Trethowans' private client and commercial practices are well established in the South.
At all three corners of the tranquil New Forest sits an office of the regional firm Trethowans, covering the counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. Chambers UK ranks the firm regionally for a range of areas from litigation and private client to real estate and banking, with top-tier hat tips going to the personal injury, clinical negligence and agriculture practices. Trethowans doesn't have many trainees – at the time of our research there were four in Southampton, two in Salisbury and one in Poole. The firm hires in all three locations and trainees said it “does like to recruit those who have some form of connection to the local area. For instance, a number of us went to the University in Southampton.”
“If we carry on the way we're going, I imagine we'll reach it.”
On top of location, our interviewees were attracted to the firm as they found it to be “very genuine, approachable and friendly.” One told us: “I went to a lot of networking events, and the more people I met, the more I was able to pinpoint the ones who worked at Trethowans. They were always really nice and welcoming.” Another attraction for sources was that although this is a pretty small firm, there are “a breadth of disciplines you can try, which is especially good if you don't know yet which area you want to qualify into.” Before trainees start HR canvasses their seat preferences, and once they've joined future desires are discussed in mid-seat reviews with HR and the training principal, who “try their very best to accommodate everyone.” Property is the most common seat: all our interviewees had done one seat here, some two.
Despite being a small firm, Trethowans is quite 'on it' when it comes to strategy. It's had a series of three-year plans for growth in recent years. Lawyer head count is now 80, up from 50 ten years ago, having been helped along by a 2015 merger with 15-strong Poole firm Dickinson Manser. Now the firm's '2020 Vision' has the aim of increasing revenue to £20 million by 2020. “It's very well communicated and a consistent goal,” sources agreed. “If we carry on the way we're going, I imagine we'll reach it.” In 2016/17, revenue stood at approximately £15 million, so there's a little way to go still. Another small merger in the future wouldn't surprise us.
The corporate and commercial team is split in two: a corporate side that deals with any and all corporate transactions as well as corporate advisory work and a commercial side that handles commercial contracts, franchise agreements, distribution agreements and other day-to-day legal services for businesses. A trainee said that on the corporate side they'd been "treated quite independently" and given drafting tasks as well as being the one who made sure "everything was falling into place" when deals were being finalised. Trainees don't deal with their own matters, but do get to complete the first drafts of agreements. "Tomorrow I'm going to a client meeting to discuss a document I drafted in order to see it progress," one source told us. The team serves some national names like Ladbrokes, Jewson and Bacardi-Martini, as well as regional businesses like Winchester-based roofing company Lakesmere.
Commercial litigation deals chiefly with contractual disputes and is home to eight lawyers specialising in property, IP and insolvency. In one case, the team is representing tool manufacturer Great Star in a dispute with Edge Tools & Equipment over an alleged breach of contract to source and supply JCB-branded blades and other tools and accessories. Trainees reported dealing with small disputes between neighbours and low-value contractual spats. Their work involves preparing court bundles, research and doing the first drafts of claims, defences, and other court documents. “There's lots of client contact whether that's in meetings or by email," one interviewee said.
The 18-lawyer property practice is the largest in the firm. Its commercial side deals with the buying and selling of “anything from small shops to big developments.” Trainees work on sale and purchase agreements, lease holds on large commercial property portfolios, lease renewals and transfers of property. The firm recently acted for the James Hay Pension Trustees as it sold a £3 million factory site for redevelopment. Interviewees had done due diligence and other searches, drafted deeds and leases, and prepared completion documents. "In my first month I was taken through what the work involves, doing bits of other people's files till I properly understood them," one trainee said of their time doing residential work. "After a month I had my own small files for which I was the main point of contact for clients. Eventually I had about 14."
Private client has been on the up since the 2015 merger, with most of the practice's 14 lawyers based in Poole. The seat is broadly based around wills and the administration of estates for individuals. Trainees undertake “individual tasks on others' files rather than having their own.” One told of drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney. There's plenty of face-to-face client contact, with one source getting to “lead a meeting, though with the supervisor there in case there were any tricky questions.” The 11-lawyer personal injury department also acts for individuals: claimants who've been the victim of road traffic accidents, other catastrophic injuries or clinical errors. Trainees take work from everyone on the team, working on long-running cases. Tasks included drafting witness statements, writing up interview notes and attending court. “I'm always in client meetings," one interviewee reported. "I sat in on a partner interview with a client and took notes.”
