This proud Northerner boasts impressive regional credentials and has recently undergone a progressive makeover.
The King in the North
“I didn’t want a London firm in Liverpool, I wanted a Liverpool firm in Liverpool.” Similar statements were echoed among Brabners’ trainee pool, who were unanimously “proud of the firm’s Northern roots” and status as “champions of the Northern Powerhouse concept.” Indeed, they were quick to distance themselves from “other regional firms that are desperately trying to open offices in London and expand across the country. We have succeeded through focusing on our presence in one region.” The numbers agree, as turnover reached £31.4 million in 2018/19, an 8% increase. Many attributed the firm’s recent success to the efforts of its new managing partner, Nik White, who was appointed in May 2018. “It’s really exciting having a young manager partner who trained with the firm and stayed with it for 25 years,” trainees agreed, adding: “He’s making lots of positive changes around modernisation.” These include a drive to have “a more sector-orientated approach to business,” and the introduction of “innovation groups looking at how to become more technology-driven – we’re doing more work with start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses.”
“It’s really exciting having a young manager partner who trained with the firm.”
However, it was the recent cultural changes that sources were most keen to highlight. “I think we’ve historically been quite traditional,” one source said, “but there’s been a real shift to better accommodate the career aspirations of everybody – for example, you can now become a legal director instead of just having a linear path to partnership, and there’s also been a drive for more flexible working.” As part of the changes, Brabners has also introduced a number of diversity groups which include social mobility and LGBT+ initiatives. “Anyone who has an interest in an aspect of diversity is welcome to look at how to promote that,” trainees emphasised, adding that things like the introduction of gender-neutral toilets were proof things were yielding tangible results. One source also pointed out that Nik White was one of two men nominated at the Northern Power Women Awards.
Brabners' status as a full-service Northern outfit is reflected in its Chambers UK rankings. In Liverpool the private wealth, crime and family teams are top-ranked, while in the broader North West region Brabners is in Chambers' top two tiers for mid-market corporate M&A, litigation, social housing, IP and IT. The firm also has a nationally ranked sports practice which counts Liverpool FC, Leicester City, the Rugby Players Association and British Swimming as clients. Trainees are usually evenly split between Liverpool and Manchester; there's also a small Preston office in which the firm hopes to recruit its first trainee for a 2020 start. While there's a distinctly Northern flavour to the firm – and most trainees have roots in the region – rest assured it's not a Game of Thrones-type situation: “There are definitely a few Southern accents floating around, and I like to feel they are made very welcome!”
The ol' Mike Tyson
All trainees have their first seat allocated upon joining the firm. “You don’t have any input, but it’s not completely random,” sources said. “They try to place you in seats where you have had past experience. For example, one of my colleagues had some conveyancing experience before joining the firm so they were put into property.” From the second seat onwards, allocation follows a standard procedure: trainees put forward three preferences to supervisors, who work with HR to accommodate them.
Brabners’ housing team has fully adopted the new sector-based model, and as such houses corporate, commercial and litigation lawyers. On the transactional side, the group recently acted as lead adviser on the merger of Liverpool Mutual Homes with the Torus Group, giving them dominion over nearly 40,000 properties in the Liverpool area. On a rather different type of matter, the firm represented the Riverside housing association in a claim for possession based on breach of tenancy and antisocial behaviour. Said behaviour involved a tenant’s wife biting the ear off an innocent victim. Ouch! Trainees are most involved in the litigation side of things. Here’s what one person’s time looked like on a case: “I was in charge of collating all the evidence including incident reports, witness statements and police reports. I also got great experience seeing how courts work. Often, I was going alone, taking notes, liaising and getting to see how the vulnerable witness suite works.”
“I was in charge of collating all the evidence.”
The real estate team acts for a slew of household-name clients from the retail sector, including Primark, McColl's and Nando's. “We generally do landlord/tenant work, purchases and sales, a lot of which you are able to run yourself,” sources outlined. One continued: “On a sale of a property I conduct all the due diligence, complete the reports on title, flag up any potential issues with the client and liaise with the buyer. The typical value of the properties I handle is in the £200,000 range.” Another interviewee detailed their involvement with a “long-standing client who had a bunch of unregistered properties. I was running about 12 in the end: getting the papers up to date, transferring ownership and getting them all registered with the Land Registry.” The team has recently been busy overseeing the £25 million development of a new ferry terminal in Liverpool to serve the Isle of Man, which will also act as an informal embassy for the island on the UK mainland. The team has also been helping Primark with expansion across the UK, including new premises in Castleford and Hastings.
Commercial is an umbrella group covering several areas including data protection, sports, education and IP. “A lot of the work recently has concerned GDPR packages,” one source said. “I’ve been doing a lot of work for one company, investigating the business and making sure they are compliant with all the new regulations.” Others reported “producing research for pharmaceutical companies on a no-deal Brexit outcome,” while another had the chance to “work on some cool licensing stuff.” For example, the firm has been advising the Commonwealth Games Federation on contracts, media and marketing for the upcoming 2022 Games in Birmingham.
