Full-service Fladgate offers a “rounded training contract with comfort and familiarity between trainees and partners.” It’s also launched a shiny new vacation scheme…
Covent Garden shops and restaurants come and go, but there's one local institution on Great Queen Street that has stood the test of time. Fladgate's knack for evolving along with its milieu and client base has kept it thriving for 260 years. In the early years, the firm helped make the UK the world leader in railway construction and was responsible for the creation of corporations like The Savoy Group. The firm’s advised a whole history textbook’s worth of famous names including Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and even Abraham Lincoln. In the 21st century the firm has maintained “interesting clients” on its books, but many of those are now of a more “entrepreneurial” nature.
Trainee recruitment partner Andrew Bessemer Clark summarises Fladgate’s appeal: “We also see ourselves as being attractive to both entrepreneurial clients as well as institutional clients. We have that real historic quality of service, strength and depth that allows us to act successfully for institutional clients, and so we feel we straddle quite a good place in the market.” Prior to the 1980s, the firm’s focus remained on property and private client law, but it's since expanded its reach. Chambers UKnow ranks the firm top in London for lower mid-market corporate/M&A, also awarding it strong scores for banking and finance, mid-market real estate, and real estate litigation.
“…the opportunity to work with partners directly from an early stage.”
The breadth of opportunities wasn’t lost on potential trainees, many of whom arrived at the firm’s doors with an open mind. “I wasn't sure where I wanted to eventually qualify,” one such source noted. “Fladgate offered a good chance of getting seats in multiple core practice areas of corporate, real estate and litigation,” Others were keen to be part of the “small intake of trainees,” seeing this as a potential path to securing “greater responsibility” early in their career. Finally, Fladgate’s famed ‘partner-led’ approach was another draw for many – “it meant getting the opportunity to work with partners directly from an early stage.”
In 2020 the firm launched its first vacation scheme. Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic meant this largely took place remotely, but the programme was still successful according to Bessemer Clark: “It involved one day in the office so that we could meet them in person and assess them.” He recalls meeting “incredibly impressive” candidates through the scheme, noting that the new regime would make for great experience for potential trainees while also benefiting the firm: “It allows us to be confident as and when we offer training contracts. Going forward, we will focus on hiring from the vacation scheme – we feel it gives a more rounded understanding of their ability and their suitability and gives them a clear understanding of what it is like to work here.”
Fladgate likes trainees to do at least two seats across the firm’s core areas: litigation; corporate; property; and funds, finance and regulatory. This doesn’t mean three mandatory seats and just one choice: employment; private client; and commercial, sports and IP count as corporate options, for example. “I really enjoyed the range of work that each seat brought me,” a happy interviewee declared. The firm allocates trainees their first seat; subsequent seats are then decided through meetings with HR.
Dispute resolution was a popular seat with our 2020 interviewees. Fladgate’s team punches above its weight, often sparring with larger City and even magic circle firms. Clients include both companies and individuals who’ve got into hot water: the firm recently represented Anthony Wollenberg, the CEO of a large casino, in litigation brought by the casino’s former chairman and majority shareholder alleging he was the victim of a corporate raid and had been defrauded of shares valued at over £30 million. Cases often come with international elements, such as defending German company Freudenberg in a £10 million clash over components for high-end Jaguar Land Rover models. Trainees in this seat were impressed with the training available, seeing their practice area knowledge grow nicely over time. “I've had a really good experience and got to work very closely with the partners throughout my disputes seat,” one recalled. The level of client interaction was slightly less compared with other seats, but this is common of dispute resolution; trainees can instead expect to do research and draft documents like claim letters.
The firm’s commercial, sports and IP practice revolves around a smorgasbord of commercial contracts: supply of goods agreements, licences, management contracts, distribution and purchasing contracts… you get the picture. The practice also includes commercial advisory work: the team advised book distributor The Book Service (a subsidiary of Penguin Random House) on the restructuring of its payment and credit terms as part of the supply agreements with relevant bookshop chains to assist with cashflow issues, while making sure TBS could recover funds in the event of an insolvency situation. Fladgate also advises on contracts drawn up between companies and public sector bodies, recently acting for the Music Walk of Fame operators on the necessary planning and commercial agreements with Camden Council and TfL, preparing for what should be a popular tourist attraction. “I absolutely loved my time in CSI,” an interviewee told us. “The team were fantastic and supported me throughout my seat.” This department is a better bet if it’s client contact you’re looking for.
“There was a really good team spirit that made all the difference.”
