This 300-year-old Londoner has “one foot on the historical private client path, and one in a progressive future.”
Tale as old as time
Farrer & Co has been in business since the 18th century. That's been time enough to gain the ultimate private client: much of the press simply refers to Farrer as 'the Queen's solicitors.' The esteemed Londoner has always been known for catering to high net worth individuals and families, and Chambers High Net Worth awards the firm a number of its highest honours in recognition of Farrer's continued private wealth, family law and residential property excellence. Although there's the understandable “traditional clientele” accrued from its long history, nowadays the group seeking Farrer's services includes not only royals and landed gentry, but also ultra-rich international business owners.
" It's doing a very good job of balancing its history and clients."
Still, a firm that's represented Charles Dickens can easily gain a “fuddy-duddy” reputation. Trainees therefore assured us that the firm's history “is not a bad thing. It shows it is extremely sustainable and reliable. It's doing a very good job of balancing its history and clients, with increased forward-thinking.” Indeed, many felt Farrer is “being innovative and creative.” 2017 saw the firm appoint its first female senior partner, and its approach to employee welfare is far from Victorian. The firm's director of HR recently completed a Mental Health First Aid course, and aims to place a qualified first-aider in each department to recognise the symptoms of mental health conditions.
Furthermore, the firm is pursuing growth in its commercial offering and trainees noticed innovation within existing practices. “For example, they've developed work on educational safeguarding – an area that's about to explode.” But there's already plenty of fresh air provided by work for sports and cultural organisations such as the PGA European Tour and the Tate Modern. This “colourful client base” was a huge draw for trainees, not to mention “the possibility of being able to do private client, corporate and commercial, and property work all under one roof. I felt if I got a job here I'd come out as a more rounded trainee.” Likewise, the firm picks up a well-rounded batch of Chambers UK rankings that go beyond private client work, with top prizes in art and cultural property law, charities, education, publishing, and employment.
Wills, you trust me?
Farrer's six-seat system was largely praised by trainees who agreed “you come out of the training contract with a broader range of experiences.” They felt that this “ultimately outweighs the frustrating element – being four months into a seat and getting to the stage where you feel valuable, then having to move on. Even if we had those extra two months, there's always more to learn.”
Trainees have to complete their first four seats in each of the firm's broad practice areas: property (commercial, residential or estates); contentious (family, commercial litigation, reputation management, contentious trusts and estates, or employment); commercial (corporate, banking and financial services, charity, employment, or IP and commercial); and private client (onshore, international or tax). The fifth seat is a 'wild card,' which is “your top choice” and pretty much guaranteed. Conversely, the first “is total pot luck,” as the firm allocates this to you. The sixth seat is usually a repeat seat and the area desired for qualification, though sources also emphasised: “If you're leaving the firm, they're good about trying to put you in a seat that will be helpful to you, as opposed to shoving you anywhere.” That said, retention has historically been pretty good and in 2018 the firm retained nine of its ten qualifiers.
“You're dealing with people at their most emotional and least rational.”
The family seat is “always popular,” according to trainees, as it's “a really strong area for the firm.” Divorce work for ultra high net worth individuals makes up a fair bit of the department's work, with international issues often in play. Prenuptial agreements were also reported as being a “growth area.” The team recently advised an unnamed wealthy European client on a prenuptial agreement, which, as is often the case with Farrer's work, involved a complex trust structure. It also advised Julia Goddard-Watts in a case related to her divorce from James Goddard-Watts, a millionaire businessman, and part of the family which founded hardware company Screwfix. Sources experienced a high level of client contact, attending “many client meetings, hearings, and conferences with counsel.” They'd also had the chance to “go to cases in the High Court, as well as the Family Court.” Trainees reflected: “You're dealing with people at their most emotional and least rational, which can be quite challenging.” Beyond the personal aspect of the seat, trainees were also able to try their hand at “drafting divorce petitions, applications, and consent orders,” as well as “instructions to counsel.” Of course, there was also “general admin stuff, like bundling, which has to be done.”
The private client seat involves “a huge range of work, all basically involving private individuals or families, and their wealth.” It covers classic matters like wills, trusts and probate work, as well as “more random bits, like private jet contracts and the ownership and sale of art.” One source summed it up in saying “there's no such thing as a 'typical' private client matter.” Trainees got into a fair bit of research, “as it can be quite a technical area of law.” They also mentioned “lots of drafting – drafting wills, deeds of appointment, and attendance notes.” Unfortunately for those gossipmongers among you, the firm stays tight-lipped about its clients. But sources did describe how the families and individuals involved range from having “been with the firm for 200 years or more, to ones we've had since last week. We're always maintaining old relationships, and building new ones.”
