With a “progressive” mindset and an increasingly national set-up, Bristol-born TLT is now hot on the heels of the UK's top 50 firms.
My, how you've grown!
When we asked trainees about their initial attraction to this firm, many replied with the same answer: its growth and ambition. “It's a really fast-moving firm that's on the up,” summed up one, “so the opportunity to become part of that was too good to turn down.” This is something we've heard for a good few years now, and indeed when you look at the facts, it's fair to say TLT's rapid growth and steep ambition are two fundamental factors in its ascent up the legal ladder in recent years.
TLT has come on in leaps and bounds since its conception following a merger between two Bristol-based firms in 2000. For starters, the £49.6m turnover the firm recorded in 2012/13 was more than thrice the amount achieved back in 2002, and in 2013/14 this figure rose again to £57.9m – a whopping 18% increase from the previous year. It's worth noting that just under two-thirds of TLT's overall income comes from industry sectors like retail, leisure, renewables, housing and financial services. The latter is the firm's biggest money-spinner, raking in roughly 40% of total earnings.
TLT has made significant strides in its geographical coverage too. In 2005 the firm took its first steps into London, and two years later it established an overseas presence in Piraeus following its takeover of shipping supremo Constant & Constant. More recently, TLT opened up shop in both Northern Ireland and Scotland in 2012 – the latter following its acquisition of Scottish firm Anderson Fyfe – and in 2013 it added a Manchester office to the network. The Mancunian crew – which is now around 40-strong thanks to the arrival of 30 ex-Irwin Mitchell employees in late 2013 – has followed in the footsteps of Bristol and London by welcoming a couple of trainees into its ranks.
April 2014 saw David Pester kick off his fifth successive term as managing partner by announcing TLT's latest goal: to hike revenue by 60% and reach a turnover of £80m by 2017. If this feat is achieved, it'll almost certainly propel TLT into the UK top 50.
Banking on success
At the time of our calls there were 16 trainees in the Bristol HQ, five in London and two in Manchester. HR gets in touch with new starters before they arrive to solicit requests for their first seat, though these are not necessarily honoured. For the next three rotations, however, trainees put forth five seat preferences. Our interviewees agreed the allocation system is “fair” and “transparent,” and we heard few complaints about where people had ended up. London and Manchester offer fewer seats than Bristol, but the smaller trainee intakes there mean “it's really easy for all of us to sit down and discuss between ourselves which seats we want to do.” No seats are mandatory, though property and banking –“essentially our biggest practices” – are two very common destinations.
Interviewees said that a seat in professional negligence serves as a “great introduction” to life as a TLT trainee. “There's a really high volume of work available from the off, so it's ideal for helping you get accustomed to managing your own caseload,” one source explained. Trainees here are typically tasked with “assessing the merits of a case and advising clients on the prospects of success,” a process which entails drafting letters, reviewing documents, conducting research and filing court applications. Because many of the group's clients belong to the financial sector – for instance, Bank of Ireland, Barclays and UBS – it regularly works in tandem with the insolvency, corporate recovery, and banking and financial services litigation (BFSL) teams.
The BFSL group, one of the biggest in the country, chalks up a top-tier ranking in Chambers UK. This impressive size and standing have helped the team secure a place on the legal panels of national big'uns like RBS, UK Asset Resolution and One Savings Bank; other clients include well-known banks and mortgage lenders across the commercial, investment, corporate and retail spheres. The team is a popular pit-stop for trainees, not least because “it's one of the seats that gives you the chance to handle a large number of your own cases.” Drafting is part and parcel of a stint here, mainly in the form of witness statements and letters, and trainees get to liaise with clients and counsel too. We're unable to reveal many details about the cases on the firm's docket, but we can tell you a large chunk of them concern recouping fraudulent losses and preventing incidents of a similar nature.
Meanwhile, the banking and finance group is especially strong on the social housing and renewable energy financing fronts, and has a good whack of the UK's major financial institutions on its books, including Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Nationwide. It's not all about the domestic players, though: the team services plenty of foreign entities too – Dutch bank Triodos, for example, which lawyers recently advised on a number of multimillion-pound loans to various housing associations in England and Wales. Sources who'd completed a banking seat told of drafting ancillary agreements, carrying out due diligence and liaising with foreign counsel “to make sure the paperwork meets the legal requirements of all jurisdictions involved.” It's unlikely you'll get to manage transactions from start to finish here, but we're told there are opportunities to deal with clients and take the lead on low-value deals.
