It's nice being niche: each year Peters & Peters hand-picks just two trainees interested in its crime, civil fraud and commercial disputes expertise.
Rich and frame us
Taking up just one floor of 15 Fetter Lane, surrounded by larger law firms with ostensibly flashier digs, Peters & Peters is perhaps best summed up by the trainee who said: “Its market influence is disproportionate to its size.” The boutique Londoner has made a name for itself thanks to being a fount of knowledge in areas of law like business crime, civil fraud, commercial litigation, and regulatory work. In what are often high-profile cases involving wealthy individuals in sticky situations, P&P deals with complex and sensitive issues like extradition, money laundering, bribery, economic sanctions, and insider trading. For example, for over a decade P&P's lawyers have worked with investment financier and noted critic of the Russian government Bill Browder and his company Hermitage Capital to, among other things, parry sneaky attempts by the Kremlin to win cooperation from the UK and Interpol to get Browder extradited from this country. Browder has even written a bestselling book about the whole affair.
"It's interesting to be at the cutting edge of developments."
Trainees do just two seats, civil fraud and business crime, but these cover the full range of Peters & Peters' work. The time trainees spend in each seat is flexible, mostly depending on business need. Sources got the impression that “you usually start in business crime and stay there for between nine and 12 months.” While trainees are no longer required to do a transactional secondment because of changes to SRA rules, several current trainees had chosen to spend a couple of months at a boutique employment firm to broaden their experience.
Dude, where's my cash?
“Our business crime practice traditionally covered white-collar crime and fraud but now it encompasses a wider range of work related to crime,” one of our sources explained. “There are still typical fraud cases, but I've also worked on a huge tax case led by HMRC and we do FCA investigations covering everything from regulatory breaches to insider trading." There's also extradition work related to European Arrest Warrants and Interpol 'Red Notices'. The latter are effectively international wanted posters disseminated to alert police forces around the world to a wanted suspect. Lawyers were recently successful in preventing two individuals from being extradited to Greece by arguing that no Greek prison complied with minimum human rights standards on account of the clients' health problems. In an even more unusual case the firm successfully acted for Peter Gray – a partner in the Dubai office of American law firm Gibson Dunn – when the former managing director of Leeds United, David Haigh, applied for summonses for a private prosecution for human trafficking against Gray. Haigh, in prison for fraud in Dubai, alleged that Gray had lured him to Dubai under false pretences. "It's interesting to be at the cutting edge of developments in this area of law and to help find creative solutions for new problems,” observed one interviewee.
As if all this isn't enough to keep P&P's pipers piping, the crime department is also active advising corporates on EU sanctions and there's some general crime work too – “it involves everything you might expect," one source reported, "although there's not much violent crime. I did work on one sex offences case though.” An insider who had experienced business crime as a first seat explained that “you either work just with a partner or in a larger team.” Trainee tasks include “attending client meetings, taking notes during conference calls with counsel, undertaking challenging legal research, drafting correspondence to Interpol, and putting together witness statements.” The job is pretty hands-on – one trainee told us they had “attended the police station more than once to observe a police interview.”
“Civil fraud involves a bit more court attendance than crime, but other tasks can be quite similar," a trainee told us. "You're still going to meetings, drafting witness statements and so on. You probably are doing a little more research and document management than in crime.” Another source observed that “the experience is very different from acting against a state body as you do in crime. You're now acting against another party with its own specialist lawyers." Another difference is that "criminal cases tick along slowly, so you have more time to plan your strategy, whereas in civil fraud you deal with processes that are more aggressive and fast paced.”
"You're put in the thick of big issues early on."
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. Lawyers recently acted for the defence in two of the biggest civil fraud cases to hit the commercial courts of late, worth over £300 million and brought by a large Kazakh conglomerate and a major bank. P&P also represented the Department of Health in a £250 million claim against French pharma group Servier involving allegations of deceit.
Normally the hours trainees work are “not crazy," according to our sources. That said, one told us: “I've recently been working on an incredibly exciting matter and I've been staying a bit later, but it's so interesting I don't even notice.” Still, working past 7pm is considered a rarity, and “if you need to catch a train home at 5.30pm then you can.” Slightly immodestly, one concluded that “the hours are pretty good; either that, or I'm just really efficient.”
Humane hours don't mean the job can't be stressful: “You're put in the thick of big issues early on. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to deal with that. The partners expect you to not require hand-holding, but equally, there are always people you can talk to and you are always supported.” Trainees have a mentor and share a training supervisor, and usually sit with a partner who oversees their work day-to-day. “There is introductory training covering things like IT systems and document management, but most of the training on the actual subject matters is on the job," said one source. "There are occasional sessions on things like attendance at police stations though.”
For Pete's sake
Other than the aforementioned fortitude, what sort of qualities make up the ideal P&Per? “Well,” mused one source, “a degree from a top university, bilingualism, and previous work experience are not requirements, but then again most people here have at least one of those.” The firm is known for recruiting from its own paralegal pool –“once you establish yourself as an outstanding paralegal here the trainee stuff comes naturally.” Work experience outside Peters & Peters, and even outside the law, can stand you in good stead too: one source who had previous non-legal work experience reflected that “if this had been my first job I wouldn't have been able to do things so quickly. Working here requires high levels of confidence, because we are dealing with clients all the time in all sort of situations.”
P&P's petite proportions were noted as being conducive to “an intimate atmosphere where everyone knows everyone and we're all on first-name terms. There's a hierarchy of course, but it doesn't feel oppressive.” This extends to a “no-blame culture, where if something goes wrong the focus is on working together to fix it.” The healthy working environment probably also has something to do with “the many organised and impromptu social events and activities: there's a football team, a film club, a theatre club, and we recently held a pop quiz. Some people even went skiing together. It's the sort of place where if there's time we all go and sit in the kitchen together and have a nice lunch and a good chat.”
