At this regional firm, trainees are unleashed in the East on a feast of seats.
Not many firms can say they were named after a married couple, but that’s the case for Howes Percival, which got its name thanks to the marriage of Richard Howes (an 18th century solicitor) and Mary Percival. Howes founded the firm in Northamptonshire well over 200 years ago, and today the East Midlands remains a key region for the firm alongside East Anglia. The firm’s regional ties are clear from some of the names on its client list, like Leicestershire Cricket Club and Norwich Cathedral, but it also works with companies that have a more national scope, such as HSBC and the Co-op. Chambers UK ranks Howes Percival top in East Anglia for its corporate/M&A work with small and medium businesses (it’s also highly ranked in this category in the East Midlands, a more competitive market). The firm picks up additional high rankings in East Anglia in planning, litigation, real estate and restructuring.
“Supervisors really care about how you’re developing.”
Howes Percival's headcount has gone up by 21% in the last three years, while its “people-focused strategy” has thrown a spotlight on learning and development. The firm did bag a top 100 spot on the list of best companies to work for in 2020 by The Sunday Times, with interviewees describing a “warm and caring” atmosphere. “Supervisors really care about how you’re developing,” they told us, “and partners work hard to make sure you’re getting a good breadth of experience.” Trainees can be found in five of the firm’s six offices – Northampton, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, and Norwich. The smaller Manchester base, which houses a solvency team, currently doesn’t offer seats.
Trainees wanted to make one thing crystal clear about seat allocation: “The firm absolutely expects you to do a seat in at least one other office. You’d be naïve to think that you could stay in one office for two years.” Trainees were “really grateful” to be given three months’ warning before changing offices, but pointed out there’s no financial aid for moving – meaning trainees may face a mammoth commute at some point. “I knew what I was signing up for,” said one, echoing most interviewees. First seats are allocated at random “like a wild card,” while subsequent seats are discussed. Some seats are only available in certain offices, such as estates in Norwich and IP in Milton Keynes or Northampton.
“… immersed from day one in everything from Stamp Duty to registering property at the Land Registry.”
Trainees are likely to do a seat in commercial property, where interviewees were “immersed from day one in everything from Stamp Duty to registering property at the Land Registry.” The firm acts for clients “ranging from small businesses to large corporations” – it recently acted for housebuilder Persimmon Homes in the £8.3 million purchase of a residential development site in Thurston, in Suffolk. Trainees described working on planning matters, leasehold sales and purchases, and developments, which meant helping developer clients “go all the way from purchasing land to setting it up for the agreement for lease.” They also had to get to grips with “really interesting and complex Stamp Duty Land Tax transactions. Some people try not to get involved with those but it’s good to know how they work.” Trainees drafted documents like clauses, leases and reports for clients – one of these involved “a review of a lease suggesting amendments.” Trainees got to talk with clients directly, “and the partner helps if I have questions.”
In contrast to the commercial work in property, trainees in property litigation had worked more with individuals in “neighbour disputes, disputes with builders, and boundary disputes.” This meant client contact from the get-go, in “face-to-face meetings or telephone conferences.” Trainees then wrote letters for clients “to set out what their options might be.” The team also has experience working with companies – it recently represented Ford Retail in a £300,000 dispute over land contamination.
Trainees may do a seat with the corporate, commercial and banking team, which works with clients ranging from local businesses all the way up to big banks like HSBC. Corporate work covers asset sales and purchases, mergers and de-mergers, while the commercial side involves working on contracts and terms and conditions. On the banking side, the team handles loan agreements and refinancings. Healthcare and leisure are key industries for the group – it recently represented Craft Leisure in its £14.7 million purchase of Norfolk Broads Holdings, which provides river trips, boating holidays and boat hire in the Norfolk Broads. Typical trainee tasks involved drafting minutes, resolutions and agreements, as well as communicating with lawyers from other firms. There was also a “nitty-gritty boring side” to the seat (read: doc review), but lucky trainees found more responsibility on smaller deals, “perhaps in the tens of thousands of pounds, or something for an individual.”
The estates seat(only on offer in Norwich) covers private client and agricultural work. The team advises high net worth individuals and families on estate planning, wills and probate matters, tax issues, trusts, and powers of attorney. Lawyers here also help farmers in the buying and selling of land, which trainees said mirrors “all the normal property work but with extra layers of complexity.” Here trainees conducted a lot of research, drafted applications, and got to interact with clients.
“Partners always come around and chat – you can see they’re normal people that joke around.”
In IP, trainees saw “a real range of clients and topics that keep the seat really interesting and fun.” The work is mostly contentious, with the team handling copyright, trade mark, design rights, patent, defamation and privacy claims. Recently the team represented the Business Software Alliance, acting against UK companies using software of BSA members (which include Microsoft and Adobe) without a licence. Trainees worked on trade mark renewals and something called “central trade mark portfolio monitoring – relaying any infringements that come up to the rest of the team.” They were delighted if they got to see matters go beyond the pre-action stage: “It’s the absolute best, though clients don’t prefer it!”
Trainees reckoned the firm’s salary is “competitive for the area,” and described average hours of 8.30am to 5.30pm with “very occasional evening work.” One reckoned “I can count on one hand the times I’ve had to work over lunch.” Lunchtimes instead were reserved for hanging out with other trainees. It’s completely open-plan in Northampton, which sources felt “makes for a really relaxed environment. Partners always come around and chat – you can see they’re normal people that joke around.”Leicester is also transitioning to open-plan, which interviewees hoped would “improve cross-team friendship.” Down in Milton Keynes they’re “a really fun, laid-back, sociable bunch” who “have lunches for any arrivals, departures and birthdays.” The Norwich office is “right in the city centre, with a pub next door.” How convenient!
“The firm notices who willingly gets involved.”
Extracurricular activities are a big deal at Howes Percival, and trainees are expected to “muck in.” As one put it: “You don’t just come in, do the work and go home. The firm notices who willingly gets involved.” This might mean helping with the firm’s social media, attending university law fairs, or preparing seminars. There are also various committees – charity, sports, diversity and social – trainees can join. One of the most talked-about extracurricular responsibilities was car park duty, which trainees help out with when the firm hosts seminars. “You’re there in your high-vis,” said one. “At least it keeps you humble.”
Trainees felt “the firm places value on your personality, background and worldview.” Some felt Howes’ “strongest point” was its representation of women, who make up almost a third of the partnership – “women are bossing it here!” In other facets of diversity, trainees acknowledged there more was to be done, but praised the firm’s emphasis on promoting diversity in recruitment and “making sure we’re approaching all types of students at law fairs.”
In previous years trainees have had some reservations about qualification feeling too last-minute and “hush-hush.” This year, the firm resolved to circulate the jobs list by the end of seat three, “but that’s not happened yet. It creates a bit of paranoia.” Howes Percival retained five of its eight qualifiers in 2020.
Howes Personal… Trainees can spend ‘charity days’ with an organisation of their choice. One group chose Leicester South Foodbank, helping to package boxes for families and process donations.
How to get a Howes Percival training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 March 2021 (opens October 2020)
Training contract deadline (2023): 30 June 2021 (opens 1 October 2020)
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.
Howes Percival LLP
- Partners 50
- Solicitors 72
- Total trainees 14
- UK offices Cambridge, Leicester, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Norwich
- Graduate recruiter: Katy Tebbutt, [email protected], 01604 230400
- Training partner: Simon Murphy, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- 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 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 30th June 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st March 2021
- LPC fees: Yes subject to cap
- GDL fees: Yes subject to cap
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Occasionally subject to client needs
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 2)
Norwich and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)