Well over a year after the 2018 merger which created this Anglo-American, trainees still have big love for real estate royalty BCLP.
Tell me ties, tell me sweet little ties
Fleetwood Mac. One of the greatest combinations of UK and US talent. When the band reunited for its 2018 tour, the legal world was blessed with another union of UK and US talent – one that created Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, a tie-up between London City outfit Berwin Leighton Paisner and Americans Bryan Cave. As one of the world’s 50 largest law firms, it has a global headcount of 1,600 lawyers in more than 30 offices, three of which are in the UK. “We have grand plans,” believed trainees. “We're looking to break $1 billion in global revenue as soon as possible.”
As for the trainees, what have they seen of the merger? “We barely noticed,” one said. “It’s just a C between the B and the L” – BLP became BCLP. Berwin Leighton Paisner – think of it as the Mick Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie British half of the partnership – is responsible for bringing a big City presence and a “pre-eminent” real estate practice to the table. And if practices were albums, real estate is certainly BCLP's Rumours, with the firm gaining number-one Chambers UK rankings for big-ticket real estate, planning, construction, real estate litigation and real estate investment. Along with these accolades, the firm has a top UK ranking for its AIM work and is highly ranked for asset finance, financial services, hotels and leisure, insurance, outsourcing, retail and rail. Its corporate/M&A, employment and litigation practices are recognised too.
Making up the US half of the equation – Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham if you will – is legacy firm Bryan Cave. “It’s great to have that reach across America,” said trainees – 17 offices in fact. In addition “there’s a big focus on integration, so there are lots of visitors from the US.” Domestic integration has been noticeable too – Manchester trainees said they felt “a lot more involved” post-merger. Two or three trainees join the Manchester office each year; the rest of the 40-odd intake are in London.
Having 35 offices worldwide doesn’t come to nothing: at each seat rotation, trainees can apply for overseas seats and client secondments. Overseas destinations include Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Brussels and Abu Dhabi, while client secondments see trainees doing stints with the likes of Goldman Sachs and Heathrow Airport. Once secondments have been organised, trainees go through a structured seat allocation process with options categorised under four pillars: real estate, litigation, corporate and finance. Trainees must select a preference in each category and are “encouraged to get experience across all four areas, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.” The Manchester office has just formalised a seat system, much to trainees’ approval, and the seat options there are real estate and finance-focused. In London seats with smaller teams like restructuring and investment management are popular, but as these teams only take two or three trainees, interviewees warned those interested to “temper expectations.”
Never break the supply chain
The real estate department is so large (it has around 200 lawyers) that up to ten trainees sit here, taking work from four sub-teams in London. Manchester and Southampton also have real estate teams. “What impressed me was the clientele,” trainees said. “You’re talking about working for some of the biggest companies in the world!” Clients include the Canary Wharf Group, Qatari Diar, Tesco, The Carlyle Group and The Crown Estate. For example, the team acted for property holding company WR Berkley on commercial lettings in the Scalpel building. Many of the buildings on London’s iconic skyline have some connection to the firm too. The firm also recently advised the landowners at King’s Cross on a pre-let to Facebook, which will take 611,000 square feet of office space in the regenerated area.
“You’re talking about working for some of the biggest companies in the world!”
“Given the volume of transactions, you tend to be given more responsibility than in other departments,” trainees said of real estate. “In the first month I was on the phone to clients, as well as liaising with the other side, engineers and surveyors.” Drafting leases and licences to alter and licences to underlet is common: “You negotiate documents beginning to end, and draft either with templates, guidance or your own commercial knowledge.” There's an admin side to the work too, such as preparing schedules for deeds – “you’re talking 50 or 60 of them. That's a pain, but every trainee has to do it.” After working on a large development, one trainee was “invited to a site tour. Being able to get there and see the bricks and mortar” after working on the project was especially memorable.
