Trethowans mixes private client and commercial work in the South and beyond.
There was 'Destination 2012', then 'Becoming Premier' and now '2020 Vision'. These are Trethowans' most recent clutch of three-year plans, the latest of which aims to raise revenue to £20 million by 2020 and make the firm a top 100 outfit. Trethowans' love of snappy strategy titles and eye on the future are unusual for a relatively small regional outfit. Trainees reflect this confidence, with one speculating that “Trethowans will remain a regional heavyweight for years and years to come.” With its local competition including national players like Blake Morgan, Bond Dickinson, Shoosmiths and Irwin Mitchell it's no surprise that the firm is constantly pushing itself to do better and better. In 2015 Trethowans gained a new Poole office through a merger with 15-strong local firm Dickinson Manser.
Poole has expanded the firm's private client practice, which was previously most associated with the Salisbury office, while Southampton is focused more on commercial practices. Now the Poole office completes what trainees kept calling “a nice triangle” surrounding the New Forest. The firm has a particularly good showing in the Chambers UK regional rankings for areas related to individuals, like private client, personal injury and clinical negligence, while business-focused areas like real estate, banking and finance, litigation and corporate also receive recognition. This forms “an interesting blend” for trainees curious to get experience of both business and personal law.
For their first seat trainees submit their top three preferences in advance. For subsequent rotations they're asked midway through each seat where they want to go next. There are no compulsory seats, but we heard it's usual to do three different seats then a repeat seat in the department you want to qualify into.
"On big cases it's all about getting exposure to the work."
Personal injury lawyers deal with “car crashes, medical negligence, injuries from dodgy products, or people who've fallen over in the street or at work.” The work's mostly claimant-side and the team specialises in head and spinal injury cases and clinical negligence: acting against medical institutions and practitioners in relation to things like cerebral palsy, misdiagnosis or badly performed surgery. Since “values range from a thousand to over a million” we did hear that responsibility levels can vary a bit. “It would've been great to run some cases myself under supervision," mused one source, while another noted more levelly: “On big cases it's all about getting exposure to the work – I went along with other fee earners to meet with barristers and attended court hearings. There's more chance to do drafting on lower-value stuff.” This means drafting witness statements, briefs for counsel and schedules of loss.
The corporate and commercial team is home to 15 lawyers and with a Chambers UK seal of approval serves national business like Toys R Us, Ladbrokes and Tate & Lyle as well as construction multinational Saint-Gobain. The department is split in two –“corporate handles transactions related to the purchasing and selling of businesses or shareholdings while commercial provides legal services for businesses: the drafting of shareholders' agreements and contracts.” The team does some banking work too. Deal value is usually in the millions or tens of millions rather than any higher: the firm recently acted for Lily's Kitchen, an up-and-coming pet food brand, when it got a seven-figure investment from Catterton, a US private equity firm. “The bigger deals are quite scary," opined one trainee. "My first transaction was worth five million, but the team shelters you from the responsibility that entails; they know it's your time to learn.” That “sheltering” went a little far for some, who told us “there isn't much client contact in corporate.” But there's still a good range of tasks to keep rookies busy. “I've drafted board minutes, amended share purchase agreements, drafted contracts and agreements, and prepared ancillary documents and Companies House forms.”
Property is the firm's largest source of revenue, accounting for 16% of it, and the Dickinson Manser merger brought with it a further four residential property specialists. Besides residential, the department is also home to commercial property work, so trainees here get to play spot the difference. “When I was doing commercial work, most clients were companies” – Stannah Lifts, Santander and Lloyds –“while on the residential side the vast majority of clients are private individuals.” The department takes on restructuring and insolvency, and landlord and tenant work plus property finance. It also advises pension funds, like James Hay Pension Trustees, on buying and selling their property assets. Some matters can take quite a while from start to finish, but “on smaller matters, like a removal of charge, the trainee sends out the client letter and bill, and sees the matter from start to finish.” Other tasks include “replying to enquiries, reviewing commercial leases, and dealing with the Land Registry.”
The private client group gained a new head with the 2015 merger, and our sources told us that “it's a very busy seat.” That pace wasn't a turn-off for trainees, who were full of praise, calling the experience here “very hands-on with plenty of client contact.” Clients include high-value estates and individuals, plenty of whom are farmers (the firm is Chambers top-ranked for agricultural work). Often clients rock up with “large inheritance tax bills" which the firm seeks to reduce. This gives trainees the opportunity to draft wills and lasting powers of attorney, and get stuck into more unconventional tasks like “helping with the general management of estates – co-ordinating the paying of bills and organising finance.” There's Court of Protection work too, though typically trainees aren't much involved in this side of things –“but if someone is ill or busy you may help out, which means filling out loads of massive forms to make an application to what is an incredibly strict court.”
