Howes Percival? No, we’re not asking how some guy called Percy’s doing – we’re talking about one of England’s regional powerhouses!
Howes Percival training contract review 2024
With two hundred years of history and clout in the East of England behind its name, Howes Percival has certainly earned its reputation as “specialists in the area.” Local businesses, universities, charities, and private clients have turned to this full-service regional powerhouse in their times of need. “We operate in very local markets,” trainees summarised, with one adding: “There’s a more intimate feel to that.”
“There are lots of partners with City experience, but it all comes without the intensity…”
They were quick to point out some of the other advantages of working at a firm like theirs over a London-based or bigger national name. “The great thing about Howes Percival is that you get to enjoy a lot of London-related work as there are lots of partners with City experience,” a trainee explained, “but it all comes without the intensity, the stress, and the exorbitant costs of the capital!”
Howes Percival traces its roots back to the picturesque village of Towcester in the heart of the East Midlands. Nowadays, the firm is spread out across the East of England, with offices in Norwich, Cambridge, Leicester, Northampton and Milton Keynes. Of the 11 trainees who join the ranks each year, a good number join the Norwich and Northampton offices, followed by Cambridge, Leicester and Milton Keynes. The firm has a small office up in Manchester too, but it doesn’t recruit trainees.
By Chambers UK's assessment, the firm stands tall in the East of England, with rankings in East Anglia for litigation, real estate, planning, agriculture, restructuring, banking and finance, and mid-market corporate/M&A. It also stands out for its work with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The firm’s work for private clients also picks up a high ranking from the Chambers High Net Worth guide.
Trainees’ first seats are allocated before their arrival at the firm; from there, they indicate three or four preferences at each rotation, with the firm “trying its best to give you what you want.” Whilst second-year trainees are generally given priority, the firm sometimes offers a split seat as a compromise if a trainee really desires a particular seat where there isn’t space. Totally accepting of the system, one trainee noted that “it’s rare you won’t get the seat you want.”
Trainees we spoke to very much enjoyed their time with the ever-growing corporate team, which has expanded recently with a spate of lateral hires in the last year from firms like Dentons and BDB Pitmans. The team handles acquisitions and corporate governance for clients spanning healthcare, leisure and tourism, tech, and the automotive sector. NatWest is one notable name on the client list, along with local companies like Ben Burgess (an agricultural machinery dealer) and Anglia Restaurants, which called on the team’s expertise for the sale of its Castle Carvery Restaurant chain to RedCat Pub Company. More unusually for a corporate seat, we heard of trainees getting involved with some charity work too. Trainees described “lots of exposure to data rooms and client calls,” plus “bits of due diligence.” There was some room for drafting ancillary documents too, although it wasn’t a staple job: “On other seats I’d draft for days, but here it’s a ten-minute job.” Late finishes of 10pm were mentioned too, particularly “when leading up to completions,” though such hours were really quite rare. One felt “they tend to keep you a bit more hidden from the potential intensity of the seat,” but even so, it’s still “very fast-paced.”
Commercial property is one of the firm’s established strengths – the team handles residential and commercial developments, as well as matters pertaining to property finance. The group recently acted for Norwich University of the Arts on its purchase of the OPEN building in Norwich as part of plans to extend the city campus. Further south, the team represented C. Brewer & Sons in the £25 million sale of a commercial building in London to a residential developer (with the agreement to lease the ground floor back to the decorating company). The work on this team was ultimately “quite varied,” with trainees predominantly focusing on “lease reports, title reports, and lots of landlord and tenant work.” Sources reported “daily client contact, and consistent involvement in exchanges and completions.” On top of this, trainees were “working on large mineral excavation sites in rural areas and dealing with Land Registry requisitions,” which are requests from the government for more information to support an application.
“The best part is that you’re so heavily involved in everything – you are really not just there to make the coffees!”
Disputes was another popular option amongst our trainees – “it was a phenomenal seat!” High praise indeed. “It’s not too specialist,” one expanded. “I was involved in professional negligence cases and contract disputes. The breadth was interesting.” The team has represented Ben’s Cookies, Cambridge Intelligence, farming businesses in the local area, and Danish company Wonop AS, which is seeking £1 million in damages in a cryptocurrency dispute. The seat consisted of “lots of exposure to client calls, mediations, and regular client catch-ups.” Trainees in Norwich usually “start off doing attendance notes, before engaging in the heavy drafting of documents relating to professional negligence and contract disputes.” Another trainee elucidated that “the clients are really great, and the best part is that you’re so heavily involved in everything – you are really not just there to make the coffees!”
There’s more contentious work to be found in the insolvency seat, where trainees got stuck into the legal weeds of company administrations and liquidations, and the disputes and investigations arising out of them. The day-to-day in this department was generally made up of “investigating financial affairs relating to bankruptcies and researching companies entering liquidation, looking for potential claims, drafting letters prior to action, and assisting with court proceedings.” A visit to the High Court in London was a highlight for one trainee. Another described the seat as “quasi-criminal where you hire private investigators.” The team certainly got to flex its investigative muscles when it was instructed to investigate the bankruptcy of a former entrant on the Times Rich List entrant, who was said to be worth tens of millions of pounds.