Remember the national crisis when KFC ran out of chicken? BCLP’s commercial disputes team advised QSL, one of the fast food outlet's contractors, in the aftermath of the supply issues that lost the chain millions of pounds. The firm also handles a wide range of real estate litigation, including disputes related to joint ventures, developments, acquisitions, land use, zoning, planning, commercial leases and finance. Clients include investors, developers, banks, lenders, hotel owners, stadiums, REITs, landlords and commercial tenants – some recognisable names adorning the books are the Financial Times, Deliveroo and Tesco. The team recently represented one of New Look’s landlords, Zenprop, when it pursued a former guarantor for over £2 million after New Look closed 60 shops. It also secured an urgent injunction for the owners of The Cheesegrater to stop urban explorers gaining access to the building to make YouTube videos. Trainees also reported seeing “a lot of asset management disputes and minor disputes related to landlord and tenant problems.” A Manchester trainee recalled being “very independent in the latter half” of the seat. “I was drafting claim forms and witness statements,” they said, “as well as liaising with the court over deadlines, and with the other side over any issues of contention.”
“Deals related to stock exchanges all over the world!”
Trainees can also sit in M&A and corporate finance. On the M&A side, the team handles acquisition finance “for companies doing a takeover or companies being taken over.” Recently the firm advised luxury hotel company The Grange on the £1 billion sale of four London hotels to Queensgate Investments. “It’s not like I'm drafting the main contract for the acquisition,” reported a trainee, “but I'm drafting the board minutes and corporate authorisations.” Sources also reported “a lot of contact with board members from companies. On one big deal we were invited to their annual general meeting after the transaction was approved.” Finance work involves “helping a company raise funds through the stock exchange.” And not just in London – trainees worked on “deals related to stock exchanges all over the world!” For example, the firm recently advised investment company MBH on its admission to the main market of the Düsseldorf Stock Exchange.
Don’t stop thinking about pro bono
Trainees can do a mix of contentious and non-contentious work in private client for high net worth individuals. Interviewees said the seat was a good way of “experiencing things you otherwise wouldn’t – unless you’re a billionaire!” Partners often focus their practice on particular locations, like the Middle East or Russia. Succession planning is common for Middle Eastern clients – “handling family businesses devolving to next generations.” Trainees tackle the first drafts of wills, agreements, deeds and lasting powers of attorney. And then after feedback from partners, “you get a lot of red pen on your page,” so be prepared to be criticised. Client contact depends on the client – “sometimes confidentiality comes into play.” Moreover, the “ultra high net worth clients often don’t live in the UK,” so trainees’ contact with them is by phone and email. Thanks to the merger, the firm now “offers US tax advice too – previously we had to go to outside counsel.” That means “there’s a lot of tax research in the life of a private client trainee!” Beware that “the partners all know the law back to front, so doing a piece of research for them is a good exercise.”
Trainees were full of praise for the firm’s probono commitments. We spoke to rookies who’d worked on projects with the Financial Services Lawyers Association and Amicus, which represents people on death row in the US. Trainees also attend a legal aid clinic in Tower Hamlets, and are marked for these kinds of contributions alongside other criteria in appraisals, so “if you haven’t been engaging in initiatives like pro bono it shows!”
“If you haven’t been engaging in initiatives like pro bono it shows!”
Sources also said BCLP’s diversity efforts “don’t feel like a tick box effort.” Six different committees focus on promoting different facets of diversity. Manchester trainees told us: “There are a lot of different religions and cultures, so there’s a real focus on educating people.” During Ramadan many fasted alongside Muslim colleagues for a day, before breaking fast together at an evening meal. The fact that “the firm was at one point run by two female managing partners, and our London managing partner is black” didn’t go unnoticed either. Trainees said a discrepancy in ethnic diversity has been “acknowledged by the London managing partner, and he’s working hard with the firm to improve BAME representation.” The firm runs a Race For Change event to support black lawyers.
