“Big fish in the Southwest” Ashfords surfs the gulf between kraken private client and business practices.
Ashfords training contract review 2024
As a “big fish in the Southwest,” trainees were full of praise for Ashfords, which blends a wide range of top-tier practices with “post-work surfing” – quite literally.Of course, Ashfords is known for its significant real estate practice – Chambers UK gives it high rankings for both the transactional and contentious strands, but the firm also holds status in a variety of sectors where “the mixture of business and private client means you get to try both sides of law.”
Our sister guide’s rankings place the firm in the top bracket for construction, corporate M&A and social housing in the Southwest, and the firm gets top honours UK-wide for its charities and horse racing & equestrian practice. With all that experience, its no surprise that the firm often looks out for the same in potential trainees. “They like that experience,” one insider told us, but that’s not solely limited to paralegalling which “isn’t a necessity." They added that whether it's "a career in hospitality or retail, they really like people bringing those transferable skills to the table.”
Trainees told us that, in typical fashion you don’t get given a choice for your first seat, but in the second year you get to give your top three preferences. “They do their best,” but insiders did admit, “not everyone is happy every time…” That said, “I don’t know any second years who haven’t gotten a preference, so you definitely get your seat eventually!” – and newbies reasoned that those closer to qualification are more likely to know where they want to qualify anyway. Those keen for secondment placements might find opportunities a tad sparse but “commercial secondments are occasionally available; you don’t leave the Ashfords office but you do have a laptop for your placement on a part-time basis.”
“There is an unwritten rule that you do a real estate seat.”
Although Ashfords doesn’t strictly have any compulsory seats, we heard from one trainee that, “there is an unwritten rule that you do a real estate seat,” with another adding, “they encourage you to do that, or something around it. It’s the biggest department in our firm so it’s good to go into because the teams work across offices and across a lot of different areas!” This means that, while “you’re kind of thrown in at the deep end,” thankfully “you’re not doing the same thing over and over again!” With a team of around 70 lawyers, it’s no surprise that trainees work on anything from social and affordable housing to development matters (though technically they’re placed in one group.)
Newbies told us they worked on the buying and selling of affordable housing units, landlord-tenant matters, and development and construction projects: “You get to go on site visits,” one interviewee was keen to tell us.Traineesworkwith clients right out the gate, so the seat can be quite hands on – handy for those looking to get their hands dirty straight away. Of course a stint in real estate does include your typical drafting of leases and contracts, but “there are quite a few client meetings. You can also get given an estate to deal with, getting checks done and pushing things over the line.” Trainees work with clients like The Post Office and Exeter Science Park, in addition to housing associations and local councils. Speaking of which, the firm recently advised Ashford Borough Council in connection with the Ashford International Studios Project, a £250 million redevelopment of a brownfield site (that's jargon for land that's either been abandoned or not in use).
“I have fifteen-plus of my own matters.”
Property litigation similarly includes a fair bit of council work, with solicitors taking on claims that people bring to said councils, including landlord and tenant matters, dilapidations and break notices with authorities such as Bristol City Council. Trainees still expected to get on with a heavy dose of work. “I have fifteen-plus of my own matters I’m looking after,” one insider told us, “but that also means that supervision is higher in this department compared to others.” The team works with clients such as the University of Plymouth and St Mungo, the latter of which Ashfords represents in issues like temporary accommodation, commercial arrangements related to possession and injunction actions.
On the corporate side of things, the trainees we spoke with found it “a little more difficult to get involved” on account of the practice’s steep learning curve: “you’re very much a small part of the deal, helping with more admin-y type stuff.” We heard that drafting of ancillary documents, board minutes and helping with first drafts of things like share purchase agreements takes up a large part of your time as a trainee in this seat, with newbies taking on a supplementary role to associates and partners. “I would target emails to certain people, asking if I could help with different matters,” one shared their proactive approach, which ensured they got the most out of the seat. Over in banking and finance,“you’re working on deals worth millions,” dealing with clients like Santander, HSBC and Homes England. Rookies work on matters from start to finish, although we heard the banking terms and numbers can take a while to get used to! The group recently acted for Lloyds Bank on its £13 million funding of a hotel group based in the Southwest.
Ashford’s suite of seats also includes commercial and IP, where trainees work ona lotof contract drafting. “We do loads of sports law, and deal with general disputes like unpaid debt and breach of contract claims.” We heard the Exeter team specifically “is very focused on energy, natural resources and waste,” so newbies can find themselves dealing with a variety of pretty niche areas. “On the IP side, we work with some quite big names” including Blackrock, Aardman Animations, and even Michael Bublé’s music company, Pancho Music! The team also acted for the owners of copyright for the scripts and fictional characters in “Only Fools and Horses,” concerning copyright issues that arose from an Only Fools and Horses interactive dining show.
