Thriving regional firm Geldards seeks fellow regional firm for determined growth and long walks in the Peaks.
Held in high Geldard
Cardiff's bold and heartening motto 'the Red Dragon will lead the way' could easily adorn the letterhead of this decorated regional firm, which hails from the heart of Wales. Geldards' network consists of five offices: three in the Midlands (Nottingham, Derby and Ilkeston), one in London, and its Cardiff HQ, which hauls in an impressive array of Chambers UK accolades. Top-tier rankings are showered upon its corporate/M&A, employment, IT, IP, media and entertainment, planning, private client, real estate and real estate litigation practices. But it's not just Geldards' centre of gravity hogging all the limelight: both the Derby and Nottingham offices score high marks for their private client offerings, while Midlands-wide rankings also acknowledge more commercial areas like real estate, corporate, and banking & finance.
Chief exec Jeff Pearson gave us the low down on the firm's strategy: “We are looking to build up our private client and family groups, but we're predominantly focused on expanding our corporate, commercial litigation and property teams, as they are our key drivers.” However, Geldards has always been known for its public sector work too, and was recently appointed as a legal services provider to a framework established by the National Procurement Services (NPS) agency; it will advise the entire Welsh public sector, including local authorities, NHS Wales and the police. All in all, things are looking good for Geldards: following the 2014 acquisition of Derbyshire-based Robinsons – which added 30 lawyers in Derby and provided the Ilkeston office – revenue jumped 7.7% to £22.5 million in 2014/15. Thanks to the success of this tactic the firm's actively on the hunt for another merger with a Cardiff or East Midlands-based outfit, but Pearson tells us that nothing's in the pipeline just yet.
At the time of our calls, there were six trainees in Cardiff and three apiece in Derby and Nottingham. Geldards' newbies don't get a say in their first two seats, filling the gaps in whichever departments are short on numbers, but for their second year they sit down with HR to put forward their preferences. Trainees were quick to add, however, that “HR is mindful of first-years' interests and do try to accommodate them where possible.” The Derby and Nottingham bases are only 15 miles apart, so nearly everyone based in these locations will switch offices for a seat at some point. Qualification involves an informal chat with HR and a department head, and you'll often find a couple of trainees with prior paralegal experience qualifying early at Geldards. In 2016, four out of six qualifiers were retained by the firm.
Tale of Wales
Much of Geldards’ work in the commercial property department has a regional focus; lately the Nottingham team assisted BioCity Nottingham on its £30 million acquisition and development of a site designed for life sciences businesses to use. Meanwhile, the gang in Cardiff recently advised Associated British Ports on the proposed development of a £1 billion biomass power station and eco-friendly food park at Port Talbot docks. The team here handles everything from residential development sales and public sector regeneration projects to industrial portfolio management and renewable energy matters. One interviewee had tackled heaps of “correspondence with the Land Registry – you learn your way around a title deed pretty quickly. I also became an expert in admin tasks like handling Stamp Duty.” Others told of drafting transfer agreements and ordering and reviewing property searches, but “under supervision” they also “ran sales and purchase files and handled landlord and tenant issues.” And the bonus ball? “You also get given research tasks on the really ambiguous points of law no one knows the answer to, but it's all very interesting nonetheless!”
Geldards' disputes group is split into commercial disputes – which encompasses property, IP and general commercial wrangles – and “an injury side” that handles medical negligence and personal injury defence claims. Derby's commercial disputes team is big in the automotive manufacturing and retail sector, and counts Peugeot Citroën, Tesco and Vision Express as clients. Cardiff, on the other hand, represents plenty of public sector organisations, and one trainee working in this area told us: “I can effectively manage low-value cases on my own; my supervisor checks any advice I send, but they're happy for me to conduct day-to-day correspondence by myself.” Attending mediations, drafting court documents and taking witness statements were all common activities here. Those in the Midlands were more likely to assist on product liability claims, levelled at the likes of large pharmaceutical companies or medical device manufacturers in the US. “We peruse and summarise a lot of medical records while searching for evidence. Sometimes it feels like I'm training to be a doctor; the terminology's like a different language,” relayed one trainee. But the law's not entirely forgotten, they continued: “I've also instructed counsel, drafted defences and witness statements and – my least favourite task – prepared bundles.”
“As a trainee you get to go out and about."
The commercial services department is split into subgroups that focus on particulars like commercial contracts, public procurement, IP licensing agreements and franchising matters. Trainees can jump on matters across the spectrum, with sources reviewing things like “commercial, media or IT contracts to sniff out any issues and draft advice.” Clients are drawn from the healthcare, utilities, renewable energy, transport, food, leisure and public sectors – so you'll find an eclectic mix of clients including the Welsh Government, the National Museum of Wales and Sofa Brands International. Lawyers from Cardiff and Derby recently advised car insurers Admiral – and its subsidiary Confused.com – on contracts with software, internet and data protection companies. Those who like to mingle will do well here: “As a trainee you get to go out and about, manning the stands and meeting clients at all kinds of expos.”
The firm's corporate department primarily handles M&A, advising companies, nominated advisers and brokers on both public and private transactions. Recent highlights include representing the shareholders of Sabrinae – a distributor of aircraft tyres – as they sold the company to a US buyer for $11 million, and acting for aircraft financiers AerFin as it snapped up an aircraft component business based at Gatwick airport. There's more to corporate than aviation though: other clients include the Arts Council of Wales, steel manufacturers Celsa and gaming specialists Novomatic UK. Sources told us the team has been particularly busy of late, so they were kept on their toes by a series of completions and a fair whack of drafting. “I had a stab at the first draft of a share purchase agreement for a low-value matter,” commented one, “but generally I stuck with ancillary documents like board minutes and disclosure letters.”
