Working with “CEOs and supermodels” from its South Bucks base makes B P Collins the boss of Gerrards Cross.
B P Collins training contract review 2022
Slap bang between central London and Oxford you’ll find the town of Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. Though this unassuming commuter town “doesn’t appear that flashy” at first glance, peer a little closer and you might begin to notice that beyond the usual supermarkets and shopfronts, there are a few giveaways that this is a more prosperous place than your typical commuter town. “There are Aston Martins parked outside six-bedroom houses,” one trainee interviewee pointed out. “It’s a wealth corridor.” And it’s here in Gerrards Cross that local legal legend B P Collins is based, acting for individuals and businesses in the area and beyond. The firm also has a base in the town of Thame just outside Oxford, but trainees are only recruited into the Gerrards Cross base.
“It’s a wealth corridor.”
The high net worth clientele in this luxurious corner of the commuter belt means trainees at B P Collins get to witness “great cases and interesting backstories to whatever you’re doing. You get to see how your work affects people’s lives and emotions.” Though private clients account for a large part of the work here, the firm also acts for businesses, including some pretty well-known names – Lacoste, for example. In the Thames Valley, B P Collins gets top rankings from Chambers UK for its lower mid-market corporate/M&A and environment work, as well as nods for employment, litigation and lower mid-market real estate. In the Watford area, it’s also top-ranked for its crime and family work. On the national level, Chambers High Net Worth notes the firm for its high-value residential practice.
The “overwhelming majority” of trainees do a stint paralegalling before their training contract begins, which one found “really useful for getting to know the departments and people at the firm.” Another plus for those who go down this route is that some of the time they spend paralegalling can be counted towards their training contract (this is known as ‘time to count’). Those who don’t paralegal tend to do a few weeks’ work experience with the firm.
The firm’s training contract follows a rather unusual structure: juniors do four seats lasting five months each, followed by a final four-month stint in the department they want to qualify into. Trainees reckoned “five months is long enough to get a real idea of whether a practice is for you or not.” Incoming trainees also have staggered start dates with the firm, which insiders felt “allows you to construct your own experience and make your career path.” Trainees are asked to rank their seat preferences at each rotation, but they also have informal chats with the firm about where they want to sit along the way.
“A lot of high net worth residents like CEOs and supermodels.”
Everyone does a seat in property, the firm’s biggest department. The work is broadly split into commercial and residential work: “Trainees are split across the two halves and swap halfway through the seat.” Due to the stamp duty holiday that the government introduced because of COVID, residential work has been very busy recently. This side of the seat saw trainees working with “a lot of high net worth residents like CEOs and supermodels” on their properties in Buckinghamshire and London – “it’s serious amounts of money so you have to get it right.” The commercial side deals with matters like procuring sites, renewing retail leases and freehold acquisitions for companies. The group represents clients such as bowling companies, Rico Logistics and Wycombe District Council. Across both halves of the seat, trainees enjoyed observing “tangible changes in the world.” On residential work, they get to “run low-value files – reviewing title documents, doing conflict checks, contacting the client, and admin stuff.” Commercial work involved working on reports – “you learn something different every time you do one.” Across the department, trainees got “plenty of drafting work” on documents including leases, deeds of variation and freehold sale contracts.
In the corporate and commercial seat, there is a lot of environment and waste work, as well as some insurance matters. The team typically acts for companies and individual shareholders. Clients include Biffa Waste Management, Clinimed and transport and logistics company Rotom. Trainees here shadow meetings, liaise with clients, deal with the research and completion processes, and “make sure everything is signed correctly.” And so long as everything is indeed in order, “meaty pieces of work filter down to you pretty quickly.”
“Businesses or individuals falling into financial difficulties as a result of the past year.”
Dispute resolution gives trainees the opportunity to sample work from sub-teams including contentious probate, commercial litigation, property litigation and criminal. We heard “they’re also expanding into construction and a bit of insolvency as well.” Trainees can “express a focus” on what interests them, but everyone is likely to get a bit of experience in whatever’s on the go at the time. The team works with high net worth individuals, companies, and directors as well as some in-house legal teams. Property litigation involves residential possession, boundary disputes, and debt recovery with “businesses or individuals falling into financial difficulties as a result of the past year.” Criminal work covers driving offences, blackmail and fraud claims. Commercial work includes insolvency and breach of contract matters, as well as “a bit of IP.” The group represents pen, razor and lighter manufacturers BIC, Toshiba Medical Systems, UK Parking Control and Kawasaki Motors. Trainees we spoke to had drafted proceedings, correspondence with the other side, as well as client advice, and had assisted partners with settlements.
