If shipping doesn’t float your boat, Thomas Cooper also has a corporate and employment practice to put the wind in trainees’ sails.
Founded in 1825, Thomas Cooper has built a name for itself on its shipping prowess. Recent years, however, have seen the growth of a burgeoning corporate and employment practice, as well as finance and litigation teams. Despite this, sources were quick to remind us that “even in different practice groups you’re still often working with maritime companies, so it’s still very much a shipping firm.” Clients include Maersk Line, Red Funnel, Allianz and ExxonMobil to name a few. Smaller teams in sports, leisure and travel also add clout to the firm. The sports team recently advised on a player transfer from Manchester United to Everton, and also provides regular advice to the English FA. “When I applied I didn’t realise we had a sports department,” one junior explained, “and there’s also a new travel department which has started up since I joined the firm.”
"... still very much a shipping firm."
Interviewees were drawn to the international elements of the work on offer at TC, and the firm does have five international offices in Piraeus, Singapore, Paris, Madrid and São Paulo. However, we didn’t hear about any overseas secondments being undertaken by the intake we spoke to, who told us: “Because we’re such a small group it’s very much dependent on workload and where the business need is at the time.”
Seat allocation isn’t based on preference, and unsurprisingly “everyone does a shipping seat.” Trainees were largely happy with the system, telling us: “They seem to work it out as you go along and tailor your seats to your abilities.” They added: “If you really want to do contentious work they’ll definitely take that into account.” It’s also not uncommon for people to do the same seat twice, particularly if they are looking to qualify into a certain department.
Get your ship together
As any old salt will know, shipping law is split between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping. According to trainees, wet shipping is “more jazzy,” involving issues like collisions, fires, explosions, groundings, pirate attacks, pollution issues, salvage problems, towage requirements and wreck removals. Dry shipping, meanwhile, involves land-based aspects like contract disputes and financial arrangements.
“It’s a good time to be in shipping,” we heard. “The industry had been in a downturn but it’s picking up again now, and I’ve seen a number of big cases.” Examples included a case involving a container ship which grounded and had to be floated. The firm also has a running relationship with Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, advising on a number of wet shipping issues. Trainees described an “incredibly varied” experience, working on “classic dry shipping like demurrage and charter parties, as well as salvaging and dealing with collisions or engine failures.”
Several shipping rookies felt: “I’ve been lucky to be involved in large-scale mediation and arbitration involving international clients,” while others added: “We do a lot of work for P&I [protection & indemnity] clubs providing insurance for shipowners, as well as working with cruise ships.” Sources’ varied workloads included drafting instructions to counsel, reviewing and repurposing documents for trial, attending arbitration hearings and drafting letters, as well as more “mundane” tasks like printing and bundling. “I was doing everything from presenting claims to photocopying. I really enjoyed the research tasks because it’s great to apply what you’ve learnt to real-life situations,” one trainee explained.
"...it’s great to apply what you’ve learnt to real life situations."
Those who had undertaken an employment seat at TC explained: “It’s a small team that mainly acts for employers or very high net worth individuals. It’s interesting because you get a real mix of cases that often include a personal element.” Work spans contentious and non-contentious matters, with clients including Qantas Airways, Mitsubishi and Sealion Shipping. “There’s quite a lot of admin,” we heard. “Quite often employment tribunals are more disorganised than the courts so you have to pester them.” Trainees added: “There’s a lot of bundling, drafting letters and enclosing documents.”
The corporate team, which started up around the same time as employment, is primarily run by one partner who deals mainly in M&A and company sales, as well as “smaller cases which are easier for trainees to get involved in.” We heard: “I had to draft new employment contracts during the sale of a large company based abroad.” On the smaller cases trainees described “putting together the first draft of sale and purchase agreements, as well as reviewing articles of association.”
Those in marine and commercial litigation told us: “It’s much more varied than other seats.” The commercial side focuses on energy, finance and insurance disputes, which for our interviewees meant cases involving businessmen from Panama, some Dutch farmers and a Swede. “Once you get over the intimidation of working for such smart people with such formidable reputations it’s great. You can really learn a lot,” juniors revealed. “I’ve found the balance of responsibility and support very good here, especially when I speak to friends at other firms and compare our experiences,” trainees also reflected.
Trainees reported civilised office hours, with the odd exception on cases that have gone to trial. Most had a working day of around 9am to 6pm, and told us: “I was honestly surprised by how good the work/life balance is here.” When it came to supervision trainees admitted: “The only thing I’ve found frustrating is that you don’t get much feedback aside from end-of-seat reviews.” Others agreed, surmising: “It’s partly down to the fact that partners are so busy, and that there’s no formal mid-seat review.”
