Commercial firm Howes Percival has “a really decent local reputation” in the Midlands and East Anglia.
East meets East
Howes Percival's offices dotted on a map form a kind of boomerang shape with its tips on Norwich and Leicester and the centre covering Northampton, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. Got that image in your head? Trainees describe the firm as “a reasonably large player in the local market,” and we'd agree. It has set itself the twin goals of “growing its reputation for quality work in the region” and uniting its two previously separate halves (until 2013 the firm formally operated as two entities in the East Midlands and East Anglia). Plus, the firm aims to break into the UK top 100 by 2020. Go online for more on the firm's strategy.
“A reasonably large player in the local market.”
HP's dozen or so trainees are “scattered” across its offices: at the time of our calls there were three each in Norwich, Northampton and Leicester (the biggest offices) and one in both Milton Keynes and Cambridge. The firm makes training contract offers for either the East Midlands (Leicester and Northampton) or Norwich. East Midlands trainees can expect to do seats in at least two offices – several spend time in three – potentially moving between Leicester, Northampton, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. Norwich trainees can also do a seat in Cambridge, and that office is recruiting a trainee of its own for the first time in 2018.
The Norwich office is ranked by Chambers UK for areas ranging from corporate and banking to agriculture and environment. In the Midlands the firm doesn't achieve quite the same recognition in Chambers UK, but that's because this is a far more competitive market dominated by big national players. The firm's ranked here for private client and employment, but don't let this mislead you: commercial property, corporate/commercial and litigation are the main practice areas, and these are the most common seats for trainees. From the second seat onwards, seats are assigned after trainees have expressed three preferences in an email. “They try to accommodate your wishes,” interviewees agreed – sometimes even with split seats. HP usually retains around two-thirds of qualifiers; in 2017 it kept five of six.
The open road
“When carrying out searches you have to be aware of contamination and environmental issues plus entitlement to EU subsidies.”
Commercial property is an option in all the offices. In Norwich – where clients include Colchester-based Ford Retail – trainees run their own smaller sales and help on larger development projects. Norwich trainees can also do an estates seat mixing agricultural matters with some private client work (tax, trusts and probate). Clients of the ten-lawyer, Chambers-ranked agricultural team include Nolfolk's Cholmondeley and Holkham estates. “You have to be more explicit with farming clients than with other property clients as they are less commercially aware,” a trainee observed. “And when carrying out searches you have to be aware of contamination and environmental issues plus entitlements to EU subsidies.”
Cambridge is big on property too – the “development-heavy” team recently advised on the development and lease of a new headquarters on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and a big new hotel by Cambridge station. At the time of research trainees reported the office operated as a single team as “everyone does property work.” This changed in April 2017 when an employment and a litigation partner joined the office. New corporate/commercial hires are likely too, so by the time you read this Cambridge will be doing more than just property – that's pretty good going given the office only dates back to 2015 when it was formed by four lawyers hired from other firms, who were later joined by an extra nine from Taylor Vinters.
Litigation clients include Welcome Break, waste management company Shanks, Caribbean foods supplier Grace Foods and HM Revenue & Customs. A Leicester litigation seat typically involves insolvency, property and general commercial work. A trainee reported: “I was involved in advising the administrators in a case where a large investment fund was being run fraudulently by its shareholders. I also did work related to smaller and mid-sized businesses.” Trainees can also gain contentious experience in intellectual property and employment seats.
In Northampton and Norwich there's a specific property litigation seat too; clients range from “individuals with small boundary disputes to a large car manufacturer with issues related to multiple sites.” One mid-sized case saw the firm represent Anglia Leisure, a company that runs residential courses, in a £250,000 right of way dispute. “I attended court, drafted instructions to counsel, liaised with counsel, and really enjoyed meeting clients – I even met some on my own a few times,” a trainee reported.
All offices except Leicester are open plan and trainees are usually given work by several people on their team besides their supervisor, feeling “comfortable talking to everyone.” Plus, said one, “my supervisor sits just opposite me which is a nice egalitarian way to structure the office plan.” HP's offices sound pretty lively: “When a client is in the office it immediately becomes a bit less chatty and noisy – I wouldn't be cackling with my friends in reception.”
All the firm's office buildings are new. The Norwich office – located in the city centre – is the most sociable with regular office drinks and a popular pub, the Wig & Pen, opposite (“it's six steps away”). Leicester and Northampton are on out-of-town business parks and there's less going on socially after hours here, though in Northampton “they've started pressing ahead with drinks on the last Friday of the month.” Leicester drinks are on the first Friday. Sources in both offices said “it would be better if social events were a bit more regular.” If after-work drinks do become more of a thing, trainees should have plenty of time for them – most work 8.30am to 6.30pm, with perhaps “a couple of nights staying till 8pm or 9pm” or occasionally 11pm or midnight in corporate.
“Some people work across several offices so get to know everyone.”
So how are efforts to integrate the firm coming along? “Some people work across several offices so get to know everyone,” one interviewee observed, and while “there isn't a great amount of integration yet” things like cross-office practice group meetings show that uniting the firm is “definitely something we're seeking to achieve – it's an initiative we're calling the 'one-firm policy'.” Trainees are also part of these 'one-firm' efforts: there's an annual trainee day and in spring 2017 rookies from all offices got together for drinks in Norwich. “It was a bit of a pub crawl with the Norwich trainees showing us around,” one source revealed. “And even though we organised it ourselves the partners gave us some money for it when they found out.” Another event that brings people together is the AGM. While annual and general, it isn't really a meeting – more an all-staff outing. In 2016 the event took HPers to Woburn Safari Park. “There were monkeys all over one of our buses at one point,” we heard. “Havoc!”
