This distinguished City firm may not care for conquering the continents, but that doesn't mean big-ticket international work is off the table.
Shake it off
It's out with the old and in with the new at Travers Smith, as this firm looks to shake off its more traditional reputation. A fresh website and a major office refurb are kick-starting the “re-branding of the firm,” co-head of graduate recruitment Anthony Foster tells us: “You'll see us becoming a slightly different firm in the way we present ourselves.” Fellow co-head Dan Reavill adds: “The re-brand isn't excessive. It's just about modernising and refreshing our image.” So don't expect any jazzy name changes or a totally unrecognisable Travers Smith any time soon – but do expect a few tweaks to show that this firm is keeping up with trends in the market.
What do trainees have to say about it all? “We are undergoing a modernisation process,” one source confirmed, while another elaborated: “They're really trying to push flexible and agile working. It's good to know that they are looking into how to accommodate life around work, and it should help to create a culture which fits everyone.” Which brings us to a related point, as it's not just Travers' working environment that's getting a nudge into the 21st century: the firm used to be painted as rather old-fashioned on the diversity front, but in recent years “there's been a real drive to improve this aspect,” trainees stressed. An annual diversity week; an “active” women's initiative; and a gender policy review committee have all been established. The latter has been specifically set up to address what the firm can do to retain more female lawyers and boost the percentage of women in the partnership, which stood at a market-lagging 15% in 2015, but has since risen to 16%. Click on the Bonus Features tab above to read more from Anthony Foster and Dan Reavill on how the firm intends to improve diversity through trainee recruitment.
"Now our model is seen as a plus point.”
Change may well be in the air, but one thing that's likely to remain unaltered is Travers' steadfast independence. This firm's not for merging, planting numerous overseas flags or even lateral hiring that frequently. Instead, it's opted to cultivate a mid-sized London office and a small outpost in Paris. “Ten years ago people thought we were doing the wrong thing, but now our model is seen as a plus point,” one interviewee boasted. The set-up has hardly prevented Travers from establishing an international reach; it has close working relationships with over 100 firms around the globe, which channel matters its way. “50% of the work we handle has an international element,” one source explained, but we spoke to many trainees who placed that percentage higher: “I'm struggling to think of a deal I've done that hasn't had an international bent,” one mused.
Corporate work is Travers' forte, and the firm picks up plenty of Chambers UK rankings in the area. It's one of the best in London for mid-market corporate and private equity deals, as well as capital markets matters. As this trainee made clear: Travers is “a corporate-driven firm, and a lot of the non-corporate teams spend time supporting that type of work.” And with some transactions entering the billion-plus ballpark, it's no wonder all hands are on deck: the firm recently represented British insurer Amlin as it was acquired by a Japanese company, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, for £3.5 billion. But it would be remiss of us to not flag the firm's prowess in other areas: its employment, pensions, real estate and litigation teams also secure high rankings. Some of their matters can be worth a pretty penny too: at the time of our calls, Travers' litigators had just successfully defended an Icelandic lawyer, Jóhannes Jóhannsson, against a £2.2 billion claim brought by businessman Vincent Tchenguiz.
Prior to joining, incoming trainees attend an afternoon talk on each of the seats on offer. From there they rank their preferences, but a corporate and a contentious stint (or a two-week contentious course) must be among them. HR then works out the rest before trainees rock up for the first day in their smartly polished shoes. Changes can be requested once trainees are through the door, and we spoke to plenty of sources who'd switched their seat choices at some point. “HR is fairly flexible about it,” one source told us. “They're good at accommodating you – within reason of course.”
“You have to think about how every task fits into the larger picture.”
At any one time up to 12 trainees call Travers' corporate group home; they sit in either corporate finance or private equity sub-teams. Acquisitions dominate the latter, with deals regularly hitting the £200 million mark: one such case saw Travers assist Silverfleet Capital on the £256 million sale of footwear retailer Office to a South African company, Truworths International. While acting for sellers has kept the firm busy of late, the team also represents buyers – lawyers here recently advised private equity group Bridgepoint on its tasty acquisition of two restaurant discount card providers: tastecard and the Gourmet Society. Asset managers Carlyle and investment firms like Equistone and Exponent are just some of the other clients on the menu. “Loads of deals pass through private equity so your role really varies,” one source explained. “At the start of deals I was handling due diligence before going on to attend disclosure meetings and produce the first drafts of disclosure letters and ancillary documents,” like board minutes and shareholders' agreements. “Negotiating non-disclosure agreements is a big trainee task,” as is organising closing documents and ensuring that the completion process runs smoothly.
