There’s nothing drab about Brabners, a people-pleasing powerhouse in the North West.
Was it focus of investment in the local economy? The reputation for a more laid-back law firm culture? Or perhaps they were just inspired by Kim and Kanye’s daughter? In any case, the North West was calling for Brabners’ future trainees: “I wanted a Northern firm,” one confirmed. “Brabners seeks to be the leading independent law firm in the UK and we don’t wish to expand to London.” With three bases in the region and 200 years of local history, this is a firm that knows what it wants.
We should make it clear that Brabners welcomes folks from all over and is by no means a ‘Northerners only’ club, even if a large chunk of the trainees we spoke to had local links. One of them who didn’t confirmed: “There’s never been an occasion where I’ve felt like I don’t fit in.” Inclusivity is clearly a priority for the firm, which recently set up the Together Action Group (TAG) to promote internal diversity and inclusion. There are five main areas of focus – ethnic minorities, gender, LGBT+, mental health and social mobility – and events to promote each.
“There’s never been an occasion where I’ve felt like I don’t fit in.”
Brabners' status as a full-service outfit is reflected in its impressive collection of Chambers UK rankings. The firm gets top marks in Liverpool for agriculture, crime and family; Manchester also leads the local pack in family law. Across the North West, Brabners earns strong rankings for corporate, social housing, IP, IT and litigation. The cherry on top is a nationwide ranking for sports law: the Brabners team represents top-flight clients including British Swimming, Liverpool FC and the Rugby Players Association.
The Liverpool, Manchester and now Preston offices recruit trainees. To get additional experience beyond the firm, Brabners offers a secondment to Nicholls.“It was a completely different and really interesting experience,” a former secondee said. “The work there is very hands-on and it made me reassess which department I eventually wanted to qualify into.”
All new trainees have their first seat allocated upon joining the firm. Those we spoke to had no problems with the system – “my first seat wasn’t my cup of tea” was the closest thing we heard to a complaint. Others found the lack of choice at the start a big plus: “The seat you're allotted might not be something you would pick yourself, it keeps you open-minded. I now want to qualify into the first department I sat in.” Heading into each seat change, trainees email the training principal three preferred departments; the principal and HR do their best to accommodate them. Trainees can address any issues throughout the training contract to the training principal or even the managing partner.
There’s been growth in the employment department following the acquisition of recruitment specialists HRC Law in July 2019, bringing 15 more lawyers into the fold. “We are re-establishing our position in the recruitment sector,” trainees explained. The team as a whole advises on contract issues, policies and procedures, unfair dismissal and whistleblowing cases. Trainees spent their days “redrafting staff handbooks, updating sickness and shared parental leave policies, reviewing correspondence and drafting early case assessments.” Much of the work here is contentious, offering chances to work on grievance appeal letters and witness statements as well as attending employment tribunals and getting involved in negotiations. “I get a lot of access to the professionals we deal with,” a source shared – this was especially true on the pensions side of the practice. Household names including Travelodge, Nando’s and Leicester City FC call on Brabners’ advice; the firm recently assisted pub giant JD Wetherspoon in curating its policy for transgender and non-binary employees.
The firm’s litigation team has two core focuses – general commercial, and property disputes. Trainees in the seat were able to either zero in one side or split their time across the whole department. One who’d focused on commercial litigation “got stuck into a lot of shareholder disputes, general company disputes and debt claims. Trainees are given an awful lot of responsibility which works well for me.” Brabners’ small trainee intake means there will rarely be more than a handful in any department. Sports disputes are a popular option here: “I was working on a criminal investigation for a footballer involved in an assault accusation,” a trainee told us. “I met up with the client, took notes, drafted witness statements and dealt with evidence disclosed by the police.” In contrast, trainees on the property litigation side dealt with “lease renewals, historic claims, unprotected tenancies and terminating periodic tenancies.”
“We represent high net worth individuals including celebrities, footballers and CEOs.”
Sports clients play a role in the family department too, as do other high-profile figures. “We represent high net worth individuals including celebrities, footballers and CEOs,” a trainee explained. These clients tend to prefer to keep their affairs private, and some of the work can get juicy. Trainees were involved with financial settlements, sometimes arising from divorce proceedings: “I’m working for a client with children who is going through a divorce,” one revealed. “We are looking at the agreements, drafting letters on housing and assessing arrangements for the child.” Such cases require a human touch as much as they do legal know-how. The practice has a specialist niche in working for parents in cases involving complicating factors like addiction or abuse allegations. On a daily basis our interviewees were “calling chambers and serving counsel for upcoming hearings, chasing court updates, doing legal research, amending letters and sorting out ancillary proceedings,” acting as a general aid on matters.
The real estate team works with clients in the food and drink, retail and student accommodation sectors among others. “I do a lot of landlord/tenant disputes,” a trainee revealed, dedicating their time to “renewing leases, research, working on purchase and sales agreements and due diligence.” Real estate work often overlaps with planning and environment matters, which can lead to some unusual research requests – “I particularly enjoyed looking into a particular species of weed.” Brabners’ flowering client list includes industry giants like Home Bargains, Primark and NatWest; the firm advised Peel Land and Property on a road link into the £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters development.
If you’re not yet sold on lawyering outside London, this might do the trick – trainee hours at Brabners typically run from 9am to 6pm, with late nights an extreme rarity. “I don’t think I have ever stayed in the office past 9pm,” an interviewee said. Predictable hours do wonders for the mental health of lawyers: “No late nights, no stress.” The work will of course be demanding in its own right, but letting trainees go home at a reasonable time is one of the easiest ways to keep them happy. “It’s part of the culture, we are just not encouraged to stay late,” we heard.
“On nights out, the partners do let their hair down...”
Trainees were happy to brag about Brabners: “The culture here is second to none,” they suggested. Many were complimentary of senior partners, and not just in a work sense… “We made a Christmas video dancing along to Mariah Carey’s 'All I Want for Christmas' and yes, the people in management all got involved.” We couldn’t find it on YouTube, but maybe you’ll have more luck. “On nights out, the partners do let their hair down. I can’t say any more,” a trainee teased.The social committee puts on themed events for staff to let loose including pasta-making classes, museum trips and the chillingly named Shiverpool Halloween party. Brabners also runs weekly drinks trips and “if you want to go for a pint on a Wednesday, there will always be someone to go with. Even after the tab runs out, people will stay out!”
Aside from the Big Idea scheme (a competition between trainees firmwide to raise money for charity; think The Apprentice with lawyers), there was no competitive spirit between Brabners trainees. This carries through to qualification – the firm releases its NQ jobs list in March, and candidates submit a cover letter outlining their interests. In 2020, five out of seven qualifiers were retained.
Reach out and Brab it
Brabners sponsors trainees’ memberships with the SOLICITORS group, which offers Continuing Professional Development training and hosts exhibition events. “I went to a panel which discussed life after training,” one source said. “It helps make you a well-rounded individual.”
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 Manchester, Preston 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.”
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 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 30 June 2021
- 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 2020
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
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 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 4)