Founded in 1832, this Notts big shot predates the rule of Queen Victoria, but its flexible working policies and passion for the NHS are far from Dickensian.
A home from home
'Straightforward, progressive, friendly, flexible, Nottingham.' These words are printed in a large noughties handwriting font on the walls of the ground floor café in Browne Jacobson's HQ. Our research shows all but one of them are pretty accurate – ‘straightforward’ is not the word we’d choose to describe this firm's departmental structure. “Don’t worry, even we get confused about the structure sometimes!” trainees admitted. More on that later.
Despite calling off a merger with small London firm Beale & Co in 2017, Browne Jacobson is seeing “exciting growth.” Revenue for 2017/18 was up 9%. The London office that opened in 2015 is a big part of this growth. “The London office is a hotbed for future growth,” training principal Mark Hughes tells us. “We’re trying to recruit people into it and increase its scope.” Another rising star is the Manchester office. “Manchester is our primary focus at the moment," says Hughes. "We’re busy putting teams in there to make it a full-service offering.” The office currently has four trainees with headcount “steadily growing.”
As well as the duo in Manchester, at the time of our research the firm had 16 trainees in Nottingham and seven each in Birmingham and London. Each trainee has a 'home office', but there’s “definitely a growing expectation that you'll do a seat in another office.” So be prepared to move house during your traineeship, or for a long commute. Though not everyone was a fan of doing a stint in another office, trainees agreed there was one key advantage: “If you only stay in one office, you don’t get a feel for the firm as a whole.”
“Government-focused teams are trendy too.”
Browne Jacobson wins Chambers UK rankings in the Midlands for real estate, litigation, mid-market corporate M&A, employment, professional negligence and other commercial areas. The firm also achieves UK-wide rankings in areas including personal injury, healthcare, education, local government and public procurement. As these last few rankings suggest, the (semi-)public sector is something of a focus, though there are many commercial clients too.
As we mentioned, BJ has a bit of a complicated departmental structure. Seats dangle under five umbrella areas: business services (BS); business and professional risk (BPR); insurance and public risk (IPR); health advisory and litigation (HAL); and property. Each trainee's first seat is allocated by HR, after “looking at your CV and what your LPC electives were.” Following that, everybody puts forward three preferences before each rotation, with second-years getting first dibs. First-years are then given the remainders – “a handful of what was there originally.” But not to worry, we heard that “last allocation round no one came out too dissatisfied.” Corporate and commercial are competitive seats to get and recently “government-focused teams are trendy too.”
The business services umbrella encompasses banking, commercial, corporate, tax, private client and charities, education, and government and infrastructure seats. The education group has built a national reputation for its expertise in academy conversions. The work consists of “mainly contracts between schools and local authorities” and the repetitive nature of the work makes it “a good first seat.” Those looking for a little more spice get involved with Quickcall, a service which lets academies call up for 30 minutes of advice on “anything – it gets you in at the deep end!” As a result trainees get to dip their toes into “everything from aviation law and personal injury to employment and commercial disputes.” Tougher issues are handed over to specialists, though “the whole process involves a lot of research.” Interviewees enjoyed the autonomy, while noting its limits: "You take the initial call from the school, but someone does have to look over what you've done and say, 'That's fine'."
The commercial team works for clients such as the National Trust, Triumph Motorcycles and tanning brand St Tropez on commercial legal requirements including distribution, contract termination and licensing agreements. Trainees said the work “flits between general commercial, IP and outsourcing,” though Nottingham does more general commercial work. Contentious IP is handled mainly out of the Birmingham and London offices, while Nottingham and the other offices tackle transactional IP (buying and selling IP rights). Trainees spend their time “reviewing non-disclosure agreements, and working on IP restructurings and IP audits.” The area sees the odd piece of international work: the firm recently advised water treatment tech gurus Hydropath on the fallout from various IP infringements in countries including Russia and Switzerland.
A stint in government and infrastructure will see trainees tackling “work for local authorities and central government agencies, as well as crossovers into government regulatory and public sector commercial work.” Clients include local authorities across the country: Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Guildford, Watford, Lincoln and Harlow councils have all sought the firm's advice recently. The team recently advised the London Borough of Enfield on the selection process for a joint venture to develop a local industrial estate. Rookies get to draft procurement documents like terms and conditions as well as writing research articles for business development purposes.
“Learn how to manage personal relationships and be empathetic.”
