Two Peters, two trainees per year and just two seats: this boutique Londoner offers a masterclass in disputes tied to business crime, civil fraud and commercial wrangles.
A scandal of Madoff proportions
Unless it's your nan after three sherries at a family wedding, not many nigh-on 80-year-olds are as vibrant and on top of their game as this boutique firm, which can be found on London's Fetter Lane. Peters & Peters – or P² as we like to call it here – has carved out an enviable position for itself in the legal realms of business crime, civil fraud and commercial litigation. An inspection of the firm's Chambers UK rankings confirms this: all five of its UK-wide rankings occupy the upper echelons, piling praise on P&P's cartel investigations, civil fraud, tax disputes, asset forfeiture and financial services regulatory work. In London, the firm stands out for its extradition and financial crime expertise, while its broader litigation practice is highly regarded.
P&P's past hits make the reasons for its current sterling rep clear: the firm worked on the first-ever prosecution brought by the Serious Fraud Office, which saw dry stout maestros Guinness accused of manipulating the stock market to inflate share prices. Tsk tsk. In other firsts, P&P also worked on the first criminal cartel prosecutions, which were brought against three former Dunlop execs (for fixing the price of specialist marine hoses), as well as BA and Virgin execs (who colluded to hike the price of fuel charges to make more money out of long-haul passengers). Finally, no list of financial crime highlights would be complete without mentioning P&P's role on the infamous Madoff Ponzi fraud case, which saw American financier Bernard Madoff sentenced to 150 years for defrauding investors out of almost $65 billion.
Insiders were drawn primarily to “the intellectual challenge” posed by P&P's specialist areas of work: “I don't like working on things I don't find interesting,” declared one source. “Both the business crime and commercial litigation seats throw up complex issues to grapple with.” The firm's size – just 31 lawyers in total – was another perk: “I wanted to take on responsibility, shadow partners and get a real bite of the cherry.”
Trainees do just two seats, business crime and commercial litigation/civil fraud, but these cover the full range of P&P's work. The time trainees spend in each seat is flexible, mostly depending on business need. “You normally do around 12 months in business crime, nine months in commercial and civil, followed by three months on a secondment.” While not compulsory, most interviewees had opted for a secondment to pick up transactional experience.
P&P's business crime department initially focused on white-collar crime and fraud cases, but has branched out to cover tax matters, extradition orders, regulatory bodies' investigations, sanctions issues and POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act) advice. “There's also a little bit of supplemental general crime work,” which can involve murder, human trafficking and sexual offences. The client roster typically includes high-profile individuals, as well as banks and large oil and gas companies. With such a variety it's quite a challenge to bring you all the latest goings-on, but here are a few that stand out: the team have been busy challenging the legality of an asset freeze imposed on the former Egyptian housing minister in the wake of the 'Arab Spring'; advising a UK national who was extradited to Cyprus after he was accused of manslaughter following the drowning of a soldier during a training exercise; acting as lead counsel on behalf of numerous companies caught up in corruption allegations made against high-level government figures in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi; and representing the former senior exec of Barclays Investment Bank, who was considered a suspect in the FCA's investigation into payments made to a Qatari sovereign wealth fund.
Sources found that they didn't get “too involved in extradition cases, as there's not much in the way of trainee-level stuff to do,” but did chip in on “large FCA investigations into market manipulation.” This required “reviewing a large amount of evidence and keeping on top of the FCA's disclosure track log – some matters also required reviews into the movement of funds when money laundering was suspected.” On these larger cases “you're third in line behind a partner and an associate, so there's less responsibility” compared to smaller 'general crime' matters which gave our interviewees plenty to get stuck into: “On those you're preparing instructions for counsel, going to police stations to oversee interviews where people are under caution and even liaising with private investigators.”
"The cases are always fascinating."
A visit to P&P's commercial litigation, civil fraud and asset recovery department exposes trainees to a similarly broad mix of work. On the fraud side the firm is involved in litigating many of the largest fraud cases in the capital and abroad, dealing with issues such as obtaining freezing and disclosure orders for clients who were victims of fraud and need to find and freeze those parts of their assets which have gone rogue. Alternatively, a recent case saw P&P successfully defend 12 parties against a call for a worldwide freezing order brought by entities owned by the government of Ras al-Khaimah (one of the seven 'emirates' comprising the United Arab Emirates). Commercial litigation, meanwhile, can encompass shareholder and contractual disputes, as well as insolvency proceedings, IP issues and professional negligence claims. Lawyers on this side of the coin have been kept occupied by a shareholder dispute concerning an online retailer, the Money Club, as well as by a breach of fiduciary spat brought by a company that accused its directors of diverting business opportunities elsewhere.
“There's more scope for drafting,” interviewees found.Witness statements, application notices, correspondences with opposing counsel, charging orders and freezing order applications all fell within their remit. However, “more court time” also means that there's also “a lot more bundling” in this seat. As you might expect, the bigger cases crank up those administrative trainee tasks: “You're doing a lot of case management for hearings and doc review, but even though the quality of the tasks might not be that great on those matters, the cases are always fascinating and it's just part of the job.”
