This regional firm hails from Wales, but its rep for public and private sector work extends far beyond the Welsh border.
Pinpoint each of Geldards' offices on a map and you'll make a pleasingly symmetrical polygon, stretching from the firm's Cardiff HQ up to its cluster of Midlands bases – in Nottingham, Derby and Ilkeston – and down to its London digs. While most of Geldards' lawyers are based in Wales, the firm boosted its Midlands offering significantly via its 2014 acquisition of Derbyshire-based outfit Robinsons. The merger's success has prompted Geldards to seek another firm to get cosy with in either Cardiff or the East Midlands. For now, its petite London presence is limited to just a few lawyers, and trainees are unlikely to spend time here.
So where can you find the firm's fresh-faced trainees? At the time of our calls there were seven trainees in Cardiff and three apiece in Derby and Nottingham (note that Midlands-based trainees usually switch offices for at least one seat). Wherever they were, our sources “found it surprising that Geldards acts for a lot of clients that are bigger than you'd expect for a regional firm,” with the likes of US accountancy firm Grant Thornton and banking supremo HSBC dotting the client roster. Geldards' work for businesses, individuals and the public sector is honoured most in Cardiff, where Chambers UK bestows top-tier rankings on 17 areas, including corporate/M&A, clinical negligence and social housing. In the Midlands, the firm's private client, family and real estate work shines brightest.
Most trainees had local roots and highlighted the firm's appeal as “a place that's big enough to attract interesting work but small enough to ensure you're on first name terms with everybody. All the people here are very friendly and willing to help trainees out.”
First seats are “automatically allocated to you; for your second you can put in a preference but it predominantly comes down to business need.” Sources flagged that they have “more say” over where they go in their second year. Post-qualification vacancies are similarly determined by business need, with positions circulated among trainees prior to completion of their final seat. “If there's no need for an NQ there won't necessarily be a position for you,” said one insider, “but it feels like the firm will make every effort to create a job for you if they can.” In 2017, threeof sixqualifiers stayed on.
The red dragon will lead the way
“There's always work to be done” in the “very busy” commercial property department. Much of it has a regional focus: the Midlands team recently advised Leicester City Council on a regeneration scheme that will spruce up industrial land close to the city centre; over in Cardiff, Geldards advised the Welsh government as it sold land to luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin. Alongside big-name deals are smaller matters where trainees “are given the opportunity to handle files – there's quite a bit of freedom.” Indeed, one source revealed: “I had a couple of licences to work on within an hour of sitting at my desk.” Other trainee tasks include “drafting leases and licenses, putting together ancillary property applications and some Section 106 agreements.”
“The partners have been quick to get me embroiled in things.”
Alongside property, commercial services is one of the most popular seats. The department's split into sub-teams that focus on particulars like commercial contracts, public procurement, IP licensing agreements and franchising matters. The Welsh government recently called upon the brave knights of Geldards to rustle up a trade mark application for its dragon logo, while fellow long-term client the National Assembly for Wales employed the firm to assist its bid to host the 'Weeping Window' poppy sculpture (made famous when it was first exhibited outside the Tower of London to mark the centenary of WWI). Trainees honed their skills “drafting terms and conditions, updating commercial documents and attending client meetings. Day to day, you're able to contact the client directly.” Sources here also enjoyed working in smaller teams which “enable you to get quite heavily involved – the partners have been quick to get me embroiled in things.”
Geldards boasts a top-ranked corporate team in Wales, where its lawyers have been beefing up their work in the private equity, gaming, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Highlights of late include acting for gaming centre operator Novomatic as it snapped up the entire share capital of competitor Talarius; advising German machinery manufacturer Schauenburg as it invested in a UK company; and helping NHS service provider Medinet as it sold its subsidiary to a team backed by investment firm Volpi Capital. Over in the Midlands the team does a lot of work in the motor retail sector, and has been busy helping online outfit Pendragon with a number of transactions. Interviewees told us that “you get to be commercially-minded but also participate in the technical legal side too.” They also relished the “opportunity to sit in on completion meetings with clients. There's quite a lot of responsibility as you're involved in every stage of the deal, from the initial meetings to the final stages where you're drafting late at night.”
Dispute resolution doesn't “just revolve around corporate litigation – the department also covers property disputes, defamation claims, contentious wills, patent squabbles, PI defence cases and more. There's a great variety and the people are lovely.” When they weren't busy bigging up their co-workers, our sources were occupied “drafting claims forms and letters of advice for clients, as well as researching and preparing small claims cases for hearings.” As expected, “there is bundling,” but juicier opportunities do materialise: one interviewee had “assisted on quite a big drug litigation case. It was a bit scary going to the High Court by myself, but very interesting!” This line of work has recently seen the team act for the NHS in Wales as it pursued a multimillion-pound claim against a French pharmaceutical company for abusing its dominant position in the market. Other clients include the National Museum of Wales, steel manufacturer Celsa and NHS clinical services provider Medinet.
Let's get quizzical
Out of all the seats, the hours in corporate are “the most varied by nature: a standard day lasts from 8.30am to 6pm, but near a completion it ramps up. Still, the latest I've stayed is about 10pm,” reported one trainee. Property can also be “a bit unpredictable,” while days in the commercial and employment teams don't tend to span longer than a Dolly Parton-esque nine-to-five. Litigation provides “a nice middle ground – the deadlines are set quite far in advance so you're prepared and don't have many late finishes.”
