This Bolton isn’t wandering from its Guildford heartland. With a mix of top-notch clients and bucolic bliss, S&B offers a mix that keeps trainees smiling.
Who wouldn’t want that combo of a beauty spot by the River Wey and the chance to do great work for household names like Samsung, Philips and HSBC? Sign us up! Of course, this was very much the draw for our trainee insiders at S&B, who were unanimous in their aim to find “excellence outside of the City.” One representative source explained that they “weren’t interested in London and working in the City. S&B had the reputation for being one of the most successful independent firms outside of London with great clients. They sold themselves as a place where you’d get client contact and responsibility – and it’s lived up to expectations.” Another trainee liked the fact that S&B had “both top-tier and everyday clients. It’s a range that allows you to do the big transactional work but also help the business down the road.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I needed a firm that covered a lot of areas!”
For those doubting this Bolton’s premier league credentials, a look at its standing in Chambers UK will convince you. S&B is considered a national leader outside of London for its corporate/M&A and IP expertise, while from a regional perspective in the South it excels at mid-market M&A; private equity; litigation; employment; IP; environment; IT; and banking & finance. In Chambers High Net Worth, S&B comes out on top again as a national leader outside of London for private wealth law. As these rankings show, there are plenty of options for incoming trainees to sample during their contract, which sources highlighted as another attractive feature of the firm: “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I needed a firm that covered a lot of areas!”
While “nothing is strictly compulsory” when it comes to seats, we were told that it is likely that trainees will sit in S&B’s corporate department, which accounts for about a third of the firm’s business. Real estate and dispute resolution (to satisfy SRA requirements) are also common destinations. Before trainees start, the firm sends out an email asking for newcomers to set out three seat preferences, with most of our interviewees saying that they got one of them. For subsequent seat rotations, trainees typically have a chat with S&B’s training principal halfway through their current seat to discuss options. They once again submit three preferences, with the understanding that second years usually get priority. On the whole, sources had frequently got their preferences, and on the rare occasion when they hadn’t, they were given priority next time.
“In corporate, they’re happy for you to email the client directly once you’ve built up a relationship."
Corporate is “central to the firm,” so trainees recommended that even if it’s “not something you want to qualify into, it’s good to do.” The department is ranked alongside much larger national firms for its expertise in the South. Among its clients are entrepreneurial outfits right up to large national and international companies, like Philips and distribution company Bunzl. A recent matter saw the team act for longstanding client and insurance broker Stackhouse Poland during its £265 million sale to US insurance giant Arthur J. Gallagher & Co (who were represented by a City firm). Sources liked “the excitement of the deals” and the “high-value stuff” (i.e. deals) encountered. Project management is a key role for trainees, which involves keeping track of docs on a “massive spreadsheet, especially when a company has so many subsidiaries!” There’s also plenty of “coordination with people in other teams” at S&B, which was deemed good for building commercial nous and connections. Other trainee tasks included conducting due diligence and drafting the likes of ancillary docs up to heftier first cracks at share purchase agreements (SPAs). “In corporate, they’re happy for you to email the client directly once you’ve built up a relationship,” a source here boasted.
S&B’s dispute resolution lawyers represent familiar names such as Allianz Insurance, Samsung, TM Lewin and TGI Fridays. Chambers UK gives a nod to the firm’s commercial and international arbitration capabilities, and highlights its expertise in the insurance, health, aviation, and energy sectors. On the aviation side, S&B recently acted for Gama Aviation during a £5 million dispute over the management of a corporate jet. Elsewhere, the team have been acting for CI Plus, which licenses tech specifications for electronic devices (and has members such as Sony, Samsung and Panasonic), against a German company for various alleged misdemeanours like infringement of licence terms and breach of confidence. S&B secured a court order for payment of €2 million in damages and £500,000 in costs for CI Plus. A source felt that there was “less freedom” and “a lot more close supervision” in this seat compared to transactional stints, but still had a jam-packed experience. What trainees do can depend on the stage of a case; if a matter is coming up to its closing stages then trainees can be “putting together witness statements and using the document management system to find and arrange evidence.” There was plenty of drafting experience to be had on the likes of witness statements, letters to opposing counsel and instruction to counsel.
Real estate is another biggie for S&B. Sources noted the commercial bent of the department, which is split between commercial real estate, construction and property litigation, with the last two covering “the contentious side of things; property litigation is busier than ever because of Covid-19.” For those on the commercial end, tasks included “drafting agreement letters that are specific to the Covid-19 crisis, which is interesting.” Others reported working on a “big development deal for a proper household name – that’s the level we work at and it was exciting.” This kind of matter involved “drafting emails, having a first go at amending agreements for licences and leases, handling Land Registry forms and submissions, and taking notes during calls.”Drafting commercial leases and assisting partners with the sales and purchases of properties were other highlights here. On the books you’ll find the University of Surrey, Octopus Healthcare Developments and investment platform Boundary Real Estate Partners; the team recently advised the last of these as it acquired a multi-let office and retail property in Leamington Spa for over £3 million.
Quite a few trainees had also completed a seat in finance, restructuring and insolvency. One found that many of the deals were for startup and “challenger” banks but did note the availability of “bigger deals to work on to.”Another had done work for both borrower and lender clients, and explained that they were “often in charge of the conditions precedent checklist, which requires you to keep the deal moving by getting the documents that are needed and securing corporate approvals – there are a lot of emails!”With insolvency the content gets more contentious, so trainees were drafting witness statements and getting all case elements ready to meet court deadlines. Banking clients include HSBC and Lloyds, while on the insolvency side the department recently advised administrators on the sale of a Brighton-based restaurant, Chilli Pickle, and its assets.
