Higgs & Sons - True Picture

With close to 150 years of history in the Black Country, Higgs is one of the gems of the West Midlands legal landscape.

Sons and Daughters



The industrial revolution ushered in irrevocable change: conventions rethought, communities reshaped, and the environment changed forever. Fast forward two centuries, and while the smog may have lifted, something remains: Higgs & Sons, founded in the Black Country in the mid-19th century during the era that gave the region its name thanks to the dark, smoky presence of heavy industry. Today the firm serves both business and individual clients winning top regional Chambers rankings for family, private client and claimant-side personal injury and clinical negligence work, and for corporate work for small and medium-sized businesses; it's also recognised for real estate, commercial litigation and employment.

By the sound of things, trainees at Higgs have a dedication to its myriad business and individual clients drilled into them from a young age. “What I’ve learned,” declared one, “is that you never do just one job for a client. You follow up to make sure they’re okay, and ask what you can do to connect with them long-term.”  Those looking to apply should consider the words of training committee chairman John Heaton: "You need to show enthusiasm and desire to throw yourself into the business environment. We can work on the finer legal skills." As for why they chose the firm, trainees claimed: “If you want to be somewhere where you are given responsibility, a wide variety of tasks, and a chance to find out who you are as a solicitor, then Higgs is the place.” But how does the firm do this? Perhaps it’s the novel training contract structure – four four-month seats plus one eight-month seat – which “is so beneficial and crucial as you can hit the ground running upon qualification.” Speaking of which: in 2019 the firm retained five of its six qualifiers.

“The firm’s proud of its roots and local client base.”

Even if you know your law firms you probably haven't heard of Higgs, or for that matter of the small town of Brierley Hill where it's based (it's between Dudley and Kidderminster). But locals who know their onions certainly know Higgs. “If you’ve heard someone say something about Higgs around here,” noted one trainee, “it’s always a good word.” In part, it’s the firm's deep connection to its home that both forms and nurtures trainees' glowing reviews. “The firm’s proud of its roots and local client base, but we also have the ability and reputation to attract national work,” one said. Work is mostly regional: recent commercial clients come from places like Birmingham, Halesowen, Walsall, Bromsgrove and Redditch. But the firm also recently advised Gail’s Bakery on the lease for a new shop in London and worked on lets and leases in Bristol and Newbury.

Soft skill-seeker



With a shortlisted seat selection behind them (five picks out of 12 options), each trainee undertakes four four-month seats, plus a return to their nominated qualifying seat for eight months. “The four-month seats are quite short if you’re undecided,” reflected one source, “but generally the benefit of doing an eight-month seat offsets the short rotations.”

Trainees in private client get an experience which is “very client-facing, giving you a real ability to improve your soft skills.” A lot of home and client visits means “you really have to earn people’s trust.” Although it’s not just the client’s trust that’s important: “A week in I was the only one in a court hearing with just counsel – that was a level of experience I had never anticipated, and I thought, ‘gosh, I can’t believe it!’” Whether they were working on land purchase agreements, wills or estate planning issues for “lifetime clients,” all our sources responded warmly to working on “the humane side of things that have a tangible impact.” The team covers quite a lot – it's split into informal subgroups like care and capacity, trusts and estates, wealth preservation and more – so it's good that there's some formal training to get rookies up to speed, including “workshops throughout the seat on drafting wills – you get robust and strong feedback.”

“A week in I was the only one in a court hearing with just counsel.”

In commercial property too there's a breadth of sub-teams: planning, development, leasehold, freehold, landlord and tenant. The team acts for some well-known clients: Gail’s Bakery, HSBC and Bovis Homes. Lawyers also recently advised jewellery chain T.H. Baker on the sale of 19 of its shops to Danish jewellery maker Pandora. Trainees also told us of working for companies acquiring properties and taking out leases for clients, reporting that they enjoyed working with “savvy business owners” and appreciated the incremental increase in responsibility levels. “It was daunting at first to do a completion for a renewal lease on my own,” one trainee told us, “but coming away from the phone after I'd agreed the lease and completed it with the other side was incredibly satisfying.” Due to “time frames for deals being short,” supervisors are reportedly “keen for you to take the reins and fit the pieces together.”

