Freeths LLP - True Picture

An expanding national presence, solid growth and a full-service offering draw clients and trainees alike to Freeths’ doorstep.

Freeth-for-all



For the past four years we’ve been talking about Freeths' expansionist success story, and approaching a new decade we find ourselves doing so once again, as this plucky Nottingham-based firm shows no signs of slowing down. The firm recorded a turnover of £89.9 million for the 2018/19 financial year, pushing it ever closer to its target to reach £100 million by 2020. Meanwhile, the opening of a Bristol office in April 2019 takes its total office count to 13, giving it the second highest number of UK offices of any firm (Irwin Mitchell pips it to the post). Freeths’ London outpost, which started out as team of two lawyers ten years ago, is now over 50 strong, necessitating an expansion of the office space in their premises off Regent Street. “It’s one of the fastest-growing offices,” one source told us, adding: “We’ve recently hired a new employment team and energy and tax partners.” Similarly, sources in Birmingham pointed out that “we’ve taken on a whole new property litigation team. The office is at breaking point so we’ve had to boot out the company next door for more office space!”

It's no surprise that all our interviewees agreed that “the fact Freeths is obviously going somewhere stood out to me when I was looking at where to train.” HR manager Vicki Simpson explains the firm's success as follows: “A lot of the growth has been driven by lateral hiring at the senior level and taking on small teams from other firms. They bring with them enormous experience and attractive portfolios and it's proven a very successful strategy – there is lots of good-quality work in the pipeline.”

“We’ve had to boot out the company next door for more office space!” 

Freeths is unique in that it recruits almost all its trainees via a legal assistant programme. “It’s very similar to a paralegal job,” sources explained. “You initially work on a six-month contract, after which the firm decides whether it will extend your contract for another six months; then at nine months they decide whether to give you a training contract.” For most interviewees, the benefits were obvious: “The prospect of starting your training contract is a lot less daunting because you’re already up to speed with all the administrative stuff and the systems we use. That’s invaluable for a lot of people who have never been in an office post-university.” All good stuff. However, others pointed to “frustrations with having to wait to begin your training contract.” The firm has since made efforts to better inform newcomers of the gap between joining and beginning a training contract. Several of our interviewees had spent more than two years as a legal assistant before starting. Additionally, some sources flagged up the difficulty of “having to complete your LPC part-time while also working full-time. You want to do well on the LPC but also excel in your training contract so it’s hard to get the balance right sometimes – you have to be disciplined.”

Nottingham is the firm’s HQ, and at the time of our calls had ten trainees; Birmingham had nine, followed by Oxford with seven, Sheffield with five, Milton Keynes with four, Manchester with three, Leicester and Leeds with two each, and Bristol with one. With such a large national presence, it’s no surprise that the firm has more than a fair few Chambers UK rankings to its name. In the Midlands alone, the firm picks up top rankings for its clinical negligence and real estate capabilities, alongside nods for areas like employment, IP and banking. Go to chambers.com for a full breakdown of the firm’s many rankings.

It's common for trainees to spend at least one of their seats in a different office to the one where they're based, with an expectation “that you are flexible to meet business needs. However, the firm understands if somewhere isn’t commutable or you are tied down. The firm is also really good with covering all your travel expenses and helping you to rent in a new place in the event that you do have to move.” Sources added that “generally, you’ll go to another office in the region, so those in Nottingham might go to Leicester, Derby or Sheffield for example.” Seats are allocated mid-seat following a conversation with trainee mentors who ask for three preferred practice areas and locations. Many also choose to repeat a seat, which is typically with the team they'll later qualify into. Sources felt that qualification was an area that could use a little more structure: “I think we’d all appreciate being given more information on how the process works – it’s all up in the air. We don’t really know what to do and who we should be contacting.”

