This Midlands-based national firm is near the top of the food chain, in public and in private.
Survival of the littest
The year is 1832 and Charles Darwin has just begun his voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle. In Nottingham, the law firm now known as Browne Jacobson opens for business. Nearly 200 years later BJ seems to have overcome natural selection to emerge not as the dodo, but as something rather less extinct. Charles would say this was down to evolution: the Nottingham HQ remains the largest of its five offices, but trainee insiders noticed that BJ’s not as Notts-centric these days. “I was apprehensive about not being based in Nottingham, but with growth in Manchester and London there’s been a real attempt by the firm to promote the other offices,” one said.
Trainees that are keen to stick up for national treasures like the NHS and schools across the UK are as well catered for here as those more interested in the cut-and-thrust world of corporate boardrooms. The firm’s “reputation for work with public sector clients across a range of practices” was quite the draw for some of our interviewees, while others were more enticed by Browne Jacobson’s commercial nous and “good rep for IP.” Both sides of the coin shine within the rankings of Chambers UK, which applauds the firm in the Midlands for areas ranging from mid-market corporate M&A, IP and real estate to social housing, litigation and environment law. Browne Jacobson also scores UK-wide rankings for education, healthcare, Court of Protection, local government and administrative & public law among other sectors.
Among the firm’s cohort of 34 trainees at the time of our calls, 18 were located in Nottingham. Another eight could be found in London, six in Birmingham and two more in Manchester. Trainees can travel to different offices across the course of their training contract and the firm will fully cover both their rent and council tax if they relocate. The only exception is for those moving between Birmingham and Nottingham or vice versa – “the policy is that the distance is commutable so they will pay travel but not rent.” There were some grumbles about this policy as “it’s not the easiest journey,” but sources generally felt “the firm does look after you when you’re moving office.”
Trainees are allocated their first seat by HR, then for the following seats the firm releases a list of available departments. Everyone puts down three preferences and sources reckoned that “you’ll always get one of the three you put down – it’s good to get input even if it’s based on a reduced list of seats.” Others added that “when you come around to second year especially, you tend to get what you’re after.” None of the seats are compulsory (SRA requirements notwithstanding) but we heard that “the firm encourages trainees to try and sample a range of the teams.” Browne Jacobson’s practice divides into five ‘umbrella’ areas: business services; business and professional risk; insurance and public risk; health advisory and litigation; and real estate.
Seat options in business services include commercial, banking, corporate, tax, private client and charities, education, and government and infrastructure. Within commercial you’ll find IP (contentious or non-contentious depending on the office), IT and data protection. Some had spent time “spread across all three areas” while others had focused almost solely on one of the three. IP litigation “is principally in Birmingham and London – Nottingham is mostly non-contentious.” Our London sources got involved with trade mark and patent disputes, while Birmingham insiders were able to “research and prep for trial, draft statements and gather exhibits.” Over on the non-contentious side of IP, trainees get to grips with “drafting licensing agreements, privacy policies and website terms and conditions.” The biggest chunk of BJ’s IT work is “large outsourcing contracts” – the team advised the Crown Prosecution Service on the break-up of an existing large-scale contract into various service groups. Another matter involved assisting the London Borough of Tower Hamlets on restructuring its cloud and digital services.
“You can dive into some niche areas of law there.”
In the education seat, trainees dabbled in both corporate and advisory work. The department regularly handles “academy conversions and the transfer of assets from the council to academy trusts.” Recent examples include advising on the merger of two existing academy trusts with the addition of two further schools in Horncastle; and on the academy conversions of three new schools joining The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership. Interviewees also got to grips with “advisory work around exclusions, admissions, use of social media... anything that fits into the broad category of school-related issues.” Some were able to hone their advisory skills via the firm’s ‘QuickCall’ service: “Clients pay for access and can ring up with any query that can be dealt with in under 30 minutes. You can dive into some niche areas of law there.” Sources felt this was “a great way of developing confidence.”
Insurance and public risk covers technical claims, government regulatory and advocacy and social care. Confusingly, tech claims doesn’t mean technology – it’s a contentious personal injury seat and encompasses “employer and public liability disputes.” The team acts for insurers including big names like Zurich and Liberty on matters ranging from motor defence to “accidents taking place on school premises.” The team recently defended Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council against a claimant seeking damages after they’d tripped on a highway; Browne Jacobson also represented Fulham Boys School in a judicial review following allegations of racial and religious discrimination. General trainee tasks in this seat include taking and drafting witness statements, providing initial advice to clients and attending court hearings. There’s more responsibility on offer here than some other departments and “by the end of the seat you get cases of your own to work on under supervision.” These aren’t particularly high-value, but interviewees appreciated getting experience in matter management.
