Blake Morgan - True Picture

Stretching across South Wales and Southern England, Blake Morgan's an excellent performer in more areas than we care to mention.

Blake Lively



The top 50 UK law firms – as measured by yearly revenue – are a right old mix. Discard the big City firms, and you're left with a crop of national and regional firms who have all found their own, slightly different ways to excel. After its foundational Anglo-Welsh merger in 2014, Blake Morgan flirted on the edges of the group. A more recent tie-up with London-based Piper Smith Witton in 2015 pushed it even closer, and the firm finally broke through in 2016/17.

But revenue is a fairly arbitrary measure of quality – a body of work that's as consistent as it is broad is far more concrete. Blake Morgan has impressive scope, representing corporates, charities, individuals, local authorities and other public sector clients. The Chambers UK rankings meanwhile, demonstrate that for banking and finance, employment, IT, IP, litigation and social housing work, the firm is one of the top dozen firms working outside of London. The firm also excels in education, healthcare, professional discipline and international personal injury. Regionally, the firm picks up excellent rankings in the South, Thames Valley and Wales for an even greater range of practices, including corporate, construction and real estate.

"You're not likely to get lost in the numbers."

With just under ten trainees each, London and Southampton take the largest number of juniors, followed closely by Cardiff and Oxford. For trainees, the relatively even spread was a big plus: the fact no office has more than ten juniors means "you're not likely to get lost in the numbers."

Trainees apply to a region: either Wales, Thames Valley, South Coast or London. While some trainees had switched between offices within their region, there's no guarantee of a move. This contributed to a series of complaints trainees voiced about the seat system. Sources warned that not every seat listed was available in each location – “which would have been good to know in advance” – and they also complained about how last-minute the seat allocation process was. “Sometimes you don't know until the end of the seat what's going to be on offer next and if it will come up again. There could be more transparency about what seats will be available in the future." One source viewed this pragmatically: “In a firm of this size you have to accept that sometimes business requirement is going to trump where you want to sit.” But our interviews did suggest improvements were on the way. "HR are introducing catch-ups with graduate recruitment to ask about your interests," and the latest cohort had seen "a big dossier laying out all the seats going on in your office and how they work." There are also client secondments, for example to Deutsche Bank and Metro Bank.

Crispy Blake-on



The firm’s banking team works with a merry mix of lenders, including HSBC, Clydesdale Bank, the Monmouthshire Building Society and Coutts, and it's well known for both general corporate financing and real estate financing. Sources informed us that a combination of longer hours and "being thrown into work we'd not encountered before," made it "one of the most demanding seats." However, this didn't stop them from labelling it “brilliant. I enjoy working within the team. It’s close-knit and I've worked for virtually every fee earner, and across offices." What responsibility sources received "very much depends on the supervisors – some people give you a lot more leeway to make your own decisions, whereas others view it more as a training and supervision exercise. So it went from doing negotiation on documents and drafting the actual loan agreements, all the way down to working on the ancillary documents." Examples of recent work include acting for Santander on a £30 million loan to a higher education college, and acting for HSBC on the provision of a £22 million term loan to a chain of holiday parks in Hampshire and Dorset.

“Some people give you a lot more leeway to make your own decisions.”

The corporate group also presented sources with a difficult start and longer hours, but "the team are very supportive and keen to advance you so that you're a useful addition to the team." Once again a trainee recalled tasks of varying complexity: “Anything from having a go at drafting the articles of association, right down to checking signatures had been done correctly.” The department's many transactions involve SMEs, listed companies and private equity houses, and matters are sometimes international. Transactions usually come in somewhere under the £30 million mark. Recently the South Coast offices advised the Butters Group, a large grower and supplier of plants and flowers, on its sale to international firm Flamingo Horticulture, while the Thames Valley team advised the shareholders of label maker Label Express on its sale to a Canadian private equity firm, Lynx. The Cardiff team also helped the Development Bank of Wales with its investment in Welsh electricity contractor Voltcom Group, and the London office advised New York-based IT management company Virtual Clarity on a £10 million equity investment it received from DXC Technology.

