Tunbridge Wells’ Cripps is the real McCoy of property and private wealth work. It offers its trainees “quality matters,” a “supportive culture” and a growing London presence within its packet.
Following its late 2018 merger with Londoner Pemberton Greenish, Cripps has been riding high. The combination boosted the firm’s core real estate and private wealth practices in particular, but we decided to check in with managing partner Gavin Tyler to get the latest: “Our litigation, employment and family teams have all experienced an upswing in work. The residential property group has also been very robust and in June they revised their budget up by 280%. On the downside, commercial real estate has felt a pinch in work, as businesses are struggling to pay their rent due to Covid-19.”
"We’re looking to develop the digital side of the business in the future.”
Of course, 2020 is the year where everything has been affected by the global pandemic, but Tyler highlights how the firm has been looking to develop positively in light of it: “We are doing a big review of our five-year plan and are focusing on our service approach. The pandemic has made us look at how we can better use technology to improve our clients’ experience and the services we provide for them. We’re looking to develop the digital side of the business in the future.”
At the moment, CPG picks up a whole host of top-end Chambers UK rankings in the south of the country, especially for areas such as real estate, real estate litigation, planning, corporate M&A, banking & finance, professional negligence and litigation. On its home turf of Kent, CPG’s family and agricultural/rural affairs expertise shines, while Chambers High Net Worth rates the firm as a premier outfit for private wealth law (and related disputes in the area) in Kent and in the South, and as a national leader outside of London. Speaking of the capital, CPG does have an office in Chelsea, where it has recently added two lateral hires in the family and employment practices.
CPG’s heart and soul is in the Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, but the firm also recruits trainees in London. For our trainee sources it was CPG’s “open culture,” “quality matters” and size that convinced them to join. “I wanted to be in a mid-sized firm that had links to the capital but promoted the maintenance of a better work/life balance. I also wanted to go to a firm that had a smaller trainee intake.” The chance to go on a client secondment (the firm runs at least one or two a year) was also a big pull for our interviewees. These typically last for three months and expose trainees to “a lot of commercial contracts and ad-hoc work” that crops up inside a business.
Towards the close of summer, incoming trainees receive a list of what seats are on offer. From this they reply with their top five choices. “You aren’t forced into anything,” one source confirmed (thankfully!), adding that they’d got “all of my preferred choices, just not in the right order!” Trainees determine all of their seats before starting, but these are subject to change based on business need. Cripps doesn’t have any compulsory seats, but trainees are likely to do a stint in one of its real estate departments.
The commercial propertyseat contains two teams: one focuses on planning, construction and investment work, while the other deals with corporate real estate work. The latter is internally referred to as “the green team,” where trainees get stuck into a lot of work for landlords and property funds. The team typically advises developers, investors and high net worth individuals. It has previously acted for clients including Endurance Land, The Dulwich Estate and Tristan Capital. The group acts as sole legal adviser to the joint owners of the centre:mk in Milton Keynes, which involves handling all of the lettings, asset management and construction work tied to the shopping centre. “I was mostly drafting leases – for shopping centres – but also answering enquiries tied to those leases and reviewing title documents,” said one trainee. “I also worked on the sales of portfolio properties too.”
"Client contact is high up on the agenda for all trainees here.”
Over in property disputes, the team covers the likes of easement and covenant claims, as well as developer disputes. Clients here include government departments, well-known retailers, landowners and investors with property portfolios. The Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and M&G Real Estate are current clients. A recent case saw the team act for indemnity insurer ERGO on eight rights to light claims valued to be worth over £150 million. According to trainees, the group acts as a “support team” for the rest of the real estate division, dealing with “anything that may get contentious, like lease renewals and break notices, for example.”There are also some contentious construction matters, as well as disputes over property boundaries and rights of way issues. Our sources had been “allocated tasks like contacting and instructing counsel, getting experts involved and drafting up court documents for proceedings.” Life here can be fast-paced and highly structured as there are “strict court deadlines and procedures that need to be followed.”