This contrasts with corporate, which is “a very technical and drafting-heavy seat, with board minutes and resolutions all needing to be done in a certain order.” Trainees do fairly typical tasks like due diligence and disclosure exercises, but supervisors are “very good about getting you going from day dot.” Trainees reported getting involved in M&A, buyouts, share purchase agreements and restructurings. Corporate lawyers recently advised Halesowen vehicle lift company Totalkare on its management buyout, and helped Purity Brewing (based near Redditch) with a £7.5 million investment.

“Court forms, mediations and planning strategy all opened my eyes.”

I had the opportunity to go to court, take notes, and see barristers operate it was exhilarating.” That's how one trainee reported on their time in dispute resolution. Another source shared: “Court forms, mediations and planning strategy all opened my eyes. It was really interesting to correspond with clients about the best and most innovative approach.” Clients include Birmingham furniture manufacturer Jamieson Seating and Bromsgrove electrics and plumbing contractors ATS. Lawyers advised the latter on a £500,000 dispute over an unpaid director's loan, and in a different case defended the buyers in a £5 million tiff over a share purchase agreement.

A happy medium between contentious and non-contentious work, a seat in employment “has a real human element to it, which brightens your day.” While this is reportedly a quieter seat due to the smaller team size, there's still work to be done in the form of attending tribunals, going to costs hearings, or drafting policies and settlement agreements. Lawyers recently helped a Dudley-based engineering company review its employment contracts and handbook and advised a Birmingham packaging manufacturer on the acrimonious exit of a senior executive.

Over in clinical negligence medical jargon comes at you thick and fast – “it’s quite a wordy seat, with long documents, but you soon pick it up.” Medical experts are on hand to offer their learned opinions, and through correspondence with these experts trainees “risk-assess a client’s medical history by making enquiries. The drafting of the documents might be quite technical, but it's not completely inaccessible.”

Higgs in blankets



The firm’s small size together with its one-stop-shop approach to legal work helps define the feel of Higgs for many. “It’s big enough to be getting quality work,” one interviewee reflected, “but I can put a name to almost every face.” The open-plan office also allows for the creation of a genuine connection with colleagues. “There isn’t a trainee/supervisor divide,” suggested one source, while another didn’t recognise “a sense of hierarchy – you would never have to go to someone else and avoid a particular person.”

When they first come on board, new starters are trotted out for ‘atrium drinks’, which sees “everyone at the firm being introduced to each trainee, learning about their background and who they are. It’s a great way to start!” The location of the office means most drive to work, squandering the opportunity for spontaneous after-work drinks. But thanks to the social committee, there’s enough in the firm’s diary that's a recipe for revelry, be it the much-loved winter ball, the laid-back summer barbecue, inclusive sporting tournaments, breakfast events listening to TED Talks, or even a recent trip to the Bear Grylls Adventure Centre.

There’s time for trainees to have a personal life too. A “pretty rigid” 8.30am to 6pm schedule allows trainees to be “drivers of their own time” and live lives outside the office walls. Occasional late nights were reported, though they're never common, and our sources seemed to agree that the salary “is appropriate for what and where we are.”

Small but mighty, Higgs & Sons is the leading commercial law firm in the Black Country.

How to get a training contract at Higgs & Sons



APPLY HERE

Vacation scheme deadline (2020):  Please see website

Training contract deadline (2022): Please see website

Application process

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.

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.

Vacation scheme

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.

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.”

Get Hired

APPLY HERE

Vacation scheme deadline (2020):  Please see website

Training contract deadline (2021): Please see website

Application process

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.

Vacation scheme

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. The deadline to apply for the 2019 scheme is 12 April.

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.”

Interview with training committee chairman John Heaton



CS: You spoke last year about wanting to expand the commercial side of the firm. What is the plan looking forward?

John Heaton: What we want to achieve is a good balance across the firm rather than focussing on any one department. Our private client offering remains key and we have experienced continued growth on the commercial side. On the corporate front in particular, we’ve had a highly active year and have established ourselves as one of the most prolific M&A advisors in the region. We’ve had some exceptional highlights in corporate having advised on the sale of Whisk to Samsung for example.  We also acted for  Purity Brewing, Allen Ford and the Business Growth Fund.

