“A great diversity of work” is on offer at this small London firm.
Stand out from the crowd
“I noticed the firm was different during the assessment day,” one Collyer Bristow trainee mused. “There wasn't just the run of the mill 'why do you want to work here?' question. There was a lot more scope to talk about myself.” It's a reflection of the fact this is a smaller firm with a more personal touch, both in its culture and its work. The firm is ranked by Chambers High Net Worth for private wealth law and by Chambers UK for defamation management and family/matrimonial law – all practice areas focused on the individual. Trainees pointed to tax and estate planning as another key area of work and Chambers UK also tips its hat to individual lawyers for commercial contracts, IP and real estate litigation. The firm's slant is more towards contentious than non-contentious work – “most of our fee earners are within dispute resolution,” trainees told us.
"Something to talk about when clients visit.”
Another thing interviewees said makes Collyer Bristow stand out is its premises at 4 Bedford Row – part of a charming Georgian terrace. “I love being in Holborn,” one trainee told us. “We've been here for hundreds of years and I think our location, gallery and artwork give us something to talk about when clients visit.” Those interested in the firm's art collection can visit one of its many exhibitions – a great opportunity to snoop around the premises while pretending to know about art. The summer 2018 exhibition was called 'Exceptional' and offered a £2,000 award for the best artwork.
Anyway, back to the training contract. Here's how seat allocation works: newcomers submit their first seat preference before arriving. Trainees then have “an informal sit-down with HR half way through each seat to discuss your options moving forward. As there are only four us in each year we are able to talk among ourselves and avoid any clashes.”
By the power of Grayskull
The dispute resolution department contains subgroups covering general commercial, real estate, banking and employment/IP. “As a trainee you are assigned to a particular team and will primarily work for that team. However, you can also pick up work from the other teams within disputes as needed, so it’s quite a flexible arrangement,” sources explained.
The commercial disputes team – home to the firm's notable media and privacy groups – was flagged as a popular seat choice because of its “headline-grabbing” reputation management and defamation work. The firm has acted for over 200 victims of tabloid phone hacking, and represented actor David Tennant, Olympian Colin Jackson and racing driver Eddie Irvine in phone hacking claims against the News Group Newspapers. Trainees can take charge of matters generated by the firm's cyber investigations team which tackles online defamation claims. "They are matters such as online harassment and stalking claims," one interviewee reported. "I was able to draft cease and desist and takedown notices to remove unpleasant posts on blogs and websites. It's great to feel you're making a significant improvement to someone’s life.” The disputes team also handles other types of litigation, including banking and financial disputes – trainees reported working on “multimillion-pound commercial claims some of which are worth over £100 million.” Lawyers recently acted for Equatorial Congo Airlines in a £35 million dispute with Swiss plane operator PrivatAir about various things including the seizure of aircraft in Brussels; they also acted for an Irish litigation funder in a £700 million spat with RBS about security for costs.
"Online harassment and stalking claims."
In real estate litigation “there are lots of landlord/tenant disputes which the same structure month after month. You issue a notice, go through proceedings and then get a default judgment. It's a conveyor belt of small-value claims, which is a great way to learn the basics of litigation.” In one case the firm represented tenants who run a bar and nightclub in a dispute with NatWest after the bank claimed both the tenant and landlord didn't have the right to use the property. Cases provide trainees with plenty of drafting opportunities. “There's lots of drafting notices under the Landlord and Tenant Act,” one source explained. “I also drafted a couple of possession claims for the County Court. One was quite bizarre: a mad trespasser decided to start raising goats and chickens on some unregistered land owned by one of our clients. He wrote us lots of angry letters!” The firm also has a construction group, which offers trainees the chance to attend construction adjudications.
The private client department comprises tax and estate planning, property, and family arms. “Clients are generally high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals, but we are also servicing a new generation of private clients because we do a lot with startups and SMEs on our corporate side,” interviewees informed us. Trainees are able to get to grips with a range of wills and probate work, often with a lot of client contact in the form of meetings. “On one case I got to visit a client's home and create an entire inventory of their possessions – we were going through their drawers for hours!” Sources also pointed that there “has been a significant increase in the amount of immigration work we tackle in light of Brexit."
