Based in Cambridge's answer to Silicon Valley, Taylor Vinters is looking to the future with its focus on tech, entrepreneurs and investment.
A place beyond the fens
So: you've just invented an app that will make Mark Zuckerberg quake in his boots and render Snapchat a merely spectral player in the social media ether. You can taste the life of fame, fortune and David Fincher-directed biopics ahead. But wait. You haven't got a clue about structuring a company, or how to go about getting investor buy-in, or how to draft the terms and conditions for your wonder-app. Nae matter, dear innovator: Taylor Vinters has got this. Ever since Cambridge emerged as a significant tech hub, TV's been tailoring its legal services to appeal to this local cohort of software, biotech and electronics companies.
“Focused on innovation and entrepreneurs.”
It's been a few years since the firm ditched its personal injury team and trimmed down its real estate offering in order to streamline its focus on technology and the money and innovations surrounding it. You'll therefore find TV ranked highly in Chambers UK for its tech-related investment work, as well as for its robust IP and IT expertise.
“We've spent some time becoming the business we wanted to be, and now we're in a position to grow that business,” managing partner Ed Turner tells us. He predicts that “in two years' time we will be about 50% bigger, but very much like we are now – focused on innovation and entrepreneurs.” TV's current scope consists of its Cambridge HQ, a growing London base that will soon rival Cambridge in size, and a Singapore presence, formed via a merger with a local boutique called, well, Via Law.
Our trainee interviewees were impressed by TV's “clear strategy, that's focused on key areas” like corporate, private wealth, commercial technology and brands, as well as by “the range of clients that can be encountered in the tech sector.” What's more, “there's the small trainee intake that you won't get lost in,” plus the perks of working in “a regional firm with a London presence and international pull.”
On your best behavox
All of TV's trainees are recruited to its Cambridge office but they can do seats in London during the two years depending on business demand. When it comes to seats, “nothing is compulsory” and stints in commercial technology and employment are highly sought after. Three weeks before each rotation trainees “have a short chat with HR to say what you'd like to do and why.” Second-years “tend to get priority,” but sources agreed that “everything is done fairly and works out reasonably well for most people.”
“A bit wacky, but really interesting.”
The commercial technology department covers an array of IP/IT work, which can include advising pharma companies on licensing deals; helping software houses with copyright matters; steering robotics manufacturers through regulatory issues; and assisting FinTech companies as they supply their services to established financial institutions. The team has been busy of late managing the international trade mark portfolios for outdoor adventure brand Go Ape! and negotiating a licensing agreement with global payments company TSYS, which will see TV's client equip the company with the latest fraud-detection technology. Trainees reported hefty amounts of drafting on “any kind of commercial contract,” whether that be a non-disclosure agreement or the terms and conditions for a website. There's also a lot of “niche research” to get involved in, making the seat “a bit wacky, but really interesting.”
The growth team recently split off from the commercial technology department to form its own specialised group. The team works specifically with start-ups and high-growth companies, and deals with “everything from commercial agreements, through to investment rounds and, hopefully, one day, their IPOs.” Trainees enjoyed the “very client-facing” nature of the work here: “We get involved early on and integrate ourselves within the business. A lot of these companies consist of just three or four people – brilliant scientists or inventors, but no clue about how to run a company. We're almost like their external-in-house counsel and strategic advisers.” Tasks range from reviewing commercial agreements and board minutes, to drafting ancillary documents, cookie policies and shareholder agreements. Both venture capital and private equity houses call upon the group's services, such as Hoxton Ventures, which recently co-invested (alongside a US fund) in Behavox, a provider of Orwellian-sounding employee surveillance software to apprehend rogue traders in the financial sector.
A combination of M&A and investment work awaits trainees in TV's corporate department. “You do feel a little out of your depth at times,” a few interviewees admitted, “but that's the nature of the work more than anything else, not because the supervision isn't good enough.” Some sources were able to run their own matters: “It was the acquisition of a million-pound company. I did the sale and purchase agreement and led the deal through to completion. I did it all under the supervision of a partner, but it was a really amazing achievement when it completed.” The team recently acted for pharmaceutical company Bionical in its acquisition of Emas Pharma and its Australian subsidiary.
There are two strands of work for commercial property trainees: supporting the corporate team on transactions and assisting with standalone lease work on behalf of landlords and occupiers. The former involves “a lot of typical trainee stuff, like chasing documents, printing and filing,” while the latter is “more hands-on: I got to draft leases under supervision, and once you know how the process works you get your own matters to run, which gives you client exposure and independence.” Energy and life sciences are big sectors for the department, which recently advised nearby Babraham Research Campus as it let space to life sciences and biotech companies; lawyers here also teamed up with their corporate buds to assist Elgin Energy as the solar developer leased and sold sites across East Anglia, the Midlands, Cornwall and Wales.
