It's all-systems-grow at South Easterner Blaser Mills, where boosting its business arm to complement its personal law offering is on the agenda.
Blase of glory
“The firm is very ambitious in terms of where it wants to be, and makes no secret of it.” Blaser Mills' ambition was a hot topic with this year's cohort of eager trainees, who were raring to qualify and be part of this firm's “growing presence.” Many agreed that “the real thrust is on the commercial side,” though that doesn't mean the firm's traditional practices (on the personal side, like family and private client) are taking a back seat: “We're maintaining our traditional services, and that combination gives us a good edge in the legal market – plus trainees come here because they find that mix appealing.” In Chambers UK, it's still BM's personal-oriented work that receives the most glowing praise, in areas like family, personal injury and crime. However, the firm's more commercial expertise in employment, litigation and real estate is gaining more recognition.
“...for us, it really is about growth over the next few years.”
Training principal Dave Matthews lets us in on the bigger picture: “Over the last year we have taken on some fairly big hitters in the commercial department, as well as in employment.” Going forward, he emphasises that “for us, it really is about growth over the next few years. We're looking to recruit more lawyers externally as well as to promote those within – we want to make sure that we nurture the trainees we have and retain as many as possible.” Matthews describes the training contract as one that can provide a “really varied experience; we have a commercial offering, and an equally sized private client offering. We encourage trainees to go into their training contract with an open mind.” In 2018 BM retained four of its five qualifiers.
Mills on wills
Trainees should also keep an open mind when it comes to where they will complete their seats: it's common to move around BM's three core offices in High Wycombe (the HQ), Amersham and Rickmansworth throughout the training contract (see our 'And finally...' for more info on BM's other locations). “Prior to joining the firm, we got an email from Minesh, who asked for our top three areas we'd like a seat in, then some other areas that we potentially might want to try.” For the first seat, Matthews “places people as best he can in their preferred choice – some people get what they want, but it's as much to do with the firm's requirements as it is trainee preference.” About three months before subsequent rotations, trainees discuss their progress with Matthews and their preferences for the following seat. “Overall, second-year trainee preferences are prioritised, so they are more likely to get the seats they'd like.”
On the business side of BM's practice, trainees can complete seats in corporate, commercial property, employment and dispute resolution. Those who'd sat in the corporate department told us that “it's one of the fastest-growing teams within the firm.” They added that the lawyers here handle “a mix of everything,” but primarily deal with “the sales and purchases of owner-managed companies – usually small-to-medium in size, but with the odd whale thrown in from time to time.” Clients from the freight & logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, tech and motorsport sectors can be found on the books here; a recent work example saw the team act for the purchasers of Kelgate, a supplier of brakes and lasers for go-karts. “At the start you're supporting partners and senior associates with their work,” said sources, but as they progressed they were able to draft weightier docs like share purchase agreements (SPAs) and “handle my own matters, from beginning to end, with supervision. The client-facing element has been significant – on a daily basis I'm dealing with them.”
“I got involved right from the start, up to trial and settlement.”
Over in dispute resolution trainees had encountered “a wide variety of cases,” including commercial landlord and tenant spats, construction disputes and contract matters. Specialist areas here include banking, building supplies, betting software and commercial vehicle hire. Seasoned trainees were again able to handle their own matters, and “lots of property disputes” centred on possession claims came their way. If that subject matter appeals, trainees can take it further by completing a commercial property seat, where “you do a lot of leasehold-related work, whether that's sales and purchases of leasehold land, refinancings, negotiations – a lot of the matters of late have involved telecoms leases.” Offices, shops and industrial units also crop up in the work here; the team recently advised family-owned construction group Ardmore on a development project in Coventry that involved 14 commercial units, as well as Aylesbury-based The French Linen Company on various leases that it took in retail outlets across the UK.
