If insurance litigation sounds appealing, you’d better ensure that top banana BLM is on your application list.
Sliding into your BLMs
You’ve probably had your fair share of calls from a mysterious robotic voice asking ‘Have you had an accident recently?’ Annoying as these are, plenty of people will atsome pointhave an accident at work, take a nasty bump from a careless driver, or suffer from that suspicious seafood platter they scoffed in San Tropez. Someone's to blame (here's looking at you, Pierre the waiter) and where there's blame, there's a claim. BLM represents the big insurers (Aviva, Allianz, AXA, Zurich, Hiscox, Willis) who sit on the other side of these disputes, plus organisations like Coca-Cola and the BBC that are also tangled up in insurance spats.
Trainees with a taste for litigation or an interest in insurance law found that BLM was just what they were looking for in a law firm. “It’s got a great reputation in personal injury and this is an exciting time for BLM – we’re diversifying our practice with more commercial clients,” one said. In 2017 the firm poached a 33-strong commercial team from Slater and Gordon, building a real estate, litigation and employment presence in Manchester. As of now the firm’s Chambers UK rankings are still mostly insurance-related: among various plaudits BLM is top nationwide for volume insurance claims and defendant-side personal injury.
With one eye on broadening its practice, BLM has another on international opportunities: it’s recently helped form a global network of ten insurance-focused firms, and in 2019 boosted its Dublin headcount to 120 staff to ensure a strong EU presence post-Brexit. Senior partner Matthew Harrington reveals that “after a period of consolidation the firm is growing again. It’s a good time to be a trainee as we’ll be able to offer more seat options and a diverse range of training.”
“It was really important to me that... the offices aren’t just regional outposts.”
Manchester “isn’t officially the HQ, but it’s the largest office” and takes roughly the same number of trainees each year as London. “It was really important to me that the firm had a significant presence outside London and the offices aren’t just regional outposts,” one source declared. Manchester and the capital housed around 14 trainees each at the time of our research; Birmingham and Liverpool had five, and Southampton three. Many of our interviewees had paralegal experience at BLM or other firms before they started as trainees, though some noticed that “more recent intakes have included more trainees fresh out of university.” Several in the most recent cohort had a background in insurance, but that’s definitely not a prerequisite.
BLM sorts its first-seaters into whichever departments need an extra pair of hands. In each subsequent rotation, trainees can submit three preferences of where they’d like to go next. “You have slightly more control of where you go in your second year,” we heard, and first-years who’d not reached that stage were quickest to grumble about the system. Some trainees were luckier than others but most agreed that “HR does a good job at putting you where you’d like to go.” The firm is open to trainees spending time in other offices and runs some client secondments but neither is sure-fire.
Manchester and London have the greatest range of seat options – healthcare is only available in those two offices, for instance. It's worth noting that although most seats are litigation-focused, there's non-contentious work (like reviewing contracts) within them.
The Hurt Locker
Trainees will almost certainly do at least one ‘injury’ seat: options include abuse, motor, catastrophic injury, occupational health, employers’ liability/public liability, and clinical negligence. In some offices, trainees sit in one sub-team; in others (like London) they'll do a more general PI-heavy seat.
As a general rule, injuries which come under the casualty team's bracket are worth between £100,000 and a few million pounds. These can involve public liability (PL) when the injury was caused in a public place, and employer liability (EL) for workplace incidents; in a recent example of the latter, BLM represented British Airways in a case brought by a cabin crew member who’d allegedly been injured while trying to stop hot drinks from falling onto a passenger during turbulence. Other clients include Travelodge, Sainsbury’s, the Church of England, Barclays and Heathrow Airport. As well assisting partners with multi-track cases, trainees run their own low-value fast-track cases. “It was good to see the process from start to finish,” one told us. “I was drafting letters of response, reviewing all the documents and deciding whether we’d admit or deny liability.” If the case proceeds, trainees prepare witness statements and organise schedules. “The main difference to other seats is deadlines come up more frequently,” we heard.
The exception to that is motor, which handles road traffic accident cases and is also known as volume litigation, which reflects the fact cases come thick and fast. “It’s a baptism of fire as a trainee” and seats are likely to go to first-years who typically get the chance to run their own caseload. One source handled “over 100 files that were largely fast-tracked. I was dealing with court directions as and when, and maintaining communication with the client and third parties.” Trainees held “substantive discussions with insurer clients about tactics and where cases were headed, with supervision from partners.” Low-value cases like minor traffic accidents can sit dormant for long stretches of time, so trainees also assist partners on high-value matters to fill their timetables. “On large loss cases you gain more of an appreciation for the finer elements of injury work,” one source concluded.