You'll find TV's flagship office on the outskirts of Cambridge, close to the high-tech haven that is the Cambridge Science Park. Rather surprisingly, trainees flagged the firm's IT systems as an area for improvement: “We don't have two screens and it can take 20 minutes to open Outlook, which is infuriating!” One area where trainees didn't mind not being so snappily connected is at home: “We don't have work phones, and there's a big focus on work/life balance.” A typical working day runs from 8.30am to 6pm, “but late nights do exist, especially in the corporate and growth teams.” Sources rarely worked past 9pm though, and staying until after midnight was deemed a once-in-a-training-contract event.
TV may be on the outskirts, but don't presume that it's a quiet backwater kind of place. “We're a really social firm: the social committee organises four events every year, which have seen us go punting and enjoy a barbecue in the summer; have a nice meal and watch a film; and sample the Cambridge Beer Festival.” More informal mingling comes courtesy of regular 'Hub to Pub' nights, where “the trainees and NQs meet in the office's social area, have a few drinks and then get a taxi into town.” The firm actively seeks chattier folk, we hear: “They like people who have a sense of humour and get on well with others. They also tend to go for quirkier types and like to ask 'different' questions during the interview: they asked me what my favourite cheese was – luckily I'd worked behind a deli counter and love cheese.”
Does TV's focus on innovation trickle down into the culture? “They like to hear people's ideas,” our sources replied. “Last Christmas they organised a 'Pitch Up' event where they split us up into teams and told us to come up with an idea to present to a panel including our managing partner and the CEO. It could be a social initiative or cycle-to-work proposal – something that would improve the way things are done.” In the end, a Fitbit initiative was born, and the firm agreed to cough up £50 to help employees fulfil their cardio aspirations. On a broader level, interviewees noted TV's plan to “do things differently” as a law firm/investor: it's already partnered up with two legal tech start-ups that use AI to analyse legal documents and a cloud-based tool to boost collaboration.
In 2017, five of seven qualifiers stayed on at the firm.
How to get into Taylor Vinters
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018
Training contract deadline (2019 and 2020): 31 January 2018 (via vac scheme only)
For the second year running, the firm is recruiting only through its vac scheme. So to bag a training contract, candidates should apply for and undertake the vac scheme first. The firm receives more than 300 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 and for those looking at law as a second career.” 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.”
The firm are currently reviewing its selection process, but it expects the new process will involve an online assessment of some kind and an assessment day for the shortlisted applicants. Previously, around 80 applicants completed a Watson Glaser critical reasoning test online, before 40 shortlisted candidates were interviewed by Alix Balfe-Skinner and a partner or senior associate.
Vac scheme and interviews
Vac schemes were a new venture for the firm in 2015 and there are around 16 places up for grabs in total. Those who participate spend one week in Cambridge and one in London. “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 tells us. "There are also practice area talks, so participants get the chance to understand the business and a small project to be involved in.” 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; then, training contract offers are made.
Working in Cambridge
Artificial intelligence and the future of the law firm
- Partners 26
- Associates 80
- Trainees 12
- UK offices London, Cambridge
- Overseas offices Singapore
- Alix Balfe-Skinner, HR manager, [email protected], 012 2322 5148
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Please visit our website for information on deadlines.
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,000
- Second-year salary: £28,000
- Post-qualification salary: £40,000 Cambridge and £60,000 London
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Cambridge
With 26 partners and 80 lawyers across our offices in London, Cambridge and Singapore we help entrepreneurially minded clients make great things happen, whatever their size and sector.
Main areas of work
During your two year programme, you’ll complete four seats of six months each in different legal disciplines, across our Cambridge and London offices, to help you decide which aspects of the law interest you most. During your training contract, you’ll also complete your Professional Skills Course (PSC), which we’ll pay for.
Our applications will open in the Autumn with up to 20 places offered each year. We hire the majority of our trainees from our vacation scheme and to qualify, you must to be an undergraduate or postgraduate student who can start a training contract with us within two years.
University law careers fairs 2018
• University of Warwick: Tuesday 24 October
• University of Exeter: Wednesday 15 November
• BPP Cambridge: Wednesday 18 October
• BPP London: Thursday 16 November
• UEA: Wednesday 8 November
• UCL: Tuesday 14 November
• University of Durham: Tuesday 21 November