Planning, environmental law, public law and data protection all fall under government regulatory and advisory. The Midlands team recently defended the London Borough of Enfield when a claimant brought a challenge after the council refused to grant planning permission for 28 retirement living units. Trainees got their fill of reviewing Section 106 (planning permission) agreements and unilateral undertakings, and drafted deeds of variation. Environmental matters required “research into discrete issues, often to do with environmental consents.” Browne Jacobson regularly acts for Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, recently advising the latter on an appeal of consent granted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1983. Judicial reviews require trainees to “review letters and draft responses. I was mostly working on the pre-action process.” Many felt that the seat’s appeal lay in “the variation. I was trusted to take on a lot of responsibility and got to sample many different areas of law.”
The moral of the story
Health advisory and litigation (HAL) covers two seats: clinical negligence and inquest and advisory. The team largely works for NHS Resolution, “defending the NHS against litigation claims.” A high-profile recent example was contempt of court proceedings brought on behalf of George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust regarding what they saw as an exaggerated claim for damages over inadequate consent for a procedure. The firm also defended NHS Resolution in a case dealing with nerve injury during hip surgery. Inquest and advisory clients include local hospitals, mental health trusts and ambulance services, which can require advice on deaths that go on to inquest and serious medical treatment matters. Moral issues tangle with the law here, such as when a patient needs emergency surgery but can’t give consent – “these are urgent and time-pressured, but really interesting to work on.” Sources found “it can be difficult to deal with such sensitive cases, but once they’re wrapped up you realise what a rewarding experience you’ve been through.”
Trainees in the clinical negligence seat fill their boots with “complex claims brought against medical professionals.” Sources enjoyed being “out of the office a lot. I was regularly going to court and settlement meetings with clients and claimants.” Trainees have to spend some time in the office – they start out “preparing instructions for counsel and drafting court bundles and applications” before progressing on to “drafting defences and settlement offers.” There’s a general understanding here that “even as you go up the ranks you still have to get everything signed off because you’re working for a public body which is spending taxpayers’ money. The flip side of that is you get really good supervision on everything.”
"I was regularly going to court and settlement meetings with clients and claimants.”
Real estate seat options include development and housing, property litigation and retail. Browne Jacobson’s work in each office often has a local dimension: the firm advised developer Miller Birch on the acquisition, redevelopment and disposal of the Guildhall complex in Nottingham city centre; and acted for Amalgamated Holdings Wilkinson (Wilko) on the acquisition of 118–120 Colmore Row, a retail and residential investment block in Birmingham. Retail law involves “lots of commercial lease-based work” – for trainees this means reviewing smaller leases, drafting licences, completing SDLT forms and registering documents at the Land Registry.
Over in development and housing, our sources got involved with “selling unused land for development” and “simpler, lower-valued lease extensions.” The property litigation team picks up the baton when things get contentious: “The bread and butter is exit notices for leases – Section 25 and 26 notices.” Alongside that, the team advises on dilapidation claims and “pretty much any kind of property-related dispute that comes in.”
Arriving at Browne Jacobson’s door, trainees reckoned that “the first thing you notice is the very open culture. You’re frequently working with partners who have 20 to 30 years of experience and treat you with the same level of respect as they would anybody else.” That’s a good start, but some reported that relationships don’t stop at respect: “My supervisor was a really senior partner and by the end of my time in the department we could really joke and have a laugh with each other. We even started watching YouTube videos together!” Of course, trainees aren’t going to learn how to be solicitors by watching funny puppy videos, but in an environment where “everybody is working very hard” it's encouraging to know people can blow off some steam.
Trainees’ hours vary more by practice than the office they sit in. Some seats including education and health advisory tend to stick to a cushy nine-to-five (urgent one-offs aside), whereas corporate and commercial teams are more likely to head home at 7.30pm. “My latest finish was 1am, but after that my team told me to leave at 5pm for the next week,” a source recalled.Others agreed that “you can leave at 5pm if there’s nothing going on, but there will inevitably be times you’ll need to stick around until 8pm.” Commuters between Birmingham and Nottingham found that “the team I worked with encouraged me to leave promptly so I could get home at a reasonable time.”
“You can get a latte for 60p or a hot meal for £2.50.”
