It may be by the sea, but there's no coasting at Bournemouth's Lester Aldridge.
Lester Aldridge shares a set of initials with Los Angeles, a city synonymous with sun, sand and the eighties TV show LA Law. Like the City of Angels, Lester Aldridge is also by the sea, with offices in Bournemouth and Southampton (as well as London). And the firm couldn't help itself with its email domain – @LA-Law.com – evoking more of that sun-kissed glamour. But we should end the Cali comparisons there before its 100-odd lawyers forget their Solent roots. Together they've earned a good whack of Chambers UK rankings in the South, including marks for its corporate, private client and real estate work. In particular, the latter is a heavy hitter for the firm: the Southampton team is one of the biggest in the region and services some noteworthy names across the care, marine and medical sectors.
“I did the vac scheme here,” one source recounted, “and I really enjoyed it because the atmosphere was quite relaxed and not oppressive at all.” Others were equally clear on their reasons for joining LA's ranks: “There was the breadth of practice areas, the reputation for promoting a good work/life balance, the more manageable size of the firm, plus the opportunity to go to London.” Prospective recruits should know that while trainees aren't required to move between offices, they often do as a result of business needs.
Bournemouth, LA's biggest office, has the most seat options. Real estate is a constant in every office, though more specialist practices are only available in certain locations – marine, for example, only ever crops up in Southampton or London. “This is something the firm needs to make clear,” one of our interviewees opined, “along with the fact that a seat in real estate is pretty much mandatory.” Before each seat rotation, LA's training principal sends a list of available seat options, and how many spaces are available in each. Trainees then send back a list of their preferences, along with a brief summary of why they want each one. That all sounds pretty transparent, but some sources did bemoan the potential influence of schmoozing over merit, as “a few trainees play tactically and speak to partners in their preferred department before the seat list comes out.” Schmoozing speculation aside, there was a disparity between allocation success rates, with one source claiming that they'd “never got anything less than my second choice,” while another lamented: “This was my tenth choice out of 11!”
Straight Outta Bournemouth
LA's real estate department is split into specialist teams – including “residential, commercial, development and healthcare property" – which are in turn spread across the offices. Work therefore ranges from advising on the development of a GP's surgery on the Isle of Wight to helping telecoms company 3 navigate the property law aspects of configuring cell towers to boost 4G reception. Conveyancing is the name of the game in Bournemouth, where the team works on both commercial and residential matters. On the residential front, sources were able to draft plenty of contracts alongside the traditional “SDLT and land registry forms.” Commercial work saw trainees “starting out with basic lease renewal transactions, before moving on to sales of straightforward properties where you get to liaise with the other parties involved and negotiate some elements of contracts.” London, meanwhile, primarily handles commercial retail matters. “We only do residential work as a favour!” said a source here. “We might be acting for a retailer that's looking to buy up a development site or helping a company to refinance its existing properties with the banks. I was able to get in on lots of client teleconferences and draft things like collateral warranties.”
“We're very keen to obtain justice for the little man.”
LA's international private client practice (formerly international probate) deals with both UK and foreign estate administration, which means handling the fallout when someone dies in one country but has assets in another. Naturally, a large share of the clients are international. “In fact, a lot of our work involves administering assets in South Africa,” one trainee told us. Sadly, the work doesn't seem to involve trips to Cape Town (or anywhere else clients may be located). Instead, trainees find themselves “drafting wills, doing tax research, liaising with the court and instructing trace agents.” There's a good helping of responsibility on offer, we're told, with trainees able to manage dozens of their own files.
Our spies in the personal injury team described the department as “brilliant” and the seat as “the most fast-paced one.” Our sources admitted that “you either love PI or you hate it,” but for those who can keep up, it offers “varied and interesting work.” There's also oodles of responsibility to be had, with trainees “running non-litigated cases where liability has been admitted” and “doing advocacy in disclosure hearings.” Many of the matters are confidential, but we can reveal that lawyers here are frequently handling life-changing injuries worth large sums of money. Another draw for this department was that it mainly represents claimants. “We're very keen to obtain justice for the little man,” said a source here, “and we can do that as well as defending big claims.”
Those with more nautical aspirations should look out for a marine seat in Southampton or London. LA picks up a UK-wide ranking for its shipping expertise, which covers contentious, transactional and regulatory matters. When consultancy Maritime Zone Solutions was commissioned by the Moroccan government to conduct a study of the Moroccan Atlantic continental shelf, LA stepped in to help it negotiate a €10.5 million contract. However, a source in Southampton told us they'd experienced “more contentious work which is very technical and involves a lot of experts; you have to get your head around everything, but when you do they'll let you draft the letter before claim and other court documents calling for the arrest of ships. There's not a lot of admin work!” Disputes here could cover cargo claims, PI defence work and – in the yachting sphere – racing rules issues.
“No one seems stressed.”
While the firm will notice “if you're an obsessive clock watcher,” it has no problem with people “working from 9am to 5.30pm.” Although we heard of a trainee staying until midnight on one occasion, the general consensus was that it's “very rare to stay past 7.30pm.” As expected, trainees in corporate “have to do a few late nights, but even then they'd probably be out at 8.30pm.” As a result, “no one seems stressed,” trainees remarked, which they felt contributed to LA's welcoming and barrier-breaking vibe: “It's much easier for partners to put down what they're doing and talk to you if they're not stressed!” one joked. Another added that “the teams are friendly and people are approachable – if you feel you've messed up this isn't the type of place where you'd feel scared to raise it.”