Mid-market M&A and private equity deals are on offer in the corporate seat, where CPG’s lawyers are recognised by Chambers UK for their work in the healthcare, financial services and technology/media sectors especially. Clients include private equity-backed outfits like Uniguest Holdings, as well as AdEPT Technology and Broden Media. The group recently represented Uniguest as it acquired a global business called Tripleplay, which operates in the digital signage sector – the transaction covered seven jurisdictions including the US, Australia and Singapore. A trainee explained that the corporate division as a whole “encompasses sales and purchases of companies, employment issues, commercial contracts and commercial dispute resolution.” For those focusing on the transactional side, “you’ll be assisting with the sale and purchase documentation, answering enquiries, dealing with disclosure and managing data rooms.” One particularly enjoyed “the problem-solving element of dealing with disclosures - you come across elements that need to be fixed or explained. Client contact is high up on the agenda for all trainees here.”
Residential conveyancing also offers a great deal of responsibility to trainees. “I tended to have my own files,” one trainee reported, “which involved opening the file with a new client, carrying out searches on the property, drafting reports on title, and dealing with the exchange and completion or a sale or purchasing.” A lot of the work was related to agricultural land, with a source noting how they’d drafted “a licence to allow someone the right to have animals grazing on their land.”
At CPG you can say goodbye to those Sunday blues that settle in when thoughts of Monday morning arise: “It’s always a pleasure to go into work– I’ve never met anyone who I didn’t want to speak to again!” one trainee enthused. Other sources described the culture as “open” and “supportive,” with one explaining that their supervisor “has been fantastic and incredibly patient during this time when trainees have needed more support. I think that’s a reflection of the kind of people the firm employs. Everybody genuinely cares, which is important!” Managing partner Gavin Tyler confirms that “we are interested in people who share our views on the world. We are ethically focused and we put our people before profit. We are all about the team effort. We focus on good people who work hard and love what they do.”
“It’s always a pleasure to go into work."
Trainees felt that this approach filtered down into training and development. “The firm values its people and it invests a lot into us. There are monthly know-how meetings in each division, as well as knowledge-sharing platforms and practice support lawyers who do a lot of work to make sure we are up to date with the law.” Another source commented on how the firm “fosters a strong learning environment,” and highlighted the initial three-week burst of training sessions that trainees get when they first start. “Seat handovers can always feel daunting as everything is new again,” said an interviewee, “but the teams I've worked for have always been extremely supportive, which made the process easier.”
At the time of our calls trainees said that the qualification process was still “up in the air because of Covid-19," but they were confident that things would run smoothly as they had done in previous years: “We are lucky because the number of trainees is usually similar to the number of positions available, so it’s typically straightforward.”Another anticipated that NQ job interviews would take place in July. Cripps Pemberton Greenish retained seven of eight qualifiers in 2020.
The future is diverse...
Managing partner Gavin Tyler tells us CPG is “putting its efforts towards ensuring there’s diversity in our trainee intakes.” 2019 marked the launch of the firm’s first-ever open day, which was designed to attract a more diverse pool of candidates.
How to get a Cripps Pemberton Greenish training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): TBC
Training contract applications
Cripps receives around 160 applications for the ten training contracts it offers each year. Candidates submit a CV, covering letter and application form. “There are no bizarre questions; it simply asks why you want to work for Cripps and what you can offer them,” insiders told us.
The firm shortlists 40 or so candidates for the first-stage interview, which is held with two associates and the recruitment adviser. Around 20 candidates typically pass this stage and are invited back for a final interview, this time with two partners, and then the people manager.
At this point contenders undergo a blind test. “The content is a closely guarded secret, but it won't be a legal question,” managing partner Gavin Tyler confirms.
Cripps runs a two-week vacation scheme every summer for second and third-year undergraduates or those studying the GDL. There are only a few spots up for grabs (six in total), so superb academics are a must. Applicants are required to submit an online application form, then undergo one interview with two members of the People Team followed by further questions posed by two associates.
