From a well of lawyerly history springs this London firm, bearing corporate and real estate goodness, and something especially for entrepreneurs.
Flad the trailblazer
Playing that fabulous game of guess the firm from just two clients, you could really send your opponent astray with Fladgate's 'Abraham Lincoln' and 'Samsung'. Not what you'd expect from a firm with a single office in Covent Garden, but when you've been around since 1760, there's time to amass an eclectic client list. Very old this firm may be but there wasn't a wood panel in sight on our visit: the office is light, modern and airy, and ready to do business with corporates like Lidl and cutting-edge venture capitalists. It does a roaring trade in aiding entrepreneurs and their fast-growing companies on fund-raising, company sales and more. That focus, along with an ability to handle international deals, helps the firm to snag top marks in Chambers UK for its mid-market corporate M&A work in London. The firm is also highly ranked for its London real estate work. And, to add further appeal, 40% of all the firm's revenue stems from international work and clients.
For trainees, it was the “down-to-earth nature and frankness” that impressed them most during their stay. “There’s no anxiety about telling people what's wrong,” said one interviewee, and a number of trainees noticed this straight-talking, genuine approach right from the assessment centre. “With almost every other recruitment process there was a level of pretence, but Fladgate was very frank about the work it does, and what you need to do to work here.”
What's the story: popcorn and nori
Fladgate's small crew of around ten trainees must complete seats in all of the three core departments: litigation, corporate and property. Their first seat is, on paper, allocated without trainee input, but insiders had heard of “people with a specific interest in niche areas emailing HR to secure their preference.” Altogether, trainees felt they were “quite limited in our choices,” so it's worth noting whether the seats on offer really tickle your fancy.
Fladgate's real estate team brings in 38% of the firm's revenue. It has stayed busy servicing household names YO! Sushi and Odeon and recently advised US investor Madison International Realty on a £200 million acquisition which included the home of the London Stock Exchange. It also helped European co-working space owner Mindspace as it opened its first London set-up, and is well known for work in the hotel and leisure sector. Insiders reported a busy seat where they could easily have “23 to 30 deals going on.” The “bread and butter” for trainees involves managing clients' portfolios – one source explained: “The partner will forward an email from a client saying they want to rent this property to this tenant. I will draft the lease, send it to the partner for review, and it will then get sent out. Once the lease comes back with amendments, the partners would encourage us to make our own additions and we would then speak to the other side and negotiate.” While insiders enjoyed the seat, one found that “property is less challenging because there's not much scope to negotiate. The landlords just go: 'Here is the lease, take it or leave it'.”
The litigation team acts for individuals and businesses in “smaller to medium-sized cases,” which often have an international element – trainees felt that the clients “mirror the specialisms of the firm.” Recent cases had the firm acting in the shareholder dispute of a Cypriot company; defending two former directors and shareholders of Igloo books from claims brought in part by the company they founded; and aiding Capstan, a financial consultancy, as they sued shipping company Rickmers for $12 million after having their retainer terminated. “It was a good first seat to start with” insiders thought. “You tend to be involved with the more administrative tasks and with some lower-level legal input, but you learn a lot by observing.” There may be more advanced tasks available, but “your exposure will totally depend at what stage the cases are. If you arrive and there are no matters that have developed, then you won't get to draft any witness statements.”
In the corporate seat there's both M&A and AIM work on offer, with the latter particularly relating to startups. The team is most adept in the mid-market, but nevertheless it recently advised the multinational Mexican beverage giant FEMSA on its sale of around $2.5 billion of shares in the Heineken Group. Another recent deal saw the firm help UK-based hotelier JacTravel in its £200 million acquisition by Webjet, a travel agent. It also assisted private equity investor Private Capital in its acquisition of Vivid, the toy company behind UK production of the Bratz dolls. Being one of the larger teams, insiders liked “not being the only trainee; you don't feel alone in the wilderness.” However, trainees “didn't feel such a part of the transaction,” as they mostly worked on “ancillaries, board minutes and Companies House forms. They aren't the most interesting of tasks.”
“It really sharpens your skills.”
Over in the popular, but difficult to secure, commercial seat, “deals with timelines that are very structured” seem to vanish, and things become “a bit more bitty.” Given that the department's mandate stretches to sport and IP, trainees could “potentially work on terms and conditions one week” and the next “be reviewing applications to the various intellectual property offices to make sure no client trade marks have been infringed.” The upshot of this is that “you get a real variety of work. That's good from a trainee perspective, it makes you think about how to structure things and, from a drafting perspective, it really sharpens your skills.” UK beauty store Glorious Brands recently got advice for a distribution agreement with US beauty store Atral Brands, and British charity MHA was helped with an agreement to control the development of hotels throughout Iran.