Let’s start with the hours: most of the people we spoke with came in around 8.30am and left between 6 and 7pm. “People aren’t clock-watchers,” a representative source said, “and they expect us to manage our own hours.” As with any firm, there’s “time-critical work and the firm expects you to get it done,”which could lead to the occasional 12 or 13 hours in the office, but this was more the case for those in S&B’s corporate department. In other areas, the latest we heard trainees working was around 9pm. The firm’s approach, according to an insider, is to “work hard and be attractive to City-based clients expecting a City experience, but not at the expense of having your own life.”
"I had no qualms about asking a partner a quick question.”
As for the office set-up, the lines of communication are well and truly open, with this source emphasising that they “felt like a member of the team from day one. I had no qualms about asking a partner a quick question.” Trainees typically share an office with their supervisor and sometimes another lawyer, which insiders felt to be beneficial to their development. With trainees encouraged to do their LPC at the University of Law’s Guildford branch, the “trainee group are incredibly close; we go out for lunch most days.” While there isn’t always a firm-wide Christmas party, each department gets together for a meal. In addition, there’s a summer party to look forward to. Sources also mentioned attending departmental drinks as well as ad hoc get-togethers to celebrate “someone’s birthday or an engagement, for example.” The range from festivities to fitness is covered, with various sporting teams to join, as well as a choir for those trainees who can hold a tune.
Stairway to Steven
The qualification process follows regular check-ins with the training principal and HR in each seat. An NQ jobs list is released, and trainees apply for the positions they’re interested in. “They’re being very transparent at the moment," a source told us. In 2020, six out of seven qualifiers stayed with S&B, with one fixed-term contract.
How to get a Stevens & Bolton training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): TBC
Applications and assessments
S&B receives approximately 150 applications for its vac scheme, plus another 500 direct applications for its five available training contracts. HR sources at the firm tell us that they're seeking applications that show “good grammar and language skills, and the ability to communicate concisely.”
The assessment process for a training contract is “straightforward and designed to give each person an opportunity to be themselves and find out about the firm” our HR sources explain. Candidates kick-start the process by completing an online application form. Those who impress are invited to attend an interview with S&B's training partner and the head of HR. Ace this, and you'll be asked to complete a Watson Glaser critical reasoning test. From here, candidates are asked to attend a second interview, this time with a selection of partners.
If successful, S&B will sponsor your law school education, and provide you with a maintenance grant of £6,000 per year.
Candidates from both law and non-law backgrounds are encouraged to apply. You'll need at least 340 UCAS points (and at least one A at A level) as well as a 2:1 degree or higher – those who are still at university need to be on track to achieve this.
You'll also need to show that you have the right qualities to work at S&B. Recruiters are particularly on the lookout for those who can demonstrate the following: superb communication skills; a team player mentality; adaptability; the ability to manage competing deadlines and projects; drive and ambition; intelligence; attention to detail; business interest; and enthusiasm to be a lawyer and to work for S&B.
S&B offers a total of ten places across its two vacation schemes in July each year. Each lasts a week and participants are paid after they have completed the scheme.
Vac schemers spend their visit in a single department, accompanied by a buddy within the team. They also attend presentations on the firm's practice areas over the course of the week. Within their assigned team, attendees tackle work on live matters. “I was right in the thick of things, not tucked away in a corner,” one of the firm's current trainees recalled. This is supplemented with exercises set by the firm's professional support lawyers – for example, drafting a witness statement. Sources also highlighted that there's ample opportunity to meet partners, ask questions and learn more about working at the firm.
More on culture and diversity
On top of the reasonable hours for law, sources found that “everyone is respectful of each other. We’re one big team operating under one roof. We’re one organism!”Another trainee explained that “the culture has shone through. There wasn’t an expectation that you would work yourself relentlessly into the ground.” The upshot of this attitude, thought our sources, was that “people find it easier to have lives with their families as they go up the ranks. Lots of my senior colleagues have shown me it’s possible to work hard and have a family and not have to compromise.” This kind of approach is certainly a boon for inclusivity, and insiders pointed to S&B’s excellent gender diversity figures (69% of associates and 37% of partners are women). On this note, we were told that the firm is still actively looking to improve in all areas, with a D&I forum recently established to “get objective standards in place and bring about real change.”
Stevens & Bolton LLP
- Partners 43
- Associates 227
- Total trainees 14
- UK offices Guildford
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected], 01483 734225
- Training partner: Gabrielle Holgate
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 1 June 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year salary: £36,000
- Post-qualification salary: c. £50,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
Main areas of work
Our trainees have genuine responsibility and experience of dealing with clients — and are made to feel part of the team from day one. Trainee seats will be available in most of the key business areas we specialise in, namely M&A and other corporate work, insolvency and banking/finance, commercial, personal wealth and families, real estate, IP, dispute resolution and employment, pensions and immigration. We do our best to maximise your ability to experience as many of those areas as possible and currently operate a four, six-month seat rotation. There may also be an opportunity for trainees to undertake a client secondment. We are dedicated to encouraging continuous professional development, delivered in a variety of ways to give our trainees the best chance to become rounded, assured and respected professionals. Training in technical and business skills and early exposure to stimulating work with a variety of clients is instrumental in providing a solid foundation. Our unique combination of factors — supervision when you need it, support from colleagues and the opportunity to embrace early responsibility as soon as you are ready — creates a compelling proposition at the outset of your career.
University law careers fairs in 2020
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Guildford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Franchising (Band 2)