If personal law is more your thing, then seats in wills, trusts and probate; family; child care; crime; personal and serious injury; and residential property will appeal. A few of our interviewees had spent time in the personal injury department, which has expanded into the clinical negligence space of late and handles an array of accidents and injuries – especially those relating to the head, brain and spine. Trainees praised the “range of cases,” which covered everything from road traffic accidents to “multimillion-pound brain injury matters.” One source had “pretty much managed a case for the last three months of the seat: I made the applications to court, instructed counsel, and attended the advocacy and joint settlement hearings. I got involved right from the start, up to trial and settlement.”
“It's been really nice to have so much client contact,” said trainees who'd sampled lawyer life in the wills, trusts and probate department. They'd been busy helping to create wills, putting together lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), administrating estates, and formulating Court of Protection requests. Interviewees found working on wills “satisfying, as you get to sit in on the client meeting, take the instruction and deliver the final product: one of the highlights has been knowing that the will is going to enable the client to provide for their loved ones after they're gone.”
You're a solicitor, Harry!
“It's the people that make Blaser Mills great,” trainees enthused. One speculated that “it's almost as though HR have a Harry Potter's sorting hat for recruiting – they pick the same kind of people, who are all just nice, kind and caring.” In part, sources felt that BM's location helped to draw in a certain type of lawyer: “That's the beauty of being on the cusp of London – it attracts people who are very down to earth and amicable.”
The ramping up of BM's commercial side hasn't driven up working hours to City-firm standards: “The average day runs from about 9am to 6pm, with a late night meaning leaving at 7.30/8pm.” Trainees added that “there's no frowning at people for leaving on time. If you have to stay late, you do, but it's not often required.” However, being outside of the City's pressure cooker has its cons too: “Because most people drive to work, or drive between our bases, there's less popping to the pub after work. If we do, we go for one non-alcoholic drink then go home.” That said, there's still a fair number of social outings organised throughout the year under the banner of the firm's mentorship scheme (which pairs each trainee up with an NQ/junior associate mentor). Recent ventures have consisted of “an escape room challenge in London,” “a cocktail-making class” and a trip to play “Topgolf in Watford – it's a game that kind of crosses a bowling alley with a golf driving range.”
High Wycombe is the firm's biggest office, and was described as “very new – we've only been here for a couple of years, and they're constantly updating it. It's very professional and is a good face for the firm.” It houses all of BM's departments, and while you'll find most teams in the Amersham and Rickmansworth offices, we were told that their offerings are slightly narrower to accommodate the needs of the types of clients in those areas. High Wycombe and Amersham are both open-plan, which works “really nicely – there's no divide between the teams and everyone is really approachable.” The Rickmansworth office was deemed “older, smaller, and more closed off – it's more like a house, with people in different rooms.” However, rumour has it that BM islooking for more modern premises in its current central location.
BM has outposts in London, Staines and Silverstone, which aren't staffed with lawyers full-time but are used to meet clients.
How to get a Blaser Mills training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 28 June 2019
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 300 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 Dave, “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. Dave 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. Dave 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.
Blaser Mills Law is not running a vacation scheme in 2019.
Interview with training principal Dave Matthews
Are there any highlights from the last year you think are important to mention?
I think last year we were talking a lot about the commercial growth. Over the last year we've taken on some fairly big-hitters in our company commercial department as well as in employment. We have invested a lot of time integrating our new lawyers and devising a strategy to boost growth in those particular teams.
What's the firm's strategy going forward?
For us it really is about growth over the next few years.We're looking to recruit more lawyers externally as well as to promote those within – we want to make sure that we nurture the trainees we have and retain as many as possible. In terms of our partnership, around half the partners who sit around the table were originally trainees at the firm. For us, it's really important to have the right trainees come on board and give them the best opportunities we can to develop.
Our strategy involves growing our teams and departments, and getting out there and doing more business development. The team that deals with BD has grown considerably in the last year and a half. Now we have more new contacts, we're attending more networking events, and presenting to a lot more companies. That's how we're trying to grow. In terms of location, we're quite happy. We consolidated our offices in the last few years. I think the way we're structured at the moment fits with where we are at the moment.
How is Brexit affecting the firm?
