As a firm with a social housing focus and a strong desire to steer clear of being “London-centric,” there are plenty who want to call Devonshires home.
Devonshires training contract review 2024
For social housing specialists Devonshires, building a successful firm depends on an investment in the people that make it. Split between London, Leeds, and more recently Colchester and Birmingham, Devonshires has sought to find a balance when it comes to size. “We always wanted to be of a size that wasn’t too big, to make sure that we were able to give clients what they needed in terms of a personal service,” training principal Chris Drabble explains, “but it’s also a size that gives solid weight to the advice that we give.” The Colchester office, which the firm opened a few years ago, was an under-the-radar addition to make life easier for staff commuting in from the area, but the Birmingham office (which opened in 2022) was opened with expansion very much in mind. “We opened the Birmingham office about a year ago, and it’s growing, so we are looking at premises there. Going forward, we are looking at potentially placing a trainee into the Birmingham office as well,” Drabble adds, so watch this space.
According to Drabble, around 70% of the firm’s work revolves around social housing, encompassing work with charities, housing associations and regulators. This investment of time and resources has built a sizeable reputation too, with top-tier Chambers UK rankings for social housing in London and social housing finance UK-wide. Devonshires’ full-service offering covers teams in commercial work, litigation, employment, real estate, and projects & property development.
Trainees at Devonshires were quick to highlight that a good proportion of each cohort come from the firm’s paralegal pool. For those that do, the first seat of your training contract will often be the department you paralegalled in, but there are no guarantees. “Aside from that, we don’t get much of a say in where our first seat is,” one trainee added. Chances are, your first seat is likely to be in real estate or housing management, which almost all trainees will sit in at some stage, “just because they are the biggest teams.” For the trainees we spoke to, the number of seat options was a bit of a sticking point. “Especially given the number of trainees, the options can be a bit limited,” one told us; “in corporate, banking or construction for example, there has only been one seat.” There is the option to flag up the seats that interest you, however: “About a month before each seat rotation, you have a call with HR to discuss where you’d like to go. You draw up a list, and they try as best they can to factor that in.”
"Each of the seven trainees in real estate will each be doing something different.”
As one of the firm’s largest departments, real estate is split into sub-teams covering commercial real estate, residential real estate, and projects. According to trainees, commercial real estate covers large-scale site acquisitions, the residential team your typical conveyancing and plot sales, and projects the more corporate joint venture work and financing. “The type of work that you do does depend on what partner you are working with,” one source explained, “so each of the seven trainees in real estate will each be doing something different.” For trainees working in commercial real estate, “you’ll be working on transactions from start to finish, so you’ll touch on completions, sit in on client meetings, prepare attendance notes and carry out legal research.” As is typical of a transactional seat, “you need to be willing to work longer hours,” but you’ll get a taste of the entire life cycle of these types of deals: “Devonshires does a lot of work with registered social housing providers, so you work on a lot of matters related to developing social housing.” In one recent deal, Devonshires assisted Sage on its acquisition of affordable housing unit development Coronation Square, which is being constructed adjacent to Leyton Orient Football Ground.
Life in residential real estate revolves around the kinds of procedures that anyone buying a property will quickly become familiar with: “Looking at searches, speaking to the other side, drafting contracts and deeds of variation, right through to completion.” Trainees in the seat are likely to touch on some crossover work with the corporate team on the property side of company sales too. “The contracts for properties can be quite a big task,” one trainee recalled; “I did a couple of them, and they are each like 70 pages, but it’s really interesting to learn.”
As another of the more common trainee destinations at Devonshires, housing management & property litigation covers the contentious side of property law, from disrepair claims and gas safety injunctions to tenancy fraud, leasehold disputes and rent and service charge recovery. “The main difference with seats in real estate is that you’re dealing with a caseload rather than transactions,” one source commented. “There are a lot of disrepair cases which vary in length and value, which means it’s a case of managing how much time needs to be expended on each one.” With the litigious side of property law comes court-centred trainee tasks, including court applications and injunctions, drafting letters and documents for court, and booking counsel with various chambers. “In housing management, you tend to have your set deadlines,” one trainee explained, “which means that you don’t tend to work quite as late as you might elsewhere.” In one recent matter, the firm advised Beyond Housing (BH) on its actions in response to the wrong classification of social housing properties resulting in overcharged rent in breach of the Social Housing Regulatory Framework.
