Offering a variety of commercial and private client work to trainees in and outside of London, this firm might just leave you Charles Russell Speechless.
Charles Russell Speechlys training contract review 2022
We’re all indecisive sometimes – whether it’s taking so long to scroll through TV shows that you run out of time to actually watch something, or having to ask everyone else to order before you at a restaurant because you can’t pick a side dish. “I was interested in a City firm with commercial work but also private client law… and sports work,” a trainee who wished to hedge their bets told us. It was the variety on offer that sold them on Charles Russell Speechlys: “It’s unusual for an international London firm to do private client work.” True enough – and CRS also stands out from the crowd with their geographical footprint, including bases in Guildford, Cheltenham and eight overseas locations.
The majority of trainees are based in the capital, and the other two UK bases recruit a handful each year. Along with the varied domestic seats, secondments are also up for grabs – Geneva, Zürich and Hong Kong are typical options.“At CRS trainees get real responsibility and exposure to cases and transactions,” sources said. This may be a smaller firm than some City giants, but CRS has carved out an impressive market position, scoring top Chambers UK rankings for construction, restructuring and real estate litigation in the South; agriculture in Cheltenham; family law in Guildford; and lower mid-market M&A in London and the South, among other accolades. As for private client law, the firm earns top Chambers High Net Worth rankings for private wealth, disputes, art and cultural property law.
CRS folks need not wait to qualify before getting into the buffet that is the firm’s practice: there’s plenty of variety in trainee seats, with client and international secondments also available. The firm distributes a form to all trainees both before they start and then in the run-up to each rotation. “You can list three different seats in order of preference,” according to sources. “You have to put forward your case for why you want to do certain seats, and it’s helpful if you’ve studied the relevant elective in the LPC.” (As the SQE is phased in, this may change.) Applicants can also “add comments for any you really don’t want to do.” Some wished for “more honesty in the seat allocation process,” but most came out the other end satisfied: “I was happy with most of them, barring one wildcard,” we heard from one sources. All of them “understood it would be impossible to give everyone their first choice,” and that seat moves are largely based on “business need and second-year preferences,” but felt that “things could have been more transparent” in terms of who got what and why. We were told that HR is aware of this point and is actively looking to address it.
It’s worth noting now that the firm recommends candidates apply directly to the office they’re interested in as a trainee and then apply to qualify there for a permanent role. Our sources in Guildford were keen to big up their base for offering “City-standard work without the commute into London.” They and others also confirmed that “day-to-day work tends to be cross-office. Geography is not really a factor and teams operate as one throughout the UK.”
“…doing research for niche points that not even partners are sure of.”
While none of the seats are compulsory, real estate takes on around four trainees each cycle in London alone, “so it’s easy to end up there.” Lawyers and trainees here work with “well-known housing developers, large development companies and international investment clients.” Between four loosely defined sub-teams –commercial letting space, planning, refinancing, and development– there’s a decent amount of variety, but some suggested “you can easily get stuck in one area of the practice. Each can give a totally different experience.” According to one interviewee, “if you wanted to qualify into real estate you’re already being put in a lane, because you don’t have experience in the other areas.” Others countered that “it was good to specialise” and get more knowledge of one real estate sub-section.
CRS advises commercial and residential clients, and trainees get to work for a spectrum from individuals to large corporations. Some of these were “large commercial companies, such as big sportswear brands. They’re not real estate companies but they own a lot of property.” The firm also acts for residential clients, and recently advised Bellway North London in an £80 million project to redevelop part of the former Royal Chace Hotel in Enfield into accommodation. Well-known names on the books include Stonegate Pub Company, Eton College and Crest Nicholson. Dealing with “leases, stamp duty, land tax and returns,” trainees quickly took ownership of their own matters (as is common for a real estate seat). Other tasks here included “Land Registry applications and drafting and amending contracts.” The transaction side of the department comes with “more completions,” while planning involves more “negotiating contracts. It definitely varies.”
