This Bristol-based firm has been making inroads with a strategy based on UK expansion.
TLT was founded in 2000, when Bristolian duo Lawrence Tucketts and Trumps merged. Since then the firm has grown at a much faster rate than its regional rivals by setting its sights on expanding nationally and acquiring smaller UK outfits to increase its market presence. It started in 2005 when the firm snapped up financial services practice Lawrence Jones in London; and two years later it brought London shipping connoisseurs Constant & Constant on board, doubling its presence in the capital and adding a Piraeus office. In 2010 the firm moved into new digs on Gresham Street in the heart of the City. Elsewhere new offices have sprung up and are flourishing in Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.
“It's a place where you can have input, even at my level."
In fact, outside of its Bristol heartland, Manchester is the office that has seen the most growth. The office was started from scratch and “has exceeded expectations in some respects," a trainee believed. "I don't think head office anticipated how well we'd do.” In January 2016, the appointment of banking partner Paul Crighton (who joined from DWF) took the office's fee earner head count to 100. Many sources put the exponential growth down to a willingness to listen and learn from all corners of the firm. Statements of the following ilk from trainees were a regular occurrence: “It's a place where you can have input, even at my level. If you have a good idea they are willing to hear it. And 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.” Perhaps a willingness to listen to those at all levels of an organisation is what propelled Bristol partner Robert Bourns to the position of president of the Law Society in July 2016 – a role that will see him representing the views of 166,000 solicitors across the country.
A look at the firm's finances suggest that its outlook and plans are having a positive effect – revenue increased substantially for the third year in a row in 2015/16, rising 15% to £71.6 million. This means that even after achieving its previously stated goal of breaking into the top 50 of UK law firms, TLT continues to reach for the stars. And among those stars are a constellation of twinkling Chambers UK rankings. Our parent directory top-ranks the firm in a smorgasbord of areas, including banking litigation, employment, social housing and professional negligence. It also recognises TLT's corporate, litigation, private client and real estate prowess, among others.
The firm has two intakes in both Bristol and London (one in March and one in September), while 2016 was the third year that it welcomed trainees to the Manchester office. At the time of our calls, there were 15 trainees in Bristol, seven in London and four in Manchester; seat choices in the latter two offices are a little more limited than for the Bristol 15, though there's still plenty to choose from. Before they join trainees are sent a list of vacancies and get to voice their areas of interest. "There's no guarantee you'll get what you want for your first seat," a trainee told us, "but at subsequent rotations you get to rank your top five choices; your preferences are given more and more weight as you progress and you can pretty much hand-pick your last seat.”
Don't go chasing waterfalls
In the South West, TLT's corporate team vies with Osborne Clark and Burges Salmon for the title of biggest fish in the pond. In its other offices the practice works on mid-market deals, acquisitions and joint ventures for UK and international names, many of which are in the retail sector. Some of those names we shall presently list: there's stationery supremos WHSmith, gym giants Fitness First and real estate royalty Savills. A diverse clientele and the fact that “there are sub-teams made up of specialist lawyers” means “really varied work” for trainees. Continuing the theme, “trainee tasks are really varied too. I'd go from project management one day – managing the documents list – to liaising with different specialist teams the next. I also drafted ancillary documents like board minutes, got documents ready for completion, attended client meetings and drafted shareholder agreements.” One recent deal saw the team advise the management of Bristol health food retailer Vital Ingredients during its £12 million buyout by Lloyds Development Capital, the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank.
TLT's team of 55 specialist commercial contracts lawyers is one of the largest in the UK. And the client list is probably the only place you'll ever see EDF Energy, Imperial Tobacco and the Metropolitan Police on the same sheet of paper. Joint ventures, data protection, franchising, procurement, and supply distribution agreements all crop up regularly here. There are also “a lot of confidential projects – stuff like the outsourcing of back office functions and the procurement of IT systems for big retail companies.” Newbies begin their seat “sitting in on meetings and calls, writing first drafts of client letters, and making amendments to standard form contracts before eventually becoming the first port of call for clients negotiating contracts. It's hard work, but the progression is excellent.” The team recently worked on 'Project Paddington', which might sound like a daring plan to extract a Peruvian bear from the Tower of London, but is actually a £150 million-plus commercial joint venture that will provide for the operation of post offices inside branches of WHSmith.
"I worked with the Co-op, then some rich individuals, and then finally did a lot of stuff with EDF.”