The built environment umbrella group centres on, who’d have thought it, property. But Blake Morgan attacks it from a number of angles. There are seats in real estate, construction and planning, and each office is slightly different. While they all cover investment, development, finance and asset management work to a high standard, the Wales offices are excellent on social housing, government and education work, the southern offices at retail, and the Thames Valley squad is a dab hand in the healthcare sector. Recent highlights from across the offices include the Southampton team helping Costa Coffee open 110 new stores, and the Welsh construction teams advising Igloo Regeneration on the Port Teigr regeneration scheme, which includes the construction of the BBC studio Gloworks. There are some massive clients here: names you’d see on the high street, such as Lidl; financial institutions, such as HSBC; housing associations and huge housebuilders, such as Persimmon Homes; and public sector mainstays, both healthcare-orientated, such as NHS Wales, and educational, such as Balliol College, Oxford and all the South Wales universities.

A seat in real estate, thought trainees, is "quite admin-heavy. It’s a great way for you to get to grips with the process of registering a transaction with the land registry." Still, this stemmed from the fact that trainees were put in charge of managing their own files. Sources recalled “drafting all sorts of documentation: leases and agreements for lease, licences. You’d also have general communication with the client and undertake searches.” In construction, there’s a mix of contentious and transactional work. Sources tended towards working on contentious matters, diving into legal research, attending hearings, but also preparing bundles.

Blake Morgan’s electric organ



In the employment department there is also a mixture of contentious and advisory work, and lawyers work for both public and private clients. Expertise therefore spans the retail, charity and education sectors. The firm recently worked for the University of Portsmouth on a tribunal claim of disability discrimination, and it also helped life sciences company Oxford BioTherapeutics on its contracts and staff handbook. On the contentious side a source had been doing “anything and everything, from assessing the claim initially, to then doing letters of instruction.” The interviewees we spoke to had particularly enjoyed this seat: “It’s the mix of work more than anything. I like having the variety and switching between contentious and advisory work.”

The firm also does a fair amount of work for individuals, and a good number of sources had sat in the succession and tax department.This department handles the affairs of a wealthy client base, including successful business owners. In a probate case, where a client has passed away, trainees could be “rooting through any paperwork to establish what their assets are, and then investigating from there, contacting companies and investment firms they might have held investments with. We had one guy who collected a whole variety of things: he had a fancy electronic organ and a huge collection of antique stamps. That can make it interesting when you are trying to get things valued!” Overall the work provided quite a lot of client contact. Insiders got taken along "to meet clients in their houses and nursing homes. It was interesting to see how often people change their wills and what provisions they want."

Having your Blake and eating it



"Blake Morgan is a happy medium," enthused one trainee. "You get good-quality work but are not expected to be here for a ridiculous number of hours." The average day? Trainees got in around 9am and would leave around 6pm, but construction, corporate and banking could all require trainees to stay until 9pm or 10pm. The worst story we heard? One trainee left at 10pm "for a couple of weeks straight, helping with the bundling for an adjudication.”

Insiders praised grad recruitment for "getting together a group of people who you don't feel like you’re in competition with." In Wales, that’s helped by the fact that the offices attract those with local connections to the area. Cardiff for example housed "lots of people who went to uni either here or Swansea." In Oxford and Southampton however, it seemed that the offices’ less than central locations loosened ties a little. “There are a lot of older people who have to get home to their kids. There's not quite the same feeling of friendliness and willingness to get involved with things as there is in other offices."

“Once a week trainees take it in turns to suggest a pub.”

That wasn't to say there were no social events in Oxford or Southampton. Like most offices, Oxford has monthly drinks, while Southampton sources got involved with their local Junior Lawyer Division and Hampshire Law Society events. Southampton trainees also “have lunch together a couple of times a month." In Cardiff trainees "tend to go out for a couple for drinks on a Friday after work. More formally your team might arrange a night out. Property, for example, are known to be quite social. We also have quite a lot of team quizzes." London also likes to spend their time on quizzes “and once a week trainees take it in turns to suggest a pub. There’s also a bigger event every quarter.”

“All of my work was reviewed and I constantly felt like I could approach members of staff."

