This South Bucks firm does a mix of commercial and private client work with a strong regional flavour.
Take a leisurely bike ride through the Colne Valley Regional Park in South Buckinghamshire and you might stumble upon a little town called Gerrards Cross. It's a pretty unassuming place just a ten-minute drive from the M25. But dig deeper and you’ll discover this little corner of the country has been home to famous names ranging from Peter Stringfellow to Amal Clooney, and has an average house price of around £1 million. As security usher you away from the steely gates of the rich and famous, it might occur to you that the wealthy folks who lie behind those gates – as well as the many local businesses – need lawyers.
Enter BP Collins. “The brand is well known in the surrounding area,” onetrainee told us. This firm’s tagline is that it’s a ‘lifecycle law firm’ for both its individual and business clients. And it doesn't just work on regional matters: for example it advised national waste management company Biffa (which is based in High Wycombe) on the £3 million takeover of a recycling company in Cornwall. Thanks to work like this the firm scoops Chambers UK rankings in the Thames Valley for corporate/M&A, environment, employment, litigation, real estate, real estate litigation and family law.
“The brand is well known in the surrounding area.”
Gerrards Cross is just a 25-minute train ride from Marylebone, making a ‘reverse commute’ possible for any aspiring trainees who don’t want to leave London life behind. But this firm also attracts those “very much looking at firms outside London.” In addition, we heard that “almost half of the current trainees paralegalled” prior to starting their training contract, some at BP Collins and others elsewhere.
BP Collins’ training contract doesn’t follow the standard structure: trainees do four five-month seats followed by a final four-month stint, usually in the department they want to qualify into.Before starting, the firm asks trainees to rank seat preferences and “semi-guarantees” they’ll get their top choice over the course of the training contract. More informally, chatting about seat preferences “isn’t something to be shy about – people are very curious about what you’re interested in.” Sometimes “you don’t know which seat you’re going into until you’re on the way there,” but any delays “come from a good place. They want to accommodate everyone’s requests.”
A heating pipe dream
“Everybody sits in property at some point,” we heard. The firm’s biggest department has 14 solicitors, handles commercial, residential and development work, and takes two trainees at a time. Trainees do both commercial and residential work during the seat. On the commercial side the firm works with “household names, which always makes it a bit more exciting.” There's a little company called Lacoste, for example. Other clients include Biffa, developer City and Provincial Properties and Wycombe District Council. The team recently advised medical supplies company CliniMed on its acquisition of aerosol company Hydrokem, which involved three properties. One trainee said that commercial property gives you a close up “through the keyhole” look at matters – “you’re reworking a lease or a specific document within a file.” Some trainees preferred the “more holistic view” of residential, where a trainee might “take a transaction from start to finish.” On a residential conveyancing a trainee can “run a simple sale or purchase – obviously while supervised.” There's more client contact on residential matters too, “which I enjoy, but it’s also stressful if you feel the weight of someone’s hopes and dreams crushing down on you.” No pressure.
A seat in private client also carries some extra pressure, and then some. “I had to act almost as an arbiter in a family dispute,” one trainee shared. “We had to bring all the items from a home to our office and set them all up. The families came in and had to decide who got what – it was interesting if a bit tense!” The team handles wills, probate and trust work. Trainees found they could “get stuck into a lot of drafting” of wills and powers of attorney “from scratch,” and also got to get out the office. “You often have to go to the properties of people that have passed away,” we heard, “whether that's to collect items or just because you have to turn the heating off!”
“I took the initial call with a small, newly set-up company.”
Corporate and commercial handles M&A and other work for companies like “supply agreements, terms and conditions, and the implementation of GDPR.” Environmental matters are a specialism of the team – it recently advised sustainability startup Utonomy on fund-raising £2 million. The group also acted for couriers Rico Logistics during its acquisition of 80% of computer repair service Triage. Trainees noted a distinction between their corporate and commercial tasks: on the corporate side trainees are chiefly responsible for “organising the flow of all the various documents,” while commercial work gives them the chance to do “more drafting, whether that's of a manufacturing agreement, a supply agreement, or the terms and conditions of sale.” As well as clients “who come back to the firm with their one-hundred-and-somethingth matter,” the team works with companies that are taking legal advice for the first time. “I took the initial call with a small, newly set-up company,” one trainee recalled. “They had an agreement with suppliers but it was something they’d cobbled together themselves and they were having problems.”
