This home counties heavyweight offers trainees the chance to sample business and personal law across its network of offices in the Thames Valley area and beyond.
Blaser Mills training contract review 2022
You may think that competition in the legal market is less fierce in the home counties than in the capital, but we can assure you that there’s no shortage of firms vying to be top dog. Our interviewees placed Blaser Mills up there among the best of them. Over the last decade especially it has revamped its image from Chilterns-based personal legal services maestro to a more well-rounded law firm with ample commercial capabilities too. The firm’s HQ can be found in High Wycombe, but it has another Bucks base in Amersham, as well as offices in Rickmansworth (Hertfordshire), Silverstone(Northamptonshire) and London.
“...it felt like an exciting firm to get a foot in the door, as it’s growing its commercial work, its London office, and taking on a few big hitting partners.”
“We’re got a strong reputation across a range of practice areas,” said one interviewee, while another highlighted how “it felt like an exciting firm to get a foot in the door, as it’s growing its commercial work, its London office, and taking on a few big-hitting partners.” This source also flagged Blaser Mills’ recent lateral hires: “We’ve hired multiple City lawyers focused on commercial and corporate law recently, including top lawyers in areas such as IP, sports, and disputes law.”
The other big news in Blaser Mills’ growth story of late is its recent merger with High Wycombe-based general practice Reynolds Parry Jones Solicitors, which helped further improve the firm's footprint in the area. While Blaser Mills’s strategy seems to be focused on building up its commercial arm, our insiders were keen to inform us that “it isn’t at the expense of our private client practice, which remains very strong.” Chambers UKpraises Blaser Mills’s personal legal services work in particular at the moment: the firm gains rankings for its family, personal injury and crime expertise (the latter of which is rated in the top tier for the area). Chambers High Net Worth, meanwhile, gives kudos to Blaser Mills’ private wealth law know-how, which includes tax planning and Court of Protection work in the region. On the commercial side, it's Blaser Mills’ real estate practice that currently shines through brightest.
Most trainees are based in High Wycombe and Amersham, but they are also likely to spend some of their time in the Silverstone and Londonoffices. One source elaborated: “It’s assumed you will do a seat in most of the firm’s offices; one of the first things they ask you in the interview is if you have a car and if you are based locally.” We were told that most people live in the Thames Valley region including the likes of Oxford, Aylesbury and Gerrards Cross.
Each of the offices also has a slightly different focus. For example, we were told that London is the firm’s commercial litigation hub; Amersham,meanwhile, houses Blaser Mills’s real estate and wills, trust, and probate teams; and High Wycombe tends to host most of the corporateseats. The firm's Silverstone base has a commercial focus but doesn't maintain any permanent staff and is open for anyone to use to better serve the area's local clients.
Trainees are asked during their initial interviews for their seat preferences, which are then revised during each mid-seat review. Most of our interviewees managed to secure at least two of their preferences during the training contract, but some felt that the “process could use a little tightening up to avoid confusion.”Another highlighted that decisions can be made “quite late.” However, trainees also mentioned that split seats were quite common and used to accommodate their preferences and the needs of the business.
“On day one, I was given a will to draft.”
When describing the firm’s wills, trust and probate department, one source commented that “a lot of the clients are very affluent – the average house price starts at half a million in the region!” They added that “because of our reputation, most of our clients here come to the firm via word of mouth – we don’t even do too much marketing.” The trainees we spoke to had worked on everything from probate and lasting power of attorney matters to those that were focused on trusts structures and tax issues. “On day one, I was given a will to draft,” one interviewee told us, before adding: “I was also given lots of client contact, which included the opportunity to take phone calls, write letters, and attend meetings.”
Residential propertywas described as a “very busy, hands-on” seat by our insiders, who were busy dealing with the spike in work resulting from the government's Stamp Duty holiday. “It takes a bit of time to gain people’s trust but once you do, you are given your own files to run independently,” one trainee said. Typical trainee responsibilities include drafting mortgage reports and sending out various contracts. “Typically, you’re working on 15 to 20 matters at any one time,” trainees explained. The firm has also recently been focused on building up its development practice, which does a hybrid of commercial and residential work.
Blaser Mills’ corporate and commercial department has four main focuses: the technology sector; owner-managed businesses (especially small and medium-sized enterprises i.e. SMEs); the private equity sector; and the motorsport industry (an area mostly serviced from the firm’s Silverstone office). The seat was given top marks by trainees in our survey, particularly in categories like the quality of training and the amount of interesting work on offer.
