This Putney-headquartered firm serves its trainees a balanced diet of property, commercial and private client flavours.
Russell-Cooke training contract review 2021
The City isn’t everything – pootle up the Thames for a few miles and you’ll hit Putney, home of Russell-Cooke since 1906. Trainees that began their careers here arrived with multiple priorities: “I want to help people on an individual level, but my inner Harvey Spectre wants to explore the glamour of the corporate world too,”one declared. Suits fans looking for law with a personal touch may be seeking “the ability to do a seat in family law and charities, as well as corporate and commercial,”and RC offers just that. The firm’s recently done good work representing survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Chambers UK ranks RC top for public law involving children, and lower mid-market real estate, also handing out strong rankings for criminal, clinical negligence, family, charities, professional discipline and social housing law. Property is the largest single department overall, accounting for 30% of Russell-Cooke’s turnover at the last count. Litigation practices make up 32% in total, and another 28% is family and private client.Maths whizzes will have worked out there’s 10% left unaccounted for to fit the firm’s other practices.
“Good reviews of the work/life balance and friendly culture.”
Trainees will typically complete most of their seats in the Putney HQ, though may head to one of the firm’s two smaller offices in Kingston and Central London for a spell. New arrivals came in hearing “good reviews about the work/life balance and friendly culture,” whilst seeking work for high-end clients. They also looked to future opportunities. In 2020 the firm made up six new partners; compare that to an intake of eight to ten trainees a year, and you’ve got much better pure numerical odds of making it all the way than at a larger City outfit. First-seaters will start “wherever there’s a commercial need.” Following this, trainees chat with the training principal and submit three seat preferences. “Priority goes to fourth-seaters, but HR and the training partner are fantastic at having individual chats with us and accommodating everyone’s choices.”
Around 80% of trainees do a stint in real estate: “The attitude is it’s compulsory but that’s not technically the case in practice.” This large team usually takes two trainees in the Putney office and two in the Central London Bedford Row base. Russell-Cooke is well known for representing both investor landlords and retailers as well as advising on residential sales, conversions and developments: the team recently advised Newable Properties on the £44.4 million sale of a portfolio of multi-let general industrial properties in East London to a large fund. “Deal turnaround times are around four to six weeks in order to get the completion and billing done,” trainees revealed. Other clients include household names like Matalan and Pret A Manger. “We were pretty much given free rein to run certain projects from start to finish,” a source said. “I enjoyed getting into the nitty-gritty of law and instructing counsel, drafting leases and licences and looking through voluminous documents to learn what’s relevant and needs to be disclosed.”
Sources housed in Bedford Row found themselves working “on classic land disputes and possession proceedings. We also help tenants with deposit disputes.” There’s a dedicated property and housing litigation seat where you’ll find both private and legal aid work like disrepair claims, evictions and rehousing cases. “The Grenfell inquiry took up the majority of the work I witnessed in the seat,” an insider revealed. “We worked on big disclosure tasks and reviewed sensitive documents about the fire.”Russell-Cooke also represented the operators of Borough Market when an insolvent restaurant transferred its assets without permission. Trainees appreciated the “good level of client contact and chances to handle lower value cases” in real estate seats. “They give you a crash course of what it’s like as an associate on the team.”
“They give you a crash course of what it’s like as an associate on the team.”
There’s high demand for a family seat: the team works for “all sorts of high net worth clients on a mix of finance, children and divorce cases.” Surrogacy law, family property disputes and declaration of parentage represent growth opportunities for the practice. Day to day trainee responsibilities include “drafting lasting powers of attorney, simple wills and a couple of complex clauses,” as well as “attending client meetings and taking notes.” One insider said they were “encouraged to use their initiative to take action. For example, I received an email with information from the other side; I proactively anticipated the next steps and my seniors appreciated that.”
The firm’s clinical negligence and personal injury department involves trainees in both aspects. “It’s probably an equal mix of the two and is almost completely claimant work,” we heard. On an example of a clin neg case, the firm acted for a patient with a history of schizophrenia. After killing her mother, she served a hospital detention order but may be able to claim financial losses arising from actions whilst psychotic in a case that’s gone to the Supreme Court. Some trainees described the seat as “quite repetitive in terms of the law, but the linked facts will change.” Personal injury matters include inquests, stress at work and historic sexual abuse among others: Russell-Cooke recently represented a man who suffered spinal injuries in a waterslide accident in Benidorm. Interviewees spent this seat investigating information on damages, drafting letters of claim and witness statements, liaising with experts and “preparing court documents, if a case proceeds that far.”
Renowned organisations like the WWF, British Heart Foundation and UNICEF are on the charities team’s client list. “The team is similar to personal injury in size and has three parts: charities and employment, property and government.”According to trainees in the seat “you’re basically doing corporate and commercial work with an additional layer of regulation on top of it.” The team recently advised Foundation for Future London in negotiations for a £10 million funding package from Westfield Stratford City to deliver learning, internships and start-up support in the arts and culture. “There’s a lot of data protection work to do” in this seat, alongside registering organisations as charities and drafting articles.
“Every time you change seat, it feels like you’re starting at a completely new firm,” an RC trainee told us. We get similar feedback at other firms, but this was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic: “The furloughing and pay reduction scheme put in place was poorly communicated and inconsistent across teams, as was the qualification process. Only some trainees had pay reduced, which caused unnecessary stress.” Other trainees argued that “during lockdown, the overall priority genuinely seemed to be people's health. I felt like I could go to a number of partners or senior associates with problems.” Trainees were later reassured “the firm are reimbursing staff who have had to take salary deductions," which did indeed take place.
