Defending insurers in claims brought by people who’ve “been kicked by a horse” – just a tiny part of the offering at ambitious, all-encompassing insurance litigator BLM.
Where there's a BLM there's a claim
From the genuinely tragic to the ever-so-slightly comical, everyone's privy to stories of personal misfortune, and the insurance claims that come with them: 'Did you hear about so and so? Stood on a garden rake... not their fault of course.' But telling the other side of the story, you might find insurance litigation firm BLM. It acts both for massive insurers (the likes of Aviva, Zurich, and Hiscox) and the client base of said insurers (such as British Airways, Coca-Cola, the Church of England, or the BBC). These mega names can trust BLM’s expertise: the firm racks up a respectable showcase of insurance-related Chambers UK rankings at both the national and local level.
While the firm is unashamedly focused on insurance, and overwhelmingly litigious, it is making a conscious effort to broaden its scope. The acquisition of 33 lawyers in the Manchester office from Slater and Gordon has bolstered a burgeoning focus on commercial work. The new hires tackle business services (corporate, IP and IT), as well as commercial property, contractual disputes/commercial litigation, private wealth, estate planning, family law, and employment. Senior partner Matthew Harrington tells us that with these additions “we have diversified into other areas as part of an expanded service offering on which we fully intend to build.”
“we have diversified into other areas..."
The changes don't stop there though. BLM lawyers have also seen a spate of new policies introduced: an employee forum, flexible working, dress-down uniform… more on all of these in a bit. Underpinning all this is an ambitious plan to grow: the firm is dead set on expanding its international work. “Last year we were a founding member of an international network of law firms,” says Harrington. “The network now has 13 members and recently welcomed new members from China and South America. We’re different from other best friend networks because our members are all specialist insurance firms.”
The firm’s largest presence is in Manchester, with London a close second. This suited trainees across the regions: “I didn’t want a firm where you just get London’s leftovers. If anything the firm is Manchester-centric.” Of BLM’s 46 trainees, 29 were split evenly between Manchester and London. Liverpool and Southampton took six each, and Birmingham had five. Many of the current intake had already worked at BLM as paralegals before applying, but future intakes will probably have a different make-up; the firm has noted an increase in the number of trainees coming through externally. Another change there: if the vacation scheme goes well, applicants will be automatically offered a training contract without a further interview.
Seat options vary by office, and trainees strongly advise applicants to “target the office you want to train at depending on the areas you want to experience.” For example, a seat in clinical negligence can only be completed in the firm's London and Manchester offices. Manchester and London have the greatest range of seats to choose from, although London sources found that the large number of trainees could cause competition over the more sought-after seats. The firm is open to trainees spending time in other offices, but it's by no means a given. It's worth noting that although most seats are litigation-focused, there's non-contentious work (like reviewing contracts) within them. We also heard that BLM's new commercial advisory seat will become an increasingly common destination for trainees in the years to come.
Incoming first-years are allocated their seats by business need, “and that’s just the way it is.” From the second seat onwards, trainees receive a spreadsheet of their options, set out three preferences, “and then it’s a waiting game.” By and large the trainees we spoke to were pleased with how they’d been placed, but because second-years are prioritised, some felt the system was “an illusion of choice for first-years.”
Categories of catastrophe
Trainees will almost certainly do a seat under the 'injury' umbrella. We might well call it a gazebo – there are over 400 lawyers working in this area. Many fall under 'personal injury' but sub-teams specialise in all sorts of areas, including catastrophic injury, abuse, motor, occupational health and disease, employers’ liability/public liability, and clinical negligence. BLM works predominantly on the defendant side, but does have a small claimant practice in the Birmingham and Manchester offices. In some offices, trainees sit in one of the sub-teams mentioned, in others they'll sit in a more general PI-heavy seat (such as London Risk Markets, in London).
“...anything that will have a debilitating effect on a person's life.”
The catastrophic injury team deals with often dramatic, high-value incidents, where the claims are worth many millions of pounds, such as “spinal injuries, brain injuries, loss of limbs, people who’ve become paralysed – anything that will have a debilitating effect on a person’s life.” Manchester and London both do a significant amount of catastrophic injury work, and the Southampton office will also be “treated as a specialist hub” going forward. In a recent case valued at £12 million, the firm acted for UK insurance company DLG in a matter involving a severe brain injury suffered by a six-week-old baby. As the child aged, the firm assisted with sorting specialist schooling and rehabilitation. Another case involved assessing the insurer AGEAS, and centred on where the liability fell when a ladder collapsed under an electrician who suffered a serious brain injury. Trainees in this seat assisted partners by reviewing a lot of documents, but as one trainee told us, “you're out of the office a lot. I attended conferences with medical experts and counsel, and I've been to a joint settlement meeting too. We use a lot of these with high-value claims. You have the claimant, their solicitors and barristers, then the defendant, our client, and our barristers: it's a day of negotiations to come to a settlement.”
