With more than 300 years of heritage to draw from, the newly merged BDB Pitmans now looks to a bright future.
2018 really wasn’t that long ago, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was ancient history. Theresa May was still prime minister; almost nobody knew the name ‘Joe Exotic’; and some of us were still hopeful about the ending of Game of Thrones. December 2018 saw the formation of BDB Pitmans from a merger between Bircham Dyson Bell (centred in Cambridge and London) and Pitmans Law (based in Thames Valley with an HQ in Reading) and much like the rest of the world, BDB’s already come a long way. The firm moved to shiny new Cambridge premises in 2019 and grew that office with lateral hires into the family and matrimonial department.
Trainees found themselves “attracted to the firm’s combined specialist practice area offering.” BDB Pitmans’ practice balances private client, corporate and commercial expertise. Chambers UKranks the firm highly nationwide for charities, Parliamentary law, rail planning and authorisation; and top in Thames Valley for litigation, pensions, planning and restructuring. As for private clients, Chambers High Net Worth ranks the firm highest for private wealth law in Reading, but also for high-value real estate nationwide and both non-contentious private wealth and disputes in London.
“…attracted to the firm’s combined specialist practice area offering.”
BDB Pitmans recruits 13 trainees a year between its London and Reading offices; there are currently no plans to hire any into the Cambridge base.Our sources described the appealing “smaller intake” and “personable atmosphere” as key factors in deciding to join the firm. “The culture seemed very friendly and supportive,” one said. “Their departments are well ranked for a firm of this size and I thought the smaller intake would give me greater experience and responsibility.” Alongside wanting to boost firm revenue, BDB’s original motivation for the merger was expanding geographical and practice area diversity. In terms of lawyer diversity, trainees were impressed with the firm’s hiring practices but wanted to see more diverse staffing of teams, according to our survey.
Following the merger, incoming trainees receive their first seat at random. “We can express future preferences at our mid-seat reviews for the remaining three seats,” trainees from each location told us. “There’s also some flexibility to move between offices. If I’m sat in Reading I can go to the London office for knowledge-sharing evenings or spend a day there working,” one revealed. A handful of trainees had done seats in both offices.
The planning, infrastructure and public law (PIP) department centres on a sizeable ten-partner team and handles major infrastructure projects as well as advising on planning systems, Parliamentary matters, implementation of orders and public affairs. “Projects are big and last for months up to a year, if not longer. As a trainee you’ll probably see around one or two big deals and be handling the small research tasks on the side,” sources explained. BDB recently helped Transport for London secure a Transport and Works Act Order to authorise a £3 billion extension. Other clients include National Rail, Highways England and London Luton Airport, whom the firm advised on a proposed expansion of the airport to double passenger handling capacity. Daily trainee tasks include “writing up development consent order hearings, taking notes on action points, creating bundles, court runs and just generally managing the planning process,” trainees explained. Our sources found their work interesting and left their PIP seat with good practice area knowledge, but suggested client contact was hard to come by.
“Projects are big and last for months up to a year, if not longer.”
Legacy firm Pitmans Law brought much of the firm's real estate offering to the merger equation. Expertise varies by office: Reading excels for residential developments and Southampton shines in agricultural and coastal real estate, while the London team earns praise for investment transactions, development schemes and corporate support. On the development side, trainees manage the land registry documentation, write reports on title and “sit in on a load of phone calls and client meetings.” Those who got stuck into commercial real estate helped with refinancings, sales and acquisitions, drafting new leases and managing construction agreements. National Grid and the Landmark Trust are clients here, and BDB Pitmans acts on deals beyond its own footprint, recently advising the Healthcare Management Trust on purchase, development and finance for a £25 million hospital in Swansea. Residential developers make up the primary client base in Reading: Vanderbilt Homes called on the firm’s advice during its acquisition of South Coast housebuilder Crayfern. The Covid-19 pandemic only increased the workflow into this department, and trainees assisted on “frequent rent break cases on behalf of both tenants and landlords.” There’s been “more of a pause in sales and acquisition work,” which should pick up as the property market gets back on track.
Over in litigation, the BDB merger strengthened Pitmans’ existing dispute resolution team with growth into areas such as charities, public law and judicial review. Typical cases here include shareholder disputes and contract termination cases, especially for clients in the IT and technology industries. “You’ll come in as a general litigation trainee and have the opportunity to stretch your professional muscles across multiple areas of interest,” interviewees told us. The firm’s Thames Valley clients include Veritas Tech, Symantec and Thames Water as well as individuals; AMT Coffee recently came under fire for alleged unfair prejudice, with minority shareholders represented by BDB bringing £5 million proceedings. You’re more likely to find financial services disputes in the London office, which recently brought multimillion-pound claims against former auditors of Goals Soccer Centres after the discovery of historical accounting errors. On matters in this seat, trainee roles include drafting case statements and letters before action; attending court hearings; and in some cases advocating in County Court, “which is brilliant experience.”
