Collyer Bristow LLP - True Picture

Variety is the spice at life at this “quirky” and “friendly firm” that offers trainees “responsibility from the get-go.”

Collyer Bristow training contract review 2022

The Firm



A law firm, they say, is like a box of chocolates. Not in the Forrest Gumpsense of never knowing what you’ll get (unless the seat allocation process is ropey), but more so in its variety. Collyer Bristow can certainly offer that: “The firm’s breadth of practice areas is very interesting to me and was part of the appeal,” one source mused. So instead of just pursuing an IP-flavoured box or a tin of real estate treats, Collyer Bristow’s incoming trainees can dip their fingers into many a jar. “We have a broad commercial offering here,” another interviewee commented, “but also lots of private client work.” To colour this picture with more detail, one source explained: “We act for SMEs[small and medium-sized enterprises] as entities as well as the owners of those SMEs in a personal capacity.” 

“The smaller dynamics mean you get responsibility with a good level of support.”

As a result, “there’s something for everyone as a trainee here.” On the commercial side, Chambers UK ranks Collyer Bristow’s mid-market real estate expertise in London, while on the personal legal services side it’s the firm’s familypractice that comes in for praise. Other areas trainees can dip into include corporate and commercial and dispute resolution, as well as the various strands that fall under the banner of real estate and private wealth law (like tax and estate planning, and construction matters). Chambers High Net Worth also tips its cap to the private wealth work that Collyer Bristow does. The firm typically recruits around four trainees each year – a selling point for our sources, who found that “the smaller dynamics mean you get responsibility and a good level of support.”For arty types, Collyer Bristow was well known at Chambers Student for its in-house art gallery. While its new office (see below) probably won't have a gallery, we were assured that the firm's commitment to the arts remains has strong as ever.

The Seats



No seat option is mandated by the firm, although trainees are encouraged to do at least one contentious and one non-contentious stint across the contract.Choice-wise, “second-years [understandably] get the priority, but I got my preferences even as a first-year so felt very lucky,”one trainee recalled. Evolving conversations with HR about seat preferences determine rotations going forward.

“I was told that I’ll be given whatever level of work I’m capable of.” 

Various permeations of contentious work fall under the firm’s dispute resolution banner. Our sources had worked across commercial, banking and finance, employment, IP, and real estate strands. “It’s a fairly fluid disputes team,”one source said, adding: “We have a specific banking and financial disputes team, but we also do financial matters in the commercial subset too.”Another interviewee clarified: “Banking and financial disputes is probably best described as high-value litigation.” That team is focused on derivatives and SWAP claims, we heard. In a recent case, the firm acted for asset management company Napier Park as junior bondholders in a dispute with investment manager Barings about whether Napier had to pay an incentive fee. Trainees there found work “dealing with the fallout from LIBOR manipulation in the City and the effect that had on contracts connected to LIBOR.” Alongside a “degree of bundling,” trainees revelled in the exposure: “I helped on a very big disclosure review,”one shared. “It was very interesting and helped me delve into the case.”Our sources had also drafted letters of claim and letters before action; attended trials; and even – when travel rules allowed – travelled to Europe to “interview one of the main protagonists for a witness statement.”

Work in commercial disputes is similarly varied, with sources slotting into a broad range of matters. “I’ve worked on various breach of contract claims,” one trainee highlighted. Another had “worked predominantly on one fairly large-scale dispute, which involved lots of trial preparation.” It may not be the fanciest of tasks, but trainees found “assisting on doc review” crucial all the same: “It gave me a really good grounding in the case.” This source added that “there’s a fair amount of insolvency work through the team.” From “standard bundling tasks” to “drafting letters before action and client correspondence”to “attending court on my own with counsel,” our sources commended the responsibility on offer. “There isn’t a specific set trainee task list here. I was told that I’ll be given whatever level of work I’m capable of.” There’s also media and privacy work, which reportedly has involved “lots of ongoing phone hacking cases.”

“The support network of associates was an absolute godsend to be able to turn to. It was great and made things a lot easier than they would have been.”

There’s a distinction between real estate litigation and commercial property. In the past, trainees have completed separate seats in these areas, but this year there was a chance to split time between both in one seat. On the contentious side, sources had dealt with “various issues for landlords and tenants,” such as breaches of tenancy agreements or rent arrears claims; debt collection and eviction work; boundary disputes; and some construction litigation matters. The team recently helped a commercial landlord client recover all rent arrears from a tenant company that was in administration. Drafting and issuing claim forms, bundling, “lots of research” concerning chains of indemnities, and attending court hearings proved common tasks. Non-contentious work primarily concerned “assisting with Land Registry applications,”as well as reports on title, lease reviews and drafting licences for alterations. “The support network of associates was an absolute godsend to be able to turn to. It was great and made things a lot easier than they would have been,” one grateful trainee commented. Real estate clients include Bewley Homes, Sutton Harbour Holdings and GMS Estates. The department recently represented a joint venture between EcoWorld London and Poplar Harca on various aspects of the £300 million-plus development of the Aberfeldy New Village in East London. 