Seats in volume litigation or motor are likely to go to first-years, who will typically get the chance to run their own case load: “It’s high-volume and low-value work – a good way to be eased in.” The London Risk Markets seat takes a similar approach, allowing trainees to “build up a small caseload.” That team's work encapsulates general personal injury, catastrophic injury, and abuse. Trainees in these seats could find themselves managing as many as 50 files for insurance clients. Most involved doing the pre-litigation admin: keeping track of all the relevant documents, overseeing, and writing lots of letters back and forth between different parties, as well as possibly drafting defences, interviewing witnesses and drafting witness statements. Trainees told us how, “having your own caseload, it's very much up to you to manage your own day. When you have free time you can take in work from other people and assist on bigger cases.”
As a general rule, injuries which come under the 'casualty EL/PL' team's bracket are worth between £100,000 and a few million pounds. Covering both employer’s liability (EL) and public liability (PL), a trainee helpfully explained that an example of public liability would be if “someone had been injured in a public space. If someone tripped over in a park, they may bring a claim against the owners of the park.” A rather excellent example of employer's liability would be the firm's work defending Network Rail and its insurer QBE against a claim of more than £300,000 brought by a former employee. Having suffered a thumb injury the defendant claimed to have been 'very seriously disabled' but subsequent surveillance by the firm showed the claimant performing and touring in a Guns N Roses tribute band. The claim was dropped. There are enough cases here of a low enough value to allow trainees the chance to “draft defences, interview witnesses and take their statements, and update client advices.”
Liable, or libel?
Occupational health/disease is another speciality. The team defends employers against claims of both immediate injuries suffered in the workplace such as “back injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning, and food poisoning,” and health issues that occur over a longer period of time, most commonly “asbestosis, stress, asthma, dermatitis, and noise-induced hearing loss.” The firm represented Lloyds Bank in a case where a former employee claimed their mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos tiling in branches of the bank. Acting for insurance company Pro Global, the firm also successfully dismissed claims brought by a former employee of the insured tomato-growing company Thanet Earth Marketing that incorrect training had brought on RSI. Trainees had their own caseload of pre-litigated matters, and day-to-day work could mean “reviewing claims of quantum, going through medical records, instructing counsel, site visits with expert witnesses, and taking and drafting witness statements.” And, just to make clear, “there's client contact. You get that in every seat: it's a natural part of working in this field. Whether discussing strategy, settlement, or mundane file management issues, you're expected to do that.”
Clinical negligence (‘healthcare’) teams in Manchester and London defend claims of misdiagnoses and missed diagnoses made against medical professionals, “such as doctors, dentists and opticians.” Well-known clients include the Royal College of Nursing and Specsavers, and the Medical Protection Society, who the firm recently advised on a case where a GP failed to tell the claimant, a mother, that they carried the haemophilia gene. The group is split between regulatory issues and civil claims, and trainees described exposure to both types of work. Trainees recalled “assisting rather than being let loose,” meaning their highlights were “attending trials and conferences and drafting reports and instructions to counsel.”
“You’d go to investigate with an expert.”
There are also non-injury seat options, including property damage. One of the group’s biggest clients, Network Rail, provided much of trainees’ workload. “Often pipes under National Rail’s track would flood on to farmland, which cost loss of business to the farmers. You’d go to investigate with an expert and determine if National Rail were liable or not.” Otherwise, trainees had “helped assist solicitors on recovery claims. It could be as menial as doing a chronology of a file they had, or sometimes you’d do research.”
Professional indemnity is another popular option. The department acts for solicitors, barristers and accountants, but the client base also encompasses “local authorities, schools, universities, and we do work for brokers directly.” Acting for the Bar Standards Board in a recent case, BLM defended it against a barrister’s claim of racial discrimination and breach of human rights during prosecution by the regulatory body. When not managing bucketloads of their own files, a trainee had spent time “putting together a big witness statement for one of the partner's files. There was a lot of information to cram in. It ended up being 30 pages long!”
Partners in disguise
The salary at BLM was “where a lot of grumbles come from,” and some sources admitted it would impact their decision to stay on. (In 2018 15 of 22 qualifiers were retained.) The salary complaints had been voiced to the firm, and there were whispers that NQ salaries may be reviewed. However, others felt that what they lacked in money they got back in hours: “That’s probably the best part of the firm. There isn’t a mentality of doing 12-hour days.” Instead, trainees were used to leaving between 5pm and 6pm. BLM reaffirmed its dedication to a work/life balance by introducing a flexible working policy, which the firm told us is applicable to trainees.
“The partners are ready to be pestered with questions.”
Another new policy allows BLM lawyers to tackle their work in ‘smart/casual’ dress every day (except for when they're popping out of the office to meet a client or attend court). Trainees felt this “helped foster a more relaxed approach,” but it wasn't clear the firm needed it. Interviewees in at least three offices commented that they “don’t even notice who’s a partner or senior associate until they tell you!” This non-hierarchical feel helped support trainees too: “The partners are ready to be pestered with questions.” On top of an informal support net, every office now has an employee forum at hand for lawyers to voice any concerns. “The firm is definitely getting more transparent and accessible,” said one source.
