Public and healthcare expertise with an empathetic, friendly culture… it’s a match made in Bevan.
“Before you apply here, you have to understand the type of work we do,” one of our trainee sources began. “It’s extremely public sector-driven and if you’re not interested in that you won’t enjoy it here as much as we do!” Wannabe corporate mega-dealmakers, look away now – Bevan Brittan’s best known for its work in the public sector for local governments, councils and other taxpayer-funded institutions. The firm started life in Bristol, but also counts offices in Birmingham, Leeds and London too and all four now regularly house trainees. Chambers UK ranks BB top nationwide in local government, healthcare and clinical negligence; it also earns top prizes in the North East, Yorkshire and South East for social housing work.
The firm’s public focus was the main attraction for our interviewees. Trainees revelled in the chance to do work that’s “more tangible than other law like banking or corporate whatever. We can help people – it’s great to be able to make real change.” Law with a conscience? It perhaps makes sense that the people drawn to this area of the profession tend to be “friendly and bubbly. Everybody is themselves at work here, people are always laughing and the firm has a special, welcoming feel to it.” The firm’s expanded into more private sector work recently – which helped boost turnover 4.5% to £46 million in 2018/19 – but sources hadn’t noticed any resultant cultural shift.
“More tangible than other law like banking or corporate whatever.”
At the time of our research there were six trainees based in Bristol, seven in London, four in Birmingham and two in Leeds. In all of the offices, trainees voice their interests before their first seat; before subsequent rotations they’re sent a list of available seats and rank three preferences. Birmingham or Leeds trainees who want to do a seat not offered by their smaller office are welcome to travel to another to tick it off. Split and double seats are “becoming increasingly popular at BB, especially in Bristol. It’s due to business need and works out really well in practice for most people.” Overall, interviewees felt that the film are “always willing to listen about where you want to go and take an interest in your career.”
Bevan Brittan splits its practice into four large departments, within which cross-team working is encouraged. Property includes transactional work and property litigation; litigation, advisory and regulatory (LAR) handles employment and commercial disputes; commercial and infrastructure is the home of corporate, commercial health and other areas; and clinical risk offers seats in clinical negligence and medical law.
Public empathy number one
The biggest subgroup in clinical risk, the clinical negligence team is also the largest in the whole firm. Most of the work here is in defence of NHS bodies, and as Bevan sits on the NHS Resolution panel there are “all sorts of claims from the low-value disputes all the way up to multimillion-pound complex work.” One such mega case was defeating a £10 million suit alleging a hospital’s failure to offer a caesarean section at a specific point during a child’s birth. Other recent matters include a group litigation concerning the gynaecological care of 265 patients of a doctor that the press ominously dubbed ‘The Butcher’; and defending a South West hospital trust in a claim that a patient’s double amputation could have been prevented. “Though you do get some very sad cases, you have to see that you’re doing the right thing,” interviewees said. “The NHS doesn’t have unlimited money, you’re ultimately helping people and making sure they’ve got enough money to carry on living well.” It’s worth noting that the team handles some private claims too.
Trainees found the medical side of the work in clinical negligence “fascinating. It adds an extra dimension to your work every day, and I do joke sometimes that I could do with getting some procedures!” As part of the research side of the job, trainees get to tag along to medical conferences – “those are what got me hooked! You get to see all the experts, it was amazing to hear the top three neurosurgeons in the country explaining why their method is right and someone else’s is wrong.” They also get to attend meetings, mediations, hearings and trials. “I was in court probably once every other week,” a source shared. It’s not all gallivanting – back in the office trainees will read medical records and sort chronologies; compile research reports; and draft advice letters and instructions to experts.
“The conferences are what got me hooked! You get to see all the experts.”
Bevan Brittan’s litigation and advisory regulatory group – or LAR as it's affectionately known – is as varied as its vague full name suggests. Employment, financial services, IT, public law, defamation, fraud… all these and more can be found here. Contract disputes make up a sizeable chunk of the cases, for which the group “works with various ombudsmen – it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise!” A seat here is also mainly public sector-focused and centred on servicing local government and NHS trusts, but the firm has a few private sector clients including G4S and wireless infrastructure provider Ontix. Bevan recently represented diagnostic suppliers Sysmex in a £5 million claim against Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust over a pan-pathology managed services contract. “The work has historically been predominantly hospital-related, but they’re branching out,” according to our sources. Public sector cases include acting for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in a £10 million IT contract dispute with BT over outsourced HR, payroll and finance services. Trainees in a litigation seat get to call clients, discuss documents and add comments; they’re also charged with writing advice notes and dispute notes, filing applications and attending court hearings. “There can be some boring Excel work here and there,” a trainee noted; “I’ve also done a lot of black letter law research.”
