This Londoner is anchored by a sturdy shipping practice but harbours growing commercial ambitions.
“Traditionally, when you think of Thomas Cooper you think shipping,” trainees declared, in a statement that has rung true since the firm's founding in 1825. Our latest crop of TC interviewees still classify Cooper as a “boutique shipping firm,” but were keen to let us know that there's more beneath deck: “Recently, a real effort has been made to diversify our practices. When I applied, for example, we didn't even have a corporate department but that ended up being my first seat. We also have growing employment, finance and litigation teams.” The reason behind this expansion? With the shipping market still suffering from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, growth in related legal services has been sluggish; throw in the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and it makes sense that TC is looking to bulk up its offering.
“A real effort has been made to diversify our practices.”
While TC's core client base is still mostly formed of shipping and marine giants – like ship operator Maersk Line, cargo carriers COSCO Bulk and P&I provider American Club – you'll also come across names from other sectors like Brazilian mining outfit Vale, ex-Manchester United star Morgan Schneiderlin and the Sugar Hut Group of TOWIE fame. On the energy side, TC's insurance team recently acted on an international arbitration case resulting from the loss of a wind generation construction project in Brazil. However, it would be remiss of us not to point out that the majority of a trainee's work will have a shipping bent, with two stints in TC's dedicated shipping department required. In other departments, the nautical theme continues, but exposure to other sectors, including technology, manufacturing and leisure is possible.
TC's trainees don't have to just sample shipping work in London: they can opt to complete a jaunt in the firm's Piraeus or Singapore offices. TC also has outposts in Paris, Madrid and São Paulo, but they're usually not available as secondment destinations. Those who had been abroad confirmed that the work's “primarily shipping-focused,” but added that the size of TC's international offices – typically under ten lawyers in each location – means that “the responsibility you get as a trainee is high.” The same applies back at base where – when you take into account those who've gone abroad – there's usually only four to five trainees present at any one time: “You normally sit one-on-one with a partner, which helps you to build a good, professional relationship.”
“We're not invited to state our preferences before seat rotations,” sources revealed, but that's because “we more or less do the same seats.” While “the absence of a dialogue” was viewed as “a slight negative,” trainees were on the whole quite happy with the set up. “We knew what we were signing up for, so it would be strange if we complained about doing two shipping seats,” said one. Another added: “Although you don't have control, they do consider your talents, so if you're good at contentious work, for example, they will take that into consideration, and fortunately you're normally good at what you enjoy doing.”
Row, row, row your... ship?
The first thing applicants should be aware of when it comes to shipping is that “clients get very upset if you refer to their ships as boats.” The second thing is that shipping law is divided between wet and dry shipping. The former covers everything that could possibly go wrong at sea, and according to TC's emergency response team, that's a lot: it aims to provide a “24-hour around the world service,” and it jumps into action whenever collisions, fires, explosions, groundings, pirate attacks, pollution issues, salvage problems, towage requirements and wreck removals occur. In light of that dry shipping is ostensibly less exciting, as it involves all of the land-based aspects of the industry, like contract disputes and financial arrangements.
Wet shipping cases are less frequent, but recent examples have seen TC advising Maersk as it filed pollution damage claims following an oil spill off of a vessel called 'Double Joy'; the team also acted for the charterers of a ferry, 'Corona Seaways,' as they pursued damages following a fire on board. Many of the department's dry shipping matters come through its P&I insurer client base. Insiders reported working on a fair number of disputes concerning the carriage of goods; one example required the team to assist the charterers and P&I insurers of a vessel, after the receivers of its cargo of soy beans filed claims for loss and damage. Cases like this provided trainees with opportunities to draft witness statements, instructions to counsel and opinions. Another source “did a fair bit of work on yachts, which ranged from assisting on sales and purchases to contributing to cases where a fire had occurred on board and liability was trying to be established.”
“Clients get very upset if you refer to their ships as boats.”
Sources pointed to thevariety of work on offer in the marine and commercial litigation seat. On the commercial side, TC focuses on energy, finance and insurance disputes. One insider told of working on a very mysterious-sounding “conspiracy claim, which involved just me, an NQ and a partner. I was mostly helping to prepare for trial and bundling, but I also got to attend many of the injunction hearings and had good access to the clients over the phone and via email.” Others had worked on shareholder disputes, but also pointed to the department's specialist marine personal injury team; insiders revealed that it's been kept busy due to a rise in accidents tied to the popularity of river cruising and the use of super yachts.