Trainees in corporate likewise found they’d enjoyed an “excellent level of client contact in the department” as well as “lots of time with partners – they are very willing to give you interesting duties and explain matters and concepts.” The mid-market practice draws clients from real estate, technology and energy backgrounds including Red Tiger Gaming and Black Sheep Coffee. Proving they don’t only advise corporations with animal names, the team acted for the Ocado Group on the sale of its entire issued share capital in Marie Claire Beauty to Next for £8 million. Interviewees warned us that corporate comes with longer hours than other Fladgate departments. “I worked some heavy hours for a while,” one such source confirmed. “There was a really good team spirit that made all the difference.” They and others were also pleased to receive “quite a lot of responsibility on some decent-sized deals.”
A key part of Fladgate’s history, the real estate team continues to generate around 32.3% of the firm’s overall revenue.In this seat you’ll find mostly mid-market property deals, as well as some real estate advisory matters. The seat wasn’t a first choice for many among the recent cohort, and those we surveyed went on to tell us the work was less interesting than in other departments – but they were impressed by the extent to which they received client and partner interaction. Fladgate’s recent projects include advising fund manager Equitix on the £47 million acquisition of the freehold of Crickhowell House in Cardiff, acting as the administrative offices of the Welsh Assembly; and acting for magic circle barrister chambers Blackstone on an extensive redevelopment deal with Middle Temple.
When quizzed about the distinctive elements of Fladgate’s culture, trainees pointed to a “really strong interest in who trainees are and what we want to achieve from people across different levels of seniority.” Terrifying partners are clearly not welcome here, as one source told us: “There is no one in the firm I would be scared to approach.”Others were surprised to find that “there is a high level of camaraderie, which can sometimes be hard to find in the corporate world,”and credited Fladgate with crafting a “friendly and relaxed” atmosphere.
For the most part, trainee hours were pretty reasonable. “Although there were some unsociable hours in my funds seat, this was the exception rather than the norm,” one recalled. Corporate was another seat with slightly heavier hours, while sources found dispute resolution and CSII were more manageable. Respondents averaged a 40-hour working week, which you’ll struggle to find at many larger outfits.
“There is no one in the firm I would be scared to approach.”
The firm has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the mental health of lawyers and staff, according to our sources. Describing a “real effort to encourage openness,”they noted that alongside formal initiatives (like a panel event and the contribution from an external consultant)“partners have been open about their own struggles, making it possible to for us to discuss similar issues.” There’s an active diversity and inclusion committee that’s “hosted some impressive lunchtime seminars with speakers from BAME and LGBTQ+ backgrounds.”Sources felt “the firm is lacking in diversity but does seem to have a genuine commitment to changing that.”
Trainees chat to HR about their preferred department to qualify into before a jobs list is released; they can apply for more than one, but all require an interview. At the time of our calls, Fladgate confirmed that it had retained four out of six qualifiers, but that more may potentially be kept on too.
For more info on Fladgate’s future, see our full interview with training principal Andrew Bessemer Clark.
How to get a Fladgate training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): June 2021
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.”
Interview with trainee recruitment partner Andrew Bessemer Clark
Chambers Student: Starting broadly, where does Fladgate sit in the market? How has its history shaped the firm it is today?
Andrew Bessemer Clark: I’ve been at Fladgate for 13 years myself. I’ve seen Fladgate grow from what was originally a West End firm with a concentration on property. We had a smaller corporate practice and a fairly small litigation team. Since then, we have grown significantly – especially in the last five years. Now we’re very much a mid-tier law firm in terms of both revenue and the number of employees and partners we have. We are full-service – the only thing we don’t do is pensions, but we do pretty much everything else. We’ve done that through organic growth over that period of time. We’ve not merged with anyone; we’ve done it in a way that allows us to attract very good lateral hires. It’s also resulted in us being able to offer a really rounded training contract to our trainees. They get the opportunity to experience anything they would want to.
We also see ourselves as being attractive to both entrepreneurial clients as well as institutional clients. We have that real historic quality of service, strength and depth that allows us to act successfully for institutional clients, and so we feel we straddle quite a good place in the market. We’re not Allen & Overy or CMS – we don’t have that sheer size – but we demonstrate considerable quality across all bases. Our significant teams are corporate, property/real estate, dispute resolution (including construction) and FFR (funds, finance and regulatory). When I joined we didn’t have a separate FFR department, which shows just how much we’ve grown in that time. The firm has changed to one where the emphasis is in corporate – that’s what drives the firm now. Thirteen years ago, we were seen as a West End property firm with a smaller corporate practice and a private client team that was quite active, but we never had the cachet that we have in the market now.
CS: Are there any firm highlight from the last year you think are important to mention?
