This firm based in South West London offers trainees a less intense lifestyle in the capital, with property, commercial and personal law work on offer.
Ready Steady Russell-Cooke
If Russell-Cooke hadn’t bagged these trainees, some of them may have pursued drastically different careers: competitive swimming for example, or running an independent farm business, or perhaps even being an MI5 agent. We mention this because one of the questions on Russell-Cooke’s application form is 'If you couldn't work in law, what do you think you would do and why?'. Trainees said their answers “weren’t just about becoming an accountant or a barrister – this firm is looking for something a bit different.”
What many of these trainees wanted was a “large regional firm with a presence in the South.” Move over MI5. It’s Russell-Cooke. The firm has been headquartered in Putney since 1906, and has two smaller offices in Kingston and in Holborn in central London. “Most of us trainees are based in Putney,” interviewees explained, “and you’ll do two or three seats here, then typically one or two elsewhere.”
Property is the firm’s largest department, accounting for more than a quarter of the firm’s turnover. Family and private client work make up roughly another quarter between them, and then litigation is about a fifth. The firm also does corporate, commercial and employment work, and has teams handling charities, regulation, and clinical negligence and personal injury. In London, Chambers UK ranks it top for children work and lower mid-market real estate. Nationally, the firm gets nods for charities, professional discipline and social housing.
Trainees are “put where we’re needed” for the first seat. A couple of months in, they’ll have a chat with the training partner about where they’d like to move next. They’re normally asked to give three or four preferences and sources said “the more senior you become, the more weight preferences carry.”
Buy to Pret
Sitting in real estate“is almost a fact of life” at Russell-Cooke. The department has more than 30 solicitors, and clients include big names like Matalan and Pret A Manger, which the firm advised on its lease renewal at King’s Cross station. The team also recently handled the real estate aspects of The Gym’s £20.6 million acquisition of 13 gyms from easyGym. For trainees, assisting on large matters means “lots of applications to the Land Registry” to register land transactions – “I got really good at banging those out in under 20 minutes,” one source confided. The seat is “a nice soft landing” for first-seaters, especially in central London, where trainees have weekly coffees with their NQ mentor: “You take a list of what you’re working on, and they check that you’re getting the right balance of work.” It was different in Putney, where “the onus is on trainees to ask for work, so the first couple of months were incredibly challenging.” A plus is that “compared to bigger firms, we have lower-value matters that people let you crack on with yourself.” Trainees handle leases and licences for “little shops” from Tooting all the way to Tunbridge Wells. “I did all the client’s enquiries and inter-party correspondence on one matter,” a trainee told us.
“I started by printing off crime stats for the area.”
The property and housing litigation team does both private and legal aid work. Legal aid work includes disrepair claims, evictions and rehousing cases. The team recently did a review of suitability for a client who was housed “in the same block where they had had a traumatic experience. So I started by printing off crime stats for the area covering everything that had happened recently in that square mile.” It paid off – “they’re gonna be rehoused.” The team also recently represented a man with bipolar disorder who had self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, became homeless and then was not seen as a priority case by the council and so ended up on the streets. The firm has also been representing people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire with housing matters. Handling these types of cases “can feel like you’re in social work. The client is often quite vulnerable, but it’s extremely rewarding.” On the private side, the team acts for retail clients, landlords, high net worth individuals and landowners. Recently the team obtained a court order on behalf of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators for the removal of a group that set up an encampment on the land. Day-to-day trainee tasks include drafting witness statements, court documents and letters of engagement, as well as contacting clients directly, attending meetings and doing doc review.
A seat in family is in high demand; the team works for high net worth individuals on “standard divorce and finance cases” including prenups and postnups. Divorce work can be “quite hands-off if the parties negotiate things between themselves.” If not, “we’re going to court hearings and negotiating with other solicitors.” For a financial hearing, a trainee might be “drafting our brief to counsel, as well as putting together our proposal for a settlement.” Other tasks include “analysing bank statements to see where the client is spending money.” The group also does both public and private lawchildren work, for instance “disputes about contact or if one partner wants to move the child to another jurisdiction.” One trainee assisted on “a case where one party wanted to take their children on holiday to a certain location, and the other party didn’t agree.”
