“Trainees do everything NQs do” at business crime, fraud and litigation extraordinaire P&P.
“We’re a specialist firm and we do what we do incredibly well,” Peters & Peters managing partner Helen McDowell begins. “If you ask people why they want to join us, the work is one of our main draws.” This is not the kind of firm that offers every legal practice area under the sun and in fact there are just two departments: business crime, and commercial litigation, civil fraud and asset recovery. “We might be small, but we really do handle the best cases around,” trainees declared. “The business crime group handles many of the largest prosecutions, so commercial and civil litigation can be overshadowed, but we’re often opposite magic circle firms on those cases – we really do punch above our weight.” Some of the partners have even given evidence to Parliamentary committees on issues like Brexit and extradition.
Our sources were initially attracted to P&P by its laser-focused practice. “It was one of the first firms to do financial crime work, which I thought was really interesting,” one declared. It would therefore be criminal of Chambers UKnot to rank the firm top for financial crime, which it does; Peters also scores strong rankings for extradition, contentious regulatory financial services, POCA work and asset forfeiture, and civil and tax fraud. Though it has just the one office in London, the firm has the international reach you’d expect in these practice areas. “I was drawn to the ability to travel and use my language skills,” a keen trainee said. “Plus we’re small, so there are better career progression opportunities.”
“We might be small, but we really do handle the best cases around.”
The firm is home to just 40 or so qualified lawyers and recruits two trainees each year. They both spend ten and a half months in each department before a three-month secondment, usually to City-based employment firm CM Murray. “It’s partly a business development secondment because we refer a lot of work between us,” a trainee noted. Qualification is informal by default: “The firm is trying to be more transparent about it. We know that we have to write a short application form, but everyone doubts they’ll base much of the decision on a nice letter.” Insiders were happy to note “you can pretty much choose which group to qualify into so long as you’ve done well. They want to keep people on.” The firm retained one of twoqualifiers in 2020.
Trainees’ first port of call is usually the business crime department, which handles traditional white-collar crime, fraud and tax cases. Extradition orders, sanctions issues, and Proceeds of Crime Act advice are some of the juiciest flavours here – trainees suggested “anything can pop up at any time” and every day is different. Where the department once worked almost exclusively for individuals, it’s expanded into internal investigations for corporate clients as regulations have become stricter. “Much of our extradition work involves Interpol notices, which are fascinating as they’re sometimes used as a political tool,” Helen McDowell tells us. “That means our lawyers have to understand and analyse the context and motivation for issuing such notices.” Representing Hermitage Capital Management and its founder Bill Browder in one high-profile Interpol case, P&P helped secure dismissal of the extradition notice brought by Russia on political grounds. We’d recommend reading into this fascinating case if you’d like to learn more about extradition law.
Sources said the team let them liaise directly with clients and experts and felt they did “basically everything that NQs do,” albeit “with more supervision because smaller cases require only a trainee and a partner. We don’t just do loads of photocopying." Trainees had also “been grabbed at a moment’s notice for a client meeting – you have no idea what the case is about, but you take notes anyway and pretend you know what you’re doing!” Recent cases have ranged from representing the Hungarian national oil and gas company MOL, accused by Croatia of obtaining a $100 million commercial advantage with a $10 million bribe, to acting for a former Barclays senior executive in a Serious Fraud Office prosecution based on payments made to a Qatari sovereign wealth fund. Trainees are unlikely to go to court, as most cases will still be in the initial stages during their time in the seat.
“We work across jurisdictions all over the world and sometimes represent nation states.”
Commercial litigation, civil fraud and asset recovery primarily deals with injunctions, search and disclosure orders; fraud is also a large chunk of the practice. “We handle lots of significant cases which have an international element,” Helen McDowell notes. “From Africa and the Middle East to Russia, we work across jurisdictions all over the world and sometimes represent nation states.” Case in point, the group recently represented the Republic of Mozambique in $2 billion proceedings surrounding sovereign guarantees brought against private defendants. Peters also represented the Secretary of State of Health and Social Care and the NHS Business Services Authority in a £250 million+ claim against multinational pharma group Servier, alleging breach of EU and UK competition rules in its sale and supply of a blood pressure-lowering drug to the NHS.