Frankly my dear
Describing a firm as “frank” is unusual, so it's important to clarify that this was seen as a positive – the vibe was also described as “extremely friendly.” Nevertheless, it's worth a closer look. One source believed that the lawyers' candid manner was closely tied to the fact that “Fladgate takes trainees with a level of development and professional maturity. We have lawyers with more diverse backgrounds than other London firms.” Looking across the sources we interviewed, a good number did have work experience, legal or otherwise, and just under half came from non-Russell Group universities. Trainees also described genuine and open relationships with their seniors, which allowed, for example, “a bluntness regarding career progression. You will get told if you are on partnership track after qualification.”
But the firm simultaneously applies a lighter touch. One giddy interviewee relayed that “an associate has said there are treats in the kitchen today – these are the people I need in my life!” The firm also isn't afraid to show its silly side: a previous charity competition required staff to match partners up with photos of them as “wee babies.” Those interested in getting to know their colleagues can tackle “touch rugby, football, tennis, table tennis, squash, a treasure hunt organised by first-seat trainees, an annual bowling and pizza night, a cheese and wine event, a firm-wide Christmas party and then departmental Christmas parties too.” Those not yet exhausted could take part in charity events. “We did a 'Tour de Fladgate' this year, with a bike set up in the office.”
“There's not an impromptu drinks culture.”
Nevertheless, despite this long list we were warned that “there’s not an impromptu drinks culture here. There is a very good work/life balance and people spend it with family and friends.” Normally, trainees could expect hours of 9am to 6 or 7pm. Hours stretch beyond this, though not as late as most London firms. “It tends to be corporate, banking and funds that fluctuate. In litigation I worked quite established hours.” Halfway through their third seat, trainees tell HR where they want to qualify, and are informed around April of the positions they can apply for. Those who aim “for the core seats are all fairly confident they will get an NQ position,” but there “are times where there is no budget or need for NQ roles in niche departments.” In 2018 the firm kept on four of its five qualifiers.
“Trainees sit with their supervisors. If you have a question you swivel round in your chair and fire it at them. That's the training style – but there are weekly sessions too.”
How to get a Fladgate training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): July 2019 (opens January 2019)
In 2018 the firm recruited six trainees to start in 2020. The recruitment process for 2021 is due to open in January 2019.
Fladgate sponsors future trainees through the GDL and LPC if they have not yet undertaken those courses. It also offers a maintenance loan of £6,000 for those studying in London and £5,000 outside.
The initial application
The first stage requires candidates to complete an application form via Apply4law. The firm looks for a minimum of ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree, although recruitment manager Nicola Thomas notes that “we look at each application on its merits, so if an application is outstanding this may occasionally outweigh a minor academic hiccup.”
The form includes several questions “designed to give applicants the opportunity to stand out and show what's different about them.” Work experience is important: “We prefer candidates who have managed to squeeze in a good range of legal work experience and ideally some office or other commercial experience alongside their academic studies.”
The assessment centre and interview
The firm receives around 400 applications a year. About 40 to 50 candidates per intake are invited to an assessment centre. “We're aiming to give people a chance to shine,” says Thomas. The day consists of individual and group tasks designed to test written communication, intellectual ability and interpersonal skills. Demonstrating a high level of commercial awareness is key for a Fladgate trainee. “Our clients are largely entrepreneurs, so trainees need to be able to empathise and understand their needs,” comments Thomas.
As well as having the right academic credentials, being “confident and very organised” is essential. “It is important that trainees are competent multi-taskers who enjoy direct client contact.” Around 20 candidates are chosen to go through to the interview stage. There's usually just one interview and it's held with a mixture of partners and HR. After that, it's decision time.
Nicola Thomas advises: “Read your application over and over again to eliminate careless errors. White spaces are okay, because we like concise answers rather than masses of written text, and they make it easy to read. And remember that the application is to Fladgate, so tailor your application to the firm and don’t make the mistake of copying information containing the name of another law firm!” She adds: “We are looking for future partners, so candidates should show us that they are bright, ambitious, confident, commercially minded individuals who want to be at Fladgate and identify that this is somewhere they can flourish and succeed.”
16 Great Queen Street,
- Partners 77
- Assistant solicitors 70
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices 1
- Contact Hayley Webster, [email protected], 0203 036 7139
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Selection procedure: Assessment day plus interview
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: January 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021: start of July 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000
- Holiday entitlement: 26 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance loan pa: £6,000 within London and £5,000 for regional study
Main areas of work
The firm has a strong international dimension based on multi-lingual and multi-qualified lawyers working in London and complemented by access to an extensive network of overseas lawyers. The firm operates specialist teams which serve continental Europe, India, Israel, South Africa, the US, Russia/CIS and the Middle East.
The firm’s principal departments comprise corporate (which includes tax, private capital, restructuring, employment, IP and technology), litigation and real estate (which includes planning, construction and real estate litigation). These are supported by specialist cross-departmental teams that provide co-ordinated advice on a range of issues.
The firm has a modern culture and an open-door policy where trainees are given early responsibility and encouraged to achieve their full potential.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 4)
- Retail Recognised Practitioner
- Sport Recognised Practitioner