Freeths LLP - True Picture

With its unique grass roots legal assistant programme, this Nottingham-headquartered firm puts Freeth-thinking at the heart of its practice.

 

Freeths training contract review 2022

The Firm



Drawing on its Nottingham roots, Freeths has learnt an important lesson from the tales of Robin Hood: how you market yourself is important. Accordingly, Freeths’ lawyers describe themselves as business people first, and lawyers second, with the emphasis on keeping the costs low for its many clients. The firm’s image is further bolstered by its horde of strong regional Chambers UK rankings spanning the Midlands, Oxford, Thames Valley and Yorkshire. The list includes rankings in all the key areas you’d expect from a full-service firm, including real estate, banking and finance, construction, corporate/M&A, personal injury, employment and litigation. Go to chambers.com for the full regional breakdown.

Freeths is also a firm that’s very much been in growth mode for the past decade, with the last year proving no different despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic. For our interviewees, the chance to “get the big firm experience” was a key attraction, as was “avoiding getting lost in a huge number of trainees.” A training contract with Freeths is also suited to those who don’t mind a bit of travelling, as moving between the firm’s 12 offices is a common occurrence over the course of the training contract (the firm told us that working between two and four offices during the training contract is common). Nottingham takes on the most trainees (14 at the time of our calls), followed by Birmingham (eight), and Leeds (seven). The rest are divvied up more or less evenly between the firm’s Bristol, Leeds, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford, and Sheffield bases.

For those looking to bag a training contract at Freeths, you’ll need to gain a place on the firm’s legal assistant programme first. “When you first join the firm, you are recruited as a legal assistant, which is similar to being a paralegal,” one trainee in Birmingham explained. The contract is initially for six months, at which point there is a review process to decide if the contract will be extended; then at nine months the firm decides whether to offer a training contract and fund the SQE examinations. “The request is sent off to the chairman for approval, and then there’s a bit of a wait,” asource told us. Read more about Freeth’s process here.

For some, the longer path to a training contract was a source of frustration, leading one interviewee to conclude: “If you are looking to move forward at pace, maybe Freeths isn’t the place to be.” However, others appreciated that “it’s a  better way to assess a candidate’s suitability for a training contract compared to a single assessment day.” One trainee also felt that the programme “offered a good opportunity to progress to a training contract in a way that allowed me to gain practical experience of the profession first and decide if this was something I wanted to pursue as a long-term career.”

The Seats



For seat allocation, trainees submit their top three preferences both in practice area and location for each seat. While the geographic spread of the firm’s offices offers great variety to trainees, we did hear that office-switches can be a little short-notice, “sometimes as little as two weeks.” However, sources did praise the firm for doing “a good job of sorting out your accommodation.” It’s not unusual for trainees to repeat a seat, and they typically return to the department they intend to qualify into for their last seat. There’s also a range of client secondments trainees can take advantage of, which bestow the chance to gain “more substantial responsibility.”

Freeths’ real estate department is one of its larger teams – with over 100 lawyers – and as such there is a wealth of knowledge for trainees to draw on. The team works on the non-contentious side of the property world, handling everything from the sale and purchase of properties and site acquisitions to construction contracts and property management matters. Recently, the firm worked with the LNT group, the UK’s largest developer of residential care homes, on the construction of eight new purpose-built care homes with Octopus Healthcare. “In real estate, I got a lot of responsibility working on commercial property deals and managing portfolios,” one trainee in Leeds explained. They added that “even when managing transactions of quite high value, I’ve been able to draft leases and work on the sort of things a qualified solicitor would.” 

“Even when managing transactions of quite high value, I’ve been able to draft leases and work on the sort of things a qualified solicitor would.” 

The contentious side of the work is handled by Freeths’ real estate litigation team, which specialises in environmental and tax issues, as well as issues in construction and licensing. “In litigation, there is work on both landlord and tenant matters, mostly on the landlord side,” one source told us. Another pointed out that “there was a lot of court work where I was able to draft witness statements, instruct barristers, and help prepare for the hearing.” Trainees in the seat benefit from work with clients such as Green King, Twickenham Studios London, Luton Airport, and Oxford University Press. Recently, the firm acted for Mendoza, the freehold owner of a pub in Camden, during the contested forfeiture of the tenant’s lease.

