Look to Kent for Cripps' impressive real estate, private client, and corporate work, and an alternative to the London rat race.
Bold Kent mode
When we heard that Cripps had achieved perhaps the highest honour possible for a law firm to achieve – featuring as a property on the new Tunbridge Wells edition of Monopoly – we couldn't help but grin knowingly. The parallels drew themselves. Frantic accumulation of real estate, check. Bobbing and weaving around various tax traps to protect that hard earned wealth, check. Astute deals hashed out to build a business empire, you betcha. We are, of course, alluding to the work that goes on in this firm's real estate, private client and corporate practices, which feature as some of the best in the South of England according to Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth.
Since speeding past GO with a 2013 merger, this firm's had a smug I've-got-hotels-on-Park-Lane-and-Mayfair-type grin fixed across its face. "Cripps is forward-thinking. It’s pushing for that little bit more than other Kent-based firms,” one trainee declared, commenting on the firm's desire to break through into London without losing its focus on its regional roots. To some degree, that breakthrough has already arrived: Cripps has London-based clients, a Cannon Street office in the capital, and is looking to recruit lawyers directly into that base. It might be a little while longer before these changes trickle down to trainees however. “I wouldn't commit to trainees getting a seat in the office but they will have plenty of opportunities to spend time there,” says managing partner Gavin Tyler. “By 2020 the answer to that question might be different.”
The firm's on relatively fresh turf in Tunbridge Wells too, following a late 2016 office move which also led to the installation of a new cloud-based IT system. The firm scored 8% growth in 2017/18, but this recent activity hasn’t changed the fact that many trainees joined “for the quality of life – to be outside the hustle and bustle of London. I like to enjoy my life outside of work.”
Prior to joining the firm, trainees pick their top four from six seat choices, and sources reported that “the firm will always try to give you your top two.” For those who miss out, there is the possibility of swapping with fellow juniors. “There aren’t any compulsory seats,” trainees informed us. “But Cripps is heavily property-focused, so you’re encouraged to do at least one seat there.”
Cripps' property arm (which covers commercial, residential and disputes matters) brings in more than half of the firm’s revenue, even with the firm's increasing commercial and corporate caseload. There are two seats available in the commercial property department: one focuses on planning, construction and investment work, while the other focuses on corporate real estate and residential development. One recent highlight saw the firm's commercial property lawyers advise Liberty Property Trust UK on a mixed-use development of new community centres, schools, shops and homes for nearly 3000 families in Horsham which totalled over £200 million. The firm also represented international real estate investors M&G Real Estate on a whole host of property transactions, including £27 million’s worth of disposals. Other big-name clients include the Crown Prosecution Service, Berkeley Homes, and Battersea Power Station Development Company, plus wealthy private clients who come for the firm’s residential conveyancing services.
“It’s not just run-of-the-mill conveyancing.”
In property litigation, the team advises large property investors, developers and local government bodies on a variety of landlord and tenant, enfranchisement, and development-based disputes. One source recalled: “I’d draft notices, consider leases, write blogs on case law and was able to go to a hearing and take notes.” On the transactional side, the real estate investment team “acts for massive clients with huge property portfolios. We get involved in everything to do with managing those.” Often, this involves shopping centres or hotels – “say a shopping centre has 100 units, we work on leasing out those commercial units.” The commercial real estate seat also provided “lots of lease work, mainly on the landlord side,” while residential conveyancing could provide a mix of “smaller transactions, but also agricultural estates with hundreds of thousands of acres and unique farm buildings… it’s not just run-of-the-mill conveyancing, which is good fun.”
The development seat meanwhile involved “getting planning permission for developers to build on the land and then sell on the houses,” so it provided more unique trainee work on planning applications. Each real estate seat typically involved drafting leases, deeds of assignment and reports on title, licence alterations, client reports, and research tasks – but these tasks often added up to something more. “You get a lot of responsibility to run your own files,” said our sources. That brought with it regular client contact over the phone and by email, and site visits too.
Head in the cloud
In the corporate department, the team works on private equity, finance, capital markets and M&A across a range of sectors including healthcare, financial services, advertising, technology and media. Clients include Brighton-based manufacturer of chargers, Elektromotive Group, Eurotunnel and KM Holdings, a Kent-based multimedia company. The team recently advised PIXID SAS, a French cloud-based workforce management company on its acquisition of London-based internet services provider The Internet Corporation. “I started off by drafting more basic documents like board minutes, directors’ designation letters and resignation documents,” recalled one trainee. “It’s an intense seat, there’s a lot of work, and it’s very procedural – but things happen really fast.” Trainees could also report they’d “organised everything for a completion, preparing the final pack and sitting with the client when they signed it.”