Each Browne Jacobson office comes with “its own nuances and individual feel.” Smaller bases like London and Manchester “tend to socialise as a whole group, whereas Nottingham is more team-oriented because there’s so many people.” All the offices usually get together for a party in the HQ once a year, but each also holds its own Christmas and end-of-working-year celebrations too. Regardless of where they were based, insiders felt “the trainee cohort is quite tight-knit, there’s a group of people who go to the pub probably once a week.” Nottingham sources all praised their office’s onsite café: “It’s the best bit of working here. The food and drinks are subsidised and you can get a latte for 60p or a hot meal for £2.50.” You’ll struggle to find those prices in London; trainees got their money's worth by enjoying a roof balcony from which “you can see the Shard and the Gherkin” instead. Birmingham folks reckoned their space is “a bit older and more cramped” but there were rumours floating around that a relocation could be in the pipeline.
When trainees come to qualify, the firm sends out a list of NQ jobs across all of its offices. “Prior to that, we have regular conversations throughout the training contract with HR so they can gauge what we might want to do.” Trainees submit their applications, then the process varies by department; some hold interviews and might set a test, others take a more informal conversational approach. Browne Jacobson’s fared well with retention in the last few years but a recent increase in trainee numbers left some “unsure if as many will be retained this time around.” Bang on: the firm ended up retaining 12 of its 19 qualifiers in 2019.
Caroline Green took over as the firm’s senior partner in May 2019 – she’s the first woman to hold the role.
How to get a Browne Jacobson training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 1 February 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 1 April 2020
In 2015 Browne Jacobson rolled out its first summer vacation scheme, having previously only offered open days. “There’s been an ongoing debate about vacation schemes – about whether they're helpful or not – but having seen the way recruitment's gone recently we thought it would be beneficial,” training principal Mark Hughes tells us. Vacation schemers are selected based on their performance during an assessment centre, which is held in spring each year.
Applications and assessments
The firm usually receives around 800-900 applications annually. Prospective trainees are asked to apply by completing an online form. Those who pique the firm's interest undertake online testing and a telephone interview. Successful candidates are then invited to an assessment day. The day currently involves an interview, a case study presentation, a written exercise and a group exercise.
“Generally we go for people who will be good with clients, and who will make good lawyers,” Mark Hughes tells us. He adds: “People who have had a job previously – law or non-law, but somehow customer-facing – do better at interview and at the assessment day, we find. But we do still have plenty of people who've come through the traditional process too, who we recruit while they're in their second year of university. It's about a balance.”
Historically, a good chunk of BJ trainees have held degrees from universities in or around the Midlands. In addition, having links to the region has proved beneficial for previous applicants. However, the firm assures us that this is no longer a priority for recruiters. The firm currently attends law fairs at Nottingham, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol, Exeter and Warwick universities.
Browne Jacobson LLP
Castle Meadow Road,
Victoria Square House,
15th Floor, 6 Bevis Marks,
14th Floor, No.1 Spinningfields,
1 Hardman Square,
1st Floor, The Mount,
72 Paris Street,
- Partners 139
- Associates 252
- Totaltrainees 36
- UK offices Nottingham, Birmingham, London, Manchester, Exeter
- Graduate recruiter: recruitment team, [email protected], 08081789064
- Training partner: Mark Hughes
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 1000
- Minimum required degree grade: No minimum
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: No minimum
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 1 April 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 1 February 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,000 (outside of London), £36,500 (London)
- Second-year salary: £27,000 (outside of London), £37,500 (London)
- Post-qualification salary: Market Rate
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Nottingham, Birmingham, London, Manchester, Exeter
We have delivered consecutive organic growth over the last 10 years which is a testament to a successful sector strategy, our commitment to invest in people and infrastructure and an ability to develop long term client relationships based on trust and a true partnership approach.
We’re proud of our people, their achievements and the exceptional levels of service they deliver for our clients and were rated by The Guardian UK 300 as one of the best graduate employers in the country. We share rewards, opportunities to develop and since no two people are the same, we offer packages tailored to individuals. If you thrive on the freedom to fulfil your potential then apply for our graduate opportunities.
Main areas of work
For more information about life as a trainee visit their blog at www.traineetalk.co.uk or follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brownejtrainees.
Trainees start with a comprehensive induction programme, a fast track professional skills course and then go on to undertake an extensive internal trainee development programme. They spend four periods of six months in some of the principle areas of the firm, gaining an overview of the practice. Seats are allocated to match the needs of the firm. Trainees get great training, a friendly and supportive working environment and real career opportunities. They are also given quality work and exposure to clients from early on, but are supported in achieving results and recognised for their contribution.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 2)
Nottingham and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 1)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)