Howes Percival has a good regional reach and a solid commercial offering in East Anglia and the East Midlands.
Runs in the family
Howes Percival planted its regional roots over 200 years ago when Richard Howes opened up shop in the quaint little town of Towcester in Northamptonshire. Maintaining a conservative approach to growth, Howes remained a family enterprise for the next two centuries and successive members of the family have been partners at the firm for seven generations. Howes has steadily bolstered its regional presence over the years and today has six offices to its name. With the exception of Manchester, these are all in the East Midlands and East Anglia. The newest office is Cambridge, which opened in 2015, “took on six new fee earners in 2017 and can now offer seats in commercial property, litigation and employment.”
Trainees were confident of Howes' status as “a strong regional firm with a good reputation for its commercial work.” In East Anglia, it picks up decent Chambers UK rankings for M&A, real estate, litigation and environment. Over in the more saturated Midlands market, Howes has a single top ranking for its agricultural practice (though this is not a major area of work for the firm in the region). Some offices lend themselves naturally to certain types of work. For instance, trainees pointed out that in Northampton the firm “does a lot for the automotive industry, working with Silverstone and the surrounding car companies.”
“A strong regional firm with a good reputation for its commercial work.”
Howes' core client base is a mix of local individuals and businesses, but the firm also draws in some larger national clients which are based locally, such as motorway services operator Welcome Break and the British Racing Drivers' Club as well as high-street banks HSBC, Santander and NatWest. “You often have to tailor your approach to the client,” trainees explained. “The needs of an individual being sued for £100,000 will be very different from the needs of a big corporation.” The firm's website may claim it represents 'global businesses', but don't expect much, or any, international flavour to the work. “We have clients that operate internationally but matters with an international component have represented less than 5% of my workload,” one source estimated. The size of Howes' deals and cases are typically measured in the thousands rather than millions, although a few creep into the multimillion-pound range.
At the time of our research there were three trainees in each of the Cambridge, Leicester and Northampton offices and two each in Milton Keynes and Norwich. Though the firm now formally operates as one entity, “you still have to choose to complete your training contact in either Northampton, Milton Keynes and Leicester [East Midlands] or Cambridge and Norwich [East Anglia].” East Anglia trainees are likely to move between Cambridge and Norwich at least once, while East Midlands trainees can expect to do seats in at least two of the region's three offices. Sources were not shy about relaying the stresses and strains of having to move multiple times during their training contract. That said, one chipper source who'd done seats in three offices felt it had the benefit of “increasing your personal visibility within the firm, as you're able to make new contacts.”
While all offices offer seats in litigation and commercial property, you can't do every seat everywhere: for example, IP/IT is only available in Leicester and estates only in Norwich. See our website for a full breakdown. When it came to qualification in 2018 three of six qualifiers were retained.
The commercial property team handles everything from land acquisitions and investment work to residential development and landlord and tenant matters. The focus varies between offices: trainees in Cambridge, for example, pointed out that “the office is much more focused on development work.” The firm recently advised a regional developer on lease agreements for a new hotel, restaurant and leisure development in Southend-on-Sea. Lawyers also acted for the Cambridge University Endowment Fund on the £7.7 million sale of a residential development site in Northamptonshire to Bovis Homes and helped Girton College Cambridge on plans for a new 325-room student accommodation block. In Norwich, trainees can do a seat in the dedicated estates team which mixes agricultural work with some private client matters and counts the trustees of Norfolk's Holkham Estate as a client. Trainees in the Midlands told us they did a lot of landlord and tenant work and were kept busy “drafting and surrendering leases, writing up licences to alter, and conducting freehold acquisitions of property.” Lawyers in this region recently acted for Swedish investment bank Svenska Handelsbanken on the refinancing of 60 tenanted properties worth a total of £30 million. They also helped organise £5.4 million of financing for the conservation and redevelopment of the centre of the firm's spiritual home town of Towcester.
"If you're given a file, you're supposed to continue to manage it after the case closes."