Commending the firm for its friendliness, interviewees told us it's the little things that make all the difference. One said: “We have things like 'fresh fruit Wednesday', at Easter everyone gets Easter eggs, and in the summer there's ice cream on hot days.” The icing on the cake is getting a day off on or around your birthday. “One of the recruiters I spoke to before my training contract said Trethowans was a 'lifestyle firm', and I think that's correct. They're good at supporting you as a lawyer and as an individual.” That being said, sources agreed “you still have to be driven and show interest and willingness to learn.”
The social scene varies by office. One trainee quipped that “there are more social events in six weeks in Poole than in six months in Salisbury!” Trainees get a quarterly budget for socials, and they recently did an 'escape the room' challenge. Besides the fun and games, the firm tries to do its bit for the community – 150 bits in fact, to celebrate the firm turning 150 in 2016. The grand finale was “working with the Dorset Wildlife Trust to plant 150 trees. The firm bought all the tree saplings and is paying for their maintenance for the next ten years.”
Speaking of Dorset we heard that the Poole office, based in the town centre near the station and shopping centre, is “a bit dated” compared to the modern Southampton and Salisbury offices, which are based in out-of-town business parks. We did hear that in the near future the firm is “looking at getting a new office in Poole which will be refitted to mirror the other two.” Trainees don't need to spend too much time in the office, with a nine-to-five day being typical. “People have told me not to stay too late and actively encouraged me to go home,” a trainee said. We did hear that in corporate "the workload is pretty substantial, so you have to put in the hours," meaning you might have to stay till after 6pm.“People here expect you to have a life outside of work,” an interviewee said.
When asked about retention one source reflected: “In recent years the firm hasn't been known for retaining many trainees.” Indeed: in the past five to six years the firm has kept on about half its qualifiers, though we should note that's not atypical for a small firm. In 2017 a tidy three out of four qualifiers were retained.
Trainees reckoned that “as much as academics are important, the firm looks for people who have other interests, whether that's travel, sports or business experience.”
How to get a Trethowans training contract
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 80 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 around 30 to attend a short interview via Skype. 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 15 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 35
- Associates 47
- Total trainees 6
- UK offices Salisbury, Southampton, Poole
- Graduate recruiter: Kate Ellis, firstname.lastname@example.org, 02380 321000
- Training partner: Jon Kelly, email@example.com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3-4
- Applications pa: 80+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year and second-year salaries: Competitive market rate with regular reviews
- Post-qualification salary: Competitive market rate
- Holiday entitlement: 23 days as a trainee; 25 days post qualification, increasing to 28 days on an incremental basis. Plus Bank Holidays.
- LPC fees: Partial (up to 50%)
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Service excellence is a priority – clients value the firm’s ability to deliver expert advice, in a personable and friendly manner.
Many of our teams and individuals are rated in both the Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession and Legal 500.
“Without doubt one important ingredient in our success has been our culture. We pride ourselves on not only being professional and providing an excellent service, but also providing a supportive, inclusive working environment. The fact is when recruiting we look for good, decent people as much as outstanding legal professionals”.
Chris Whiteley, managing partner.
Main areas of work
Legal advice to businesses includes: corporate, commercial, banking, commercial property, commercial and property 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.
Trainees work closely with the supervising lawyer/partner to whom they are responsible. They are considered an important part of each team and become closely involved in the team’s work to obtain first-hand legal experience. Each trainee’s performance is reviewed regularly by their supervisor and regular feedback is provided.
Trainees are an integral part of the firm from day one. They are responsible for the firm’s staff newsletter, involved in organising annual social events, and participate in business development and in supporting the firms nominated charities.
University law careers fairs 2017
• University of Law, Bristol – 22 November 2017
• University of Law, Guildford – Spring 2018