Freeth-hold



Real estate is the firm’s largest department and operates over a number of different sectors including commercial property, residential development, pension funds and healthcare. In the Midlands the team has been advising Travis Perkins on the sale and leaseback of a group of warehouses and distribution facilities in Bedford and Wakefield with a combined value of £23.5 million; meanwhile the Thames Valley team has been advising on concessions, procurement, tendering and contracts for Luton Airport's £110 million expansion. “Because there is a high concentration of legal assistants in the team, you often get higher-quality work as a trainee than in other departments,” one source explained, adding: “I’ve just drafted a whole lease renewal for a supermarket.” Another detailed working on “a property acquisition deal from start to finish. I attended all the meetings and drafted all the reports on title and business purchase agreements.”

“I’ve just drafted a whole lease renewal for a supermarket.” 

A lot of the trainee work in clinical negligence involves dealing with new enquiries. “That means having difficult phone conversations with people. For many it’s likely to be their first time speaking to a lawyer, or even anyone, about what has happened to them.” The details of cases are all confidential but we can tell you matters concern things like brain, spine and other catastrophic injuries with the potential for multimillion-pound damages awards. “You need to have good interpersonal skills,” our interviewees emphasised. “The bulk of the legal work is thinking about whether it’s cost-effective for clients to claim in the first place with the cut-off being £25,000. There are plenty of cases where there’s been no negligence, so we have to advise the caller on what other avenues to pursue.” Sources agreed that “being a trainee is a big step up from the work you do as a legal assistant where you’re just filling in forms and doing quick email responses to clients,” citing opportunities to draft instructions to medical experts, liaise with hospitals, and hunt down important medical records.

Freeths’ corporate team tackles deals across the spectrum including M&A, private equity, venture capital and capital markets work. Some of the group's clients include Carlsberg, Eddie Stobart, Aldi, Lloyds Development Capital and Patron Capital Partners, the last of which the team recently advised on the acquisition of a £45 million 54-site portfolio of themed pubs in Brighton and London. A variety of drafting experience is on offer and trainees reported cutting their teeth on sale agreements, share purchase agreements and disclosure letters.

Freeth roam



A stint in private client offers trainees a chance to stretch their legs, as the demands of trust administration, probate claims, tax advice and estate management can often mean leaving the office to visit clients. One interviewee told us what trainees might do on a typical matter: “At the very beginning of a case you might get a call from a client saying a member of their family has passed away. We then invite them in for a 30-minute interview and ask for all the details of the estate in question, including all its assets and debts. You might then have to write to the asset holders for inheritance tax purposes; visit the property and arrange for it to go on sale; and evaluate the value of all the possessions." One source relayed the story of a colleague's home visit with just a tad too much detail: “It was disgusting. Everything was mouldy and there were faeces all up the walls!” Lovely. Moving swiftly on, we also heard of trainees visiting hospitals to draft emergency wills and dipping into Court of Protection work.

Freeths’ dispute resolution team covers contractual disputes, property litigation, breach of duty matters, insurance claims and financial services disputes. The group operates over several sectors including transport, charities, aerospace, manufacturing and hospitality. “It’s very varied,” one source confirmed. “I’ve recently been working on a dispute between two directors. I had to do all the background research on the issue and drafted the letter before claim.” Those doing property litigation enjoyed the academic nature of the work: “You really have to look closely at the law to understand it. A lot of the work concerns lease renewals, but you also get queries on things like adverse possession. My role is generally assisting with research and drafting claim forms and consent orders.” The team recently defended a specialist education recruitment agency and its managing director against a £300,000 'springboard injunction' claim.

Buy one get one Freeths



While trainees spouted several pretty standard positive buzzphrases about the firm (“everyone says hello”, “people are very approachable”), they also painted a picture of Freeths as a modern, progressive firm. For example, “being green is important to the firm,” one told us. “We have a green team in every office which pushes various initiatives. There was recently a big push for turning off monitors and equipment when leaving the office, and we're very committed to becoming a paperless company.” The efforts of the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee made up of 20 individuals across all the offices also received praise. “We have a calendar of every key event throughout the year which we seek to raise awareness of,” trainees explained. “Werecently ran a Diwali-themed event that involved creating posters, giving eCards to clients, and bringing in themed food. The firm also just put on training for all employees to help deal with unconscious bias.”