“I conducted one-hour telephone interviews with clients by myself.”
In clinical negligence and personal injury, trainees do both types of work. The former includes cases connected to birth injuries, head injuries, cancer and dentistry. In one case, “a doctor recommended surgery and used equipment that wasn’t up to standard.” In another case, the firm represented a man seeking over £3 million in damages after he was left paralysed because of misleading advice from hospital reception staff after a blow to the head. Personal injury claims are typically lower in value. For example, the firm handled a £50,000 claim for a woman who sustained a hip injury after she slipped over on a piece of apple in a supermarket. In another somewhat gruesome case the firm represented a man who tore off his finger during a football match when his wedding ring got caught on a fence. Trainees explained: “If there’s been an accident, you attend the site to get a better idea of what the client is saying.” During all of this “you get to know the client quite well,” and one source remembered: “A couple of times I conducted one-hour telephone interviews with clients by myself.”
The firm’s charities teamhas acted for well-known charities like WWF, the British Heart Foundation, UNICEF and World Vision. Two different sub-teams handle employment and matters; governance is handled by the wider team. Trainees described the department as “a mini one-stop shop for charities.” The team recently advised Breast Cancer Now on its £45 million merger with Breast Cancer Care, and also advised the new body appointed to organise London’s famous Notting Hill Carnival. On the governance side, trainees had “drafted a new charity’s constitutional documents and set them up with the Charity Commission.”
We often hear trainees say that starting a new seat is like starting a new job, but the Russell-Cooke trainees went as far as to say: “It’s like starting at another firm! The departments operate almost independently.” This was most noticeable when it came to trainee support. While agreeing training was mostly “excellent,” a couple of interviewees had had “iffy” experiences with supervisors. Several suggested: “It’d be useful to have a tick-box form to say trainees should be exposed to X, Y and Z type of work for consistency.”
Departments also vary when it came to socialising. In Putney, the clinical negligence and personal injury team takes the social butterfly crown, while in Holborn real estate came out top: “Sometimes the partner would email saying, ‘Let’s all leave at 5pm and go for a drink.” Putney’s real estate and commercial litigation teams are reportedly “a bit more reserved.” But the firm’s most recent Christmas party was not. Ithad a circus theme, complete with circus acts and a glitter station “for everyone to get glitter on their face like at a festival.” There are also “very popular” clubs to join, whether it’s book club, running club, movie club, board game club, cricket club or football club.
Fortunately, trainees' hours leave plenty of time for play. The latest finish we heard of was 8pm in real estate, “and that was only because we had a big lunch planned the next day, so I wanted to get everything done!” Family is also known for having longer hours, but still one trainee said: “I’m generally able to make my evening gym class.” Trainees felt their salary was appropriate, explaining: “There’s no whip-cracking where you’ve got to be here at the client’s whim.”
“It’s like an old barristers’ chambers, all higgledy-piggledy…”
Putney’s open-plan layout made it a “chatty” office, but trainees said the smaller central London office on Bedford Row was “a lot more close-knit.” One elaborated: “It’s like an old barristers’ chambers, all higgledy-piggledy with different rooms and staircases!” The Kingston office overlooks the Thames and is just a short walk from Hampton Court Palace.
When it comes to qualification trainees get a list of NQ jobs they can apply for,but said: “A bit more weight is on us to ask teams if there are opportunities.” They were hopeful: “I can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t want to qualify here.” If a trainee isn’t going to be retained, they’ll receive three months’ notice so they can begin looking elsewhere. In 2019, the firm retained two out of three qualifiers.
Russell-Cooke set up a diversity network in 2019, which was busy lining events up for Pride at the time of our research.
How to get a Russell-Cooke training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 21 February 2020 (open 1 November 2019)
Training contract deadlines (2022): 30 June 2020 (open 1 November 2019)
Russell-Cooke ran a vac scheme for the first time in 2018. Currently, it's separate from the training contract application process, though training partner Alison Regan says the two may be rolled into one process in the future. Vac scheme hopefuls start by applying online. Those who pass the first application sift are invited to do a Skype 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 an interview with Regan and Jonathan Thornton, the firm's managing partner. Interviewees who wow are fast-tracked past the initial application phase of the training contract process. Those who really amaze may even be offered a training contract on the spot.
