If the idea of rotating around the South West and working for a mix of businesses and individuals appeals, step on board FA's bustling training contract.
Best foot forward
If you stroll across the rolling hills of the regional legal world, it shouldn't come as a surprise to find lawyers who are less hurried than their City counterparts. But at South Westerner Foot Anstey you may be taken aback to find lawyers advising the likes of Warner Brothers Studios and HSBC while also enjoying a more relaxed pace of life. You'll even catch the Bigfoot-esque sighting of a thriving Islamic finance group – a rarity outside of London.
Training partner Alan Hughes tells us that Foot Anstey is “increasingly going to market through our sectors [banking and financial services; property, infrastructure and construction; media and technology; and retail and leisure] and will be looking to drive future growth through them. In addition to serving key clients in our local geographic markets, we'll be increasingly targeting clients and work outside of our region, both nationally and internationally.”
“...increasingly targeting clients and work outside of our region.”
However, Hughes encourages future trainees to bear in mind that “we are a South West firm that works across its offices in teams; this is an important part of the culture of the firm that significantly contributes to our success.” The firm has five offices across the South West, plus a London base and brand new digs in Southampton – this latest office opened in late 2016 to boost FA's real estate clout with residential developers. When it comes to Chambers UK rankings, standout practices include clinical negligence, personal injury and employment, but the firm also picks up a raft of regional nods for its work in areas like corporate, real estate, litigation, tax and banking.
Ever-climbing revenue (up 60% between 2011 and 2015), new offices and ambitious plans all bode well for future Foot Ansters: the firm raised its trainee numbers from 21 to 24 in September 2017, and at the time of our calls interviewees were confident about being kept on as NQs. In the end, eightout of nine stayed, with one source offering this advice: “If you are set on qualifying into one team you are more at risk of not being offered a position – flexibility helps.” Flexibility is also required for the training contract itself, as trainees are expected to move between the firm's South West offices for different seats (and in some instances during seats).
The secret life of trainees
Seats are allocated eight months in advance. “A list of options is released in June and you submit your top five preferences. Second-years get priority, but overall they allocate based on business need and your proximity to the offices that have your desired seats. It's the best process we can have given the multi-site set-up.” A recent shift to a six-seat system has also made room for full-time client secondments.
There are plenty of contentious options to keep aspiring litigators happy, with dedicated seats in commercial, property and banking disputes. Recent highlights include defending Sky against a trademark infringement claim tied to its use of characters from The Secret Life of Pets for an advertising campaign; acting for a major bank as it attempted to recover a £2.3 million debt from a client; and representing Surrey-based property developer Berkeley Homes as it pursued a £10 million case to get telecoms masts removed from a site it was purchasing. On the banking side "the admin tasks are inescapable, but I was also drafting a number of important documents, issuing court proceedings, helping out with cost proposals and attending a mediation with one of our biggest clients." Those in property lit, meanwhile, worked on "a lot of insurer-funded cases against individuals, where the law is complex and good for cutting your teeth on."
FA's mid-market corporate department handles a mix of M&A and private equity deals, as well as some Islamic finance work. Clients here include children's TV producer Silvergate Media, Hong Kong-based private equity fund Sailing Capital and regional retail chain Cornwall Farmers. "On a private equity deal I got to review all of the strategy documents, shareholder agreements, the constitution of the company – even divorce documents – and write a report on any risks that I'd found."
"By the end of the seat I was running a simple transaction."
The firm's dedicated Islamic finance team works on a range of finance and investment deals for Shari'a-compliant banks and investors, particularly with regards to real estate. The group recently advised property investor Greenridge on two property acquisitions in the UK, worth £125.3 million combined and requiring Shari'a-complaint investment from a Kuwaiti institution. Trainees who'd opted for a specialised seat in Islamic finance sat with a partner in the real estate group, "who really gets you involved whenever there's a client meeting." Unlike in corporate, sources found that "there are smaller matters that you can run one-to-one with your supervisor – I was doing completions on my first day!" Those who experienced a broader seat in commercial property weren't disappointed either: "By the end of the seat I was running a simple transaction for the lease of a small industrial unit, which involved contact with the estate and letting agents."
