A hard-earned private client reputation married to a full-service corporate/commercial offering… a mix to leave you Speechlys.
Since the firm was formed via a 2014 merger, trainees have been drawn to CRS’ London, Guildford and Cheltenham offices by the “good breadth of seats” on offer, as well as the promise of a “better culture that comes with working at a slightly smaller firm than the giants.” Upon arrival, trainees noted “how personable Charles Russell Speechlys is; the people are genuine and honest.” In 2019 the people got a new leader in the form of freshly installed managing partner Simon Ridpath, successor to pre-merger skipper James Carter.
“I liked the fact that as well as having a good reputation in the private client sphere, they also have a full-service offering,” one trainee offered up as their reason for choosing Charles Russell Speechlys to train at. Alongside stellar rankings in Chambers High Net Worth for an array of private client areas (including private wealth law, private wealth disputes and high-value residential real estate), the firm also scores spots in commercial rankings in London and UK-wide: corporate M&A, real estate, charities, sports, telecommunications and retail. Guildford’s team particularly excels in construction, family and real estate litigation; Cheltenham’s expertise includes agriculture and rural affairs, employment, banking and finance.
“…better culture that comes with working at a slightly smaller firm.”
Though CRS is slightly ‘smaller’ than some competitors, that doesn’t by any means make it ‘small’ in the big picture: three UK bases are complemented by international hubs in Paris, Hong Kong, Manama, Luxembourg, Dubai, Doha, Zürich and Geneva. London trainees have the option of international secondments: “One of the seats is private client in Geneva, and occasionally people have gone to Zürich – someone once did three months in each.” Client secondments were more common: trainees had spent six months with various clients including “big-name banking and media organisations.” International seats in particular are in high demand, so be prepared to fight your corner if you want to score a golden ticket overseas.
Each office has a structured process for seat allocation: around two months before each rotation, the firm releases a list of available seats. Trainees fill out a form stating three preferences, “as well as reasons for wanting to go there,” then HR will try and sort trainees into their preferred departments.The process used to be more informal in the smaller offices – “in Cheltenham there have only been two trainees in each intake, so it was easier to work out among ourselves” – but these offices have now adopted the same process as elsewhere.
Real estate has a “reputation for being one of the busier seats.” Interviewees didn’t see this is a bad thing – with lots of work to do comes “lots of responsibility from the word go.” CRS advises commercial and residential clients, and trainees worked for a spectrum from individuals to large corporations. Eton College, the City of London Corporation and Caring Homes are on the books; the firm recently acted for the acquisition-hungry Stonegate Pub Company on its £3 billion purchase of the Ei Group and 4,500 pub sites. On the residential side, CRS advised Bellway Homes on a £109 million tenant-backed estate regeneration in south London. Trainees spent their time on a mix of “lease renewals, transfers of property, and sale and purchase agreements.” Several we spoke to appreciated the “freedom and trust to communicate with clients,” finding this commonplace in a real estate seat. Deals gave trainees the chance to get “involved with Land Registry applications,” then move on to “drafting leases, transfers and contracts” alongside “juicy research tasks.” One source also recalled being given “some smaller files to run, such as licences to alter.”
The real estate disputes seat ties in well with real estate, dealing with any contentious elements that may arise from properties (they often do). These could be disputes between landlords and tenants, clashes over property boundaries or more complex issues like “party wall disputes, compulsory purchases, enfranchisement disputes or even some property finance and insolvency cases.” Cheltenham folks noticed an uptick in work from landed estates. Day to day, trainees got stuck into “drafting letters before action, letters of claims and letters of response” as well as “drafting instructions to counsel, attending conferences with counsel and the usual bundling and admin tasks.” Some sources had even got the chance to “do a bit of advocacy, acting on some eviction matters regarding squatters.” Wagamama and the National Crime Agency are CRS clients and the firm recently acted for the liquidator of nightclub operators Strobe 2 on a £14 million claim against the former directors.
“Helping clients comply with child arrangement orders while in lockdown.”
Charles Russell Speechlys has historically been best known for its work advising private clients. A seat in tax, trusts and succession gives trainees a good view of this: high net worth clients rely on the firm’s advice for wills, trusts and general administration of their affairs. For our sources this meant physically “drafting wills, letters of wishes, and lasting powers of attorney” as well as “trust deeds, appointments of trustees, retirements of trustees, and appointments of capital.” The seat also includes tax planning, so trainees also do a fair bit of research and “prepare tax advice – obviously under heavy supervision!” As well as wealthy individuals and families, clients here include executors of estates and so sensitivity is needed in this seat. Interviewees had also attended “stacks of client meetings” and appreciated the chances for “really good client exposure” available in this department. “We also have to deal with HMRC here, which is painful but has to be done,” one chuckled.
