Need an antidote to the classic City law firm, with bags of private client work and more bags of responsibility? Mine’s a pint of Forster’s, please.
Real estate and private client afficionado, Forsters, is the brainchild of ten former City partners who clubbed together in 1998 to create an alternative to big City law. Now spread across three old-school buildings in billionaires’ playground Mayfair, the firm has grown to four times its original size and recently won a Silver award in mental health charity Mind’s workplace wellbeing index. They’ve also got a new office in South Quay Plaza.
So why Forsters? For most of our interviewees it’s the intimate intake, with only nine trainee places a year: “Forsters is big enough to get really good work but isn’t so big they recruit 100 people a year, which I didn’t want.” Another common reason was the level of detail trainees experienced in their work: “You have the option to do a wider range of more specific work than at City firms.” And – this is almost unheard of – one source thought interview process itself was a selling point: “It felt like they wanted to know me and cared on a personal level.”
“You’re given a lot of your own files which is slightly terrifying, but it gets you taking control of your own workload.”
Seat allocation is a straightforward affair. Forsters goes for the slightly less common six 4-month seat formation, and the final seat is in the department you want to qualify into. Trainees rank seat options in order of preference before each rotation and find out where they’re headed next about a month in advance. It’s also possible to specify the type of work you want to do within a seat, and have a pre-rotation chat with a partner to discuss “what you want to get out of it.” Interviewees agreed the firm makes an effort to assign everyone their first choice, and that usually works out, but second years get first dibs so “you’re slightly at the mercy of what others want to do.”
REITs for the Stars
Commercial real estate is one of two departments Forsters is best known for. Apart from being all about buildings used by businesses, there aren’t any limits to the type of work going on here: our sources had worked on asset management, development projects and lease negotiations. Trainees loved how much responsibility they got: “You’re given a lot of your own files which is slightly terrifying, but it gets you taking control of your own workload and own development quite early on.” The learning curve is steep; “Everyone makes an effort to get you involved in as many areas as possible,” we heard “so you’re not doing the same old licenses time and again.” One trainee had regular chats with the partner to “explain the background to my tasks and why I was doing it, so I got a feel for the work they’re doing as well.” There’s a fair amount of cross-departmental work too, so some trainees already knew their colleagues in other departments once rotation came around. Everyone has to do one property and one litigation seat; private client is also very popular and most trainees spend time there.
Forsters is “renowned” for private client work and is an increasingly important part of the firm, having more than doubled in size in the past four years. It also holds a host of impressive rankings in the Chambers High Net Worth Guide. PC is split into onshore, offshore and landed estates – essentially tax and estate planning for either domestic or international clients – with a bit of immigration work too. It’s the sort of seat where you’re always learning something new, from refinancing and agriculture to drafting wills and trust documents. Sources were ebullient about this seat for being “really satisfying and challenging,” noting lots of direct client contact. “I went to so many client meetings it was unbelievable,” reminisced one trainee, whilst another met with the same client twice a week for six weeks. “PC is really technical, so if you’re the type of person who has your head in the books doing research, then it’s the seat for you,” trainees told us.
“Often you’re the main point of client contact and in franchising there can be hundreds of clients for one matter.”
The third most common seat amongst our interviewees was residential property, fondly known as “Rezzy.” Again, our sources spoke highly of the range of work they got involved in, which includes the sale and purchase of properties, franchising and banking and finance cases. The finance arm of the team recently advised British Airways Pension Fund on its sale of student accommodation in Oxford. Our sister publication, Chambers UK, recognises the ‘Rezzy’ team’s abilities in the property market. And trainees again rhapsodised about the responsibilities they got, running their own conveyancing and property sale files – the kind of thing City firms rarely offer. “Often you’re the main point of client contact and in franchising there can be hundreds of clients for one matter,” said one trainee who was responsible for co-ordinating 200 people. It’s a great seat to “develop your own voice and contribute in a significant way,” given the volume and variety of work on offer.
