Charles Russell Speechlys' private wealth expertise is beyond argument, so it's shifting the conversation to international growth.
It's about time we stopped talking about the 2014 merger that created Charles Russell Speechlys. The two legacy firms that came together are increasingly amorphous; this is now a firm pursuing international growth, confident in its singularity. Talk at the tea-station has turned to 2017 office openings in Hong Kong and Dubai – a signal of the progress it has already made. And, for those who simply can't get enough merger chat, there's a new hot topic – the firm recently acquired the small sports law specialist Couchmans.
But what is driving this expansion? Partly it's down to the international private wealth expertise the firm is best known for. In the UK, Chambers High Net Worth gives full marks to the firm's private wealth practitioners in London, Guildford and Cheltenham, and there are family, real estate and rural service practices to further meet the needs of its glamorous international clientèle. The potential profit of exporting that offering to new locations lies behind the decision to launch in the Asian market.
“The story here is not just about private wealth."
However, as managing partner James Carter reminds us, “the story here is not just about private wealth. We still have £100 million turnover per year that's not directly linked to it, so there's big business outside that sphere. It's important we have other areas of the business that we are trying to grow.” As it is, between the firm's three UK offices there are already a long list of Chambers UK honours, with top-tier rankings bestowedfor its corporate, sports, bankruptcy, real estate litigation and construction work. That's more than enough to provide balance to the firm's private wealth strength.
Most trainees call the London HQ home, with 31 trainees residing there at the time of our calls; nine were based in Guildford and five in Cheltenham. Trainees tend to do a seat in each of the firm’s four core sections: business services; real estate and construction; litigation and dispute resolution; and private client. Seats are assigned by asking trainees to submit three preferences two months prior to rotation, and for popular seats like family, “it can get quite competitive.” To help the firm in assigning those seats, trainees must also write a few lines outlining their interests. Newbies we spoke to assured us that “HR are quite careful to make sure that everyone is getting the right balance of work.” International and client secondments are also available – an offering described as “interesting, and in huge demand.”
Fly on the wall
The firm's private client arm is a popular destination among budding trainees, with seats in family, private property, and tax, trusts and succession all up for grabs. Those who'd experienced private property described how it “it's very fast-paced, and we have a large client base in Asia – China, Hong Kong etc.” You can add Russia and the Middle East to that list, as the team aids foreign investors to pick up prize property in the UK, including a number of apartments at the Riverwalk development in Westminster. One characteristic matter was the purchase of a luxury London apartment by a Turkish billionaire for just shy of £11 million. “There's a lot of standalone conveyancing and high-value transactions, as well as a lot of new build development work,” said trainees, who found themselves “involved from start to finish” on those transactions. That meant drafting the report on title, and, less challengingly, filling out land registry forms.
In the trust and estates disputes seat, trainees get involved advising on probate claims, Inheritance Act claims, tax planning and inter-family disputes for a wide variety of clients, including charities, trust companies, property owners and very wealthy private individuals. It's a small team, which provides a lot of responsibility. “By the end of the seat they had me doing inter-partes correspondence and drafting witness statements.” When cases hit trial, trainees go along. “The hearings can get a bit nasty,” recalled one. “It can be really awkward because it feels like you are witnessing a very private situation — but that's the nature of it.”
“It feels like you are witnessing a very private situation.”
It can get equally heated in CRS’s family department, which regularly handles divorces, prenups, postnups and children matters, often with an international element. One insider told us that the family partners “take a more hands-on approach in terms of supervision as they tend to be a lot more protective of their clients.” Another recounted how “it was a shock when I first joined the team, as everyone has really different quirks, and you need to learn how they like their work done.” A high level of client contact was on offer, and responsibilities ranged from attending client meetings and taking notes to drafting prenups, as well as “sending long, aggressive letters to the other side about negotiating maintenance payments,” which insiders were keen to point out “felt kind of good!”
“Corporate was intense,” reported one newbie, “although I was quite impressed with the amount of responsibility I had.” The team has three core strengths: mid-market M&A, capital markets and private equity. “I was kind of worried I'd have to come in and do photocopying for three months straight,” one trainee confessed, “but the client contact has been amazing, I couldn't fault it.” Another added: “I've been drafting documents, working with the FCA and running smaller transactions, all with minimal supervision.” Although the firm does its best work in the lower mid-market, it still scores some recognisable clients, like Graze, The Groucho Club and residential property giant Bellway. CRS's private wealth strength also means a section of the work arrives by way of entrepreneurs and family-run businesses. It recently advised social care business CareTech on its £17 million acquisition of Selborne Care, and, in an example of the individual-driven work, the firm advised the founder of the The Levin Hotel and Capital Group, David Levin, on its £65 million sale to Warwick Hotels.
“You know you will be dealing with clients from day one.”
Real estate is split into three core areas: general real estate (the largest); construction, engineering & projects; and property litigation. Within these areas you'll find further specialisms including regeneration, investment and development. Newbies can take on a mix of whatever takes their fancy. Trainees' experience was defined by “lots of smaller matters,” some of which they could run. “I did ten or fifteen matters, working with clients directly on leases or licences to assign. You are put in at the deep end and you know you will be dealing with clients from day one. You have to manage lots of different things – it's on you – so it makes you much more organised.” Bellway is a regular client of this department too, and the team recently advised it on a negotiation with Fradley Park Developments, regarding a development project in Staffordshire. The firm also advises Wagamama on its property acquisitions and the management of its existing portfolio.
