What’s the tea at BDB? Well, a depth of practices and a top-tier work-life balance certainly gives trainees plenty to dive into…
BDB Pitmans training contract review 2024
For those unsure of what they want to specialise in (probably most of you reading this), it can be easy for magic circle and international firms to draw the eye. Take a closer look though, and perhaps staggeringly large trainee intakes might not be for you. “I didn’t want to be one of 70 trainees,” one insider explained, “but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to specialise in!” It’s a sentiment that was shared with a number of our interviewees, and a dilemma resolved by BDB Pitmans. “It’s not just a standalone high street firm,” offering trainees a pool of practices to dip their toes into: “We do a lot of work in public law and with big charities.”
BDB reels in a number of Chambers UK rankings, earning accolades for its prestige across the south, East Anglia, Reading, the Thames Valley and London. The firm’s considered to have nationwide prowess in everything from charities and parliamentary and public affairs to transport (rail) and administrative and public law. In the High Net Worth guide, the firm is recognised for its private wealth and real estate practices. Training principal, Nicholas Le Riche, tells us the firm is also looking at developing its work in sustainability, in particular “our expertise in wind farm authorization, solar power and wave energy… we’re focused on all those forms of renewable energy.”
“Trainees can be allocated to any of our offices.”
Trainees are recruited into the London and Reading offices, but given the firm’s national scope, it’s possible to do a seat in the Cambridge or Southampton offices: “We make it clear that trainees can be allocated to any of our offices, and those seats do need to be filled,” Le Riche elaborated.
BDB follows the typical four-seats-over-six-months structure; business need and trainee preference both play in a role in seat allocation. Newbies are asked their preferences every six months, where they can also highlight anything they really want to avoid. Insiders were a little disgruntled with the lateness of their placements. “It’s not the most transparent process in the world… you don’t get told your seats until quite late so it’s a bit last minute,” but insiders were all pretty positive about the placements themselves. “They try and give you at least three of your preferences,” we heard. Though it varies year-on-year, some departments such as litigation and the commercial team in corporate “tend to be the most popular.” We heard that PIP (planning, infrastructure and public law) and employment were also among the most popular seats, but private wealth tends to sit lower down the order.
Client secondments are also an option. These are typically reserved for second-year trainees, “because clients want them to have more experience.” BDB’s longstanding relationship with Esso typically takes trainees on for six months as a general commercial placement. Trainees were excited to note that BDB also recently expanded secondments to include the Tony Blair Institute and the Royal Opera House.
A stint in planning, infrastructure and public law (PIP) covers a wide spectrum of matters but is generally advice-based, giving trainees the opportunity to assist clients on all stages of development. The team helps with consents and permissions, in addition to disputes concerning projects, so trainees are often working on matters that span several years. Recent matters include advising London Luton Airport on a proposed expansion to the airport. The firm is also advising Transport for London in obtaining a Transport and Works Act Order to authorise a Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham from Elephant and Castle – a matter worth billions of pounds. Other clients include National Highways, The Environment Agency and London’s Borough of Lambeth.
“You get to go to court quite a lot.”
“Litigation is one of the bigger departments, there’s always chat about the big cases and the team has a reputation for being very social,” revealed one insider. Given its size, the work tends to be quite varied, with cases spanning public law and professional negligence. Though for trainees it’s quite admin-heavy at first, “you get stuck into meatier drafting as the seat progresses,” we were told that down the line “you get to go to court quite a lot which is great litigation experience,” one insider grinned. The team recently represented a private investigator as part of litigation concerning the misuse of confidential information by a law firm. Newbies attend mediations and arbitrations and are tasked with collating bundles, drafting witness statements, helping with applications and letters to courts, and liaising with clients. Amongst hefty responsibilities though, we were assured that “you do get supervision from a partner.”
One of the most popular seats, charities, comprises “a small team, but with big clients and a lot of work!” It typically only takes one trainee at a time “which makes it quite busy, so they rely on the trainee to do a lot of important stuff.” As such,newbies aren’t relegated to strictly drafting tasks, instead getting a lot of client contact. The practice covers a host of high profile clients including Nuffield Health, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Blind Veterans and Air Ambulances UK. The team is currently advising the Royal Albert Hall on drafting and presenting a private Bill to Parliament to amend provisions of the Royal Albert Hall Act 1966.
All offices have a corporate seat, and the team typically has trainees working on M&A and restructuring matters in the mid-market (so on deals between £10 and £100 million in value.) There’s “a lot of due diligence work,” a number of insiders told us, including “lots of drafting ancillaries.” Newbies quickly get familiar with written resolutions and board minutes, alongside document review and preparation. Trainees are expected to help on the admin side of things with share certificates and updating records on Companies House for M&A deals. Specifically in Southampton the team do a lot of marine-based work in the transport sector whilst in Cambridge “we work with smaller businesses like tech companies, a lot of digital companies, and people working in software.” Speaking of which, the group recently advised Electric Guitar, an acquisition vehicle in the digital media space, on its admission to the London Stock Exchange.
