Russell-Cooke rustles up a meaty selection of seats for those wanting to sample commercial and private client work.
Russell-Cooke training contract review 2024
There’s nothing wrong with not being sure where you want to practice for the rest of your career. If this resonates with you, then Russell-Cooke is good place to start: “The best thing about Russell-Cooke is the range of seats on offer.” This sentiment was echoed by several of our sources. The firm has 16 departments, covering everything from traditional litigation and real estate to the more nuanced children law and charity and social business, and seats in each department are available based on business need. “I was leaning towards private client and corporate, but I really had no idea; the variety of seats means I can keep multiple routes open,” one thankful trainee shared.
"I wanted a firm that was large enough to catch interesting work but small enough to get to know people."
It’s worth noting this firm is one of the few London-based outfits that focuses on private clients, charities and family law. You could even find yourself defending a Conservative MP when their Jack Russell causes a deer stampede in Richmond Park, because Russells stick together. The firm’s unusually broad practice areas gain recognition in the Chambers UKguide. Top rankings are given to its HNW family, real estate (matters worth £10–50 million) and children: public law groups. “I wanted a firm that was large enough to catch interesting work but small enough to get to know people, so Russell-Cooke fit the bill.” Witha yearly cohort of just ten to 12 trainees (hired in two groups throughout the year), this Russell rookie was running out of ink for all the ticked boxes.
It's likely that trainees will undergo a stint in one of the firm's property seats during their training contract. It’s worth keeping in mind that “the first seat is given completely randomly, without a consultation and based solely on business needs.” From then on, trainees will meet with the head of graduate recruitment and discuss their preferences about halfway through their current seat. Whilst some rookies got every seat they wanted, this isn’t always the case as “seats are based on how many trainees are interested in the department.”
“People offer all the guidance and briefings you could possibly want.”
Property litigation (dubbed proplit) is one of the larger departments. We heard “the team is really on it from a training contract perspective. People offer all the guidance and briefings you could possibly want.” Trainees were involved in possession work and prepping for trial; the group also runs evictions for company landlords, which trainees are encouraged to attend: “It’s not mandatory and they make sure you’re comfortable with attending, but it’s good to realise that it’s real work you’re doing. Plus, you’re acting as the legal representation that’s needed.” The team also deal with clients such as Borough Market, Matalan and long-term client Pret a Manger. At the end of last year, the team reached a settlement for its client Sirosa over a ‘right to light’ claim involving a proposed development on London’s Oxford Street.
Private client trainees are kept busy with real estate planning, wills & probate and other administration matters. A common thread of our interviews was high levels of client contact: “I’ve spoken to loads of clients face to face and over the phone.” When dealing with wills, trainees “meet clients, with the fee earner, and then do the first draft of the will based on the meeting.” Probate matters are typically longer, so “you can join a matter that’s been running for two years.” More discrete tasks on the cards, when joining in the middle of the lengthy matters, involved “contacting banks, making legacy payments, calling HMRC, chasing documents and going through inheritance tax.” A trainee told us, “It can be heavy on the admin,” but “private client is quiet a big team and there are a lot of people to learn from.” Also “partners make an effort to give trainees more interesting drafting work as well as trust and cross-border matters.”
Russell-Cooke’s well-regarded family department handles high-value financial disputes, as well as a raft of children matters that involve child relocation, child abduction, surrogacy and adoption cases. Spread across all three offices, “Kingston handles loads of children matters." In Bedford Row, trainees aided the team in court: “I would help prepare bundles and be involved in case prep. That included drafting and handling instructions to counsel and witness statements.” Due to the nature of the work “the seat can be a bit of a mix. You’re obviously heavily supervised because it’s not the type of work you can run with.” Some sources reported it can be hard to involve trainees on the more complex matters. Despite this, “there is a big effort to involve trainees in client calls and meetings.”
“I think I developed most in this seat; they really encourage you to think as an NQ in charities and social business,” revealed one insider. Another added “it’s a big team in comparison to others at the firm.” Within charities are dedicated governance, employment and property teamswhich act for the likes ofUNICEF, the British Heart Foundation and St John Ambulance. The team recently acted for the Postal Heritage Trust regarding its development of The Postal Museum. Most of the work concerns governance, and trainees reported a good balance of responsibility and attention to their individual progression. “All my tasks were deliberately designed to enhance my legal skills.” Newbies listed plenty of tasks, such as reviewing constitutional documents, drafting applications for charities, dealing with client calls and advising trustees.
RC’s culture is a tale of three offices, each with their own unique quirks. We heard that the Kingston folks have just moved into a swanky new office, whilst Bedford Row is in central London, a relaxed, hot-desking mecca perfect for a pint after work. Though Bedford Row is the firm's head office, the Putney office is where trainees reckoned "the majority of the events happen.” In fact, “there are loads of clubs that are active in Putney.” Among those our sources mentioned were a yoga club, rugby and many pub quizzes. It doesn’t stop there: “There are plenty of internal and external opportunities to network. For example, the firm encourages trainees to attend events with chambers on chancery lane, or clients and community events. We recently attended a fundraising event for a local rugby club,” a trainee recalled. “It’s a good firm if you’re a social butterfly,” and the firm does provide a trainee social budget to boot.