Participants spend their scheme rotating through three practice areas, completing an assessment after each rotation. “We would like those on our scheme to experience working with people at different levels,” people manager Sarah Miles says, “so they will have exposure to partners, associates and trainees during the programme.” On the social front, standard activities like firm-led lunches and drinks take place. Cripps doesn't recruit trainees directly off the back of its vacation scheme, although students are encouraged to submit a training contract application afterwards.
When it comes to stand-out applicants, “excellent academics are our starting point, but we also look for strong verbal and communication skills,” Miles informs us. Aspiring trainees need a 2:1 degree and a minimum BBB at A level. “Good grades are valuable, but we also look for commercial awareness and practical problem-solving skills,” Miles adds. “If you can demonstrate that you want a long-term career with us and really want to work with us, you'll catch our attention.”
She goes on to tell us that “practising your interview technique is crucial. Interviewees should behave professionally but also be themselves. Make sure you research the firm thoroughly and are clear on your reasons for applying to Cripps in particular.”
Interview with managing partner Gavin Tyler
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the last year you’d like to tell us about?
Gavin Tyler: We’ve made two lateral partner hires in the Chelsea office with the aim of increasing our footprint in London in the employment and family practices. Melanie Stancliffe joined from Irwin Mitchell and Simon Donald from Greenwoods GRM. They’ve been two great hires and enabled us to get both those practices up and running.
CS: How has Cripps overcome the ramifications of COVID-19?
GT: When we moved to our new flagship office in Tunbridge Wells at the end of 2016 we invested very significantly in migrating all our IT systems into the cloud. When lockdown commenced, we were all able to switch to work from home very smoothly. Over the last few months, we have provided everyone with the hardware they need including twin screens for their home setup; we will continue to have a significant amount of working from home even after COVID-19. Microsoft Teams has been a godsend for sure!
CS: What practice areas are doing well at the moment?
GT: Our litigators, the disputes team, employment and family have all experienced an upswing in work. The residential property group has also been very robust, in June they billed 280% of the revised budget we set at the beginning of the pandemic. On the downside, commercial real estate has felt a pinch in work although it is still coming in, albeit work of a different nature as many tenants are struggling to pay their rent due to COVID-19.
CS: What does the future hold for Cripps?
GT: We are doing a major review of our three-year plan with a focus on our service approach. The pandemic has made us look at how we can better use technology to improve our client services and their experience. We look to develop the digital side of the business in the future.
CS: Is the firm planning any office openings in the near future?
GT: We are looking to move out of the current Chelsea building as the lease is coming to an end, and are planning to move somewhere nearby. We would also like a more modern space with better facilities - it would be good to have everyone housed on one floor too.
CS: What sort of person thrives at Cripps?
GT: We are interested in people who share our view of the world. We are ethically focused, we put our people before profit, and we are somewhat obsessive about making our clients happy. We don’t like primadonnas - people who have their own agendas don’t stick around. We are all about the team effort. We focus on good people who work hard and love what they do.
We look for people who are a bit different, and are putting our efforts towards diversifying our intake. We make sure we represent people in ethnicity and gender – at the junior end of the firm 70–80% of our lawyers are female. We also look at people's backgrounds – it’s not all about the grade but where did they make the grade. I urge students to stop apologising for not getting the very top grade. When recruiting, the grades don’t matter a whole lot; you have to be bright but an A* is not that important. Nowadays, lawyers have to be more human and have a uniqueness to them. Being a lawyer is about solving people's problems and providing creative solutions.
Working hours and social life
In keeping with its people-focused approach, trainees told us that they “work hard but still have a work/life balance.” Some liked staying until 7pm to finish things off, but the working day officially ends at 5.15pm. Fortunately, “late nights are very rare,” with midnight being the latest that anyone we spoke with had stayed. What is far more common (thankfully) is some good ol’ after-work socialising. “The trainees meet up and go to the pub together,” a source commented, but there are also office-wide end of quarter drinks, a summer ball (except for 2020 due to COVID-19) and team events. More impromptu gatherings are usually reserved for the end of the week, as “most people drive to work and aren’t necessarily up for it in the week!”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 5)