Sources found that it was difficult to pin down a wholly uniform culture across the firm’s regional offices and teams, but were positive across the board when it came to talking about their interactions with partners, associates, peers and other members of staff. In Cambridge and Southampton “there are a lot fewer people than the other offices, so everyone is friendly with each other,” while in London “every team has its own little culture!” The London office is spread over two floors: the top is home to client-facing meeting rooms, whilst the rest of the office is open-plan. Trainees told us they are expected to go into the office “at least three days a week, but the work from home policy is in flux,” changing depending on the team. The firm’s official policy is two days in the office, two days at home, and one day that’s fluid.Some departments like private wealth expect trainees to go in every day, but if you are placed in a seat that’s not located in your office, “they understand that you won’t come in as often; travel is also expensed if you’re doing a seat outside of your home office.”
“People purposefully go into London, just for that social side!”
We were also told that, though the Reading office has its own social committee, London acts as a hub for trainees: “People purposefully go into London, just for that social side!” BDB has your typical office-wide summer and Christmas parties, but “sometimes Southampton might join the London office’s events.” These tend to happen more regularly on a practice-by-practice basis, and trainees have their own organised events. “Trainees have a social every month and everyone can work from London that day,” one insider explained, “three of the socials are funded by the firm! The rest is self-funded though…” Outside of this though, the firm also has CSR groups in its different offices, a football team, and a netball team for newbies to let off steam.
“Partners make a lot of effort to get to know you” in social settings, something trainees told us was generally reflected in the supervision. Of course, “it depends on the partner, but you can get feedback informally day-to-day – most people have enough time to run things through with you.” Le Riche, tells us that on top of this, “I sit down with them officially once every seat to catch up and see how they’re getting on. I also find out if there are particular areas they can focus on, or areas they want more experience in.” External training can be available via department or a centralised budget. Trainees can put themselves forward to develop their expertise in an area, but every team also has a set training schedule for the trainees and there are monthly know-how sessions which “trainees are sometimes asked to prep – a lot of that happens online.”
“The biggest selling point,” that we heard from a number of trainees was “the work-life balance. BDB sells itself with its culture, and I don’t think I could say anything negative about that.” Those we spoke with told us that, “unless something is screamingly urgent you don’t need to stay late.” One newbie did admit, “I’ve worked on the weekend a few times,” but that they also “never felt pressured to – for the firm’s size and standing, it’s great.” This is undoubtedly reflected by trainee salaries which “could be higher, but we’re definitely not underpaid!”
“I feel very much part of the firm now, nothing has turned me off!"
When it comes to the qualification process, “at the three-month mark of your final seat there are a few rounds on interviews for seats you’re interested in.” Before this, trainees typically submit their applications “a few weeks into your fourth seat," kicking off the recruitment process.Insiders were a little disgruntled with the spots on offer last year “as there weren’t NQ roles available in the areas everyone wanted, so a lot of people had to adapt or look elsewhere.”
The firm does give trainees a mentor now, who “helps with interview techniques and CVs. They’re honest about applications.” Despite difficulties with retention over the past year, all the trainees we spoke with told us “there’s definitely a desire” to stay; “I feel very much part of the firm now, nothing has turned me off! I have a great work-life balance and opportunities to progress, it really just depends on which seats are available on qualification.” I n 2023, BDB retained 7 of 13 qualifiers.
Show me the Money: BDB's CSR committee has raised over £16,000 in the past year for its chosen charities.
How to get a Bristows training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 5 February 2024
Training contract deadline: July 2024 (date TBC)
To apply, interested candidates fill out an online application form so that we can learn more about you. Representatives from the firm attend a number of Law fairs and engage with schemes, such as The Corporate Law Academy to meet students.
Assessment and interviews
Once selected, the firm requires interviewees to go through a two-stage assessment process. During interviews, candidates sit with two interviewers whom typically ask a mix of scenario and competency style questions. Interviewers want to see your technical, research, teamwork and communication skills.
The vacation scheme
BDB Pitmans has one vacation scheme that normally takes place during the summertime in June. The application process for the vacation scheme requires applicants to fill out and complete an online form and a video interview. The firm run both a London-based and a Reading-based vacation scheme.
During the scheme, individuals have the opportunity to experience multiple departments. During the programme, candidates are able to shadow members of the team, attend meetings and complete a variety of tasks. BDB Pitmans also offers training sessions and talks from various individuals across the firm, ranging from our fee earning team to business support. Vacation schemers will also have the opportunity to work with their peers on the scheme and complete a Group project.
BDB Pitmans LLP
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, 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 person’s 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 Pitmans 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 legalour 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, 2023
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 2)
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Administrative & Public Law: Mainly Commercial (Band 3)
- Administrative & Public Law: Mainly Public Sector & Charities (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 1)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 2)