Looking for a City firm whose “primary objective is to enhance social responsibility”? You’d do well to check out Bates Wells.
Bates Wells has had a bit of a rebrand lately, ditching ‘Braithwaite’ from its name and changing its slogan from ‘City firm with a conscience’ to ‘positive people, positive impact.’ These slight tweaks refine BW’s messaging about its ethos: this is a modern firm that wants to do good things for communities and the environment. Its client-base is heavily skewed towards organisations in the charities sector and it was the first UK law firm to achieve B-Corp status. B-Corps, like sustainable-clothing company Patagonia and high street beauty staple The Body Shop, are for-profit business that (as the B-Corp website states) “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
These principles very much attracted the current crop of trainees, with one telling us: “BW’s primary objective is to enhance social responsibility, which made it by far my number-one firm to join.” Our interviewees were looking for something quite different from the usual string of corporate and finance legal work on offer in the City and were drawn by the fact that a large proportion of BW’s clients are charities or social enterprises. “There are just so many clients that I’m impressed to work with,” one insider relayed. The kind of names you will find on the books include some of the most well-known charities such as Barnardo’s, Children in Need and the Samaritans.
All of this good work has not gone unnoticed by Chambers UK. BW has raked in those rankings from its one office in the City: unsurprisingly, its charities work is top-rated on a UK-wide basis, while its immigration and real estate know-how also comes out on top. Other high-performing practices include education, electoral law, professional discipline, administrative & public law, and media & entertainment.
The seat system is quite different at BW: trainees complete two six-month seats in their first year and three four-month seats in second year. Rookies submit preferences for seats one and two in the run-up to doing each one; come second-year however, they set out their preferences for their remaining three seats all at once by ranking up to five choices. “It helps the firm to plan better,” said one source, “otherwise we’d be doing the same process every couple of months.” Interviewees thought the system had improved on BW’s previous ‘flight path’ process, where newbies had to choose all their seats shortly after joining. We heard it’s common to repeat a seat, usually in the firm’s biggest group, charity and social enterprise, which is fondly known as ChaSE.
Given it’s the biggest department, trainees in ChaSE “work with a lot of a people across a wide range of matters.” However, drafting clients’ applications to achieve charity status is the “bread and butter” work for trainees: “We get to take the lead on those. They’re over 80 pages long, so it’s a lengthy process, but it means we get high levels of client contact.” The transactional side involves advising charities and social enterprises on mergers, spin-outs and the setting up of subsidiaries “so it’s like the corporate seat. I helped draft due diligence reports and assisted with the lead-up to completions.” It’s a heavily regulated sector, so there’s a fair amount of liaising with the Charity Commission, too. BW recently advised a consortium of charities, including the RSPB, on its application for judgment on a new charity law concerning responsible investment, which could see charities being asked to divest in companies that contribute to climate change. In addition, the firm continues to advise Comic Relief on various matters, including fundraising and social investment activities, as well as Action on Hearing Loss on commercial contracts and governance matters. BW also works with a London mayoral campaign, so interviewees had advised on electoral issues. The firm’s data privacy specialists sit within the ChaSE group, so trainees also got involved with charities’ data audits.
“Trainees often work with one fee-earner, so we get to build relationships with clients.”
BW’s immigration department handles a mix of business and personal matters. On the business side, the team recently helped a London-based examination board with visa requirements for sending employees overseas to examine international students – this matter involved the jurisdictions of Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Botswana and Namibia. This commercial arm sees trainees filling out online applications and drafting letters to clients: “Trainees often work with one fee-earner, so we get to build relationships with clients.” On the personal side, acting on declaration of citizenship matters proved to be a real highlight for trainees, with one describing how they “drafted the witness statements, which was really enjoyable. The team is lovely!”
Corporate/commercial, aka CoCo,is loosely split into four groups: corporate, commercial, banking and competition. The corporate side deals with typical transactional work, like M&A deals. Commercial “isn’t very transactional, it’s more about chunky drafting work,” like amending and negotiating commercial contracts and drafting loan agreements (which we were told could be 70 pages long!). The team recently advised a Christian TV channel, TBN UK, on its broadcasting contracts with the BBC. The other two arms of the department are slightly smaller groups: banking covers (among other things) social finance and lending transactions within the charity sector, while competition deals with – you guessed it – competition in the marketplace. On the banking and finance side, BW advised construction materials business SigmaRoc on its placing of 79.9 million new shares, which raised £32.8 million. Other clients under the corporate umbrella include Trinity College London, the National Landlords Association and software developer Elecosoft. Sources pointed out that “we’re exposed to a wide range of work from each area, which helps with assessing what we want to do in the future: the more you see, the more beneficial it is.” One trainee gleefully relayed how they’d led their own completion meetings: “There’s a lot of project management because you have to lay out all the docs and tell clients where to sign.”