In private client, the team deals with (surprise, surprise) “super high net worth clients” on inheritance, probate, trusts, wills, power of attorney and some Court of Protection work. Trainees delved right into “drafting wills, managing the estate and writing to probate,” and managed to avoid admin-esque tasks, as legal assistants at the firm “pick up the vast majority of that.” High net worth doesn’t mean inaccessible – trainees were happy to tell us they liaised directly with the client, attending “at least two client meetings a day to take attendance notes.” Work in this seat is “slower-paced as there’s not always a deadline to hit. You’re able to take your time to work things out, learn and ask questions.”
Interviewees were pleased to work with “really approachable” partners, who “make time for you if you need to talk through something.” This in turn helped create what trainees described as “a trusting environment – there’s no sort of micromanagement or anything.” They also felt seniors sought their “input and opinion even on really complex matters.” Trainees felt B P made the “transition to working from home really smooth. Everyone’s worked super hard on communicating well remotely.” Supervisors tend to chat to their trainees “at least once a day on both a work and pastoral basis.”
Despite this, trainees have missed “picking up on conversations around the office.” When in-office working is reinstated in some form or another, a new home awaits just down the road from the firm's previous office space (the firm moved into its new digs in September 2020). “It’s open plan and there’s a central area for having lunch so you can interact with teams quickly and easily,” one source revealed. “It creates a whole-firm vibe.”
In terms of demographics, the firm is “disproportionately young,” with “a lot of people in their twenties and thirties.” Butthe social life has unsurprisingly taken a hit under the remote way of life: “There’s only so many quizzes and virtual cocktail-making things you can do – we’re desperate to see each other in real life!” It’s likely trainees will convene at the local Ethorpe Hotel bar for after-work drinks when they can. We also heard that as restrictions were lifted, teams organised barbecues to celebrate being reunited. There’s a fair few socials that take place in London too as “it’s easier to get to some parts of central London from here than it is from Canary Wharf.” Many trainees actually decide to live in the capital rather than Gerrards Cross, hopping on the 20-minute train from Marylebone for a reverse-commute. Gerrards Cross is an “affluent and expensive area,” trainees reminded us. “You’ve got to live far away for it to be affordable on our salary.”
“Rarely finishing after 6pm.”
First-year trainees at B P get paid £26,400 rising to £40,000 on qualification. Some argued that the firm’s strong financials should translate into an increase for NQs: “The firm shows us how the financials look on a quarterly basis and it’s only improving.” However our interviewees generally agreed with this source: “I’m not motivated by big money – I’d be working in the City if I was.” And while “the hours aren’t regional hours,” most reckoned “you do work way fewer hours” than those based in London. Trainees tend to work a steady day, “rarely finishing after 6pm.” A late one was considered to be around 8pm and a busy stretch might mean a few “ten-hour days in a row.” While many office workers have reported working longer hours during the pandemic, trainees here were pleased to point out that “they’ve been encouraging us to log off.”
The firm has rolled out training on mental health awareness as well as diversity and inclusion. In terms of representation, many noted the firm’s 50% female partnership, with one trainee citing it as “one of the things attracted me to the firm” in the first place. “It means that you know there’s no longevity problem as a young female trainee.” Overall, “in terms of culture, we’re diverse people unafraid to be ourselves.”
“We don’t all qualify at the same time, which reduces competition.”
Qualifying is a simple process at B P. “There’s no interview – our final seat takes us back to where we want to qualify. So you commence chats in the penultimate seat.” As training contracts are staggered, “we don’t all qualify at the same time, which reduces competition.” Many people end up going back to where they paralegalled. When it comes to career development, some noted that “they can lose NQs to the City, sacrificing work/life balance for a higher salary.” But many were encouraged to see “multiple examples of people who started here and are now a partner.” As one shared, “if it works out for me to stay here forever, I don’t see myself working anywhere else.” The firm has a historically high retention rate and in 2021, all six trainees were kept on.
CSR outreach and volunteering is common at B P Collins. Recently, “there was a day out in a woodland helping revitalise the ecosystem in that area.”
How to get a B P Collins training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 1 July 2022 (opens 1 March 2022)
B P Collins recruits two to three trainees each year. To apply for a training contract, applicants must submit a written 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 60 candidates apply for placements at B P Collins. 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.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
Watford, Uxbridge and surrounds
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)