For the trainee that wants it all, BDB offers a tasty buffet of practices in multiple UK offices – with work-life balance very much on the menu too.
BDB Pitmans training contract review 2022
It may have three centuries’ worth of history behind it, but the firm known today as BDB Pitmans has a bit of youth on its side, having formed in 2018 when Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans Law combined forces (and names). Quickly learning to stretch its legs, the newly merged outfit made some swift money moves, relocating to swanky new premises in Cambridge in 2019 and London the following year. In the case of the latter, a move from Westminster to the heart of the City makes a statement about where BDB Pitmans sees itself heading.
“I could tell straight away from the firm’s website that it has a very diverse set of practice areas, and because it’s just merged you know it’s ready to grow,” a trainee shared. BDB’s offering spans three overarching practice groups: private client, corporate and commercial. Chambers UK and High Net Worth recognise the firm’s prowess in all three, handing it nationwide rankings for charity, parliamentary, rail, high-value residential real estate and administrative and public law. On the regional front, particularly strong showings come from the Thames Valley, where the firm scores top spots for litigation, pensions, planning and restructuring.
“…offers big-ticket corporate work alongside niche specialisms like charities, planning and infrastructure.”
BDB Pitmans currently recruits 13 trainees a year between its London and Reading offices;there are currently no plans to hire any into the Cambridge base. When putting their (metaphorical) pens to paper during their applications, our sources were attracted to the firm's smaller intake and variety of locations, The biggest pull for most remains a diverse range of seat options: “BDB Pitmans is one of very few firms that offers big-ticket corporate work alongside niche specialisms like charities, planning and infrastructure.” Alongside wanting to boost firm revenue, BDB’s original motivation for the merger was expanding geographical and practice area diversity, and if trainee feedback is anything to go by then we can chalk it up as a resounding success.
Incoming trainees receive their first seat at random; newbies can express future preferences for the remaining three during their mid-seat reviews. The trainees we spoke to were generally happy with the training contract’s structure: “There’s a lot of transparency in seat allocation. Halfway through each seat we discuss with HR what we like about it and what could be better, as well as where we’d like to go next.” Trainees are able to float between offices with some flexibility, and some we spoke to had completed seats in both London and Reading.The firm runs a longstanding client secondment with oil and gas company Esso, alongside more ad hoc options.“Second-year trainees tend to nab up any secondments first because they’re so popular,” we heard.
BDB’s planning, infrastructure and public law (PIP) department handles major infrastructure projects, advising on the consents and permissions clients need throughout all stages of development, as well as planning and disputes surrounding it. Trainees worked on matters from both sides – and both can mean lots of research. “I was researching public law,” one said, “advising on the statutory powers of public bodies and what they can and can’t do.” Clients here include Highways England, Transport for London and the Environment Agency; the firm recently advised RiverOak as it sought a development consent order to reopen Manston Airport in Kent. Our interviewees enjoyed their deep dives into legislation: “I get to look into super interesting areas of law I wouldn’t normally get access to. A lot of it involved Brexit – getting a better idea of the legislation that makes up our country is really invaluable.” When not nose deep in statutes, PIP seaters were drafting documents, working on development orders and getting direct client contact.
"Some cases are more personal and affect everyday people; then the next day I’ll be working on a complex business matter.”
Over in litigation, growth has come as a result of the merger in the charities, public law and judicial review spaces. Other firm strengths include IT, private client and property disputes among others. As each partner has a distinct set of specialisms, trainees can sample a range of case types. "Some cases are more personal and affect everyday people; then the next day I’ll be working on a complex business matter,” one explained. As at many firms, Covid-19 has brought novel disputes – Burger King site operator Karali called on the firm during its negotiations with landlords over potential rent concessions following restaurant closures during lockdowns. Cambridgeshire County Council also called on BDB Pitmans, in a clash with engineering firm BAM Nuttall over an alleged 67 defects in the construction of busway infrastructure. Our interviewees in this department attended mediations, prepared bundles and completed legal research, managed the firm's debt collection, prepared witness statements and attended trials when opportunities arose.