Sources had much praise to give when it came to the subject of supervision. “I got really good feedback and I improved rapidly,” said one. “In banking for example, all of my work was reviewed and I constantly felt like I could approach members of staff." There are also formalised catch-ups with these supervisors: "In my first seat I would have a meeting every afternoon to go over my work and sign off my training diary.” Trainees also start with a week of introductory training in Southampton and from then on they can access the Blake Morgan Academy, which provides a variety of online training sessions. “There’s all sorts of things like 'managing conflict' and 'how to get the most out of your appraisals.' There's a great emphasis on personal development.” Alongside this there are "monthly training sessions which are team-relevant," as well as mid and end of seat appraisals.

Less positively, trainees’ salaries caused some consternation. In Cardiff and Southampton sources were happy with their salaries, but Londoners are the only ones who see a pay bump to meet their higher cost of living. “It’s particularly unfair that the London staff are paid more than Oxford and Reading as it's so expensive to live in those two towns," said one source. Even those in London couldn't help a grumble. "We are not paid as well as other firms are," one source stated, "and it seems to lead to a drain on juniors. They stay two to five years and then leave to go somewhere they are paid 10k to 20k more." Despite the firm keeping all 16 qualifiers in 2017 we also heard complaints about qualification. Some sources were "not completely sure that there would be a job available for me. A lot of the teams don't seem to have many jobs going." A lack of clarity on how you secure a job didn’t help. "Relaxed and informal is quite a polite way of describing the process of qualifying," one source vented. "All we know is what the trainees in the year above tell us so it's a bit of a mystery.” Despite all the confusion, every interviewee we spoke to said they wanted to remain at the firm and 13 out of 15 qualifiers stayed on in 2018.

The firm has a dedicated charities department and does work for big names such as Oxfam and British Red Cross.

How to get a Blake Morgan training contract



APPLY HERE

Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 1 April 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)

Training contract deadline (2021): 31 May 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)

Application form

Hopefuls looking to apply for a training contract at Blake Morgan must first complete an application form on the firm's website. According to graduate recruitment and development officer Siobhan Clarke the firm is “looking for attention to detail and evidence that applicants have sought out some legal work experience or have transferable skills from other commercial work experience.” Questions ask applicants to list evidence of key competencies – academics, communication skills, problem analysis skills and initiative – and also ask why they're looking to pursue a career in the law, why they've chosen Blake Morgan, and what hobbies they pursue in their spare time (Don't say: reading the law reports. Do talk about your love of taekwondo or whatever). “You're also asked to give your first and second choice regions for where you'd like to do your training contract,” a trainee added.

Assessment centre and interviews

After an initial sift, some 150 candidates are asked to complete a Watson-Glaser pre-screen test which tests critical thinking skills. Those who reach the set benchmark are invited to an assessment centre in one of their preferred regions, where “you're expected to complete a one-to-one interview with an associate, an individual task and a group exercise.” As it's just one-on-one “the interview isn't too daunting,” and focuses predominantly on how candidates meet the firm's set competencies. “A few minutes are left at the end to discuss more informal matters – extracurricular pursuits, that kind of stuff.”

In the group interview “we want to see how people work with others,” Siobhan Clarke reveals. “We don't just want the candidates who can shout the loudest, and it's important to make sure what you say is well considered. If your input is useful then you don't necessarily need to be the leader. Be polite, conscientious and open-minded, and do your best to adapt your style to suit other people.”

There are 55 lucky applicants that progress to a second round of interviews, which are held in the regional offices. A panel interview puts rookies in front of the head of graduate recruitment, the regional trainee partner and another partner from the office. In 2016 there was a new addition to the second round, with applicants given a legal scenario 15 minutes prior to their interview. “They are then asked to explain how they would approach the situation within the interview,” Clarke points out. After all is said and done, between 18 and 20 training contracts are awarded.

Trainee profile

What advice would Clarke give to aspiring Blake Morganers? “Try to get as much legal work experience as possible,”she responds. Still, as the second round of interviews demonstrates, “we also want to see a passion for something other than the law, beyond the sphere of candidates' careers or academics. Charity work is big here and we expect trainees to get involved in CSR, so that's a good thing to have on your CV.”