The commercial dispute resolution team handles all kinds of contentious matters. For example, one recent case saw the team acting for legendary England footballer Alan Shearer in claims of negligence against his financial adviser and pension provider; another involved representing the housebuilder Morris Group in claims against RBS, in part relating to its LIBOR manipulation. Other clients include the Financial Authority, the National Bank of Greece, Oxus Gold and minor celebrities Kym Marsh and Les Dennis. Trainees we spoke to attended hearings, but also told us that “on big cases you tend to be in the background doing standard bundling and witness statements.” Trainees involved in a recent phone hacking-related case described “reviewing hundreds of thousands of articles to assist with building evidence against the other side.”
“Employment is really interesting because you get to do a mixture of transactional and contentious work,” juniors told us. “I've worked with companies and private individuals, so it's been a really happy medium.” Newbies can get involved with the likes of Leicester City FC, Nike, Caffè Nero and Wagamama, advising on topical issues such as gender pay gap reporting, and perennial employment matters, such as shareholder disputes, immigration and severance. On the contentious side, having to do “all of the prep for tribunals” led trainees to comment that “there is so much disclosure, and a lot of admin.”
“Everyone here wants to do a secondment,” said insiders, “and the partners will look at your performance reviews throughout your seats and have an informal chat with you about what you're hoping to get out of it.” In London, client secondments available from the second seat onwards include six-month stints with the likes of ITV and private equity firm Actis. “You really get to see what it means to have commercial awareness,” praised a source. “I know everyone bangs on about that, but you appreciate that there's no point reciting chapter and verse on the law. Clients don’t care. All they are interested to know is whether a law firm can help them, and if not, what the alternatives are.” While not as common, international secondments are also up for grabs for those tenacious trainees willing to try bagging one. Potential destinations include Bahrain (to the Foreign Office), Zürich and Geneva.
He's behind you!
“I think everyone on the whole is excited about where the firm is going and is trying to make sure that it feels like one firm. To help with that, the firm has come up with some key values ['the CRS way'] to stick to, things like being human, understanding people, showing your personality and thinking in the long term.” The firm is well beyond the typical teething problems associated with a merger, but that didn't stop trainees framing the firm's fortunes in relation to it. Fortunately, trainees took an overwhelmingly positive tone. “Already a lot has changed a lot since I've arrived,” said one. “Obviously the merger wasn't too long ago, so you could say this is a young firm, but we've already opened two more international offices, which is exciting.”
“There’s not a sense of one-upmanship.”
However successful, a business relies on its people, so the firm has also recently appointed a culture partner in the office to help foster the firm's internal friendships. “There is a real push to have lots of socials,” insiders told us, and it seems the firm knows its trainees well. “We're all up for a drink... our trainee cohort is incredibly keen!” Evening drinks were more common in London, but we also heard about a long list of firm-organised social events for all offices. In London, a fundraising expedition saw trainees gallivanting around the City completing different challenges together, while the firm's first pantomime production had “partners dressed up as woodland creatures, the managing partner as a tree and a trainee as Donald Trump.” Away from such frivolity, sources felt the conditions were good for developing workplace ties: “People genuinely want to get to know you as a person, you're not just seen as some sort of machine to do the work.” Another added: “We are quite modest and self-aware so there's not a sense of one-upmanship.” Trainees even reported lunching with partners “to chat about our weekends, and to ask really stupid questions.”
Average working days tend to last between 9.00am and 7.00pm. A few insiders recalled a “scattering of 9pms” while others reminisced on having to stay until 11pm on rare occasions. A trainee in the Cheltenham office described how “the good thing is that if you do have to stay late, it is noted and appreciated. You're not left on your own, the partners and senior associates will stay. It's a team effort.”
Applying for an NQ position involves more hard work. Nearly-NQ's are given a jobs list in May and are invited to apply with a CV and cover letter outlining their motivations on joining a preferred team. Trainees are then invited for an interview with the head of the team and may be required to complete a case study before finding out their fate. In 2018, the firm kept 23 out of 26 qualifiers.
CRS runs a six-year solicitor apprenticeship that lets you study for an LLB in law while working and earning. Three school leavers snapped up these positions in 2018.
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How to get a Charles Russell Speechlys training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2019 (opens December 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens December 2018)
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.”
Private client law explained
Charles Russell Speechlys
5 Fleet Place,
- Partners 150
- Associates 302
- Total trainees 484
- UK offices London, Guildford, Cheltenham
- Overseas offices Doha, Geneva, Luxembourg, Manama, Paris, Zurich
- Graduate recruiter: Hayley Halvatzis, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contract and vacation scheme applications open in December each year
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Guildford, Cheltenham
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
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.
University law careers fairs 2018
• City University of London
• Sussex & Brighton
• The London Law Fair at the Law Society
We also host events at our London office through Aspiring Solicitors.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Cheltenham and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
Guildford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- 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 Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (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 2)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 3)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 4)
- Professional Discipline (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 2)
- Telecommunications (Band 3)