After years of national expansion, Bristol-born TLT is looking to bolster its brand and ensure its sector focuses are crystal clear.
Fizzing with energy
Since 2005, TLT has been on a mission to beef up its offering across the UK. At this point, the firm's management can look back and give themselves a hearty pat on the back: a savvy series of acquisitions and office openings have seen TLT establish a presence in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast; an overseas post in Piraeus also popped up after the firm snapped up shipping experts Constant & Constant. That all sounds rather rosy, but in the legal world the proof of the pudding is in the latest revenue results, and TLT's are in good shape: the firm published its fifth consecutive year of revenue growth in 2017, which saw results up 4% to £74.6 million – an overall increase of around 50% since 2013.
But TLT won't be resting on its laurels any time soon, even after checking off its aim to enter the UK's top 50 law firms. As training principal Ed Fiddick boldly asserts: “We're an ambitious firm with real traction in terms of our experience and expertise in the sectors where we focus. Renewable energy is a great example." Alongside energy, TLT also focuses on financial services, housing, leisure, retail, public sector and TMT (technology, media and telecoms) work. The firm's Bristol office still picks up the most rankings in Chambers UK, performing well in areas like corporate, employment, IT and professional negligence. On a UK-wide basis, TLT receives nods in areas like retail, shipping, energy and consumer finance.
Our trainee sources were also enthusiastic about TLT's direction: “We're not going to be an all-singing, all-dancing firm; we're going to push our specialist knowledge instead.” Others told us that “it's pretty unrealistic to keep shooting for double-digit growth every year, so now we want our offices – especially the newer ones like Manchester – to become more established.” Joining “a law firm that's on the up” was cleary a priority for our interviewees, but so was finding somewhere with the right atmosphere: “It was just more approachable than other places. I left my first interview at another firm feeling exhausted, but here it was friendlier, more 'let's just have a chat about you and your experiences.'”
“It was just more approachable than other places.”
Those who impress at interview can join TLT in either Bristol, London or Manchester. At the time of our calls there were seven in the latter, six in the capital and 16 in Bristol. New joiners can indicate preferences for their first seat, but priority is given to second-years. Many tend to complete a stint in property.Before each seat rotation a new list of options is released (“it's always based on business need”) and trainees are encouraged to put forward their top five preferences. Most found the system fair and highlighted that “trainees can chat about what they want to do at length with HR.” Sought after destinations include commercial dispute resolution, technology and IP, and employment. Client secondments are also on offer. “In some cases they're advertised as a seat and trainees bid for them,” sources informed us, “while in others they come up on an ad hoc basis when you're in the middle of seat and you have the expertise to spend some time with a client.”
In corporate sources can expect a mix of M&A and private equity work, especially in the renewable energy and retail sectors; the Bristol team recently acted for online fashion retailer Boohoo.com as it snapped up a controlling stake in competitor PrettyLittleThing for £3.3 million, while lawyers in Manchester advised green energy company Ecotricity on a £15 million fundraising. Other clients include Fitness First, estate agent Savills, private investment firm Sea Equity and social care provider 3L Care. On deals sources were “involved from start to finish, assisting with the initial scoping process with financial advisers; running the data room; being involved in client calls; drafting ancillary documents; and going to the completion conferences.” Supervision was also given a big thumbs up: “I was worried becoming a trainee meant being someone's bitch, but you really do get input. I am asked to offer my views because I'm 'a fresh set of eyes.'”
Joint ventures, data protection, franchising, procurement and supply and distribution agreements are all covered in TLT's commercial department. Clients come from a broad mix of the firm's sectors, and include the Metropolitan Police Service, tobacco company Imperial Brands, WHSmith and Merlin Entertainments (which operates the likes of Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds). “As a trainee one of the key jobs is going through contracts and spotting any risks or red flags that we'll need to report back to the clients,” explained one Mancunian. “It's good as you get to learn how we should be communicating with clients.” We also heard from sources who were involved in negotiating and drafting sections of franchise agreements. In addition, “there's energy regulatory work to get involved in, which involves a lot of research as trainees are expected to help the department get up to speed on certain areas.”