The residential, rural, and commercial property seats give trainees a stint in a department best known for working on a mix of transactions and developments with private clients, institutional investors and charities. Like private client, the seat can involve sizeable amounts of research “because of the unusual properties we are dealing with. It gives rise to lots of interesting legal questions that you wouldn't get with a standard detached property.” Beyond research, many sources reported high levels of responsibility: “You're more likely to be given charge of a matter. I was running a few small purchases.” Other tasks included “drafting reports on title, assisting with exchanges and completions, and attending clients' properties for inspection.” A recent commercial matter involved advising developer The Hub Group on its £100 million acquisition of a building in Wembley, which it plans to redevelop as shops, offices and residential units. On the rural property side there's plenty of work for estates and institutional landowners, including: The Duchy of Cornwall, The Duchy of Lancaster, and the Church Commissioners for England. “We are the principal legal advisers to all three, and between them, they have a lot of land in a lot of different places!” For instance, the team continue to act as legal advisers on the Duchy of Cornwall's Poundbury development – a multimillion pound extension to the town of Dorchester, labelled by some as a “traditionalist model village.”
“Your exposure to partners is excellent.”
As for the commercial options available, corporate tends to deal with mid-sized M&A transactions, as well as some “sports governance for national governing bodies.” Trainees made it plain that “we're not kidding anyone that we're a huge M&A firm,” but they had noticed the team growing in size of late. Anyway, the team's modest proportions meant “your exposure to partners is excellent. It's often just you and a partner on a team.” Trainees work on corporate classics like due diligence, but also “quite a bit of drafting – mainly board minutes, but also a couple of share purchase agreements.” Over in IP and commercial contracts, a long-standing client is UK Athletics – the team acted for them on the staging of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2017. At the time of writing, IP&C was very busy with “GDPR around the corner.” The group works for a range of “interesting clients, like cultural institutions, galleries, schools, and charities.” It recently advised travel guide publishers Lonely Planet on a number of data protection matters, including the use of personal data in its publications, and broader GDPR compliance. Other clients being advised on GDPR compliance included the Lawn Tennis Association, the Southbank Centre, and Sage Publications.
The employment department covers “a combination of contentious and transactional work.” Trainees highlighted that much of the work is “influenced by the strong schools practice we have. The contentious work can be school v staff, or school v parent.” As mentioned in the introduction, trainees spoke about a “burgeoning safeguarding practice, especially in regards to the IICSA [Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse]” which involves advising on the policies schools and colleges have to safeguard their students. Beyond education, the team is top-ranked for its senior executive work, especially when it comes to severance negotiations and restrictive covenants. It has advised on appointments and departures at HSBC, Tesco, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. Trainees' tasks included “drafting settlement agreements and employment contracts,” and “reviewing and drafting employee handbooks.”
The story thus Farrer
According to trainees, the firm's history means “everyone has the sense that they're participating in an institution that will outlive them. There's a sense of stewardship – we're taking the firm for a period of time, before passing it on.” Trainees also gave the sense that the firm isn't a place for the self-centred. “It's a business, but Farrer fundamentally sees the people that work here as pretty central to that business, as opposed to little worker bees. The firm invests in its people.” Trainees' hours, for example, reflected a pretty respectful attitude. A representative trainee told us: “I've had a handful of nights where I've stayed until 10pm, otherwise it's more a question of leaving between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.” Still, seats like family and commercial could be more up and down. A further boon to the working environment was that “we're very non-hierarchical. There's nothing more indicative of that than the trainee review: it's a pantomime written by second-years every year which takes the mickey out of partners and their reputations – they're expected to be a good sport about it!”
“Like something off the set of Star Trek, but there are also traditional mahogany furnishings.”
Going forward, sources reckoned the firm wouldn't be changing too drastically: “I think a lot of the core areas for the firm will remain well established. We might become slightly more commercial, but in a positive way. I would say the goal is to keep ensuring the firm is modern, while maintaining and respecting its history.” The firm's two office buildings serve as a great example. One is a 17th century listed building in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Newcastle House was described as “a bit like a maze – when you wander around you still find floors and rooms you didn't know existed!” Famously, it's where the charter for the Bank of England was signed, and has “a nice amount of tradition balanced with modern interiors. The meeting rooms look like something off the set of Star Trek, but there are also traditional mahogany furnishings.” The other building can be found at 20-23 Lincoln's Inn Fields; it has “more modern facilities and houses the more commercial practice areas.” As in previous years, the only slight irk was the lack of “canteen or communal space to go and eat lunch, which is sometimes annoying.”