“The firm just put on training for all employees to help deal with unconscious bias.” 

More generally, sources felt the firm fosters an environment that eschews “feelings of tension or coldness – you never feel like you have dark clouds over your head.” The slight exception to this is the Oxford office, which sources felt “has higher expectations of its trainees than elsewhere.”  One trainee also felt the office “is more geographically isolated. It feels we are in a bubble, and I don't think we have too much interaction with the other offices.” (The Oxford office has its origins in a 2012 merger with local private client specialist Henmans.) However, all trainees and legal assistants can get pally every quarter for the trainee social, which rotates between offices. One source reported: “If you’re coming from a different office, they pay for your travel and accommodation to stay the night. Recently we did wine and cheese tasting and played ping-pong.”

Hours are largely consistent across the board with little variation between offices, with the exception of London. “Leaving the office after 7pm isn’t common,” sources agreed, with most getting in at 9am and leaving between 5.30 and 6.30pm. Trainees also don’t have to worry about shoving down their Boots meal deal at their desk with their left hand while answering emails with their right hand. “The partners are good at encouraging you to take an hour for lunch,” one source said. Sources agreed that “you're not working to any unreasonable internal deadlines,” but one interviewee did throw one rather outré story into the mix: “One day at 6pm I was told to complete a big task and ended up being in the office until the early hours of the morning!” However, it’s safe to say thank goodness that this is not a regular occurrence.

Freeths runs a legal scholarship scheme to give one A-level law student work experience at the Milton Keynes office. The winner also receives a bursary.

How to get a Freeths training contract



APPLY HERE

Training contract deadline (2022): 12 July 2020 (opens 6 January 2020)

Application process

There are two routes into Freeths. The first is the conventional route, whereby candidates apply for training contracts two years in advance. This is increasingly being superseded by the legal assistant route, which lets future trainees complete their legal qualifications while working at the firm.

All pathways start with an online form that covers a candidates' educational background, work experience and motivation for becoming a lawyer.

Conventional route: A handful of trainees from each intake come via the conventional route, which is roughly in line with procedures at other firms.

Candidates apply, and those who impress on paper attend a “simple, relatively informal” interview with a member of the recruitment team. From here there's an assessment day, which includes a timed writing exercise, a debate between trainees on a current affairs topic and some team-building games. Our trainee sources recalled having to build a Meccano helicopter without an instruction manual – “it made a good ice-breaker” – and undertaking “an exercise in which we had to list items we could use to plan our survival after a plane crash in the wilderness.” As one summed up: “Some firms rely on aptitude tests, but Freeths' whole process is much more geared towards getting to know you as a person.”

The firm makes its training contract offers following the assessment day. Note: Those who receive a training contract this way receive a loan from the firm for their GDL and/or LPC, rather than having their course fees paid for.

Legal assistant route: The majority of trainees enter the firm through the legal assistant route, one that continues to grow in popularity. For more, see below.

Trainee profile

“There is no such thing as a typical Freeths candidate,” says Carole Wigley. “If you are bright and talented and will make a real difference to our firm over the coming years, then you should apply.” Freeths is flexible in its approach to finding the right talent, so it has no minimum criteria and welcomes applications from both law and non-law graduates as well as from those with the GDL and the LPC.

How to wow

Our sources advised applicants to “do as much as you can to get to know the firm and meet people here before you apply” – for example, by making an effort to meet firm representatives at law fairs. “If you impress at a law fair, your name will get noted down,” we're told.

When it comes to impressing at interview, our sources advocated “a willingness to learn – so many people come out of uni thinking they know it all, but when you're in practice it's very different, and it pays to show you appreciate that.”

