Well-established Black Country firm seeks trainees for ongoing sustainable growth. Must share an enthusiasm for the West Midlands.
Exceptional client service is no doubt high – nay, top – of most firms' priorities. But Higgs & Sons, a firm nestled a little way from Birmingham, has taken it to a new level. The firm enlisted the help of hirsute maître d'hôtel Fred Sirieix from Channel 4's First Dates to deliver a service masterclass. Unfortunately for the lonely hearts club, finding love wasn't on the menu. Managing partner Paul Hunt explains: "Fred is passionate about the delivery of exceptional client service. We were really interested in getting a fresh perspective on it from a completely different industry."
"We have a strong identity in the West Midlands, and we're going to build on that."
Hunt also reveals that the firm's attention will be turned to "expanding the commercial side of the firm. We've had strong activity there – the corporate team has never been so busy." But, he clarifies, "we have a strong identity in the West Midlands, and we're going to build on that. We're all about sustainable growth, rather than heading off on a new tangent. We understand our market and what we do well." It's a market consisting of SMEs, owner-managed businesses and individuals based within the West Midlands – as a result, the firm is extremely well known in the region, and many interviewees cited this as their reason for applying. Chambers UK kindly demonstrates what all the fuss is about. Its clinical negligence, corporate, family, and personal injury practices attain top-tier rankings in the Midlands, while the firm also receives nods for its employment, litigation, real estate, and real estate litigation groups. Chambers High Net Worth also gives its top honours to the firm for private client work in the Black Country.
Operating beyond the confines of a big city and the attached competition, Higgs resides in Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill, a small town of 14,000 people ten miles west of Birmingham. “The commute can be a bit far if you're coming from Birmingham,” one interviewee pointed out. Our helpful interviewees advised: “It's best to get a car if you don't live locally!”
Higgs & Sons has a slightly unusual seat structure: trainees complete four four-month seats, followed by an eight-month seat in a department they've sat in before and would like to qualify into. “It's a really good opportunity to gain more confidence and develop particular skills for that seat. You feel ready for qualification.” Prior to starting, trainees receive a list of the firm's 12 seats, ranking their top six. Sources had generally got their top choices. “It's a constant dialogue. If you change your preferences slightly over the course of the training contract, you can discuss that with HR. They're pretty flexible and try to give you your top four as far as is possible.”
Along with corporate, private client is one of the firm's two largest teams. Clients maintain their confidentiality, but the firm serves wealthy landowners from the surrounding counties and many who made their fortune in West Midlands manufacturing. The department covers estate planning, charities, care and capacity, general wills, and residential property work – and though these are roughly delineated between sub-teams, trainees get experience across them. On the care and capacity side, the team deals with court of protection matters, LPAs (Lasting Power of Attorney), and continuing healthcare claims for “elderly and vulnerable clients, often where their mental capacity is called into question.” The wealth preservation side covers “will drafting, going along to meetings with clients – not just in the office, but out and about to care homes – research on tax matters, drafting letters of wishes, and drafting LPA forms.” Sources enjoyed “essentially getting the benefit of four or five seats in one!” Some mentioned getting “the opportunity to run an estate file myself, which was a really good experience.”
“The benefit of four or five seats in one!”
Dispute resolution has two faces: property disputes and general commercial disputes. The latter includes helping manufacturing, telecoms and recruitment clients in commercial litigation, and there's a focus on shareholder disputes and restrictive covenants. It also covers contractual, product liability and fraud cases, recently challenging HMRC allegations of fraud on behalf of a West Midlands business. On the property side, the firm recently acted for furniture supplier Bentley Designs as it dealt with a dilapidations claim by the landlord of its former HQ. There's also work with major clients Saint-Gobin Building Distribution and Jewson, plus telecoms company Wavenet, software company Reynolds & Reynolds and recruiter Workforce. “On bigger cases you'll get bigger teams of lawyers, but generally they will still try to give you more of the drafting tasks.” Trainees had drafted pleadings and, on smaller cases, a source described having “a couple of files to run on my own, where I kept in contact with the client myself.” Others had attended client meetings and instructed counsel. “I went to court too. If the opportunity comes up, they will push you to go.”
In corporate, many of the deals involve local businesses operating within the engineering, manufacturing, technology, healthcare and franchising spheres. Take Wavenet, a telecoms company based in the West Midlands, which the firm helped to acquire Warrington service provider Talk Internet; or regional manufacturer of plastic packing products Aquapak Hydropolymers, which the firm advised as it received investment from an American company. But the clients aren't always UK-based: the department recently acted for SG International Holdings, a South-African based logistics company, on the acquisitions of a number of car retailers around the UK. Trainee tasks range from more basic bits like amending documents and preparing items for meetings, to “more complex work: drafting SPAs, going to client meetings, and running through the due diligence process with the client.”
The property team acts on both commercial and residential real estate. It acts for developers, and covers landlord and tenant work in its own right – but also lends a hand to the corporate department, “where there are property aspects of a corporate transaction.” Sources emphasised that they'd had “good exposure to all three aspects.” In a matter worth £44 million, the firm recently acted for developer Cassidy Group on both the acquisition of land to develop 350 homes in Nottingham, and the forward-funded sale of that development. The team also advised recruiter Robert Walters Operations on the 10-year lease of a new London head office. Sources felt the seat provided more responsibility than corporate. One recalled how “if there were any smaller transactions or leases going, my supervisor would let me run the files. You're given a lot of responsibility if you want it, it's just about how willing you are to push yourself.” Another spoke of “land registry applications, reviewing leases, marking up leases and drafting licences to alter.”
