Tired of the City rat race? Commercial firm in the commuter belt Stevens & Bolton gives trainees the opportunity to do interesting work away from the smog.
Is it too late now to say Surrey?
“I didn’t want to work in London,” one trainee told us. “I like trees and clean air – but I still wanted to have a successful City-style career doing high-class work.” Stevens & Bolton offered the answer. Guildford, where it's based, is 35 minutes by train from Waterloo, but also a stone’s throw from the North Downs. An interviewee continued: “I live within walking distance of the office and I couldn’t do that pleasant walk in the City – at least not without breathing in the heavy pollution!” That said, we’re still talking commuter belt here – the firm’s riverside office is surrounded by more concrete than conifers. “The centre of Guildford has a cinema, big supermarkets, and shops,” one source reported, “but then the outskirts are more villagey and you can explore the Surrey Hills too.”
“I still wanted to have a successful City-style career.”
And what about that 'high-class' work? Well, let's not get too carried away, but Stevens & Bolton gains several top regional rankings in Chambers UK: for corporate M&A, banking and finance, litigation, employment, IP, IT and family law. It also gains national recognition for its franchising and commercial contracts work and is a national leader outside London for corporate M&A and private client. Trainees were bowled over by the firm's high standards, with one interviewee finding their initial impressions challenged: “It was much more City-like than I thought it would be. The way people held themselves was impressive, and they grilled me at the interview. There are very high expectations!”
Trainees are emailed their first seat a month or two before starting after setting out preferences beforehand. Subsequent rotations are chatted about midway through each seat with the training principal and HR – “they probe as to what we like and don’t like, then announce who’s going where a month later.” On the whole, trainees were happy with the process, though some felt “it could be a bit more open.”
Asahi, stocks and perfect blogging
Stevens & Bolton’s intellectual property department deals with both contentious and non-contentious matters. Trainees get “a breadth of experience, so you don't get too bored of one side or the other.” The team represents scores of clients ranging from Samsung and Kia Motors to Papa John's and Asahi. Lawyers also regularly help Brighton & Hove Albion with “trade mark disputes and brand protection work, like taking down counterfeit merchandise from websites.” The group also works on patent licensing for pharma companies like Switzerland's Lonza Group and assists the employment team on restricted covenant work. A lot of work is pre-action, so trainees get to draft a lot of warning letters. They also draft claims, sit in on client and expert meetings, and write blogposts. “It's cool to be at the forefront of trendy upcoming areas where you deal with new technology and innovations,” one source said.
Equally, “there’s always an exciting buzz in corporate.” Mid-market M&A is the department’s bread and butter, while multiple specialities give trainees different opportunities. We heard of work with energy companies, video game developers and technology companies. The team recently advised German IT company Cancom on its £29 million takeover of British tech supplier OCSL, and acted for Scandinavian fresh food maker Bakkavör on its £12 million of Wiltshire-based cake makers Haydens Bakery. Trainees here file stock transfer forms and shareholder and director changes, as well as drafting disclosure letters and shareholder agreements, plus occasionally getting to do “small pieces of negotiation with the other side.”
“You're in control of the full case drafting every document.”
In dispute resolution trainees see “any kind of commercial dispute.” The department works in sectors such as food and beverages, retail, technology and aviation. The group recently defended a private jet operator against a £7.5 million claim brought a former director over alleged breaches of aircraft sales agreements. It also represented a video interface manufacturer whose clients include Sony, Panasonic and Samsung in a licence infringement claim. The team does a lot of London-based work, and lawyers travel to the Big Smoke for court hearings and to instruct counsel. Trainees sometimes manage small claims for major clients themselves – “you're in control of the full case drafting every document that arises and dealing directly with the client and the other side.” Other typical trainee tasks include conducting discovery, writing debt recovery letters, tracing payments and attending mediations.
The commercial group acts for clients such as high-street brands, food and beverage companies, and technology companies on things such as distribution agreements, software agreements, terms and conditions and all kinds of commercial contracts. International franchising and development agreement work is common. Side hustles include corporate support, regulatory work and data protection. We heard of clients cropping up from all kinds of sectors from sports to video games to space. The group works on commercial contracts for big-name clients like Kia Motors, TGI Fridays, Allianz, CBRE and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Trainees draft various agreements and heads of terms as well as doing a lot of research assignments and reviewing non-disclosure agreements.
Supervisors were rated as “people who really care and want to help you.” Mid-seat reviews let trainees cover “how you’re getting on and make sure you’re working with everyone to get a varied experience.” End-of-seat objective meetings are “actually helpful – our supervisors will be honest with us – in a gentle way if need be.” Additional support comes in the form of buddy trainee mentors from the year above – “you’ll message them with questions, and it’s nice to have someone to speak to about the difficult small things.” Partners were noted for their affability: “All the partners will talk to you, say good morning, remember what you said you were doing at the weekend and things like that.”
Stevens & Bolton provides ample entertainment for its trainees with “many ways for people to get involved across the firm: there are cricket, netball and football matches against other firms, plus a cycling club and a choir.” A “revamped” summer party organised by the new social committee had the theme ‘One Night in Rio’ in 2019. If you’re not a keen socialite, don’t worry as we heard there’s “no pressure” to attend any of these events. Trainees lamented that the social focus is “on your teams rather than the trainee cohort,” due to many not having done the LPC together. Though don’t mistake that for frostiness – “our group is really friendly, not competitive. We give each other help or advice when someone needs it.”
“There are cricket, netball and football matches against other firms.”
When it comes to diversity, trainees felt that the firm performs “probably a little below standard – we are trying to push it, but there’s more that can be done.” We heard that there’s a high representation of women among the trainee and associate groups, though “there are a lot more male than female partners – it’d be nice to see a few more female heads of department.” The firm works with social mobility organisation PRIME, which sees lawyers give talks and run workshops about the legal profession for those not typically exposed to legal career opportunities.
The firm's high-profile clients and the high expectations it has of trainees mean the hours can be long sometimes. While in a quieter department like real estate trainees might have a finishing time of around 6pm, commercial and corporate trainees can expect to be in until 7 or 7.30pm each day. Corporate can “be a lot busier than that – if you have a big deal on, you might be here till 9pm for three weeks. And completion might mean you’re here till the early hours. It’s very up and down – and more up than down!” A fledgling flexible working policy sees some lawyers working one day a week from home, though “it’s not expressly okay for trainees to do that.” Interviewees found the salary “okay at trainee level, but not amazing at qualification compared to competitors in the region.”
2018 saw an “anomaly” when it came to qualification: “The process wasn’t as well planned as it could have been, and qualifiers weren’t told where jobs were early enough.” However the process in 2019 was “really good, as it’s been given a redesign to make sure we have enough time to manage things.” Trainees tell management their preferences, who then speak with the group heads. “Once they’ve heard from everyone they’ll come to a decision about who’s got a job where.” In 2019, four of five qualifiers were kept on.
Lawyers at Stevens & Bolton generally sit two or three to an office, and interviewees told us that often “people come in to chat or ask for advice.”
How to get a Stevens & Bolton training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 1 June 2020 (opens 1 December 2019)
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.
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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 1 June 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020deadline: 31 January 2020
- 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 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Guildford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Franchising (Band 2)