Green with energy
Property lawyers in Bristol recently advised the Department of Energy and Climate Change on the real estate elements surrounding the government's 'Green Deal' energy policy, and the firm also sits on the legal panel of the London Borough Legal Alliance, which consists of ten local authorities. TLT complements this public sector property work with matters for commercial clients like WHSmith, EDF Energy and Greene King. The practice is split into several specialist teams, among them real estate litigation, social housing and planning – all of which are highly recommended by Chambers UK for their work in the South West. Trainees in Bristol are assigned to one of these, while their counterparts in the capital take a more general approach, working between them. “I was exposed to all sorts of work – commercial property matters, development projects and complex residential matters,” reported one Londoner. Still, we hear both offices offer a healthy dose of responsibility in the form of reviewing and drafting leases, researching titles, overseeing Land Registry applications, and handling client queries. “The amount of client contact I got really stuck out to me,” said one interviewee. “There were so many opportunities to go to meetings.”
The family team scoops top-band regional Chambers UK rankings and falls under TLT's private business umbrella, which also incorporates tax and estate planning work. Divorces and child-related cases like contact disputes and those concerning physical or psychological harm form a large part of the team's workload. “You have people coming to you whose lives have been turned on their heads, which is a completely different experience from dealing with the massive institutions we handle on the commercial side.” Trainees sitting with the group are often asked to oversee negotiations between parents and their children, on top of drafting witness statements and attending court sessions with counsel.
At only 14 years old, TLT is very much a young'un as far as law firms go. A major plus to this, according to our sources, is that “it doesn't have the old-school values of other firms in the area. There's no obvious sense of hierarchy, for example – you never feel intimidated approaching any of the partners, who you'll find are just as likely to make others cups of tea as trainees.” The open-plan layout helps immensely with this as “it requires everyone to be amiable, open and talkative.” Said one interviewee: “I've been supervised by lawyers of many different levels throughout my training contract, but I wouldn't have necessarily known who was who based on how they interacted with me.”
Last year we heard a few grumbles about a lack of collaboration between the teams in London and Bristol, but according to the current crop of trainees, the firm has taken strides to address this. “There's been a drive to share expertise and develop a greater one-firm focus,” sources from both offices said, mentioning that they're “now interacting quite a lot.” There's not much overlap with the Manchester practice yet, but trainees are kept in the loop about its developments. “As the team out there grows, I imagine we'll get to work with them on a more regular basis.”
Insiders had few complaints about the firm's digs. The Bristol office resides in a 1970s tower block “right in the heart of the legal quarter, just along the river.” From the outside it might not look like much – sources compared the building to a car park and, of all things, a cheesegrater – but the interiors make up for that, we hear. “We have a lovely reception area, top-of-the-range facilities and great branding – everything's unmistakably TLT. And because we're in such a tall building, we get fabulous views of the city.” Londoners were equally complimentary about their home ground, praising the “perfectly convenient location” by Bank tube station and the “smart, stylish and contemporary” interiors.
Social butterflies will be pleased to hear there's no shortage of fun at TLT. “They recruit people who are just as enthusiastic about being here as they are about law in general. We get up to a lot.” Aside from an annual trainee get-together in Bristol and a firm-wide shindig held every other summer, most mingling is kept to trainees' home office. Rest assured, however, that each contingent enjoys a pretty full social agenda. Bristolians can often be found grabbing after-work drinks at nearby wine bar Toto's or attending events put on by their local Junior Lawyers Division, while the London cohort recently introduced a social committee that organises monthly events like pub quizzes. New trainees across the offices are welcomed with a bowling and pizza outing (an excellent combo in our opinion), and third-seaters are tasked with organising some kind of event every couple of months or so. “It's usually pretty low-key – something like Laser Quest or pizza-making.”
