Out of its shiny new home in the City, Collyer Bristow serves “clients that have been with the firm for generations.”
Collyer Bristow training contract review 2024
Office warming party, anyone? After working remotely for two years, Collyer Bristow has found its “new, permanent home,situated in the heart of the City of London in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral,” says Janet Armstrong-Fox, the firm’s training principal. “It’s a modern office with an open-plan layout that encourages collaboration, befitting of an ambitious and energised trainee.” It gets the thumbs up from our trainee interviewees too: “The location is fantastic! There’s a lot happening around us and nice places to eat.”
So, it’s been all change in geography, but outside of the office move, it’s business as usual. After all, “we've been around for a couple of hundred years! Our history is a good selling point. We have clients that have been with the firm for generations.” Private client, dispute resolution and real estate are central practices for Collyer Bristow, and Armstrong-Fox outlines that the firm’s client base is made up of “international and domestic clients, including high net worth individuals and families, medium-sized businesses and ambitious entrepreneurs.” Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth recognise the firm’s clout in London for private wealth law, family/matrimonial work for wealthy individuals, and real estate deals up to £50 million.
“The opportunity to get to know everyone.”
This private client aspect of the firm was certainly popular among the trainees we talked to, but the size of the firm, housing just under 80 lawyers, and the working hours were also big draws. “I wanted a place that valued those who have a life outside work,” a trainee underlined. “We aren’t expected to be in for absurd hours.” For another rookie, “I was looking for smaller to medium firms. I wanted a personal experience, and a smaller intake with the opportunity to get to know everyone.” Collyer Bristow hires just four or five newbies a year.
“Trainees spend six months in four of Collyer Bristow’s five key practice areas, working with a range of people from senior partners to more recently qualified solicitors,” Armstrong-Fox informs us. To be allocated into these seats, trainees send their preferences to the HR team. “This goes off to the department heads and management explores the business needs and lets us know,” a trainee explained. Even though none of the seats are compulsory, sources said one thing is for sure: trainees will get exposure to all aspects of the work. “I worked across teams, giving me the flavour of the whole firm. Now that I am qualified, I know almost everyone,” an NQ solicitor told us.
“Trainees deal with rent arrears and run those files themselves.”
For trainees interested in real estate, there are two seats to choose from: commercial real estate or real estate litigation. In real estate litigation, “we work for landlords who have problems with their tenants and are pursuing them for debt claims.” This became particularly prominent after the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted. Trainees in this seat worked on tribunal hearings, court claims and construction disputes. They also prepared bundles, took notes during trials, drafted claim forms and witness statements. “Trainees deal with rent arrears and run those files themselves. We contact the tenant and give them the opportunity to pay off the arrears,” a trainee noted.
In commercial real estate, “we do a fair bit of development work for housing developers. We are engaged in the whole process, from when developers buy plots of land, plan construction, all the way through to selling the buildings,” a trainee explained. Trainees in this practice conducted due diligence, assisted with title reviews and did a bit of drafting of leases and contracts. “In the first month I was leading a project with support,” one recalled. “It was intimidating and I had lots of questions, but I would throw them at partners and they would respond.” Some of the clients in this practice include construction companies such as Crest Nicholson, as well as developers likeBewley Homes and Chase New Homes. The firm represented interior contractor Willmott Dixon on its acquisition, development and sales at sites in Reading, Sevenoaks and Cheshunt worth nearly £200 million. The firm also worked with Amazing Properties to refinance a development in Clapham comprising residential and commercial units.
Collyer Bristow’s broader private client practice has a focus on tax and estate planning for high-net-worth clients. The practice also does some work on media and privacy, immigration, and family matters such as estate administration and inheritance tax work. “A couple of partners in the team do inheritance disputes work too,” a source added. Trainees can expect to draft lots of ancillary documents, wills and letters of wishes, conduct legal research and attend client meetings. “In tax, estate planning and private client property, I have been the main point of contact for other solicitors and clients,” one told us.In one matter, the firm advised a family based in Abu-Dhabi on tax obligations connected to two residential properties in London worth over £20 million.
In the dispute resolution practice, the department works on general commercial disputes and intellectual property litigation. In commercial disputes, there’s a focus on “banking and finance, media privacy and insolvency, as well as a new area of focus on crypto and blockchain,” a trainee said. Trainees in this practice conducted legal research into procedural and technical points, drafted correspondence, liaised with counsel and clients, took notes, and got a chance to draft claims.
The commercial and corporate practice deals with acquisitions, sales and the restructuring of companies. The teams also offers general advising on regulatory issues and company administration. On the commercial side, “we help with service agreements, data protection and intellectual property.” In this seat, trainees can expect to draft smaller documents and clauses, review contracts, and write instructions to counsel. They also got some exposure to employment work. One trainee told us that they “reviewed employment contracts and contentious issues, such as claims of unfair dismissal.”
Collyer Bristow’s size and clientele go some way to defining the firm’s culture. As an associate told us, “you are getting to know individuals and their faces because you are dealing with clients instead of faceless multinationals.” The culture is also led by the leadership. “The senior partner says ‘hi’ to me in the kitchen, which was not the case at my previous workplaces!” a trainee shared. It also helps that a “number of people trained at the firm. The training partner and the head of the private client team all trained here.”
“The firm is good at involving us in client networking events.”
