Buy! Buy! Buy! Gateley's stock is on the rise and coincides with further regional and practice area expansion.
Ace of Blades
Gateley's share price was several pennies over £1 when we did our calls to trainees. That's right, you read this correctly: the Birmingham-headquartered, Anglo-Scottish adviser has a share price – the only firm in this guide that does. Gateley became the very first UK law firm to go public on the Stock Exchange when it floated on 8 June 2015, with shares initially priced at 95p. While trainees told us they hadn't experienced any big changes since the flotation and “it's business as usual,” over the past year Gateley has invested in expanding its stronghold in the regions and, in summer 2016, acquired a tax boutique called Capitus, part of its plc strategy to add non-legal businesses that complement its practices. The firm has taken over another floor at its Leeds office, which has grown from six lawyers to over 40 since it opened in 2012, and started 2016 by flinging open the gates of a sparkling new office in Reading's eye-popping Blade skyscraper. Like Leeds, it plans to grow this gateway to new business boldly with lateral hires. Leeds has started taking its first trainees, and future applicants interested in the Thames Valley should take note because Reading may well do so too in a couple of years.
Most trainees – 17 out of 26 in 2016 – are usually split fairly evenly between Gateley's two biggest offices, Birmingham and Manchester (the latter was once part of defunct Halliwells). The rest are sprinkled around London, Leicester, Nottingham and, since September 2015, Leeds. The Scottish part of the firm used to be called Henderson Boyd Jackson and has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. There's one overseas office, in Dubai, which occasionally offers a secondment. Trainees from around the country link up for PSCs in Birmingham and training away days for first-years, “held in different offices so we're aware what they do. For example, we did presentations and public speaking training in Leeds, given by a Manchester partner. There was a session in London on managing your workload and stress given by the learning and development team. They're held once every couple of months.” Aspiring solicitors also participate in “regular departmental and topical training sessions,” but their frequency “depends on the department.”
The firm racks up an impressive array of Chambers UK rankings, particularly for mid-market work in the Midlands. Birmingham and Manchester have most to offer in terms of practices and seats, and trainees everywhere can apply to do one of the firm's two big and unsurprisingly popular client secondments, at either Manchester City or Everton football clubs. Trainees are allocated their first two seats; towards the end of their second seat they list three preferences for their last two seats “and HR work their magic.” Gateley requires trainees to do a contentious seat, as well as one in corporate and one in real estate, although some – like construction – tick two of these boxes at once. “I like the fact that Gateley has lots of departments,” several sources mentioned, “and that we are encouraged to take on lots of responsibility.” It's rare for trainees to move offices to do a particular seat, but it does happen.
Chants of a lifetime
Gateley frequently tops the rankings tables of most active corporate advisers in the Midlands, and trainees outside of Birmingham also reported working on “a high volume of deals. It was quite an exciting seat with lots of completion meetings and client contact. You get to have Champagne!” Somewhat unusually, one of Gateley's clients in June 2015 was itself: lawyers here advised Gateley (Holdings) Plc on nearly all the aspects of its own £100 million IPO. More regular clients include duvets-to-doormats retailer Dunelm, publicly quoted property investor REI Plc, and Lloyds Bank's private equity arm, LDC. Gateley advised management, for example, when LDC bought the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) from the council for over £300 million. Trainees in this seat can expect to do the usual “bibling and ancillary documents, but sometimes have a crack at the main documents like share purchase agreements” or a “massive” disclosure letter. There's also a “lot of collating information from different sources,” which becomes especially varied on larger transactions as they “usually have an international aspect.” Fans of kids' TV may be interested to learn that Gateley advised the production company owners of Peppa Pig on the sale of their controlling stake in the cult brand.
As is often the case, corporate solicitors weren't the only team involved in this transaction. Tax lawyers and some from the firm's commerce, technology & media (CTM) department also lent a hand. “Commercial is popular, as is corporate,” we heard. In part this is thanks to Manchester-based commercial partner/supervisor John Burns, who is “well regarded in the sports sector” and is involved with the two football club secondments. It's not all sport, though: far from it, as “commercial's a really mixed bag,” which encompasses both contentious and non-contentious assignments. As well as “sports sponsorship and distribution agreements,” there's a lot of technology work, “IP litigation, trade mark and copyright infringements,” as well as things like data protection and consumer law issues. In London, a CTM seat will focus heavily on media, tech and competition work, while in Nottingham the department specialises in intellectual property, and trainees in Birmingham can expect to familiarise themselves with competition law and waste management. One highlight for the Birmingham commercial and other teams in recent years was advising West Ham United on its move to the Olympic Stadium and the sale of its Upton Park stadium to developers Galliard Group.
