There’s nothing bland about this B&B, where the mix of private client and commercial work will ensure you enjoy your stay.
A fine wine
Celebrating its 286th birthday in 2019, Reading’s Blandy & Blandy is older than any of the magic circle firms. It may not be anywhere near as massive as those international titans, but Blandy’s looking pretty good for its age, carving out a kingdom in its home town of Reading and the surrounding area. “We’re very much at the forefront for private client work especially,” trainees pointed out. The firm has a well-established commercial practice too, and is top-ranked by Chambers UK for environment, family and planning in the Thames Valley. It also picks up rankings for employment, licensing, real estate, corporate and litigation.
Beyond its Reading stronghold, Blandy has small offices in Henley-on-Thames and London. We say small – the firm’s recently outgrown its Henley digs, and is relocating to a larger space that was previously home to a fashion store. Joint managing partner Tim Clark tells us: “Blandy has a very strong basis on which to build a position as the firm of choice for individuals with a broad range of needs, be they private or business.” As for what this means for trainees, Clark suggests the firm is “hoping to offer more opportunities for hands-on interaction with clients, which is really important at a firm our size. If you haven’t had that experience during the training contract then your training isn’t complete.”
“We’re very much at the forefront for private client work especially.”
At present, all of the firm’s trainees work from the Reading office – some trainees may also do a seat in the Henley office. Most of our interviewees had experience working with Blandy before kicking off their training contract, whether that was a paralegal position or a week-long internship – though neither is essential for applicants to have under their belt. Candidates should have a strong stomach for spooky goings on, however: legend has it the firm’s Georgian headquarters are haunted by the ghost of Mary Blandy, daughter of the firm's founder, though we’re yet to interview a trainee who’s witnessed the spirit.
Trainees are allocated their first seat by the firm; six weeks or so before each rotation, they’re asked to provide their seat preferences in ranked order. “The firm does its best to consider what we want,” trainees agreed.
Business is booming in the property practice: it achieved a 19% increase in new instructions between 2017 and 2018, even in a market riddled with Brexit uncertainty. There’s both commercial and residential work on offer here – trainees normally commit to one side, but can get ad-hoc experience in the other. “I pretty much acted as a qualified solicitor running files by myself,” one told us. “I was drafting lease provisions for commercial units and responding to client queries.” Blandy's clientele includes the Englefield Estate Trust and the University of Reading; the firm also recently helped local gin bar The Leafy Elephant secure a ten-year premises lease within a regeneration project. Hopefully laying off the booze in work hours, trainees on the residential property side get “good practice using the Land Registry and running sale or purchase transactions – it was stressful at the time but I learned a lot.” Property is a popular seat because its work links to various other departments at Blandy.
Dispute resolution is one such department: property litigation is one of its major prongs, along with contentious probate and commercial disputes. The latter can involve companies or individuals. Blandy recently advised on a £1 million dispute over work done on Westfield London’s FirstLight Cycle studio. Our sources worked more in property litigation than the other subsections, and trainees also take charge of debt recovery matters. That involves “sending out client care letters, drafting letters before action and responses, and in some cases thinking about enforcement proceedings. Helping with billing may be quite dry, but it’s a great chance to run files on your own.” On larger cases, trainees get the chance to draft witness statements and take minutes at client meetings. They described disputes over wills and probate as “depressing but very interesting,” while commercial litigation involves “sitting in on lots of client calls” and contentious property matters offer more chances for “hands-on drafting.”
“I had massive amounts of client contact from the outset.”
Blandy’s private client practice has built up a strong reputation in the Thames Valley, earning a top-tier Chambers High Net Worth ranking for its troubles, and in 2018 the firm acquired the private client wing of Reading rival Clarkslegal. Trainees had no trouble with their time in the seat: “I had massive amounts of client contact from the outset. That actually trickled off later in the seat, so I could get more experience in other areas.” The day-to-day revolves around wills, probate and powers of attorney, with trainees “basically running files” and moving towards more Court of Protection work as the seat progresses. They also get out of the office a fair bit to view properties for probate matters.