"My first time, I was sitting in on a conference call with all the shareholders of a business."
You’ll find clients such as Bridgestone Tyres, Typhoo Tea and Suez Recycling in Brabners' corporate team. Lawyers recently helped contracting, training and recruitment firm NRL with the acquisition of energy recruitment specialist Intec, creating a £180 million business. As is typical in corporate seats, the trainee role tends to be administrative in nature. “If a client wants to buy or sell their business, the partner would instruct me to organise the data rooms and conduct the due diligence,” one trainee told us. “Normally I would just send the client the due diligence questionnaire. But my first time, I was sitting in on a conference call with all the shareholders of a business and literally had to walk them through the entire questionnaire line by line!”
PowerPoint me to the bar
Whether it's football or who started the industrial revolution, the Manchester–Liverpool rivalry is no secret. At Brabners lawyers in the two cities have happily found a way to channel this rivalry into something more positive. “It’s called the Big Idea,” one trainee informed us, “and it follows a format close to The Apprentice. Everyone gets £50 and from that you have to raise as much money for charity as possible. In Manchester we used the money to buy canvases and paint for children to make art and then auctioned it all off. Manchester has won two years in a row now!” Socialising tends to be self-contained by office, but all Brabners personnel do meet up for an annual conference at Carden Park, a luxury country hotel in Cheshire. One source reported: “It doesn’t sound too fun on paper, but I’ve been promised there isn’t too much talking. There are a few PowerPoints but otherwise it’s just eating and drinking – apparently it’s got a reputation for getting a bit wild.”
Hours are “very consistent” at Brabners, and indeed most were drawn to the firm because of its “reputation for a great work/life balance.” Sources emphasised that “achieving a 9am to 5.30pm lifestyle is very much possible. I’ve finished jobs after 5pm and once in a blue moon I will stay in the office until 7pm, but you’re never going to get someone landing something urgent on your desk at 4.55pm.”
Brabners releases its NQ jobs list in March, when candidates are required to submit a cover letter outlining their interests. In 2019 five of six qualifiers were retained.
How to get a Brabners training contract
The initial application
All prospective trainees must apply directly for a training contact. The recruitment process is overseen by the firm’s director of training, Dr Tony Harvey, though both Manchester and Liverpool have designated training partners who are “very hands on” during the process, according to trainees.
Applications begin with an online form through Apply4Law. Dr Harvey tells us the most common mistake during the application round is neglecting to research the firm properly. It's imperative to get a handle on where Brabners is placed within its market and focus your application accordingly.
The assessment centre
Of the 500-plus candidates who apply each year, between 50 and 60 candidates are invited to a two-stage assessment centre. The order of these stages is not set in stone, and is often reversed.
The first stage involves a presentation on a topic of the candidate’s choice prepared ahead of time, plus an interview with a panel of partners chaired by Dr Harvey. “They did a little bit of a grilling with some technical questions, but a lot of it was about what I had been up to as a student,” a trainee recalled. “Overall it was pretty informal, and they definitely weren't mean in any way.” The second stage sees candidates divided into groups and tasked with a non-legal negotiation exercise.
How to impress
Dr Harvey tells us recruiters are on the lookout for “well-rounded candidates with strong commercial awareness – although not necessarily in law. Good grades are essential, and we like to see some indication you've worked in a position that requires responsibility and trust.” He adds: “Build up a personal profile on the pro bono front, for example, or become a treasurer of a society. Work on more than just your grades.”
Our trainee sources corroborated this view, adding: “It's not just about having sterling academics; it's about being someone the interviewers want to work with, someone who will fit in when staff drinks roll around on a Friday. You'll need to be able to make an effort here socially.” As Harvey concludes, ideal recruits are “bright, enthusiastic, and have a sense of humour. We don't like dull people.”
Interview with managing partner Nik White
55 King Street,
7-8 Chapel Street,
- Partners 68
- Senior associates 20
- Associate 21
- Fee-earners 228
- Total trainees 13
- Graduate recruiter: Liverpool office: Dr Tony Harvey, director of training, risk and compliance
- Training partners: Rupert Gill, Helen Brown, Nikki Whittle, Joanne Radcliffe
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or post-graduate degree
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 10 January 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 30 June 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: No less than £25,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Main areas of work
Trainees are given a high degree of responsibility and are an integral part of our culture. Each has partner-level supervision, and the training programme is overseen by the Training Principal Dr Tony Harvey. Our culture is supportive and friendly, plus we have an excellent social programme. We do not believe in presenteeism — there is no long-hour culture here, rather a focus on you finding a work-life balance from the outset. Many of our partners undertook their training with us, and a high proportion of our staff are long-standing.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Liverpool and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Manchester and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 4)