Public display of resurrection
Trainees in commercial and infrastructure tend to sit in one of the various sub-teams: these include pure commercial, commercial health, construction (contentious and non-contentious), local government and a corporate group. Work in local government involves assisting regional authorities with children’s trust projects and the transferring of services. Councils in Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Nottingham and other cities and counties are on Bevan’s books; the team recently advised Surrey County Council on the procurement of a joint venture partner to deliver up to £1 billion worth of schemes. Contract drafting is part of a trainee’s role alongside research and liaising with the other side. “A big project will come in and lots of the teams will be working on it,” a source explained. “The firm’s encouraging a lot more cross-group collaboration.” Project management is therefore a necessity – trainees tend to find themselves creating schedules and implementing amendments into documents.
“There’s not the level of pressure that I was expecting.”
Corporate is a modestly sized area at BB, partly due to the firm’s history of helping mainly public clients: “They’ve only recently rebranded themselves to branch into the private sector, which means that the department is relatively small and there’s not the level of pressure I was expecting of a corporate seat.” Deal types vary from joint ventures for local and housing authorities to large-scale share sale deals and forming special-purpose vehicles. The Bristol team recently advised Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council on the procurement of a private sector partner to form a 50:50 joint venture aimed at regenerating the Wirral area. A seat here involves due diligence, drafting documents like articles of association and preparing presentations for clients. “Those are a fun change of pace, we’re giving the clients all the info they need to know,” interviewees said.
The property team in Bristol is best known for health work and comes to the aid of local government and housing associations with property queries. “There are lots of separate little bubbles including leases, development and plot sales,” a trainee explained. “We get to work across all of those.” Borough councils and NHS trusts make up most of the firm’s London clients; the firm advised the London Borough of Hounslow on its £500 million ‘Waterside’ joint venture property scheme. “On the transactional side they let you draft whole leases and documents: I’ve run a transfer from start to finish.”
Anyone for the public house?
Once upon a time BB’s offices didn’t work closely together. That’s all changing now, as trainees report that “it’s getting easier with newer technology and there’s a lot more cross-office teamwork.” The small headcounts in Birmingham and Leeds mean that “there’s a lot of cross-office work and they’ll draw on whichever trainees are available.” All the offices are now open-plan and trainees appreciated “having everyone on the same floor with no separation from partners and no hierarchy.” Bristol sources declared that “there’s a buzz about, there’s a collective working environment in this office and this is just a fun, bubbling city to be in right now.” London and Leeds now also operate an agile working policy with no fixed desks, comfy areas and standing desks for all. Trainees usually sit near their supervisors; we heard they “take quite a proactive approach to development in terms of training. We sat down and made a list of all the things I want to cover during my seat.” One source described their past supervisors as “quite relaxed. They’re hands-on but don’t hand-hold.”
Moving on from this weird hand-on-hand metaphor, trainees were happy with the support provided for women and the visibility of female partners at the firm – “it’s great to have them as role models.” Looking to the future a new diversity committee “aims to improve things. It’s great that we’re thinking about diversity and actively working towards it.” Female sources told us about informal get-togethers to discuss diversity-related issues. Bevan’s social committee hosts regular casual drinks events firm-wide as well as more kooky get-togethers like trips to the ballet in Birmingham and cocktail-making workshops in Bristol. “Naturally as a result of only having a few trainees per office, there’s not as much of a social life among intakes,” one source reasoned. “There’s not much structure to the social side of the firm but there are always month-end drinks of some sort.”
“If you’re here at 9pm, that’s basically unheard of.”
Law’s not all fun and games and the Bevan bunch described themselves as “pretty hardcore workers. Everybody’s really supportive of each other and if anyone’s really stressed we all work together to help.” The good news is that working hard doesn’t always mean working long and most of our interviewees were out the door by 5.30pm or 6pm on most days. A world away from big City firms, trainees considered a late night to be 7.30pm and said: “If you’re here at 9pm, that’s basically unheard of. It’s a big deal.” Sources considered salaries to be “very competitive and fair for the work and the hours that we do.” Londoners get a small pay uplift; salaries there are nowhere near challenging top City titans, but insiders felt “it’s completely worth the trade-off” of more forgiving hours.
As they approach qualification, trainees who wish to stay on are required to submit their CVs following the announcement of available jobs. They then interview with the head of the group they wish to qualify into. Many felt that the jobs list was released too late for their liking and felt “it’s not a transparent process. It’s always been a bit smoke and mirrors.” A recent shake-up in HR personnel left trainees hopeful for future change. In 2019, Bevan Brittan retained seven of nine qualifiers.
Pro bono work available to trainees includes helping at legal advice clinics and advising not-for-profits on transactional matters.
How to get a Bevan Brittan training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 30 June 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)
The application form
Initial applications for a training contract or vacation scheme are completed online, and around 750 people apply for training contracts each year across the four offices. “The application form is geared towards gauging your understanding of the firm's target market,” we were told by trainees. “One of the questions referenced how the public sector is under the cosh and asked how the firm's strategy should aim to hedge that challenge.”
A level grades matter: the firm wants applicants who have attained a minimum of ABB (with flexibility depending on experience/circumstances). A 2:1 is also essential. Alternatively (if you don't meet these criteria), the firm is keen to accept your application if you have at least three years' commercial experience.