On that footie note: the secondments at Everton FC and Manchester City provide so much “variety and responsibility” that they're “like a mini training contract!” Player transfers, intellectual property protection, stadium maintenance, football regulations, brokering commercial deals, business disputes and community outreach projects are all par for the course in these coveted placements.
Pokémon go away
Employment has proved popular too this year. While some preferred to seek out as much advisory work as possible, like drafting employment contracts and company policies, others relished the litigious side, like “handling tribunal claims from start to finish. I've been doing bundles and dealing with disclosure, applications to the tribunal, claim forms and responses.” A big element of this seat for Manchester trainees is manning the phone/email helpline for retail clients, “who ring up with issues and require us to give advice over the phone.” Most are “standard enquiries” about problems like disciplinaries, sickness and staff going AWOL but some can be “very strange,” like employees fighting in a shop. “It can be daunting at first, but it was a really good experience. You're immediately exposed to clients from day one and are tested five or six times a day, so it's a good idea to brush up on your employment law before you start!” A novel issue that employers are now addressing is how to deal with staff who are playing Pokémon Go on company time (you know who you are). Employment clients include Halfords, Ladbrokes, Punch Taverns, Mothercare and the British Medical Association (BMA).
Banking “provides all sorts of support to different practices, like corporate and property. There's a real focus on getting you involved as much as you can be.” Some had encountered “a mixture of straightforward lending from the banks to companies and also real estate finance work, where I liaised with property colleagues.” Typical tasks include “managing conditions precedent checklists, putting together the documentation for a bank to complete a deal, and drafting ancillaries like director certificates, debentures and loan notes – it really gets you improving your skill set.” Recently a cross-discipline, cross-office team advised specialist lender Beechbrook Capital on its investment in 4Most, a regulatory and credit risk consultancy. Rather larger banking clients include Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, RBS, Santander and, less obviously, the University of Leicester. “Banking is very high-pressure with specific deadlines, which has helped me,” reflected one who'd done a seat here. “If you work on smaller deals (around £5 million), there's scope for drafting documents. On bigger deals my role revolved around organising things.”
"Excitingly, I'm going to a preliminary hearing and will advocate a small matter.”
Construction was said to be less pressured than banking, but involves working on “lots of slower-paced assignments” at any one time. “I wouldn't be able to tell you a standard case as it's so varied.” For some, this is their contentious seat, although non-contentious work is on offer too. “I might one day prepare a defence or instruct counsel, and the next deal with emails from a client on claims, and settlement agreements on a couple of matters. Excitingly, I'm going to a preliminary hearing and will advocate a small matter.” Another source added: “I assisted my supervisor with adjudications, an alternative form of dispute resolution. It was a quick turnaround, so I took and drafted witness statements. We acted for a subcontractor who hadn't been paid.” Big house builders and other construction firms like Taylor Wimpey, Laing O'Rourke and Crest Nicholson make up the client roster, as do more general clients like Manchester City and Volvo UK.
Part of the closely related real estate department's work includes “industrial units on trading estates” and also “childcare – lots of nurseries.” Usually, trainees start off on “post-completion matters like drafting leases, lease reports and reports on title” before getting to “run files myself” as the seat progresses. “I soon got more responsibility as my confidence grew. I was assisting on commercial transactions with big leases, property portfolios, and development portfolios for retail parks. I enjoyed assisting on the big ones, and did my own negotiating and drafting on small commercial leases. I got a lot out of it. I worked for pretty much everyone on the team – ten or 12 different fee earners. I also attended client meetings for business development purposes – a very important skill, otherwise you'll be a bit snookered later on if you can't talk to clients!” In one eye-catching assignment, Gateley is advising a consortium of developers of a major house building project (3,500 homes over 15 years) that forms the bedrock of North West Leicestershire Council's five-year housing supply plan.
“The partners got a little competitive.”