On the corporate finance side you'll find IPOs, public and private M&A, and “reverse takeovers with complicated regulatory frameworks.” Lately Travers acted for UK broadband provider Pace on its sale to US tech company Arris for a not so shabby $2.1 billion. However, most deals in corporate finance tend to fall within the hundreds of millions bracket, like Zoopla's (Travers' client) £190 million purchase of price comparison website uSwitch from private equity firm LDC. Recent activity has been focused on the tech, healthcare and travel industries, so you'll encounter clients like software company Micro Focus, health and social care provider Care UK and backpacking enablers Hostelworld. Overseeing the verification process (reviewing documents to ensure facts can be confirmed) took up most of our sources' time here, but they were also able to squeeze in some research and drafting of ancillary documents.
Pret à lawyer
Travers' representation of Hewlett-Packard in a $5 billion civil fraud case had all of our dispute resolution sources talking: the computer maestro is suing two former executives of software company Autonomy (which HP acquired in 2011) for allegedly misrepresenting Autonomy's finances. The mega-case has reeled in a slew of trainees, with one telling us: “You hear a lot of horror stories about doc review, but Travers has been good at balancing that with chances to attend hearings and summary judgments.” On the whole, “it's a very strategic seat with a lot of research into black letter law and poring over documents to find evidence to support our case.” Those administrative tasks may be hard to escape, “but you just have to think about how every task you're assigned fits into the larger picture.” Alongside civil fraud, the team's been working on an increasing number of pensions and competition disputes, as well as regulatory investigations. Matters here often have an international bent to them too: Icelandic bank Kaupthing and the Argentine Republic have called upon the department's expertise, and the team recently assisted UK-based company Pathfinder Minerals during a dispute over mining licences in Mozambique.
Stints in the commercial, IP and technology department are up for grabs via seats in either commercial contracts or IP and technology. We're told there are opportunities to move between the two and you'll find numerous clients – like Pret A Manger, Trainline and Caffè Nero – also straddling the groups. The commercial team often supports corporate deals, and recently helped to advise film and TV extraordinaire Pinewood on its joint venture with media investment company StoryFirst to create an on-demand TV platform, Pinewood Television. “A lot of due diligence” crops up for trainees working on this side, but we heard there are plenty of opportunities to take a pop at drafting things like joint venture and outsourcing agreements –“it's definitely a seat that hones your drafting skills.” The department's standalone work largely revolves around – as you might've guessed – contracts: for example, it recently assisted newsagents McColl's on the renegotiation of supply and distribution contracts with grocers Nisa. On these matters, sources helped to review the contracts and assisted clients with data protection compliance.
Most real estate sources had immersed themselves in non-contentious work, though there's also room for one trainee per seat in real estate litigation. Real estate funds, like Clearbell and Lothbury Property Trust, make up the bulk of clients on the former side, though you'll also find corporations like Bannatyne Health & Fitness. Most matters revolve around acquisitions of assets like hotels, student accommodation sites, care homes and even solar parks. On “bigger purchases you'll be doing the standard trainee stuff like analysing data rooms,” but it is possible, however, to “move around loads and sample different matters from many people.” Some of our sources had therefore been able to take on smaller landlord and tenant matters where “you get a lot of responsibility to negotiate your own leases and licences.”
The finance department is divided into acquisition finance; derivatives and structured products; and restructuring and insolvency sub-teams. The acquisitions group acts for “a mix of borrowers and lenders on private equity deals,” and recently advised 3i on the loans required for its £105 million acquisition of manufacturer Aspen Pumps. Due diligence, drafting corporate authorisations and co-ordinating transactions are all on the cards for trainees here. The derivatives group's reputation may have been built on its work for pensions schemes (and there are still plenty on the books, including AXA UK Pensions Trustees), but in recent years a flurry of investment banks, funds and asset managers like Investec and EQT have jumped aboard too. Trainees find themselves “negotiating non-disclosure agreements, researching financial covenants and helping to advise on certain provisions.”