TLT trainees come from a mix of universities and backgrounds, with fresh graduates and career changers alike making up the current cohort. While TLT “doesn't go for cookie-cutter personalities,” there are certain traits trainees tend to possess. “We've all got quite outgoing personalities and aren't afraid to get stuck into something we've not experienced before,” insiders agreed. “Enthusiasm is key.”
The firm's ambitious turnover target for 2017 shows it's not hitting the brakes on its expansion drive any time soon. We hear this thirst for growth feeds heavily into the firm's working culture. “Everybody's motivated to do their bit and contribute to the firm's fortunes,” trainees said, telling us “it's exciting to be part of a confident machine that isn't resting on its laurels. It feels like we're all nurturing our own little baby.” Although TLT still has a little way to go to rival the likes of Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke – the current top dogs in the Bristol market – there's no doubt the progress it's made in recent years has captured the attention of industry insiders. “That we're even being compared to those two firms shows we're clearly going places,” noted one interviewee.
TLT's mantra of 'recruit, train and retain' has paid off in recent years, topping the 80% mark every year since 2008. This trend continued in 2014, when ten out of 11 second-years were kept on.
How to get a TLT training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2015
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2015
Applications and assessments
TLT receives between 500 and 600 applications each year – this figure includes both vacation scheme and direct training applications. The firm typically has 16 training contracts on offer across its offices each year. A minimum 300 UCAS points and 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 30-minute Skype interview with someone from the HR team. “We recently switched from phone interviews and have found the change very successful,” says trainee recruitment officer Gemma Cowley. “It puts candidates at ease and lets us read their body language.” The discussion centres on applicants' interests, work experience, reasons for choosing law and, specifically, TLT. 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 move on to the assessment day, which entails an interview with a HR member and partner, a presentation, a group exercise, and a written task.
According to Cowley, the interview “is not designed to be an interrogation – we're looking for people who can build a strong rapport with others, so we ask simple questions and try to engage in an actual conversation with our interviewees.” The questions are largely commercial awareness and competency-based.
The presentation centres on a commercial topic given in advance, while the group exercise sees each group is posed a problem and asked to deliver a solution, with questions from assessors to follow. The written task, meanwhile, takes the form of a a client letter, and tests “written communication skills and ability to draw relevant information from the original source,” Cowley says.
Vacation schemeBoth the Bristol and London offices running vacation schemes: Bristol offer 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. Those on the vac scheme are paid £230 for the week.
Each vac schemer is assigned to a single department for their visit, though they do have the opportunity to network with junior lawyers 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.
How to wow
Impressing here “is all about showing you've got potential,” according to 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.”
TLT's recent growth
The past few years at TLT have been characterised by significant investment: 2012 saw the firm merge with Glasgow-based unit Anderson Fyfe to create TLT Scotland, as well as open a separate practice in Belfast. Ever fond of an acronym, the firm titled this new venture TLT NI LLP. Then on top of that came the mid-2013 launch of a new Manchester base. From September 2014, the firm began taking trainees in Manchester and Belfast.
The first two investments came as a direct response to demand from clients looking for a seamless delivery of legal advice across all three UK legal jurisdictions – England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. David Pester, who is enjoying his fifth successive term as TLT managing partner, told the press at the time: “Combining the strengths and resources of Anderson Fyfe and TLT, and establishing operations in Northern Ireland, will extend our national presence, strengthen our relationships with many of our strategic clients and help us win new business and grow market share.”
AF specialised in recoveries for financial services businesses, so it's proven a perfect match for TLT, which receives more than 40% of its income from its work in the financial services sector. The 45 staff members at AF, including its eight partners, were retained after the merger was finalised, as were its offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tom McEntegart, AF's managing partner, became the operational managing partner for TLT Scotland.
Lawyers in the Manchester office initially focused on commercial contracts, IP and litigation work, but the team's expertise has since diversified following an influx of staff from Irwin Mitchell towards the end of 2013. In a firm press release announcing those arrivals, Pester said: “This is a clear marker in the sand about our UK-wide growth intentions. We want to get the right people and the right expertise into the business to deliver for our clients when and where they need us. Adding a team of 30 people, which includes six experienced Manchester-based partners, is a major step towards achieving that.” The office is now takes on trainees of its own, and the number of training contracts available there is like to rise rise as TLT's presence there continues to grow.
