Don't pass the Bucks! B P Collins provides responsibility in a relaxed atmosphere minutes from the M25.
An Oasis in the suburbs
What do Noel Gallagher, Mary Berry and Ozzy Osbourne all have in common? As far as we know, it's not baking skills – no, in fact, all of these national treasures have homes in affluent Buckinghamshire. Coincidentally, this is also the home of regional treasure B P Collins. Situated in Gerrards Cross, the firm's a mere 25-minute train journey from London, making it the ideal spot for a reverse commute. In turn, that made it a super choice for trainees who “didn't want a City firm, but wanted good-quality work and clients, and a better work/life balance.”
The firm isn't unfamiliar with serving London or national clients, and Chambers UK gives it high rankings in the Thames Valley for its corporate, environment, litigation and employment practices, as well as recognition for its real estate and family practices. There's private wealth work too: “We want to be a life cycle firm,” sources told us, “which means we’re there for clients’ corporate and individual needs.”
The firm's seat system is unusual: juniors undertake four five-month seats, and then repeat one for four months. Rookies submit their preferences at the start of the contract, but seats are then allocated on a flexible basis, meaning “you can change your mind as you go along, which is good, but it also means you’re not guaranteed to get what you want.” As for how this works out, trainees felt “HR tries to accommodate everyone. They used to say you’d get three preferences but now it’s gone down to two.” The lack of certainty around seat changes flustered some, who said: “Quite often we don’t find out until a week or so before moving and that can be challenging.” Flexibility seemed to be the defining term: trainees even start at different points in the year.
Biffa, Chip and Kipper
The various transactions occurring in the corporate/commercial seat “tend to be with medium-sized businesses.” But, in addition to local companies, such as CliniMed holdings, a global supplier of medical supplies, the team also represents Biffa, the leading waste management company in the UK. It's a long-standing and significant client, and the team recently advised it on its purchase of Amber Engineering, a Welsh waste management business. Trainees also noticed “a good crossover between work for individuals and businesses.” For example, the firm recently acted for two majority shareholders of Black Diamond, a London advertising agency, in their £750,000 buyout of a minority shareholder's shares. “Usually a partner will be doing the main transaction agreement,” revealed trainees, “but you’ll be doing ancillaries, board minutes, company resolutions and secretarial work.” On the commercial side responsibilities included “attending initial client meetings, assisting with research and drafting privacy and cookie notices for websites.”
“Occasions where you’re not contributing to the team don’t happen often.”
BP’s property department – the largest at the firm – is split into commercial property and residential, or ‘ressy’ as it is known here. As such, the clients are a mixture of businesses and private individuals. Commercial clients include bowling alley owners Hollywood Bowl, Lacoste and renewable energy specialists Summerleaze. The private client side sees some extremely wealthy individuals buying and selling new builds, townhouses and mansions, mostly in London and Buckinghamshire. Trainees happily described “dabbling in both teams so you don’t find yourself doing the same thing over and over.” Others added: “On the commercial side I particularly enjoyed the cross-departmental work, like supporting corporate on major projects.” Insiders recalled opportunities “to run with a lot of my own files and get day-to-day contact with clients.” Larger transactions provided less responsibility but one trainee assured us: “I’ve rarely had to spend time in the copy room. It happens to everyone but occasions where you’re not contributing to the team don’t happen often, and it’s exciting to be involved in such fast-paced projects.” Trainees' overall experience included completing title reports, land registry applications, drafting leases, licences of alteration and carrying out due diligence.
Trainees who had undertaken a seat in BP’s family team described “a focus on high net worth clients' financials in divorces, children-related matters and pre- and post-nuptials.” Insiders also taught us about TOLATA cases (that’s the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act, not the small town in Bolivia), which deal with unmarried people who are cohabiting. Trainees described “a high ratio of partners to trainees, which means you get a lot of high-level work from different fee earners.” That meant “preparing for hearings, drafting orders, work on the Form H [an estimate of cost for financial remedy], and helping with financial disclosure.” The nature of the work meant “really delving into someone’s life, so the work is as varied as people’s lives are. It can be quite gruelling, especially when there are children involved.” One gleeful source added: “There’s a lot of bundling, but there’s a paralegal, so it doesn’t all fall on the trainee.”
The litigation team covers a number of national clients including BIC (of pen, lighter and razor fame), motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki and Toshiba Medical Systems. It covers contract disputes, corporate litigation and regulatory matters, and recently acted successfully for PB Donoghue, a group of waste management companies, in a £3 million damage claim made against the company by an ex-driver. “It’s a very broad team,” explained interviewees. “Property litigation is almost a team on its own, and then commercial dispute resolution and contentious probates make up a large part as well.” Trainees described how “fee earners try to get you as involved as possible.” Low-value claims or debt recoveries give slightly more autonomy, but “usually you’ll be doing some drafting and researching points.”
“Fee earners have enough time to spend it with you.”