Private client is one of the firm’s best-known departments, and trainees here weren’t disappointed. “It’s really, really, really great,” one beamed. “The calibre of work is second to none.” Seats available here include tax, trusts and succession; family; and private wealth disputes, among others. Across the board, CRS acts for HNW individuals including handling reputational legal problems (very much mo money, mo problems). Entertainment and media is therefore a key sector: the team successfully secured millions worth of damages from Mirror Group Newspapers for phone-hacking clients such as Antony Cotton, Martin Clunes and Samantha Womack. “As with any seat you’ll do typical trainee tasks,” sources noted philosophically. “Not photocopying or stuff like that – lockdown means we couldn’t do that anyway.” One told us they’d been “doing research for niche points that not even partners are sure of.” Additional responsibilities include “drafting wills, letters and emails for associates and partners.” You’ll also find big-name sports clients at CRS – the firm has recently acted for footballer and activist Marcus Rashford in both contracts and charity campaigns.
“If you’re interested in an area, you can make that known and try to get involved.”
Trainees also described the commercial dispute resolution seat as a “really good” experience. Here too you’ll find work for “private individuals and big companies” like Norsk Titanium and Paddington & Co (the rights owners for everyone’s favourite Peruvian bear). CRS has an especially strong reputation in the food and beverage, retail and automotive sectors. Sources here explained that “the approach in litigation is different – there’s lots of document review. It can be boring, but it’s an important part of litigation.” Another warned that doc review “doesn’t go away, so if you can’t tolerate that then don’t do litigation.” More challenging work includes drafting, client calls, attending hearings and dealing with experts. Trainees told us the seat was “varied with lots of different work streams.” One saw “some insolvency; a telephone injunction case; big disputes for a bank in the Caymans; sport cases; privacy, libel, defamation and fraud” within their six months. They and others appreciated that “if you’re interested in an area, you can make that known and try to get involved.”
M&A, private equity and fundraising alike can be found in corporate; deals often sit around the mid-market and sub-£100 million bracket. Charles Russell Speechlys advises multinationals like charity CareTech, PE-backed businesses like IT services company Acora, and privately owned companies as well. “It’s a team that lends itself well to trainees,” we heard. “There are lots of tasks that trickle down.” Trainees in a corporate seat “typically organise the due diligence process, where you’ll deep dive into a target entity to see if there are skeletons.” Other typical trainee tasks included “drafting ancillary documents. Alongside the main share purchase agreements, there are other pages to create and that’s within the remit of the corporate trainee.” We were reassured that “there’s a good bank of precedents you can use,” and the firm offers plenty of resources to bring trainees up to speed. CRS may not be a giant corporate firm, but the firm has seen some big money deals, recently advising data centre platform Global Technical Reality on a $1 billion investment from global firm KKR.
Throughout our conversations with Charles Russell Speechlys trainees, the common thread was a drive to succeed. Logging an average 50 hours work per week, sources noted that there’s wide variation between seats. They can therefore be either “insanely busy – working weekends and doing all-nighters – or very relaxed.” Our interviewees agreed that “whenever the firm’s busy, we’re busy at all levels. Partners were online at 4 or 5am; everyone was supportive and made sure the workload was allocated fairly.” Supervisors tend to be good at communicating deadlines “so if you get an email at 5pm, someone will let you know if you can do it tomorrow or if it’s urgent.”
"Pro bono is increasingly on people’s radar."
Describing a “very approachable” environment on the training front, sources felt that “everyone’s always trying their best to make sure the culture sticks. It’s harder to appreciate when you’re not in the office but I’ve been working with partners and never feel like the door is shut.” A smaller cohort of trainees of course means “greater camaraderie” is easier to build and can also mean less competition. “The people are one of the best things at the firm… it’s a shame for those who’ve missed out because of the pandemic,” one mused. Those with experience of the CRS offices recalled that "when people are in, they are talkative and social. People like working at the firm, and the main reason people feel so good is because everyone is friendly.” Some trainees who’d paralegalled here before joining were also looking to stay long-term – that kind of commitment says a lot!