If trainees want to complete a clinical negligence seat, they can do so under the banner of Foot Anstey's recently launched standalone company 'Enable Law.' “It takes quite a resilient character” to handle a stint in this area of work though: “As a trainee you go to meet the person behind everything, and what they've been through can be really quite traumatic.” Complex brain and spinal injuries are dealt with here, as well as those sustained during birth. Expect plenty of drafting and research: “In order to draft a letter of claim you had to familiarise yourself with the medical concepts involved, so there was a lot of background reading and delving into folders.”
Lip synch FOR. YOUR. LIFE.
When it came to culture, our sources agreed that "we have our seniority levels, but really everyone is at the same level when it comes to approachability – you could never not speak to a partner." Our interviewees went on to paint a picture where everyone mucks in and feels included: "My supervising partner is the first person to do a tea and coffee round in the morning. Plus at the end of a deal we all go out for a big dinner and celebrate everyone's success." Overall, "people aren't snobby about status: I had great support – including financial support – when I wanted to start a netball team in Exeter. We've got our second match coming up and there are two senior asssociates and a partner on the team!"
“A great opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of the whole firm."
“There really is an emphasis on the lifestyle hour,” revealed sources, commenting on the firm's policy of allowing its employees to take an hour off each week to do whatever they like. Insiders felt that it typified a firm that values a good work/life balance, with one trainee recounting “working quite late on deal: one of the senior partners recognised that we had a lot of secretarial work to do without support, so the deadline was rearranged to allow us to go home.” Most trainees found themselves clocking off by 6.30pm, but did note some departmental variation, with corporate and commercial property flagged as busier seats with the occasional later finish (7.30pm is la ate night, with a midnight finish in corporate deemed rare).
With trainees expected to help forge connections between offices, we thought we'd ask for a quick overview: "The firm started in Plymouth and the office there is breathtaking – right on the quayside, where you can watch a world-class firework display each year;" Exeter "is really near the cathedral, where you can sit and have lunch;" Bristol "is in the same district as all the other law firms, close to plenty of restaurants;" Truro is nestled on the banks of the (you guessed it) Truro River; and Taunton is tucked away in a business park off the M5. "Barring London and Southampton, you'll get to see all the offices," confirmed sources, adding that "the firm financially supports you as you move around." Get in.
FA's annual Christmas party – which was most recently held at Cornwall's plush St Mellion International Resort – does a good job of uniting the offices further; in keeping with FA tradition, the trainee cohort performed a skit involving a lip synch battle: "Participation wasn't mandatory but it was a great opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of the whole firm," joked one source.
FA's 'virtual trainee scheme' allows trainees “to give free legal advice to existing clients that opt in: it's great to get involved in, as you get exposure to the client and to different areas of law.”
How to get a Foot Anstey training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 1 June 2018 (opens 31 October 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 overthree 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 commercial 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 strange 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 two partners or 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, enthusiasm 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.
Foot Anstey LLP
Salt Quay House,
4 North East Quay,
- Partners 49
- Associates 175
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices Bristol, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro, Southampton, London
- Graduate recruiter: Jenna Wickham, [email protected]
- Training partner: Alan Hughes
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places p.a: 18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 1 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 1 April 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £27,000
- Second-year salary: £28,500
- Post-qualification salary: Competitive Holiday entitlement 25 days plus bank holidays
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Taunton
- Client secondments: Yes
We are among the UK’s top 100 law firms, with just under 50 partners and around 500 staff. We have achieved consistent growth and strong financial performance despite a challenging economic environment. We like to think that our approach to business and developing client relationships makes us distinctly different to traditional law firms - and also attractive. As does our desire to ensure our lawyers and trainees operate in an environment where everything is tailored towards delivering specialist and forward thinking advice to our clients. Whatever the reason you want to join us, we promise you a progressive working environment. We can offer you an open and supportive culture that is committed to ensuring you realise your maximum potential. We will invest in you, train you and value you. We have received high profile recognition for our culture and strategy. We have been listed as ‘One to Watch’ for the ‘Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For’ and shortlisted for ‘Best Strategic Leadership’ at the Managing Partner Forum Awards.
Main areas of work
Our training programme is designed to help you reach your full potential. Our trainees undertake six seats of four months’ duration with regular, open communication between the trainees and supervisors as standard. You’ll get exposure to situations to develop your legal and commercial expertise, in an environment that is friendly and supportive. The trainees at Foot Anstey also play a key role in the firm’s CSR and charitable activities and are encouraged to be fully involved in the firm’s social calendar.