Generally people described a friendly culture, but drew attention to the fact that “different departments thrive on different personalities.” Those in finance, for example, were described as being “louder,” while the shipping team was described as “more studious.” Regardless, juniors enjoyed the atmosphere and told us: “I really enjoy coming to work. Everyone’s very friendly and approachable.” The offices, near Fenchurch Street, could do with a bit of a spruce-up according to most sources, but some saw this as a positive: “I think it’s a good sign that they don’t have all the facilities of some London firms because it shows they don’t expect you to be here 24/7,” reasoned one second-year. Trainees share an office with a partner, meaning “it’s so much easier to ask a stupid question, and to acclimatise to the way partners work.” Outside of office hours trainees described ad hoc jaunts to the pub or crazy golf, as well as an annual “summer boat party” and departmental drinks.
"...it’s so much easier to ask a stupid question."
Given that Thomas Cooper specialises in relatively niche practices, trainees appreciated the opportunity to attend “a lot of external talks, dinners and in-house lectures given by field experts or barristers.” Trainees are also members of the Young Maritime Association, which offers plenty more extra-curricular action. When it came to training they described “some induction talks on letter formatting and admin, but mostly you learn on the job.” Other second-years agreed: “They don’t show you templates for guidance. Instead they let you think about the best way forward and then go through your proposal, which is really helpful for us rather than for them. I think it’s a real testament to the training here.”
In 2018 all three qualifiers stayed on.
How to get a Thomas Cooper training contract
Thomas Cooper receives around 100 applications a year for its three training contracts. The firm doesn't run a vacation scheme, but in previous years we've heard that a placement at a similar specialist firm – like Ince & Co, Watson Farley & Williams or HFW – can offer an adequate idea of what it's like to work at TC.
Trainee hopefuls apply with an online application form, which is screened by the senior partner Tim Kelleher. Personnel administrator and executive assistant Cheryl Robinson urges applicants to “check your application form for any spelling or grammar mistakes – then double-check it!”
A 2:1 degree is preferable. “We do not really take mitigating circumstances into consideration, because there are just so many people striving to get training contracts,” Robinson admits. That said, the firm doesn't favour any particular universities, so don't be put off if you haven't come from one of the top institutions.
Although work experience is part of the grading criteria for the initial application, this doesn't have to be law-related or span the industries Thomas Cooper is known for. “I think it's more about demonstrating curiosity in what we do than having a lot of experience or knowledge of it already,” speculated a current trainee. “You've also got to show you have an idea of the direction you want your career to head in.”
Interviews and assessments
Interviews and assessments typically take place in August with an associate or partner and the senior partner. The interview process involves one assessment and a competency-based question, which together take up one hour and 15 minutes. “They are designed to allow both law and non-law graduates demonstrate their knowledge and relevant skills,” says Cheryl Robinson of these assessments. The specifics are kept under wraps, but a current trainee told us “they're based around tasks lawyers can expect to face daily.”
Second-stage interviews take place in September, this time with two senior partners. Anywhere between six and 12 candidates might be invited back for this. “It's primarily a discussion-based interview centred on your skills, experience and why you have made an application to us in particular,” Robinson reveals. As one trainee recalled: “Some of the questions were intended to see how I'd cope if I was out of my depth. I think they wanted to get an idea of my personality.” From here, the firm makes its decision and training contract offers are made in the autumn.
Thomas Cooper LLP
- Partners 32
- Assistant solicitors 23
- Total trainees 6-7
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Madrid, Paris, Piraeus, Singapore
- Graduate recruiter: Cheryl Robinson, [email protected], 020 7481 8851
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 31 January 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Piraeus, Madrid, Singapore
- Client secondments: Yes
The firm clients operate globally and range from shipowners to charterers and traders, from banks and other financial institutions to underwriters and P&I clubs, from blue chip companies to small businesses and high net worth private individuals. Openness and trust underpins our relationship with clients. We always look to understand our clients’ businesses so we are better equipped to provide clear advice that meets their commercial needs and interests.
Our worldwide team give us stature in our selected industries. Our size makes us very focused and human in outlook. We are committed to our clients and value our staff highly. Our partners are recognised as experts in their fields, but we are always looking for new additions to add an extra dimension and growth. Our people are our most important asset and we value their contribution. This is true for every level of our business, from the most senior partner to the most recently recruited trainee.
Main areas of work
LinkedIn Thomas Cooper LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 4)