An expanding network and ever-rising turnover signal this national firm’s ambitions...
Prince of Freeths
Following a series of record-breaking years for the firm’s revenue, Freeths is back at it again with a 2017/18 turnover of £78.9 million – that's a very healthy 41.4% increase on the firm's results three years ago. In addition, the firm's rising head count has meant that those in the Sheffield office had to move to larger city-centre premises in 2017, while the firm is also currently looking for bigger spaces to accommodate its lawyers in London and Leeds.
What’s more, the growing revenue haul left enough over in the kitty to launch a Liverpool branch in April 2018. Freeths' 12th national office may have started small with just two partners from DWF, but the firm's Scouse sights have been set high, as HR manager Vicki Simpson reveals: “Growth is very much on the agenda.” In typical friendly Freeths fashion, Simpson goes on to tell us that priority number one for the firm is that “we maintain the culture we have while we grow – we don’t want to become an unwieldy corporate machine!”
The vast majority (around 90%) of Freeths' new starters come in through its legal assistant programme. This initially lasts six months, at which point “they’ll decide whether to extend it by another six months. Then at nine months you’ll hopefully be offered a training contract!” The benefit of the programme, Simpson explains, is that “by the time people start their training contract, they know the firm and how it works.” For more info on Freeths’ legal assistant programme click on the 'Get Hired' tab above. Trainees added that “because we recruit all year round, there are no hard deadlines and you’ve got loads of flexibility.” Speaking of flexibility – the firm offers a handful of training contracts to external candidates too, and there's also the option to study the LPC while training, which trainees found “definitely beneficial – it’s helped me to think about things on the course more practically.”
“Because we recruit all year round, there are no hard deadlines and you’ve got loads of flexibility.”
A sizeable chunk of the trainee cohort is based in the Nottingham HQ, but at the time of our calls there were also newbies in Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Sheffield. Our sources were quick to emphasise that targeted attention in local markets has been key to the firm's broader national success: “We want to really be present in the local markets we operate in and build strong relationships within them. Even in London we’re based in the West End because that’s where our clients are.”
Despite being spread north and south across the nation like jam on a scone/scon, trainees told us that “the firm seems to just operate as if it only consisted of one office – we feel that we’re all equally important.” Trainees can apply to complete seats in any office across the country: “Halfway through each seat you have a meeting with your trainee mentor [typically a partner] and give them your preferred locations and seats,” sources explained. Does this mean that you’re at risk of being sent off around the country at the firm’s request? “You wouldn’t have to move offices if you have kids or a mortgage or if you just didn’t want to,” trainees told us (phew!), though you may have to compromise on seat choice if you limit yourself to one office.
On the highway to sell
Home to over 100 lawyers who practise in various subdivisions, real estate is the firm's largest department. The seat “reflects the firm’s heritage,” so “there’s barely anyone that hasn’t done it.” Each office has its own specialisms. The London team, for example, works with many councils, including those responsible for Newham, Havering, Surrey and Guildford – Freeths recently assisted the latter with a multimillion redevelopment that consisted of residential properties, commercial space and a five-storey car park. Oxford's team reflects its academic surroundings, and advises Oxford University Press and cutting-edge technology companies. The Derby, Leicester and Nottingham teams constitute the Chambers UK top-ranked East Midlands group. The trio have recently advised on the development of four luxury care homes across Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, as well as the redevelopment of a former Derbyshire coal mine into mixed residential/commercial space. There's “proper good drafting experience” to be had here, on the likes of leases and title reports, and “while the core documents will always have to be negotiated by partners on larger sales, you get to see that process happening, which is great.”
"We want to really be present in the local markets we operate in and build strong relationships within them."
Keeping with the building development theme, Freeths does a lot of work in construction – a seat that’s steadily growing in popularity. Trainees were attracted by the fact that “construction law is unique. There’s a little bit of everything; contract law, property law, contentious stuff. It definitely works your brain!” The firm’s real estate clients often crossover into construction, but one of the biggest clients here is building materials supplier Tarmac, which the firm has been advising on tenders for major highways framework contracts worth hundreds of millions. The team handles both contentious work – which covers “adjudications and issues that arise when things go wrong on a construction site” – and non-contentious matters, which tend to be contract-based. Aside from Tarmac, clients here include contractors like North Midland Construction and developers like Blueprint Regeneration. On litigious matters, trainees can expect to prepare witness statements and “attend mediations and CMCs [case management conferences], which are really interesting.”
Some sources praised the corporate team for offering more responsibility than elsewhere, and told of “helping to draft the key documents during a share buyback deal.” One had “led a couple of disclosure exercises and liaised with the different parties to make sure that everything came together.” Freeths' corporate offering picks up Chambers UK rankings in its Midlands and Thames Valley offices – it’s particularly well regarded in the latter, where its strength in the healthcare, publishing and hospitality sectors is noted. The team recently advised the shareholders of Monica Healthcare (which produces wearable tech like pregnancy monitoring equipment) on the sale of the company's entire issued share capital to US outfit GE Healthcare. Those who'd sat in commercial, meanwhile, described encountering “quite a mix” that spanned “public procurement, commercial contracts and data protection – for that reason the seat's really interesting.” Highlights for our sources here included “marking up a commercial contract for a client, drafting a funding agreement and conducting data protection research into the GDPR – that's a big thing for law firms at the moment.”