The BLM offices are “all in prime locations,” with good access to the relevant courts, but London’s aesthetic came out on top: “You can’t fault it.” Located next to the Walkie Talkie, it's equipped with “chill-out rooms and chit-chat spaces.” The 750-strong Manchester team is spread across two buildings. “It can be difficult to get everyone together,” acknowledged one trainee, but at least there's a budget put aside to help trainees on their way. The London lot were into more unorthodox outings: they told us about an outing to prison-themed cocktail bar Alcotraz. In the smaller offices, sociable trainees told us Birmingham is in a good spot for going out after work, while Liverpudlians enjoyed mini golf and drinks on the docks. In Southampton all lawyers are encouraged to get involved with charities such as mental health charity Mind.
BLM offers a fixed London-based, three-month secondment with the Association of British Insurers to trainees across all of its offices.
How to get a BLM training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 27 January 2019
Training contract deadline (2020 & 2021): 30 June 2019
Application form and online testing
The online application form asks for standard academic and work experience info, as well as posing a few more pointed questions. Expect a question on why you want to join BLM, and something to test your commercial awareness. The firm received around over 2,000 initial applications in 2018.
After an initial sift of these applications, 100 candidates per application round participate in the second stage, which consists of an online Watson Glaser critical thinking test. The test is designed to assess your ability to logically analyse, deduce and interpret information – all skills that will be used during your training contract and future career.
The firm's assessment centre comprises a strengths-based interview with a partner and recruiters; a written scenario question; and an individual presentation. Around 50 candidates make it through to this stage per application round.
For the presentation, candidates are sent the title a week in advance – expect it to be something related to the firm itself.
The recruitment process for the vacation scheme and the training contract is the same. Those who choose to take the vacation scheme route will not have to complete any further assessments after the placement, and instead will be made an offer for a training contract based on the feedback from their two weeks at the firm.
BLM re-launched its vac scheme in 2016. In 2017 the scheme was expanded and now lasts two weeks and is available in several of the firm's offices. The firm aims for around half of trainees to be recruited via the vac scheme.
Vac schemers spend their time sitting with current trainees and can express an interest as to which team they'd like to spend time with. As well as work experience there will be networking events, social events and on the last day an informal final meeting, which is more of a chat to address outstanding questions rather than an interview.
Who fits the bill?
The current trainee group hails from a diverse range of universities, from the Russell Group to plate-glass and post-1992 institutions. There's a good 60/40 female/male split in the trainee group (which you would expect given two-thirds of LPC grads are women).
All our interviewees had a notable maturity to them – none expected or wanted hand-holding from the firm. BLM trainees also need to be stress-resistant as a lot can be thrown at them in the course of a week – for example, you might need to drop everything to attend a trial and have to do the work you were planning for that day another time. Trainees are supporting dozens of cases at any one time, so being good at planning is vital. Oh, and some knowledge of the insurance industry won't hurt either.
BLM has something of a history of recruiting trainees from its own paralegal pool and hiring individuals who've paralegalled elsewhere. Given the sensitive and complex nature of the work and the requirement that trainees handle their own caseload, this makes sense. However, our sources noted a rise in external recruitment in recent years. So if you don't have paralegal experience, but are still keen on BLM, it's worth applying now more than ever.
One thing to note for those who do have paralegal experience: BLM doesn't encourage its trainees to qualify early with time to count. “It's not a blanket no, but we don't promote it,” says emerging talent manager, Matt Akin. “We see our training contract as a valuable learning experience, and we don't want to devalue the two-year contract by making it a tick-box exercise.” In circumstances where trainees have been given time to count it has been based on business need.
42 King Street West,
- Partners 121
- Assistant solicitors 68
- Total trainees 47
- UK offices Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Southampton
- Graduate recruiter: Keely Nelson, [email protected]
- Training partner: Michelle Penn
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 23
- Applications pa: 2,000
- Minimum required degree grade: We do not screen on academics
- Vacation scheme places pa: 15
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 9 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 24 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 9 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 21 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £31,000 (London), £22,000 (Regional)
- Second-year salary: £32,000 (London), £23,000 (Regional)
- Post-qualification salary: £44,000 (London), £30,000 (Regional)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton
- Client secondments: Various options
Main areas of work
You may also have the opportunity to spend time on secondment with one of our customers or with the Association of British Insurers. Throughout your programme you will work with our partners and associates on a variety of cases from low to complex, high-value claims, from initial investigation through to trial. You will have all of the support that you need from your assigned supervisor and our in-house talent development team.
The vacation scheme isn’t just about you impressing us… it’s also about you deciding if we’re the right firm for you.
University law careers fairs 2018
• University of Nottingham
• University of Sheffield
• The University of Liverpool
• University of Leeds
• University of Leicester
• The University of Manchester
• Durham University
• University of Birmingham
• University of Southampton
A full list to be confirmed, please see our website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounds
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Health & Safety (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Health & Safety (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 3)
- Insurance: Volume Claims (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Police Law: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Professional Discipline (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)