In corporate trainees can also undertake work outside of the shipping sphere.Matters can relate to the automotive, electronics and commodities industries (among others), and cover everything from joint ventures to management buy-outs to trademark protection. “There was also a restructuring side,” added one deal-doer, “where I worked on a debt restructuring involving a Eurobond on what was formerly the Channel Islands Stock Exchange. It was just me and one partner, so I could listen and watch more closely!” Another source had been working “on the acquisition of a company; I've been able to do a first draft of the sales and purchase agreement.” The employment team also offers variety, “as we work for a mix of companies and high net worth individuals, on both contentious and non-contentious matters.” Alongside bundling and drafting settlement agreements,sources attended “meetings with the heads of HR at various companies to discuss hiring and firing.” One enthusiastic source flagged their work on a “High Court case against a football club, where I was able to do the first drafts of all the letters sent to the club.”
At the captain's table
With all of this working at close quarters with partners, sources felt that they got “a good learning-on-the-job sort of deal.” Trainees did admit that “getting any formal feedback can be slow,” but were grateful that “anything major you do, wrong or right, will always be picked up on; they are very supportive and understand that you're learning a new and complicated area of the law. They opt for a steady approach – no running before walking!”
“The working hours are very good and everyone will tell you that,” one source declared, and sure enough, all of our interviewees agreed. Most were working a 9.30am until 6pm day, with a 45-minute break for lunch. There are some exceptions: “I had one late night where I stayed until 10pm and a few weeks of staying until 7.30pm, but overall the work-life balance here is really very good.” Less praise was bestowed upon TC's Ibex House digs, which one trainee tentatively labelled as “functional – there's certainly no incredible atrium or flashy cafeteria.” Still, trainees enjoyed the firm's warm atmosphere, where “everyone knows everybody and you always know what's going on across the firm.” At the same time, TC doesn't have “a big social calander of events”; there are the usual Christmas/summer parties (2017's summer celebration was held – fittingly – on a boat on the Thames) as well as a football team and “the odd evening when someone leaves their card behind the bar.”
In 2017 the firm retained two of its four qualifiers.
How to get a Thomas Cooper training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017 (opens 31 January 2018)
Thomas Cooper receives around 100 applications a year for its four training contracts. The firm doesn't run a vacation scheme, but in previous years we've heard that a placement at a similar specialist firm – like Ince & Co, Watson Farley & Williams or HFW – can offer an adequate idea of what it's like to work at TC.
Trainee hopefuls apply with an online application form, which is screened by the senior partner Tim Kelleher. Personnel administrator and executive assistant Cheryl Robinson urges applicants to “check your application form for any spelling or grammar mistakes – then double-check it!”
A 2:1 degree is preferable. “We do not really take mitigating circumstances into consideration, because there are just so many people striving to get training contracts,” Robinson admits. That said, the firm doesn't favour any particular universities, so don't be put off if you haven't come from one of the top institutions.
Although work experience is part of the grading criteria for the initial application, this doesn't have to be law-related or span the industries Thomas Cooper is known for. “I think it's more about demonstrating curiosity in what we do than having a lot of experience or knowledge of it already,” speculated a current trainee. “You've also got to show you have an idea of the direction you want your career to head in.”
Interviews and assessments
Interviews and assessments typically take place in August with an associate or partner and the senior partner. The interview process involves one assessment and a competency-based question, which together take up one hour and 15 minutes. “They are designed to allow both law and non-law graduates demonstrate their knowledge and relevant skills,” says Cheryl Robinson of these assessments. The specifics are kept under wraps, but a current trainee told us “they're based around tasks lawyers can expect to face daily.”
Second-stage interviews take place in September, this time with two senior partners. Anywhere between six and 12 candidates might be invited back for this. “It's primarily a discussion-based interview centred on your skills, experience and why you have made an application to us in particular,” Robinson reveals. As one trainee recalled: “Some of the questions were intended to see how I'd cope if I was out of my depth. I think they wanted to get an idea of my personality.” From here, the firm makes its decision and training contract offers are made in the autumn.
Trends in the shipping market
Thomas Cooper LLP
- Partners 29
- Assistant solicitors 23
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Madrid, Paris, Piraeus, Sao Paulo, Singapore
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Cheryl Robinson, [email protected], +44 20 7481 8851
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 31 January 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2017
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Piraeus, Madrid, Singapore
- Client secondments: Yes
The firm clients operate globally and range from shipowners to charterers and traders, from banks and other financial institutions to underwriters and P&I clubs, from blue chip companies to small businesses and high net worth private individuals. Openness and trust underpins our relationship with clients. We always look to understand our clients’ businesses so we are better equipped to provide clear advice that meets their commercial needs and interests.
Our worldwide team give us stature in our selected industries. Our size makes us very focused and human in outlook. We are committed to our clients and value our staff highly. Our partners are recognised as experts in their fields, but we are always looking for new additions to add an extra dimension and growth. Our people are our most important asset and we value their contribution. This is true for every level of our business, from the most senior partner to the most recently recruited trainee.
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