A mix of commercial, charity and personal law work is on offer at South West London-based Russell-Cooke.
The Russell brand
For many, picking a law firm means a compromise: you want a career in London but you’re not so thrilled about doing a 70-hour week; you want to use your education for the greater good but still want to earn well; you’re enticed by commercial work, but you’re hardly going to read the FT to relax. Well who'd ‘a’ thunk it? Russell-Cooke could be your answer.
Headquartered in the leafy, chichi South West London suburb of Putney, this is “a relatively big firm with a good amount of commercial stuff and a few legal aid departments plus charities work,” summarised a trainee. “So it offers a greater variety of work when you're training compared to places in the City, where your seats might all be in different fields of the same area of law.” Another added more bluntly: “It doesn't do capital markets and all that mumbo jumbo.”
“It doesn't do capital markets and all that mumbo jumbo.”
At the time of our calls 12 of the firm's 19 trainees were based in Putney, while two were in Kingston-on-Thames and five were in the firm's central London office among all the barristers on Bedford Row. Across its offices the firm covers traditional high-street practices like personal injury, crime, immigration, employment, social housing, clinical negligence, family and charities, alongside commercial areas like corporate, white-collar crime and real estate. The last of these was boosted by a 2015 merger with Alan Edwards & Co, which saw the firm gain an office in Kensington. Russell-Cooke is Chambers UK ranked for several of its core areas: claimant clin neg, crime, family, real estate, charities, children law and professional discipline. Many of these practices cater for individuals, but the firm also serves some well-known national businesses like Pret A Manger, Sports Direct and Matalan.
Trainees usually start their training contract in the real estate team, with subsequent seats being confirmed mid-way through each seat after a chat with training partner Alison Regan. Trainees can move between offices, and may find themselves allocated a seat in Putney, Kingston or central London. More senior trainees are given priority at allocation, so interviewees felt that if you haven't experienced a department you want to spend time in by the time your final seat rolls around you're pretty much guaranteed to get it.
The real estate team has 25 lawyers. Trainees told us that “Putney has a lot of retail work and acts for large tenants. Bedford Row is much more landlord focused and Kingston has a mix of work.” The firm recently helped Mid Sussex District Council purchase a shopping center in Haywards Heath for just over £23 million, acted for investment manager Clipstone as it bought a £15 million business park and helped a Luxembourg investor purchase four student housing blocks across the UK for £73 million. Trainees either handle their own smaller matters – “getting licences signed” – or help fee earners with “research and looking into clauses and leases.” While some sources did find tasks could get a bit samey, the variety of clients mixes things up – “you get some sophisticated clients who know all about the process and then you might get an elderly gentleman who needs everything explained in detail.”
Bedford rows and tiffs
The 30-lawyer family team covers both divorce/matrimonial and children matters. Clients include “people from the local area, from places outside London like Essex and Surrey and some wealthy individuals with cross-border issues. We also act for people who don't have much in the pot.” In the Bedford Row office especially, where “the high-net work is focused,” rookies usually assist on matters rather than having their own caseload. “Trainees do a lot of financial disclosure work,” one source told us. That means working out how much money each party has and “gathering all the information and forms that have to be exchanged in court – for instance to satisfy anti money-laundering regulations and confirm identities – for the divorce itself to take place. That includes liaising with clients about things that are missing – which can be massive things like pension sharing.”
“…issues that are quite personal and have a real tangible effect on people's lives.”
In addition, the team handles both public and private children law matters. Lawyers handle a lot of cross-border child abduction, adoption and wardship cases, across Europe, the world and between the different UK jurisdictions. A trainee commented: “This area offers a good mix of academic legal concepts to consider along with issues that are quite personal and have a real tangible effect on people's lives.”
Housing and property litigation is split between private and legal-aid work. On the publically-funded side, sources found the department an “intense place to work – the clients are people at risk of eviction or who have serious disrepair to their house. They may have mental health problems or have suffered in unimaginable ways in the past. Ultimately, I found that really motivating because it makes the work feel really valuable. You do feel you are doing something good because your client may be homeless – so it's a very rewarding seat but a really difficult one.” More than in the other departments, sources here found themselves consistently running their own cases. “You are the first point of contact and have the initial fact-gathering meeting with the client,” a trainee said. “You then go back to your supervisor and discuss how to handle the case.”