When we asked about overall firm culture, “positive” was the buzzword we heard from trainees, who are a tight bunch with an “active WhatsApp group.” One source said: “I’ve rarely come across any intense office politics.” Private client was said to be a bit more traditional, as was real estate, but “you can approach most partners and have banter with them.” And one trainee reported: “We do have a dress code, but I showed up to work today in trainers and that’s not an issue. You’re able to dress down if you’re working insane hours!”
You cannon go your own way
Speaking of hours... when the news of the merger reached legacy BLP trainees-to-be, they apparently started asking themselves: “What if I end up with incredibly long hours?” We don't think the hours have changed particularly since the merger – they've always been fairly long. In M&A and finance seats “you leave at 10pm every night if it’s consistently busy, and towards the end of a deal you'll have really late nights” – like 5am. In real estate trainees reported working until 8pm or 9pm a few days a week. Other seats were lighter on the hours front, with people “leaving after 6.30pm but before 7.30pm.”
While the firm pays good trainee and NQ salaries, it doesn't pay as much as some of its American or domestic City peers. This led some of our interviewees to feel disillusioned enough to label the firm “penny-pinching” over expenses: “It took over a month for me to get my most recent expenses back!” Others felt “it would be a bit rich to complain,” though we noticed that many of our more diplomatic interviewees hadn’t endured finishes in the small hours.
“You can approach most partners and have banter with them.”
The pay was one reason why some trainees we spoke to were considering leaving on qualification, reasoning: “I’d rather go to an American firm if I’m working these hours.” Retention has been a bit bumpy in recent years, with the firm frequently falling below the market average. When this guide went to print the firm had not announced its 2019 figures. Go online to see them when they're announced. The NQ process itself kicks off four months before qualification: “Graduate recruitment says that’s the time to reach out to teams.” Three months into their seat the formal NQ jobs list is released, and trainees make their applications – they can go for as many positions as they want. High turnover among the grad recruitment team left some feeling at sea: “It feels likestarting over every time you have to introduce yourself again.”
We're not trying to be ominous or anything but at the time of our calls, Manchester’s cohort were celebrating moving back into their office “with pizza and drinks,” after a large crack in the wall prompted an evacuation. Trainees here felt “it would be good to have face-to-face contact” with their London counterparts, but Mancunians are invited down to the capital for socials. Highlights include the Christmas party at the Tower of London and the annual Pride party, which is held on the riverside terrace – no wait, it’s better than it sounds – “it overlooks the river!” London’s Grade II listed premises at Adelaide Housesit right on the Thames, but the firm is soon moving upstream to a more modern space by Cannon Street station.
BCLP provides departmental training during each seat, but learning goes beyond law at the firm: lawyers were recently instructed on how to respond if someone suffers an epileptic fit.
How to get a BCLP training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: 19 January 2020 (summer) - for penultimate-year law students, non-law finalists and graduates
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 May 2020 - for penultimate-year law students, non-law finalists and graduates
Insight programme deadline (2020): 16 February 2020 - for first-year law (or second-year law for those on a four-year course) and second-year non-law (or third-year non-law for those on a four-year course)
Open days deadlines (December 2019 & February 2020): November & December 2019 - all university students
BCLP gets around 1,500 applications each year for its 32 training contract places. The firm also offers two or three places in Manchester and Hong Kong. These flood in via online forms that detail applicants' knowledge of the firm, reasons for considering a career in law, and work experience. The firm also recently added also added a situational judgement question onto the form to assess candidates' ability to problem solve. The application process is the same for those aiming for a vacation scheme spot and straight-to-training-contract hopefuls.
The graduate recruitment team screen every application and in 2019 the team removed the online verbal aptitude test. Up to 150 candidates are invited to attend an assessment day, with about one in five of these offered a place on a summer vacation scheme. Assessment centres include a written exercise, with a case-study element, a group negotiation and a 30-minute interview with a member of HR and a senior associate. The day includes a group lunch and trainee-led tour around the office.
