Bevan Brittan may be increasingly venturing into the private sphere, but its top-notch public sector practices remain at the heart of the firm.
Bevan is a place on earth
Maybe you've “become disillusioned with the idea of super-commercial work like banking, but equally don't want high street work doing wills and conveyancing.” Perhaps you're looking for “somewhere commercially minded but without the nasty corporate environment.” Or you're just longing for “work more meaningful than moving money around and making rich people richer.” If so, consider Bevan Brittan, a Bristol-born multi-site firm “best known for its work supporting public bodies, local governments and councils.”
You'll find none of that complex derivatives, capital markets malarkey here. Instead Chambers UK bestows the firm with top rankings for its local government and healthcare work, also giving plaudits to its social housing, public law, clinical negligence, and public procurement work. NHS Resolution – the body responsible for handling negligence claims concerning the NHS – is one of the firm's major clients, as are a number of major city councils such as Brighton & Hove, and East Sussex Council. The firm recently advised Leicester City Council on its duty of care as part of the high-profile Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
“There is an increasing amount of work from private sector bidders.”
However, more recently the firm has begun to venture outside of its public sector bubble, looking to the private and third sectors to fuel its ambition of reaching £80 million revenue. 2016/17 marked the fifth consecutive year of revenue growth for the firm, so it's definitely on the right track. However, the golden number fell just shy of £40 million, so it's still got a way to go! But what's driving all this? “I think it has taken us time to gain the confidence post-recession to take the necessary steps to move forward,” one trainee contemplated. “With austerity in place, there is no room for growth in the public sector so we have to look elsewhere to diversify our sources of revenue; ultimately work in the private sector is so much more profitable.” As such clients such as Bupa and Johnson & Johnson can now be found on the firm's books. “In areas such as procurement litigation, there is an increasing amount of work from private sector bidders,” said one source. In fact, the firm's existing expertise can complement its work for private clients: “Our experience of how councils operate, knowing their time-scales and having experience of public sector approval times, makes us attractive to private sector clients.”
In 2017 our interviewees reported the Birmingham office as feeling a bit neglected – not so anymore. The office has received a shot of adrenaline: “We've had a surge of recruitment, including at a partner level, and departments such as corporate are undergoing expansion,” one source reported. Two trainees were hired here in both 2017 and 2018. Elsewhere the firm has openly targeted launching a Manchester office over the next few years.
At the time of our 2018 research there were eight trainees based in Bristol, seven in London and four in Birmingham. In all locations, the first seat is automatically allocated. Before subsequent rotations a list of available seats is sent around and trainees are asked to rank three preferences. “HR do listen to your preferences,” sources agreed, “but in Birmingham, as there are four trainees, and five seats, you can pretty much work it out between you.” It was a similar situation in Bristol too. Overall, trainees felt the process could be “last minute” and “a bit disorganised.” It's also important to note that the “available seats at every rotation change depending on the firm's business needs.”
Thank god for the internet
The clinical risk department offers seats in both clinical negligence and medical law. Clinical negligence is the firm's biggest department, and nearly all trainees sit there. It was also the most popular among this year's cohort: “Going in is very much a baptism of fire. There are lots of medical terms and technical language to get to grips with, but by the end of the seat you do consider yourself a bit of a doctor,” one source joked. “Google is your best friend,” explained juniors. “Although with some of the things I've had to Google, I thought IT was going to call me up and ask me what I was doing. My first research assignment was on vaginal prolapses!” The department mainly does defendant work for a range of NHS bodies including NHS Resolution, Birmingham Women's NHS Foundation and Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. Cases vary from multimillion-pound incidents, normally involving catastrophic brain injury and cerebral palsy, to smaller fast-track cases “such as someone who has lost a finger from it going septic, or where someone has developed pressure sores.”
Sources also pointed out the increasing amount of private work on offer, which might see trainees “representing a private insurer on a botched nose job or botox.” When not researching genitalia, trainees were frequently found gathering evidence. This involves “drafting statements from interviewing witnesses such as midwives and nurses” and “liaising with experts to get their opinion.” On smaller, 'fast-track' cases, trainees can “independently source an expert report. From that you then draft an advice letter to a client.” Court attendances are not uncommon, and some trainees even reported conducting their own advocacy in the Coroner's Court. Trainees felt the seat was unique in being “very process-driven, and a huge part of it is people management. Settlement offers can also often move away from a legal argument and come down to an emotional one. Sometimes a claimant just wants someone to say sorry.” Now why can't Apple and Samsung be more like that?
“I found it really interesting considering the deprivations of people's liberties.”
In medical law, the person involved is often deceased. “It's a fair split between inquests, which may then lead to work for the clinical negligence team, and work that deals with mental capacity and mental heath.” In the latter, the concerned party is most certainly alive. “It often involves drafting applications to the Court of Protection. I found it really interesting considering the deprivations of people's liberties, what the appropriate treatment plans are, and how to interact with dementia cases." Trainees indicated that a reasonable amount of time is spent "drafting witnesses' statements," but they also reported doing some bundling and "reviewing medical records in preparation for inquests."