On the social side, trainees “get invited to just about everything.” There are events throughout the year, like summer barbecues and Christmas parties, but more informally “there are social events among teams which are pretty regular.” The firm also knows how to successfully mix business with pleasure: “There's a crossover between what we do socially, and business development. Most lunches and evenings there will be some event for our clients, or we'll be going out with a client. It feels very social.” However, if those sort of events don't take your fancy, the firm also has several sports teams trainees can participate in, as well as a choir and a number of CSR events. For example, Farrer works closely with the Mary Ward Legal Centre – “it's not obligatory for trainees but it's a really good experience. You go there maybe once a month with a qualified lawyer and see a client. You hear their problems and try to help them.”
Trainees receive regular lunchtime sessions called 'What we do in...' which explain a department's work. “It's interesting if you're trying to make your mind up about what seats you want to do.”
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Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
Applications and interviews
Both those applying for the vac scheme and those applying directly for a training contract are asked to answer a set of questions and send a cover letter.
Graduate recruitment consultant Donna Davies tells us the content and structure of the covering letter play an important part in the assessment process. “Ideally we want the letter to be well constructed, matching their skills to our specific requirements and outlining what attracts them to us in terms of our practice areas and training programme." From here, the top 100 vac scheme applicants who impress are invited to an open day that involves a Q&A, plus group and written exercises.
Meanwhile, the lucky 40 training contract applicants who make it through the first round are invited to an interview with a partner, which generally lasts around an hour. Current trainees recalled the experience as “interesting and free-flowing,” with one telling us “it felt like they were really trying to get to know me and were prepared to challenge me on certain points to see if I could back up my opinions.”
Around 30 go on to a second interview, which takes place with two partners. Candidates are given a brief scenario to read through and comment on at the beginning of the interview, before moving on to a more general discussion about their application. Second interviews usually last around an hour and a half.
Farrer holds three two-week vacation schemes across Easter and summer, taking on ten candidates at a time. Each vac schemer is assigned a trainee buddy and sits with a different team each week. Our sources recalled that they’d been treated “just like trainees,” having drafted board minutes, conducted research and been taken to client meetings. Alongside such tasks, vac schemers are given a case study to work on over the course of their visit. This exercise culminates in them pitching for fictitious clients.
To make the most of their vac scheme, Davies advises candidates to “show a real interest in the firm and a desire to work here. At the same time, remember that it’s also a chance for you to find out about us.”
Completing the vac scheme doesn’t automatically entitle candidates to a training contract interview, but those who are granted one skip straight to the second interview round, as outlined above.
How to wow
The firm asks for a minimum 2:1 degree and ABB at A levels (or equivalent). Beyond that, “we are looking for applicants who display good judgment, are engaging, can work within a team and who, perhaps above all, are resilient,”according to Davies.
Given the firm's abundance of private client work, as well as family and employment law, “applicants need to have a certain sensitivity and be sympathetic towards individuals,” partner Jonathan Eley points out. “Our clients expect confidentiality and discretion at all times, so candidates who recognise the importance of that will certainly get a tick in the box.”
Interview with graduate recruitment partner Claire Gordon
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the last year you think are important to mention?
Claire Gordon: Obviously much of our work is highly confidential and cannot be disclosed but some of our current work includes:
- Advising the British Library on “St Pancras Transformed”, a very significant redevelopment project involving expertise across the firm (contracts, procurement, commercial property, planning and construction) and stakeholder management (including government departments and developers).
- Advising the Duchy of Cornwall on the significant 20 year urban community development project (Nansleden Urban Community Project), which is aimed at regenerating Newquay and the surrounding area. This high profile project is going to provide for private and affordable homes; a supermarket; commercial development; community buildings with strategic infrastructure; school; sports centres; and the household waste recycling site. As you can imagine, again, this requires expertise from all across the firm.
- Carrying out an independent review for Imperial College London on their safeguarding arrangements in relation to children and vulnerable adults, advising on best practice approaches and pastoral care. This is an area which we have been spearheading and we are very much at the cutting edge in developing best practice in this rapidly evolving area.
CS: What's the firm's current business strategy?