Trainees were very pleased to report that the office's “much-needed” refurbishment is currently under way. The basement canteen's getting a light well to bathe its vitamin D-deprived diners in sunlight, while the rest of the firm's being decked out with glass internal walls to make the space “much lighter and more modern.” There is one sacred aspect of the set-up that will remain the same though: the room-sharing system. Each trainee sits in a room with a junior associate, a senior associate and a partner. “I think it's one of the best things about the firm, as you're able to pick up so much from people at different levels,” one trainee enthused. “I know we bang on about it,” another conceded, “but it makes everything less daunting, as you don't have to go knocking on doors.” Sources also praised the system for “breaking down the hierarchy.”
“It has a classically British 'roll your sleeves up' feel to it.”
Trainees went on to describe Travers as a “warm and chatty” place, but don't be fooled into thinking there's not much hard work going on: “It has a classically British 'roll your sleeves up, dig in and have a go' feel to it. We love hard workers who get stuck in and people's efforts are always appreciated.” Many of our sources were keen to point out that long, hard slogs in the office are often rewarded: “One team worked until dawn so the partner bought them all breakfast and gave them a day off in lieu.” On a good day, trainees can expect to head home sometime between 7pm and 8pm. However, future trainees should steel themselves for longer stretches, especially in the corporate and litigation departments, which were often responsible for the early morning exits that many of our interviewees had experienced. “Corporate can turn into a marathon while litigation has more sprint intervals,” one tired source reported. Of course, the ultimate goal of Team Trainee is qualifying for the Travers Olympics: “Most people are confident that they'll qualify with the firm; retention has typically been excellent in the past,” sources agreed. In 2016, the firm continued its good run, and retained 20 of 21 qualifiers.
Fridays see trainees gathering at “classic Travers haunt” The Bishops Finger, but late nights at “the nearby and famous Karaoke Box” are also “very popular.” When they're not collectively screaming power ballads into a microphone, trainees also attend department-led drinks, which take place fairly often: “The disputes partners in particular try to galvanise people to go out once a month.” And if the timing's right, trainees may also get the chance to attend department away days, which are held once every other year. “I've missed them all,” one source sighed. “But my friend went on one where she drove blindfolded while a senior partner shouted directions at her from the backseat...”
Travers' 25-strong trainee intake was a major draw for our interviewees: “Its size means that you're never going to get lost among other trainees or get stuck in a side room trudging through dull work.”
How to get a Travers Smith training contract
Vac scheme deadline: 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
Applications and vacation scheme
Travers Smith has 25 training contracts on offer and typically recruits around 40% of its trainees through its vacation scheme. The firm runs three two-week placements during the summer, and one two-week scheme in the winter, offering 15 places on each.
The application for the vac scheme begins with a CV and covering letter, and the firm generally receives around 1,000 of these each year. “There are no psychometric tests or any of that rubbish,” we're told, but prospective trainees do need a minimum AAB at A level and a 2:1 degree to get a look in. The majority of trainees tend to come from Oxbridge or a Russell Group institution, though the firm visits between 25 and 30 university law fairs each year.
Those whose applications impress – generally around 180 – are invited to a one-on-one partner interview. According to our sources, the aim here is to get “a flavour of your character; we don't go for a long-form interview where we ask about all the different times you overcame a problem in the workplace.”
From here, the firm chooses its vac schemers, who split their time between two departments. Alongside shadowing trainees, participants attend workshops on skills like negotiations and drafting, and also get to socialise with Travers lawyers at various drinks events.
A current trainee had this advice for impressing during the vac scheme: “Relax into the atmosphere and try to be enthusiastic. We're all quite outgoing and extroverted, though the line is drawn at being loud and brash – that won't go down well.” Another said: “Show that you're bright, ambitious and calm under pressure, but don't take yourself too seriously.”
Those who still want to pursue a training contract after their scheme can resubmit their application for consideration. They are evaluated on their performance during their placement rather than through any further interviews.
Training contract applications
Travers receives another 1,000 direct training contract applications each year. The application process is broadly similar to that of the vac scheme: applicants submit an initial form, attend a partner interview, then another, this time with co-heads of graduate recruitment Emily Clark and Dan Reavill. The first lasts around 45 minutes, while the second is an hour long.
There's no cap on the number of people the firm invites to interview. Insiders tell us “the firm is big on compare-and-contrast questions” in both interviews – for example, the moral debate of a drunk driver who kills someone as opposed to someone who falls asleep at the wheel and does the same –“but isn't looking to catch anyone out.” Interviewees can also expect questions about current business stories to test their commercial awareness.