Rookies are fully encouraged to get involved with firm culture. “There’s an annual seat presentation every November for current trainees to present to the incoming class about what seats they’re interested in.” Although we hear “there can be a disconnect; we are encouraged to have a wider presence in the firm but there’s not always a clear link between trainee committees and firm-wide committees.” A social committee is entrusted with the budget, whilst the Trainee CSR Committee runs charity events. Russell-Cooke nominates two charities each year to donate to: this year is First Touch, dedicated to the neonatal unit at St George’s, and Mind, which lobbies government and helps people with mental health problems. “The firm has been making more of an effort with D&I in the last year or two,” newbies observed, though there was still acknowledgement there is more to do.
“Work/life balance isn’t a marketing line, it’s taken very seriously.”
When speaking about the salary trainees observed that “it’s lower than central London firms, but given the work-life balance and culture, it’s worth it to not be sitting at your desk for 12 hours straight.” Work/life balance was a key pull for main applicants, many of our interviewees citing it as a primary reason for joining. Russell rookies were pleased to find that “work/life balance isn’t a marketing line, it’s taken very seriously.” Indeed, the firm has a dedicated group that discusses how they can maintain and improve this aspect of its staff. When it comes to actual work, “the hours are really good. I’m commonly out the door by 5.30pm and the office is empty by 6pm. I received a letter from my supervisor to say we’ll work out hours off in lieu when I have stayed a bit later.” There is a billable hours target which increases with each seat, totalling 1,200 hours annually, which trainees reckoned is "easily achieved.” Some seats are busier than others but “a lot of people leave on the dot.” Supervisors are hot on those trying to linger: “More than once I’ve been approached and asked, ‘What are you working on that can’t wait for tomorrow?’”
During Russell-Cooke’s TC, trainees have a new supervisor for every seat. We heard the level of contact can change between seats, but generally “trainees meet with their supervisor once a week to check up on wellbeing and progress.” Many trainees reported that “the supervisors were excellent. I’ve heard some horror stories but I’ve yet to encounter any!” Along with mid and end seat reviews, “supervisors are happy to look over anything if and when needed – but we’re not micromanaged.”
“If you’ve left a good impression, the firm will do everything to keep you.”
The qualification process contains both informal and formal elements. Firstly, trainees meet with the graduate recruitment partner to chat about the process. They're then encouraged to speak to the departments they'd like to qualify into, before a list of vacancies is circulated. Because of this, some rookies described the process as “nebulous” and that “transparency around qualification could be better.” Nonetheless, interviewees were buoyed by how well the firm does regarding retention: “last year six out of six were retained. With a small intake to begin with, the firm tries to keep us.” Even in the case that two NQ hopefuls are vying for the same spot “they’ve previously hired both in the end. If you’ve left a good impression, the firm will do everything to keep you.” In 2023, the firm retained 12 of 16 qualifiers.
The roof of the Putney office is home to bees. Honey is jarred and gifted to clients!
How to get a Russell-Cooke training contract
- Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 16 February 2024 (open 20 November 2023)
- Training contract deadlines (2025/6): 16 February 2024 (open 20 November 2023)
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 usually runs two, week-long schemes with six places each there are a total of 12 spots up for grabs. Vac schemers will be based in one of the firm’s departments and buddied with a senior associate. Over the course of the week they are likely to meet clients, might visit court, experience time in other departments and visit more than one of the firm’s three offices. There are often team socials and there will be drinks with the current trainee cohort. The week ends with a letter-writing test and an interview with Fisher, two additional partners and the firm’s head of people. Interviewees who wow may 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. Successful candidates will be called for 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 et al, 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 ten to twelve 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. Fisher says: “We have always been committed to social mobility. Since we started using RARE we have been able to identify exceptional candidates who might otherwise have slipped through the net, and this has enabled us to increase the diversity of our trainee cohort.”
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,
Riverview House, 20 Old Bridge Street Hampton Wick,
2 Putney Hill,
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: 15-19 April 2024
• Spring Vacation Scheme 2: 22-26 April 2024
• Apply by 16 February 2024
University law careers fairs 2023/4
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
Guildford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
- Crime (Band 3)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 4)
- Family/Children Law (Band 2)
- Family/Children Law: Cross-Border Disputes (Band 3)
- Family/Matrimonial Finance: High Net Worth (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Education: Individuals (Band 4)
- Family/Children Law: Public Law Matters (Band 1)
- Professional Discipline (Band 3)
- Social Housing: Tenants (Band 3)