“You’ll come in as a general litigation trainee and have the opportunity to stretch your professional muscles across multiple areas of interest.”
We’d be amiss not to highlight the firm’s private wealth disputes practice as well. Trusts litigation is a key component here, with clients including Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Barts Health NHS Trust on the books. Wills, estates and probate disputes make up the rest of the caseload. Sources in litigious practices revealed that "doing the firm’s debt recovery is a key trainee task,” but were largely happy with their role as a whole. “There’s a great amount of responsibility involved overall,” one concluded. “We’re included in monthly public law business development meetings, and we’re encouraged to mould our creative thinking and make suggestions.”
The growing corporate department handles private M&A, joint ventures, public takeovers and a growing spread of private equity deals. “I know the firm has been trying to grow the restructuring side and heighten its presence in the London Stock Exchange main market,” one interviewee revealed. Clients range from start-ups and entrepreneurs to large businesses and listed companies: BDB advised Ten Group Entertainment on the acquisition of a 50% interest in Houdini’s Escape Rooms Entertainment; and UK-based decontamination and infection control manufacturer Bioquell on the £140.5 million public takeover of a subsidiary of American water, hygiene and energy tech firm Ecolab. “There’s a lot of project management on the trainee side as we need to keep track of all the documents on a deal,” trainees said. “Some of these documents come with lists of around 300 actions, so we need to be on it.”
BDB Pitmans also runs client secondments for trainees. “There seems to be an unwritten rule that there’ll be one second-year trainee undertaking a client secondment at all times,” we heard. Six months at oil and gas company Esso is a “very popular” option: “That’s an amazing experience.”
There were some concerns about supervision across the training contract – trainees suggested that “not enough of the staff put in the time to invest in us as trainees.” One of our more critical sources felt “some departments don’t have an enjoyable atmosphere, with partners creating a poor working environment and some practices simply seeing you as an extension of the admin team.” Others noted a “disparity between the type of work, volume, client contact and responsibility depending on which legacy firm the seat originates from.” Pitmans veterans were more likely to be disappointed with their lot overall. Trainees proposed a push for “standardised supervision and feedback training for the firm’s partners.” We should point out that trainees who joined BDB Pitmans' legacy firms are likely to have different views to those joining post-merger, after the dust has settled.
Although there’s no formalised mentor system, many appreciated the presence of an NQ or junior associate buddy during their first seat. “I can ask them silly questions and not look like a moron,” one trainee chuckled. Department-specific training also scored rave reviews: litigation has an “in-house trainer who provides weekly sessions on topics like ‘how to serve tenancy’ and new legal developments.” Team corporate doesn’t miss out, with training given on company accounts and the intricacies of sales and acquisitions.
“I can ask them silly questions and not look like a moron.”
Salary was another point of post-merger contention. “There’s a significant difference in salary for trainees depending on legacy firm. This was not explained to everyone,”one grumbled; another argued that “a pay gap between trainees in London and Reading is inevitable.”Trainees speculated salaries "will be standardised once all trainees are recruited through the merged firm.” After reviewing salaries, the firm tells us it is competitive in both markets.
Reading trainees who completed a seat in London had “all the train fares and expenses refunded. We definitely feel well cared for by the firm, especially considering the hours they expect us to do.”Good news on that front, as hoursmay vary by seat (litigation and charities call for the longest stints) but “longer hours means leaving at 6.30pm,”rather than early in the morning as at some firms. There’s also no need to skip breakfast as “there’s no culture of getting into the office early. I aim to get in for 9 to 9.30am but I’ve been late plenty of times and that wouldn’t fly so well at other firms.” Peak periods can require later nights that are “easy enough to predict”in advance.
Some noticed a cultureshift as the firm’s departments “became accustomed to the different working styles and got used to the additional practice areas in our offering.”It’s no surprise that BDB’s planning, charities and private client operations would function differently to legacy Pitmans’ pensions, corporate and commercial teams. Insiders revealed that aside from “a lot of IT overhaul and lawyers moving into different office spaces,”there was very little upheaval or personality differences. “They all seem like lovely people,”one declared. “The London office is definitely more fun… Reading is much quieter since there aren’t as many people rushing around to go to court or client meetings.”They were happy to go into more detail: “London’s the type of place where there will be 100 people in the lobby grabbing croissants and coffee with handbag and coat still in hand; there’s always something cool and fun going on. The demographic in Reading is just more focused on picking up their kids from school.”It’s up to you which of those environments sounds more appealing.