Corporate commercial, or 'coco', “covers corporate transactions, private equity, commercial contracts and banking," explained one trainee. "And you're not boxed into one of those." Sources reported working on a few “multimillion-pound deals,” and one enjoyed “the rush you get from staying late to finish a deal.” Trainees do a range of tasks including drafting board minutes, contracts for agency work and letters of resignation, as well as conducting due diligence and reviewing terms and conditions. One of the biggest deals the firm worked on recently was the $18.2 million sale of 19.5% of the shares in Northamptonshire fruit juice company Blue Skies to private equity fund 8 Miles (which was founded by Bob Geldof). The team also advised Welcome Break on the acquisition of two branches of Starbucks and on the multimillion-pound sale of a Northamptonshire packaging company.
With over 40 lawyers, litigation is the firm's largest practice group and covers property litigation, commercial disputes, IP, insolvency, and health and safety. Sources identified it as the “most diverse seat,” as they cut their teeth on a mix of contentious probate, professional negligence, commercial contracts and insolvency work. Drafting witness statements, preparing bundles and liaising with other parties are typical trainee tasks. You get to see "general commercial cases progress through the steps of the civil procedure rules," one source told us. "As a rule most serious e-mails and letters I send out are run by the partner first, which is reassuring." Trainees also get to take full responsibility for smaller debt recovery cases for liquidators. “If you're given a file, you're supposed to continue to manage it after the case closes, which the better trainees do of their own volition,” one source advised. Lawyers recently acted for a BMW dealer in Preston in a damages and business interruption claim against the local water company. Other litigation clients include Welcome Break, IT company Getronics, Caribbean foods supplier Grace Foods and HM Revenue & Customs.
Trainees told us they typically work from around 8.30am to 6pm or 6.30pm, though we did hear a few instances of trainees staying later – "until 8pm if it's busy" – especially in corporate. So late nights are not frequent but not entirely avoidable either. One source described Howes Percival as "a regional firm which tries to apply City standards regardless of the clients," before quickly adding: "The culture is not one of just being here to make money." Across the offices, trainees felt that “at whatever level of seniority, everyone is approachable.” One source recalled spending time after a meeting "casually chatting away with some senior partners."
On the social side, sources say this “isn't a firm with tons of socials and nights out,” adding that “for people who move to the region it can be isolating” if you don't already have connections in the region. Most put this down to the lack of concentration of trainees in any one location. One said: "Because trainees are dispersed across the offices, you don't see a large proportion of them for big bulk of the training contract." Sources agreed the firm could be more active in organising firm-wide social events. Currently there is an annual AGM which “sounds very formal but in reality is quite a relaxed social occasion. Last year it was held at Woburn Safari Park and the year before at Center Parcs.” Trainees also organise an annual firm-funded party of their own. In 2017 Leicester trainees played host and organised a barbecue and a trip to bar-cum-club The Locker Room.
Make sure you double check which seats are available in which offices. Go to chambersstudent.co.uk for a full overview.
How to get a Howes Percival training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 March 2019 (opens October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 19 July 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
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 easygoing 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.
Seats by location
Northampton: Commercial Property; Employment; Company Commercial; Insolvency; Property Litigation; Private Client
Leicester: Commercial Property; Employment; Company Commercial; Commercial Litigation; IP/IT; Family
Milton Keynes: Commercial Property; Company Commercial
Cambridge: Commercial Property; Employment; Commercial Litigation
Norwich: Commercial Property; Commercial Litigation; Insolvency; Estates
Howes Percival LLP
- Partners 43
- Solicitors 62
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices Cambridge, Leicester, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Norwich
- Graduate recruiter: Katy Tebbutt, katy.t[email protected], 01604 230400
- Training partner: Simon Murphy, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: BBB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 24
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 13 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 March 2019
- LPC fees: Yes subject to cap
- GDL fees: Yes subject to cap
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: None
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Occasionally subject to client needs
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
Norwich and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)