Under the commercial banner trainees can also complete a seat in technology and IP. “We had a big software dispute,” recalled one Londoner, “so I was drafting emails to counsel and witness statements.” This was supplemented with plenty of research as “we're often asked to give English law advice on international cases – I worked on one related to satellites.” Elsewhere trainees had been called upon to help manage IP portfolios, “so we'd look for anything that might be infringing our client's goods, and if we did I'd help to prepare a takedown notice.” On the tech side, interviewees had been busy honing their skills on outsourcing agreements: “You learn loads about contract law and how best to draft various supporting documents.” Recent highlights saw the London team monitor all meerkat-related merchandise for price comparison website comparethemarket.com; over in Bristol, meanwhile, the team advised a local authority as it encountered issues with a technology provider that was developing an online hub that would help it combat benefit fraud.
“We'd look for anything that might be infringing our client's goods.”
Over in commercial dispute resolution TLT's offering attracts a mix of banks, mortgage lenders, public sector entities and well known British retailers: Barclays, the Co-operative and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime are all on the books. The Bristol office is known for its banking expertise, and has been acting for the Indian Government during a dispute with Pakistan over £35 million that has been held in a British bank account since 1948. Other strengths include partnership and shareholder disputes, as well as warranty issues and breach of contract spats. When it came to high-value cases, sources assisted with settlement agreements, while “fast-paced, low-value claims” allowed them to take more control: “I was working with supermarkets and delving into EU regulations and the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, but also drafting pleadings, witness statements and correspondence to the other side.”
Those with a taste for banking disputes can get their fill via a dedicated seat in financial services, disputes and investigations (FSDI). Lawyers here spend much of their time acting for banks on asset recovery, professional negligence, fraud, mis-selling and competition matters. Clients include RBS, Santander, TSB and Nationwide; a recent case saw the team advise financial services holding company UKAR on potential disputes arising from the transference of title on mortgage assets worth around £15 billion. Cases can move quickly here: “It's not uncommon for something to land on our desk on a Tuesday and for us to have to go to court on Friday.” Our sources had worked on “complex security matters, where we had to look at rectifying the title on a property,” but also handling their own professional negligence files: “I would be deciding the next steps, but anything containing substantive advice would be looked over by my supervisor. There's very little admin – we're encouraged to get the secretaries to do as much of that as possible!”
Several interviewees highlighted that TLT “has put a lot of effort into internal branding; the layout, the reception areas, the colour scheme – they're all identical across the network.” This makes visiting other offices all the more “reassuring,” our grateful sources revealed. The flagship Bristol office – which can be found close to Bristol Bridge on Redcliff Street – is currently undergoing a refurb: “They've fitted out the floors beautifully with wider desks, and everything feels more open. They're currently creating a client reception suite on the top floor – it's like a big glass box!” You'll find TLT Manchester in the city's swish Spinningfields business district, where sources bragged: “It's the nicest office. There are a lot of new partners and there's still that buzz about the place!” Our London sources – who were based near St Paul's – had encountered a different kind of buzz: “We have beehives on our roof; it's part of an initiative run by some universities, but we can put on protective suits and visit the bees!”
As with the colour scheme, trainees did detect cultural similarities across the different locations. “Everyone is so willing to help you; there's no closed-door partner policy that restricts your access to senior people,” said one Bristolian. Another agreed: “You always feel supported, and whenever I've stuck up my hand to try something they let me have a go. I had project managed a couple of matters for a banking client, so I asked if I could lead a conference call with them, and I ended up doing so.” This approach also means that “you don't just have feedback from your supervisor,” a Mancunian added, “but feedback from everyone you've worked with – if you want it, you just ask for it.” Due to these regular updates,TLT doesn't schedule mid-seat appraisals, but does host end-of-seat reviews where “you are graded between one and five. That can seem arbitrary, but you have to benchmark things somehow, and HR looks at the grades to see if they are being awarded in a consistent way across the cohort.” The firm told us the performance grading system is currently under review.