“Howes isn’t really a firm where legal stereotypes exist,” according to one interviewee, who elaborated that “itisn’t all about image and status” at the firm. Instead, words like supportive, personable, and approachable were the most commonly used terms to describe “the really nice culture” that trainees spoke glowingly about. “There are a lot of ex-City lawyers, and the vibe with that could so easily be more competitive and cold-shoulder, but at HP that just simply isn’t the case,” trainees told us. “The firm is full of those who decided to take a step away” from the hecticness of the capital. “Everyone’s naturally got a relaxed air – even if they’re actually quite stressed! Most people are super friendly, and I’d definitely feel comfortable in approaching them to talk about more personal issues too.” In this vein, we heard of one partner sharing their own experiences with mental health and wellbeing in order to support a trainee, “which normalised these kinds of issues.”
The firm has a D&I committee which “puts on external speakers on a variety of subjects.” We heard that “socioeconomic status is also a focus for the firm and there’s lots of school outreach.” More informally, interviewees described a “total respect of different faiths.” One satisfied trainee shared: “I wanted to find somewhere where I’m able to bring my whole self to work and not be seen as weird for it! HP definitely provides this sense of worth.”
Trainees felt the firm show its appreciation in other ways. “Recently we had a social event with a pizza van in the car park – it was just a nice gesture and celebration of everyone’s hard work!” Whilst firmwide social events can sometimes be more difficult to organise due to the dispersed locations of trainees, newbies were sure to note that office and team events were still very much a thing. “There was recently a Pride quiz celebrating Pride month in June, and we always have a Christmas quiz too on top of a number of client parties.” Trainees have lunch together fairly often too.
“The work-life balance is on point.”
Whilst the salaries at HP aren’t immediately striking, trainees were not at all displeased with it, “especially as the job is not in London.” Given that they’re entitled to bonuses too, our trainees ultimately felt well compensated in relation to the hours they put in. In contentious seats, “the work-life balance is on point,” with a standard nine to five in line with court deadlines. “Certain departments like corporate may require you to work longer hours or log on back home in the evening, but as a general rule of thumb, trainees really do not stay late.”
Qualification was described as “quite an informal process. Trainees are sent a list of vacancies before you then send an ‘expression of interest’ (an email) to the relevant partner or practice leader.” We heard there was no formal application to be produced, and your desire will be met so long as there is an opportunity available (and the trainee is up to the job, of course). Though there isn’t always a spot exactly where everyone wants, trainees felt HP “really tries to accommodate your preferences where they can.” We heard that others also depart to chase experience in London, but “most people stay on at the firm, and that’s because everyone’s genuinely lovely, the work is fulfilling, and they really do care about you!”
Howes the family?
Interviewees said “the firm is great for those who are parents with young kids.”
How to get a Howes Percival training contract
The firm receives around 200 to 300 initial applications. The application form covers standard CV and experience questions, like 'why do you want to be a lawyer?' and 'why do you want to work for Howes Percival?' as well as a few designed to draw out a bit of your personality like 'what's your best non-sporting achievement?' There's no specific question about local links, though we reckon mentioning things which tie you to the regions where the firm operates will do you no harm.
Assessment day and interview
Before attending the assessment centre, applicants are asked to complete an online numerical reasoning test. The half-day assessment centre itself consists of three parts: a 45-minute written commercial test, a presentation and a one-hour interview. The written test is based on a commercial scenario in which you're asked to write a piece of advice to a client.
The presentation is on a topic you'll be given on the day and tends to be fairly light-hearted – again, it is supposed to draw out something of your personality. In the past, applicants have been asked which book, film and CD they'd take with them to a desert island and (in another year) what three people, dead or alive, they'd invite to their ideal dinner party. (If you are asked that latter question, be honest, don't just name three famous lawyers unless you have a really good reason to.)
The interview is with two senior lawyers and is a more serious affair, though don't be afraid to showcase your personality. Expect to be asked about a typical array of competencies – strengths and weaknesses, analysis and decision-making, teamwork, initiative – as well as commercial awareness questions: for instance, 'what makes a law firm successful?' There are some scenario-based questions too, but also some more easy-going ones like 'what makes you laugh?' (Don't say: lawyer jokes.)
HP's vac scheme lasts just a week and consists of students spending a single day in five different departments. They shadow a trainee or other junior lawyers and mix attending court and meetings with some real work and a number of set tasks. On the last afternoon, there is an assessed group exercise and some (though not all) participants will be invited back for a final training contract interview.
The firm runs schemes in two different weeks in the summer, in Leicester, Northampton and Norwich, with four to six places on each.
Among the trainees there were graduates from institutions in the regions where the firm works – Leicester and UEA – as well as individuals from places further afield like Sheffield, Birmingham and Queen Mary, London.
Links to the local region are a common denominator among trainees. Nearly all our interviewees had either grown up in the East Midlands or East Anglia or been to uni there. Many continue to cultivate these local connections during their training through involvement with local charity fund-raising and business development.
Howes Percival LLP
Howes Percival LLP is a leading commercial law firm. Our working environment is professional, progressive and focussed but also friendly and our structure means that fee earners are rewarded on merit and can progress to senior associate, director or partner status quickly.
Main areas of work
The firm is a recognised market leader in corporate and commercial, commercial property, planning, employment, commercial and property litigation, construction, IP/IT, insolvency, regulatory, family and private client among other things.
Trainees usually complete four six-month seats. They report directly to a partner or senior solicitor and after three months and again towards the end of each seat will be formally assessed by the fee earner training them. Trainees will be given every assistance by the fee earners in their department to develop quickly and will be given responsibility as soon as they are ready.
Staff benefit from a flexible benefits package, including contributing pension, private medical insurance and 25 days holiday per year amongst other things.
Open days and first-year opportunities
We offer open days in Norwich and further details of these are found on our website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)