The future’s looking fine for this growing national outfit, which just cashed in on another successful financial year.
Best out West
Bristolians didn't need the The Sunday Times to tell them that their home was the best city in Britain. And there are enough classy law firms in the city to make Bristol a destination worth checking out. One such firm is TLT, a young, rapidly growing mover and shaker in the city and beyond. The firm was founded in 2000 after a merger between Lawrence Tucketts and Trumps, and in the past decade and a half it's grown from a single-site operator to one with branches in London (added 2005) and Manchester (2013), Northern Ireland and Scotland (2012), plus an overseas outpost in Piraeus. Turnover has shot up sharply, rising 18% in 2013/14 and another 8% in 2014/15, topping out at £62.5 million, meaning the firm has achieved its previously stated goal of breaking into the UK top 50. There are no plans to slow down any time soon: in 2014 managing partner David Pester declared the firm would be reaching for an ambitious £80 million by 2017.
The trainees we spoke with were convinced TLT's youth gives it a bit of edge in the market: "There's no fixed set of rules in terms of strategy; you really get the sense management is willing to learn and embrace whatever changes are necessary to keep moving forward," said one. "They welcome ideas from individuals at all levels, which is great as a young lawyer. You get to grow with the firm." TLT is big in the financial services industry, which accounts for around 30% of its total earnings; it also frequently takes in work from the retail, leisure, housing and renewables sectors. Chambers UK top-ranks the firm in a smattering of areas, including banking litigation, employment, social housing and professional negligence. It also recognises TLT's corporate, litigation, private client and real estate efforts, among many others.
A cup of ambition
TLT has seven trainees in London and four in Manchester; seat choice for these trainees is a little more limited than it is for the 15-strong Bristol cohort, though more options are expected to open up in these branches in coming years. “We set ambitious targets and are growing quickly," a Londoner noted. "The firm will definitely keep bringing in fresh faces.” New joiners get to voice areas of interest before their training contract starts. “There’s little guarantee you’ll get what you want,” clarified one interviewee, “but in subsequent rotations you get to rank your top five choices, and your preferences are given more and more weight as you progress. You can pretty much hand-pick your last seat.”
The banking and restructuring team assists both lenders and borrowers in all sorts of financial transactions, from security arrangements to credit facilities to funding for acquisitions. The team's especially big in project finance, "specifically renewable energy funding for wind and solar farms." Lawyers in Bristol recently teamed up with their colleagues in Scotland to advise Ecotricity on a £500 million joint venture to construct several onshore wind farms. Among the more recognisable names on the books are WHSmith, Barclays, RBS and BGL Group (owners of comparethemarket.com). Trainees sitting in banking can expect to find themselves "drafting and negotiating agreements between banks, borrowers and third parties." Organisational skills are a must, as “there tend to be multiple parties and numerous documents involved, and you're usually the one tasked with managing the completion.”
The commercial contracts team services an “incredibly varied” group of clients across the retail, consumer goods, energy and financial service sectors – the group's client roster is perhaps the only place you'll ever see Fitness First, EDF Energy, Imperial Tobacco and the Met Police Authority included on the same list. Joint ventures, data protection, franchising, procurement, supply and distribution agreements, and IT contracts all crop up regularly here. “There's a lot to wrap your head around; it can take a while to settle in,” acknowledged a trainee. “But luckily we receive a lot of supervision and training.” Newbies begin their seat “sitting in on meetings and calls, writing first drafts of client letters, and making amendments for standard form contracts before eventually becoming the first port of call for clients negotiating contracts. It’s hard work, but the progression is excellent."
Sources across the firm told us commercial dispute resolution is “a great seat for picking up organisational and time management skills," and praised the "huge amount of client contact” available. In London the group focuses on “a high volume of small-scale cases,” like professional negligence claims. “You get to see all stages of the claim process and get lots of hands-on involvement,” trainees here reported happily. Besides prepping and drafting court documents, our interviewees had drawn up budgets, calculated post-trial costs, and “worked closely with partners on client correspondence, writing emails and letters to explain and set out their options for claims.” The London team has “quite a bit of crossover” with the significantly larger Bristol group, which primarily handles commercial, banking and financial services litigation, and recently represented WHSmith in a £3 million trading dispute against 20th Century Fox. The client list of the small but mighty Manchester team mixes "large corporate clients like E.ON with individuals like small business owners," a source there informed us. "On larger cases we draft witness statements and undertake research, while the smaller cases usually involve more court work, like drafting particulars of claim and attending hearings. I even tried out a bit of advocacy on interlocutory proceedings.”