“The London office is definitely more fun… Reading is much quieter.”
Each BDB Pitmans office has its own social calendar, and trainees praised the “good work/life balance despite the ‘City firm feel’”in London. “I’ve also been impressed by the numbers of partners who were once trainees here, showing clear progression routes.” When we asked about their future plans, most of our sources hoped to continue up the BDB Pitmans ladder for some time to come. The first step is qualification, for which trainees must submit a CV and cover letter. “Like at other firms, the major delays this year were due to Covid-19, but there was a particular lack of communication with mixed-up timeframes and we didn’t hear about the jobs list till late June,”sources said (this was about ten days later than usual according to the firm). “Following on from this, it was a pretty quick turnaround to submit everything and prepare for an informal interview via Zoom. It’s fair to sum it up as a pretty stressful NQ process.”Sources did however appreciate that everyone is told on the same day via phone whether they’ve scored a job or not. BDB Pitmans retained seven of ten qualifiers in 2020.
SHINE bright like a diamond
We heard "trainees take a forefront role in diversity initiatives throughout the firm,” including “assisting with the various affinity groups such as SHINE [for minority ethnic lawyers] and the LGBTQ+ group.”
BDB Pitmans LLP
- Partners: 74
- Associates: 115
- Total trainees: 22
- UK offices: London, Cambridge, Reading, Southampton
- Graduate recruiter: Chloe Mayall, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 13
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st December 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 31st May 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st December 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary:£36,500
- Second-year salary:£38,000
- Post-qualification salary:£57,000 (in London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
BDB Pitmans was established in 2018 following a merger between legacy firms Bircham Dyson Bell (BDB) and Pitmans Law, bringing together over 300 years of legal expertise across 4 locations – Cambridge, London Westminster, Reading and Southampton. Working at BDB Pitmans brings all the benefits of a top 60 firm including interesting work, varied clients and support for professional development. While our clients are at the heart of everything we do, we recognise that life outside of work is important too and our approach to flexible working and target hours for fee earners reflect this. What really sets us apart is our friendly, open and inclusive culture. People join and stay at BDB Pitmans as they get the benefits of challenging work in a supportive and professional atmosphere.
Main areas of work
We have one of the largest private wealth teams in the UK offering a full service to longstanding and new clients which includes wills, estates and trusts to international tax planning. Our government and infrastructure team work on some of the largest and most significant infrastructure and regeneration projects in the UK, specialising in planning, regulatory and public law. The corporate and commercial team advises businesses large and small, start-ups to household names, on all aspects including structural changes, mergers and acquisitions, IP and data protection. Our real estate team manage the property life cycle from planning and construction to land disputes, drafting commercial leases and sale and purchase of property. The employment team provides expert advice on high profile and high value employment matters and immigration. Our award winning charities and social enterprise team acts for both global and UK charities, working with colleagues across the firm to offer advice from initial charity formation, set up and registration to tax planning and governance issues. Our litigation department deals with a range of contentious matters including commercial disputes, property litigation, family disputes, judicial review, trusts and estates, insolvency and IP.
You will receive excellent legal training over four six month seats. We encourage you to express a preference for your seats and our training principal is in contact with trainees before and during their training to understand each persons preferred seats. Opportunities for client secondments includes ExxonMobil for six months with other trainees seconded to clients when opportunities arise for part or all of a seat.
After a comprehensive induction programme our trainees receive extensive legal and interpersonal skills training to ensure their expertise and career skills are constantly developing, including specific technical training in each seat. Great emphasis is also placed on interpersonal skills such as networking and client management so when you qualify you have the breadth of skills required to be an excellent solicitor. Training with BDB will bring you real responsibility right from the start, combined with the right level of support to ensure you never feel overwhelmed.
We offer a two week paid summer vacation scheme in June/July each year. This is open to those who are eligible to start a training contract in two years’ time. During the placement you will gain valuable experience with two of our legal departments and we aim to give you as much practical experience as possible, plus the opportunity to experience first-hand how our solicitors and partners work. Additionally, a range of organised activities including a networking event, trainee social and legal research exercises will make your time with us enjoyable as well as insightful.
25 days holiday per year, private medical insurance, medical screenings, cycle to work scheme, payroll giving, on-site gym, sports teams, yoga and pilates classes, interest free season ticket loans, matching pension contributions up to 7%, life assurance, employee assistance programme, income protection insurance, enhanced maternity and paternity pay.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 3)