Through 2020 and into 2021, London trainees said there were “lots of informal events like online Friday night drinks” to keep things sociable even through social distancing. Sources also said they had become quite involved in CSR at CRS doing “quizzes and raffles,” and tapped into the firm's “ever-expanding pro bono offering. It’s increasingly on people’s radar, which has been great!” The firm organises a volunteer programme at Bethnal Green and connects its lawyers with matters ranging from “people who need advice on housing debt and scale-up to seeking public law reforms.” We heard lawyers had been working on everything from “disability benefit cases to the refugee crisis in Greece… you can get involved in anything.” The firm's head of pro bono has recently been made partner and will be focusing exclusively on pro bono matters.
The advantage of training outside the capital is an even more tight-knit atmosphere – at the start of 2021, the offices had just six and twelve trainees respectively. Guildford is home to “quite a collegiate team,” according to an insider. “It’s unusual to not recognise a face, and there’s a lovely atmosphere so it feels very personal.” When people are in the office, “a few people will email round the office for a beer on Friday, or a wander into town. It’s still a good place for a chat and there’s normally someone who’s up for doing something.”
“The clientele is so diverse – it’s not just landed aristocracy, so it helps to have a variety of backgrounds.”
Like many of our interviewees across the industry, trainees were keen to see greater ethnic diversity at the firm, but were happy with its efforts to promote diversity in the ranks, and pleased to see “good female role models” in its teams. Charles Russell may represent some old money private clients but aims to recruit from the breadth of society. “The clientele is so diverse – it’s not just landed aristocracy, so it helps to have a variety of backgrounds,” according to one trainee. They and others reported that “it feels like everyone has a say in the firm’s future. They’ve been collecting feedback about the pros and cons of remote working.” In 2021, the firm retained 96% of its qualifying trainees.
Respected among their peers
In May 2021, the superbly named Bart Peerless took over as CRS’ new senior partner.
How to get a Charles Russell Speechlys training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2022 (opens October)
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 January 2022 (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 senior early careers advisor, Joanna Stevens. 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 video interview followed by a written task. 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 written task. 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 assessment centre includes a face-to-face interview and other exercises which are designed to assess identified performance criteria. People come to from a variety of backgrounds and degree disciplines, with a range of views that combine to give Charles Russell Speechlys its distinctive perspective on the law – the assessment centre is designed for candidates to showcase their best self and also to get to know the firm in return.
The vacation scheme
Vacation schemes take place in all UK offices – London, Cheltenham and Guildford across April, June and July. Those who make it through to the scheme spend time in either one or two practice areas. Students can list preferences on a form and the Early Talent Team will “do their best” to accommodate their choices. According to Stevens, 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 for the students to get a real insight into our people and culture.
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 Stevens; “we also like to receive feedback from the students so we can continually work to improve our schemes.”
Charles Russell Speechlys
5 Fleet Place,
- Partners 170
- Associates 500
- Total trainees 50
- UK offices London, Guildford, Cheltenham
- Overseas offices Doha, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Manama, Paris, Zurich
- Joanna Stevens, Early Talent Senior Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- 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
We’re only human. And we consider that our superpower, not a weakness. We’ve built our firm on establishing trusted, personal relationships with our clients.
After all, we are here to guide them through their most pressing challenges and most rewarding opportunities. We do this by getting to the heart of our clients’ needs to bring them best-fit solutions – based on our years of experience, collective legal expertise and international outlook.
We have a broad range of skills and experience across the full spectrum of business and personal needs. We know it’s not enough to understand the law – we have to understand our clients just as well. So we apply a people-focused lens to every action we recommend to our clients. Our unique approach to law 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 benefit from our personalised approach as we embed ourselves in the teams of our clients. Working alongside them and connecting them with the right people across our firm to help them excel in new opportunities.
Our firm is headquartered in London with offices across the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Our international connections mean we can work with clients anywhere in the world. Whether a business operates in a single country or across borders, we’ll put together a team pulling from our sector and geographical expertise and our partnerships with the best law firms across the world covering 200 legal jurisdictions.
There are some recent changes to the way Solicitors qualify and we have given a lot of thought as to how we can continue to support you throughout your training contract.