Private clients are also the focus of the family practice, but here they’re dealing with “mainly divorces, some children’s matters (usually custody clashes along with divorces) and family finance issues.” High net worth individuals both domestic and international call on CRS for advice: daughters of Ukrainian businessmen, Russian oligarchs and members of one of the Middle East’s richest families are some exciting examples. During our research period, the coronavirus outbreak was creating unique problems for the team and trainees to solve, including “helping clients comply with child arrangement orders while in lockdown” and conducting divorce and custody hearings remotely. “It’s been interesting to see as the courts are catching up as well – we’ve had to sort getting everything online and work out how to best service our clients from home,” a source told us. In more normal circumstances, trainees are likely to get stuck into a hefty amount of research as well as drafting “financial disclosure, briefs to counsel and applications to court.”
“I did quite a lot of high-value cross-jurisdictional M&A – one of our partners does a lot of African M&A work.”
A construction seat offers experience in litigious and non-contentious matters and our sources got stuck into both. If it’s disputes that you’re looking for, the CRS team handles “a real variety, with any number of parties involved in a project.” Adjudications are all the rage in this sector, so trainees were able to see everything from first responses to the eventual decision – “adjudications are great because they’re designed to be rapid and you actually get to see a conclusion.” As for the non-contentious side, trainees were charged with “drafting appointments for professionals like architects, designers, or engineers needed for large-scale projects” as well as dealing with collateral warrantiesand amending standard form contracts. Sources enjoyed the exposure to a variety of “different kinds of contracts with very different clients,” whether they be housing developers, contractors or the private clients which can be found once more here. The team recently advised Harrods on the construction aspects of the office extension to its Hammersmith HQ; and acted for Greenwich Millennium Village on a £1.5 billion regeneration scheme aiming to construct 3,200 homes.
There’s also a “a full-on corporate seat” available – full-on in what way? “The whole department does everything,” sources explained. “I worked on all forms of corporate transactions.” At CRS that means private equity, mid-market M&A and capital markets – our sources had seen them all, often in an international context. One explained: “I did quite a lot of high-value cross-jurisdictional M&A – one of our partners does a lot of African M&A work.” As for the UK, the team advised the Eddie Davies Trust on the out-of-administration sale of Bolton Wanderers FC to new owner Sharon Brittan’s Football Ventures; as well as the accounting network Grant Thornton UK on the sale of their wealth advisory business to 1825 (a Standard Life financial planning and advice arm). Given the broad scope of the group, trainee roles were varied: “On bigger transactions, you’ll be doing classic introductory tasks like drafting ancillary documents or leading the due diligence process,” they explained. “But there’s also a strong work stream from the private client sector where budgets are slightly smaller than those of large companies. On those smaller deals you get additional responsibility like drafting more senior documents.”
Though working hours varied by seat, trainees were “pretty happy” for the most part. Corporate, real estate and transactional departments in general were the most demanding, with trainees usually clocking off around 7pm – later finishes could run later than 9pm, but that was a rarity for many and our sources found their hours “relatively reasonable.” In other seats, many were able to leave by 6 or 6.30pm. “They want you to work hard and do your best, but they don’t want you to work yourself to death,” a grateful CRS insider noted.
“Even partners take pro bono seriously; if you say you’re at capacity because of pro bono, that’s generally fine.”
Across the firm our interviewees agreed that “there’s a really good rapport between colleagues. There isn’t an obvious hierarchy and senior associates and partners are really accessible; there’s never any apprehension about going over and talking to them.” Although this open atmosphere was common across each office, Guildford and Cheltenham come with added advantages. “Because they’re smaller, you quickly get to know everyone,” we heard. “You don’t feel like just a name.” Some felt the CRS culture was changing slightly over time – “becoming one of a bigger firm with more of a growth-oriented atmosphere” – but caveated that by saying “the firm hasn’t lost its focus on its people.” One source summarised that “fee earners are conscious that we are a family away from home” – and as with many families, social activities are key to keeping people happy. Trainees highlighted “excellent firmwide summer and Christmas parties” for everyone to come together, as well as office-specific shindigs. CRS also host regular events for charity, including an “auction of promises.”
The firm’s charitable nature extends to its work too, through a healthy pro bono practice: “CRS takes pro bono really seriously. We have a dedicated pro bono legal director [Kerry Stares] and there’s a real range of matters to get involved in.” London folks spent time helping at the Bethnal Green Legal Advice Centre, while others did “property work for various charities” and family cases for clients with less wealth than the CRS norm. “Even partners take pro bono seriously; if you say you’re at capacity because of pro bono, that’s generally fine,” they concluded. Diversity is also promoted through various initiatives: acknowledging that the firm’s stats “could be better,” trainees suggested there’s been a “real push to raise awareness.” Much of that has come from the diversity and inclusion committee, “which is doing more and more work and making a tangible difference.” Recent events include an International Women’s Day celebration where “everyone in the firm was invited to make a pledge to do something that would promote equality,” as well as a “Black History Month panel event where prominent women of colour and some of our own lawyers spoke.”
Second-year trainees were about to begin the qualification process at the time of our research (though the coronavirus outbreak had caused some dismay). “The jobs list is usually released towards the end of April,” we heard. “Trainees then put in an application to the departments they’re interested in, with a CV and cover letter.” Departments hold interviews before making decisions. Charles Russell Speechlys customarily fares well on retention, and in 2020 kept 19 of 26 qualifiers, with two on fixed-term contracts.