When it comes to in-office expectations, whole departments are required to be in the office two days a week, a policy that’s reflected in expectations for trainees. The firm told us that they prefer trainees to come in four days a week, as long as their supervisor is in. But “it’s flexible,” one insider told us, “it depends on the seat – in real estate it’s just easier to be in because there’s a lot of paperwork!” Office perks of course, depend on which location you’re placed in. Exeter’s site sits just off the motorway with a couple of snazzy little extras including a tuck shop, a gym on the top floor and sparkling water on tap – very nice! Across the firm’s two offices we heard that there’s “a pretty chilled vibe,” but the Bristol office tends to be a little more outgoing, in part due to its city centre location; “everyone drives in in Exeter, so it limits impromptu drinks.”
“We hired out a manor house for about 100 people!”
Despite this, there are still a good number of socialevents to keep people engaged: “In Exeter there’s a Monday night walk group that goes up onto Dartmoor, plus football, climbing and cycling groups.” Firmwide, there has also been an increase in budget for social events, allowing for two away days per year, per team, which serve as opportunities for trainees to meet people on their team outside of their office. “The real estate one was great,” one trainee grinned, “we hired out a manor house for about 100 people! There was an egg and spoon race, line dancing, a bucking bronco and a DJ came in.” Away days also incorporate an element of community outreach which often include litter picking and helping at a foodbank.
“If you’re into giving back to the community, Ashfords is a really good firm to join.”
“Every time we have a party there’s a fundraising element,” so it’s fair to say Ashfords is quite CSR-driven – “if you’re into giving back to the community, Ashfords is a really good firm to join.” The firm typically selects a charity, the latest being Winston’s Wish. The firm raised £100,000 for the organisation, but is now are three separate organisations: Saint Mungos, The Ocean Conservation Trust and the Trussell Trust, a charity that provides foodbanks. The firm also encourages trainees to be self-driven on CSR issues: “we have a trainee challenge where we pitch a fundraising scheme to the CEO and HR, and they pick the best idea – this year they combined the two though! It was a combination of a silent auction and a Christmas breakfast.”
Choice being the item of the day, trainees were also positive about the firm’s approach to qualification. “The information is quite clear,” one newbie explained, “HR will go to the heads of department to find out who wants NQs, and we say where we want to stay… provided nobody else wants to qualify there you get it!” The firm retained 13 of 14 qualifiers in 2023.
Time flies when you’re having fun: Trainees put in 42 hours a week on average according to our survey (about three hours less than those in London-based firms).
How to get into Ashfords
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 31 March 2024
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 March 2024
Ashfords has twelve training contracts on offer for a 2026 start, split between Bristol and the South West. Candidates need a minimum 2:1, but does consider applications from those whose A levels weren't so strong. Beyond that, we're told the firm is looking for people who are business savvy, curious and ambitious – people who are team players and effective communicators. Links to the South West are not required, though candidates will need to show their motivations for wanting to work in the region, and demonstrate a commitment to staying in the area.
Applicants can either apply for a summer scheme or a training contract outright. In 2023 the firm received over 500 training contract and summer scheme applications. Both start off with the same online application form. This examines a candidate's qualifications and previous work experience, and asks several competency-based questions designed to assess their suitability.
Recruiters typically invite 40 direct applicants to the assessment days (including those who attend a summer scheme beforehand).
The assessment day includes three elements: a written exercise, roleplay and an interview with a partner and a member of HR. The interview takes around one hour and involves competency-based questions. “I had to show evidence of standard things like working well in a team,” a trainee recalled, “and they also asked 'When have you been put under pressure in the past, and what would you do differently next time?'”
The firm runs three week-long summer schemes in June each year. These take place in both the Exeter and Bristol offices, and there's room for 24 candidates in total. Attendees split their time between three departments, and past participants reported doing substantive, trainee-level work. Candidates complete the assessment centre in the middle of the week and spend their final day participating in various workshops, including a partner panel session.
Ashfords is a national provider of legal, professional and regulatory services. We combine legal expertise, commercial experience and our wider network to help our clients achieve their goals, providing value for time and value for money. Our commitment to excellence is reflected by the quality of our employees and partners, our client testimonials and industry awards. We are also delighted to have been voted a UK 300 employer by students and graduates in the UK for the eighth year running. We’re proud that our priorities go beyond business; through our employee-led, firm-wide Environmental, Social and Governance programme, we aim to focus our efforts and make a real difference.
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2023
Exeter, UoL Bristol, Cardiff
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
Exeter and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Charities: Legacy Disputes (Band 1)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 4)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency: Personal Insolvency (Band 2)
- Sport: Horse Racing & Equestrian (Band 1)