In private wealth, trainees found work across wills, trusts, and probates. “There’s also the immigration side of things,” one source added, which partly involves “bringing in people on skilled work visas.” We also heard of international clients using the firm’s services for estate planning. “Wills and probate matters are the bread and butter, but there are more complicated things too,” like work involving Acceptance in Lieu (AiL) schemes and the Inheritance Act. “Of all the seats, I got most stuck in with legal work here,” one source enthused. “Substantive work can be done by the trainees here.”That substantive work involved drafting documents, amending Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs), getting involved in “complicated offshore pre-arrival tax planning,” being the “point of contact with clients,” and fielding questions.

“I was given exposure at a reasonably high level, but not beyond my competence. I was challenged.”

Sources had also worked on matrimonial, children, and financial matters (including pre- and post-nups) in the familydepartment. “It’s pretty much all for high net worth individuals,”one trainee clarified. “And I had more client contact here – I would conduct client meetings by myself.” Of course, one can’t escape bundling tasks or taking attendance notes, but more substantive assignments were found: “I was asked to do a witness statement and got to draft it myself. Obviously, it had input but it was a big task.” Another added: “I was given exposure at a reasonably high level, but not beyond my competence. I was challenged.”Sources had also attended court hearings too. 

There’s a blend of contentious and non-contentious matters in the employmentteam. Here sources had helped to prep for employment tribunals and drafted contracts and settlement agreements. The team recently defended a client in a class action brought by 40 employees claiming excessive holiday pay, and defended a medical facility in London against a claim for constructive unfair dismissal and whistleblowing brought in the Employment Tribunal.

In IP, one trainee had worked on “a couple of big trade mark infringement claims and a complicated fraud claim, which were interesting.” This team recently had a hand in drawing up a producer’s agreement in connection with recordings for Wiley (yes, the rapper) and his management team. Sources had also split seats with the corporate/commercial team, which is helpfully referred to as ‘CoCo’. “I worked on M&A matters, advised on day-to-day corporate governance steps, and drafted share purchase agreements and board minutes,”an interviewee told us. The firm is currently advising Castlemill Equity Partners as it leads a consortium of domestic and international investors in the acquisition of a ship building company.

Trainee Life



The words “friendly” and “collaborative” cropped up a number of times in our interviews. “There’s a very supportive culture here. We have development coaches who are provided to be a point of call for career questions or pastoral questions around wellbeing.” Another source added: “All trainees here are bright and eager to work hard. It’s a friendly but professional culture.” These friendly dynamics are in full swing when there’s time for socialising. “There’s camaraderie between the trainees,” this interviewee noted. Throughout the pandemic, virtual socialising – like a book group, firm choir, or “family magic show event” – mirrored the times before when “lots of popular quiz nights and informal drinks after work” kept sources connected.

Sources were also quick to mention the quality of trainingon offer. “Each department has a foundation programme where weekly sessions are run by associates,”a trainee pointed out. “I feel prepared. Beyond work, if you’re struggling with something then there are lots of things about wellbeing.”This transparency and support aligns with the qualities promoted in the firm’s recent(ish) rebrand. “There’s an open and very deliberate dialogue instituted by the firm,”a source asserted. A focus on creativity, collaboration, and an “entrepreneurial spirit that’s focused on new money and early-stage businesses” is the flavour of the day. 

“The cleaners used to lock up at 11pm so you couldn’t stay after that unless you had permission or a key!”

Trainees liked that they could be part of a firm with such a spirit and work reasonable hoursoverall. “It’s very manageable,” this interviewee reflected, but at the same time “you’re expected to put in the hours” when matters heat up. In contrast to the giant City firms, the occasional late finishes at Collyer Bristow tends to occur at 11.30pm as opposed to the wee hours. “I would say for the training contract as a whole, my average finishing time has been between 6-7pm.” In pre-pandemic office times, “the cleaners used to lock up at 11pm so you couldn’t stay after that unless you had permission or a key!” Another added: “There’s a balance between work and life here. I have friends earning more elsewhere but they’re working ridiculous hours.”

Qualification“is very transparent and quick”according to our sources, who added that retention had been “very good this year.” Indeed, in 2021, Collyer Bristow retained three of its four qualifiers. Trainees are only required to interview if more than one person goes for the same job. “It happened in our year but hadn’t happened before that for four years.” One source concluded: “If there’s a job, it’s yours.”

Brist-only round the corner… 

The firm has temporarily moved to a new location in Knightsbridge. We heard that it is looking for new premises to move into in 2022. 

 

How to get a Collyer Bristow training contract



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Work experience

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. 

Applications 

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 application form. Jan Dalgleish advises that “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.” 

Assessments 

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.” 

Ideal candidates 

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.” 

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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)