Trainees’ responsibilities in this group are “kinda similar” to those in business crime, but typically with more court time included: “If there’s a case on, they’ll let us go and take notes.” The firm’s matters often involve the Middle East or the British Virgin Islands and most Peters trainees get “to travel at least once. Hardly any of our litigation only involves London.” It’s not all courtroom drama and international travel – less scintillating desk work includes drafting witness statements, applications and instructions to counsel.
Working hours “aren’t too hectic,” a source suggested. “I’ve been able to take stock every so often and actually learn.” That’s fairly easy when average days run from 9.30am to 5.30pm and trainees usually “only stay late once or twice a year because we don’t have many tight deadlines.” This remains consistent between the two groups.“Some people are mad keen and work loads but we can set our own hours,”a savvy source said. “You obviously can’t stroll in at 2pm, but there’s no expectation to work late or at weekends.”Supervision is generally hands-off: “They let us get on without breathing down our necks. I know I don’t have the final say on much, but I’m trusted enough to have a go.” Relationships can “vary by fee earner: some are really good at giving us responsibilities that’ll benefit us in the long run, others just want things done and give us tasks a paralegal could do.” Trainees can track their progress via frequent catch-ups with the training principal and a self-appraisal form for the midpoint and end of seats. “They’re very constructive and a good way to keep on track,”we heard.
While agreeing the trainee and NQ salary are “fair given the hours,”we heard “some people still complain we don’t earn as much as trainees at US firms. We often get calls from recruiters telling us we can double our salary.”Trainees told us the firm "didn’t give out much info about the decision making" during the Covid-19 pandemic, and concluded “transparency is a bit of an issue generally.” P&P did accelerate bonuses as a means of helping lawyers and trainees get through potential financial hardship.
“There’s an easy-going atmosphere during the day, which culminates in socials everyone attends.”
“What stands out the most is that people genuinely enjoy being around each other, in and outside of work,”trainees said of the Peters culture. “There’s an easy-going atmosphere during the day, which culminates in socials everyone attends – there’s always some sort of event lined up.”The dedicated social committee organises firm-sponsored drinks about four times a year, plus Christmas and summer parties. Impromptu social nights are also common; P&P also did well to maintain a close-knit atmosphere during the 2020 lockdown. “HR called everyone once a month to make sure we were doing okay and gave us all the equipment we needed.”
The international slant to Peters’ work means “several paralegals are qualified lawyers from other jurisdictions,”but trainees were critical of a lack of ethnic diversity at the firm. “The D&I committee meets once a quarter to push initiatives: we played videos on BAME history in the kitchen and had food events during Black History Month,”they recalled. More impressively, women account for 50%of the partnership, which you'll struggle to say of many other City firms.
Downward facingtrainee: Trainees credited Head of HR Nikki Leatherland for “a hugely increased focus on mental health: the firm now provides mental health first-aiders, wellbeing seminars and weekly yoga sessions.”
How to get a P&P training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 May 2021 (opens September 2020)
Peters & Peters recruits at least two trainees each year for their London office, from both external hires and from their own paralegal pool. The firm is currently re-developing the graduate recruitment process and are looking at the possibility of using a wider range of assessment tools. Because the firm has its two niche areas (civil and commercial litigation and business crime), Leatherland tells us P&P tends to attract people who “have a genuine passion for our practice areas, and people who have already worked in the sector. Perhaps in research or paralegal roles, or working at one of the regulatory bodies.” It makes sense then that the recruitment assessments have more of a legal and competency emphasis, such as asking candidates how they’d handle certain legal scenarios and overcome legal challenges.