There's “an incredible range of work” in the corporate/commercial department. “On the commercial side I worked on everything from reviewing IT contracts to the sale and purchase of yachts and work on cryptocurrencies and blockchain – I learnt more about consumer rights than I imagined I would!” Trainees also get to draft terms and conditions for websites and things like “bespoke business arrangement for antique dealers." Rookies also rack up experience on corporate deals including share purchase agreements, asset purchases and M&A. Recently the firm acted for private equity purchasing vehicle HM Holdings in its multimillion-pound acquisition of HE-MAN equipment, which makes dual control systems for cars.
Bouncing off each other
Sources said the firm's high ratio of partners to trainees lends itself naturally to “a culture of training. I haven't sat with a partner or associate who hasn't wanted to teach me about what they are doing. They take the time to talk you through the background of every topic, the law in that area, and why it's important.” Trainees also pointed out that the firm's size ensures “everyone instinctively knows each other. Every new team member is introduced to everyone in the office and if you somehow bump into someone in the kitchen who you don't know, it would very unusual not to introduce yourself or be introduced.” There's the odd chance to socialise outside the office too. “There are social events once a month – last month we went to Bounce for example – but I wouldn't say we're the most sociable of firms," one source reported. "There are opportunities to go out, but I imagine it's not the same as at a firm with 100 trainees.”
"That means occasionally you'll be here until 9pm.”
The hours are different to what they are at a big firm too. “Most evenings I finish between 6.30pm and 7pm,” said a typical trainee. “However if a late night is needed, you are expected to stay. That means occasionally you'll be here until 9pm and you might have a few midnight finishes.”
Trainees said they'd appreciate a bit more communication on the topic of the NQ process. “You are asked in January for your preferences but it's not until May that you're told what jobs are available,” one interviewee told us. In 2018 the firm retained one of its four qualifiers and they joined the banking and financial disputes team.
Be sure to check out the firm's website for more information about its latest office art exhibitions.
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How to get a Collyer Bristow training contract
Training contract deadlines (2021): 28 June 2019 (opens 1 March 2019)
Instead of a formal vacation scheme, Collyer Bristow offers week-long work experience stints for up to 15 candidates. Applicants are asked to submit their CV and a covering letter outlining the specific areas of work they're looking to experience so the firm can try to match them to supervisors accordingly. Stints are rolling, so there's no application deadline.
During their week with the firm, attendees are exposed to “different tasks depending on who they are being supervised by,” HR director Jan Dalgleish tells us. “They could be taken to meetings, given pieces of research to do or set drafting exercises.”
Following their placement, work experience attendees who'd like to apply for a training contract submit a separate application, as outlined below.
Each year the firm receives more than 300 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 form. Jan Dalgleish tells us the firm looks particularly favourably upon those with some exposure to life in a law firm, whether through a vacation scheme or a less formal arrangement like shadowing: “It gives them an understanding of what it's like to be a lawyer, and acts as a check and balance for them to ensure they're going into the right profession.”
The firm invites around 25 applicants to a day-long assessment centre. This begins with reasoning tests and various exercises in the morning, then lunch with the current trainees “so the candidates can relax and get to know the firm from a trainee perspective,” says Jan Dalgleish.
In the afternoon, attendees face 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 Jan Dalgleish, “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,” Jan Dalgleish 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.”
“Come prepared,” she continues. “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 personality will shine through.”
Collyer Bristow LLP
4 Bedford Row,
- Partners 30
- Associates 39
- Total trainees 8 (first and second years)
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 1
- Graduate recruiter: Corinne Johnson, [email protected], 020 7242 7363
- Training partner: Janet Armstrong-Fox
- Application criteria
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: Strong grades
- Work experience places pa: 15
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2020 and 2021 start: 28 June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £33,000
- Second-year salary: £35,000
- Post-qualification salary: £56,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
Collyer Bristow is committed to providing a commercial and innovative approach to clients’ legal issues, combined with a discrete and personal service, often not available from a large city practice. The firm’s client base includes private companies and owner-managed businesses, partnerships, entrepreneurs, and high and ultra-high net worth individuals.
The firm is well known for its support of the contemporary arts, having operated a ground breaking in-house art gallery for almost 30 years.
Main areas of work
The firm boasts an impressive client base across a number of focus areas including leisure and brands, media, arts and culture, disruptive technology, and financial services, as well as its substantial private client following.
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 encouraged at an early stage to take responsibility for their own files and to participate in managing the client’s work with appropriate supervision.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)