Initially when the referendum first came round and the decision came out, we could see an instant impact in residential property because of the amount of uncertainty. The initial fears have settled a bit now – people are getting on with their life and being more pragmatic about it. It hasn't affected us as a business – we bounced back from that slip in residential property. The big thing with the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] and making ourselves compliant: that will have an impact on data sharing between ourselves and the EU community when we leave. That's something the employment team have been dealing with.
How are trainee numbers? Are you growing or shrinking numbers at all?
Our numbers have pretty much stayed the same. Our intake numbers have been around four to five a year, which is on par with previous years. I'm particularly happy with the trainees we've got at the moment. We're also trying to get out more and attend more career events. I was at a law fair recently and it was a very positive experience. We spoke to loads of undergraduates who were engaged and interested in what we do. What they like about us is our commercial offering and our equally-sized private client offering. It's a training contract where, for example, you can do the first seat in commercial property, and the second seat in criminal defence. It can be a really varied experience for them. I encourage them to go into their training contract without pigeon-holing where they end up.
What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?
If you line up all of our trainees, they are all really different in terms of personality, but have a similar core skill set. They're enthusiastic, driven, and have commercial awareness. On top of that, their individual traits makes it interesting and can give us different perspectives. Some are straight from university, and for some this is their second career. It's that added perspective they can give us – they should never be scared about telling us if we're maybe doing something wrong, or if something can be improved. We really do want people to be able to come to us and share their ideas.
When we look at applications, one of the first things we'll notice is legal work experience. Having someone who spent time in a law firm, actually doing fee-earning work and getting an understanding of how things like time recording works, or how billing works, or how business development works is valuable. That sort of thing would stand them in good stead. If they come in and already have a feel of what's expected of them, they can get started straight away.
We see so many application forms, so you should also really think about your personality and say something about yourself that makes you stand out – maybe if you have a quirky or unusual hobby, put it in. That sort of thing will catch my eye going through all the applications.
What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
There are lots of people saying that the legal profession is too competitive and you shouldn't do it. I disagree. It is competitive – it's a different place to when I qualified as a lawyer – but for the right people it's a really good opportunity and a good career. You get a sense of achievement from working in the legal practice. If you know it's what you want to do, pursue it, despite people saying it's a tough environment.
Blaser Mills Law
40 Oxford Road,
- Partners 22
- Assistant solicitors 50
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices High Wycombe, Amersham, Rickmansworth, London
- Graduate recruiter: Apply4Law - our online application form
- Training partner: Dave Matthews, [email protected] 01494 478608
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4-5
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 28 June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £27,000
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: High Wycombe, Amersham, Rickmansworth
Our highly regarded firm has a strong business services offering, including corporate and commercial, employment, commercial property and dispute resolution. We also have experienced private client and family lawyers, as well as specialist lawyers in personal injury, child care, residential property and criminal defence.
We offer a fresh approach to law, with a focus on not only building relationships with clients, but also building employee relationships. The success of our business, and the high-quality service we provide for our clients comes from nurturing the skills and promoting the talent and diversity of our staff.
Types of work
• Residential property and development - 20%
• Wills, trusts and probate - 15%
• Personal and serious injury - 15%
• Family and divorce (including child care) - 10%
• Criminal defence - 9%
Training starts in September with a full induction day. Trainees will have varied (four six-month) seats in both non-contentious and contentious practice areas, giving them the opportunity to gain experience across a broad range of legal disciplines in a variety of locations. From day one, trainees are given plenty of responsibility and hands-on experience, with the ongoing support from experienced training supervisors. In addition, we operate a mentor scheme that gives trainees confidential access to recently qualified lawyers who can offer first-hand experience and advice. Part of the mentor scheme includes getting the trainees together three times a year for social events.
Throughout the training contract, trainees will develop their technical skills, department knowledge and client care. Business Development is a further skill that we look to develop in our trainees, so when it comes to qualifying, they are confident to approach prospective clients and build their own client list. Trainees will have access to multiple business development opportunities, whether that be through article writing, presenting at seminars or attending networking events.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
Watford, Uxbridge and surrounds
- Crime (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)