“We’ll provide instructions to all kinds of experts.”
Whereas on volume disputes “you’re trying to conclude the matter as cheaply and effectively as possible,” occupational health cases require more specialist knowledge. BLM’s two work streams involve higher and lower-value cases respectively; in the Manchester office, one trainee sits in each area. Long-term cases can involve asbestos or cancer-related industrial incidents, but more unusual projects also arise – the firm recently acted for insurer Zurich in a claim brought by a Royal Opera House orchestra member who’d suffered hearing loss, a case which established ‘acoustic shock’ as a disease for the first time. Trainees in this seat “don’t have their own caseload, but we get involved in disclosure prep and taking witness statements for trial.” Self-confessed nerds enjoyed “reviewing medical records and obtaining evidence. We’ll provide instructions to all kinds of experts, such as occupational hygienists.”
Healthcare is BLM’s name for its clinical negligence department. The firm defends claims of misdiagnoses and missed diagnoses made against medical professionals, acting for organisations ranging from the Royal College of Nursing to Specsavers. In a recent case, BLM was instructed by the Medical Protection Society on behalf of a GP in a £1.3 million claim of delayed pancreatic cancer diagnosis, leading to a patient’s death. “You have to be emotionally intuitive” in this seat, because “the professionals involved are going through what will probably be the most traumatic time of their lives.” Trainees typically split their seat between the regulatory and claims side of the practice, getting to “attend various hearings and inquests" and "draft substantive witness statements.”
Boom Boom Pow
One of the most common non-injury seats for trainees is property damage. The cause of said damage can range from “nasty gas explosions to bog-standard vehicle collisions” with fires, floods and subsidence in between. To give an example, BLM represented a subcontractor roofer accused of partial responsibility for damage to a block of flats after high winds pulled part of the roof away, a multimillion-pound dispute. Trainees also get their own caseloads here, so “you develop skills related to negotiation and case tactics. You’re thrown in the deep end but there’s lots of support available.” Getting to draft letters of advice and call brokers and insurers, sources finished their spell in property damage “confident enough to suggest my own ideas to partners of what steps we should take going forward.” Recovery files are the main course, but the seat can come with a side dish of “really interesting” property-related fraud matters.
“… confident enough to suggest my own ideas to partners.”
Since the arrival of a team from Slater and Gordon, Manchester has offered a seat in corporate litigation. It’s a popular pick and the team is “very cohesive and they really try to get trainees involved” in disputes that are often related to the alleged mis-selling of financial products.Unlike most of BLM’s practice, the commercial wing represents both claimants and defendants and there’s “no set type of client.” Sainsbury's, Travelodge and regeneration company Urban Splash are all on the books, alongside private individuals. Trainees get “quite a lot of client contact” with the latter, albeit through a phone or computer rather than in person. “It’s very different to insurance work because clients are a lot more invested in matters.” They may get input on cases, but trainees also handle typical litigation document review and admin management tasks.
Commercial seats come with more unpredictable hours than injury ones, but in most departments trainees find they're “usually out by 5 or 6pm." One said: "There haven’t been many occasions I’ve had to work late.” Londoners were sometimes in the office longer, whereas in Manchester “the office closes at 8pm and security kick you out if you’re still around then.” The trade-off for these cushy hours? “BLM is quite well known within the industry for paying below average” – this was a sore spot for many of our interviewees. “For years they’ve been saying they’ll review it,” one source revealed. “They’re filling vacancies so I don’t blame them for keeping it the same, but I could make significantly more elsewhere and that’s a kick in the stomach.”
“It’s one of the more pleasant larger firms as it has less adherence to a corporate ethos,” one source said about BLM's culture. A fellow trainee described the firm as “really personable with no real hierarchy – you wouldn’t know who was an equity partner unless you asked.” BLM helps trainees get to know each other through various paid-for events, many of which seem to involve pizza… “There’s a budget for each office and trainees go out quite often,” but some departments are more sociable than others and “this isn’t a firm where everybody goes to the pub on Friday afternoon.” Sources said that in Manchester “people tend to get their work done and go home,” while Liverpool and London have more active social scenes.
The Manchester base is technically two offices across the road from one another: one’s “a modern building with functioning aircon,” the other… isn’t. “It’s got teabags and instant coffee but no glamour,” a trainee laughed, “but we’re improving it slowly and there’s talk of us moving soon.” Birmingham is going through a refurb, but trainees were full of praise for the location (it's right on Cathedral Square, so we’re not surprised), while team London only moved into their Fenchurch Street premises a few years back and “it's all still quite new, and everything is open-plan, which makes partners more approachable.”
“One of the catchphrases here is ‘there’s no such thing as a silly question’.”