The next step to getting a training contract for both vac schemers and direct entrants is an interview with two partners. If you are on a vacation scheme the interview will take place during the scheme. The interview usually includes questions to assess your career motivation, legal excellence, client-relationship, commercial and people skills. The interview is competency based and candidates can be expected to answer at least one scenario-based question.
Between 70 and 80% of BCLP's trainee intake comes in through its vacation schemes. BCLP takes around 30 vac schemers a year, spread across two placements, both held during the summer.
According to the firm, the two-week vac scheme provides those who are invited "the chance to gain some first-hand experience of life at BCLP and the work we do." Vac schemers are required to get "involved in everything from research and client meetings to court runs and presentations." Previous tasks have involved "advising a charity on how they could help prevent the use of the death penalty in Sri Lanka, and delivering a mock M&A pitch to a client." On top of work experience, the firm tells us that "you'll also get to attend a series of partner-led talks and workshops, have a sit-down lunch with partners and meet regularly with your supervisor."
BCLP recruits students and graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds. Targeting over 35 universities across the UK, the firm recruit a mix of Russell Group, Oxbridge and non-Russell group students from a range of degree disciplines. According to Chloe Muir, BCLP's senior graduate recruitment manager, “we value individuals that are proactive, motivated and creative thinkers. Adaptability is a core quality that we look for in our trainees coupled with an ability to maintain resilience.” Mature applicants and career changers are also valued at BCLP for their prior experience. “We have trainees from a range of backgrounds such as Finance, Teaching, Engineering and Construction; all of which are areas that resonate well with our clients and present transferable skills,” Muir adds.
Interview with London managing partner Segun Osuntokun
Chambers Student: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve over the next few years?
Segun Osuntokun: The firm is a new creature in some ways. We are the product of a combination between two longstanding law firms: UK-headquartered Berwin Leighton Paisner which was an international law firm, and US-headquartered Bryan Cave which was also an international law firm. We combined as of 1 January 2018 to become Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. What we would like to achieve over the next few years is to realise the ambitions which we set ourselves when we conceived of the combination, and the reasons why we combined in the first place, one of which was to create a global firm which is different in a number of respects.
First of all, it is a ‘one firm’ firm. We are not a series of separate profit centres as you have with many recent transatlantic mergers. With BCLP, we’ve created one profit pool and one firm. All partners – regardless of where they are – are contributing to one profit pool. We believe that will drive the right behaviour, which means partners will work collaboratively across jurisdictions because they will realise they are generating profit for the entirety of the firm, including themselves.
The other piece of our strategy and vision is to be connected to our clients and with communities, creating a circle of connection which is driven and facilitated by technology, by a firm focus on diversity and inclusion, and by putting clients at the heart of everything we do. Both legacy firms were known as relationship law firms, and we want to achieve that in the combined law firm on a much larger platform. Clearly profitable growth is key, so we’re looking at targeted investments in a number of sectors which we’ve identified as priorities. We’ve targeted growth in markets including London and we will ensure that where there are opportunities to open up other offices, we will look at it closely. We’re not going for expansion for expansion’s sake. At the moment we have 31 offices, so you could say we’ve got a fair few offices anyway, but if there are opportunities to expand, whether in the US or in continental Europe or elsewhere, we will look at those critically.
CS: Trainees told us the firm is looking to break $1 billion in global revenue as soon as possible. Is that true?
Segun: Yes and we’re pretty close to it – last year we were round about the $900 million mark and it is an ambition to grow revenue to over $1 billion. But revenue for revenue’s sake is not as good as profitable revenue, which is also growing. Revenue and profit need to go hand in hand.
CS: Trainees were impressed with the firm’s approach to promoting diversity and inclusion, and told us that you are working hard to improve racial diversity at the firm – what can you tell us about that?