Private clients, i.e. large landowners, pop up in planning too. The team also represents local government bodies including Reading Borough Council and residential developers like Bewley Homes. “I liked that the work had transactional elements like Section 106 agreements, as well as contentious work with the possibility of judicial review or enforcement,” a trainee said of the seat. Blandy recently represented a private individual in dealings with West Sussex County Council over construction of a bypass planned to run through the client’s land. Trainees in the department “review judicial review documentation and draft grounds for planning appeals.”
Corporate and commercial is classed as one department at Blandy, and trainees in this seat see a healthy mix of both. GDPR has dominated the workflow lately, and interviewees spent their days “amending terms and conditions and privacy notices for new and existing clients to make sure they were compliant.” The team also found time to advise on deals like boarding school Padworth College’s sale to for-profit educational group Inspiring Futures, and to act for shareholders of Reading-based tech publishing company Science Media Partners during its acquisition by Jersey events company Terrapinn.
Trainees were quick to praise their supervisors, no matter which department they sat in. “My desk is physically covered in files and I feel very comfortable asking what to prioritise,” one revealed. Most had “fairly regular” catch-ups with both seat supervisors and the mentor they get for the duration of their training contract, who’s available “to discuss any concerns over coffee.” As for the big picture, there’s now a staff group to discuss any concerns or ideas for the firm’s future.
“Lots of history, which we’re quite proud of.”
Blandy’s two Reading offices both sit in the centre of town. 1 Friar Street is the OG base and has “lots of history, which we’re quite proud of. There are photos on the wall of when it was bombed in the war." The disputes, corporate/commercial and employment teams work from the “quite modern” 33 Blagrave Street. Beyond surface level, trainees didn’t notice many differences in the office environments: “What took me aback was how chatty and approachable everyone is. The partners really aren’t scary and encourage you to get involved in the firm's extracurricular activities.”
A lot of those extracurriculars are charity events. The firm ‘adopts’ two charities each year – currently Age UK and the League of Friends for the local Royal Berkshire Hospital – and runs regular cake sales, lunches and other activities to raise money. “Every so often we’ll do more spontaneous social things after work,” and though sometimes “they’re not as well attended” there are occasions when Blandyers will band together and rock up to a bar. There’s also an annual Christmas party and “mystery” summer event, most recently a boat trip and pub lunch.
There were some complaints that Blandy isn’t as giving when it comes to trainee salary, and many felt “it could be better given what other firms in the area pay.” The £23,000 starting wage is indeed on the low side, though we heard there is a discretionary bonus scheme as “a nice little extra.” As time is money, it’s also worth highlighting that trainees typically finished work at 5.30pm and “there really is no expectation to stay any later.” The very latest finish we heard of was a one-off 8.30pm before a hearing, and one source declared: “I could stay until 10pm every night with my workload, but that’s just not the ethos here.”
Blandy’s recently made more of an effort to offer trainees jobs quickly, to improve historically up-and-down retention rates. Both of the firm's qualifiers stayed on in 2019.
How to get a Blandy & Blandy training contract
Work experience deadline: January 2020
Blandy & Blandy usually offers unpaid one-week placements in the spring and summer. Interns get to sample a range of practices and do some legal work. The scheme is open to second-year and final-year law students, final-year non-law students and post-grads. Accommodation and travel expenses are not provided. Hours are 9.30am to 5.30pm, with an hour for lunch.
Candidates should apply via Blandy's online application form and provide a covering letter. Around 12 to 16 applicants are invited to the assessment day in July or August. There isn't usually an interview, unless the assessment day is inconclusive. Candidates are given three written exercises on three areas of law – for example, writing a letter to a 'client' based on information given. After these individual written exercises, there are group exercises which are designed to assess personality. A recent example was having to argue for or against inviting particular people to a dinner party, then deciding as a group who to invite. Another exercise was putting together a two-minute advert about the firm, based on marketing information supplied.
How can you impress?
Excellent academics are important – a 2:1 degree and decent A levels. Recruiters are also trying to find out whether you're a natural 'Blandy's person' – someone who's able to demonstrate the three core values of approachability, integrity and excellence. The firm looks for good all-rounders, so varied interests and previous work experience on your CV (anything from shelf-stacking to charity volunteering) should count in your favour.
Interview with joint-managing partner Tim Clark
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?