The litigation and advisory regulatory group – or LAR as it's affectionately known – encompasses a real mix: employment work, financial services spats, IT wrangles, public law challenges, defamation claims, fraud cases, negligence matters and more. The majority of the work remains in the public sector – usually servicing local government and the NHS trusts – but the firm does have a few private clients on its books such as pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the University of Oxford. The university was recently represented by the firm when a student decided to sue the university for awarding them a 2:1 in their degree, despite the fact the student later got a magic circle training contract. Yes, that really happened. On a more serious note, the team defended 52 Fire and Rescue Authorities across England and Wales against multimillion-pound claims brought by over 5,000 firefighters, alleging that reforms made to their pensions were discriminatory on the grounds of age, sex and race. “With public bodies there is a lot of alternative dispute resolution,” trainees explained. “I've attended a couple of mediations and an arbitration.” Source felt “you used your law degree more than anywhere else. A lot of the time you're looking at case law and precedent trying to devise the best argument to put forward.” On the advisory side, one of our interviewees had researched health and safety obligations following the events of Grenfell Tower. Elsewhere trainees reported preparing documents for case management conferences, drafting disclosure questionnaires and working on witness statements for summary judgment applications.
Despite “a popular perception that property is very dry when studying it,” trainees assured us “it's a lot more alive than the landlord textbook!” The majority of the work in property remains in the public sector, and the group houses dedicated development and social housing teams. The firm is the main adviser to the NHS Property Services' £4.5 billion portfolio, as well as a number of local governments across the country. This team has also benefited from the shift towards private work – for example, the London team recently teamed up with Buxton Building Contractors on a multimillion redevelopment of 54 flats and a nursery on a former industrial site. “Trainees often have to do the post-completion work,” sources explained, which often means making sure stamp duty tax forms and land registry forms are completed and submitted. “It can get a bit repetitive,” one trainee admitted, but “there is the scope to draft leases and tenancy agreements,” usually for healthcare centres. More niche work is also available. For example one trainee detailed their involvement “drafting mooring licences for the Canal and Rivers Trust.”
Get a Bev down ya!
Although BB's four offices present a pretty united front in terms of their public sector focus, trainees agreed that each office was very much self-contained. “To be honest I saw many of the trainees on the first day for initiation in Bristol but haven't seen them since,” confessed one source. Cross-staffing on deals isn't infrequent but overall trainees felt the “work is very regional and driven by the clients in that region. Bristol handles all South West NHS bodies, whereas London will take the South East.” The firm told us it does cross-staff some of its healthcare work too. Trainees also pointed out that “there is an annual football tournament among all the offices,” but added that “it's poorly attended.”
“I can walk around and reel off three facts about everyone in the office.”
Thankfully relations within the offices had a little more sparkle. Those in Birmingham were particularly happy: “It's the nicest place I've worked in my entire life. Our social committee, Phoenix, is very encouraging of all ideas and we've done all sorts of trips to different bars and quizzes – there is usually a lot of drinking. It's definitely not your typical office space. I can walk around and reel off three facts about everyone in the office.” Those in London and Bristol were slightly more muted in their response. “It's not comparable to big City law firms where something is happening every night.”
Still, those in Bristol did say that “something is organised at least every month.” Those in London had attended an organised trip to the cricket, and recently bopped along to Bounce (a ping-pong themed bar). Moreover, sources agreed the open-plan design of all the offices lent itself easily to a “flat hierarchy: it's not a case of paralegals in the basement and partners having their own offices. Everyone is treated equally and it's generally a very nurturing atmosphere.”
One other way Bevan differs from big City firms is its hours. “I must admit,” began one trainee, “before starting, I was worried whether the work/life balance would be good compared to most office jobs, or if it would be considered good just by law firm standards.” They were pleased to discover that it's “actually normal. There is no expectation so stay past 7pm, and that comes from above, which is nice.” Some had worked the odd 11pm night but generally most of our interviewees were getting into the office before 9am and leaving somewhere between 6pm and 7pm. Sources in Birmingham also highlighted that they “encourage you to take an hour for lunch. Some people go to the gym or for a run, and when it's hot we all go outside together.” As they approach the end of their time, trainees who wish to stay on are required to submit their CVs following the posting of available jobs. That's followed by interviews with the heads of the groups they wish to qualify into. Seven of ten qualifiers were kept on in 2018.
The sources we spoke to primarily came from a diverse range of Russell Group universities.
How to get a Bevan Brittan training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens 31 October 2018)
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 BBB. 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 60
- Assistant solicitors 163
- Total trainees 17
- UK offices Bristol, London, Birmingham & Leeds
- Contacts graduate recruitment team, [email protected]
- 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: 31 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 deadline: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications: 31 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 28 February 2019
- 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
Main areas of work
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, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market Recognised Practitioner
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)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 1)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)