Being without an office for the last two years may have somewhat put a dent in the social life, so to boost it back up, Collyer Bristow organises events that most people attend, including “music quizzes hosted by charities and monthly pub quizzes organised by the social committee.” The firm usually has a few walkers in the London Legal Walk as well. We heard that “some teams do a lot of socialising amongst themselves. Every team has its own Christmas party in addition to the one organised by the whole firm.” Trainees also highlighted that “the firm is good at involving us in client networking events. It gets us thinking about how we can network on our level.”
One aspect that trainees thought could improve at the firm was diversity. One source mentioned that “we recently established a diversity committee, and the new HR is trying to get us up to date.” One new initiative for the firm is the ‘HIGHer' network for women, in which members host women-led webinars and talks on topics such as confidence. “We also set up afternoon tea to reduce the male club of going to the pub and drinking.”
In addition to on-the-job training and their seat supervisors, trainees have a development coach, who’s “usually a partner that you speak to monthly,” a trainee explained. “You talk about what work you have been doing, what work you want to do, and they let the team know what gaps you need to fill.” On the pastoral side, trainees also have associate mentors. “They are someone you can talk to, meet for coffee and talk about how you are developing as a whole.” In case there is an issue, “every two weeks all the trainees have a meeting with the HR director and training principal where we can voice our concerns.”
Something that has been a plus for development is the return to the office. With trainees now expected to be in the office for a minimum of three days per week, “it's been a lot easier to learn,” said interviewees. “People hot desk – I might sit next to a partner one day and a trainee on the next day.” Most put in eight to nine hours a day. “In private client, it would be 9.30am to 7.30pm on average, whereas litigation is peaks and troughs – I could be working late on bundles some weeks.” Overall, they agreed “it’s a good work-life balance, and the salary reflects that.”
Finally, when it’s time to go through the qualification process, trainees “have initial chats with HR and they come to us after Easter on what roles are available. If more than one person is interested in the role, there are interviews, since teams usually only takes one NQ at a time.” In 2023, two of five qualifiers joined the firm as NQs.
From the courtroom to Courtauld… The firm champions emerging artists via its partnership with Courtauld Institute of Art.
How to get a Collyer Bristow training contract
Each year the firm receives around 250 applications for its four or five training contracts. Candidates complete an online form covering “the standard questions about qualifications, strengths and previous work experience,” current trainees told us. Applicants are asked to submit a CV and cover letter alongside their application form. Advice for the cover letter is “The cover letter should only provide an introduction and be no longer than three to four well-constructed paragraphs. It sets the scene for the CV and application form.”
The firm invites around 25 applicants to an assessment centre. Prior to the assessment centre, candidates are asked to complete an online GIA assessment. This is an aptitude and ability assessment which measures how quickly candidates will learn and retain new skills and procedures. The assessment centre begins with a welcome meeting, then lunch with some of the current trainees so the candidates can relax and get to know the firm from a trainee perspective.
In the afternoon, attendees are asked to undertake a written exercise and then attend a 45-minute panel interview, with two partners and the HR Director. Current trainees recalled this as “a challenging but friendly interview – they do try to make you feel at ease.” According to the HR team, “the feedback we receive from applicants is that, aside from the assessments, they find it an enjoyable day and leave feeling positive about the experience.”
When it comes to impressing, “we're looking for a self-starting individual with good common sense,” the HR team tells us. “Potential technical excellence is a given. We need candidates to demonstrate commercial awareness and an understanding of the importance of delivering the highest-quality client service.”
The advice to candidates is “Come prepared. That means having an insight into the firm, which you can get by drawing conclusions from our website and other relevant publications. This will allow you to relax and focus, so that when you go for an interview your potential will shine through.”
Collyer Bristow LLP
St. Martin's Court,
10 Paternoster Row,
This long-established London firm provides high quality, individually tailored legal advice, often with a cross-border aspect, to a portfolio of international and domestic clients, including commercial businesses, wealthy individuals and families, and ambitious entrepreneurs. The firm has a particular reputation for its private wealth, business, real estate, and dispute resolution services. Clients choose Collyer Bristow because they, like those within the firm, appreciate individuality and creativity. Clients acknowledge that their needs may be unique or more complex, and that in progressing their legal issues they value a more engaged and collaborative service from their lawyers. They recognise that the Collyer Bristow approach is one of building understanding and trusted relationships with clients. Lawyers at the firm take time to gain an understanding of their clients and the individual objectives behind every transaction or dispute.
Collyer Bristow is known for its strength in private wealth (including tax and estate planning, immigration, family, media and privacy, residential real estate, and business services for owner managers); commercial real estate (contentious and non-contentious and including construction) and dispute resolution (banking and financial disputes, commercial litigation, and IP), as well as non-contentious services for business including employment, corporate and commercial. As well as its strength in private wealth and real estate, the firm also has significant cross-practice expertise in the financial services sector.
The firm is looking for individuals who are able to demonstrate a strong academic performance, having gained a 2:1 or on track to achieve this. Successful candidates will be motivated individuals who possess strong commercial awareness, common sense, good communication skills and an ability to understand a client’s needs. Trainees spend six months in four of the firm’s five key practice areas, working with a range of people from senior partners to more recently qualified solicitors. The firm has mentoring, allocated seat supervisors, training and appraisal programmes, which nurture the development of technical expertise and client advisory skills. Trainees are expected at an early stage to take responsibility for their own files and to participate in managing the client’s work with appropriate supervision and are encouraged to take part in the firm’s business development activities.
Life assurance, pension, private medical insurance, employee assistance programme, season ticket loan, cycle to work scheme, 25 days’ holiday.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 4)