Whether you’re a local or not, you’re sure to get “Birkettised” at this star of East Anglia.
Birketts training contract review 2024
Let’s cut to the chase: “Birketts has an outstanding reputation in East Anglia.” In fact, if you find yourself looking for a firm in any of the major cities in the region, whether it’s Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich or Norwich, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more recognisable name. The firm enjoys close ties with the University of East Anglia too, with a number of UEA graduates among the ranks, and it’s one of the first names that will crop up at university careers fairs and the like. “I wanted to be part of something exciting,” one source told us, “somewhere that had a good reputation in the area, with the resources and opportunities to specialise.” The firm spread its wings in London in 2020 after merging with insurance boutique EC3 Legal.
“I wanted to be part of something exciting, somewhere that had a good reputation in the area, with the resources and opportunities to specialise.”
Birketts’ core business is divided into four main disciplines – corporate and commercial, commercial property, commercial and personal litigation, and private client. In East Anglia, the firm scoops top-tier Chambers UK rankings across all of them, including agriculture & rural affairs, mid-market corporate/M&A and private equity, crime, employment, environment, litigation, planning, real estate, real estate litigation, restructuring/insolvency, and social housing. There’s also top nods in family/matrimonial law in Essex and Ipswich if you weren’t already impressed.
As a general rule at Birketts, most teams are split across multiple locations, so all seats will have at least a partly cross-office element. Cambridge and the Ipswich HQ take on the largest cohort of trainees, followed closely by Norwich and Chelmsford. The London office, as the newest, takes on only a couple. “Property is a big part of the firm,” one trainee explained, “so most people will do a seat there at some stage, and they like you to have done a seat in a corporate area – either corporate, employment or tax – but there are no compulsory seats.”
At the time of research, there were 41 trainees spread out among the firm’s offices, “so seat allocation can at times be tricky.” Prior to joining the firm, trainees can put forward a preference for their first seat, “but we don’t have to, and they were very happy for us to come in with an open mind.” Around three months into their first seat, trainees have a sit-down meeting with HR and graduate recruitment to discuss what they’d like from their next seat “and how you see things playing out, before you submit up to five choices via email.” Chances are that trainees would have spoken to the teams beforehand to get a feel for the department. Of course, there are no guarantees: “The preferences we state are preferences, but there is the opportunity to make your case.”
As one of the firm’s areas of strength, commercial propertySIPPS (self-invested personal pensions) is among the largest departments at Birketts, with sub-teams covering areas like construction, planning, real estate litigation and property tax. “We often work with more local clients with commercial property needs,” one trainee told us, “which means a lot of drafting leases, acting in commercial sales on behalf of buyers and sellers, and filling out Land Registry applications.” One recent example saw the firm act for Hopkins Homes on the acquisition of a 16-acre site at Beaulieu Park, Chelmsford, for the development of around 260 houses. Real estate finance operates as a separate team at most of Birketts’ offices (with the exception of Ipswich) and the same goes for real estate investment. “In real estate investment, we would typically work with a couple of large clients who were buying and selling portfolios of properties,” one source explained, “so we would act on the sales, repurchases and refinancings of predominantly retail parks.”
“One of the new things they are getting involved in is solar work.”
If the thought of East Anglia conjures up images of rural villages in Norfolk and Suffolk, it might not come as much of a surprise that agriculture & estates forms an important part of the firm’s work in the region, covering both property matters and a fair amount of private client work too. “There’s a big crossover with private client,” one trainee recalled. “The team primarily acts for farmers and landowners around the administration of estates, but we essentially aim to provide a one-stop service, whether that’s setting up companies, farming partnerships and tenancies, or purchasing and selling farmland.” But traditional agricultural work isn’t all that’s on offer here: “One of the new things they are getting involved in is solar work, and new and emerging ways that clients can generate income streams alongside the ESG/environmental impact side of things.” For trainees in the seat, the day-to-day includes “tenancy agreements, transfers of beneficial interest, and reviewing deeds where for one reason or another a family owns parcels of land across Norfolk, and they want to establish exactly who owns what and what’s registered.”
Sources at Birketts were quick to highlight that shipping & international trade is – as the name suggests – one of the most international teams at the firm. “The opportunity is quite far-reaching in that sense,” one trainee remarked, “a big part of what we do is translating the law into language that’s understandable for our clients, and where most of our shipping clients are foreign, it comes with that extra layer of translation. And that’s really interesting.” The department covers work on both sides where cargo is damaged or lost: “Shipping law is vast and it has its own set of rules. Most of the time I’ve been using the firm’s resources to just learn the area of law, because it’s quite technical and you need to understand the contractual frameworks that apply to these kinds of disputes.” It isn’t all research however, with trainees getting involved with anything from insurance claims to advising on war risk. In one recent case, the firm advised U-Ming Marine Transport Singapore on its negotiations with local authorities in Latvia over the release of cargo alleged to be associated with Russian sanctioned individuals.