The firm runs a separate banking and financial services litigation (BFSL) group that provides a “catch-all service for any litigation work that a bank may need doing.” This means regulatory investigations, restructurings, financial disputes and more for the likes of Lloyds, Barclays and Deutsche. "You’re given a lot of autonomy to run your own smaller cases, often for high-profile institutions,” trainees said. One reported “managing a debt recovery case worth a few hundred thousand pounds from start to finish. I really enjoyed it – it was very strategic. The work can be tricky, and you often have between six and ten matters on at a time. It's never boring.”
Many trainees spend a spell in-house with one of TLT's clients in the banking, leisure or retail sectors. Recent destinations include Barclays, Sainsbury's and the Met Police.
A typical day for interviewees across London, Bristol and Manchester sees them leave around 6.30pm. One Londoner called the work/life balance "incredible – I work significantly fewer hours than friends at other firms and still get great quality work.” Meanwhile, a Bristol source recalled how "the last time I was here past 7.30pm they kicked me out." Sources had similarly positive things to say about the trainee salary, especially in Bristol, where the pay packet is complemented by free tickets to Bristol Zoo. Across the firm there's a reward scheme, where “if you demonstrate certain 'behaviours' – like being driven, flexible or supportive – you can be nominated for an Exceed Award.” The commendation gives you credits to cash in for prizes like DVDs and books.
All of TLT’s offices are open plan, “which means you’re always within the proximity of a leader in their field as well as the rest of your team," trainees were excited to report. "It encourages everyone to work together and lets you learn through observation." That's not to say there isn't plenty of formal training too. All new starters begin with an introductory week in Bristol, and from there partake in a programme called Tto2, which sees them attend regular half-hour lunchtime lectures until they're 2PQEs. Trainees also attend workshops, seminars and role-plays intended to develop soft skills like negotiation and presentation, and benefit from monthly meetings with their supervisors.
The Bristol headquarters may not be in the prettiest of buildings (“it's basically a big concrete cheese grater”), but our interviewees still found pleasant things to say about their branch, pointing out that "it's located right in the heart of the city, and we're on the twelfth floor so we get great views and lots of sun.” They went on to tell us "the atmosphere is relaxed and there are no sharp personalities here,” with one describing their co-workers as “soft as Camembert.” Cheese analogies aside, "it's a nice place to work," they agreed, noting that "the hierarchy isn't very visible. Partners will make the tea as often as trainees, and there are even a few in the in-house band, TiLT." Apparently the band "plays a lot of rock and gets very into it. They even compete against other firm bands in Bristol. We're thinking about getting tour jackets made!"
It's been a big year for the Manchester office which, in early 2015, extended its occupation in the city's iconic Spinningfields building in response to "the mind-blowing speed of expansion" it's experienced since opening in 2013. "We now take up the entire seventh floor." The sleek digs are “decked out with smart TLT branding the whole way through” and “have pretty much everything you could ask for.” (Everything apart from a cafeteria that is, a complaint shared by trainees in the other branches.) Mancunian interviewees told us "the office is constantly hiring, even cherry-picking partners from top firms in the area like Addleshaws, DLA and Irwin Mitchell.” Here, the vibe is "a bit more buzzing than in the other branches, what with all the growth and change. There's a ton of spirit – the partners are especially full of energy."
London's also benefited from a bit of a reshuffle: "Certain teams now sit closer to one another to encourage more cross-pollination of ideas.” The office is particularly strong on financial services work and also houses the firm's UK shipping practice. Looking ahead, “London is going to push for silver circle and magic circle work," occupants said, telling us the office "regularly collaborates with other law firms, including magic circle firms, on advisory matters.”
“When I first joined the offices felt a bit segregated," said a Londoner, "but there's been a big push to link up the offices in the past year. They overhauled the telephone system and started pooling more resources across the offices, which means I've been working more with people in Bristol and Manchester. There's definitely more of a one-firm feel now." Still, cross-office social opportunities remain a little limited. “A firm-wide summer party would be a good idea.”
The firm continued its high retention streak of recent years in 2015, keeping on ten out of its 12 qualifiers.
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How to get a TLT training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2016
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016
Applications and assessments
TLT receives around 700 applications each year – this figure includes both vacation scheme and direct training contract applications. The firm typically has 15 training contracts on offer across its offices each year. A minimum 300 UCAS points and 2:1 degree form the baseline criteria on the academic front.
Around 200 candidates are selected for an online verbal reasoning test. For vac scheme hopefuls, acing this leads to a 20-minute video interview. “We recently switched from phone interviews and have found the change very successful,” says trainee recruitment officer Gemma Cowley. “It puts candidates at ease and allows them to present their best answer.” The video interview centres on applicants' interests, work experience, reasons for choosing law and why they want to work at TLT specifically. Those who impress are granted one of the 40 or so vac scheme places available.