A lot of firms outside London like prospective trainees to have connections to their local area, and LA is no exception. However, we did come across some trainees that didn't, and they told us that demonstrating a “willingness to commit to Bournemouth or Southampton,” is essential. Beyond that, our sources were unable to identify a typical LA trainee: “Some of us were older, some were straight out of uni. There were people who'd previously worked as paralegals here and a career changer too.”
The Bournemouth HQ sprawls over seven floors, making it hard to get on regular chatting terms with everybody. “We have a happy hour on the first Friday of every month,” a source here told us, “and I don't know half of the people that show up!” London and Southampton are smaller and easier to navigate. Their open-plan layout means “everybody is nearby, so you just pop over to their desk if you have a question.” Despite plans to make Bournemouth fully open-plan, our sources here weren't convinced: “Isn't it a bit irritating when you need to concentrate and people are talking around you?” Yet trainees don't need to concentrate that hard come qualification time, as “there's no formal application process – the departments will just make you offers if there's a business need and you've shown an aptitude for the work.” In 2016, four of eight second-years were retained.
The hours may be reasonable but trainees don't shirk from their responsibilities: “It's definitely true that you get more hands-on work here. If you want good-quality assignments and opportunities that you wouldn't get at big City firms, apply.”
How to get a Lester Aldridge training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 March 2017
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2017
Training contract applications
Lester Aldridge receives a large number of applications for both its training contract and vac scheme; the exact figure varies from year to year, but previous rounds have seen the firm receive between 150 and 200 applications each for its vac scheme and training contract. The firm tells us it doesn't particularly favour applicants who've done a vac scheme over those who haven’t.
It's not unheard of for the firm to recruit from its own pool of paralegals and legal secretaries – and trainees agreed this previous experience “proved valuable during the application process.”
Direct applications are made through an online form, and early applications are encouraged. HR review all applications and short-list over 60 to be considered by the managing partner and the training principal. Among the questions posed to candidates on their application form are a few creative ones, like 'If you were able to create a new law, what would it be and why?' “We're looking to get a sense of candidates' thought processes and how they justify themselves,” a source in graduate recruitment tells us. “We want someone original who tells us what they're interested in and ideally shows some robust research skills.”
Applicants are whittled down to a short-list of around 18, who are invited to one of three assessment days in Bournemouth. The day – usually a morning or an afternoon – includes some individual exercises, plus an interview with either two partners or a partner and a senior member of HR. “There are no silly questions,” our source tells us of the hour-long interview. “We don't ask things like 'If you were a vegetable what kind would you be?'” The day also includes a lunch with current trainees, and although attendees should be on their best behaviour, “it isn't a trial by canapés,” HR says. “We're not looking to catch people out.” From here the firm chooses who gets an offer.
The vacation scheme
Lester Aldridge's vacation scheme lasts for two weeks, takes place in July and has eight or so places up for grabs. The office it takes place in shifts depending on demand.
Applications for the vac scheme are made by ye olde traditional covering letter, which has no word limit, and a CV. Academics, work experience and relevant extracurriculars like charity work are reliably eye-catching.
There are no assessments on the placement, and it doesn't guarantee a training contract interview, but participants can expect ‘real’ work (as far as it's possible), usually in a single department. “I remember doing vac schemes at other firms and being given files to read,” recalled one trainee, “but here I actually got to do tasks like drafting.” Candidates who impress are short-listed and go on to complete the assessment day outlined above.
LA welcomes applicants from all universities. Second careerists are also welcome, though a minimum 2:1 degree and at least three Bs at A level are required. Recruiters are on the lookout for personality, initiative and work-ethic, and generally score applicants higher if they have some kind of work experience, though this doesn't have to be law-related. According to training principal Susan Cowan, “the firm analyses people's logical thought processes, and confidence and articulacy also play an important part in recruitment.”
A beginner's guide to Bournemouth
Lester Aldridge LLP
- Vacancies 8
- Trainees 14
- Total staff 305
- Contact HR team
- Method of application Apply to human resources online application form
- Selection procedure Interview and assessment day
- Closing date for 2019 30 June 2017
- Training contracts pa Varies
- Minimum required degree grade 2:1
- September and March intakes
- Starting salary Competitive market rate for a south coast firm plus additional London allowance where appropriate
- Holiday entitlement 22 days
- Offices Bournemouth, Southampton and London
We are proud of our reputation and history and can trace our origins back to 1796. The firm has grown to be the largest law firm in Dorset and can offer city expertise at regional rates.
Our clients are at the heart of everything we do. We believe that every client has their own unique requirements and we tailor our ways of working by thoroughly understanding their business or personal circumstances.
We believe that through listening to our client’s needs, concerns and expectations that we can deliver a solution which is innovative, realistic and delivers the optimal result for our client.
Our people are fundamental to the success of our business. We recruit the best – both in terms of qualifications but also in terms of experience. It’s important to us that we have an established team of lawyers who our clients can build a relationship with, if that’s what they need, or with whom they can depend on for fast and effective advice.
Main areas of work
During the course of your two year contract you will complete four seats of six months duration. This gives you exposure to different areas of the firm and hopefully will help you decide what you would like to specialise in.
Giving constructive feedback is always encouraged at LA, so you can expect to hear the good things about your work from your team (and a few things you need to improve). LA also has an appraisal system where you work with your team leader to set objectives and create an action plan that will measure your progress. In addition each trainee is assigned a mentor to provide guidance and encouragement and regular review meetings are arranged with the managing partner where you’ll be encouraged to voice your views and opinions.