Peaks and pistes
On average our sources worked from 9.30am to 6pm. “It's not extreme in any way,” revealed one rather relieved trainee. A late night at P&P ends by around 9pm, with interviewees flagging that “work on the civil fraud side can be quite hectic at times.” Working at a more specialised firm was seen as another perk: “I sit in an office with lawyers who are predominant experts in their field. You can ask them any question and you never feel stupid.” Indeed, the word du jour was “approachable,” and was used to describe everyone from support staff to partners. The firm's petite proportions make it feel “cosy. Everyone knows everyone and because of that many of us just tend to go to the pub after work.” Other bonding opportunities include an annual ski trip, “in-house ping pong tournaments, which get incredibly competitive,” as well as plenty of fund-raising activities for charity: lawyers have skydived, abseiled and scaled the heights of the Three Peaks Challenge.
So how can one earn a training spot at P&P? “The firm likes people who can speak other languages because of the international scope of our work. Quite a few of us have prior work experience [there's even a former pro footballer who's swapped the boots for the books], but that's not to say that the firm wouldn't consider someone who's come straight out of uni.” It goes without saying that candidates will need to demonstrate their interest in both of P&P's departments. Bear in mind that the firm recruits on a rolling basis, with newbies usually starting in March or September. At the other end of the trainee journey, the qualification process varies depending on how many qualifiers there are: “If it's just one person it's fairly informal, but if there are two or more qualifying at the same time you generally go through an interview and submit a formal application.” In 2017 the firm kept on both its qualifiers as NQs.
“P&P is a small firm so you have to be confident as you'll be speaking to clients and the police from the get-go; you have to be prepared to do things without being baby-sat along the way – which I love!”
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How to get a Peters & Peters training contract
Applications and assessments
Peters & Peters has a rolling application process, so there are no deadlines. As an HR source informs us: “We are very selective. There have been years where we haven't taken on any trainees because we haven't found anyone who fits the bill.” The firm generally takes on two trainees each year. It's possible to apply for training contracts either one or two years before the start date. You can find the firm's application form here. The form is quite straightforward, though of course simple, uninspiring answers will get you nowhere. “It's important to me to be able to see on that form that the applicant has a reason to be interested in the work we do,” our HR source says. “They have to do more than just quote our website back at us.” At the same time, we suggest resisting the temptation to go on and on about what a wonderful and interesting person you are. At this stage, recruiters are not particularly interested in your personality and self-enhancing hobbies as much as your credentials.
The firm shortlists around 50% of applicants for two basic competency tests. The first is a multiple-choice numeracy and literacy test covering grammar, spelling and reading comprehension. The second is an essay on a “legal-ish” issue. “We look at the sophistication of an applicant's insights and opinions, as well as how they write,” reveals our HR source. The subject is usually topical, with recent ones concerning prisoners' voting rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and the meaning of a miscarriage of justice. The essays are marked externally by a barrister at Matrix Chambers. Applicants are expected to score at least 70% in the first test, and also obtain a good essay mark to progress to the interview stage.
The first interview takes place with the head of HR and training partner, Jason Woodland. An hour before the interview, candidates are given a legal document and asked to prepare a five-minute summary to present to the interviewers. Woodland then asks applicants about their CV, while the head of HR a few standardised competency questions intended to gauge a candidate's ability to work in a team and deal with difficult situations. In previous years, candidates faced topical questions, but these have now been replaced by “more searching and psychologically based – perhaps more far-reaching – questions,” says our HR source, telling us these are “designed to give us an insight into the candidate’s personality. They focus on the ‘inner self’ rather than technical or academic knowledge.”
Those the firm invites back for a final interview are “put in front of two senior partners, who can be pretty tough on them,” HR admits. Usually one partner is from the firm's criminal side and the other from the civil side. Candidates are given a legal scenario and asked to talk the partners through it, answering challenging questions along the way. Afterwards, the interviewers go over the candidate's CV again, trying to dig out which areas of law he or she is interested in. HR tells us that “many candidates fall at this last hurdle because they're really interested in the firm's criminal work but don't show the same enthusiasm for our commercial work. Our trainees need to be interested in both.”
Because of its small size, Peters & Peters does not currently run a vacation scheme. It does, however, bring in people on an ad hoc basis for one and two-week work experience placements.
Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP
15 Fetter Lane,
- Partners (and equivalent) 12
- Associates 19
- Total trainees 4
- UK offices London
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Julie Beckwith 020 7822 7721, [email protected]sandpeters.com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2-4
- Applications pa: 200
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Rolling
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: Rolling
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £54,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
We look for trainees with strong academic qualifications and recruit from a wide range of universities, taking both law and non-law graduates who have achieved a 2:1 or above. Given the international nature of our practice, we are particularly interested in meeting those who are fluent in other languages.
You must be committed to hard work and to a steep learning curve. Ideal candidates will have real drive and enthusiasm and a strong interest in our work. Ours is very much a people business so you need to demonstrate very strong presentation and communication skills. To hear from Charlotte Tregunna, a former trainee and now an associate in the business crime department, please see the short film on our careers page at www.petersandpeters.com/careers.
Your training contract will typically consist of three seats, one in business crime and one in commercial litigation/international civil fraud. You will also have the opportunity to complete a secondment either with another law firm, in-house or with another organisation.