Want to become a real estate lawyer? Consider a training contract with this City boutique.
'The only property law firm you will ever need' blares this firm's tag line, so it's no surprise that "real estate expertise" and "I enjoyed land law" were among the answers trainees gave when asked why they applied to this niche outfit. For those worried about the prospect of a lifetime of conveyancing, a quick glance at the firm's work and clients reveals a distinct lack of bungalow sales in sleepy market towns. Maples Teesdale advises on the construction, management and financing of multimillion-pound properties, and clients include investment managers, real estate companies, large insurers, Oxford colleges, Lloyds Bank and the US embassy.
Commercial real estate, which snags a respectable ranking in Chambers UK, serves up the bread and butter of the firm's work. The planning, real estate litigation, corporate, construction and property finance departments exist to service this core. According to managing partner Chris Wilkinson future plans for growth will see the firm strengthen these supplementary areas, alongside continuing to expand the client base through the kudos gained from advising on the relocation of the US embassy and some newly acquired Asian clients. For prospective trainees this strategy is good news, as growth is set to be organic.
There are just five seat options, and a stint in commercial property is compulsory. You don't get a choice about your first seat, but after that you have a sit down with the training partner halfway through each seat to discuss the next rotation. Given there are four seats and only five options "you kind of know what departments you'll be going into anyway" and seat allocation exists more to "make sure the logistics work out." Our interviewees didn't mind that there wasn't much of a choice of seat options – they'd selected the firm for its property focus and knew what to expect.
The commercial real estate team counts property investment manager CBRE, insurer Royal & Sun Alliance, Lloyds Bank and several Oxford colleges among its clients. Insurer Legal & General recently had the firm advise on sprucing up and pre-letting several shopping centres it owns across the country. Trainees can find themselves working on different matters for up to eight or ten partners. As a result, the experience "can be very varied – one minute you're drafting licences, the next putting together a sales pack, emailing clients, contacting the other side, double checking details or just assisting with queries." Outside this busy schedule there is the usual churn of more mundane work: "working on simple leases, assisting fee earners with proofreading, providing the Land Registry and HMRC with documentation, as well as the odd stint of photocopying."
"I attended at least one meeting a week with project managers, architects or the other side."
Clients in construction also include insurers and real estate companies, as well as Amsprop, Lord Sugar's property business, and City University, which the firm advised on the construction of a new 6,500 square metre building. According to one source, "it's a very hands-on seat with lots of drafting. From day one I was calling clients and working on the documents myself rather than doing support work." Trainees attend plenty of internal and external meetings. "I got to know our clients and the other members of the team much better," one interviewee said. "I attended at least one meeting a week with project managers, architects or the other side." What do trainees get to do in those meetings? "At the start I was taking notes – construction has this whole other language which takes a while to get used to – but towards the end I was helping to actually run the transaction."
The real estate litigation team recently advised Legal & General in a spat with Argos over the renewal of a lease at the Dolphin shopping centre in Poole, as the insurer needed the property to create a new leisure complex with a cinema. It also helped Standard Life obtain possession of the Riverside Centre in Shrewsbury for a redevelopment. Trainee research tasks are "quite technical and usually relate to the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act and issues like ending tenancies or dilapidations." The nature of the work depends on what comes through the door. "During my time in the seat the team was handling quite a big case, so I spent a lot of time in court," a trainee told us. "I was preparing trial bundles, doing specific research relating to the case and then taking notes." By contrast, another source said they had "managed to avoid all the bundling. I was mostly preparing notices and various letters."
Property finance handles transactions in the £10 to £30 million range, including a £20 million loan to City University from HSBC. A trainee told us: "I started off running the conditions precedent checklist, which is a checklist that specifies conditions that must be met for a borrower to get a loan. Alongside that I had to do pre-completion searches, draft board minutes, produce director's certificates, and review legal charges [a type of mortgage]." The trainees we spoke to had mixed experiences. One found property finance "less intense than the other seats" while another "went througha baptism of fire. I had to not just learn a fairly technical and complex area of law, but also quickly learn the mechanics of how the practice operates, who the clients are and how transactions work."