Training contract applications
Like the vac scheme application, the training contract process starts with candidates making an online application. However, gone is the Skype interview in favour an in-person one-on-one partner interview. Around 40 candidates were interviewed in 2018 and interviews are conducted by eight different partners who then shortlist people for a 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 Regan. 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 Regan, Thornton and a private client partner, though Regan assures us 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 nine or ten individuals a year.
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. Regan 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.”
Interview with training partner Alison Regan
Chambers Student: Which practice areas are doing particularly well at the moment? Are there any significant developments from the last year that you’d like our student readers to know about?
Alison Regan: Our family law department which straddles all three offices – Putney, Bedford Row, and Kingston – is doing phenomenally well. It is always busy: the team deals with a whole range of family law from child abduction to very high net worth divorces. My own team [trust and estate disputes] has been very busy dealing with some high net worth individuals in cross-border succession disputes. Samantha Little in the children department is gaining a name dealing with surrogacy work, particularly with cross-border surrogacy issues. Real estate is storming ahead with some very high value purchases on the commercial property front. And our education team is growing from strength to strength. We are still very busy acting for some of the Grenfell victims and families on personal injury and social housing issues.
CS: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve over the next few years?
Alison: With Brexit hanging over everyone’s head it’s quite hard to know, but our strategy continues to be one of organic growth. We’re not particularly planning any mergers or dramatic developments like that. Financially we’re a very solid firm. We have no debt which means we have the freedom to make our own decisions about the future of the firm. We’ve always been a firm that wherever possible will support entrepreneurialism – the creation of new areas of work if there’s a business need. For example, our education team, headed by Eva Akins, started a few years ago. Eva is really busy and it’s growing all the time. The firm will allow people to develop their areas of interest where there’s a business need and scope to do so, and we will continue to do that. We will also continue to commit a proportion of our time to doing legal aid/public funding work as ensuring access to justice is core to who we are as a firm.
CS: You mentioned Brexit – has it been affecting the volume or type of work the firm is doing at the moment?
Alison: Brexit may have had an impact on some of the property departments. There’s no denying that residential in particular has slowed down a bit as people are waiting to see what happens. Corporate areas may have moved into different areas of expertise because again, people are waiting to see what kind of Deal or No Deal there’ll be. We are a very well-balanced firm with a large number of our lawyers working in contentious areas of practice. That means we are pretty well buffered against economic downturns. Our private client and family areas are still doing very well.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
Alison: Someone who is independently minded, hardworking and enthusiastic, and willing to get chucked into the deep end and take responsibility. But also someone who isn’t afraid to say, ‘Hey, I need a bit of guidance here,’ or to ask for some direction on a task they’ve been given. But really people who thrive here are those that have a lot of enthusiasm and energy but take control of their own work.
CS: Anything else to add?
Alison: We believe that we pretty much stand alone in terms of what we can offer to trainees in terms of seat choices. There are few firms that can offer the range of experience that we do.Our seatrotation is a very flexible process. I speak to trainees two or three months into their seat about where they want to go next and I try to accommodate their preferences as much as possible, depending on whether they’re going into their second, third or fourth seat. We obviously have a qualifying policy, but we recruit to try and keep our trainees wherever possible.
8 Bedford Row,
2 Putney Hill,
Bishop's Palace House,
- Partners: 61
- Associates: 99
- Total trainees: 20
- UK offices: Putney, Bedford Row, Kingston
- Graduate recruiter: Tess Morley
- Training partner: Alison Regan
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 21 February 2020
- 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: Capped sponsorship up to £10,000 plus offer of interest-free loan up to £5,000 repayable out of salary
- GDL fees: Maintenance grant
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Putney, Kingston, Bedford Row
- Client secondments: Dependent on department
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: 23-27 March 2020
• Spring Vacation Scheme 2: 30 March – 3 April 2020
University law careers fairs 2019
Email: [email protected]
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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)
- Planning Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 3)
- Social Housing: Tenants (Band 3)