ABC: We recently did a client survey to obtain feedback on how they felt we were doing our job, whether they felt we were acting in a way they were comfortable with, and whether there was scope for us to do more work for them. The feedback we obtained was very positive and the figures were high in terms of client satisfaction – it showed us we were absolutely doing the right thing. It also fed into our wider vision in terms of the values we want to drive the firm going forward. Those related to making sure we’re smart, personable and accessible, with the ability to be flexible and respond to both clients’ needs and trainees’ needs on an individual basis.
We also implemented a remote vacation scheme. It involved one day in the office so that we could meet them in person and assess them. We got them to do a marketing presentation, and the people that came through that process were incredibly impressive. It allows us to feel like we’re offering more – it’s something we feel is great for potential trainees, but we also benefit from it. It allows us to be confident as and when we offer training contracts. Going forward, we will focus on hiring from the vacation scheme – we feel it gives a more rounded understanding of their ability and their suitability and gives them a clear understanding of what it is like to work here. It is a mutual decision after all – we want people who want to work with us. The vacation scheme will be where we primarily recruit from. Notwithstanding that, if we feel we haven’t got the right numbers from the vacation scheme then we’ll consider going back to the market and seeking applications from individuals.
CS: What is the firm’s current business strategy? What does it want to focus on over the next few years?
ABC: The strategy is still to grow, both in terms of revenue and in terms of numbers, but in specific areas. We are not as well known by clients (and others in the legal profession) as is appropriate for the quality and level of work we do. A key element of our business plan is to raise our external profile which will include rebranding and promoting the firm.
We want to continue to grow by developing both our expertise and our client relationships, focusing on particular areas such as private client, brownfield development and other areas we believe are of particular interest to our clients. We will also continue to identify successful lateral hires who can join departments we see as profitable, where we’re looking to increase our presence in the market in some shape. One of the areas we’re looking to develop is our clean energy sector. We’re also looking at growing our family/private wealth department – it’s a growth area, not least because it crosses over with other departments. Larger firms effectively got rid of their private wealth and family departments a long time ago to focus on massive institutional clients. Where we’ve got a combination of institutional clients and entrepreneurial, areas like family and private wealth become relevant to those entrepreneurial clients. We’re also looking to grow some subsets in litigation. This is all really targeted growth in targeted areas. We’re not about growth for growth’s sake, we’re about increasing our revenue and profitability without losing sight of who we are.
CS: What has the firm done and what does it plan to do with respect to the challenging economy? How has Covid-19 affected the firm and its practices?
ABC: Covid has certainly been difficult. We were lucky that pre-Covid, we had devoted time, energy and money to expanding our IT presence and ability. When Covid hit, it meant we were already comfortable with remote working – we were already attuned to how that would work. We’d also just rolled out laptops to everyone in the firm, which allowed them to be in the position to work remotely and log into the system successfully. We were fully operational on the remote system from the first day of lockdown. Other firms weren’t as prepared for it and had to buy everyone laptops in a short period of time. For us, it was seamless.
The challenges of Covid are obvious. Our clients have been less busy and I think it’s fair to say our revenue is slightly down this year (as we expected). It’s been about how we respond to that, making sure we’re nimble and agile enough to focus on attracting revenue in the right areas. There will be opportunities as well as downsides, but we’re keen on making the most of it. We can definitely see green shoots coming out of the position we were in previously. It’s looking much more positive compared to the minute lockdown hit.
Covid hasn’t stopped us recruiting trainees and NQs. We’ve continued with our vacation scheme and trainee recruitment this year. We’ve been pleased to be able to offer most of our qualifying trainees NQ roles, and we are continuing to explore and discuss options with the remaining few and whether there may be opportunities for them also.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
ABC: Like any other firm, we expect a level of academic ability which will be obvious through the application process. We’re very much after a ‘can-do’ attitude, the ability to muck in and really show initiative both in terms of new ideas and in terms of a desire to help. As a firm, we don’t expect trainees to stay late simply to show face, but there will be times when you have to work hard – that’s understood. We’re looking for a willingness to approach these tasks, to be keen to do so, and approach with a smile and positive outlook attitude. We also want someone with a spark – with an approach that says, I’m here to learn and to enjoy myself. We don’t want automatons to sit around and churn stuff out.
CS: How would you characterise the firm’s culture? What makes Fladgate unique?
ABC: The ratio of partners to associates is almost one-to-one. As a result, the partners are hands-on and do a lot of the work. I think it’s attractive to trainees because they get to actually work with partners. As a culture, it breeds a comfort and familiarity between trainees and partners. There’s very much the understanding that we’re all here to work together. People work at Fladgate because they like the people they work with. This is fundamental to our culture and an element we want to continue.