CS: What are the benefits of doing four, four-month seats, plus an eight-month seat?

JH: We’re trying to get the trainees as much exposure to our specialisms as possible. It’s challenging for a trainee to make a decision about what they want to do coming into the firm. The four-month seat doesn’t necessarily always work for the business and this shows our commitment to the trainees’ experience. By offering a more varied training contract it prevents our trainees from being e polarised by being just a corporate or commercial lawyer, for example. We want to ensure they’ve got a good holistic grounding across all areas of the business not just the commercial side for example.  The 8-month final seat really sets us apart and allows our trainees to hit the ground already running upon qualification. It’s a great way to start your career as a qualified lawyer, already way ahead of where most newly qualified tend to be.

CS: Are there any broader trends affecting life at the firm? What about Brexit?

JH: In terms of Brexit and the general economy, we’ve obviously got half an eye on that but no one can really predict what’s around the corner. If we do suffer any form of downturn our business is balanced and we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. Despite the uncertainty I expect there to be continued and solid growth for the firm. 

CS: How important is a connection to the area?

JH: We have no requirements for where you’ve been or where you’re from.

We’re proud of our Black Country heritage and our roots and focus very much remain here; that said our geographic client base is getting more expansive and spreads way beyond the West Midlands and indeed overseas. We go wherever the clients need us!

CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?

JH: I can’t say there’s a specific person; we’re looking for people who are comfortable in their own skin. Our recruitment material is all about being yourself, so nobody is pigeonholed or told specifically what they have to be: it’s never just one size fits all. Our biggest attraction is the ability trainees have to set themselves apart from the mainstream.

You need to show enthusiasm and desire to throw yourself into the business environment. We can work on the finer legal skills. Applicants need to show the desire to become an integral part of the team. The key thing is understanding who we are: you need to be someone who can demonstrate they understand our culture and our specialisms. We don’t have tick box mentality to recruitment, it’s the softer inter-personal skills that really matter.

CS: Anything else you want to mention?

JH: I should mention our retention. We will be taking on five of the six trainees we have this year. We  invest in our trainees because ideally we want them all to qualify here and.  hopefully have long term careers with us. When we take on trainees we don’t class them as being a resource; we’re genuinely investing in them. We want the trainees to become part of the fabric of the firm and the partners of the future.

Higgs & Sons

3 Waterfront Business Park,
Brierley Hill,
DY5 1LX
Website www.higgsandsons.co.uk

  • Partners 36
  • Associates 57
  • Total trainees 12
  • UK offices Brierley Hill
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Helena Flavell
  • Training partner: Paul Hunt
  • [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 5
  • Applications pa: 200
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 6
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1st January 2020 Training contract deadline, 2021 start: Please see website
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £23,500
  • Second-year salary: £25,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: No
  • Professional Skills Course: Yes
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Brierley Hill

Firm profile




Higgs & Sons is one of the largest and most respected law firms in the West Midlands, operating out of offices in Brierley Hill and employing over 200 staff. The firm’s headquarters are situated in a modern, purpose designed facility at the prestigious Waterfront Business Park. The firm is well recognised in the Legal 500 and Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession.

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 business client: For the business client: corporate and commercial, insolvency, employment, commercial litigation and commercial property.

For the private client: Wills, probate, trusts and tax, employment, personal injury, clinical negligence, conveyancing, dispute resolution and matrimonial/family.

Trainee opportunites




Applications are welcome from law and non law students who can demonstrate consistently high academic records, a broad range of interpersonal skills and extra curricular activities and interests. The firm would like to hear about what you have done to develop your wider skills and awareness. It is looking for people who want to get involved and participate fully in the business.

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.

Vacation scheme




We offer a week long vacation scheme each year. Six places are available. Please see our website for details.

Other benefits




Private medical insurance, contributory pension, life insurance, employee assistance programme, corporate discounts and BTSS membership.

Open days and first-year opportunities




We plan to hold open evenings early 2020, details of which will be posted on our website.

Social media



Twitter @higgsandsons@HiggsGrads

Facebook higgsandsonsgrad

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)