“The firm is big enough that there are plenty of opportunities in different departments to get involved with, but small enough for everyone to know you, and you to know them.” As a result, trainees found the culture to be “about seeing you as individuals. You're encouraged to be yourself.” And vitally for trainees' career development, “people genuinely want you to succeed and progress.” Trainees welcomed “knowing there's someone that you can run things past,” and a culture of “warmth” and openness also meant “you'll find yourselves in social situations with partners.”
“...small enough for everyone to know you.”
Trainees also have a support network outside of the office. Most sources are members of the Birmingham Trainee Solicitors' Society, which organises events so that trainees can “meet up with local junior lawyers” for activities like go-karting, pizza making, and more alcohol-related outings. Nevertheless, some admitted: “It's a little harder to socialise after work because of our location. Everyone has to drive in.” But there are 'atrium drinks' held in the office every few months, a winter party and summer party, plus cricket, netball, and football teams. And besides, the hours aren't taxing: a reliable routine of 8.45am until 6pm ruled supreme.
As a final ingredient to Higgs' culture, trainees “are encouraged to get massively involved in charity work. As a firm, we're very big on it.” Higgs nominates a charity of the year to raise money for: 2018's is Dudley Mind – a local mental health charity. On top of various community projects, a team of lawyers recently took on the Three Peaks challenge to raise money. Onwards and upwards!
“The firm is conscious of letting trainees know as soon as possible whether there's a place for them or not upon qualification." In 2018, the firm retained three of four qualifiers.
Vacation scheme deadline: See website for details
Initial application is by form which may be completed online for submission by email. Higgs historically receives upwards of 200 applications each year for its six training contracts.
Candidates must evidence strong academics, including high A levels and preferably a 2:1 degree. The form requires applicants to reflect on competencies like creativity, innovation, ability to work in a team and commercial awareness. Showing you've done extensive research into the firm is essential so make sure you read our True Picture on Higgs.
One trainee recalled the experience as “very informal and laid-back – it was actually quite fun. The partners don't try to catch you out with difficult questions; they try to find out what you're like as a person. It definitely felt less intense than other interviews I'd done.” Indeed, senior HR manager Helena Flavell confirms: “It's very much a discussion between candidates and the panel, we want to make it easier for people to convey what they're all about.” The firm places a big emphasis on client care, so demonstrating great interpersonal skills is a must. “Candidates must be able to easily engage with and talk to people,” adds Flavell. “For this reason, the selection process is more heavily weighted on the interview.” Other elements include a group exercise and presentation and a tour of the office.
Higgs introduced a new vacation scheme in 2018. The scheme is for second year (and upwards) university students (law or other), and runs for one week over the summer. There are six places available per year. See Higgs' website for further details.
How to wow
“Our ideal candidate will be commercially aware and client-focused, someone we can put in front of clients,” says Flavell. A trainee agreed: “You need to be someone who gets on with people in this job, you’re not going to be stuck away here; within the first few days you'll be introduced to several clients.”
Legal work experience is also desirable. Flavell confirms: “We prefer people who can hit the ground running having had some previous exposure within a law firm.” She continues: “There’s significant competition for training contracts so it’s vital to demonstrate you’ve got something extra.” Moreover, she points out, “how else would you know that's the environment you want to work in?” Vacation schemes with other firms or experience as a paralegal should do the trick.
Non-legal work experience also “goes a long way towards gaining transferable skills and demonstrating the requisite commercial awareness,” says Flavell. “It all adds up – bar work, restaurant work, anything to help you become a well-rounded individual.”
Higgs & Sons
3 Waterfront Business Park,
- Partners 36
- Associates 57
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices Brierley Hill
- Graduate recruiter: Helena Flavell
- Training partner: Paul Hunt
- [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5-6
- Applications pa: 200
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 6
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 January 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £23,500
- Second-year salary: £25,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- Professional Skills Course: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Brierley Hill
Higgs & Sons is different from the typical law firm. The firm successfully combines traditional values with an innovative approach to legal problems which has helped to attract an impressive client base whilst staying true to the local community. Clients and staff alike are attracted to Higgs’ ability to offer an all round service in several areas. The firm is proud to provide a supportive and friendly working environment within which colleagues can thrive. The opportunity for career progression is clear as almost half of the firm’s partners trained with the firm.
Main areas of work
For the private client: wills, probate, trusts and tax, employment, personal injury, clinical negligence, conveyancing, dispute resolution and matrimonial/family.
A training contract at Higgs is different from those offered by other firms. There is the unique opportunity to undertake six four-month seats in a variety of departments, including a double seat in the department in to which you wish to qualify as you approach the end of your training contract. Throughout the training contract you will receive a mix of contentious and non-contentious work and an open door policy means that there is always someone on hand to answer questions and supervise your work. Regular appraisals take place at the end of each seat and a designated partner oversees you throughout the duration of your training contract, acting as a mentor. Participation in BTSS events and an active Higgs social environment ensures an effective work life balance..
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
Wolverhampton and the Black Country
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)