“The big thing here is personality,” noted one source. “It’s a firm that really values individuality and cares about what you can bring as a whole person. They don’t want you to be just another fish in the bowl.” That’s a relief. Alongside individuality, it sounds as if BW also prides itself on having a social environment too. “The people here are very genuine and down to earth at all levels,”commented one source. “The partners aren’t detached from the more junior employees, and the open-plan office probably helps with that.” Others explained that each department has its own area, with a hot-desk system in place, so sources felt comfortable “walking up to a partner with a question or chatting with them at the tea station.”
Insiders praised the firm for its “heavy emphasis on mental wellbeing and having a good work/life balance.” This trainee went on to explain that “compared to other City firms we have it really good. There are certainly times when we’re pushed at BW, but there’s no expectation to work crazy hours or during your weekends.” Another added that they’d “occasionally had to work late: a deadline is a deadline so sometimes you do stay late, but that’s not the norm.” The style of supervision in each seat can vary, said interviewees, with some supervisors more hands-on than others. While partners were generally deemed approachable, it was noted how their full-on schedules can mean that as supervisors they are “less available.” The good news is that BW has just introduced a dual-supervision system, so trainees get primary and secondary supervisors in each seat: “Now there’s always one or the other available.” The next trainee class will also get qualified solicitor 'buddies' when they arrive.
Qualification was “a sticking point” for some, who told us how BW has been trying to formalise a process as its trainee cohort has grown. “It’s still in its early teething stages and it’s even more difficult this year because of Covid-19.” Others did feel that BW “is trying to be as fair and transparent as possible." Trainees praised the firm for eschewing pay cuts and reduced hours measures: “They’ve protected us as much as possible.” In the end, five of seven qualifiers were retained in 2020, with two on fixed-term contracts.
All's wells that’s recycled wells...
“Everything the firm does is driven by its B-Corp status. One of the first things I was told about the firm was that nothing is sent to a landfill. There’s a big drive on sustainability and we officially recognise the climate crisis.”
How to get a Bates Wells training contract
Training contract deadline: 1 June 2021 (opens 1 October 2020)
Training contract places: 6
Training contract applications: 600
Bates Wells is “passionate about making a positive social impact, so any experience that demonstrates that commitment, either personal or professional, is impressive.” Volunteering or working with non-profits is valued, whilst trainee recruitment and recruitment advisor Francesca Evans told us: “We’re also interested in the clubs or societies candidates have been involved with at university and beyond to see how they align with our values and wanting a career in law.”
Those applying for a training contract directly need to show some commercial experience on the application form. Prior legal experience isn’t a pre-requisite for the vac scheme: “That’s what the vacation scheme is for!”
There are three stages to the application process. Firstly, candidates complete an online application form on the firm’s website which covers academics, experiences and motivations: “We also work with Rare and utilise their contextual recruitment tool, which is built into the application form; and take mitigating circumstances seriously when reviewing applications, so if there is anything we should be aware of please include it on your form.”
Candidates that meet expectations complete a Watson-Glaser test, examining critical thinking skills – they have about a week to complete it. “We then look at the test score and re-review the application to see if we went to progress to the next stage,” Evans explains. “If they’re applying for a vacation scheme they come for an interview with 2 panel members; if applying directly for a training contract they’re invited to a full assessment day.”
“Be sure to keep up-to-date with current affairs and have an opinion about what is going on in the world before you come and speak to us,” Evans suggests. Those who’ve been successful during a vac scheme or assessment centre will then be interviewed by the firm’s managing partner and senior partner around late July and will find out the decision in August.
Top tip:“Candidates who do well at our interviews are able to express their opinion on a range of issues; they’re engaged on the world around them and can show that they want to be part of a firm who is committed to making a positive social impact. Those who perform less well during our recruitment processes have not researched enough about the firm and the space we operate in.”