Overall trainees were “very happy with the workload.” The firm fosters a “strong team spirit. If someone’s leaving they’ll always ask if anyone needs any help.” Other trainees were keen to “emphasise the exposure you get to responsibility and to clients.” A less hectic working environment meant “you get given that responsibility because fee earners have enough time to spend it with you.” Trainees are contracted to work from 8.30am until 5.30pm, but told us: “I usually leave between 6pm and 7pm.” Some in litigation told us: “The hours have varied, so I’ve had some weeks where I’ve been finishing at 8pm.” However, everyone we spoke to agreed that “the work/life balance is much better than anything you’d get in the City.”
El canyon con companion
“I know a lot of firms say they have an open-door policy” began one interviewee, “but the doors are literally always open. The people really do make the firm.” Having a supervisor “sat right next to you,” aided an approach to training that is “very much on-the-job.” For example, “if I'm on the phone, and my supervisor can hear I'm struggling, we'll have a conversation afterwards. And every fortnight we meet to chat through everything on my work list and check everything is being dealt with.”
However, the firm is divided between two offices, causing the common complaint that “we don’t see as much of the other trainees as we’d like.” As a result, “it's a major objective of senior management to get together more often, and there’s talk of refurbishing the offices so that we’re all under one roof.” Trainees are given a quarterly budget to organise their own social, which junior lawyers also attend. These usually happen in London, and have recently included Junkyard Golf, darts and ping pong, “usually followed by a night out.” The firm even went canyoning and white-water rafting in Wales, which we we were told was “excellent, although a little cold.”
Quarterly updates where senior partners and heads of department give updates on the firm contributed to trainees' opinion that “when decisions are made they consult the staff so you definitely feel like you’re kept in the loop.” The qualification process was less clear. But despite this informality trainees felt: “The firm’s eager to retain trainees if they can because it’s a big investment for a firm of this size. But it is dependent on vacancies.” In 2018 the firm kept on one of its two qualifiers.
If those social sojourns weren't enough, we also heard about firm-wide trips to Somerset House for the ice skating, and Lord's for the cricket. Howzat?!
How to get a B P Collins training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 May 2019 (opens 1 March 2019)
B P Collins recruits two to three trainees each year. To apply for a training contract applicants must submit a handwritten covering letter along with their CV. "This helps us identify those who are really interested in joining B P Collins specifically as a handwritten letter requires a lot of effort and attention" says HR Manager Jacqui Symons.
In terms of the content, the firm expects to learn "why a candidate is interested in applying to B P Collins in particular. We put a premium on attention to detail, so spelling, grammar and the structure of the letter are really important to us. We are also looking for well-rounded candidates who can demonstrate other interests beyond work and studies."
Interviews and assessment day
Successful candidates are invited to attend group test sessions and screening interviews, which are held between May and September each year. A successful candidate assured us that "it really isn't scary at all. I was just asked standard questions about myself, my motivations and my interest in the firm." Nine of those interviewed are selected to attend a full-day assessment in the autumn. This includes presentations from senior partner Simon Deans, and training partner David Smellie. Candidates deliver a short, prepared presentation on a subject of their choice, which is followed by a short Q&A session. Candidates are then quizzed on the presentation. Topics of past presentations have included the optimum time at which to place a bid in an online eBay auction (12 seconds before the end apparently!), the life of Andy Warhol and why Boris Johnson is such a canny politician.
The morning finishes with in-tray and group exercises, followed by lunch and an office tour conducted by current trainees. Finally, candidates are interviewed by two partners and/or senior associates. One eventually successful candidate told us: “It's gruelling but they're good at putting you at ease.” The firm lets candidates know if they have been successful within 24 hours. Senior Partner Simon Deans concludes: “We are looking for people who are personable, loyal, good-humoured and self-motivated. Our aim is to provide excellent training with a view to preparing trainees for a long career as a lawyer at the firm.”
Typically, more than 50 candidates apply for placements at B P Collins, also with a handwritten covering letter and CV. Up to 20 are interviewed and selected to attend a one or two-week placement between May and October each year. A student who completed a placement said that the firm "makes a real effort to get you as involved as possible – some of us even got to go to court!"
Applications for training contracts and work experience placements are dealt with separately so you will need to complete one for each if you are interested in both opportunities.
B P Collins LLP
32-38 Station Road,
- Partners 14
- Associates 35
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices Gerrards Cross
- Overseas offices None
- Graduate recruiter: Mrs Jacqui Symons, HR manager
- Training partner: David Smellie, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3-4
- Applications pa: 60
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: As and Bs at A level
- Vacation scheme places pa: 25p/week
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 May 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 January 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 March 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,400
- Second-year salary: £27,400
- Post-qualification salary: £40,000
- Holiday entitlement: 23
- LPC fees: Contribution
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Gerrards Cross
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: None
Main areas of work
• Commercial and residential property
• Employment law
• Family law
• Litigation and dispute resolution
• Private client
Placements are usually for one or two weeks from May through to October each year. Application accepted early in 2019.
University law careers 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
Watford, Uxbridge and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)