You can probably guess what kinds of clients the charities group lends advice to – their concerns range from safeguarding and serious incident reporting to political campaigning and governance, including around funding and grant-making. Trainees here found they were given a lot of autonomy over matters and received particularly “high levels of client contact compared to other seats.” Cancer Research UK, Nuffield Health and The Stroke Association are all on the firm’s books. One source gave us a glimpse of life in the seat: “On a typical day, I’d work on the registration of new charities at the Charity Commission; draft up any of their articles; provide employment advice if needed; and attend trustee meetings and take the minutes.”
BDB Pitmans’ ever-expanding corporate department handles M&A, private equity deals, joint ventures and public takeovers. Trainees can work with large companies and entrepreneurs alike in this seat. The firm often advises on lower mid-market deals: recent examples include private equity firm Harwood’s proposed £18.85 million offer for property management provider HML Holdings; and LAT Water’s £5 million investment from Enterprise Investment Scheme eco-fund Earthworm. Trainees described their experiences “doing AIMs and dealing with public companies’ ongoing duties following those.” Our sources were pleased to get a hands-on introduction to corporate law: “I was given the opportunity to run a project and I was involved in lots of meetings with clients right through to completion,” one recalled. Some also got opportunities to draft share purchase agreements, as well as verifications.
“I was involved in lots of meetings with clients right through to completion.”
One of the reasons behind the firm’s London office move was to further focus on corporate occupiers and investors in UK commercial property. This also meant new real estate hires including Tim Barwick from Cannings Connolly as a consultant, and lateral partner Dennis Ko from Boodle Hatfield. Each office has its own strengths: Reading excels for residential developments, while the Southampton base shines in agricultural and coastal real estate. Investment transactions, development schemes and corporate support can all be found in London. Our trainee interviewees got stuck into documentation: “I handled a lot of Land Registry applications,” one said. “During the real estate seat I drafted lease reports and ancillary documents and liaised with the Land Registry.” The firm has advised the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Frasers Riverside Quarter and the National Grid on real estate matters, recently negotiating a series of agreements with affected landowners for the National Grid as it rolled out the new £120 million Dorset visual impact provision project. Trainee tasks in a real estate seat can include running checklists, conducting property research and checking sources of funding.
The Covid-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between work and life at many law firms, but sources felt BDB Pitmans has worked hard to maintain a work-life balance for trainees. “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to work past 8pm,” one declared. “My team members have always made sure not to overload me.” On average, interviewees’ hours ran from 9am (or 9.30 in London) to somewhere around 5.30pm, which is definitely not the hardest in the legal industry. Be warned that some seats are busier than others, with corporate one of the worst offenders by some margin. We heard that “in a corporate seat, logging off at 10pm would be a good day.” Salaries vary by location; Londoners told us they were “happy with the weighting. We get paid more than the Reading trainees, but the cost of living is quite a bit lower there.”