Another of the more common destinations for trainees at Birketts is employment, “where clients are typically local employers in sectors like technology, covering London as well.” A lot of the work in the seat revolves around employment tribunals, but there are opportunities to get involved with non-contentious advisory aspects too: “We help employers to draft contracts and key policies too, as well as advising companies on a pre-litigation stage of disciplinary procedures and things like that.” In one recent case, the firm acted for the College of West Anglia in its defence of an unfair dismissal claim brought by a former lecturer revolving around health and safety issues.
“Even though the firm is spread out between several offices, everyone works very collaboratively,” one source told us. “In fact, some of the team from Chelmsford and Cambridge might be simultaneously working on the same files.” This is also shown in the fact that the firm actively encourages its trainees to do a seat in a different office at some stage. “It’s also helped by the fact that we have monthly sessions that introduce us to the work of more niche areas of the firm that are available throughout our training contract,” one trainee explained, “whether that’s charities or agriculture.”
Each of the firm’s offices has been undergoing a refurbishment over the past couple of years too: “The views from the Norwich office overlooking the river and the cathedral are just lovely. Since the refurb, if there’s a client call that I’m nervous about and don’t want anyone to hear, there’s always somewhere I can hide!”
“We often joke about laterals that they haven’t been ‘Birkettised’ yet, which really does show that there is an identfiable firm culture here.”
When it comes to recruitment, Birketts has an emphasis on finding candidates that will fit into the firm’s ethos and culture: “Everyone the firm recruits has that ‘Birketts thing’ that makes them fit in!” one source commented. “We often joke about laterals that they haven’t been ‘Birkettised’ yet, which really does show that there is an identifiable firm culture here.” And what is that? “It's really non-hierarchical,” one reckoned. “If the firm goes out for drinks, you’ll be comfortable to go up to a partner and have a chat with them. Obviously you know their seniority and their expertise, but everyone is approachable.”
According to our survey, hours at the firm are comfortably below the market average too, with trainees typically starting at 8.30am and finishing at around 6.30pm. We had mixed reports when it came to the expectation around office time, with different offices seemingly having slightly different approaches ranging from the majority of the week up to a full five days, but the general consensus was that there was “a degree of discretion from the supervisor.” Trainees were broadly happy about the salary on offer at the firm, especially given the work/life balance on offer. “But you’ll always feel the pull of the London salaries when you are so close,” one admitted, “especially when you could in theory commute in relatively easily.”
Come qualification time, “a list goes out halfway through your final seat, and everyone is free to apply for the jobs that interest them.” Regardless of how many applicants each post receives, there will be an interview process, but the firm generally looks to find a place for its trainees (with historically strong retention rates to back it up). In 2023, the firm retained all 17.
Women at Birketts: With 40% female partnership, the firm sits among the best for gender diversity – “that’s been backed up with recent reviews of maternity leave and events to boost support for colleagues experiencing the menopause.”
How to get a Birketts training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 28 January 2024
Training contract deadline (2024): 7 July 2024
"The majority of Birketts trainees have been recruited following successful completion of our summer vacation scheme," says Amy Meyer, Early Careers Manager. The firm describes this as a great opportunity to see the day-to-day activities of the firm, and start building relationships as well as gaining legal experience. The 2023 scheme saw successful candidates complete four mini-seats, participate in a mock trial and join in with a quiz, in addition to a Q&A session and other social activities.
As the firm receives around 400 vacation scheme applications per year, it is crucial that applicants can demonstrate the qualities that it looks for. The firm suggests applicants detail any work experience that they have and think about the skills and qualities they have that are transferable and relevant to being a trainee solicitor, for example customer service, reliability, creativity, working alone and/or as part of a team. The firm has the same application for internal and external candidates to ensure fairness. They have also introduced an online assessment to help identify future potential.
Those who are invited to interview will deliver a ten-minute presentation on a non-law subject of their choice, followed by an interview to discuss the candidate’s application further, and explore their commercial awareness in addition to approach and attitude. The firm recruits individuals that it thinks will not only be able to provide expert legal advice, but also offer great levels of service to its clients, and be friendly and approachable.
2024 will be the first year that the firm expands its vacation scheme to its London and Sevenoaks offices.
22 Station Road,
New London Road,
141-145 Princes Street,
1 Gilders Way,
Main areas of work
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Ipswich and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
Norwich and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Shipping (Band 4)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 3)
- Transport: Road: Regulatory (Band 3)