Shake your money Quaker
The 11-lawyer charities team is split into three sub-teams: governance, property and employment. Clients include the biggies of the charity sector like UNICEF, the British Heart Foundation and World Vision, as well as the Magistrates' Association and the Youth Hostel Association. Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan recently sought help from the team to deliver a clinical trial for stem cell transplants. The firm also advised the Thomas Pocklington Trust on changes to its leadership and an internal reorganisation plus helped the London Quakers Property Trust register as a charity. Trainees tend to work with smaller charities doing “quite a lot of discrete legal research tasks. You might also get involved in drafting constitutions or be advising on leases and licenses.” One particular draw was the way in which charity law intersects with other areas – for instance, “when you are advising a charity on a property issue you have to comply with property law, but you additionally have charity law requirements to deal with.”
“Trainees have to go to court a fair bit.”
There are around ten lawyers in the personal injury and clin-neg team – lawyers do a mix of both types of work. On the clin-neg side the work might cover “people who've had a delayed diagnosis which gave them longer-lasting injuries or cases where inappropriate or incorrect procedures have been performed.” Personal injury work covers “your classic slips and trips, employer liability, plus road traffic accidents.” Trainees work on matters for fee earners, but may also have their own caseload. A source commented: “If I'm dealing with a clin neg case it wouldn't be someone who has a catastrophic injury, but just someone who's come to us via a Google search for 'no win no fee lawyers near me'.” Trainees “draft letters of instruction to medical experts and prepare witness statements” – they may even get to take their own witness statements. The work can be medically tinged: “I worked out what losses the client had suffered as a result of their injury, researched the pain suffered and the damages caused.” Trainees enjoyed the litigious aspect of the work: “I spent a few days attending a High Court trial – me and another trainee helped prepare the bundle and assisted with the first draft of instructions to counsel.” Another source added: “The whole department takes on court runs and trainees have to go to court a fair bit. Sometimes you have to go before a Master to get them to seal a consent order. That's not advocacy though – you just go along, say 'sign this' and job done.”
Trainees said of Russell-Cooke that “everyone is very chatty and outgoing” and that there's a “family-friendly” atmosphere. They noted that the culture varies a bit by office and department. “Central London is a bit more relaxed and has dress-down Fridays,” we heard, “while Putney's more old school so everyone's always suited.” Some sources felt that teams like crime and commercial litigation didn't communicate too much internally, whereas “everyone in family across the different offices from secretaries to partners is aware of what everyone else is doing. Real estate and property litigation are similar.”
Trainees were happy with supervision, and reported that it helped them build up their skills. “When I started I was not confident at all and I was pretty nervous to send out any emails,” one source confided, “but I was well supported and am allowed to use the secretaries to crack on with the legal work.” Another trainee told us: “My supervisor is a senior associate, but I work for all members of the team.” What if you need help from someone more senior? “I have never had a problem when approaching anybody at the firm – if someone is busy they'll just say 'Can you come back in five or ten minutes or an hour?'” Another source added: “There will be times when the partner's door is closed, but even when a door is closed everyone is willing to hear you out.”
Like most happy young colleagues, “people go out to the pub together, which fosters a nice camaraderie.” The firm also has a running club and a book club “which are great ways to meet people,” a trainee said. “On that front I think trainees are spoilt a bit!” Each department also gets its own budget for a Christmas do and there's a firm-wide one in February, which in 2017 was held in the Hoxton Hotel. There's also a summer party which has recently been held on a boat in the Thames and at Fulham Palace. For sporty types there are football and cricket teams – if there's a game on, players can leave work an hour early. Trainees try to inject fun into otherwise humdrum events: “There's a seat presentation evening at which current trainees give a presentation to the incoming trainees, but it's quite lighthearted and jokey – almost like a mini comedy show.”
Sources said the firm attracts those who want “a bit more balance in their working life.” One commented: “In comparison to City firms I might as well be working in a different industry – it's a completely different culture.” One big difference is the hours: trainees usually work from 9.15am or 9.30am to 5.30pm or 6pm. “If something unexpected comes up you do stay until it's done,” one source commented, but “my latest leaving time as a trainee has been 7ish, so it's not overly horrendous.” This is a good firm to pick if you want to avoid excessive evening work: the latest we heard of any trainee staying was 8pm, but that was “very rare” said one and “only once” in the case of another.
The qualification process is fairly informal with trainees simply having to express an interest in a particular department, preferably early on, and each department deciding around April if they will offer NQ positions. Most of our sources were fairly happy with the process as is, although they did note they were aware others at the firm were less keen. One commented: “While it's not crystal clear, you will know by the end of your third seat which seats you want to qualify into. If there was a centralised application process it would be an absolute pain.” In 2017 all five qualifiers were kept on.