Tim Clark: We’re just about to open a new office in Henley. Two years ago we took over a very old, Dickensian space from another firm; the new office looks over the river with a view of the regatta. It’s a very exciting project and we’ve done quite a bit of moving people around to ensure our teams work together more effectively. Our trainees have been very helpful there, as they can identify what’s going on.
One of the things we’re planning to do is introduce a new staff group, which again trainees will play an important role in. They go into different departments and can see their different ways of working. We put a lot of value in our trainees, they have a lot of very good ideas and they’re quite possibly the future of the firm.
CS: So what are the plans for the new staff group?
TC: The aim is to provide a forum for our team to talk constructively, develop ideas and put forward any concerns they may have or positive ideas for enhancing the experiences of our clients. Meetings will take place once a month, and every other month a manager will attend to listen to the ideas put forward: it’s going to be very much a two-way street.
CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm? How is it affecting your clients' business?
TC: In the commercial property sector we’ve seen the rate of decision making slow down as a result of the Brexit process; but Blandy has a broad range of clients and we’re perhaps not feeling it as much as some firms. We’re members of the international Law Firm Network and our continental cousins are very interested in how things are turning out. As of now we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to deal with any Brexit consequences and there may be indeed by opportunities for British lawyers as a result of it.
CS: So what’s the firm's current business strategy? There’s been expansion in Henley, do you foresee further growth?
TC: Blandy has a very strong basis on which to build a position as the firm of choice for individuals with a broad range of needs, be they private or business. We’ve been around since 1733 and while competitors have gone in one direction to concentrate on the private client or commercial side, we can service a wide range of any given client needs.
CS: How might the training contract in particular develop in future?
TC: We’re hoping to offer more opportunities for hands-on interaction with clients, which is really important at a firm our size. If you haven’t had that experience during the training contract then your training isn’t complete. The trend in recent years in the legal market in general is that trainees are becoming more and more remote from the firm’s clients and we’re not subscribing to that. Things don’t immediately pick up only when you’ve qualified!
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about the culture of Blandy?
TC: It comes back to the culture of interest in client needs and having an inquisitive nature in that regard. We want to engender on applicants that we’re not people who sit behind a desk all day or meet a client and determine ‘this is what the job is’, we aim to understand the broader impact of their legal issues on their life. Understanding one thing about a client might lead to helping them with another.
CS: What makes a strong applicant to Blandy & Blandy?
TC: Applicants with exactly that approach: an interest in people and an inquisitive nature on top of the strong academic record that all firms look for. Relevant work experience undoubtedly helps but we’ve had trainees arrive with none of that and then performed brilliantly. We’re not exclusively hiring paralegals, we know all our trainees will hit the ground running.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
TC: Stay curious, as being interested in people is what makes a good lawyer. Getting beyond the immediate problem and working out what’s important to people is only possible if you make the time for it. Try not to focus solely on the immediate issue and remember the big picture. Academic training focuses largely on the detail of the law, and right so, but people come to law firms with practical problems which the law sits on top of.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about Blandy & Blandy?
TC: The firm may have been founded in 1733 but we’re constantly evolving because we’ve had to. Don’t be too distracted by that statistic – though do it bear it in mind, because it’s quite impressive!
Lawyering in the Thames Valley
Blandy & Blandy
1 Friar Street,
- Partners 16
- Associates 10
- Solicitors 33
- Total trainees 5
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected]
- Training partner: Debbie Brett, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2-3
- Applications pa: 100+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: As and Bs at A levels
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2020
- Training contract deadline: 30 June 2020
- Work experience deadline: 31 Janaury 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £23,000
- Second-year salary: £24,500
- Post-qualification salary: £38,000 pa (reviewed annually
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Reading
The firm has provided trusted legal advice to individuals and families for nearly 300 years. Commercially, it provides a full range of legal services to clients including banks and lenders, SMEs and owner-managed businesses, charities and educational institutions, professional practices, landowners and developers and venue and event operators.
Blandy & Blandy enjoys a reputation for high-quality, high value expertise, providing a partner-led service and outstanding client care.
Main areas of work
Each trainee spends six months in four different seats and completes a professional skills course. Trainees receive the best supervision and continuous professional development.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2020
• Reading University – November
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Licensing (Band 3)