In Devonshires’ London office, the corporate and banking teams work as part of a single department, but in Leeds, the banking practice (split between banking and securitisation) stands independently, and trainees were quick to highlight that it was one of a few teams outside of the capital to generate its own work streams. The group works on the financing of social housing developments with registered provider clients such as Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing, the Salvation Army Housing Association, Places for People Homes Limited and Network Homes. In one recent deal, Devonshires advised Northern Irish social enterprise Clanmil on its first private placement debt capital markets deal in aid of its pledge to provide 1,400 homes and upgrade the energy efficiency of its existing portfolio. For trainees in the seat, “there’s a lot of proofreading and reviewing,” one source recalled; “it’s essentially a process of getting familiar with different agreements and different kinds of transactions.” The distinguishing factor in banking, trainees highlighted, is that “the whole team will be working on one thing, but there will be aspects of that which you can run on your own. As a general rule it’s quite hands-on.”
According to Chris Drabble, there has been a push to ensure that not everything revolved around Devonshires’ London base: “We were always very keen on not being London-centric. We make sure that every office is represented.” Trainees at the firm were also keen to emphasise the importance of the culture of the firm in recruitment. “They really try to get to know you at the interview stage,” one told us; “I came out of it surprised at how much I had been talking about myself and my interests. They really want to see whether you will fit into the team.” And this, Drabble adds, is very deliberate: “I trained at a very small firm in Bedford with ten partners, and then moved from a big international firm at the other end of the scale, so I've experienced the good and the bad in terms of the trainee environment.” With all the firm’s offices on an equal footing, no one gets left behind either: “In Leeds, we moved in to a nice, new, modern office just before COVID,” one source chimed, “and we’ve just moved back into our regenerated office in London, which overlooks the little circle of Finsbury Circus.”
“I came out of it surprised at how much I had been talking about myself and my interests. They really want to see whether you will fit into the team.”
As a general rule, trainees rarely stayed in the office past 6.30pm, and reported that they never felt pressure from partners to stay in the office beyond what they were needed for. “In real estate, which is one of our busiest departments, the latest I ever worked was 7.30pm,” one trainee told us. “I’ve done a couple of hours on a Saturday, but that’s it. If there was something urgent I would stay, but there isn’t that pressure every day.” While required office days are dependent on the team, trainees reported an average of two to three days a week in the office. “But I do encourage departments to keep trainees in the offices as much as possible,” Drabble adds. “Trainees and junior staff generally learn better from being around other people to listening to conversation to see how things are done.”
Come qualification time, the firm will release a list of available jobs and indicate how many positions are available in each team. “I don’t think the process is as rigorous as if you were applying for a new job. Unless several people went for the same role I don’t think we would ever need to interview,” one source explained, “we are generally just advised to keep conversations going early.” As Drabble puts it: “We like to think that it is a massive investment that the firm is putting into them, so in the last five years, we've retained all our trainees.” In 2023, however, the hot streak ended, with one qualifying trainee not retained.
From start to finish:
For new starters, the first week at Devonshires will be spent paired up with a mentor (a five-year-plus PQE solicitor) who will act as a mentor for them throughout their training contract and beyond.
How to get a Devonshires training contract
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2024
Devonshires receives around 117 applications a year for its training contracts in London, Leeds and Birmingham, each submitted via the firm’s online application form. The folks at Devonshires are open-minded when it comes to past work experience (although work with local authorities and registered providers is a good place to start), looking for candidates with a broad skill set who have done their homework on the firm.
Assessment & Interviews
The firm whittles its 117 applicants down to around 35, who are then invited to an assessment day. Prior to the assessment day, all applicants take a Watson-Glaser assessment (a critical thinking test if you weren’t already familiar). Come the big day, candidates will take on two written exercises and a group exercise, which may or may not be law-related, but the aim is to create an opportunity for candidates to learn a bit more about the experience they’re likely to have at Devonshires. At the end of the day, the firm then hosts a networking event for the candidates to meet the current crop of trainees.
The assessment day also features an interview with a panel of two (usually a partner and a solicitor), which is structured and scored. Those who emerge from the assessment day unscathed will face a final interview with a panel of three equity or fixed-share equity partners. This interview is less structured and is focused on the candidates’ application form answers, experience and aspirations.