There’s a fair amount of contentious work on offer in construction. While one trainee “wasn’t a huge fan” of the disputes work, another interviewee had a blast: “It’s in an incredibly interesting and technical seat and the group is very tight knit and well organised.” Aside from dispute resolution, the usual construction tasks here involve drafting warranties and negotiating agreements with architects, as well as “controlling admin so the fee earners know where everything is at during each stage of the transaction.” Trainees still get a decent amount of responsibility but on a lower level. “It’s more about chasing people rather than running your own matters,” said one trainee, who also recognised that’s just the nature of the practice area.
Lien on me
Associates and partners across the firm regularly check in with trainees to make sure they’re not being “absolutely beasted” and make a point of thanking trainees for the work they do: “There’s a real culture of not taking too much on, so I feel really supported.” Trainees were also happy to report that the hours are far from gruelling, with most people being in the office from 8.30 to 6.30, typically. Working weekends are extremely rare, and most trainees told us they feel comfortable turning their phones off at the end of the day. “Forsters prides itself on people working hard but within reasonable hours,” thought one trainee, while another was confident that they wouldn’t have to cancel after-work plans: “When you leave work people assume you’re not contactable.”
“When you leave work people assume you’re not contactable.”
The open-plan office layout in most departments seems to bolster camaraderie among colleagues, and “there’s a lot of crossover between departments so even when you move seats you keep in touch.” Another told us there isn’t a sense of hierarchy; the CRE senior partner sits in the same office as everyone else, for example. Other trainees agreed people chat more than they expected and there’s a very inclusive culture generally: “It’s just that kind of firm.”
The social scene is pretty buzzing too – you’ll find most people at the pub 50 metres from the office on a Friday evening. There are several firmwide events each year, including the annual staff quiz and Summer and Christmas parties. Each department also hosts its own Christmas party, with a few further socials throughout the year. There’s a budget for sport teams and the highly-anticipated NQ party, which is always fancy dress and which people take “really seriously.” There’s no Mean Girls-style divide between partners and their underlings either, with one source telling us they partners also stick around after work for team drinks. This all sounds pretty stellar, so what’s the catch? The only thing anyone could come up with was the lack of canteen, but nobody’s planning to riot over that for the time being.
The firm is equally welcoming to law and non-law undergrads; as surprising at it may seem, more than half our interviewees didn’t study actually study law at uni.
- Partners: 57
- Associates: 150+
- UK offices: Mayfair
- Graduate recruiter: Victoria Towers – Graduate Recruitment Partner [email protected]
- Holly Meldrum – HR Officer [email protected] 0207 3872 1129
- Training partner
- Helen Marsh [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 9
- Applications pa: 400+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB or 320 UCAS
- Vacation scheme places pa: 14
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £41,000
- Second-year salary: £42,000
- Post-qualification salary: £64,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000
Firm profile Forsters is a leading London law firm based in Mayfair which delivers exceptional legal advice to clients principally drawn from the real estate and private wealth sectors. Forsters is not just another law firm; our ability to meet the exacting requirements of our clients is enhanced by our approach, size and location. We do not seek to offer everything to everyone, but to excel at what we do, as leaders in our chosen fields.
Main areas of work
• Commercial Real Estate
• Residential Property
• Private Client
• Dispute Resolution
• Banking & Finance
• Property Litigation
• Landed Estates
Training opportunities The training contract at Forsters is divided into six four-month seats rather than the traditional four. Our aim is to allow trainees to sample more of the firm’s practice areas before they make their decision on where to qualify into.
Vacation scheme Forsters run two summer vacation schemes in June and July every year. Each scheme lasts two weeks and students are remunerated £600. Vacation schemes are open to those who are at least a final year non-law student or second year law student who are predicted a 2:1. Every year varies in how many we recruit from vacation schemes versus direct training contract applicants.
Other benefits 25 days annual leave, life insurance, private medical insurance, gym subsidy, cycle to work scheme, employee assistance programme, dental plan, eye care vouchers and mortgage and pension advisers.
Open days and first-year opportunities We run a number of open days a year. Check our graduate website for the next date. To apply, please send us an email with a covering letter and your CV. Open days are open to everyone to apply.
University law careers fairs 2019 We will be attending the University of Law and BPP law fairs in Autumn 2019.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 3)