The crime team deals with both private instructions and heavyweight legal aid cases, which cover everything from drug-related charges and assault to financial crime and road traffic accidents. Trainees here spend a lot of time out of the office attending the magistrates’ court in the surrounding areas. “Being able to experience the full arguments playing out in court is a great experience,” one trainee told us. “I was also able to go and take witness statements from clients too."
“I’ll admit, I did wonder about what joining a home counties law firm would be like,”one source admitted. “I was worried that it could be quite stuffy.” However, “that hasn’t been the case at all!”they were quick to add. “From the front desk to the managing partners, everyone has been incredibly warm and welcoming.” Another interviewee weighed in: “On most days in the office, you can expect to have a coffee catch-up with one of the three managing partners.”
“On most days in the office, you can expect to have a coffee catch-up with one of the three managing partners.”
Owing to the reality that most people drive to work, trainees highlighted that “you don’t have many spontaneous drinks after work, like you might do in London.” However, the firm does compensate for this by putting on several social events throughout the year in places such as Marlow and Gerrards Cross. “The firm has a reputation for throwing some great parties,” one trainee was pleased to report. There’s also a trainee social budget every quarter for newbies to make use of. Interviewees did identify some differentiating factors between the offices. For example, one source felt that “Amersham is a bit more laid back and casual compared to High Wycombe, which gives you more of the London corporate feel; it’s a lot bigger and you see so many different people. It’s still friendly but because it has so many different personalities it gives off more of a City vibe.”
Across all the firm’s offices, our interviewees valued the lifestyle on offer most. “There’s no expectation that you stay until 2am to finish your work,”sources emphasised. Far from it: most reported being able to leave consistently at 5.30pm throughout the week. That’s not to say trainees were completely removed from the reality of working longer hours on occasion. One trainee also anticipated working longer hours in the firm’s corporate and commercial teams. Still, incoming trainees can expect to work fewer hours than their counterparts in the City, which probably accounts for the very low stress levels reported by our survey participants.
So far it’s been all glowing praise, but surely there’s something trainees felt could be improved right? Some did note that the “IT could do with updating,”with the distribution of second screens cited as a priority to make work processes more efficient. Secondly, some voiced that “it would be great if there were some substantial pro bono opportunities.” Blaser Mills is not an outlier in this, as it’s quite common for firms of its type to not have formalised pro bono initiatives. Moreover, the firm does have a good track record when it comes to community involvement and regularly supports charities such as Alzheimer's Society and the Royal British Legion.
When qualification time comes around, trainees told us that "there are only interviews if there are multiple people applying for the same NQ position."They added: "If they like you, you know well in advance. Historically, we have a high retention rate and people tend to stick around for a long time."In 2021, the firm did not disclose the number of trainees it retained.
Our female sources were also happy to report that "there are many women in partnership and senior roles, which is appealing." Another interviewee added: "The firm is really good with its diversity and inclusion training, along with its mental health training."
How to get into Blaser Mills
The application form
The firm recruits its trainees two years in advance. To secure a training contract, candidates must first submit an online application via Apply4Law. On average, the firm receives around 100 applications each year.
On the application form, candidates are asked to supply all the standard information concerning their university grades and work history. If applicants meet those criteria – happy days – their application is then passed on to the training team. If not, all isn't lost. The leader of that training team, training principal Dave Matthews, tells us: “The applications of those who do not meet the academic criteria are always considered before any final decision is made, as other aspects of their application may indicate other valuable qualities or experience.”
The applications aren't judged on strict black or white criteria: a number of questions are posed to draw out some of the applicant's personality and add colour to the picture. “The questions are designed to make the candidate think outside the box,” says Matthews, “and to give us an idea of how well they will fit in with our firm.” Pay attention to these questions – they might just get you over the line. A long list of around 50 candidates is drawn up and is further whittled down to the lucky 15 to 20 who make it through to the assessment day.
The assessment day
The assessment day is held in Buckinghamshire and involves a mix of group exercises, an individual presentation and a final interview. There are also talks and Q&As with a selection of partners and current trainees. All of the exercises are observed, marked and assigned a score by a team of partners. Matthews explains: “As well as finding out whether the candidate is suitable for our firm, we want the candidate to be able to make an informed decision about the type of law firm we are and to decide that Blaser Mills Law is a good fit for them.”
The final interview
This takes place with two partners. Matthews tells us that “candidates are able to sit down and have a conversational-style interview where they can really show their true personality.” It's not exactly a walk in the park, though: the yearly trainee intake is roughly half of the number of those who make it through to the assessment day. Whether candidates have the job or not, they are informed within a couple of days.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
Watford, Uxbridge and surrounds
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)