“150 good deeds for its 150th year.”
Trainees in Southampton and Salisbury told us that thanks to the open-plan office “you talk to everyone by chatting to them randomly by the coffee machine.” Poole is a bit different and the “olde worlde” closed-plan layout means “you can go days without seeing someone who works in your own department.” The client areas did get a refit before the Trethowans merger though so maybe the staff areas will soon follow suit. Sources in Southampton and Salisbury added that the open layout and things like dress-down Fridays contribute to a “friendly and approachable” culture. “I was impressed that you get invited to fee earners meetings where we discuss changes in the law and business development issues.” The firm doesn't really lay on any trainee-specific training as “most training is on the job.”
Poole's town centre location (just off the High Street) has the edge for spontaneous socialising over Salisbury and Southampton's business park locations. “It's easier to go for a bite to eat or a walk in the park at lunchtime, and there's more to do after work too.” In the larger two offices people tend to “rush home after work, especially if they have a bit of a commute.” There's not that much need to rush though, as trainees work extremely healthy hours. “I'm usually in from 8.30am until 5pm and the latest I've stayed is 7pm,” said one source. When people do hang out after work, get-togethers mainly happen on a team basis and every couple of weeks. There's also an annual staff-versus-partners rounders match and seasonal parties. In summer 2015 the firm had “a family day with a barbecue and funfair rides. There was also a Gladiators-style event in which you had to knock people off a beam. People steered clear of the managing partner because he's hench!”
2016 is Trethowans' 150th anniversary (making it the same age as cocoa, Beatrix Potter and the thermometer). To mark this the firm is doing "150 good deeds for its 150th year," a reflection of its strong commitment to charity and community work. A trainee told us: "So far we've collected Easter eggs for a local children's charity and some people are doing the Three Peaks Challenge.” The firm is a little less charitable when it comes to NQ positions, retaining just nine of 20 qualifiers in the five years to 2015. The same trend continued in 2016 with just one of three staying on.
Trethowans trainees told us moving between offices allowed them to “get to know people” and “experience their different styles,” so they were pleased that it's encouraged by the firm.
How to get a Trethowans training contract
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2017
Trethowans' application process has recently undergone a bit of an overhaul. It's out with the old (in the form of paper applications) and in with the new, in the form of an online application process. According to training partner Jon Kelly, this allows the firm to ask more uniform questions, which makes comparing candidates that much easier.
Interview and assessments
The firm usually receives around 100 applications, which are examined by Kelly and the head of HR. “There are no strict filters,” says Kelly, “and we consider every application on its merits rather than dismissing good applications because of arbitrary rules.” The duo then shortlists between 25 and 30 to attend a short interview via Skype, which is another new addition. We're told that candidates have given the new system their seal of approval, and also help to make HR's job easier: “We didn't interview anyone from a beach in Malibu this year,” jokes Kelly, “but we could have.”
Post-Skype chat, between 12 and 14 applicants are shortlisted and invited to an assessment day that involves group and individual presentations, a meet-and-greet lunch, plus trainee and associate-led talks. “The message is to be yourself; it's not about saying the right thing so much as seeing how candidates interact with each other,” says Kelly.
How to wow
Kelly tells us that Trethowans is looking for the “well-rounded lawyers of the future.” Beyond the required 2:1 degree, such a creature will have the ability to “manage a case load, get along with clients and demonstrate an aptitude for winning new business,” he tell us. Applicants don't have to be from the local area, but you will need to show that you're committed to living in the region if you want to win over recruiters.
Life in Salisbury
London Road Office Park,
Botleigh Grange Business Park,
5 Parkstone Road,
- Partners 32
- Lawyers 67
- Total Trainees 8
- Contact Kate Ellis, 023 8082 0503
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Two-stage process, interview and assessment day
- Closing date for 2019 30 June 2017
- Training contracts pa 3-4
- Applications pa 100+
- % interviewed pa 25-30%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary Competitive market rate with regular reviews
- Holiday entitlement 23 days
- Post-qualification salary Competitive market rate with regular reviews
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Regional offices Salisbury, Southampton, Poole
Main areas of work
Legal advice to businesses includes: corporate, commercial, commercial property, commercial litigation, insurance litigation, employment, licensing, health and safety and regulatory work. Legal advice to individuals includes: personal injury; wills, trusts and tax; wealth structuring and inheritance planning; agriculture and rural property; family and residential property.
Many of our teams and individuals are rated in both the Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession and Legal 500, the two independent guides to the legal profession in the UK.