Freeths’ broader dispute resolution team covers areas such as contractual disputes, breach of duty matters, insurance claims and financial services disputes. The group operates over several sectors including transport, charities, aerospace, manufacturing and hospitality. One trainee’s time in dispute resolution had mostly entailed “a lot of drafting claim forms and statutory demands,” while another in the capital told us: “Day-to-day I assisted with lots of telecom-related litigation, which involved preparing bundles and sitting in on lots of calls.” In 2020, a multi-office team pursued a group action against the Post Office on behalf of 555 claimants for damages suffered due to the failure of a computer system, in a high-profile, multi-million-pound case. A team of litigators from Oxford and Milton Keynes also represented tech company, Triad Group, and two of its directors for alleged breach of contract, defamation and harassment against Triad’s former CEO in respect of a ‘Twitter war’ she had reportedly waged against the company.

“The majority of my time was spent working on one really big deal that we saw through to completion. It gave me a real insight into the whole project management side of things.”

For trainees in the corporate seat, life can be “quite full on!” The corporate group operates as an integrated team across the firm’s 13 offices, working with high profile clients such as Aldi supermarkets, Travis Perkins, Eddie Stobart, and Experian. For trainees in the seat, there’s plenty of due diligence and document review for them to cut their teeth on. One source in London told us: “The majority of my time was spent working on one really big deal that we saw through to completion.  It gave me a real insight into the whole project management side of things.” Freeths bags Chambers UK corporate rankings in the East and West Midlands, and has specialist expertise in banking, M&A, commercial contracts, and private equity matters. Recently, the firm’s Yorkshire team (made up of Sheffield and Leeds), advised estate agents, Linley & Simpson, on its £100 million merger with Lomand Capital to create a new national lettings and estate agency group. Meanwhile, the Midlands teams advised Carlsberg on its £780 million deal with Marston’s Brewery to form a new joint venture beer company in the UK: Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company.

Freeths’ private client team frequently acts for high-net-worth clients on family wealth management, especially in cases where there are substantial assets involving trusts and complicated pension arrangements. Trainees in the private client seat can expect variety, whether it’s tied to observing mediations and preparing mediation bundles, drafting settlement agreements, or retrieving quotes for property valuations. Given the sensitive nature of the subject matter, it’s not possible to list example cases or clients the firm has worked with, but trainees described the work as involving lots of estate-related tasks. One insider explained that they had spent their time drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney documents, but also worked with “a deceased person’s estate and their accounts, and spent time writing to asset holders trying to get in touch.”

Trainee Life



Our interviewees were pleased to report that “team socials are slowly coming back,” adding that “in pre-Covid times we used to do so much.” One source elaborated: “Trainees and legal assistants used to have something called a ‘LAT’ social [Legal Assistant and Trainee Social], where we would go around to different locations and plan something in each one. It was a great way of getting legal assistants and trainees from different offices together and getting to know each other.” Past events have included wine and cheese tastings, cricket matches and casino nights. Sources were also similarly happy to relay the firm’s progress on the subject of diversity:“They’ve hired a senior diversity manager, and they are doing more as a result of BLM. They are also getting work experience students in from underrepresented backgrounds.” Freeths has worked with Pathways to Law, Change 100 and university social mobility programmes for many years. While some felt Freeths could still be more proactive, the consensus was that the “the firm has come on leaps and bounds in the past year,” with one source adding that “one of the best things about the diversity committee is that our views are genuinely taken on board and actually implemented.”

“One of the best things about the diversity committee is that our views are genuinely taken on board and actually implemented.”

As is often the case, trainees’ hours varied between teams: “It very much depends on whether we had court hearings,” one trainee litigator in Birmingham explained, adding that “in a heavy month with lots of cases to file I would usually work 9am to 7pm or 8pm.” But with standard hours at the firm around 9am to 6pm, the consensus was that things weren’t too bad at all. “When you are looking to meet client deadlines instead of court deadlines, you can manage client expectations, so the hours are not so bad,” one source in Nottingham reflected. The average number of hours worked by trainees in a given week was 40, which makes Freeths stand apart from the many City firms where 50 plus hours were recorded. Stress levels were kept further in check due to the consensus that “the partners and senior lawyers are helpful, friendly and genuinely appreciative of your hard work – working long hours is not automatically expected.”