Assistant Solicitors: 85
Total Trainees: 21
Contact: Hannah Nichols, HR Manager, Hannah.Nichols@devonshires.co.uk, 020 7628 7576
Method of application: Online Application form - https://www.apply4law.com/devonshires
Selection procedure: Online application form, psychometric test, assessment centre, panel interview
Closing date for 2024: 30 April 2023
No. of training contracts: 9
% interviewed: 30%
Required degree grade: 2.1
Overseas/regional offices: London, Colchester, Leeds, Birmingham
From our offices in the City of London, Leeds, Birmingham and Colchester, we house all our 287 partners, solicitors and support staff in one 'hub of expertise' enabling us to create teams, collaborate with others and deliver high-quality, practical advice using up to date technology.
We are well regarded within both the public and private sectors and we have a strong foothold in the social housing arena. In order to provide excellent legal advice and market leading solutions, we continually update our knowledge and expertise. This includes a comprehensive training and education programme for all of our staff, from senior partner through to support staff. Likewise we understand our clients' thirst for knowledge and excellence, and to cater for this we provide a program of regular webinars, briefings and eBulletins across a range of subjects.
Main Areas of Work
- Banking & finance
- Capital markets
- Clinical negligence
- Commercial property/real estate
- Company & commercial
- Construction & engineering
- Corporate finance/mergers & acquisitions
- Dispute resolution
- Employment, pensions & incentives
- Energy & natural resources
- Housing/landlord & tenant
- Personal injury
- Professional negligence
- Projects/project finance
Before you start
From the moment you are offered a training contract with us you will be in regular contact with the HR manager. We will also invite you to any firm socials that are organised in this time. This is a great way to meet our current trainees and ask them about their experience as well as other future colleagues.
Your first week at Devonshires will be spent on our trainee induction programme, this will give you an introduction to us and how we work. The purpose of this week is to make the start of your training contract and your start with Devonshires as smooth as possible. You will meet a number of key people who will give presentations, talks, together with training sessions on our IT systems and other processes you will need to know. You will also spend some time during this week meeting your team and shadowing a current trainee as well as having the opportunity to socialise with the trainees in a more informal setting.
You will undertake four six-month seats across our range of practice areas. Your first seat is allocated for you by the HR manager and training principal and for your three remaining seats you will have some input in areas you are interested in. When making decisions about seats we take into consideration your preferences along with the firm's needs and SRA requirements. You will need to complete a litigation seat and property seat as part of your training contract.
We have a supportive and encouraging culture that focuses on training and developing our employees to be the best they can be.
Throughout your career with us you will be provided with a strong and well balanced support network.
Buddy – a first-year trainee solicitor will help you through your first few weeks. They will be there to answer those questions you dare not ask anyone else.
Training supervisor – for each six-month seat, you will be allocated a trainee supervisor who will delegate you work, monitor your progress and give you timely and constructive feedback. You will have a mid seat review as well as a formal appraisal meeting at the end of your seat.
HR manager – working closely with you, the training principal, your training supervisors and your buddy; the HR manager will ensure you are well supported and encouraged throughout your time with us.
Training principal – Chris Drabble, partner, will act as your mentor throughout your training contract and will take a keen interest in your development. The training principal and HR manager will liaise with your training supervisor in organising the seat rotations.
Mentor – you will be allocated a Mentor at the start of your training contract who will provide informal support and offer opportunities for you to learn from someone with a greater or different understanding of the firm, and provide you with an objective and alternative source of information.
By working closely with your trainee supervisor in each seat you will receive on the job training, this will include where possible client contact and early responsibility, which will assist you in developing the necessary skills to become a well-rounded lawyer. As well as completing the necessary training on the Professional Skills course, which we will fund via an external provider, you will attend training sessions organised by the teams and firm during each seat.
During the qualification process we will make you aware of our current NQ vacancies across the teams and discuss these with you and the process of applying.
Life assurance, group income protection, private medical insurance, dentistry treatment scheme, group personal pension, interest free season ticket loan, gym joining fee contribution
Sponsorship and awards
All applicants must have completed their LPC or SQE1 prior to the start of their Training Contract – we have an April and September 2024 intake planned.
We do not offer financial assistance for the GDL, LPC or SQE1.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 1)