In May, Gateley announced that its annual revenue had jumped 10% to £66 million. Trainees were upbeat about the happy culture that good financials undoubtedly support, especially the office socials, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and charity work that they are expected to help organise. “The atmosphere is so friendly and people are so approachable. There's a lot of cross-office work, and the firm actually grew throughout the recession,” one said proudly. Each office has a slightly different style and layout. Nottingham, London, Leicester, Leeds and Reading are modern, while Manchester and the Birmingham HQ are in renovated 19th century buildings. “I could walk around most floors and know people's names,” a Brummie told us. “When I joined, the office was becoming more open-plan. Where it isn't open-plan, it's going to be.” For another rookie, Gateley's great selling point is similarly that “it offers good-quality work and the feel of a smaller firm – you know all the senior management.”
Each office nominates a charity to support for the year, like Baby Lifeline in Birmingham and kids' hospice Derian House in Manchester, for example. But “there's always CSR stuff going on outside of the nominated charity plans.” Indeed: Gateley has its very own van which it uses to drop off warm clothes and Christmas pressies at homeless shelters across the Midlands. The firm also went one step (or shall we say cycle ride?) beyond the usual raffles and cake sales when it staged a charity 'Tour de Gateley' cycle race. It involved teams of ten contestants hopping onto fixed bikes in each office while linked up to video screens. “The partners got a little competitive,” we heard, “and made accusations of cheating!” There are sports teams (football and netball are among the options) for people in need of additional exercise, while those of a more sedentary disposition might like to get involved in writing Gateley's 'Talking Trainees' blog, with its wealth of first-hand info for wannabe trainees. This year, 12 out of 14 qualifiers stayed with the firm.
In 2015, Gateley threw a Harry Potter-themed firm-wide party in an old hall at Birmingham uni. Among other miracles, CEO Michael Ward was magically transformed by the flick of a wand into Hermione Granger.
How to get a Gateley training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 31 May 2017
Application and assessments
Aspiring Gateley trainees have two entry routes into the firm: completing a vacation scheme or applying directly for a training contract. For both paths candidates are required to submit an online application form. This lets them specify the top three offices where they would like to be based.
Vac scheme applicants who make the shortlist are asked to complete an initial online assessment. Those who pass then attend a half-day assessment over Easter. This involves some group and individual exercises, plus an interview with HR and a partner that covers their application form and why they're interested in the firm.
Meanwhile, direct training contract applicants who impress on paper are also asked to complete an online assessment. If they perform well, the next step is a full assessment day. This takes place at the Birmingham office over the summer, and entails several competency tests, plus an interview with HR, partners and associates. Candidates also have a chance to question current trainees on life at the firm. (Note, those who get a vac scheme spot undertake similar assessments during the second week of their placement).
Typically around half of Gateley's trainees come to the firm after completing its vac scheme. Vac schemes take place over June and July, and there are up to 45 spots available in total. Schemes are run in the Leicester, Leeds, Manchester, London, Birmingham and Nottingham offices. Each summer placement lasts two weeks. Everyone gathers in Birmingham for some administrative wrangling and initial training before dispersing to their assigned offices.
Vac schemers spend their visit in a single department where they “tackle genuine work rather than irrelevant tasks” current trainees told us. As one reported: “I drafted a letter to a client and later found out the team had included part of my work in the final version.” Vac schemers also attend presentations from other departments to get a sense of what's happening across the firm.
During the second week of the scheme, those applying for the training contract complete the assessment day outlined above.
A 2:1 degree and BBB at A level are the firm's starting criteria for recruitment. Relevant work experience is also desirable. According to our sources, networking and business development are “a huge part of the job.” As such, candidates need a decent level of commercial awareness and familiarity with how the firm runs from a business point of view.
Finally, an eagerness to get stuck in – to legal work or CSR initiatives alike – is necessary. Check out Gateley's Talking Trainees blog for more advice on how to stand out.
The Birmingham legal scene
- Partners 150 (firmwide)
- Vacancies 16 (England)
- Total trainees 28 (England)
- Total staff 830 (firmwide)
- Contact graduaterecruitmentengland@ gateleyplc.com
- Method of application Apply online via our website
- Closing date for 2019
- Training contracts: 31 May 2017
- Vacation placements: 31 January 2017
- Required degree grade 2:1 or above and a minimum of BBB at A level or equivalent
- Training salary
- First year: £26,000 (Midlands)
- Second year: £27,000 (Midlands)
- Post-qualification salary £40,000 (Midlands)
- Offices Aberdeen, Birmingham, Dubai, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, London, Nottingham, Manchester and Reading.