“Partners and senior lawyers are helpful, friendly and genuinely appreciative of your hard work – working long hours is not automatically expected.”

Come qualification time, we heard that trainees need to ask around to be ‘in the know’ about the process. “They’ve recently formalised the process more, so they now publish a list of vacancies internally, but this is a new thing” one trainee explained. As part of the firm’s more formalised process, qualifiers submit applications for NQ roles and complete formal interviews for positions. Trainees also appreciated that they could qualify in any one of the firm’s offices across the country. The firm retained 33 of its 38 qualifiers in 2021.

Steadying the ship…

To help staff navigate the tricky waters of the pandemic, the firm offered a £200 allowance for home office equipment and continued to roll out its discounted subscription to the mindfulness app Headspace. Team coffee mornings, firmwide charity events and virtual get togethers also helped to keep morale high.

 

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Closing date for training contract applications (2023): Open year-round.

The Legal Assistant Programme

For those interested in a training contract at Freeths, the firm’s Legal Assistant Programme is the route you’ll have to take: “Originally, there was the option for prospective candidates to apply for a training contract directly,” National Principal HR Manager, Vicki Simpson, explains, “but the Legal Assistant Programme proved to be so popular and successful that it is now where we recruit all our trainees.” The Legal Assistant Programme attracts around 400 applicants a year, but with only 25 places available (in 2022, for a 2023 start), candidates will need to work to distinguish themselves from the pack.

The Application Form

Prospective candidates will need to complete an online application form, which consists of competency-based questions and an overview of the applicant’s experience: “It can be a wide range of things from previous employment to charity support and travel abroad,” Simpson tells us, “more than what the experience is, it’s how the applicant presents it and how they demonstrate the value of that experience in their application.” This is, of course, easier said than done, but the applicants that stand out are those who can clearly point to the skills they developed as a part of that experience, “and how and why these would be valuable in pursuing a career at Freeths.” Successful candidates will be invited to an interview process consisting of two rounds, first with graduate recruiters, and then with partners at the firm.

Work Experience Programme

The firm offers a work experience programme for second-year students, with online applications opening at the end of November, followed by a first stage interview with HR. “We cap applications at 100 per round,” Simpson explains, “to stand out from the crowd, applicants must have really researched the firm and our brand values to establish that their values and ours are aligned and demonstrate this in their application.” Freeths’ work experience programme is offered across the firm’s offices and practice areas, and students will be supervised by the firm’s legal assistants and trainees.  “In addition, we offer insight days for first-year students, which can convert to work experience when they go into their second year.”

Trainee Profile

Prospective applicants will be pleased to hear that there is no formal grade requirement for candidates applying for the Legal Assistant Programme. That being said: “We are of course looking for candidates who are bright,” Simpson explains, “but also candidates who can really immerse themselves in the culture of the firm.” Demonstrating this at the application stage is tricky, but not impossible: “The candidates that use their initiative and get stuck in are those who understand what they do, and how it works as part of the bigger picture of the firm.”

 

Freeths LLP

  • Partners 156
  • Associates 322
  • Total trainees 67
  • UK offices Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: HR Team !HR@freeths.co.uk 01159369369
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 25
  • Vacation scheme places pa: no vacation scheme but work placements and insight days offered throughout the year by application at our website
  • Dates and deadlines
  • Training contract applications open: Our Legal Assistant programme is a rolling programme with applications accepted year round.
  • Training contract deadline, 2024 start: Our Legal Assistant programme is a rolling programme with applications accepted year round.
  • Vacation scheme applications open: no vacation scheme but work placements and insight days offered throughout the year by application at our website
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: no vacation scheme but work placements and insight days offered throughout the year by application at our website
  • Open day deadline: no vacation scheme but work placements and insight days offered throughout the year by application at our website
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: London 35k/Bristol 31k/Elsewhere £27k
  • Second-year salary: London 40k/Bristol 34k/Elsewhere 30k
  • Post-qualification salary: London 65k/Bristol 50k/Elsewhere 45K Holiday entitlement 23 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • We offer funding for the Solicitor Qualifying Examinations.