Commercial disputes, construction, employment, and financial and professional risk (FPR) seats all fall under the BPR umbrella. Team employment acts for private and public sector clients, often from the healthcare sector: numerous local councils and NHS trusts are on the books. BJ recently represented several part-time judges in a Supreme Court appeal over pension benefits. Meanwhile in construction, the team has been helping Battersea Power Station conduct work on its four towers, and recently advised Nottingham compost contractors WE Hewitt & Son on designing and building the pitch for the new Tottenham stadium in North London.
The financial and professional risk team’s work is “almost exclusively” defence with “a little bit of claimant work floating around.” We heard of trainees defending negligent architects, builders, accountants and lawyers. With a touch of schadenfreude one trainee said they most enjoyed solicitor negligence –“it’s fun to look at how not to be a solicitor!” This type of stuff can be quite emotionally charged, so trainees found the seat gave them the chance to “learn how to manage personal relationships and be empathetic.” Trainees take charge of some small negligence cases, which means they get to “do everything from the initial call with the client, to day-to-day drafting like applications to strike out and instructions. So you’re thinking about strategy from the outset.”
Technical claims (personal injury), government regulatory and advocacy and social care are all on offer in the IPR division. The social care team acts for local authorities, charities, care providers and insurers on procurement, commissioning and contractual issues. At the moment "a lot of the work relates to historical abuse cases from the 70s and 80s." Many trainee tasks come at the pre-action stage. “There’s a lot of reporting to the insurer and liaising with public sector employees at the local authority,” an interviewee reported. Interviewees had also written instructions to experts, which involves reading through records that require “quite a thick skin – you can read pretty horrific stuff.” We also heard that “because the records are handwritten and badly organised things can take a long time!”
The personal injury group (misleadingly known as tech claims though it has nothing to do with technology) defends bodies such as local authorities, the Environment Agency and the Department for Education in liability claims. “It’s mainly road traffic accidents and slips and trips” that trainees get their hands on, but “there’s also the odd fire and a few recovery actions.” Trainees here “dip in at different stages” on cases and draft defences, offers, lists of disclosure and other “meaty” documents.
The HAL department is one of BJ's largest and has many local authorities and NHS bodies on its client roster – the firm was reappointed to the NHS Resolution panel in 2018. You can do two seats here: inquest and advisory, and clinical negligence. In clin neg “it’s all defendant side – you’ve basically got one client which is the NHS.” Cases might relate to misdiagnoses, exacerbations caused by hospital delays, and traumatisation. Trainees noted that “the NHS is not afraid of putting its hands up and saying ‘we were wrong’ and trying to find a way to make things better for the claimant.” Daily work involves writing “figures reports to show we’re reaching targets,” drafting instructions and letters, and holding round-table meetings. This isn’t anything to do with King Arthur – “when we want to settle," one trainee explained, "we get our party in one room and the claimant in another room. We then run back and forth negotiating.” The inquests team advises NHS trusts on “serious medical issues such as the withdrawal of life support, the deprivation of liberties and figuring out who’s responsible for funding.” We heard that “trainees have their own cases, do a lot of research, draft advices, and watch interviews identifying where issues may arise.”
Property seats include development and housing, retail and property litigation. In the Midlands, the team works for a lot of big high-street retailers including Paperchase, Thorntons and Nottingham-born Boots as well as doing a lot of education-related property work. The Manchester team is “quite different.” Trainees told us the group has its “fingers in all the pies: a bit of education, a bit of development and housing, and a bit of work related to pensions.” Trainees here do a lot of lease work and “a lot of post-completion work: registering with the Land Registry, dealing with stamp duty, and sending paperwork to clients and HMRC.”
A typical day in the office runs from 9am to 6pm for most trainees, though those in clinical negligence can expect to leave “bang on 5pm.” When we asked trainees about their worst days, a couple said they'd had the odd 7.30pm finish. “But I’d been on my own a good hour by that time!” one piped up. It all sounds relatively tame. One source who'd been doing work for the NHS explained that this is partly because “in the back of my mind, every decision I make has to come from public spend. So when I’m recording time, I want to make it as cost-effective as possible. People are extremely efficiency-oriented.”
“The best ever coffee for 50p!”