CSR at CRS
The firm has recently joined The Valuable 500, a network of international businesses adding disability inclusion to their leadership agendas.
How to get a Charles Russell Speechlys' training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 January 2021 (opens October)
Each year, 25 trainees are recruited across the offices in London, Guildford and Cheltenham. In London and Guildford, around half of future trainees are picked up from the summer scheme and half from the direct training contract route.
The application process
All candidates – whether they're applying for the summer scheme or directly for a training contract – complete the same application form. When reviewing the forms, recruiters are looking for “well-rounded people with a real passion for the law, plenty of team spirit and a drive to make their own mark,” says graduate recruitment manager Hayley Halvatzis. How much work experience is necessary? “Applicants don't have to have loads, but it helps to have some legal work experience. Work experience outside of law is also good if they can demonstrate skills they've learned and show how they're useful for legal practice – customer-service skills, for instance, help with developing client relationships.”
Following the application form, around 80 candidates are shortlisted to complete a situational judgement test and video interview. For those that have applied for a place on the summer scheme, successful candidates will then be offered a place on the scheme. During the scheme candidates are required to take part in the assessment centre that ascertains their suitability for a training contract.
For those that have applied directly for a training contract, an invitation to attend an assessment centre is offered upon successful completion of the video interview. All candidates – whether they have come through the summer scheme or applied directly – will experience the same assessment centre, which is made up of a mix of group and individual tasks.
The vacation scheme
Vac schemes take place in all UK offices – London, Cheltenham and Guildford across June and July. Those who make it through to the scheme spend each week in a different practice area. Students can list preferences on a form and HR will “do their best” to accommodate their choices. According to Hayley, the scheme is like “a very mini-training contract. We try and give candidates as much exposure as possible: they'll attend client meetings and do real fee earning work, like research on a case or checking through a document.” Candidates have a supervisor, though “they might not be the only person giving them work. They also have a trainee mentor for the whole period.” There's also a social event every week, with the firm’s summer party taking place during the first week. “We are lucky that the summer party coincides with the summer scheme as it means students can get a real feel for the firm and mix with different people.” During the second week “we do a more low-key event for scheme participants and trainees, like going to Bounce for table tennis.” Finally, there are leaving drinks with partners.
At the end of the scheme all candidates receive detailed feedback on how they have performed both during scheme and on the assessment centre. “It’s a two-way process,” says Hayley; “we also like to receive feedback from the students so we can continually work to improve the summer scheme.”
Charles Russell Speechlys
5 Fleet Place,
- Partners 168
- Associates 300
- Total trainees 43
- UK offices London, Guildford, Cheltenham
- Overseas offices Doha, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Manama, Paris, Zurich
- Graduate recruiter: Emma Hawken, [email protected]
- Training partner: Hamish Perry
- Application criteria
- Training contract pa: 25
- Applications pa: 1000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 56
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract and vacation scheme applications: October each year
- Training contract and Vacation scheme deadline: 31st January 2021
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Guildford, Cheltenham
Charles Russell Speechlys is a law firm headquartered in London with offices in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong. We have an unusually broad range of skills and experience across the full spectrum of business and personal needs. This gives us a wider perspective, clear insight and a strongly commercial long-term view. We use this approach to secure the growth of our clients as they move confidently into the future. It has made us a leader in the world of dynamic growth and family businesses, and among the world’s leading creators and owners of private wealth and their families. Major corporates and institutions find our more considered and personal approach a refreshing alternative to conventional business law firms.
Main areas of work
Banking and finance, commercial, commercial dispute resolution, construction, engineering and projects, corporate, corporate tax, corporate restructuring and insolvency, employment, pensions and immigration, family, financial services, IP litigation, private property, private wealth disputes, real estate disputes, real estate and tax, trusts and succession. These practice areas are focused on the following sector areas: charities and not for profit, construction and infrastructure, energy and natural resources, financial services, healthcare, private wealth, real estate, retail and leisure, sport and technology, media and telecommunications.
At Charles Russell Speechlys we provide a practical learning environment for trainees where emphasis is given to early responsibility and supervised client contact. The two-year training contract is divided into four seats, giving trainees the opportunity to experience a range of different practice areas before qualification, including a contentious seat. Throughout the training contract there are regular meetings and reviews between the trainees and their supervisors to ensure they are continuing to receive a broad range of quality work. This, together with our in-house training programme, the Charles Russell Speechlys Skills Academy, ensures that our trainees develop the required skills and knowledge to become successful lawyers.
Our vacation scheme takes place in our London, Cheltenham and Guildford offices and offers a detailed introduction to the legal world. Each week is spent in a different practice area where you will carry out real fee earning work that could include attending client meetings and going to court. You will have support from trainees and solicitors in each of the teams and have the opportunity to meet a number of different people, either at organised social events or as part of your day to day interactions.
Benefits include private medical care, PHI and life assurance, pension, season ticket loan, cycle to work, 25 days’ holiday, dress down Fridays and a subsidised restaurant in the London offices
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Cheltenham and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
Guildford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Planning (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 4)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Immigration: Business (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 4)
- Professional Discipline (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 2)
- Telecommunications (Band 3)