As a result of all this growth, TLT now employs over 800 people across offices in Bristol, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Piraeus. A healthy 18% hike in financials saw the firm post a turnover of £57.9m in 2013/14, and it's aiming to reach the £80m mark by 2017 – an achievement that, if reached, will almost definitely grant it a place among the UK's top 50 firms.
A rough guide to Bristol
A bit about the city
Nestled between the borders of Somerset and Gloucester, Bristol is commonly labelled the 'gateway to the South West', thanks largely to one Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the esteemed, cigar-chomping Victorian engineer behind the Great Western Railway, which links Bristol to London Paddington. He was also responsible for one of the city's most iconic landmarks: the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
These achievements have had a lasting impact on Bristol's position and status in the country: after Brunel kick-started the city's connectivity, Bristol went on to become the success story it is today.
'Bristle' used to be a bustling seaport that thrived on maritime commerce. These days, the Port of Bristol no longer plays a vital role in keeping the city afloat. Instead, its prosperity is far more dependent on the aerospace, technology, media, financial services and tourism industries. Major companies that operate in and around Bristol include multinational aerospace and defence outfit BAE Systems and American IT giant Hewlett-Packard, which has national research laboratories based in town.
The forecast for Bristol over the next few years is very promising. Property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle predicted in 2013 that Bristol would be a key force in the recovery of the economy, outperforming every city except London in terms of the number of high-value jobs created. The 'City Deal' – a deal agreed in 2012 between the Mayor of Bristol and the government which empowers the city to draw in a sizeable amount of private investment – will no doubt help to boost Bristol's strength in coming years. According to early estimations, this investment should hit £1.5bn and forge around 40,000 jobs over the next 30 years.
All in all, the city's horizon looks pretty rosy.
The city's legal market
Bristol has long been recognised as an important hub for legal services. There used to be a time when Bristol was solely the turf of strong native firms like Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke. Slowly over the past few years, however, bigger national and international firms have begun to see the allure of Bristol. CMS Cameron McKenna was the first to cotton on to the city's potential, launching an office all the way back in 1990, but since 2010 Irwin Mitchell, RPC and Simmons & Simmons have all set up shop too.
That London firms are drawn to Bristol underscores the legal community's confidence in the city as a viable hub for business. The knowledge-based economy in Bristol tallies with many of the aforementioned firms' existing and target clients, and a Bristol base means firms can drive down costs – a key factor in Simmons & Simmons' decision to open in the city.
The emergence of non-native players hasn't dislodged the performance of the city's home-grown firms, though. Burges Salmon posted a record-high revenue of £73.7m in 2013 (its fourth consecutive year of growth), while Osborne Clarke saw its turnover rise by 25% to £142m in 2014. Fellow Bristolian TLT too has grown substantially over the past few years, posting £57.9m in turnover in 2014.
Where the firms go, the legal education providers go, and Bristol is no exception. The University of Law stormed into the city in 2010 to join long-standing providers BPP and the Bristol Institute of Legal Practice (BILP), and it didn't take long before ULaw brought up the rear, securing deals to educate Osborne Clarke's and DAC Beachcroft"s incoming trainees.
Life at a Bristol firm
Bristol firms have a long history of poaching City lawyers tired of excruciatingly cramped, rush-hour tube-journeys followed by 14-hour days in the office. Burges Salmon has embraced this stereotype quite strategically over the years, producing adverts that depict 'sardines' (hapless tube-passengers with their faces squashed against the doors) placed above the bold word 'salmon' (a nod to the free-flowing solicitors merrily leaping upstream to work at BS). Another advert simply depicted ecstatic lawyers in wetsuits, implying that you can have enjoy a desirable beach lifestyle if you decide to practise at the firm.
There's no doubt a refreshing walk down a tree-lined hill is a million times more enticing than a sweaty crush on the Central line, but we should point out that life in Bristol isn't always a nine-to-five paradise. At Osborne Clarke, for example, our research shows trainees – especially those in transactional departments – occasionally encounter the kind of late-night shifts seen at City firms, though the average day is still a reasonable 9am to 7pm. As our trainee sources confirm, the atmosphere at such firms has become increasingly 'corporate' over the years, and many are keen to dispel the myth that life at a Bristol law firm is a piece of cake.
