Real estate is the name of the game at London-based Maples Teesdale, where everyone's got a passion for property.
Let’s get one thing straight. Property specialist Maples Teesdale is about so much more than just conveyancing. Partners Jon Blackburn and Roger Thornton tell us that the firm provides a “full service to the real estate industry, including expertise in construction, planning, corporate, property litigation and property finance.” So, prospective trainees need not fear that they’ll get stuck passing bungalows between people for eternity.
Blackburn explains that Maples was “a general practice until around ten years ago, when we decided to focus purely on real estate.” What prompted this? “Commercial property is a big sector; our clients like that we're a really focused firm that sends a clear message to the market. We work on large deals for institutional and other major clients, but at the same time we’re not a big legal factory.” Of course, the firm’s petite proportions means there’s a small trainee intake (four in total at the time of our calls) – something that appealed to sources. “I didn’t just want to be a number. I didn’t just want to be in the property department at one of the ginormous City firms. Here you can really get involved in the business, not just the law side. Trainees get to do marketing work.” Given that this is a place where “property is the order of the day,” it should go without saying that trainees need a strong interest in the area.
“You work with most of the partners.”
Looking ahead, Blackburn sets out the plan: “We're looking to be the leading specialist real estate player in the market. We are in growth mode and want to strengthen every existing area we have.” Looking back over the past twelve months, “it’s generally been a very strong year for the firm and our revenues have gone up by about 25% on the previous year.”
Unsurprisingly, commercial property is a compulsory pitstop for trainees. Other options include construction, litigation, corporate and finance. The latter two “used to be offered as a combined seat, but they’re going to be separated from September 2016 onwards.” Given that “we all want to be property lawyers,” the relative lack of flexibility in terms of seat options didn’t bother trainees in the slightest.
In commercial property, the clients are “mostly institutional funds, property developers, and those involved in the buying, selling and financing of property.” Names on the client roster include Legal & General, RSA, City University and several Oxford University colleges. Recently, solicitors here advised the US Embassy on its relocation from Grosvenor Square to Battersea Nine Elms. “Through all seats, there are very good levels of responsibility,” said a second-year source: “When you’re at a smaller firm like Maples you work with most of the partners, but in my property seat I regularly worked for the firm's managing partner.” Day-to-day jobs as a trainee include handling “tax returns, Land Registry applications, leases and transfers.” Sources had also attended client meetings and spent a lot of time researching: “We get to do title investigations: when someone’s buying a property you need to look through the search result you obtain and work through the history of the property to check whether there are any potential issues or risks to flag to the client before they decide to buy.”
“On my first day I was emailing clients and on my second day I was attending client meetings with contractors."
On property finance transactions trainees “co-ordinate the conditions precedent checklist and make sure that all the documents are in order before the bank funds the acquisition of a property.” Clients include a number of banks and investment companies like Lloyds Bank and Avignon Capital. On the corporate side, one trainee raved about “assisting the head of corporate with the purchase of a shopping centre. I was in charge of the ancillary documents, which gave me a lot of drafting experience.” The group recently acted for Centurion Properties as it acquired a large business park in the Midlands for around £25 million.
Maples’ dedicated property litigation team works for the likes of Standard Life, Nestlé and even the US government. Disputes here could involve dilapidations, insolvencies, 'right to light' spats and disagreements over tenancy renewals. The group recently acted for Standard Life as it took on Poundland in order to clear some space for a new retail unit at the Shrewsbury-based shopping centre that it owns. For trainees, the seat involves “drafting instructions to counsel and attending conferences with them. I haven't had to do much photocopying as we don't go to court much. You're more likely to be analysing leases and conducting research on a day-to-day basis.”
Leafing the office
In every department trainees sit in an office with their supervisor, who’s usually a partner. In the main, “trainees work on their supervisor's files, but you can also work for other fee earners in that department.” The firm’s size means that “you know everyone and work for everyone. I've worked for the majority of people here and everyone has been supportive.” Others agreed: “We’re encouraged to ask questions and people are generally happy to sit down and go through things with you.”
The hours are “actually very good for a City law firm!” One source summarised what newbies can typically expect: “When things heated up in corporate and finance I sometimes worked until 10pm or 11pm, but in other departments I stayed until 8pm if busy. When it's quiet you can leave at 6pm – people are fine with that.” The social diary may not be packed with jamborees, but the firm does organise the occasional outing: trainees had recently gone for a curry and tested their hand-eye co-ordination at The Flight Club – London's premier darts establishment. In addition, second-years plan a Christmas knees-up and there’s a spring party hosted for the firm's clients, which enables trainees to hone their networking skills.
Maples' City setting near Bank station is “perfect, as there are so many coffee places and shops nearby.” Sources described their working habitat as “fine, but not really fancy. We all have glass doors and we’re kitted out with tech. Plus there’s a nice boardroom where they hold training sessions; commercial property hosts monthly meetings so everyone can get to know what work they've been doing.” Trainees also told us that Maples “underwent a rebrand recently, so the reception areas have been redone and it looks very fresh. The firm has changed the colour scheme: it used to be blue with a maple leaf, but now it's green. They’ve changed the logo, the website and letterheads so it’s a lot more contemporary and shows that Maples is looking towards the future.”
When qualification comes “you sit down with the training partner during your third seat and chat with him about what you’re interested in doing.” Trainees find out whether they're staying before their final seat, and most, we hear, join the commercial property department. In 2016, both qualifiers were retained.
How to get a Maples Teesdale training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 18 August 2017
Maples Teesdale uses an online application form which can be accessed on the trainee section of the firm's website. Training principal Jon Blackburn tells us that the form is a “comparatively recent phenomenon. We used to ask for a CV and cover letter but that wasn't driving a focus on the niche nature of the firm, and we were getting generic applications.” The new form asks “more 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 50 applications, 30% of which are invited to interview. However, in 2016 the firm got more than 100 applications and interviewed about 25 candidates.
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.” Blackburn flags up that “depending on the number and quality of applications in any given year, there may also be a brief property-focussed case study that candidates will be asked to discuss at the interview. 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? Blackburn 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, Blackburn 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.”
More on property law
Maples Teesdale LLP
30 King Street,
- Partners 16
- Assistant solicitors 32
- Total trainees 6
- Contact Jon Blackburn, [email protected], 020 3465 4312
- Method of application All applications for training contracts should be made online via the interactive application form. The firm does not accept paper applications or CVs. Candidates will then be shortlisted for interview.
- Closing date for August 2018 18 August 2017
- No of training contracts pa 2 or 3
- Applications pa 50
- % interviewed 30%
- Required degree grade 2:1 at degree level
- Training salary
- First year: £35,000
- Second year: £37,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary £56,500
- 100% trainees offered job on qualification (if suitable standards are met)
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