Having launched our new Vision & Values at the end of last year, and also the results from a recent staff engagement survey, we would describe our culture as friendly, personal, enterprising and collaborative.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
ABC: My general advice would be to make the most of it, be positive, and appreciate the fact that it is an interesting role and an interesting job. Yes, you will have to work hard, but if you’re not happy doing this, it’s because you’re at the wrong firm. I left a magic circle firm after five years there – when I left, I’d really had enough. I thought law was not for me and thought the profession itself was an issue. When I came back to private practice, to Fladgate, I realised a firm should be a happy place to work and it was in fact a good career choice. It’s about finding the right place for you and the right firm. The important thing is you should enjoy it.
16 Great Queen Street,
- Partners 81
- Assistant solicitors 65
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices 1
- Contact Hayley Webster, [email protected], 0203 036 7139
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: January 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022: start of July 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £67,000
- Holiday entitlement: 26 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance loan pa: £6,000 within London and £5,000 for regional study
Our strategy is to combine brilliant teamwork and a truly personal service; connectivity and understanding across our clients’ worlds; and high quality specialist expertise and products that meet their needs.
For a relatively small firm to deliver the quality of work that we do, the range of expertise that we have and the depth of our relationships with clients are contributing factors that set us apart from our competitors.
Main areas of work
Corporate: including capital markets, M&A, tax, private capital, restructuring and employment.
Dispute Resolution: which includes regulatory, corporate governance and investigations, banking and financial services litigation, international commercial arbitration, insurance, contentious trusts and family, intellectual property, civil fraud and asset protection.
Funds, Finance and Regulatory: including investment funds, private equity, fund managers, asset and investment managers, promoters, sponsors and investors.
Private Wealth: including contentious trusts, estate and trust administration, family, international private wealth, immigration, and trusts and tax planning.
In addition to on-the-job training, each department has a comprehensive training schedule of seminars and workshops covering a range of legal and skills training. The firm has a modern culture and an opendoor policy where trainees are given early responsibility and encouraged to achieve their full potential.
Seat options include: Corporate; Dispute Resolution; Real Estate; Funds, Finance & Regulatory; Commercial, Sports & IP, Construction, and Real Estate Litigation.
Fladgate recruit trainees solely through the vacation scheme which was launched in 2020. Fladgate holds four one-week vacation scheme placements across June/July.
The vacation scheme provides graduate students – our potential future trainees – an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and a good understanding of life as a Fladgate trainee. Participants will be assigned a supervisor, usually an associate, as well as a trainee buddy. Vac schemers will have the opportunity to attend departmental introductions, technical presentations and Q&A sessions with various partners, senior associates and experts at the firm. Alongside these sessions, vac schemers will be engaged in discrete tasks, group work, BD activities and networking and social sessions, providing them with an insight into our practice areas and the trainee role within them.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
At Fladgate we run our business in ways that promote equality of opportunity and respect for diversity. Ours is a business that thrives on bringing together people with different perspectives to address our clients’ challenges, so we value and encourage diversity, both internally and externally. Furthermore, the firm recognises the importance of the health and wellbeing of all our people and that it can play a part in promoting an environment which allows everyone to flourish and reach their full potential.
Promoting inclusivity and diversity is a key element of our commitment to being a great place to work, enabling us to attract and retain the best talent, and we take our responsibility to this seriously. We care deeply about creating an inclusive culture and are committed to the fair treatment of everyone and to ensuring that each individual is valued and respected. The Firm has an Inclusion & Diversity committee, formed of volunteers across the business, which is chaired by our I&D Partner and who reports to our Board regularly. As signatories to The Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter, we were delighted to have scored gold in five categories and be awarded an overall ‘gold’ status. We also received a ‘Highly Commended’ at the Legal Week Innovation Awards 2019 for our efforts with Diversity & Inclusion.
We are committed to broadening access to the legal profession and are part of the PRIME social inclusion initiative, which aims to provide fair access to meaningful work experience within the legal sector for school-age students from less-privileged backgrounds. Students and staff alike find these initiatives valuable and rewarding and the success of our Insight Days and our PRIME work experience reflect our continuing commitment to a more diverse legal sector.
We also uphold a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, dedicating fundraising to two nominated charities per calendar year.
We care deeply about the wellbeing of our people and have a strong commitment to employee wellness. Our wellbeing programme consists of four key pillars: physical health, mental health, financial health and social & CSR. As part of our programme we offer a range of benefits to staff and provide regular updates and seminars on health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the firm has run various mental health seminars, led by internal champions and external experts such as Mind and LawCare, encouraging staff to feel comfortable to bring their whole selves to work. We were delighted to be win the "Best Health and Wellbeing Initiative" entry at the People in Law 2020 Awards, recognising our efforts and commitment to encouraging and support the wellbeing of our people.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)