From its long-established base in Bedford Row, Collyer Bristow continues to shower its quirks and perks upon a few lucky trainees each year.
Following the firm’s re-brand in 2019, Collyer Bristow has been promoting its core values of individuality, creativity and collaboration throughout the firm. “There’s definitely a culture of re-branding happening at the moment and it’s nice to see how there’s no staple Collyer Bristow persona – everybody can be themselves,” a trainee observed.
“It’s definitely evolving and becoming more of a creative space.”
What else is new? Interviewees told us of an improved development structure that’s been put in place for both trainees and associates. In addition, “we recently had our IT updated with brand new systems that aid document management, which has helped with the shift to remote working. It’s definitely evolving and becoming more of a creative space.”
Common points of attraction among the current trainee cohort included the firm’s “strength in areas of law not offered at all firms, like conflict-free banking litigation and media & privacy.”Another draw was that “the intake’s small enough for trainees to be given real responsibility and to get to know people around the firm.”
Expertise-wise, Collyer picks up Chambers High Net Worth’s attention when it comes to private wealth law, but also scores marks from Chambers UK for its family, defamation/reputation management and real estate prowess. The firm offers an array of commercial practices alongside its more personal legal services, including corporate, employment and IP. It also has a broad contentious offering that handles cases tied to its services elsewhere in the firm, such as tax and banking.
First-seaters choose from four available seat options, “which are basically left over from the second-years since they get priority.” Fair enough (second-years getting priority is how it works in most firms). Going forward, however, trainees sit down with HR midway through each seat to discuss their options (of which there are eight available). While there are no hard and fast requirements “they do encourage people to do at least two seats in the dispute resolution department as it is the largest.”
The dispute resolution department covers the likes of commercial, banking and finance, employment, IP and real estate-related matters. “The disputes team are such a joy to work for,” one happy interviewee commented. “They've mastered the art of challenging you while also giving you all the supervision you need.” In banking and finance disputes, the work mostly centred on derivatives and swaps claims, with clients ranging from small businesses and billion-dollar entities to funds and individual investors. The team recently acted for a UK-based trader at a US hedge fund and disputed sanctions imposed on him by the Frankfurt Stock Exchange over the use of his trading ID by colleagues. “It’s a pretty full-on seat with big matters and big clients, but the client exposure helps you get to grips with certain aspects. We help with the research tasks, prepare bundles for court and handle the initial meeting with counsel and clients.”
Those in the commercial disputes team gained a lot of court experience by attending trials and Court of Appeal hearings. “We typically are a small part of the big process and deal with disclosure points, research and bundling, plus we get to draft witness statements.” The team was recently instructed by Vald Nielsen Holding and Newwatch Limited to advise on a £40 million shareholder dispute. The specialist media and privacy practice can be found under the firm's dispute resolution banner. This small arm of the practice forms part of the firm's offering to high net worth clients and allowed trainees to gain experience on phone hacking claims, reputation management matters and ‘right to be forgotten’ cases. “We draft letters of action, take client instructions and manage correspondence with the other side to reach settlement,” a source explained.
Tax and estate planning (TEP), property and family matters can all be found in private wealth. Wills, trusts, probate and complex personal taxation questions are the bread and butter of a seat here. “A third of my time was spent working on immigration matters for high net worth individuals,” an interviewee recalled. “It’s great work for a trainee since a lot of it is form-based – you're taking instructions from the client and filling in the forms. The other two thirds were spent dealing with wills and lasting powers of attorney (LPAs).” Another source described the seat as “pretty technical with complicated aspects of law, but there’s a real sense of community learning and everyone is always interested in discussing the technical parts you’re not sure about.”
The tax planning team represents both “domestic and international clients – quite a few are from the US and Turkey.” On the family side, we heard there’s a “good balance between children and financial matters.” The team also handles pre-nups and divorce cases. Sources reported a high level of autonomy throughout the seat: “There have been occasions where I’ve gone to court on my own for a child custody case. It’s a difficult subject matter, but the team are so lovely.” Interviewees in the property seat found themselves “involved in preparing reports on titles, drafting simple licences and leases, and assisting on residential conveyancing.”Towards the end of the seat they were “given files to run, which involved marking up sale contracts or preparing them, as well as dealing with the post-completion side of the matter.”
The ‘CoCo’ umbrella covers corporate and commercial work. Here you’ll get to grips with IT contracts, data protection work and the sales and purchases of small and medium enterprise (SME) businesses. As a trainee “you can do a bit of everything if you express any particular interests. You can find yourself working on an administration of a well-known company one day and then preparing terms and conditions for a client in the entertainment industry the next day.” On the commercial side, daily responsibilities consist of “drafting first versions of agreements such as non-disclosures, terms and conditions, website privacy policies.”