The assessment day
Shortlisted training contract applicants are invited to an assessment day at the Bristol office. The agenda includes a variety of assessments (including a written exercise) and a partner interview. Bearing in mind the challenges facing the public sector “you really need to show you can think outside the box,” one former vac schemer told us. “It's about being commercial, appreciating that it's a 'dig your heels in' moment and showing that you could be the sort of lawyer that will nurture client relationships to business coming in.”
The vacation scheme
Bevan Brittan runs two-week vacation schemes in each of its offices. After an initial induction and various exercises in Bristol, when vac schemers meet different partners, they go to their chosen office and spend a week each in two departments. Students are buddied with a trainee and have their own supervisors, with whom they work closely on live matters and set tasks. One former vac schemer remembered: “I was made to feel like one of the team, and there was no sense that lawyers were censoring their behaviour because I was there. I was involved in key strategic discussions, and they even moaned about the quality of the tea in front of me! I liked that honesty.” There are social events, too, and vac schemers always go out for drinks and dinner with the trainees in their office.
Vac schemers are assessed during their time in the two departments and get feedback, which forms part of their final assessment. They also undergo an interview with a partner.
The vac scheme is not fully paid but students receive complementary train tickets to attend the assessment activities in Bristol and a further £100 towards their travel expenses during the placement. You may earn more on another firm’s scheme, but if this firm is on your target list then do make a beeline for this scheme. “Although the firm doesn't recruit exclusively from its vac scheme, it's definitely a considerable boost to your application” revealed one trainee.
On both the vac scheme and during the training contract application process interview questions cover why trainees want to come to Bevan Brittan, and whether they are really sure of their interest in the public services sector. “The firm does tend to take on people with experience in the area,” revealed one trainee. “There are plenty of people here who have worked in the civil service or local government. Occasionally, we get former medical professionals looking to change career. Most of the candidates on the vac scheme are a little older than you'd expect and have gained a lot of hard skills in and around the public sector. Given that public service work is Bevan Brittan's key focal point, that understanding and experience really helps.”
With the firm keen to take on more private sector clients that operate in the public sector, commercial experience can also really boost your cause. Training partner Steve Eccles elaborates: “We're taking on an increasing number of private health providers as clients and would like to continue to boost that area. In addition, more than ever before, NHS bodies are having to operate as commercial entities and run themselves as viable businesses. Those clients therefore look to us to provide legal advice that is commercially savvy as well as being legally accurate, so we'll need people with good commercial understanding to better understand those clients' needs and meet their requirements.”
Diversity is also an important consideration, and the firm takes part in the Pathways to Law work experience scheme in conjunction with the University of Bristol and the University of Law. There are also informal work experience arrangements with local schools in Birmingham and London.
1 Queen Street,
- Partners 67
- Assistant solicitors 192
- Total trainees 18
- UK offices Bristol, London, Birmingham & Leeds
- Contacts The Graduate Recruitment Team [email protected] com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or three year’s relevant commercial experience
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: BBB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st November 2019 Training contract deadline, 2022 deadline: 30th June 2020 Vacation scheme applications: 1st November 2019 Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 28th February 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First year salary: competitive
- Second year salary: competitive
- Post qualification salary: competitive
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, London, Birmingham and Leeds
Bevan Brittan is a UK-Top 100 national law firm providing a comprehensive range of legal and advisory services to over 300 private sector businesses as well as being a market-leading firm within health and social care, housing and local and central government.
Main areas of work
Based in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and London, our award-winning teams provide commercial, corporate, property, regulatory, employment and litigation (commercial and clinical negligence) legal advice.
The training contract is made up of four, six-month seats. During each seat, the core of your training will be practical work experience in conjunction with an educational programme. The training is aimed at developing attitudes, skills, legal and commercial knowledge which is essential for your career success. You are encouraged to take on as much work and responsibility as you are able to handle, which will be reviewed on a regular basis with your supervisor. The firm is friendly and supportive with an open-door policy along with a range of social, sporting and cultural activities.
Our award winning summer vacation scheme takes place in June each year with places available across the offices. The scheme is open to second-year law students, final-year non-law students and graduates. During the placement you will spend a week in two different departments enabling you to gain first-hand experience of two different practice areas, getting a real taste of what life at Bevan Brittan is like. You’ll be given real work to do and formal feedback on how you’ve done by each member of staff you work for. In addition to this there will be the opportunity to meet current trainees and network with people across the firm to find out more about the work and culture at Bevan Brittan.
You will receive 25 days annual paid holiday, the option to purchase up to one week additional holiday, a pension with a 5% employee contribution, private medical insurance, permanent health insurance/income protection, a range of voluntary benefits including season ticket loans, childcare vouchers, cycle to work scheme, and an on-site gym.
University law careers fairs 2018
•University of Bristol
•University of the West of England
•University of Exeter
•University of Birmingham
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Social Housing (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)