Putney, where Russell-Cooke is based, is famous for the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. The firm's trainees can participate in the annual Kingston Dragon Boat Race for charity.
How to get a Russell-Cooke training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 9 March 2018
Training contract deadlines (2020): 30 June 2018
Russell-Cooke is running a vac scheme for the first time in 2018. Currently, it's separate from the training contract application process, though training partner Alison Regan says the two may be rolled into one process in the future. Vac scheme hopefuls start by applying online. Those who pass the first application sift are invited to do a Skype interview with a senior associate. You're then offered a place on the scheme or not.
As the firm runs two, week-long schemes with six places each there's a total of 12 spots up for grabs. Vac schemers are overseen by a senior associate and can expect to move around two to three different departments. The week ends with an interview with Regan and Jonathon Thornton, the firm's managing partner. Interviewees who wow are fast-tracked past the initial application phase of the training contract process. Those who really amaze may even be offered a training contract on the spot.
Training contract applications
Like the vac scheme application, the training contract process starts with candidates making an online application. However gone is the Skype interview in favour an in-person one-on-one partner interview. Regan tells us 48 candidates will be interviewed in 2018 and interviews are conducted by eight different partners who then shortlist people for a second interview. That second interview is essentially an assessment centre. It consists of a letter-writing exercise based around a case study on a fictitious firm, followed by a round-table discussion. “Everyone is encouraged to give their views and we guide the discussion around issues in the study,” says Regan. It is not all hard graft though, as applicants also get to meet current trainees over lunch for what the firm describes as 'a warts-and-all view'.The final hurdle is an interview with Regan, Thornton and a private client partner, though Regan assures us that “it really is just a 20-minute chat – it's not intended to be terribly probing or challenging.” Of potentially 12 to 24 final interviwees Russell-Cooke offers training contracts to eight or ten individuals a year.
To match its mix of practices Russell-Cooke seems to look look for candidates from a mix of backgrounds, some of which break the traditional mold. Looking at our trainee interviewees this certainly rings true with a range of prior careers and varied pasts represented, including a few who didn't attend Russell Group universities. That being said the firm is not averse to candidates who've taken the traditional route. Alison Regan says applicants will stand out “if they are interesting, easy to communicate with and will give something a go even if they feel out of their depth.”
8 Bedford Row,
2 Putney Hill,
Bishop's Palace House,
- Partners 60
- Associates 104
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices Putney, Bedford Row, Kingston
- Graduate recruiter: Tess Morley
- Training partner: Alison Regan
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 9-10
- Applications pa: Approx 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB (excluding general studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Open
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 9 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 9 March 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,500
- Second-year salary: £37,500
- Post-qualification salary: Dependent on department
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: Capped sponsorship up to £10,000 plus offer of interest-free loan up to £5,000 repayable out of salary
- GDL fees: Maintenance grant
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Putney, Kingston, Bedford Row
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Dependent on department
Main areas of work
You will need to thrive on responsibility and challenges and be able to exercise your own judgement; to have a positive, social nature; to be good at the practical business of advising and representing clients; to be able to work effectively with colleagues and others that you meet in the course of your work; to have high professional standards; and to have an open mind about the areas of law in which you wish to gain experience.
Your training will have a lasting influence over your legal career, so you need to think carefully about what kind of firm and what kind of work will suit you best. There are substantial advantages in working for a firm like ours which can give you the chance to gain practical experience of widely differing types of legal practice. This is particularly important if you have not yet decided which field of law you want to specialise in. There are very few law firms where, for instance, you can spend six months involved in a real estate transaction in the City, followed by six months of practising children law. Moreover good general training will make you a more rounded lawyer which will increase your range of opportunities on qualification.
You’ll work with a senior associate in the team, who’ll give you support when you need it, and autonomy when you don’t. You will also have other trainees and lawyers on hand to answer any tricky questions and give you feedback at the end of the week.
At the end of the week there will be a form of assessment and interview with the chance of being fast-tracked through the trainee recruitment scheme or even the offer of a training contract then and there. You do not need to have completed a vacation scheme to be eligible for a training contract.
There are 12 placements available across our London offices for two week-long schemes. You will be paid £500 per week.
Spring vacation scheme 1: 9-13 April 2018
Spring vacation scheme 2: 16-20 April 2018
- 22 days holiday
- Employee discount card
- Recruitment referral fee
- Season ticket loan
- Cycle scheme
- Computer loan
- Legal services
- Maternity/paternity pay
- Childcare vouchers
- Life assurance on completion of three months’ probation
- Access to the employee assistance programme on completion of three months’ probation
- Access to clubs and social events