The dispute resolution team handles contentious matters brought in by other departments, including property and private client matters. The firm recently defended the Polish seaports authority against defamation claims of €34.4 million brought by EuroEco Fuels, and advised motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki on debt recovery after the liquidation of UK dealerships. Contract disputes offer trainees a shot at handling their own files because “they’re lower value and a bit less complex. I’m handling one in the pre-action stage which involves drafting, and liaising with clients, experts and witnesses.”
Employment is another option for those who like contentious work – though the group also handles non-contentious matters for both employers and employees. When the firm recently advised wood pellet supplier Forever Fuels on a £2.8 million asset sale, the employment team handled the TUPE aspects of the transaction. “Every day is different” for trainees – “some days you’re in tribunal, another day you’re in the client’s office delivering training, and other days you’re at your desk drafting.”
Moving on up
Trainees found mid-seat appraisals “informative and useful” for setting goals for the rest of the seat. Their progress is then reviewed in an end-of-seat meeting, which is also when a chat about the NQ process might occur. Some described the NQ process as “easy and informal” while others felt “it could be a bit clearer.” Even a successful NQ admitted: “I don’t know what the process is. I was made aware there would be a job if I was interested.” In 2019 the firm retained three of four qualifiers. Trainees were encouraged that several partners had trained at the firm, so “you can see progression is there if you want it.” Female interviewees liked the fact there are “more women in the partnership than men.” Trainees also said that all the partners “all want the firm to have an open, friendly culture” and that “people are good at making you feel comfortable asking questions.”
All our BP Collins interviewees were wary of City firms that “wore long hours as a badge of honour.” The latest finish we heard of was in disputes – “I had a mediation which started at 8.15am and I left at 1am.” But this was an outlier. In property “it’s rare to be in after 7pm,” and private client is an8.30am to 5.30pm affair “with a full hour for lunch.” In March 2020 BP Collins will be in a spanking new office. For now the firm is split between two buildings “a few doors apart on the same street.” It means “departments haven’t mingled a huge amount,” but trainees do make the effort to get together.Human curling was on the cards at the time of our calls, and darts at Flight Club in London is “becoming a semi-annual thing.” There are also charity fund-raising events – “about ten of us are doing Tough Mudder to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK.”
Applicants must submit a handwritten cover letter “to ensure applications come from people who actually want to work here, rather than people who’re knocking them out to every firm.” Start sharpening those quills!
How to get a B P Collins training contract
Work experience deadline (2020): 31 March 2020 (opens 1 January 2020)
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 May 2020 (opens 1 March 2020)
B P Collins recruits two to three trainees each year. To apply for a training contract, applicants must submit a written covering letter (typed is fine) 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 60 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.
Interview with training partner David Smellie
Chambers Student: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve over the next few years?
DS: We have invested a lot of money in technology and infrastructure. We’re moving into newly fitted out premises in 2020, and those premises are bespoke for us. Using new technology will mean we’ll work with much more flexibly and agility. I think our technology is probably leading the way in regional firms of our size.
The firm is still looking to grow at all levels. That’s important – it should mean there will be jobs on qualification as we continue to grow.
CS: We asked last year whether Brexit was affecting the firm or clients’ businesses in any way. How is Brexit affecting the firm?
DS: What I’ve seen in corporate is that people are being more cautious. It’s taking longer to get transactions through: people are being more and more careful. We haven’t yet seen it in property, which had maybe been anticipated in higher end properties. There’s a degree of caution probably across the board, whether in corporate or in family, where there might be a slight downturn in going to court if there’s uncertainty in what assets might be worth.
CS: Are you growing or shrinking trainee numbers?
DS: We tend to have a cohort over the two years of about six or seven. It’s the right number; it means that people will get real contact with the partners rather than being one of many.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
DS: They’ve got to be rounded. Someone who’s purely academic may well not fit in with us. They’ve got to be able to interact both with other members of the team and clients. They’ve got to be self-motivated. And they’ve got to be real – if there’s any degree of ‘front’ clients will see through that very quickly.
CS: Why does the firm ask for a handwritten cover letter in the application?
DS: It shows we are not just one of many. We want people to genuinely want to apply to us and not just be one of many on a list. It does mean people have got think about it and produce a sensible letter. It shows a willingness on the part of the prospective trainee to spend time on it.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
DS: Wherever they go they’ve got to give everything a fair chance. They may start a training contract having an idea of what they think they want to do. It’s amazing how quickly that thought will change throughout the course of two years. Give everything a fair crack of the whip and be enthusiastic.
B P Collins LLP
32-38 Station Road,
- Partners 15
- 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 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 May 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 January 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 March 2020
- 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 2020.
University law careers 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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)