Firm profile
The Freeths Group is one of the UK's leading regional law practices. We offer services to both the commercial and private client across the entire legal spectrum. We operate from offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

The firm has a wide range of clients throughout the UK with many clients having strong international connections. We have over 150 partners and more than 800 members of staff in total.

Our client base reflects our nationwide strength and our nationwide service delivery. We are committed to continuous improvement and our increasing success as a business is built on achieving success for our clients. We work in close partnership with clients, providing positive, practical solutions and clear, comprehensive advice.

Our aim is to attract and retain the most talented people, and part of this is providing a great place to work. So, to support fairness and equality and to encourage a healthy work-life balance, we continually monitor and improve our benefits.

We are proud that what we have achieved has been recognised over the past few years, being awarded Best Companies star status on a number of occasions and have featured in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For. We are also a silver standard accredited Investor in People Company, which means we are recognised for our efforts to improve work place engagement, leadership, personal growth, wellbeing, team working and our impact on society.

Specialist work areas
Advertising & marketing; Agriculture & rural issues; Banking & finance; Charities; Civil liberties & human rights; Clinical negligence; Commercial property/real estate; Company & commercial; Competition & EU law; Construction & engineering; Corporate finance/mergers & acquisitions; Corporate tax; Dispute resolution; Employment, pensions & incentives; Energy & natural resources; Environment Family/matrimonial; Financial services; Housing/landlord & tenant; Immigration; Insolvency/restructuring; Insurance/reinsurance; Intellectual property; Media & entertainment; Personal injury; Private client; Sports; Technology, media & telecommunications.

Training opportunities
Our Legal Assistant programme allows you to gain grass roots experience of working in a legal environment alongside our talented lawyers. You will provide a combination of administrative and legal support to Trainees, Lawyers and Partners, which means that you get a true picture of what a career in law could offer you in the long term. We are looking for outstanding Legal Assistants with excellent academics, first class organisation, with the ability to build lasting relationships and have a flexible and can-do attitude to contribute and succeed with us.

Legal Assistant positions are initially for 6 months. We review performance at three monthly intervals; at the 6 month mark we are assessing performance and attitude with a view to offering a second 6 month contract. At the 9 month stage, we make a decision on whether to offer funding for the Solicitor Qualifying Examinations and a further contract to enable you to complete your Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and this will be delivered through a graduate level Apprenticeship.

Successful Legal Assistants will then enrol onto the Graduate Apprenticeship and this means starting the formal training. This will involve working at Freeths four days a week and studying one day a week at the University of Law to prepare for and take the SQE 1 and SQE 2. You will have the option to make the apprenticeship up to a Masters qualification. The apprenticeship will last 25 months and during that period, you will rotate seats in different areas of law whilst completing your QWE.

Once you have completed our Graduate Apprenticeship and passed your exams you will be ready to qualify!

Vacation scheme
We do not offer a vacation scheme but work placements and insight days offered throughout the year by application at our website

Other benefits
Death in service benefit, private healthcare, cycle to work schemes, gym subsidy, shopping and restaurant discounts, employee assistant programme

University law careers fairs 2021
Full list can be found at our graduate recruitment website.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Freeths are committed to giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their background, race, colour, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, disability, religion or belief, age, social background or part-time status. We are proud to be as diverse as our clients.

We believe that our inclusive attitude and eagerness to try new things gives us an edge in the legal field. For example, we pick our trainees and graduates based on their talent rather than the name of their university. From finding innovative ways of working to building trust in our varied clients, diversity underpins our success. Our aim is to attract, develop and retain the brightest lawyers in the UK from many walks of life.

As well as having our own Diversity and Inclusion Committee, SHINE Network, NEW Network, Parents and Carers Group and other inhouse initiatives, we also work with a number of partner organisations, including Change100, Stonewall, BSN and Working Families, to ensure that diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do.

We also have an inhouse Wellbeing Committee, wellbeing programme with regular events, resources and bulletins for staff and Mental Health First Aiders programme. We offer regular mindfulness classes and work with Glo Wellbeing and Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work programme.

Social Media
Twitter: Freeths (@freeths)
Linkedin: Freeths

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 3)
    • Local Government (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 5)