As for direct training contract applicants, those who pass the verbal reasoning test move on to the assessment day, which entails an interview with an HR member and partner, a presentation, a group exercise, and a written task. The firm now uses so-called 'strength-based' interviews, which are designed to discover what a candidate actually enjoys doing rather than just what they can do (which is tested in more traditional competency-based interviewing).
The presentation centres on a commercial topic given in advance, while the group exercise sees each group posed a problem and asked to deliver a solution, with questions from assessors to follow. The written task, meanwhile, takes the form of a client letter, and tests “written communication skills and ability to draw relevant information from an original source,” Cowley says.
The Bristol, London and Manchester offices all run vacation schemes: Bristol offers four week-long schemes over Easter and the summer, with eight candidates on each, while London hosts six vac schemers for a week at the end of July. Manchester offers two week-long schemes over Easter and in the summer. Those on the vac scheme are paid £230 for the week.
Each vac schemer is assigned to a single department for their visit, though they do have the opportunity to network with junior lawyers from the other practice areas. During their placement participants go through the same interview and exercises as those who attend the assessment day, minus the presentation.
How to wow
Impressing here “is all about showing you've got potential,” according to Cowley. “There is, of course, commitment from us to train new joiners up, but first they need to show us that they have what it takes to succeed here. We want people who have a genuine interest in the commercial world, are ambitious, want to learn and push themselves further, and are able to build strong relationships, both internally and externally.”
TLT's recent growth
The past few years at TLT have been characterised by significant investment: 2012 saw the firm merge with Glasgow-based unit Anderson Fyfe to create TLT Scotland, as well as open a separate practice in Belfast. With perhaps a little too much fondness for initials, the firm titled this new venture TLT NI LLP. Then on top of that came the mid-2013 launch of a new Manchester base. From September 2014, the firm began taking trainees in both Manchester and Belfast.
The firm's investments in Belfast and Glasgow came as a direct response to demand from clients looking for a seamless delivery of legal advice across all three UK legal jurisdictions – England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. David Pester, who is enjoying his fifth successive term as TLT managing partner, told the press at the time: “Combining the strengths and resources of Anderson Fyfe and TLT, and establishing operations in Northern Ireland, will extend our national presence, strengthen our relationships with many of our strategic clients and help us win new business and grow market share.” AF specialised in recoveries for financial services businesses, so it's proven a perfect match for TLT, which receives more than 40% of its income from its work in the financial services sector. The 45 staff members at AF, including its eight partners, were retained after the merger was finalised, as were the offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tom McEntegart, AF's managing partner, became the operational managing partner for TLT Scotland.
Lawyers in the Manchester office initially focused on commercial contracts, IP and litigation work, but the team's expertise has since diversified following an influx of staff from Irwin Mitchell. In a firm press release announcing those arrivals, Pester said: “This is a clear marker in the sand about our UK-wide growth intentions. We want to get the right people and the right expertise into the business to deliver for our clients when and where they need us. Adding a team of 30 people, which includes six experienced Manchester-based partners, is a major step towards achieving that.” More recently, the Mancunian contingent received further reinforcement, sweeping up five new faces from Millbank Edge's corporate and commercial teams in September 2015. The office now takes on trainees of its own, and the number of training contracts available there is likely to rise rise as TLT's presence in Mancs continues to grow.
As a result of all this growth, TLT now employs over 800 people across offices in Bristol, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Piraeus (in Greece). A healthy 18% hike in financials saw the firm post revenues of £57.9 million in 2013/14, and another 8% rise in 2014/15 saw revenue top out at £62.5 million, meaning the firm has achieved its previously stated goal of breaking into the UK top 50. With an ambitious £80 million target set for 2017 by managing partner David Pester, TLT is undoubtedly a firm with its sights set high, but looking at the last few years' successes, you wouldn't put it past them.
A rough guide to Bristol
A bit about the city
Nestled between the borders of Somerset and Gloucester, Bristol is commonly labelled the 'gateway to the South West', thanks largely to one Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the esteemed, cigar-chomping Victorian engineer behind the Great Western Railway, which links Bristol to London Paddington. He was also responsible for one of the city's most iconic landmarks: the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
These achievements have had a lasting impact on Bristol's position and status in the country: after Brunel kick-started the city's connectivity, Bristol went on to become the success story it is today.
'Bristle' used to be a bustling seaport that thrived on maritime commerce (and, in the early, the slave trade). These days, the Port of Bristol no longer plays a vital role in keeping the city afloat. Instead, its prosperity is far more dependent on the aerospace, technology, and research industries, which alongside neighbouring tech hubs Gloucester and Swindon, have helped to put the West Country's Silicon Gorge on the map. Major companies that operate in and around Bristol include multinational conglomerate Toshiba and American IT giant Hewlett-Packard, both of which have national research laboratories based in town.