“The firm made a big effort to help prevent loneliness and ensure people were coping well during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Everyone is kind and approachable, even partners,” according to trainees – some of whom had spent some time in the office, while others began their time at BDB Pitmans remotely. In the pre-pandemic era, trainees sat alongside partners to encourage accessibility. We heard that this spirit has continued into the ‘new normal’. One said this: “The head of department is always so busy, but she took her time to give me a big introduction on my first day. It was really welcoming.” Where trainees once caught up on the weekly gossip by the coffee machine, they now do the same over webcam. “We have 30-minute virtual coffee breaks and chat about the latest shows on Netflix or anything we’d like,” our sources told us. “It’s a bid to replicate the in-person socialising we used to have.” They were also impressed with recent wellness initiatives: “The firm made a big effort to help prevent loneliness and ensure people were coping well during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Trainees get mid- and end-of-seat appraisals, during which they fill out a form on areas for improvement; they then discuss these with their seat supervisor and can go over any additional issues. “I feel very supported in my development – if I raise a problem with my supervisor, they are always there for me,” a trainee shared. “If I can’t manage my workload, all it takes is an email as people are always happy to touch base and help you out.”We did hear about some disparities on training and supervision between offices: “London provides better quality training than Reading” according to some insiders. “The London teams treat you like a trainee that will be qualifying as a solicitor soon – their seats are more geared towards making you a solicitor, rather than a trainee that joins for six months and will be given some work.” Others felt some departments provide better supervision than others, with private client setting the bar here. Each department offers sessions on key legal skills; every member of the BDB Pitmans team now also gets training on diversity and inclusion, covering topics like microaggressions that can take place in the workplace.
"Installing a new diversity manager is a great step towards cementing inclusivity as part of the firm's culture."
The firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts have been overseen by BDB’s first ever D&I manager Fiona Fleming, appointed in September 2020. Trainees felt that "installing a new diversity manager is a great step towards cementing inclusivity as part of the firm's culture." Others noted that a dedicated diversity fortnight did a lot to raise awareness of issues in the legal industry and beyond. “External speakers came into the firm during lunch breaks and spoke on issues like disability, race, pronouns, miscarriage and ageism,” insiders revealed. BDB also runs a mental health fortnight “with training sessions and webinars on topics such as clean eating, sleep and meditation.” If you’re more into dancefloors than yoga mats, the Christmas party is a regular smash hit, previously held at The London Film Museum in Covent Garden. Looking for a festive feel all year round? We heard from some trainees that London is the most social BDB Pitmans base.
When qualification time rolls around, the first step for trainees is submitting their CV and cover letter for the team they’d like to stay in. The relevant departments then discuss whether they can accommodate applicants, and trainees will also have informal interviews with a partner. Job lists should be available in June, although some trainees weren’t too sure how the process works... “I'm trying not to think about it too much,” one laughed. Still, interviewees saw a future for themselves at the firm: “Everyone has a lot of time for you as a trainee, they are invested in us. I’d stay here for as long as they’ll have me.” BDB Pitmans retained eight of eleven qualifiers in 2021.
Time heals all firms
In last year’s research we heard of some teething issues in the BDB and Pitmans merger, but aside from suggesting “pro bono got a bit lost,” trainees in our latest survey barely mentioned it and saw the firm solely as one entity.
How to get a BDB Pitmans training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 May 2022
BDB Pitmans receive around 450 to 550 applications for its training contract each year. To apply, interested candidates fill out an online application form via the site ‘Apply 4 Law’. Recruiters at the firm attend National Law fairs and engage with schemes, such as Aspiring Solicitors to scout out top talent.
Assessment and interviews
Once selected, the firm requires interviewees to go through a two-stage assessment process. Around 50 candidates are invited to the first stage, these are then whittled down to around 30 interviewees for the second stage. During interviews, candidates sit with two interviewers which typically consist of at least one partner or fee earner. As for the questions, the firm typically asks a mix of scenario and competency style questions. Interviewers are looking for good technical, research, teamwork and communication skills.
The vacation scheme
BDB has one vacation scheme that normally takes place during the summertime in June over a two-week period. The application process for the vacation scheme requires applicants to fill out and complete an online from via the ‘Apply 4 Law’ website. The firm receives around 350 applicants for their London-based vacation scheme and approximately 150 for their Reading location.
During the scheme, individuals have the opportunity to sit in two departments (1 week per department). During this time they are able to shadow members of the team, attend meetings and complete a variety of tasks for the team. BDB also offers training sessions throughout the two weeks as well as talks from various teams and individuals from across the firm ranging from our fee earning team to business support. They also have the opportunity to work with their peers on the scheme and complete a Group project.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- 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)