The consistency of TLT's working hours didn't need to be questioned. Most sources were getting in the door around 8.30am and leaving by 6/6.30pm. Hours do vary from team to team – they “can be tough” in corporate – and trainees might stay till 8pm or later during busy periods. “The culture is one where you get in, you do your work, stay productive during the core hours and go home at a decent time. When it gets to 6pm people ask if you're okay and why you haven't gone home!” This is good news for those who like to let their hair down: in Bristol, sources were just about to attend the Junior Lawyers Division's summer ball (on the firm's dime), while those in Manchester spoke of attending “lots of team socials – things like bowling and crazy golf. Quite a few of the trainees live in the city so we'll often grab a beer after work too.” In London, “impromptu and relaxed” trainee gatherings are combined with monthly office-wide drinks, team excursions (“I've been to a barbecue and on a boat trip up the Thames”) and seasonal parties: “We had our last one in Harvey Nichols!” Trainees across all offices do get to know each other during an induction programme in Bristol: “We do our PSCs and people come in from around the firm to tell us about the different seats. We even had a mindfulness session to help us not to get too stressed!”
TLT used to wait until all of its NQ jobs were confirmed before releasing a list to its trainees. Now, NQ positions are advertised “as and when they become available.” Sources appreciated the chance to apply for positions sooner, but did bemoan that they may not experience their favourite seat until the fourth rotation, meaning that “you won't have had the same chance to make a good impression as those who've already completed it.” In 2017, seven of 14 second-years were retained by TLT.
As part of TLT's wellbeing initiative, trainees can win themselves freebies including cinema tickets and Starbucks coffees – all they have to do is hit “a certain number of steps, which are tracked by a vitality app on our phones.”
How to get a TLT training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018
Applications and assessments
TLT receives around 1,500 applications each year – this figure includes both vacation scheme and direct training contract applications. The firm typically has 18 training contracts on offer across its offices each year. A minimum of 300 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree form the baseline criteria on the academic front.
Around 300 candidates are selected for an online critical thinking test. For vac scheme hopefuls, acing this leads to a half-day assessment centre in the office for which they've applied. This replaces the video interviews the firm previously held to select candidates and allows applicants to get face to face with recruiters before the vac scheme. The main difference with the full-day assessment centre for direct training contract applicants (described below) is that there is a shorter more informal interview. Of those who do well on the assessments, around 40 gain a vac scheme place.
As for direct training contract applicants, those who pass the critical thinking test move on to complete a video interview. This centres on applicants' interests, work experience, reasons for choosing law and reasons for wanting to work at TLT specifically. Those who perform well on camera head 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 '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 the ability to draw relevant information from the original source,” according to graduate recruitment manager Gemma Cowley.
The Bristol, London and Manchester offices all run vacation schemes: Bristol offers up to 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 £265 for the week.
Each vac schemer is assigned to a single department for their visit, though they do have the opportunity to network with associates and partners from the other practice areas. At the end of the vacation scheme, participants go through the same strengths-based interview as those who attend the assessment day.
How to wow
Impressing here “is all about showing you've got potential,” says Gemma 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.”
A rough guide to Bristol
One Redcliff Street,
- Partners 110
- Solicitors 300
- Total trainees 35
- UK offices Bristol, London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast
- Graduate recruiter: Gemma Cowley, Graduate Recruitment Manager, 0333 006 0703
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 35
- Applications pa: 1,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above in any discipline at degree level
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 300/24
- Salary and benefits
- See firm website for details
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, Manchester, London, Glasgow, Belfast
- Client secondments: A variety of large commercial organisations and smaller, niche clients
Combining expertise with open-mindedness, we have a straightforward goal at TLT. We help people to excel; both our clients and the individuals that work here. Our culture provides a bright, innovative place to work, with a flexible approach, where fresh ideas are valued, hard work is recognised and everyone gets out every bit as much as they put in.
Don’t just be part of our future, shape it.
We are an ambitious UK commercial law firm, with a growing reputation. Since 2002, we have more than tripled in size, with revenues reaching £71.6m in 2015/16.
We are described by clients as an ‘energetic firm’ with an ‘open-minded entrepreneurial culture’ and have previously been named as a ‘first class’ employer by Best Companies Limited.
Main areas of work
Core legal specialisms include real estate, banking and lender services, commercial, corporate, employment and litigation, but we believe there’s more to legal work than being a lawyer - you need to embrace management, technology and business skills too.
Open days and first-year opportunities
TLT Quiz Roadshow
• 3 nights, 6 universities, 1 winner.
• Will your university finish top of the leader board? Come along to test your knowledge, meet members of the business and explore your future.
• Experience what it really takes to excel here; taste the core behaviours you’ll need to succeed and meet members of the business. Register on our website upcoming events.
University law career fairs 2017