“Our team wore '80s workout gear!”
“It's not as rigid as you'd assume a law firm would be,” said trainees of the atmosphere. “The partners stop by and chat, and if you have queries people are always happy to talk through them with you.” No wonder, then, that the firm seeks “more outgoing personalities: they want the type of person they can leave in a room to chat with a client. I've been to events where the partner's left me with clients without worrying that I'd be awkward or show the firm up.”
The Midlands offices are closely connected but slightly different: Derby is “in a small building with a busy atmosphere,” while Nottingham “is bigger, has more young people and is more vibrant – there's a social committee that's willing to organise things and get things done!” Some felt that the Cardiff HQ is “a bit dated,” but “the firm knows that” and is currently pushing through a refurb. Last year trainees here told us that they wanted a stronger social scene, and it appears that their wishes have been met: sources enjoyed “lots of sports events and a ball every six months or so.” A “fancy dress Christmas quiz” was another hit: “Our team went by 'Let's Get Quizzical' and wore '80s workout gear!”
Though inter-office collaboration on work isn't an everyday occurrence (“that might come at a higher level”)trainees from the Midlands and Cardiff do come together for two days of training in each region at the start of their training contract.
How to get a Geldards training
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): Ongoing
After a few years' hiatus, Geldards' vac scheme started back up again in 2016 with four vac schemers residing in each of the three main offices (Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff). The aim is to recruit the same numbers going forward. Each vac scheme lasts a week and has the aim of “giving students interested in our firm the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience of the range of legal work we undertake and the type of clients we work for.”
If it's leisurely talks and patio drinks you're expecting, then be aware: “Candidates are given some substantive tasks to test their aptitude, so it's a real opportunity to demonstrate ability and gauge whether this is the role and firm for you,” adds head of HR Melissa Moran.
Applications and interviews
For now, all prospective trainees must apply directly for a training contract. Candidates start the process by submitting an online application form and CV via the firm's website. As with any firm, it's essential to check all documents meticulously and ensure that everything is in the right place, as “we disregard applications with errors or missing information.”
Those who make it through to the second round face a “tricky written assessment which is set at short notice,” according to trainees. “It usually focuses on a topical concern,” Moranelaborates. “Sometimes there's a choice of subjects if we're feeling kind!” Trainees recalled “rustling up a 1,500-word essay on the positives of the Jackson reforms,” and with just 48 hours allocated to complete the task, “it's designed not only to test applicants' writing skills, but also their ability to work under pressure. It helps us to identify the ones who really want it,” Moran explains.
Between 30 and 40 rookies then go on to attend an assessment day, where “equal importance is placed on ability and personality,” according to Moran. “By this point we know all about applicants' academics, so there are no written aptitude tests or evaluations to complete.” Exercises are usually group-based, and test how individuals interact, influence and take the lead without being confrontational.
The day ends with a one-to-one interview, where “you've really got to sell yourself. We want to know why you're different, what kind of work you envisage yourself doing here, and how you'll fit into our organisation. You need to show an understanding of our values and culture, as life in a regional firm such as Geldards is very different to life at a magic circle firm.” The best 20 are then invited back for a final interview with an equity partner, after which six or so are awarded training contracts.
How to wow
As with many regional firms, “we look to prioritise individuals with local connections, and a demonstrable link to Cardiff or the Midlands – be it through university education, family ties or past experience living and working there – can really help to convince us that you're an investment for the future.”
A role paralegalling at the firm could also help to demonstrate such a commitment, though Moran is keen to point out that “loyalty is not our only key criteria. Saying that, we do have required benchmarks when it comes to assessing applicants, and tend to find that those who have past legal experience – be it here or elsewhere – perform better during interviews, as they have a stronger grasp of how a firm functions.”
The Welsh legal scene
- Partners 55
- Fee earners 140
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices Cardiff, Derby, Nottingham, London, Ikeston
- Graduate recruiter: Finola Neligan, recruitment assistant
- Training partner: Stephen Jenkins
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 200+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 Russell Group or 1st from non RG or other exceptional qualities or experience
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Online application accessible via our website from January 2018 for 2019/20 intake
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £21,750
- Second-year salary: £23,750
- Post-qualification salary: £36,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
Geldards believes that the best advice and solutions come from not just understanding the intricacies of the law, but also from having an in-depth knowledge of clients’ business and the industries they operate within. At the firm’s core is an unshakeable integrity, directing its behaviour and advice, with a strong belief that lawyers must always provide legal support with imagination and business insight.
Main areas of work
• 25 days holiday. As part of our flexible benefits scheme we also offer the option to purchase up to 5 more days annually through salary sacrifice
• Life assurance: 3 x basic annual salary
• Enhanced maternity and paternity pay, after qualifying period
• Cycle to work scheme
• Childcare vouchers
• Professional subscriptions paid
• Free parking (Nottingham and Derby)
• NCP parking discount (Cardiff)
• Discounted gym memberships (Cardiff)
• Confidential employee assistance programme
In addition we have an active sports and social committee and corporate responsibility team.
University law careers fairs 2017