Local links are important to Howes Percival – most trainees have some connection to the Midlands or East Anglia. For more on what the firm looks for and the recruitment process go to our website.
How to get a training contract at Howes Percival
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 March 2018 (opens October 2017)
Training contract deadlines (2020): 13 July 2018 (opens October 2017)
The firm receives around 200 to 300 initial applications. The application form covers standard CV and experience questions, like 'why do you want to be a lawyer?' and 'why do you want to work for Howes Percival?', as well as a few “designed to draw out a bit of your personality” like 'what's your best non-sporting achievement?' There's no specific question about local links, though we reckon mentioning things which tie you to the regions where the firm operates will do you no harm.
Assessment day and interview
Before attending the assessment centre, applicants are asked to complete an online numerical reasoning test. The half-day assessment centre itself consists of three parts: a 45-minute written commercial test, a presentation and a one-hour interview. The written test is based on a commercial scenario in which you're asked to write a piece of advice to a client.
The presentation is on a topic you'll be given on the day and tends to be fairly light-hearted – again, it is supposed to draw out something of your personality. In the past, applicants have been asked which book, film and CD they'd take with them to a desert island and (in another year) what three people, dead or alive, they'd invite to their ideal dinner party. (If you are asked that latter question, be honest, don't just name three famous lawyers unless you have a really good reason to.)
The interview is with two senior lawyers and is a more serious affair, though don't be afraid to showcase your personality. Expect to be asked about a typical array of competencies – strengths and weaknesses, analysis and decision making, teamwork, initiative – as well as commercial awareness questions: for instance, 'what makes a law firm successful?' There are some scenario-based questions too, but also some more easygoing ones like 'what makes you laugh?' (Don't say: lawyer jokes.)
HP's vac scheme lasts just a week and consists of students spending a single day in five different departments. They shadow a trainee or other junior lawyers and mix attending court and meetings with some real work and a number of set tasks. On the last afternoon, there is an assessed group exercise and some (though not all) participants will be invited back for a final training contract interview.
The firm runs schemes in two different weeks in the summer, in Leicester, Northampton and Norwich, with four to six places on each.
The 11 trainees with the firm at the time of our calls went to eight different universities between them. There were graduates from institutions in the regions where the firm works – Leicester, Loughborough, UEA – as well as individuals from places further afield like Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Queen Mary, London. Half the trainees at the firm at the time of our calls had studied law and half non-law – a typical split.
Links to the local region are a common denominator among trainees. Nearly all our interviewees had either grown up in the East Midlands or East Anglia or been to uni there. Many continue to cultivate these local connections during their training through involvement with local charity fund-raising and business development.
Howes Percival's business strategy
All the trainees we spoke to for our research on Howes Percival this year were well clued up on the firm's business strategy, telling us about efforts to integrate all the firm's offices and improve its local brand. HP's business plan is available for all staff to read on the firm's intranet, though it's not available externally, so we spoke to to training partner Paula Bailey to get the details.
“Our current strategic plan runs from 2016 to 2019,” Bailey told us. “It entails three strategic goals.” They are:
- To become a top 100 UK law firm by 2020.
- To be a workplace where everyone understands their role and is committed to the business.
- To be innovative and work well together across the firm's offices.
The first of these goals is pretty ambitious. In The Lawyer's2015 top 200 listing the firm came 135th with an annual revenue of £15.4m in 2014/15, while the firm in place 100 raked in £21m – beating that by 2020 is quite a tall order. However, HP's revenue grew by 10% to £17m in 2015/16, and continued growth at that rate could see revenues reach £25m in 2019/20, enough to break into the top 100, but it's still quite a challenge.
The second goal sounds a little vague to us, but Bailey linked it to an overall focus on becoming well known in the region for high-quality work and client service. Trainees said that as part of this the firm has been working to improve its branding. “There's a big push to tidy up the firm's image and be seen as less old-fashioned,” an interviewee told us. “For example, we have a new website. We want to be seen as a top-line regional firm.” To help with this, the firm has moved to new offices in all its locations in recent years. “They are decorated in the same style which doesn't seem like much, but it's actually really important that the branding looks the same,” one on-message trainee told us.
The third goal mentioned above relates to integrating the two sides of the firm (East Midlands and Norwich) which operated as separate entities until 2013. We've addressed this point in the True Picture (click on 'True Picture' above to find out more). The main takeaway is that while trainees did notice some lingering vestiges of the firm's previous structure, they reported on a lot of initiatives to improve integration. These include cross-office departmental meetings, more client sharing, lawyers working in different offices, and even trainees doing work for colleagues based in other offices. So, if you're applying to the firm now to start in 2020, integration could well be fully accomplished by then.
Howes Percival LLP
- Partners 41
- Solicitors 62
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices Cambridge, Leicester, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Norwich
- Graduate recruiter: Katy Tebbutt, [email protected], 01604 230400
- Training partner: Paula Bailey, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: BBB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 24
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 13 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 March 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: TBC
- Second-year salary: TBC
- Post-qualification salary: TBC
- Holiday entitlement 25 days per year
- LPC fees: Yes subject to cap
- GDL fees: Yes subject to cap
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: None
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Occasionally subject to client needs
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017