The Welsh legal scene



Read more about working as a lawyer in Wales.

Blake Morgan

New Kings Court,
Tollgate,
Eastleigh,
SO53 3LG
Website www.blakemorgan.co.uk

  • Partners 118
  • Associates 230
  • Total trainees 31
  • UK offices: Cardiff, London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Oxford and Reading
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Siobhan Clarke, graduate recruitment and development officer
  • Training partner: Tony Coyne
  • Application criteria  
  • Training contracts pa: 18-20
  • Applications pa: 500+
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum A levels: ABB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 45-50
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
  • Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31t May 2019
  • Vacation scheme applications: 1 November 2018
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 1 April 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: Competitive
  • Second-year salary: Competitive
  • Post-qualification salary: Competitive
  • Holiday entitlement: 26 days plus your birthday
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Partial
  • GDL fees: No
  • Maintenance grant pa: Yes
  • International and regional  
  • Offices with training contracts: Cardiff, London, Thames Valley and South Coast
  • Overseas seats: None
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile



At Blake Morgan we have always excelled in finding the best possible solutions for our clients.

With exceptional talent and leading lawyers working across southern England and Wales, Blake Morgan has a highly skilled workforce with 118 partners, giving our clients access to a wide range and depth of skills and experience. We act for large corporates, entrepreneurs and owner-managed businesses, public sector, charity organisations and private individuals.

Main areas of work



Banking and finance, commercial contracts, commercial recoveries, construction and engineering, corporate transactions, dispute resolution, driver defence, employment, family law, financial services, franchising, insurance, intellectual property, licensing, pensions and benefits, planning, professional regulatory, property litigation, public procurement, real estate, residential property, restructuring and insolvency, rural and agriculture, interventions, technology and outsourcing, trademarks and registrations, wills, probate, tax and trusts.

Training opportunities



Training is carefully structured and designed to provide variety, responsibility and intellectual challenge. You will have a series of six month placements across a range of departments with trimonthly progress reviews. We also offer client secondment opportunities. Working closely alongside partners and associates, the aim is to give you experience of a wide range of clients and work in both the private client and commercial practice areas.

Your seat supervisor will involve you directly in work so you learn from personal experience as well as observation and instruction. The more competence you demonstrate, the more responsibility we offer. We offer a comprehensive development programme (from courses to coaching and mentoring support) alongside the compulsory Professional Skills Course.

Vacation scheme



We offer a one week vacation scheme to those applying for a training contract. This is structured to allow you to spend quality time within a legal team learning about their work and their clients. It is important to us that you have a chance to really understand our culture and what being a trainee at Blake Morgan is like; we offer a chance to complete client research and undertake charity related projects. The final day is an assessment day where candidates will have a first-round interview with an associate and take part in group and individual exercises. 

Other benefits



Your birthday off, a discretionary bonus scheme, professional subscriptions, private medical insurance, option to join the firm’s pension scheme, 4x life cover, enhanced maternity and paternity leave after three years’ service, child care vouchers.

Open days and first-year opportunities



Insights days: Insights Days are a great way to learn more about us and to confirm that we’re the right firm for you. Law and non-law students may apply, however priority is given to those in their first year of University. After a warm welcome from the trainee regional partner, you’ll hear more about Blake Morgan, attend a recruitment workshop and enjoy a networking lunch before shadowing a current trainee for the afternoon.

Brand ambassadors: We’re looking for creative, passionate and personable individuals who are highly active on campus to represent the Blake Morgan brand at select universities.

University law careers fairs 2018



Cardiff, Reading, Oxford Brookes, Kings College London, City, Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol and Brunel.

Social media



Twitter @BM_Careers

Facebook blakemorganllp

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018

Ranked Departments

    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
    • Crime (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Franchising (Band 3)
    • Health & Safety (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
    • Partnership: Medical (Band 3)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 1)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 2)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 3)
    • Travel: Regulatory & Commercial Recognised Practitioner
    • Administrative & Public Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)