“The payoff for being able to have a life outside of work.”
“I’d say Bedford Row is more relaxed in terms of people dressing down and being more sociable, in comparison to the HQ,”a source said. Russell-Cooke’s Putney base does come with “cool gadgets like various hot and cold-water dispensers,”to get exactly the temperature you want. Firmwide the culture doesn’t get very heated – “we don’t tend to get too stressed about things”– thanks partly to a sensible approach to hours. Contracted hours for trainees run 9.30am to 5.30pm, “but of course this varies throughout the departments.”Real estate more typically requires 6.30pm finishes, while trainees in PI and clin neg were “leaving at 5pm most days. You’ll definitely be asked why you haven’t gone home if you’re here past 6pm.” Our sources agreed a lower salary than at City firms was “the payoff for being able to have a life outside of work.”
With the foundation of a diversity network in 2019, trainees felt RC was “late to the game, it’s strange there was nothing in place already.” Sources felt the firm has down well to recruit candidates from different educational backgrounds, “but they could do better in terms of ethnic minority representation. We had events for Pride and Black History Month but lack momentum.”Retention after qualificationis an important step – for the “fairly informal” process, trainees state preferences to the training principal “who then sends out a jobs list later on.” The firm encourages trainees to keep up a dialogue “with the team you’re interested in qualifying into, to maintain those relationships.”In 2020, Russell-Cooke retained eight out of ten qualifiers.
Ready, Steady, Cooke!
RC set up ‘The Lockdown Diaries: Trainee Edition’in 2020 to showcase how trainees have been keeping their spirits high. The Great Trainee Bake Off was a popular event (when they were able to find flour and eggs, of course).
How to get a Russell-Cooke training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 21 February 2021 (open 1 November 2020)
Training contract deadlines (2023): 21 February 2021 (open 1 November 2020)
Russell-Cooke ran a vac scheme for the first time in 2018. Until this year it was kept separate from the training contract application process, in 2021 the recruitment process is being combined.
Recently appointed graduate recruitment partner Rebecca Fisher says the firm is committed to providing a vac scheme in 2021 even if that will be a virtual scheme if there are restrictions in place. “If we run a virtual scheme it will certainly be different to vac schemes of old, but we will ensure that applicants get a real insight into the firm, our clients and our people.”
Vacation scheme hopefuls start by applying online. Those who pass the first application sift are invited to do a Zoom interview with a senior associate. You're then offered a place on the scheme or not.
As the firm runs two, week-long schemes with six places each there are a total of 12 spots up for grabs. Vac schemers are overseen by a senior associate and can expect to move around two to three different departments. The week ends with a letter-writing test and an interview with Fisher, Alison Regan (former training partner) and Jonathan Thornton, the firm's managing partner. Interviewees who wow may be offered a training contract on the spot.
Training contract applications
This year sees a change to the application process and it is being brought forward and held at the same time as the vac scheme. Like the vac scheme application, the training contract process starts with candidates making an online application. However, gone is the Zoom interview (assuming there are no restrictions) in favour of an in-person one-on-one senior associate interview. Around 24 candidates will be interviewed with 12 places for second interview. That second interview is essentially an assessment centre. It consists of a letter-writing exercise based around a case study on a fictitious firm, followed by a round-table discussion. “Everyone is encouraged to give their views and we guide the discussion around issues in the study,” says Fisher. It is not all hard graft though, as applicants also get to meet current trainees over lunch for what the firm describes as 'a warts-and-all view'. The final hurdle is an interview with Fisher, Regan and Thornton, though we are assured that “it really is just a 20-minute chat – it's not intended to be terribly probing or challenging.” Of potentially 12 to 24 final interviewees Russell-Cooke offers training contracts to eight or ten individuals a year – again this may change for the 2021 recruitment cycle subject to circumstances.
To match its mix of practices Russell-Cooke seems to look for candidates from a mix of backgrounds, some of which break the traditional mould. Looking at our trainee interviewees this certainly rings true, with a range of prior careers and varied pasts represented, including a few who didn't attend Russell Group universities. That being said, the firm is not averse to candidates who've taken the traditional route. Fisher says applicants will stand out “if they are interesting, easy to communicate with and will give something a go even if they feel out of their depth.”
8 Bedford Row,
2 Putney Hill,
Bishop's Palace House,
- Partners: 62
- Associates: 104
- Total trainees: 15
- UK offices: Putney, Bedford Row, Kingston
- Graduate recruiter: Tess Morley
- Graduate recruitment partner: Rebecca Fisher
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 9-10
- Applications pa: Approx 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB (excluding general studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 21 February 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2020
- Vacation scheme deadline: 21 February 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £39,500
- Post-qualification salary: Dependent on department
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: TBC check website
- GDL fees: TBC check website
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Putney, Kingston, Bedford Row
- Client secondments: Dependent on department
*Please note due to Covid-19 dates for applying have been moved forward. There is one deadline for both vacation schemes and training contracts - 21 February 2021
Main areas of work
There are 12 placements available across our London offices for two week-long schemes. You will be paid £500 per week.
• Spring Vacation Scheme 1: 12-16 April 2021
• Spring Vacation Scheme 2: 19-23 April 2021
• Apply by 21 February 2021
University law careers fairs 2020
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Children: Cross-Border Disputes (Band 3)
- Children: Public Law Matters (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
- Crime (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 3)
- Social Housing: Tenants (Band 3)