Bates Wells recruits from both its vacation scheme and direct training contract applications, in addition to considering internal employees.
The vacation scheme
The firm typically runs two schemes in the summer for two weeks per scheme. The process took place virtually this year due to the covid-19-enforced lockdown. Vac schemers sit in two different departments and the firm takes candidates’ preferences into consideration. As 2020’s programme was virtual, “they were given time to engage with departments directly that they were interested in, as well as engage in different tasks across the firm.” Vac schemers will complete a number of tasks including a written assessment, usually lasting 2 hours. Candidates on the direct route assessment day will complete the same test before an interview.
The vacation scheme also comes with various workshops and presentations, plus social activities and potential client meetings: “You’ll be involved with our Diversity and Inclusion Forum as well as gain a better understanding about the Impact Economy.” Evans concludes: “We receive a high volume of applications for our schemes and although we recruit on a rolling basis we do read every application submitted – yours can stand out by showing genuine motivation to all things Bates Wells.”
If you are successful after a vacation scheme or assessment day, you will be invited for a final interview with the Managing Partner and Senior Partner. These interviews take place from late July with offers being communicated in August.
“Trainees join the firm because they’re interested in the nature of our work and are impressed by the clients we work with,” Evanssuggested. “They’re also committed to making a positive social impact, whatever that might be! Trainees are excited about the high-quality training offered and getting involved in interesting work from the early stages of their career. Being part of a smaller cohort also means it’s easier to build up relationships with one another and feel part of one team and firm.”
How wide is the scope of the firm's recruitment drive across the country? “Prior to covid-19 we would travel to different events across the UK to meet potential applicants,” we heard. “You may have seen us giving away bamboo toothbrushes as a meaning of reducing the amount of plastic often seen at careers events! This year we will join events remotely where possible.”
Bates Wells' disputes and employment seats
If contentious issues arise, the ChaSE and disputes folks help charity clients respond to enquiries from the Charity Commission and assist with (for example) the “submission of serious incident reporting, which has become a big thing since the Oxfam scandal [see matter outlined next].” BW advised Oxfam on the Charity Commission’s statutory inquiry into its safeguarding processes, which covered the sexual misconduct accusations made against staff assisting the relief effort in Haiti following the earthquake that struck in 2010. General tasks for trainees included bundling, arranging statements and attending court hearings. Of late, trainees have filled more of their time with “advising organisations that are struggling since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.” Interviewees had also researched “cutting-edge charity law,” which led one source to recount a very satisfying moment: “I woke up at 6am, put on BBC News and heard them discussing the research I’d done!” Trainees working with the media disputes sub-group were busy writing cease and desist letters: “We advise the Advertising Standards Authority, so we get a lot of high-profile stuff!” Other media clients include the British Film Institute, the Booker Prize Foundation and the Royal Albert Hall. Insiders explained “a big part of the seat is know-how: two trainees are responsible for reporting anything going on in the sector to the team, like Civil Procedure Rules updates and case law.”
Much of the work in employment at the time of our calls was “heavily-oriented towards COVID-19 issues: lots of clients needed advice on job retention.” In normal circumstances, trainees were able to “touch upon some gig economy cases, which have become our forte.” We were told about one lucky trainee who was able to go to the Supreme Court to make filings for Uber employees. Others were pleased that they got to run their own cases, with this source explaining that “speaking to the partner on the other side and holding my own was a real highlight!” The employment team was recently drafted in by the Science Museum to handle an appeal, after the original judge fell asleep during the tribunal hearing! On another matter, the team has been defending the Center for Global Development after a tax researcher claimed that her fellowship with the CGD was not renewed due to her expression of her views on sex and gender identity on Twitter. Bundling and indexing usually gets a bad rep, but one interviewee said that “it’s actually really important to know what these processes and documents should involve and look like.” Another source explained that doing research “is like being back at law school: you’re trying to find a legal principle buried deep in case law, which is quite fun.” This team interacts a fair bit with the corporate/commercial group, especially when it comes to supporting M&A transactions by updating related employment contracts.