Dispute resolution lawyers in Leeds and Sheffield have continued to work on a large group action case against the Post Office, which involves over 550 sub-postmasters who claim to have suffered damages following failings in the PO's computer system. On this case, trainees have been “taking on a handful of claimants, liaising with each of them and answering their questions, as well as chasing up deadlines!” Alongside group actions, the team handles competition, insurance, shareholder and aviation disputes; one example of late involved representing Turkish airline Onur Air throughout court proceedings connected to an engine failure that occurred during a passenger flight and resulted in an emergency landing. London also has “one of the bigger” commercial litigation teams, which – among other things – takes on fraud, public sector and, according to our sources, some defamation work. “I spent the first week helping to put together a chronology that consisted of 600 documents!” exclaimed one interviewee. “It was a good way to dive straight in – I was then able to form a view on how we should proceed, and pass that advice on to the powers that be.”
A helping hand
Freeths' private client practice deals with the likes of wills, probate, tax planning and Court of Protection work. Clients include “regular people off the street” who need wills drafted, as well as high net worth individuals who require advice on complex trust and estate administration matters. Freeths picks up high rankings in Chambers HNW for its private wealth expertise in its Oxford and Nottingham bases especially. Interviewees had been involved in probate matters, “where you visit the property to sort through the client's stuff in order to get a sense of what their assets and liabilities are. If we're selling the property then I'll liaise with the estate agent to get the property valued.” Other tasks included drafting and “explaining wills to clients, which can be nerve-racking in the beginning,” as well as “helping out with estate admin, by balancing accounts and collecting funds for the estates.” Court of Protection work – for those who lack the mental capacity to handle their own affairs – was deemed “really interesting, as you're essentially managing people's lives; your day-to-day work can range from arranging boiler insurance cover to just buying basic things for them.”
In the area of personal litigation you'll find Freeths' clinical negligence department, which is ranked as a national leader outside of London in Chambers UK. Lawyers here help individuals claim against the NHS, private doctors, dentists and other medical bodies. Matters can be related to brain and spine complications, as well as cerebral palsy and birth injuries. Daily tasks included communicating with experts and insurers, conducting bundle prep for court, and reviewing hospital correspondence to assess the strength of cases on a 'no win no fee' basis. Undertaking research tasks could be quite tricky: “It takes some time to get used to reading medical records, but by the end of the seat I knew how to navigate my way through the sheer volume of content and extract the right information!”
Where everybody knows your name
Trainees told us that Freeths places such an emphasis on guiding its budding lawyers that supervisors are often “reluctant to let go of the reins!” A structured programme focuses largely on soft skills, and covers areas like “client management, building relationships, rapport, networking and working styles – practical skills like that.” Trainees also have reviews every three months: review forms are completed and exchanged between each trainee and their allocated seat supervisor; both subsequently organise a meeting at which the trainee is assessed and graded on seven competencies. Above anything else, however, trainees rated the support network at the firm: “From the moment I started, different people have sat me down, spoken about my work and then added that if there’s any stress or pressure, I don’t have to juggle that by myself. They say, ‘We can sort it out for you.’”
Interviewees were also pleased as punch with the firm's approach to hours – most work from 9am until 6.30pm and can count the number of times they’ve left after 7pm in any given seat. “You don’t stay just to look good – if you do that it just looks silly!" one trainee noted. "We think it makes you look like you’re struggling with the workload.” This attitude seeps into wider working practices as well, with trainees claiming that there’s “a firm-wide feeling that you need to have a work/life balance – and it’s not just something we say to make the firm look good!” This overarching stance is reinforced by the fact that trainees don’t have work laptops or phones. “Generally the idea is that if you have work to do, you do it in the office. No one’s expected to be checking emails at home – once you’ve gone home, you’ve gone!”
“that openness makes you feel like you matter and that you’re a part of where the firm’s going.”
However, this separation of work and life isn’t indicative of a lack of social buzz at the firm. “Once a quarter all of the trainees and legal assistants get together – we pick a location close to an office, and all socialise and get to know each other a bit more. We’ve done cocktail making, been to a roller-skating disco and completed a murder mystery. We organise some no-alcohol events to try and strike a balance!” With something “always in the diary to look forward to,” trainees described Freeths as “more of a work hard/play hard” kind of firm, with daytime efficiency and enjoyment of free time after work as noticeable hallmarks of the culture. Everyone also comes together for an annual briefing on Freeths' finances and future from chairman Colin Flanagan – “that openness makes you feel like you matter and that you’re a part of where the firm’s going.”
This openness is reflected in the office space, which is open plan in all locations and across all levels – “Colin Flanagan doesn’t have an office either; he sits out here with everyone else.” This helps to perpetuate a culture of “friendliness – people speak freely with one another and there’s no partner here I feel like I couldn’t talk to.” On the topic of offices, trainees were excited about growth in Sheffield and London, with one in the latter noting that “even though it’s growing, it still feels friendly – there isn’t anyone in the office who doesn’t know my name!” In 2018, 22 of 24 qualifiers were retained.
A diversity committee organises monthly events at the firm, and recent celebrations have centred on religious holidays and Pride.
How to get a Freeths training contract
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.
“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.
Living and working in Nottingham
80 Mount Street,
- Partners 142
- Total trainees 47
- UK offices Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Sheffield, Stoke, Nottingham, Liverpool
- 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: 3 January 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 14 July 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary:£25,000
- Second-year salary: £28,000
- Post-qualification salary: £40,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Interest free loan
- GDL fees: Interest free loan
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield and Stoke on Trent
The firm has been awarded Two Star status in the 2017 Best Companies and has been listed as 50th in the top 100 Sunday Times Best Companies in recognition of its high employee engagement. The Guardian Top 300 Companies in the UK, ranks Freeths at 260th 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 awards for training and recruitment and its IT infrastructure.
Main areas of work
We also offer travel loans, subsidised gym membership, employee confidential helpline and a cycle to work scheme.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Derby and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
Leicester and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- 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 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
Nottingham and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
Oxford and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- 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
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy Recognised Practitioner
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 4)