A huge part of the re-development of the recruitment process is driven by diversity and inclusion. “We’re doing an awful lot of work in terms of diversity given the size of our firm,” Leatherland tells us. “We’re carefully selecting our panels, doing unconscious bias training, re-thinking where we advertise vacancies and using blind application screening.” The firm is also working with Access Aspirations to encourage people who wouldn’t necessarily think of a career in law to apply. One big change comes in the introduction of funding trainees’ LPC, signalling a big focus on social mobility. “We’re not a private school, Oxbridge type environment. It’s about what people can do not their background.”
Leatherland says that in general, P&P looks for candidates who “don’t come from typical backgrounds. People who have a bit more life experience and knowledge.” These are people who are “fairly self-sufficient, mature, resilient and able to handle a fair bit of responsibility at an early stage.” It’s not unusual for P&P to send paralegals and trainees abroad to deal with client matters face-to-face or take responsibility on smaller matters. “So they need to be resilient and be able to handle pressure with confidence,” Leatherland explains. Of course, cultural fit is important too. Leatherland says that P&P are on the lookout for “good-humoured people who are strong team players. This is not an environment for precious people – even the Managing Partner has done photocopying for me!” Typically, most trainees remain at the firm after qualifying.
Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP
15 Fetter Lane,
- Partners (and equivalent): 12
- Associates: 27
- Total trainees: 4
- UK offices: London
- Graduate recruiter: Emily Wootton 020 7822 7777 [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 May 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Second-year salary: £42,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Secondments: Yes
Peters & Peters is a specialist practice best known for providing expert advice in business crime and regulation, civil fraud and commercial litigation. We act for governments, corporations, financial institutions, professionals, executives and high net worth individuals. We also regularly advise foreign regulators and international organisations. Many of our cases are high profile, complex and international in nature. Peters & Peters has been ranked as ‘top tier’ by the leading legal directories across its practice for many years.
The firm prides itself on being able to provide a welcoming, supportive and collegiate environment, exposure to high quality work and the opportunity to work with some of the most talented lawyers in our fields of practice. Peters & Peters was also one of the first practices to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to fraud cases, handling both civil and criminal proceedings, including asset recovery matters. In doing so it has forged close working relationships with foreign law firms.
Main areas of work
The firm’s key practice areas include anti-money laundering; anti-bribery and corruption; commercial and trust litigation; competition litigation; corporate investigations, criminal antitrust (cartels); economic sanctions; extradition and mutual legal assistance; financial regulation; fraud (civil and criminal); HMRC inquiries and investigations; insider dealing; international asset tracing and private prosecutions.
Peters & Peters is a friendly firm, with a supportive culture and regular social and CSR activities. We value our trainees highly and make every effort to assist them in becoming fully integrated into the firm. Each trainee will be allocated a mentor and benefit from comprehensive training, ongoing feedback and regular performance reviews. Our trainees sit with a partner or experienced lawyer and will have the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the firm’s work including client meetings, business development activities and often international travel.
We are looking for trainees with strong academic ability, who will be able to cope with complex legal issues and technical drafting. We recruit from a wide range of universities, taking both law and non-law graduates who have achieved a degree at 2.1 level or above. As ours is very much a people business, candidates must demonstrate strong presentation and communication skills, as well as the ability to work well in teams. Applicants should be commercially aware and demonstrate a keen interest in our work. They will also be proactive, enthusiastic and have a sense of humour.
A career with Peters & Peters will be both exciting and challenging, but we require individuals who are tenacious, driven and committed to taking on a steep learning curve. In return you will benefit from early responsibility, a rewarding career, plenty of support and the opportunity to carry out high quality and stimulating legal work. As a trainee you will spend time within our two departments (business crime and commercial litigation/civil fraud) and will also have the opportunity to experience a different area of law through an external secondment. The firm deliberately has a small trainee intake to ensure quality training, exposure to a wide range of practice areas and to maintain our excellent trainee retention rates.
25 days holiday, pension scheme, BUPA private medical insurance, life assurance, interest free season ticket loan, employee assistance programme and subsidised health club membership.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Crime: Extradition (Band 1)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- POCA Work & Asset Forfeiture (Band 1)
- Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)