The second interview is followed up with a trainee-led tour around the office, during which candidates can ask additional questions, and meet some partners and associates.
Interview with graduate recruitment partners Anthony Foster and Dan Reavill
Student Guide: Which of the firm's practices have been particularly active this year?
Dan Reavill: We've had a great year across the firm and have been busier than ever. If we had to pick out a few key areas, our M&A practice has been very active, while our disputes resolution practice has been kept incredibly busy by a handful of big-ticket cases and investigations. Our financial services regulatory practice is busier than ever thanks to a growing client base; it's advising an increasing number of large financial institutions, particularly American ones, who have chosen us to act as their lawyers in Europe and the UK.
SG: Last year the firm appointed CSR and diversity manager Chris Edwards. What effect has his appointment had on CSR and diversity at the firm?
Anthony Foster*: Chris has brought a degree of professional coordination to the initiatives across the firm. There have always been numerous CSR and diversity initiatives at Travers Smith and Chris now helps to ensure they're as effective and efficient as possible. It's very easy here for departments or small groups of lawyers to act on their own initiative which is wonderful, but the more you can coordinate across the firm, the more effective you become.
DR: Chris has really injected a degree of effectiveness and momentum into our CSR. I recently raised money for a charity and asked colleagues for contributions. When Chris found out about my efforts he told me to apply to the new Travers Smith Foundation for a lump sum charity contribution, which I didn't know existed. Applications are assessed by a committee who may then choose to make a donation to your charity. We've shifted from having an ad hoc CSR approach to a set of formal initiatives which everyone can plug into.
SG: Trainees highlighted that the firm is currently undergoing a bit of a rebrand. What can you tell us about that?
AF: Our office is undergoing a significant refurbishment which has given the firm a real boost and we've also updated our website. These changes are part of the rebranding of the firm. You'll see us becoming a slightly different firm in the way we present ourselves.
DR: The re-brand isn't excessive. It's just about modernising and refreshing our image.
SG: Talk us through the firm's graduate recruitment strategy.
DR: Our graduate recruitment capabilities are going from strength to strength and the firm is investing a huge amount of time and money into finding our future trainees. We're continuing to increase our footprint around universities and are widening the net to raise our profile among as many prospective candidates as possible. Over the last few years we've seen a broadening of the university base of our trainees.
An enormous amount of time and effort has also been put into diversity initiatives both at university and a wider level. It's fundamental that we are plugged into and at the forefront of leading initiatives to ensure we are obtaining and properly assessing applications from a diverse range of candidates.
SG: What initiatives are you involved in?
DR: Many, and they vary from university to university. At the moment we're working with organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors, SEO and Rare Recruitment. Part of our involvement with Rare is our use of their contextual recruitment system which provides us with contextual background data on each candidate. We're looking behind the CV at important socio-economic information to give us a fuller picture of candidates beyond pure grades.
SG: What's the firm's wider strategy over the next few years?
AF: We're looking to continue the process of professionalising the infrastructure of the firm to ensure that it reflects the different organisation we are today compared to the one we were ten years ago. Back then our turnover was around £40 million; by the end of 2015 our turnover was £100 million.
We need to ensure the fabric of the firm enables us to continue to grow and free up our lawyers to focus on winning and doing the work. The firm has been strengthening its reputation and identifying fantastic opportunities to seize upon. We've seen this bear fruit in many areas: for example, our derivatives group didn't exist in its current form five years ago and now it's going from strength to strength; our regulatory practice is handling significant work for some of the biggest market participants in the financial services industry.
*Anthony Foster stepped down as co-head of graduate recruitment in September 2016 and partner Emily Clark has assumed the role.
Travers Smith LLP
10 Snow Hill,
- Partners 76
- Associates 245
- Total trainees 50
- Contact Germaine VanGeyzel
- Method of application Online
- Selection procedure Interviews (two-stage process)
- Closing date for 2019 training contracts 31 July 2017
- Closing date for 2017 summer vacation scheme 31 January 2017
- Training contracts pa 25
- Applications pa 1,000
- % interviewed pa 25%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year (2016): £42,500
- Second year (2015): £47,500
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary (2015) £71,500
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2015) 94%
Main areas of work