Indeed, the pressure's cranking up as the stakes get higher, and the city's legal market has become more competitive as a result. In 2011 Temple Quarter, near Temple Meads station, was declared Bristol's upcoming enterprise zone, and as many firms – including Simmons & Simmons, Osborne Clarke and Burges Salmon – have since relocated to the area. As such, many trainees in Bristol today have quite a different experience than what they would have ten or so years ago – one with more of a 'City' flavour. As one Burges Salmon trainee told us: “Temple Quarter is a much more corporate area than where we were before, which does change the overall atmosphere at the firm.”
With this change has come a bigger range of local, national and international work for the aforementioned firms, plus more opportunities for client contact for their young lawyers, so we get the impression that Bristolian trainees feel they are very much coming out on top.
Things to do in Bristol
Bristol has lots to offer on the social side. Here's a quick run-down of the main areas in the city, as well as a few perks Bristolians are privy to:
Bristol City Centre: Home to the shopping quarter and perfect for anyone who likes to scour for a good bargain. If you appreciate the creativity that can emerge from a spray can, know it's also the place where Bristol's permanent street art project, See No Evil, is found.
Clifton: The ideal solicitor's retreat, chock full of beautiful Georgian architecture. Many a bar and restaurant can be found in Clifton Triangle, while Clifton Village is where you'll come across Bristol's iconic suspension bridge.
Gloucester Road: North Bristol and a popular suburb of the city. Also a great place to get an authentic Jamaican curry.
The Harbourside: Bristol's leisure space, which played a very important role in the city's history. It's popular with trainees in the summer, who flock here to catch some rays and take a break. It's also the place where you can hop on a boat tour and find many of Bristol's attractions, including At-Bristol (a science centre), Bristol Aquarium, Brunel's SS Great Britain and the Spike Island art space.
Old City: It's in the name, and it's all rather picturesque. Here you can walk along the Christmas Steps: an ancient, meandering street with an array of old novelty shops to contrast the shiny ones in the city centre.
Old Market: This once formed part of a key road into London, but it's now a hotspot for Bristol's gay community.
South Bristol: A farmer's market will keep those with a preference for local produce happy, while avid theatregoers will appreciate the Tobacco Factory, a locale for many touring productions.
Stokes Croft: Bristol's cultural quarter – perfect for those who appreciate the finer things of life. Come here to imagine your life as a bohemian artist, which isn't hard to do, as the area is heavily populated with studios and exhibitions. Fans of Banksy are in for a treat: here resides some of the artist's most famous work.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta: Europe's largest hot air balloon event, held each summer in the grounds of Ashton Court. We couldn't write a feature on Bristol without mentioning this.
Museums: There's the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, as well as M Shed.
Theatre: The Bristol Hippodrome is the largest theatre, while The Theatre Royal is a grade I-listed building and one of the oldest in the country. The Bristol Old Vic (an offshoot of London's Old Vic touring company) keeps the quality high.
Sport: You've got two football league clubs – Bristol City and Bristol Rovers – to get rowdy about, as well as the Bristol Rugby union club if that's more your thing. Those with the stamina could also enlist themselves to run Bristol's annual half marathon.
Music: Famous bands like Massive Attack and Portishead forged their careers in Bristol, and there are plenty of live venues to catch your favourite acts, including Colston Hall, Bristol Academy and The Exchange.
One Redcliff Street,
- Partners 83
- Solicitors c.200
- Total Trainees 32 (from September 2014)
- Contact Gemma Cowley, HR Recruitment Officer - Trainees Tel 0117 917 8905
- Method of application Online application form at www.TLTcareers.com/trainee
- Email graduate@TLTsolicitors.com
- Selection procedure Application form, telephone screening, verbal reasoning testing, assessment centre
- Closing date 31 July each year
- Training contracts up to 15 p.a.
- Applications circa 700 p.a.
- % interviewed 12% p.a.
- 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
- 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