Segun: I recognised some time ago that there still seems to be a reticence around talking about race in City law firms. I think there’s a reticence to talk about the lack of black lawyers at senior levels particularly. It tends to get wrapped up in the BAME spectrum. BAME obviously covers not just black but also Asian and other ethnic minority lawyers, but within that category there’s quite a disparity between black lawyers and Asian lawyers, for example. While there needs to be a focus on BAME, there needs to be even more focus on black lawyers.
In response to this reticence, in 2016, BCLP’s Social Inclusion and Ethnicity group, which I then co-chaired with another partner, Tim Smith, started an event called Race For Change, which is specifically targeted at black undergraduates who might be interested in the law. The aim is to inspire them, raise their aspirations and show them that there is room for them in City law – not only with BCLP, but across many other law firms who are also making efforts to broaden and improve diversity. While we lead on the event, we invite leading black lawyers from the Bar, from other solicitor firms, and from inhouse to not just take part in the event, but also to follow up with mentoring and training contract preparation. At BCLP we’ve seen a big improvement certainly in the number of applicants we’re getting from black applicants as a result of Race For Change. Quite a number of our first-round training contract interviewees also came to us through Race For Change, and of 28 summer vacation scheme candidates, five were discovered through the programme. It’s encouraged those who have attended the events over the last three years to understand that it is well within their grasp.
CS: How has Brexit and the uncertainty around it affected the type of work the firm is doing?What kind of concerns do clients have?
Segun: It has affected us in terms of general feeling and morale. I personally feel it’s put a real dampener on people who work in the City in finance, law, IT, and accountancy. That sense – not to sound too dramatic – of impending danger and doom hanging over so many people for so long starts to take its toll on general morale and anxiety levels. I see that, and of course it dominates conversations day in day out, and it does have impact on people’s wellbeing. That’s not a professional diagnosis; it’s just my sense of the impact which prolonged uncertainty can have.
In terms of transactions, we know there are certain clients sitting on the side lines waiting for the dust to settle, who were thinking they would get an outcome by March and that hasn’t happened. They are also kicking the can down the road in terms of making investment decisions that affect the UK, so it does have an impact on real life deals. That said, there are other sectors which are not affected by Brexit. In the corporate team and in the commercial real estate team we’ve got a good portfolio of clients who have different needs that aren’t necessarily tied to Brexit, so it’s a mixed picture. I think the broader sentiment is probably more my concern for the people in the London office, and their psychological wellbeing around what the economic impact might be on the City as a result of a ‘wrong’ Brexit.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Segun: The other issue which leads on from what we just talked about is mental health and wellbeing generally, which of course includes the states of people’s minds, and the anxieties and stresses of the work we do. Without seeking to pathologize every worry or the normal ups and downs of the human condition, I think because of the way lawyers are trained and the nature of the work we do, we either put ourselves under or are put under enormous psychological and emotional strain. I think it’s important that leaders in law firms acknowledge that and take steps actively to ensure that the signs and symptoms of mental distress beyond the everyday – as I say the ups and downs of the human condition – are spotted and that individuals are cared for, and if possible can work in such a way that those pressures and stresses are not put on people. We recently marked Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re quite open about encouraging discussions and challenging leaders to take a stand and create a stigma-free environment.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP
- Partners 150(547 globally)
- Associates 348
- Total trainees 74
- UKoffices London, Manchester
- Overseas offices 28
- Contact Graduate recruitment: [email protected], 020 3400 1000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 35
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 9th September 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: May 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 9th September 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: Summer – 31st January 2020
- Open day deadline: November & December 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 (London) *
- Second-year salary: £45,000 (London) *
- Post-qualification salary: £70,000 (London) *
- * Regional and international salaries vary.
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,200
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Manchester, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Brussles, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore
- Client secondments: Yes (AIG, Goldman Sachs, MUFG Bank, Heathrow, Reprieve)
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law career fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers; Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 4)
- Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 1)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas Recognised Practitioner
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 5)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 4)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 5)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)