Peters & Peters recruits on a rolling basis, so you can apply at any point during the year. Trainees usually start in March or September, but there were no qualifiers in 2016.
How to get a Peters & Peters training contract
Applications and assessments
Peters & Peters has a rolling application process, so there are no deadlines. As head of HR Sue Bachorski 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,” Bachorski tells us. “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.
Bachorski 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,” Bachorski reveals. 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 Bachorski 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 Bachorski asks 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 Bachorski, 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,” Bachorski 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. Bachorski 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. Interested candidates should email Sue Bachorski at [email protected]
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Interview with training partner Jason Woodland
Student Guide: Are there any highlights from the past year that you'd like to mention?
Jason Woodland: We've been doing lots of interesting work. A couple of highlights include acting for a major UK bank in relation to the LIBOR rate-fixing investigations, as well as acting for Peter Gray – the former Gibson Dunn partner – in relation to an attempted private prosecution against him.
SG: Do you have any advice for readers who are about to start their written application to Peters & Peters?
JW: With the written form we want to get a good feeling that the applicant really wants to come and work at Peters & Peters – not that they see us as just one of many firms to apply to. Our application form is deliberately quite open and gives applicants space to explain why they believe they are well-suited to a training contract with us. While that can of course include extra-curricular activities, I would expect the focus to be on persuading us that they will do well as a trainee here. The softer side – who they are and what motivates them – will come out during the interview.
SG: Do you still shortlist around 100 applicants to take the two competency tests?
JW: That sounds about right. The interesting test is the essay-based one, which is on a topical – but not legal – subject. We send these off to a barrister from Matrix who marks them anonymously. They gives us an insight into how well the applicant presents an argument and reasons things through.
SG: Why are these marked externally?
JW: Anonymity. The barrister from Matrix is not given the application form or any other information about the candidate. That way we get an independent assessment – outside the other tests and interviews we conduct – which has proven to be a useful way of narrowing down the pool of applicants.
SG: How do you test whether a candidate is interested in both the criminal and commercial sides of your work? Is it true that many candidates fall at this hurdle?
JW: Yes, some do. I think what we try and do in the interview is get behind a superficial 'yes I'm interested in both' and dig down to understand why. We do this by speaking to them about what they know about the firm on both sides; where their interests lie; and any recent topics or issues that have cropped up in both strands of the practice. We don't mind if people have a preference or more experience in one side than the other, but they have to appreciate that the work we do has a cross over – you can't silo yourself into business crime or civil fraud.
SG: How important is it for candidates to have previous work experience?
JW: The work we do is unique so we wouldn't expect people to have direct experience of it. Previous work experience can help candidates to demonstrate that they have that 'x factor' and can stand on their own two feet. To that extent, it doesn't matter what field it's in, as long as the candidate can show some initiative.
SG: Trainees spoke about the importance of being confident but not veering into cocky territory. How can candidates tread that fine line during the interview?
JW: One of the telling things is how people express their involvement in what they've done before. If someone has done vacation schemes, for instance, and says how heavily involved they were in a particular case, we will test them on that in the interview. If it turns out they didn't do what they said they did, that's a marker to us that they have strayed too far. But we do like people who are confident because of the work we do and the work that we ask trainees to do – it's often the equivalent of what junior associates at other firms do. Our trainees won't be stuck in front of a photocopier, so they need resilience and confidence. Candidates should also recognise that confidence can be about knowing when to ask for help – it isn't always about knowing the right answer.
SG: What do you like most about Peters & Peters?
JW: I like the balance between doing fantastic, cutting edge work and working at a small firm where everyone knows each other very well and the cases we're involved in. There's a great team approach to working on cases. It makes for a good atmosphere and a great place to come and work.
SG: Trainees talked about a 'no-blame' culture. Is this something Peters & Peters fosters?
JW: Absolutely. We work as a team, so it's important that the work gets done and done properly, but we take responsibility as a firm. We don't pick on people if there are issues – we sort them out as a firm.
SG: What should students know about how the firm's doing and where it's going?
JW: It's doing very well. We're not looking to expand massively: our focus is on doing the things we do and doing them very well, plus looking at ways we can help clients with developing areas of law. There are shifts in the work we do and a substantial part of our work is now international, but there are unlikely to be dramatic changes in our core areas.
SG: How is the state of the global economy affecting your business and that of your clients?
JW: Economic uncertainty can be good for litigators: there are a lot more disputes, so we haven't really been affected in a negative way. Obviously it's a very challenging market and a lot of firms have tried to move into the space we occupy, so we have to push ourselves to stay at the top of the tree. We act for a large range of clients – from governments to multi-nationals to high net worth individuals – so the global economy will affect them in different ways.
Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP
15 Fetter Lane,
- Partners (and equivalent) 12
- Associates 19
- Total trainees 4
- Contact Julie Beckwith, 020 7822 7721, [email protected]
- Method of application Application form from the careers section of the Peters & Peters’ website and send it to Julie Beckwith (see contact details above). Peters & Peters is an equal opportunities employer. If you apply for this job, please also complete the equal opportunities monitoring form.
- Selection procedure
- First stage: two-hour written testing session (admin test and topical essay).
- Second stage: interview with Jason Woodland, training principal/partner and Sue Bachorski, head of HR.
- Third stage: interview with two partners.
- Closing date for 2017 Ongoing
- Training contracts pa 2-4
- Applications pa c. 200
- % interviewed pa First stage (testing) 30%, interviewed 5%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2016)
- First year: £37,000
- Second year: £39,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree Varies year on year
- Post-qualification salary (2016) £52,000
Main areas of work