Nestled on London’s Bedford Row, Collyer Bristow offers an eclectic mix of work for trainees.
Collyer me maybe
Not everybody wants to work in a towering glass skyscraper. Arriving at Collyer Bristow to kick off their training contract, our interviewees admired “the lovely Georgian house on a beautiful street filled with trees, next door to other traditional law firms and barristers’ chambers. It feels like you’re in the City but also a little country pocket in the back of Gray’s Inn.” You couldn’t ask for a lovelier introduction to a firm, and once you’re inside there’s only more to admire, not least an enviable art collection which paves the way for conversations during client meetings and events. “Artwork is everywhere here and it changes every few months” – one of the recent exhibits, titled The Immaculate Dream, brought together work by 19 artists themed around fantastical landscapes and dark fairytales. Your bog-standard corporate work space, this is not.
The firm’s perhaps best known for its prowess in the private client arena, earning a private wealth law ranking in Chambers High Net Worth. CB is also recognised by Chambers UK for defamation management and family law, but boasts practices in business areas like real estate, corporate and banking disputes too. “I was looking for a firm that had a good reputation for their private client and family practices, as well as being part of a small intake, working with a line of high-calibre clients,” one trainee summarised. The firm freshened up its website recently with a more modern feel, emphasising its core values of individuality, creativity and collaboration.
“...part of a small intake, working with a line of high-calibre clients.”
Although newbies can submit their starting seat preferences before arriving, “second-years choose their preferences first and the seats that are left over then get distributed.” Going forward, trainees sit down with HR midway through each seat to discuss options – “everyone will generally do two non-contentious seats.”
Bristow the line
Collyer Bristow’s dispute resolution department encompasses commercial, banking and finance, employment, IP and real estate-related cases. Newcomers welcomed the flexibility of the seat – they’re initially assigned a specialism but can float around the department. The distinctive media and privacy practice can also be found here and trainees worked on phone hacking claims, reputation management and ‘right to be forgotten’ cases. “We tend to cover anything which counts as a breach of tort or fits into media and privacy,” sources elaborated. The firm has historically acted for over 200 victims of tabloid phone hacking. Trainees typically get to work on “online take-down requests and case law research for contract matters.” Commercial disputes range from fraud cases to aircraft suits: the firm acted for Equatorial Congo Airlines in a clash with Swiss company PrivatAir SA over the seizure of planes for alleged breaches of contract.
As for banking and finance disputes, much of the work trainees saw "involved derivatives and swaps claims. Clients range from people that took out small business loans up to large billion-dollar companies.” Clients can also come from the financial services industry, including funds and individual investors. The team acted for Luxembourg investment vehicle Secure Capital in £23 million proceedings brought against Credit Suisse. “Matters take longer but are larger” than in other seats so “though work is high-quality, trainees tend to do discrete tasks rather than taking a case and seeing it through to the end.” Interviewees worked on bundles for court hearings, analysed product liability claims and completed research tasks. “Supervision is excellent throughout the team,” we heard. “There’s a real culture of partners encouraging us to get involved when opportunities arise.”
“There’s a real culture of partners encouraging us to get involved when opportunities arise.”
The distinct real estate litigation department advises on high-value landlord and tenant disputes, breach of covenant, possession claims and opposed and unopposed business lease renewals. Clients include a mix of companies and high net worth individuals; in one case the firm acted for Chicago Leisure in a dispute with NatWest over title to land which included a bar and nightclub, with a history of ownership dating back to the 1800s. “Trainees get a lot of responsibility on the small claims in county courts,” one such trainee told us. “These usually involve tenants not paying rent or Section 8 eviction notices – they’re great as we get a lot of practice working on straightforward pieces of litigation.” There’s also a construction disputes sub-team “which is really hands-on. They deal with large cases going up to the High Court.” These larger disputes call for more menial tasks – part of the trainee role is preparing bundles for case management conferences.
Tax and estate planning, property and family matters can all be found in private client. Wills, trusts, probate and complex personal taxation questions are the bread and butter of a seat here. Trainees get autonomy over their own files: “I was allowed to get involved in offering domestic and international tax planning advice; assisting with immigration matters; and advising international and EU clients on enquiries relating to EU settlement schemes and Brexit implications,” one interviewee reported. The highlight of the seat for many was “the frequency of client interaction and networking. We go to clients’ houses to go through valuables and take an inventory.” Part of the trainee role here is “supporting clients personally, making sure they are happy and overseeing their meetings with barristers.”
At Collyer Bristow, the ‘CoCo’ umbrella covers property and a corporate and commercial seat. Here you’ll get to grips with IT contracts, data protection work and sales and purchases of SME businesses. “We also moved into cryptocurrencies when Bitcoin took off,” an insider revealed. “The firm advises clients on blockchain and what it means for companies.” Corporate work ranges from public company AIM listings to private equity acquisitions and sales; matters tend to sit between £1 million and £20 million in value. Trainees handle deal management, “working on shareholder agreements and researching financial regulatory frameworks for start-ups. You’re not stuck photocopying and bundling, there’s real responsibility.”
Quirks and perks
The firm’s culture revolves around “quirks and an eclectic mix of characters. I like everyone I work with and I never dread coming into the office.” Collyer’s not a natural habitat for party animals but the social committee organises events including drinks for prospective trainees, trips to quirky hot spots like “Bounce or Flight Club” and pub quizzes in March and September. A source recalled: “One of the partners performed at the summer party with his band, that was really good fun.” Others noted that “there aren’t a huge number of social activities as most people have families to go home to, but attendance is good when there is something going on.”
Hours at Collyer Bristow sit at the forgiving end for lawyers in the capital, averaging at around 9am to 6.30pm or 7pm for trainees. “The ‘coat on the back of the chair’ mindset doesn’t exist at all. We can leave when the work is done,” one confirmed. They noted that “dispute resolution teams have generally longer hours, whereas in private client you have more control over your time as you’re working to very regular deadlines.” Super late nights are very much the exception to the rule here – the firm shuts its doors at 11pm.
“The ‘coat on the back of the chair’ mindset doesn’t exist at all.”
When future trainees have secured a place at Collyer Bristow, the firm allocates them a buddy “whom you can talk to between the point of getting an offer and the point that you join, whether it’s about the LPC or any concerns over the training contract.” Once they’ve arrived, trainees are also assigned a partner supervisor, known as their 'principal person.' If that weren't enough trainees get a mentor too. This is generally a senior associate who's “looking out for you, and can talk to other lawyers and members of staff on your behalf.” It’s fair to say “the firm has a really good network and structure” for new arrivals.
At the other end of the training contract, qualification is a “simple” process. Trainees submit preferences for which department they’d like to qualify into and the firm announces decisions in May. “Our cohort was lucky this year as all the trainees wanted to qualify into different places,” but interviews take place if more than one trainee is interested in a particular spot. The firm retained all four of its trainees in 2019.
Trainees are welcomed with a "thorough induction by HR" as well as department-specific training sessions which run throughout each seat.
How to get a Collyer Bristow training contract
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 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.”
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 33
- Associates 40
- 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, 2021 and 2022 start: 17 June 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year salary: £36,000
- Post-qualification salary: £57,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
Main areas of work
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)