Nestled in Guildford, away from the Big Smoke, lies Stevens & Bolton: a full-service firm with “an eye for complex, City-type work.”
Stevens & Bolton training contract review 2022
With just over 150 lawyers occupying a single office in Guilford, a training contract with Stevens & Bolton is quite a different proposition to those offered by many of London’s legal giants. Indeed, many of our interviewees were drawn to both the firm’s modest intake of just three trainees, and the promise of “a work-life balance better than what any City firm could offer.”
However, what our interviewees weren’t prepared to compromise on was the quality of work, and in that respect they were attracted to “the firm’seye for complex, City-type work.” A glance at S&B's Chambers UK rankings confirms this is no regional pushover. The firm is regarded as a national leader outside of London for its corporate M&A and IP work, and earns prestigious regional rankings in over ten distinct areas including litigation, IT, environment, employment, and family law. The firm also recorded a 2% increase in turnover for the last financial year, marking over a decade of consecutive growth.
Approaching seat allocation, trainees receive an email asking for their top three preferences. Newcomers can also discuss their picks in more detail with HR and the training principal. Although S&B has no compulsory seats, it's likely that trainees will sit in the corporate department at some point, which accounts for about a third of the firm’s business.Overall, sources were happy to report that “the process is quite transparent, and everyone has been able to practise in an area they are interested in.”
“I’ve worked on matters ranging from £10 million in value to over £100 million!”
The corporate department was described as “the hub of the firm" by our interviewees, and undertakes a mix of M&A, private equity, and funds work. M&A, in particular, was highlighted as a key focus for the firm, with chances to work on a variety of both private and public deals. One source explained that the “work heavily leans towards the sale and purchase of large businesses.” However, trainees also reported on opportunities to work with start-ups and high net worth individuals. Deals here can be pretty hefty. As one enthused source told us: “I’ve worked on matters ranging from £10 million in value to over £100 million!” The firm recently advised analytics and AI specialist Seal Software on its $188 million sale to DocuSign. The firm also represented electronics giant Philips on the sale of its Belfast-based digital and computational pathology business to Cirdan. Overall, newbies were more than satisfied with their time spent in corporate. One trainee concluded: “The work was stimulating and I was given good scope to get to grips with some of the more interesting elements of the work, such as drafting the share purchase agreement and other key transaction documents.” Other insiders we spoke to kept busy managing the due diligence process and handling corporate approvals.
Real estate is another key department at S&B and is divided into commercial real estate, construction, and property litigation. In commercial real estate, trainees got stuck into the sale and purchase of properties, “helping to run the day-to-day steps in various different property transactions.” One source elaborated: “For me, it mainly involved ad hoc tasks like working on various questionnaires and surveys for our client.” Trainees were also able to engage with a “multitude of post-completion steps,” such as “filing the relevant Land Registry forms and providing bundles of documents to the client.” Deals here aren’t limited to the Guildford region either. For example, the firm recently advised 2020 Capital on the purchase of warehouse premises in Stratford, in London, to make way for the development of 200 student flats. In construction, the team recently assisted the Institute of Cancer Research with expense claims in relation to the construction of a new drug discovery centre. Here newbies kept busy conducting research, making modifications to construction contracts, and keeping up correspondence with the other side.
Commercial litigation has been a focal point of growth for the firm the past year, having recently made five new hires at the associate level. The team operates over a number of different sectors including energy, retail, IT, franchising, and insurance. One trainee also noted that “we advise a range of both domestic and international clients including businesses and entrepreneurs.” Recently, the team has acted for Allianz in a £100 million Commercial Court dispute with a former corporate partner, JD Williams, in respect of redress for the sale of PPI and product protection insurance. The team also acted for Global Display Solutions in a claim for damages for fraudulent misrepresentation, deceit, breach of contract and intimidation in the Commercial Court against NCR Corporation. Trainee litigators reported being given "a good dose of responsibility," with the chance to deal with a variety of court cases, virtual hearings, and mediations. When cases go to trial, sources mentioned opportunities to “interview witnesses, draft witness statements, and review disclosure documents.”
“The social aspect of the firm is one of the big advantages to training here.”
S&B’s employment team tackles a mix of employment, immigration, and pension matters. Trainees described it as “three areas of law blended into one seat, which is super helpful from a learning perspective.” Trainees also have the opportunity to work on both contentious and non-contentious matters. One interviewee told us: “When an employee is being taken to court for employment-related matters, I’m involved in everything from drafting court documents and taking instructions, to providing advice on things like employee benefits, appointing new members of staff, and terminating employment contracts.” The team has recently advised car manufacturers Kia Motors on a variety of Covid-related matters such as placing staff on furlough, remote working, meeting health and safety obligations, and providing Covid-secure premises. On the immigration side of the work, the firm handles both personal and business immigration cases. S&B has a number of longstanding clients on its books here including Anders Electronics, Papa Johns, and RBB Economics who they support by organising sponsor licences, designing training, and drafting employee handbooks – among other things.
“It’s the people make S&B the firm it is today,” one source explained, adding that “as cliché as that may sound, everyone is just really nice!” Others agreed that S&B has a zero tolerance for big egos, creating a “down-to-earth, supportive and friendly” atmosphere. With everyone situated under one roof, trainees found it easy to get to know their colleagues, particularly when participating in one of the firm’s colourful array of social events. “The social aspect of the firm is one of the big advantages to training here,” one trainee said, adding that “there is a team for lots of different sports.” The current list includes a football team, netball team, cricket team and running club. And for those who prefer their socialising to be less physically demanding, there’s been wine tasting and visits to an ice bar in the past.
“I haven't had any shockers yet!”
On average, our interviewees estimated that the average day fell somewhere between 9am and 7pm. Seats such as corporate and commercial litigation were identified as having longer hours; however, one source was quick to add that “I haven't had any shockers yet!” Although trainees were happy with their salary, we did hear some grumbles that the NQ level compensation had fallen behind competitors at the time of our interviews. However, the firm has since reviewed its compensation scheme, and brought its trainee and NQ salaries closer to what comparable regional firms are offering.
S&B has a comprehensive approach to learning and development. Three months into their first seat, trainees have a mid-seat review with their supervisor to run through any feedback and set targets, which is followed by a second, end of seat review. “The level of feedback we get is great,” trainees agreed. Our interviewees also noticed an improvement in the firm’s approach to mental health since the pandemic, highlighting that “we are now provided with a variety of resources including yoga sessions, painting classes, webinar sessions, and a ‘golden hour’." Golden hour? "It's an hour blocked out in the day in which we are encouraged to get outside,”sources clarified. However, some still felt they needed more support, with one source remarking that “there have been times where I’ve felt quite stressed due to remote working.”
When coming up to the NQ process, the firm releases a job lists from which trainees submit their applications to the training partner in April. Then, depending on capacity, trainees may have to interview for their desired department. This year the firm kept on six of seven its qualifying trainees.
The firm has recently assembled a team of mental health first-aiders made up of partners, junior lawyers and business services staff. “There are many new initiatives that are making a positive impact and keeping the conversation around mental health open,” trainees remarked.
How to get into Stevens & Bolton
Training contract deadline (2024): 1 June 2022
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 the spring 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.”
This firm has no profile.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
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)