The commercial seat takes place in the Kings Hill office. The firm’s commercial offering encompasses tech, media and advertising work, and includes IP and IT, as well as commercial disputes. Recently this has included advising iiPay, whose payroll software is used in multiple jurisdictions, on its commercial contracts with American Express and Deliveroo and the implications of GDPR. When we conducted our interviews the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation was driving much of the work for the team. “It was very busy,” one source exclaimed, “and I’d often be involved in seminars and workshops for clients. It was fairly research-heavy, because it’s a new, and technical area of the law." More conventionally trainees often work on “standard distribution and agency agreements for goods and services providers.”
Cripps’ private client department advises on tax, trusts, succession planning and the administration of estates for high net worth individuals and their families. There’s also a specialist private client disputes team that handles contentious trusts, estates and wills disputes. Trainees were often involved in drafting wills, and one described it as “a very client-heavy, meetings-based seat. Every couple of days there was another meeting. I'd be responsible for taking notes, following up from those notes, writing it into an advice note, getting it checked off and finally sending it to the client as a letter of advice.”
“Everyone’s on a level playing field – people are incredibly friendly and inclusive."
Although the firm’s busy pushing to compete in London, trainees still felt that “there are always people who take the time to speak to you, regardless of their station at the firm.” Another added that “everyone’s on a level playing field – people are incredibly friendly and inclusive. Because we’re in an open-plan office, you could be sitting next to a partner and you can swivel around in your chair and ask them a question. There’s no stigma about talking to them – I always do!” The firm maintains a strong social schedule too, “with monthly and quarterly drinks, and other events like barbecues, Christmas and summer parties throughout the year.” Our sources reported an average working day of 8.30am until 6pm. Corporate and commercial, as well as property litigation, were a little more demanding – the latest finish our interviewees experienced was 9pm.
“We go out quite a lot informally,” our trainees said. “In the Tunbridge Wells office we have the sky lounge and breakout area on the top floor where we meet for lunch.” Outside of the office, “we always have drinks at nearby pubs, like Sankeys and the George.” Another insider added that “we have a charity committee that does an awful lot,” which includes inter-firm running clubs, netball teams, football leagues, charity quizzes and summer fêtes, “so there’s something for everyone.” But is there a place for everyone come qualification? In 2018, the firm kept seven out of ten qualifiers. “A jobs list is released in May/June time, but prior to that you have a meeting with the managing partner where you individually discuss which team you’re interested in qualifying into.”
Many sources compared the firm's appeal to that of a London firm – “my priority was to make sure I could do my best work in a comfortable environment,” said one.
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 30 April 2019 (opens 1 December 2018)
Training contract applications
Cripps receives around 120 applications for the seven to 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 advisor. Around 20 candidates typically pass this stage and are invited back for a final interview, this time with a partner and the managing partner, and then the head of HR.
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 (around eight 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 HR, 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,” head of HR Emma Brooks 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,” Brooks 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,” Brooks 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.”
A glance at Tunbridge Wells
- Partners 49
- Associates 132
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices Tunbridge Wells, Kings Hill and London
- Overseas offices None
- Graduate recruiter: Katie Slade, [email protected] 01892 506328
- Application criteria:
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 120
- Minimum required degree grade: 2.1 or above
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: BBB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 6
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December every year
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December every year
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 30 April 2019
- LPC fees: Partial – 50% funded, 50% interest-free loan
- GDL fees: No, but Cripps discount
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Tunbridge Wells and Kings Hill
- Overseas seats: No
- Client secondments: Yes – subject to needs of clients
Cripps has a particularly strong client service culture. With over 350 people it is non-hierarchical, open and highly flexible. It works closely and sympathetically with clients, offering commercially astute solutions. Everything is designed around the needs of the individual clients, with the firm adapting itself to each client and their particular objectives.
Main areas of work
• Dispute resolution: 17%
• Private client: 11%
• Real estate: 44%
Trainee solicitors will experience four six month seats, providing a range of different practice areas to provide a diverse experience. The programme is flexible, with trainees encouraged to choose their own seats.
The firm accepts applications from second or third-year undergraduate students or those currently studying the GDL and keen to benefit from the opportunity of a two week placement during the summer.
University law fairs 2018
• University of Sussex
• University of Surrey
• University of Southampton
• BPP Law School
• University of Law
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Private Client (Band 2)