from regional companies like Plymouth Community Healthcare CIC to international outfits like events organiser UBM and private equity firm HgCapital. M&A and private equity deals form a big chunk of the workload here, and the department also does some Islamic finance work. The firm recently assisted real estate investment adviser 90 North with an offshore equity structuring (involving investors from the Middle East) that will aid a £420 million residential development near Canary Wharf. Trainees told us that the “work in corporate is very cross-office,” so many got to know their colleagues in other locations. In Plymouth we heard that the “bread and butter for trainees is drafting ancillary documents, so your board minutes and resolutions, things like that.” But there were also opportunities to have a go at the weightier documents, like SPAs – an experience one called “a little nerve-wracking.” Due diligence tasks can also “provide you with a lot of client contact. Some of the individuals we deal with are unsure as to how to answer particular questions, so you assist them with that.”
“... get an idea of how a case progresses and how all the stages fit together.”
The commercial property group does the bulk of the Islamic finance work; it also covers planning, construction, investment and development matters. “I got involved in quite a few things,” said one trainee, “like drafting a report on title for a wind farm development and helping to manage a large brewery’s portfolio.” A recent highlight saw the department utilise its Islamic finance expertise to advise Greenridge Investment Management on the financing of its acquisition of the National Air Traffic Control Services’ HQ – a deal worth £70 million. Trainees here told of “doing the odd bit of research, reviewing titles and drafting leases. Most drafting is done from precedent, which is handy, but there is the odd bespoke bit too.” Sometimes though, it’s the clients that make the job interesting: “I was the main point of contact for this old Cornish chap – he was very funny but sometimes I felt like I needed a translator!”
Foot Anstey's dispute resolution group acts for both individuals and businesses, and cross-border matters aren’t uncommon either. One such piece of work had the firm advising Eltete – a Finnish-based packaging and building materials producer – on whether the English courts had jurisdiction over a case it was involved in. The department’s strong suits are IP, trusts and banking litigation, hence the appearance of Lloyds Bank, the Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Ireland on the client roster. Trainees in both Exeter and Plymouth spoke of running “smaller matters” like contractual claims, which allowed them to “get an idea of how a case progresses and how all the stages fit together.” On the larger side of the case spectrum sources said: “It's litigation, so there are always going to be bundling tasks!” But trainees also proudly reeled off the drafting assignments they’d mastered, including particulars of claim, witness statements and letters before action.
The clinical negligence team exclusively acts for claimants. “I was working on cases that had really affected people,” said one source in the Taunton office, “like birth injuries, negligent operations and some road traffic accidents on the personal injury side.” Our interviewees had fascinating stories to tell about this seat, and that was mainly down to the large amount of client interaction they’d had. “On one matter in particular I was asked to draft the schedule of loss for a fall abroad. I spoke to the client on a daily basis and updated them on the case. We'd go through the witness statements together too, so I felt very close to that client.”
“We get a lifestyle hour.”
“I chose the South West for the lifestyle,” said trainees. We hear that a lot from trainees at firms in the region, but Foot Anstey takes the whole lifestyle thing one step further: “We get a lifestyle hour every week to do what we want with. You could take an extra hour at lunch, or finish early on a Friday – you just have to send an email to request it.” What's more, “if you're here late they'll ask you why you’re working so late and whether they should alter your caseload.” Many trainees' latest night fell at 8pm, while their usual departure time across offices was 6.30pm.
There are other reasons to hang around. “The Plymouth HQ has the best view you could ask for,” gushed one trainee. “It's got a big window that looks out onto Sutton Harbour – you can't get anything better on a sunny day. You feel like you’re in Monaco!” Bristol and Exeter, meanwhile, are centrally located in their respective cities, and “feel more modern – but that might just be because they are a bit bigger.” While trainees noticed that “each office has slightly different nuances,” their descriptions of the firm's culture typically settled on words like “familial” and “personable.” One told us: “The trainees are valued and the partners take an interest in you. Some people from Truro knew all about me before I'd even met them. It was nice, but I did wonder who'd been talking about me!”