CG: There aren't any huge changes on the horizon planned. As a firm we know who we are, we like who we are, and we're going to carry on doing what we do best – acting for significant clients, nationally and internationally, on high quality complex and interesting work. Of course, we're open to making opportunistic recruits and developing new areas of practice where we see we can add value, but as a firm we're very secure in who we are. For example, we are the market leaders in child protection matters following our employment team realising this was a growing area of concern. Partners here are encouraged to think entrepreneurially and explore new opportunities – we wouldn't do anything if it goes against or undermines our culture. We're continually evolving to move with the times but always stay true to our values.
CS: Are there any practices areas that are doing well at the moment? Are you growing any areas?
CG: We have a leading reputation for private client work which is very well-deserved, but we now also have fantastic market-leaders in more commercial areas. We're getting great acknowledgement for that work and need to ensure we have the reputation that we deserve there too. The work we're doing is at the very top level and we now have strength across the board for our clients which as a partner it is exciting to see – for example we have a top-quality banking team, fantastic commercial property expertise but also deal with some of the most difficult and sensitive reputation management issues for our clients as well. We're making sure we're a full-service firm for our clients.
CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm or the firm's clients?
CG: In regards to Brexit, the challenge for the firm and the challenge for our clients is not necessarily the same. From the family law perspective, we do a huge amount of international work, so the technical impact of Brexit will be hugely relevant – for example, the jurisdictional basis for divorce in the future is currently up in the air. We’re doing what we can right now for our clients, to make sure that whichever way things evolve, they are as prepared as possible.
Clients on the commercial side are looking with us at the multiple ways in which their businesses will be affected, but no doubt there will also be impact on the personal side for clients too, for example when it comes to the housing market. But we're a diverse firm with a great range of niche and specialist practices. We're not overly beholden to any one practice area or affected by one area experiencing a quieter period. We've weathered various cycles over many years – it's more about what it means for our clients. We're not just being reactive, but rather being proactive for them where we can.
CS: Are you growing or shrinking trainee numbers?
CG: We've always stayed pretty consistent, though it's not a fixed number. It depends on who we see and the business need of the firm. But we don't recruit 50 trainees for the sake of it – we're looking for people who could be partners in the future. We're not looking for a large number to whittle down; we're looking for a number of people we can retain. It's a big investment, not only financially, but it's a huge investment in terms of partner-contact time because the way we train them is very hands-on. We want people through the door who will make it through for long careers with us. We're very careful about the people we take on. Over 60% of our partners actually trained here. We've got a great mix of home-grown lawyers which helps keep that cultural thread, as well as plenty of 'refugees' from the City!.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate impress at interview?
CG: We have high expectations of trainees, and like people who have high expectations of themselves. We want people who have great CVs, but that's not the be all and end all. Intelligence doesn't necessarily mean just good grades. We want people who have bags of charm, huge amounts of common sense, and who are all-rounders. From day one, we trust trainees to be in the room with clients – it's important to be not just sensible, but interesting and intelligent. We like people with a sense of humour, who can see the funny side to things. We're looking for engaging characters.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
CG: The most important thing on application forms is don't make any typos! But generally, I would say be yourself, as personality goes a long way. I think it is important to try and find somewhere where you like the ethos. Plus, finding an area of expertise that really interests you and which you enjoy can really help when you're under pressure or doing long hours. Being a lawyer is a big commitment but it's hugely satisfying.
Also, make sure you're thinking about what's going on in the world at large. When acting for a client, make sure you know what's going on out there so you can get a sense of what's coming down the wire and what might impact the client. If you're going into a legal career, you have to think about the world at large – it's much more satisfying, and you will do a much better job for your clients, if you have an eye on the bigger picture.
Farrer & Co LLP
66 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
- Partners 80
- Assistant solicitors 196
- Total trainees 20
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Claire Roche [email protected]
- Graduate recruitment partner: Claire Gordon
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 900
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £41,000
- Post-qualification salary: £64,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: £7,000 per year of study
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: There are a number of opportunites for secondments on qualification.
Main areas of work
Whilst the firm is based in London it also offers its clients a seamless service across a range of jurisdictions. Its international strategy remains one of independence and the firm is not a member of any global network (formal or informal) and so remains free to work with or recommend the most appropriate firm in a particular jurisdiction to meet its clients’ specific needs. The firm acts for international private clients giving advice on both their onshore and offshore requirements, frequently meeting them in their own jurisdiction. It also advises international clients on their UK affairs, and UK organisations on international matters. Many of the firm’s lawyers have extensive international experience in their specialist areas, and between them are fluent or highly proficient in over 20 languages.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Construction: Purchaser Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 1)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)