“We'll throw wet sponges at partners.”
Trainees across the offices come together for a week-long induction at the start of their training contract, but aside from that the Cardiff and the Midlands factions don't tend to interact much. Midlands sources pegged Geldards lawyers as “really supportive. People of all levels are willing to chat about everything, whether it's work-related or personal. Everyone's pretty down to earth.” But they also have a bit of a creative spark about them, we're told: “I like that fact that Geldards is always looking at how to improve itself and get new clients.” For trainees, this means “getting out there and networking – there's no immediate pressure to do this, but when you qualify they will expect you to get involved in business development. I'm off to an event this week, which will conveniently be showing the England v. Wales game.”
When it comes to Midlands skirmishes, Bosworth and Naseby have got nothing on the battle for most animated office. “Derby has more people in a smaller space than Nottingham so it has a more lively atmosphere,” one fiercely attested, while a Nottingham source retaliated: “Our office is definitely livelier – it's made up of younger people!” In Cardiff, our interviewees were also keen to talk about the sociable nature of their office, albeit in a less dramatic and rivalry-ridden way. “I was worried that working in individual offices would be a barrier to becoming acquainted with people, but the teams are so small you get to know everyone.”
Geldards' CSR group – called GSR, funnily enough – is pretty active across the firm and plenty of trainees get involved in volunteering initiatives. A recent sponsored trek through the Peak District was so successful that “the Geldards rambling club might be born.” Another Midlands source was counting the days to an upcoming Wimbledon-themed fund-raising event: “Hopefully we'll throw wet sponges at partners; I think it's going to be very popular.”
We hear that younger staff members are behind the social committee's current mission to bolster the Cardiff party scene; weekly Friday drinks in the boardroom are supplemented by larger events like a fancy-dress Christmas Quiz (complete with penguin outfits).
How to get a Geldrards training contract
Training contract deadline (2018): 28 February 2017
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): TBC
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 for 2017. 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 Asbrey.
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,” Asbrey elaborates. “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,” Asbrey 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 Asbrey. “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 Asbrey 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
Read our feature on the Welsh legal scene
Interview with chief executive Jeff Pearson
Student Guide: What's been happening at Geldards since we last spoke in 2015?
Jeff Pearson: Our revenue has increased 4% across all disciplines but the growth has predominantly been driven by the Cardiff office. Our corporate team has been astonishingly busy: in June and July they completed three deals totalling £250 million. It's the first time we've seen that level of activity in a while. We provided competition advice to the Welsh Government on the Circuit of Wales racetrack in Ebbw Vale; we were very pleased to be involved on a matter with such a high level of political investment. We also advised the Welsh Government as it secured the Aston Martin investment in Cardiff.
SG: The firm was recently given a grant by the Welsh Government on condition of creating jobs. What does that mean for the firm?
JP: We'll receive a portion of the grant once we've created a certain number of jobs and we'll use the fund to invest in our building. We're recruiting across our property, commercial, litigation, corporate and private client teams through lateral hires and the retention of our NQs.
SG: In late 2014 Geldards merged with Robinsons. How has the integration come on?
JP: It's been excellent; we took on the vast majority of Robinsons' staff and from a cultural perspective it has been fantastic. We initially offered Robinsons' equity partners a two-year contract and we're very happy that they have all just opted to extend those.
SG: We understand the firm is on the look out for a possible merger with a Cardiff or East Midlands firm, thanks to the success of the Robinsons' union. Is there anything you can tell us about this?
JP: Nothing is currently in the pipeline. We're looking at a number of options and potential teams, but it takes an extraordinary amount of time to plan a successful merger.
SG: Which of the firm's practice areas are in line for growth?
JP: We are looking to build up our private client and family groups, but we're predominantly focused on expanding our corporate, commercial litigation and property teams, as they are our key drivers.
SG: What are the main challenges regional firms are facing at the moment?
JP: I think it's pricing and recruitment pressures. There has been a slight lull in demand over the uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum but I suspect that will now dampen down. There's also a shortage of good-quality candidates in the market and people have been paying over the odds to attract the good ones. After the financial crisis in 2008 many firms stopped training commercial property lawyers and now we have a massive shortage of them.
SG: What should students know about Geldards?
JP: We don't keep people waiting for partnership. If you are good enough to become a partner at six or seven years PQE, we think it's the right time for you to become a partner. We're making up four partners this year, all in Cardiff, and three of those four began their careers with us as trainees.
SG: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
JP: Those who are hard working, have personality and stand out; you cannot let two years go past without being noticed. The other key thing for us is finding nice people we want to work with.
SG: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
JP: Be humble, work hard and be pleasant.
- No of partners 50
- Other fee earners 146
- Total trainees 11
- Contact Finola Neligan, recruitment assistant
- Method of application Online, written assessment, assessment centre, work experience, interview
- Closing date for August 2019 February 2017
- Application Online application accessible via our website
- Training contracts pa 6
- Applications pa Over 200
- % interviewed 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1 Russell Group or First from non Russell Group or other exceptional qualities
- Training salary
- First year: £21,750
- Second year: £23,750
- Holiday entitlement 25 days plus bank holidays
- Post-qualification salary£36,000
- % trainees offered job on qualification 83%
- Offices Cardiff, Derby, Nottingham, London, Ilkeston
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.