To tie up the links between offices, there is a firm-wide Christmas party. “Every year trainees come up with a skit; this year they based it on Family Fortunes. It's daunting but good to get up in front of the firm so that people get to know you.” But the firm's hot on bringing teams together too, via some interesting away days: “The last thing I did was drive a Land Rover blindfolded through a forest while being guided by another lawyer!” On a less alarming note, another told us how there are “regular after-work drinks, plus active football, netball and cricket teams. I'm finding that I see a lot of my colleagues on the weekends.”
“Once every three months the managing partner, John Westwell, has a lunch with the trainees and asks how we're getting on.”
How to get a Foot Anstey training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 1 April 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 1 June 2017
Foot Anstey offers 12 training contracts a year. Aspiring trainees can either apply for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract. Both routes start with an online application form. In total, the firm receives around 300 applications.
The firm uses a competency-based scoring process to assess vacation scheme applications, awarding a maximum mark of 48. To hit the cut-off point, typically in the upper 30s, applicants have to demonstrate evidence of commercial awareness, teamwork, communication and leadership skills. It goes without saying applicants should thoroughly check their forms before submitting – our HR sources reveal they once received an application addressed to regional rival Burges Salmon.
An average year sees the firm invite around 18 candidates to join one of its week-long vacation schemes. These typically take place in early summer. Attendees spend their week working in a single department, though they also attend meetings with current trainees, lunches with partners and feedback sessions with their supervisor. “The feedback in particular is described as 'invaluable' by participants,” says head of learning and development, Susie Halliday. At the end of the scheme, candidates who impress are invited to attend an assessment centre a few weeks later.
The firm invites around 36 applicants to assessment centres, which typically run over three days. The assessment centres are attended by direct applicants who impress on paper, as well as vacation schemers who make the biggest splash. The firm occasionally puts an additional day on the schedule if there are lots of promising candidates.
The assessment day includes an exercise in which candidates research two topics beforehand. In groups of three or four, they decide between them on the day which topic to present in front of a panel. Afterwards, they field a small Q&A session. “Try to think of a commercial angle to your topic,” advised a current trainee. “For example, if you're discussing something energy-related you could link it to some of Foot Anstey's renewable energy clients.” Attendees also complete a written exercise, which might take the form of spotting legal issues in a hypothetical scenario or ranking firm aspects like client service in order of priority.
Part of the day includes a networking lunch with various partners and current trainees. “It's a great opportunity to get to know the partner running your interview afterwards,” one trainee revealed. The lunch isn't assessed, though our sources emphasised the importance of staying on the ball nevertheless: “One time an applicant did a rude impression of a partner in front of me and another trainee, which did not go down well. I wouldn't suggest relaxing too much.”
The aforementioned interview can take up to an hour: it involves competency-based questions and is held with a partner and a member of HR. Our sources at the firm tell us they're looking for commercial awareness as well as real-life examples that illustrate how a candidate is ready for a trainee role.
The ideal candidate
Foot Anstey hopefuls need at least a 2:1 degree to be considered. Alongside this, the firm is looking for candidates with confidence, enthusiam and a positive attitude, we're told. The more work experience someone has, the better, particularly if it's at another large regional law firm.
Regional links are helpful, but not the be-all and end-all. Many trainee applicants are from the local area, but firm reps tell us they're more concerned with making sure new hires plan to stay on than finding those already living in the South West.
Doing business in the South West
Foot Anstey LLP
Salt Quay House,
4 North East Quay,
- Partners 49
- Assistant solicitors 155
- Trainees 21
- Contact Jenna.Wickham@footanstey.com
- Method of application Online at www.footanstey.com
- Selection procedure Online training contract application form and assessment day
- Closing date for 2018/19 Applications for a 2018/2019 training contract should be made by 1 June 2017. The deadline for the 2017 summer placement scheme is 1 April 2017.
- Training contracts pa 12
- Required degree grade usually 2:1
- Starting salaries TBC
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2016) 100%
- % of assistant solicitors who joined as trainees 46%
- % of partners who joined as trainees 8%
- Offices Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro
Main areas of work