Trainees from all over the firm built close relationships with their supervisors: “One of the catchphrases here is ‘there’s no such thing as a silly question’, as some of BLM’s work is quite technical so you need close supervision.” A lot of specialist knowledge comes to trainees “by osmosis,” but the firm also has a database of video tutorials and podcasts to fill any gaps and invites in barristers from local chambers to run lunchtime learning sessions. “The training has become more internalised over time,” one source revealed. “We now have knowledge management and professional support teams sending out practice area updates.” Most of our interviewees also had monthly one-to-ones with their seat supervisor to make sure they were on the right track.
There’s a full briefing during qualification season, complete with video conferences and one-to-one support for trainees approaching qualification. They receive a timetable of the steps in the process, and the firm’s “making more of an effort to advertise early and convince people to stay.” Trainees can apply to as many departments as they like by submitting a CV, and there’s a quick turnaround before interviews.
Trainee retention has been up and down in recent years, and in 2019 BLM retained 13 of 25 qualifiers.
How to get a BLM training contract
Training contract deadline: TBC
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.
Interview with senior partner Matthew Harrington
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at BLM?
Matthew Harrington: First and foremost, the firm was included in a compilation of the 50 best employers for inclusiveness in the UK. We were very proud to learn that as we’ve been doing a lot of work and setting up initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion at the firm.
We’ve also made a number of key appointments. Lateral hires have boosted our London offering with Damian Cleary, Gavin Coull, Sarah Drury, Gary Thwaites and Gary Wicks joining the firm. Jason Potter, formerly of the Insurance Fraud Bureau, has joined us as head of fraud operations, and more recently Stuart Evans came on board to head the London commercial litigation team.
CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm and your clients' business? There was the recent Dublin headcount expansion…
MH: It’s mostly a case of wait and see. In our core insurance market, we don’t believe that a hard or soft Brexit will impact business too much, but we’re continuing regular dialogue with our clients. Most have already taken steps to insure passporting rights are in place, reviewing contracts and their supply chains.
CS: What market trends have been affecting the firm's insurance practice?
MH: There’s been consolidation in the insurance market with solicitors’ panels under review, but it’s largely business as usual. Clients are looking for value over and above pre- and post-litigation service, so we’ve had to expand our offering.
Our digital strategy is a good example: over the last five years we’ve focused on providing better platforms for agile working and business improvement. At partner level and below we’ve worked to improve digital literacy. We’ve invested heavily in AI and worked with the London School of Economics on a new risk management tool. That’s involved developing forecasting models for soft tissue injuries, methods to benchmark damages and analyse liability and quantum for various cases.
CS: What is the firm's current business strategy? What do you hope to achieve in the near future?
MH: After a period of consolidation the firm is growing again. We’re maintaining our core presence but expanding in London especially, exploring the financial lines insurance space especially. We’ve also got a growing business and advisory commercial stream which is a bit of a departure from our core strength in insurance.
CS: As BLM’s commercial offering expands, how will things evolve for the firm’s trainees? Might you take on more?
MH: It’s a good time to be a trainee as we’ll be able to offer more seat options and a diverse range of training. We’ve always seen trainees as an important pool from which to build our succession plans and hope we can give them the tools to find the areas they’d like to specialise in.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
MH: It might have some effect but ultimately the key to a good training contract is structure and providing the time for trainees to sit down with more senior colleagues to learn from their experience and prepare themselves for future situations, and none of that will change.
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about BLM’s culture?
MH: We’re a people business and recognise we need to invest and empower our people; and that it’s not just about lawyers, we’re heavily dependent on personnel who can assist us at every level. Everybody in the organisation has a role to play, and with everybody working at the best of their ability we can achieve our plans.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
MH: I’d advise anybody looking for a training contract in today’s market to make as many applications as they can, because the bar is getting higher all the time. Experience beyond academia is important – it’s helpful for that to be in the legal world but we’re looking for life experience in other sectors too. BLM is particularly interested in applicants who’ve done Saturday jobs of all sorts, as it’s very helpful for our team to have a sense of other occupations and other walks of life.
42 King Street West,
- Partners 121
- Assistant solicitors 68
- Total trainees 47
- UK offices Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Southampton
- Graduate recruiter: Emma O’Rourke emma.o’[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: 7th October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: TBC
- Vacation scheme applications open: 7th October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: TBC
- 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.
University law careers fairs 2019
• University of Liverpool
• Nottingham University
• University of Birmingham
• University of Southampton
• Durham University
A full list to be confirmed, please see our website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Glasgow, Edinburgh and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial Recognised Practitioner
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
- Health & Safety (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 4)
- Insurance: Volume Claims (Band 2)
- 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)