The forecast for Bristol over the next few years is very promising. According to the economic growth researcher Centre for Cities, Bristol's total number of businesses grew 22.8% between 2004 and 2013. Only four English cities charted higher. With strong tech credentials, and healthy media, financial services and tourism industries, Bristol has proved a key force in the UK's economic recovery. The 'City Deal' – a deal agreed in 2012 between the mayor of Bristol and the government which empowers the city to draw in a sizeable amount of private investment – will no doubt help to boost Bristol's strength in the years to come. According to early estimates, this investment should hit £1.5bn and forge around 40,000 jobs over the next 30 years.
All in all, Bristol's future looks pretty rosy.
The city's legal market
Bristol has long been recognised as an important hub for legal services. There used to be a time when Bristol was solely the turf of strong native firms like Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke. Slowly over the past few years, however, bigger national and international firms have begun to see the allure of Bristol. CMS was the first to cotton on to the city's potential, launching an office all the way back in 1990, but since 2010 Irwin Mitchell, RPC and Simmons & Simmons have all set up shop too.
That London firms are drawn to Bristol underscores the legal community's confidence in the city as a viable hub for business. The knowledge-based economy in Bristol tallies with many of the aforementioned firms' existing and target clients, and a Bristol base means firms can drive down costs – a key factor in Simmons & Simmons' decision to open in the city.
The emergence of non-native players hasn't dislodged the performance of the city's home-grown firms, though. Burges Salmon posted an 6% rise in revenue in 2014/15, cashing out at a tasty £80.8 million. Fellow Bristolian Osborne Clarke put in a similarly strong performance: its turnover rose 9% to £96.5 million in 2014/15. TLT too has grown substantially over the past few years, with firm turnover breaking the £60 million mark for the first time in 2014/15.
Where the firms go, the legal education providers go too, and Bristol is no exception. The University of Law stormed into the city in 2010 to join long-standing providers BPP and the Bristol Law School at UWE, and it didn't take long before ULaw brought up the rear, securing deals to educate Osborne Clarke's and DAC Beachcroft's incoming trainees.
Life at a Bristol firm
Bristol firms have a long history of poaching City lawyers tired of excruciatingly cramped, rush-hour tube journeys followed by 14-hour days in the office. Burges Salmon has embraced this stereotype quite strategically over the years, producing adverts that depict 'sardines' (hapless tube-passengers with their faces squashed against the doors) placed above the bold word 'salmon' (a nod to the idea of free-swimming solicitors merrily leaping upstream to work at BS). Another advert simply depicted ecstatic lawyers in wetsuits, implying that you can have enjoy a desirable beach lifestyle if you decide to practise at the firm.
There's no doubt a refreshing walk down a tree-lined hill is a million times more enticing than a sweaty crush on the Central line, but we should point out that life in Bristol isn't always a nine-to-five paradise. At Osborne Clarke, for example, our research shows trainees – especially those in transactional departments – occasionally encounter the kind of late-night shifts seen at City firms, though the average day is still a reasonable 9am to 7pm. As our trainee sources confirm, the atmosphere at such firms has become increasingly 'corporate' over the years, and many are keen to dispel the myth that life at a Bristol law firm is a piece of cake.
Indeed, the pressure's cranking up as the stakes get higher, and the city's legal market has become more competitive as a result. In 2011 Temple Quarter, near Temple Meads station, was declared Bristol's upcoming enterprise zone, and many firms – including Simmons & Simmons, Osborne Clarke and Burges Salmon – have since relocated to the area. As such, many trainees in Bristol today have quite a different experience than what they would have ten or so years ago – one with more of a 'City' flavour. As one Burges Salmon trainee told us: “Temple Quarter is a much more corporate area than where we were before, which does change the overall atmosphere at the firm.” With this change has come a bigger range of local, national and international work for the aforementioned firms, plus more opportunities for client contact for their young lawyers, so we get the impression that Bristolian trainees feel they are very much coming out on top.
One Redcliff Street,
- Partners 100
- Solicitors c. 220
- Total trainees 32
- Contact Gemma Cowley, HR recruitment officer - trainees, (0117) 917 8905
- Email graduate@TLTsolicitors.com
- Method of application Online application form at www.careers.tltsolicitors.com/trainees
- Selection procedure Application form, critical thinking assessment, Skype interview, assessment centre Closing date 31 July each year
- Training contracts up to 15 p.a.
- Applications circa 700 p.a.
- % interviewed 12% p.a.
- Required degree grade 2:1 or above in any discipline at degree level and a minimum of 300/24 UCAS points at A level
- Training salary See website for details
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary See website for details
- % trainees offered job on qualification 80-100%
- Offices Bristol, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Piraeus (Greece)
Main areas of work