10 Queen Street Place,
- Partners: 38
- Associates: 82 (including PSLs, consultants, Trademark Attorney)
- Total trainees: 12
- UK office: London
- Graduate recruiters: Francesca Evans
- Email: [email protected]
- Tel: 02075517939
- Training partner: Paul Seath
- Email: [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: please only submit 1 live application per recruitment round
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A level: ABB or above (or equivalent)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 1st June 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year salary: £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £62,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000 if studying in London; £6,000 if studying outside of London
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: n/a Overseas seats: n/a
- Client secondments: ad hoc secondment opportunities
We’re Bates Wells, a City firm with a difference.
We believe in making a positive impact, whether that’s achieving legislative and regulatory change around sustainability, or working on a landmark case with wide-ranging implications.
We’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. Our clients are diverse — from global household names, to public bodies, to start-ups. We’re also the firm of choice for thousands of charities and social enterprises.
As a values-driven firm we show commitment to our clients, our people, the environment and society. We’re the first UK law firm with a B Corp certification.
Main areas of work
Bates Wells is best-known for our expertise in advising charities, we have the largest dedicated charity and social enterprise team in the UK. However, we also have a focus on corporate and employment law, as well as real estate, arts and media, immigration, litigation and public and regulatory law.
When you join us, you’ll be ready and willing to bring your ideas and the best of yourself, but in the cockpit rather than as a passenger.
Over the two years of the training, you’ll do two six-month seats in the first year, followed by three four-month seats in the second year.
All trainees do seats in charity and social enterprise, and we’ll help you to choose the seats that will best prepare you for your preferred career path.
You’ll have a dedicated supervisor in each seat, who’ll make sure your work is relevant and varied, with training where necessary.
Our summer placements are a great way to make your mark — and could lead to a training contract. By applying for a vacation scheme, you’re guaranteed to be considered for a training contract. You don’t need to apply for both the vacation scheme and the training contract — you only need to choose one.
We accept applications for Law and Non-Law university students, but please make sure you are eligible to begin a training contract in 2023 when applying. Applications close January 2021 so be sure to apply before the deadline.
Summer vacation scheme 1: Tuesday 1 — Friday 11 June 2021
Summer vacation scheme 2: Monday 14 — Friday 25 June 2021
Other benefits Life insurance, private healthcare, cycle to work scheme, gym, employee assistant programme, pension, profit sharing scheme, recognition scheme, season ticket loan, wellbeing weeks, access to complementary therapies, volunteering days, agile working, extra day of annual leave (usually in December) as well as many more.
University law careers fairs 2020
• Bright Networks
• TBD Org
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Diversity & Inclusion How we treat each other day-to-day is underpinned by our Purpose and Values.
Our Code of Conduct and Dignity at Work Policies demonstrate this commitment and the fact that our employees complete Equality & Diversity training before joining.
We are happy to hold ourselves to wider scrutiny, either as required by law, for example Gender Pay Reporting, or being active members of programmes which promote inclusivity in the legal sector. We are signatories of the Law Society Diversity & Inclusion Charter and the firm has actively participated in the Law Society’s Women in Leadership Law project.
Our Management Board appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Forum (DIF), led at senior partner level, which include volunteers at all levels of seniority across the firm. Their remit is to reflect our values by striving to have a positive impact on our clients, our people and society by:
(a) creating a workplace enriched by diverse talent, views and thinking; and
(b) striving to be leaders for change in the legal profession and society in relation to diversity and inclusion issues.
Working alongside and with DIF, is our Employee Forum. By raising topics of interest, they can be brought to the partnerships’ attention, discussed and taken forward.
The health and wellbeing of our people is a high priority for the firm and so we have established a number of different initiatives and continue to innovate in this space.
We have encouraged training a number of Mental Health First Aiders, including Senior Partners, who are available to support employees, in addition to an Employee Assistance Programme.
Bates Wells also holds Wellbeing Weeks each year providing our people with access to nurses and nutritionists to discuss health issues, exercise and healthy eating. It’s also a time to connect with our colleagues and participate in activities that would not be on offer every day, like welcoming therapy dogs to the office!
We promote wellbeing by operating a cycle to work scheme and giving free access to cycle storage and changing facilities, offering access to subsidised gyms, complementary therapies such as reflexology, in addition to webinars.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Employment: Employer: Third Sector (Band 1)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 1)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Immigration: Business (Band 1)
- Immigration: Human Rights, Asylum and Deportation (Band 2)
- Immigration: Personal (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Theatre (Band 2)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Electoral Law (Band 2)
- Professional Discipline (Band 2)