Over in corporate, sources reported increased activity on the restructuring and insolvency side in the wake of Covid-19. However, “we usually assist with M&A transactions by preparing ancillary docs, attending advisory calls, updating the conditions precedent (CP) checklist and producing bibles.” The team recently acted for the buyer of Manor Renewable Energy and advised on the domestic and international private equity aspects of the transaction. Under the CoCo umbrella, fintech is a growing area of focus for the firm. The team advises challenger banks, forex companies, and clients using blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.
“Quirky, creative and friendly”were some of the recurring words trainees used to describe Collyer Bristow’s culture. Trainees emphasised how the atmosphere is “partner-led: it varies with some partners really wanting to be involved and others remaining more aloof, but in general everyone loves what they do, and we’re interested and invested in each other.”
We heard that while the social life at Collyer Bristow may be a tad muted compared to other firms, all the stops are pulled out for big firmwide events. Recent formals were held at the Law Society, the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park and Gray's Inn (with one of the partners leading the band!). “We had one Christmas party at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford.” If you're unfamiliar, this is a 114.5-metre-high observation tower, complete with a wrap-around slide that trainees used to let their hair down (or up, given the wind tunnel effect).
"You're never put in a position where you can't ask for help, even during lockdown."
Trainees here typically get more time to pause and examine their inner lives than many of their contemporaries in large City firms. The hourssit at the more forgiving end for lawyers in the capital, with days averaging out at a 9am start and 6.30/7pm finish. That’s not to say there aren’t some long days here and there: “There have been a few late nights in banking & finance disputes or when trainees were called upon to help out on a big litigation task, but considering the office shuts at 11pm, no one stays too late!” a trainee explained.
When asked about the training and support at the firm, trainees were full of praise: “You’re never put in a position where you feel you can’t ask for help, even during lockdown. We’ve been told it isn’t a problem to just pick up the phone and call our supervisors.”Collyer Bristow’s supervisors are referred to as ‘development coaches’ and trainees are assigned one for each seat they complete. “We run through a specific form/checklist, but also talk through technical matters, areas to develop, pastoral wellbeing issues and how to build up business development and networking skills,”one interviewee informed us. Another source highlighted the broader context of this support: “The firm is keen to give us a rounded training contract that allows us to improve our commercial awareness and technical skills. The additional development coach structure makes it much easier to keep track of goals and objectives.” In response to trainee feedback, the firm also implemented a career development framework to develop associate performance.
The qualification process this year “has been quite opaque. We do understand that a lot of law firms have been dealing with similar delays, but there’s been a real lack of communication as to what’s going on and when the decision will be made,”a representative source summarised. In 2020 the firm offered three of its four qualifiers a permanent position, and ultimately retained two as NQs.
Trainees can bring their friends and family along to CB Boutique, a shopping event where the firm invites female entrepreneurs to set up shop in the office.
How to get a Collyer Bristow training contract
Training contract deadlines (2022-2023): 16 July 2021 (opens 1 March 2021)
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.”
More about the work at Collyer Bristow
On the IP side, “there’s a good balance of work, with one partner who looks after the technical patents side and another who focuses on trade mark and copyright matters. There’s a lot of trade mark enforcement action in this seat and we act for a few global brands as well.” A recent matter saw the team defending CS Medical and its directors against allegations of copying, misuse of confidential information and breach of employee’s duty of fidelity in an action brought by a former employer. Trainees can expect to “draft infringement letters before action” among their many duties.
The distinct real estate litigation group, which sits in the real estate department, advises on landlord and tenant disputes, breaches of covenants, possession claims and business lease renewals (those that are opposed and unopposed). The team recently acted for the lessees of a prime residential building in London with regards to the landlord’s failure to comply with certain statutory obligations. The team also acted for a commercial landlord on a breach of contract and nuisance claim brought against their tenant. “It’s a great seat that allows you to get stuck in and run with your own matters,” one source enthused. “We primarily act for landlords, so there are a lot of small claims for you to sink your teeth into.” Trainee tasks included drafting court applications and various pleadings, bundling, research and “addressing general queries about leases.”
Collyer Bristow LLP
4 Bedford Row,
- Partners 35
- Associates: 44
- Total trainees: 5 (First and second years)
- UK offices: London
- Overseas offices: 1
- Graduate recruiter: Corinne Johnson, corinne.johnso[email protected] com, 0207 242 7363
- Training partner: Janet Armstrong-Fox
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 350
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above
- Minimum A levels: Strong grades
- Work experience places pa: 15
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st March 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 16th July 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year salary: £36,000
- Post-qualification salary: £57,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
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. The firm is well known for its support of the contemporary arts, having operated a ground breaking in-house art gallery for 30 years, and sponsoring art and literary prizes.
Main areas of work
Collyer Bristow is known for its strength in private wealth (including tax and estate planning, 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, employment, and IP), as well as corporate and commercial services. As well as its strength in private wealth and real estate, the firm also has significant cross-practice expertise in the media, arts and culture and financial services sectors.
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, 25 days’ holiday.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)