Technology and investment work are the focuses of this cutting-edge, Cambridge-based firm.
Every tech whiz kid with an algorithm and an entrepreneurial dream knows you can't go from start-up to software sensation without a solicitor's help. Seed funding, patent registration, IP squabbles – lawyers are always needed. One place where this is more than apparent is in East Anglia's very own answer to Silicon Valley – Silicon Fen. You might think it's just a million-acre area of flat marshland, but the 20-mile radius area around Cambridge is brimming with innovative software, biotech and electronics companies like Microsoft, Apple, Toshiba and Pfizer.
In the late 1980s, just as the 'Cambridge cluster' began to expand rapidly, Taylor Vinters formed via a merger. Ever since, its solicitors have been helping out in the high-tech hub, and nowadays the firm counts Merz Pharma, Wisdom Toothbrushes and Cambridge University among its clients. Beyond the fens, Taylor Vinters has offices in London and Singapore, the latter enabling it to assist companies looking to move into the Asia market.
Change has been afoot at TV of late. In 2015, the firm sold off part of its real estate team to Howes Percival in order to increase its focus on technology, entrepreneurial wealth (ie private client) and investment work. The private real estate (ie rural property) and commercial real estate teams remain. Managing partner Ed Turner tells us that the firm has “a clear strategy to shift the business up the value chain by focusing on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurialism. That doesn't fit with doing purely regional real estate work, so we took the decision to step away from that part of the market. Our strategy is as much about what we don't do as what we do.”
DNA, drones and drafting
Taylor Vinters recently switched to a four-seat system from a six-seat one. The firm recruits all its trainees into its 90-lawyer Cambridge office, though spending one of your seats in the 30-lawyer London shop is a possibility. The seat you can do in London varies; at the time of our research someone was doing a real estate seat. All the other options are in Cambridge, of which commercial technology is the most popular. New recruits meet with HR to discuss their first seat choice before joining, and then have a meeting before each subsequent rotation on where they want to go next; second-years have priority when it comes to allocation. “I think seat allocation is really good – and quite transparent,” said one source. Previously, trainees just met with HR to discuss each seat move after receiving a list of all the options – now they also meet with their mentor, “a lawyer at the firm who acts as a career coach,” throughout training.
The commercial technology department's work covers life sciences, charities, education, start-ups, brands, investment and IP. The team recently helped Stephen Hawking register his name as a trade mark in the UK and Europe, and other clients include Swisscom, Cambridge Communication Systems and bomb disposal experts Optima Defence. The work trainees do varies quite a bit. One had “worked on investment agreements, dealing with board minutes and disclosure letters” while another had “registered and reviewed trade marks, drafted website terms and conditions, and done research into data protection.” One trainee told us their own work had ranged from “drafting fairly standard non-disclosure agreements” to “interesting ad hoc research, for instance on whether certain vitamins allow vegetables to grow better.” You might also find yourself “doing research into drone usage” as the firm recently advised CNN on its use of drones for newsgathering purposes.
“We act for a lot of high net worth individuals."
The corporate department is also strong in the tech and life sciences sectors as well as being big on solar and renewable energy and “working for venture capital groups.” Clients include Cambridge farmers' group G's Fresh, UCL medical devices spin-out Endomagnetics and diagnostics company Atlas Genetics. Lawyers also advised Cambridge DNA technology firm Cytocell on its sale to Oxford Gene Technology. Trainees reported getting “quite a lot of client contact,” with tasks including “drafting advices, articles, contracts, share purchase agreements, investment agreements, Companies House forms...” and so on. Sources noted that “people in the team are great at sitting you down and taking the time to explain things.”
Trainees doing a property seat work either in commercial property – now called 'real estate' by the firm – or private real estate, a seat focused on agriculture. Property litigation no longer exists as a seat. Real estate clients “range from tech companies to charities to university bodies.” A source told us: “I mainly did landlord and tenant work, drafting leases and licences to underlet and alter, as well as replying to enquiries. I also worked on a deal for one of the biggest tech companies in Cambridge.” Recent ongoings have seen the team act for Homerton College on the £20 million development of the Homerton Business Park into a commercial and residential estate with student accommodation, teaching facilities, a cookery school, social housing and high-value homes.
The private client department is split into three groups: rural services (ie private real estate), family, and tax, trusts and estates. Each is offered as an individual seat. “We act for a lot of high net worth individuals, both farming and business clients,” a trainee told us. “We deal with wills, lasting powers of attorneys and grants of probate. As a trainee you attend the major client meetings, draft documents for wills, respond to queries and run files.” The rural services sub-team handles sales of farms and estates, plus wind and solar projects. Trainees also “deal with clients who own unregistered land applying for their first registration.” Plenty of land is getting registered by the firm, it seems, because apparently "if you drive from here up to Newmarket all the land on your left and right belongs to our clients.”
“Focus on innovative clients and technology.”