Part of increasing efficiency is the ‘mogility’ initiative. This is a portmanteau of 'mobility' and 'agility' and BJ speak for “flexibility in terms of managing work/life balance.” The initiative includes remote working, hotdesking, privacy pods, and standing desks “to make sure people are moving around during the day in the office.” Every office has an open-plan layout, and trainees felt a “lack of hierarchy” not only in their own office but firm-wide. One said: “You feel at home going to any of the offices. Everyone will be your friend if you just chat to them.”
Nottingham trainees praised the HQ’s subsidised café that has “the best ever coffee for 50p!” London’s “lovely, fantastic,” office sits just opposite the Gherkin, but the shiniest office award goes to Manchester. The team moved to Spinningfields in 2017 into “the nicest, most modern office with floor to ceiling windows!” Birmingham trainees reside in an older building, though they love the location: “We’re very central, just three minutes from New Street station. It’s good for meeting people for dinner after work.” Speaking of dinner, we heard that the trainee cohort in general is “pretty social.” Dinners, drinks, ping pong and pool are all staples – “there’s no obligation, but people certainly aren’t running home at 5pm every Friday.”
Trainees can keep an eye on their standing within the firm via an online mentoring system that tracks their progress, as well as reviews every three months and outsourced training from an external provider. “It’s really helpful for how you do your work," was the verdict. However, some trainees wished there was a more developed mentoring scheme. “It’d be good to have an associate mentor who’s completely neutral so you have a safe space to talk through your decisions,” one source reflected.
When qualification rolls around, a list of NQ jobs is sent out by HR and trainees talk to partners to voice their interests, though “that conversation may have come earlier.” Retention is usually around the average for commercial firms and in 2018 12 of 13 qualifiers were kept on.
How to get a Browne Jacobsen training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 1 February 2019 (opens October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 1 April 2019 (opens October 2018)
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.
Interview with training principal Mark Hughes
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the past year you think are important to mention?
Mark Hughes: The Manchester and London offices are our primary focus for new growth at the moment. We’re busy in the process of putting teams in to Manchester to make it a full service offering.
The London office is a hotbed for future growth as well. We’re trying to recruit people into it and increase the scope of it. Our health practice remains very strong. We were appointed to the NHS Resolution panel again this year – we also do a lot of work in the commercial health space, so that was important for us. In education we remain market-leading, doing academy conversions and wider advisory work.
CS: Where will the firm be in two or three years, when our readers are ready to join?
MH:It’ll be a geographically similar firm but they can expect to join a bigger firm in terms of people and in terms of turnover.
There’s an increasing focus on developing our international offering and so a lot of the work we do is having an increased international element. We’re currently a member of Pangea Net – our independent network of law firms. [Partner and head of the commercial and technology group] Declan Cushley is the chairperson of that network.
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about it?
MH:We have a supportive culture and trainees are encouraged to take responsibility from an early period in their training contract. The number of trainees is increasing year on year, but they’re still a relatively scarce resource – so they get a lot of work and responsibility given to them! The quality of training remains first rate and the quality of the work we do means trainees get the benefit of that increased experience.
CS: What are you looking for in potential trainees?
MH: The market is buoyant, but it’s still really difficult for individuals to secure a training contract. So a potential trainee needs to find something that makes them stand out from the crowd. For example, obtaining wider life skills such as being good with clients. The work that we do is in the service industry, and people who can give advice in ways clients appreciate and value are what we are looking for.
When we employ people, we don’t expect them to be robots and we don’t expect them all to be the same. We don’t recruit in a particular mould, we want the right balance of types of people. We also have in mind that fundamentally they’re not applying for a training contract, they’re applying to be solicitors. We look for people we think will be the start of the future we can invest in.
Living and working in Nottingham
Browne Jacobson LLP
Castle Meadow Road,
Victoria Square House,
15th Floor, 6 Bevis Marks,
14th Floor, No.1 Spinningfields,
1 Hardman Square,
1 Manor Court,
- Partners 142
- Associates 105
- 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: 15
- Applications pa: 900
- Minimum required degree grade: No minimum
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: No minimum
- Vacation scheme places pa: 15
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 1 April 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 1 February 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: No less than £25,500 (Midlands)
- Second-year salary: No less than £26,500 (Midlands)
- 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 continue to build on our commitment to client service after being awarded a gold star rating by Investor in Customers. We hold the Law Society’s Lexcel Practice Management Standard and were reaccredited with the ISO270001:2013 accreditation.
We have delivered consecutive organic growth over the last eight 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
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. 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 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- 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 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- 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 3)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 5)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)