We heard from a few sources that commercial dispute resolution is “a great seat for picking up organisational and time management skills,” and interviewees praised the “huge amount of client contact.” The team's clientele is pretty similar to that of the corporate and commercial teams – Fitness First, WHSmith, EDF Energy, Lloyds – and includes a smattering of high net worth individuals, shareholders and directors, who the firm acts for on company disputes. “The work is so varied, you never know what's going to come in," a trainee told us. "The fee earners all have different sets of clients so they could come to you with anything. I worked with the Co-op, then some rich individuals, and then finally did a lot of stuff with EDF.” 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 set out and explain a client's options to proceed.” We also heard of some trainees standing up before judges to do some advocacy for clients. The London team has “quite a bit of crossover” with the significantly larger Bristol group and primarily handles commercial, banking and financial services litigation, while Manchester acts for “both large corporate clients like E.ON and individuals like small business owners.” The team also recently acted for the Indian government in a dispute with their Pakistani counterparts over money held in a British bank account since 1948, which now amounts to £35 million.
Over in financial services, disputes and investigations (FSDI) “the clients are all pretty much banks, though we act for a handful of accountancy firms and rich individuals too.” Among the former, TLT has represented the crème de la crème of international banking, including RBS, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Coutts, one of the oldest banks in the world. Most of the work consists of acting for banks in cases against solicitors or valuers who have given negligence advice –“I worked on a big Consumer Credit Act case in which bank customers received faulty goods that were paid for by credit card. We were trying to recover the money that the bank had paid out.” The team has witnessed a slight change in structure recently: “We used to have a professional negligence team which sat separately and worked for a range of clients, but when banks started getting rid of their specialist prof neg teams we copied suit and our prof neg lawyers are now part of the FSDI team.” Trainees are “given a lot of autonomy to run smaller cases, often for high-profile institutions.” In one somewhat larger case the team recently acted for Lloyds in a £12.5 million dispute with a holiday park in Cornwall which alleged that the bank had not adhered to the terms of a fixed-rate loan agreement.
“Any client secondments available are listed on the seat option list. You speak to HR and express an interest,” a trainee told us. Apart from in Manchester, many trainees spend a spell with one of TLT's clients in the banking, leisure or retail sectors. “We've got a long-running secondment with a bank in Bristol, and there's always a place for a London trainee with the Home Retail Group in Milton Keynes.” Other recent destinations include Barclays, Sainsbury's and the Metropolitan Police. Sources praised the “obscene amount of learning and responsibility” they gained on secondment.
Why had trainees applied to TLT in the first place? “A lot of people come here for the Bristol lifestyle – we're a mid-size firm, doing substantive work and offering a good work/life balance – and that makes sense: the hours are great.” That said, hours can fluctuate, “especially in construction, which is the busiest department because the deadlines on deals are so short.” Elsewhere, “you can easily do a nine-to-five day if you haven't got too much on” and if you do stay past 9pm, the firm lays on a free taxi home for your troubles. In Bristol, where “there are a lot of lawyers with young families,” the firm promotes flexible working and people often work from home.
TLT's three English bases inhabit differing spaces. The Manchester digs are based in the flourishing business district of Spinningfields and take up one floor of an ultra-modern office block. “It's quite a statement us being here among the big Manchester firms," observed one trainee. "The office is very sleek and open-plan and there are plenty of places to eat and go for drinks after work.” Our London sources were similarly effusive about the firm's City digs and couldn't stop going on about the colour scheme – apparently “TLT teal is a big deal.” As for the Bristol HQ it's “in one of the tallest buildings in the city” and “looks a bit like a cheese grater.” Normally, it's grate (we'll get our coats...) but at the time of our calls things were “a bit chaotic because we're adding an extra floor so the teams have all been moved to temporary locations.” The new TLT Towers should be ready by spring 2017.
Another thing that's been recently renovated is the firm's qualification process –“the NQ jobs list used to come out a little bit later than at other firms, but after some trainees voiced their concerns at the AGM in Bristol, they changed that.” Now “you're encouraged to have conversations with partners early on; usually that's with someone you've trained with so it's easy. And those conversations help inform the vacancy list.” Then “graduate recruitment manager Gemma Cowley circulates the list as soon as it becomes available. If you want to apply for a vacancy, you then send a CV and application to HR – it's supposed to be a comfortable process and there's very much an onus on trainees to be proactive.” In 2016 the firm kept 13 of 17 qualifiers.
Bristol trainees recently used their social budget to take all the vac schemers to 'Locked in a Room', a live escape challenge in which contestants have to escape from a locked room. Cripes!
How to get a TLT training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
Applications and assessments
TLT receives around 1,200 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 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 graduate recruitment manager 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 will complete the video interview before moving 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 '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,” 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 £260 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. During their placement participants go through the same interview and exercises as those who attend the assessment day, minus the presentation and written exercise.
How to wow
Impressing here “is all about showing you've got potential,” says 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 c. 290
- Total trainees 33
- Contact Gemma Cowley, graduate recruitment manager, 0333 006 0703
- Method of application Online application form at www.careers.tltsolicitors.com/ trainees
- Selection procedure Application form, critical thinking assessment, video interview, assessment centre
- Closing date 31 July each year
- Training contracts pa 20
- Applications pa 1,000
- % interviewed pa 12%
- 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