For our 2024 cohort, our Training Contract will support those who are already studying under the current LPC route and those who will take the new SQE route. Both pathways are designed to give you the best possible training with the firm and encourage you to develop the key legal and business skills to enable you to become a successful lawyer.
I have started or completed the LPC
If you have already started or completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at point of offer, you will be able to qualify under the existing route:
• Completed law degree / Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and started / completed LPC already.
• 2-year ‘Recognised Period of Training’, also referred to as a Training Contract.
You will not need to sit the SQE exams or accrue ‘Qualifying Work Experience’ as outlined in the new route to qualification.
I have not started or completed the LPC
If you haven’t started or completed the LPC at point of offer, you’ll undertake the new SQE route:
• Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDip) which replaces the GDL – for non-law students who haven’t already started / sat the GDL.
• Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam preparation courses and exams – you’ll do both SQE 1 and SQE 2 as well as our SQE Plus programme which will contribute towards a Masters in Legal Practice (LLM).
• 2 years of ‘Qualifying Work Experience’ with the firm.
Non law students – Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDip)
We have partnered with The University of Law to provide all of our post-graduate courses.
If you have not studied a law degree, we will sponsor you to complete your Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDip). This will replace the previous version of the GDL course. This 9-month programme will cover all the foundation subjects covered in a law degree and will begin to prepare you for the SQE exams.
We appreciate that full time study isn’t feasible for everyone so we also offer a 20-month part time option too. If you prefer to study part time, you’ll be able to choose the approach that works best for you from a range of weekend, evening and online options.
If you have already started or completed the old GDL, we will accept this form of the course.
Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) Courses and Exams
Once you’ve completed your law degree or PGDip, we will then sponsor you to study for and undertake the SQE. You’ll undertake the SQE preparation course with The University of Law:
• SQE 1 Preparation Course – September to January
• SQE 1 Exam – January
• SQE 2 Preparation Course – February to April
• SQE 2 Exam – April
• SQE Plus programme – May to July
Our programme with The University of Law includes the SQE Plus Programme – you’ll chose modules from our CRS Elective Modules list to study in more detail. This will prepare you well for practice at the firm by focusing on our areas of specialism, alongside developing practical legal skills. The SQE 1, SQE 2 and SQE Plus programme combines together so you’ll be studying for a Masters in Legal Practice (LLM).
Keeping in touch with you
As we recruit two years in advance, the Early Talent team will keep in regular contact with you before you start. We organise Early Talent events throughout the year for our current and future trainees which provides a great opportunity to network and get to know those you will be working with. By the time you join us, you’ll recognise a few familiar and friendly faces and it will already feel like home.
Your Training Contract
While at the firm, both routes will consist of 4 x 6-month seats, giving you the opportunity to experience a range of different practice areas and engage in high level work with both private and commercial clients. We provide a practical learning environment for Trainees where emphasis is given to early responsibility and supervised client contact. Your legal training will also be supplemented by our CRS Business School which has specific programmes designed for Trainees to develop professional and commercial skills.
Throughout the training contract there are regular catch ups and reviews between the trainees and supervisors to support your development and ensure you are continuing to receive a broad range of quality work. This, together with our in-house training programme, the Charles Russell Speechlys Business School, ensures that you’ll develop the required legal and business skills to become a successful lawyer.
Deciding which law firm is right for you is not always easy.
Our vacation scheme will help you to feel fully informed and experience our culture for yourself. Our Vacation Scheme provides a chance to spend time at Charles Russell Speechlys and see exactly what we do on a daily basis.
You’ll spend 2 weeks in either our London or Cheltenham office, or 1 week in our Guildford office depending on which vacation scheme you apply for. 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.
Support is always close at hand, with a current trainee as mentor and an associate as sponsor for each placement. You’ll also meet a variety people, either at organised social events or as part of your day to day interactions, and this will give you a real insight into the culture of the firm.
During your time with us you’ll be automatically considered for a Training Contract and will take part in an assessment centre which will be reviewed along with your performance during the Vacation Scheme.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
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)