The firm is "not overly social, but in recent years there has been more of a push to increase the number of events." There's an annual Christmas party organised by the trainees, as well as "a sports and social committee which puts on activities every two months." One recent jaunt saw lawyers head out for a ping pong evening with a free bar tab. "Watching my colleagues play table tennis was highly amusing, and I'm sure that for them watching me play was highly amusing too," one interviewee said. The firm is based on King Street, slap bang in the middle of the City just 300 yards from the Bank of England. It's a good area for after-work drinks – there are over 20 bars and eateries within that 300-yard radius. "Every Friday or Thursday there'll be a group of people going to the pubs nearby."
"Watching my colleagues play table tennis was highly amusing."
Free time to make it down the pub is fairly forthcoming. Normal working hours see an exodus from 6.30pm, and the latest night we heard of was 10pm. A more typical late stay might last till 8pm, but that's "less than once a month." During the working day trainees felt they "had never been neglected" by their supervisors. One said: "By and large partners leave us to work independently, but they're there if we need to ask questions and can step in if something goes wrong." Extra training is provided in the form of regular firm-wide presentations on specific legal topics. Usually this is by a fee earner, but trainees are also expected to deliver talks (on their topic of choice) to their colleagues once every month. There was a faint grumble that mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews are "seen as an administrative thing that has to be done but can feel more like a box-ticking exercise, as you've often already been told if there are any issues."
Retention is an informal affair. At the end of April, the training principal sits down with each trainee for a chat on where they'd like to qualify before deciding who gets what. We heard that the timing of retention being announced can be "quite vague and there was some worry about whether we'd find out later rather than sooner." The firm told us that second-year trainees can expect to find out if they'll be qualifying by July; in 2017 all three qualifiers were kept on.
The firm's semi-open plan office is spread across two floors with support staff in the centre and fee earners in glass offices around the edges.
How to get a Maples Teesdale training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 17 August 2018
Maples Teesdale uses an online application form which can be accessed on the trainee section of the firm's website. Training principal Anastasia Klein tells us that the form asks “probing questions, including 'why us?' We want to know if and why candidates want to go to a specialist real estate firm with a comparatively small headcount. It's different to applying to the very large full-service firms.” Maples usually receives about 100 applications, and approximately 10% of those candidates are invited to interview.
There's one interview, conducted by a panel of two partners, which typically lasts about an hour. “That's usually enough for us to a get a sense of somebody and why they feel they should be joining us, as a niche real estate firm. We can ascertain whether they've really researched us.”
Interviewers look out for evidence of “a clear interest in the area the firm works in, like study modules taken in real estate, but we're not necessarily going to grill somebody on legal matters if they're still only at university.” The interview includes a brief property-focused case study that candidates are asked to discuss at the interview.Anastasia Klein says: “There are no absolute right or wrong answers but it helps give us a feel for the candidates’ basic understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the subject.”
What else are they after? Klein tells us that “it's nice to see paralegalling experience in a real estate department. Then we can see that someone has exposure to it and likes it. It can help an application along if a candidate can genuinely point to an interesting deal they've come across, for instance, and what problems they might have faced. It shows that they already understand something about the subject.” However, Klein emphasises that this isn't a prerequisite.
The interview is also a chance for “us to learn about them, and there are questions on the application form about what challenges they've faced and what they like to do outside of work. We like to see how they engage in a social context.” A final word of advice? “We are genuinely looking for people who are excited by the commercial real estate industry, not just someone who wants a job. We see trainees as our future, and so we need to invest in the right candidates who have a passion for real estate, like we do.”
Maples Teesdale LLP
30 King Street,
- Partners 18
- Assistant solicitors 36
- Total trainees 6
- UK offices London
- Training partner: Anastasia Klein firstname.lastname@example.org
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3
- Applications pa: 50
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 degree
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2019 start: Friday 17 August 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,600
- Second-year salary: £37,625
- Post-qualification salary: £59,700
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
Main areas of work
Trainees have the opportunity to gain experience, skills and knowledge across these different departments in four, six-month seats. There may also be an opportunity to spend time on secondment with clients. During each seat rotation, trainees sit with a partner who acts as their supervisor allocating work to them and ensuring that they are also getting regular opportunities to work with a variety of fee-earners. They also play an active role in advising and developing their trainee throughout their training contract. Maples Teesdale want you to feel part of the team from the outset.
The training is very ‘hands on’ and aims to give you as much responsibility as you are confident to handle. You will be actively encouraged to become a valuable member of the team, drafting documents, doing research and attending client meetings.