“There haven't been any really awful days in terms of hours,” sources told us. “Sometimes you have to stay later, but everybody at the firm is big on work/life balance.” Hours in the corporate department are often longer than elsewhere, but on average Cambridge trainees tend to arrive in the office around 8.30am and leave between 6pm and 7pm. The latest we heard of anyone staying was 9.30pm to 10pm.
Sources characterised Taylor Vinters as a “forward-looking” kind of place, in keeping with the firm's “focus on innovative clients and technology.” One noted that “management is always looking to do things differently here. For example, there was recently a shake-up of the CSR policy. Instead of having a named charity for the firm, we're now encouraged to pitch our own ideas about a charity that we'd like the firm to get behind to an internal board – like a mini Dragons' Den.” On the social side of things, there's a committee that organises “lots of social events – the other day we got sponsored tickets to the Cambridge Beer Festival, and we do punting trips, curry nights and barbecues.” Trainees had also been “scared by actors in costumes” on a recent team outing to the 'Scaresville' haunted village in Suffolk. Over in London, “there's more spontaneous socialising. The Cambridge social calendar is more organised because the office is outside the city centre, whereas in London it's easier to randomly go for a drink on a Thursday.” The London base is situated in Tower 42, the third-tallest skyscraper in the City (“clients love it!”) while the HQ is located on a science park, two and a half miles from Cambridge city centre just off the A14 – “it's got good parking, which is a major perk!”
Interviewees had some words of advice for prospective trainees: “You need to want to work in Cambridge, with Cambridge clients. If you're set on international work and jetting off overseas, then this isn't the best place for you.” In 2016, only three out of seven qualifiers stayed on at the firm. This was “purely because of budgets” – we heard that there weren't any jobs available in private client or family. Looking on the bright side, a second-year told us: “The firm's very supportive about letting you take time off for interviews and they've certainly trained me up well.”
Taylor Vinters' very own band, Dirty Rumours, features managing partner Ed Turner on drums. As we did our research some of the trainees were gearing up to share the stage with him at Law Rocks, the UK legal scene's annual battle of the bands.
How to get a Taylor Vinters training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 January 2017 (via vac scheme only)
The big news from Taylor Vinters is that it no longer accepts direct training contract applications. To bag a training contract, every candidate has to apply for and undertake the vac scheme first. The firm receives more than 200 applications a year.
The application form “covers things like what grades you got and what legal and non-legal work experience you've done, but also includes questions designed to get an insight into your personality and why you're applying to us,” HR manager Alix Balfe-Skinner explains. “Write clearly and concisely, and don't just regurgitate our website because we hear it all repeatedly.” Typically, candidates need a minimum of a 2:1 and ABB at A level, though “there's no hard and fast rule and everyone will be considered. We particularly like to hear from people who have outside interests beyond law.” That said, the firm is “looking for people to have both legal and non-legal work experience, so they have real-world experience but also have gone out and learned exactly what they want to do.”
Around 80 applicants are invited to complete a Watson Glaser critical reasoning test online. After that, about 40 are shortlisted for a 30 to 45-minute interview with Alix Balfe- Skinner and two partners or senior associates. There are 20 vac scheme places up for grabs.
Vac scheme and interviews
Vac schemes were a new venture for Taylor Vinters in 2015 and involve either two weeks in Cambridge or one week in London and one week in Cambridge. “Vac schemers spend a week each in two departments, and in both they're given the opportunity to get involved in client meetings, complete some research and do some drafting,” Balfe-Skinner reveals. "There are also practice area talks, so participants get the chance to understand the business and a mediation project.” Vac schemers also have the chance to participate in a 30-minute Q&A with someone on the management board, usually the managing partner or CEO. There are a couple of social activities too. “One night we had pizza in the office, and then another night we went for drinks after work.”
After the vac scheme, candidates progress onto the final stage of the application process – a second interview, again with Alix Balfe-Skinner and two partners or senior associates. Then, offers are made.
Working in Cambridge
- Partners 22
- Associates 53
- Trainees 8
- Contact Alix Balfe-Skinner, HR manager, 0122322 5148
- Method of application Apply online via our website
- Selection procedure Interview, vacation scheme, presentation
- Closing date for 2019 31 January 2017
- Required degree grade 2:1 and ABB
- Training salary
- First year: £26,000
- Second year: £28,000
- Post-qualification salary (2016)
- £39,500 (Cambridge)
- £59,000 (London)
- % trainees offered job on qualification 85%
- Other offices London, Singapore
We understand that our clients are not only looking for a focus on their legal issues but also strong commercial acumen from their legal partner. We help our clients manage risk, make informed decisions and leverage networks to achieve their personal and business goals by bringing together cross-disciplinary teams to address complex and multi-faceted issues and offer intelligent, joinedup solutions.
We’re excited by our clients, how their organisations and lives progress and how we can use our experience, networks and technical expertise to support them. Operating through our European hubs in London and Cambridge and our Asia hub in Singapore, Taylor Vinters is a leading international law firm supporting innovative businesses and entrepreneurially minded people to make great things happen.
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