Finally, Carole tells us she's particularly interested in candidates open to the possibility of moving between different offices during their training contract. “You've got to be really keen and really flexible to impress us.”

 

Freeths’ legal assistant programme



The legal assistant pathway essentially sees applicants recruited initially for a six-month fixed-term contract, which if completed successfully is extended by a further six months. There are appraisal reviews every three months, and after nine months, participants find out whether the firm can offer them a training contract, which starts when the next cohort of training contracts is available.

HR Director Carole Wigley tells us this: “We take a ’two scheme' approach: direct entry, where you'll start a training contract in two years' time, and we recruit two to three candidates that way, and then there's the legal assistant route. We recruit about 85% of our candidates as legal assistants first.”

“It's perfect, really – you get practical experience while waiting for the trainee opportunity to come along,” said one trainee who'd come to Freeths this way. “What's more, you're automatically considered for a trainee role after nine months, which is an added incentive. At other firms, you could be a paralegal for years without getting an interview.”

At any given time, the firm usually has around 80 candidates doing such placements. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year. “There's no point applying until you can join us, as we're looking for people who can start immediately,” Carole Wigley advises.

Candidates fill out a standard application form, and those who pass screening have two successive interviews: one with a member of recruitment and one with a partner. One trainee recalled their interview as “more about me, my CV and hobbies than just legal knowledge.” You'll want to brush up on your grammar before going in, as there's a written test as well. Around 80% of those completing the legal assistant route at Freeths end up with a training contract, which commences when the next cohort of training contracts is available.

Freeths LLP

Cumberland Court,
80 Mount Street,
Nottingham,
NG1 6HH
Website www.freeths.co.uk

  • Partners 153
  • Total trainees 52
  • UK offices Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Stoke
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Carole Wigley, HR director, 0845 274 6815
  • Training partner: Robert Hughes
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 20
  • Applications pa: 500
  • Minimum required degree grade: None
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: None
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 6 January 2020
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 12 July 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary:£25,000
  • Second-year salary: £28,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £40,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Interest free loan
  • GDL fees: Interest free loan
  • Maintenance grant pa: No
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield and Stoke on Trent

Firm profile



Freeths is a national law firm offering services to a wide range of commercial and private clients. The firm has clients throughout the UK with many having strong international connections. The firm, ranked in the top 60 largest in the UK, has over 930 staff in 13 locations in England. Freeths has been awarded Two Star status in the 2019 Best Companies to Work For survey and has been listed as 57th in the top 100 Sunday Times Best Companies list in recognition of its high employee engagement. The Guardian Top 300 Companies in the UK ranks Freeths at 244th this year. The firm is recognised by Legal 500 as a regional leader in a number of fields and many of its lawyers are recognised as leaders in their field. The firm has also won numerous awards for diversity and inclusion, training and recruitment and its IT infrastructure.

Main areas of work



Real estate and construction; corporate and commercial services; private client and personal litigation.

Training opportunities



Training contracts will normally be based on four six-month rotations through departments. Trainees sit with a partner or senior associate and actively contribute to the day to day work of that department: working on transactions and cases and taking real responsibility whilst gaining plenty of client exposure. Supervisors give regular informal feedback and formal feedback every 3 months.

Other benefits



25 days holiday plus bank holidays; 5% employer pension contribution; Death in Service benefit of four times the salary. We also offer travel loans, subsidised gym membership, an employee confidential helpline and a cycle to work scheme, as well as a substantial staff wellbeing programme.

University law careers fairs 2019



We will be attending Law Fairs at Birmingham, Bristol, Keele, The Law Society, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Oxford, Sheffield, and Warwick.

Social media



Twitter @Freeths
Email: [email protected]

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Planning Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • 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 2)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs Recognised Practitioner
    • Local Government (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Construction (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency Recognised Practitioner