City stalwart Travers Smith combines fresh thinking with its excellent reputation in the corporate world.
“Travers isn't a firm that has hundreds of different offices around the world, yet it has a big international client base.” In fact, it's a long, long way from having "hundreds" of offices: all of Travers' lawyers work in London, bar a small office in Paris. Traditionally this is a firm where not much changes: Travers has pretty much the same lawyer headcount, trainee intake and practice spread as it did ten years ago. Chambers UK (still) ranks the firm for both high-end and mid-market M&A, plus other transactional areas like capital markets, private equity, real estate and banking, as well as contentious ones like employment, litigation and financial regulation.
This isn't a criticism, you'll understand: maintaining your place as a quality City firm is hard in a market buffeted by the gusts of globalisation. The one key thing that has changed is tradition: Travers has been on a bit of a journey in the past five to ten years in which it has come to understand the value of diversity and inclusion in a way it didn't before. The trainee group is now more gender-balanced (though still a little male-heavy) with BAME representation. Like all City firms it still has a way to go on diversity, but it's no longer bottom of the class. The firm has also come to understand that diversity is about more than just numbers, and that inclusion is an important way to improve the workplace for all. With the adoption of new AI approaches to diversity in recruitment, Travers is trying to steer away from its “traditional, old-school mindset” to become a more “forward-thinking firm,” trainees said. Go to chambersstudent.co.uk to read our feature on diversity and inclusion which we wrote with Travers' help.
“If you make your opinion known, they will go out of their way to accommodate you.”
Prior to starting their training contract, trainees attend an event where a partner and associate from each department present “a five-to-ten-minute intro to their department and allow you to go away and pencil in your preferences.” They can then change their preferences before they start. Trainees must bear in mind the compulsory corporate seat in either private equity or corporate finance, and a contentious seat, with the option of dispute resolution or employment. “On the whole the private equity seat is a lot more popular than corporate finance,” one trainee told us, “and when it comes to the litigation seat most people choose disputes as it's a growing area of the firm.” We heard that beyond the formal process, trainees maintain a “communication channel” with partners and graduate recruitment to voice their desires. The consensus was that “if you make your opinion known, they will go out of their way to accommodate you.”
Ready? Pret? Sold.
Travers’ 12 corporate trainees sit in either the private equity, corporate finance or investment funds sub-teams. Housing around 70 to 80 lawyers, the private equity sub-section is a hotspot within the firm, taking on both mid-market and high-end deals. It recently advised UK private equity house Bridgepoint on its £1.5 billion sale of Pret A Manger to JAB Holding, an investment fund based in Luxembourg; and it also advised mid-market private equity firm Inflexion on its £300 million minority investment in builders merchant Huws Gray. Trainees described themselves acting as “the glue between associates – they’ll all be working independently on different elements of the deal, not abreast of what the other one is doing and so it’s our role to liaise with the client and progress the deal.” Newbies also work on the data rooms and document lists as well as taking on a project management role. “In private equity especially, it’s exciting when clients fly in from Japan and Switzerland and as a trainee, you guide them around the table covered in documents to complete the signings,” one source shared. Travers rookies can’t escape typical City late nights, but trainees complimented the partners on their diligence for checking work capacity with a chart: “Red means no capacity, yellow indicates you can take on a bit more and green signals that you’d love to take more work on.”
“People are happy to take the mick out of each other – which came as a surprise.”
Corporate finance deals with both public and private M&A and IPOs. The firm recently advised FTSE100 tech company Micro Focus on its $2.5 billion sale of software business SUSE to EQT. It also helped Carpetright with a £65 million share offer and counselled fintech and banking business TruFin during its £185 million IPO on the Alternative Investment Market. As well as being able to contact clients and provide them with information and advice on deals, trainees take part in board meetings, handle corporate approvals, run the disclosure on warrantee deeds and, for one, “do due diligence every Thursday morning.” Perhaps surprisingly, some sources informed us the seat isn’t always particularly time-pressured: “One of the biggest pieces of work we did was the internal reorganisation of a company, which was essentially a tidying up exercise lasting a couple of months.”
When it came to questioning trainees about Travers’ dispute resolution seat, “a mix of large and small matters” seemed to be the buzzwords. The department houses just two trainees at a time, and with paralegals assisting with printing and bundling, this means trainees are able to get client contact and “have loose reins when it came to liaising with the other side on smaller matters.” Our sources also told us of being able to “have a supervisory role over the paralegals, which is good experience for becoming an associate.” Alongside court bundling and admin, trainees attend witness separation meetings with clients and one “saw a mediation through from start to conclusion.” Larger matters generally mean less involvement for trainees due to their complexity. For example, the team acted for Hewlett-Packard in a $5 billion fraud claim against the former directors of Autonomy, claiming they had overvalued the company when HP bought it in 2011. “It’s the biggest single project Travers has done and there are tons of people working on it” – 12 solicitors at Travers plus five barristers by our count. The group also recently defended Jóhannes Jóhannsson, a former member of the winding-up committee of Icelandic bank Kaupthing, against a claim by businessman Robert Tchenguiz for damages of up to £750 million.
Another contentious option is a seat in employment – according to trainees the department deals with “quite run of the mill stuff on both the litigious and advisory sides.” Trainees tend to do low-level tasks like creating bundles, doing document review, and drafting settlement agreements, new employment contracts and redundancy contracts. “It doesn’t really excite you,” was the verdict of one. Clients are a varied bunch including Groupon, the FA, Foxtons, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Western Union, Virgin Active, Metro Bank and hedge fund Elan Capital. The team recently advised Loewe, part of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group, on the appointment of Jonathan Anderson as creative director, which involved drafting and negotiating contractual documents. The firm also guided Elan Capital, which has $2 billion of assets under management, on its data protection compliance obligations.
Travers’ finance department is split into three sub-teams: general finance; derivatives and structured products; and restructuring and insolvency. General finance handles acquisition finance, fund finance, real estate finance and corporate lending. “Real estate finance and fund finance tend to be our more specialty deals, where we're acting lender to lender,” an informed source told us. In another real estate finance matter, the team advised brewery Shepherd Neame on the £108 million refinancing of its portfolio of 300 pubs and hotels. The restructuring sub-team meanwhile advised Carluccio’s on its £10 million company voluntary arrangement. “The finance seat is one of those where you get the amount of responsibility you go after,” trainees felt. Maintaining the conditions precedent checklist and updating clients via email at the end of the week are the standard tasks.
Sound of the underground
Trainees described Travers' recently refurbished office – which sits on the edge of Smithfield meat market – as a mix of traditional and modern, with a “homey feel – it's not a modern monstrosity.” That's a pretty good summary of the overall culture of this firm too. Sources said Travers has “very little of the brash City culture about it, and people are happy to take the mick out of each other – which came as a surprise.” Trainees did note certain differences between departments, with corporate being more “laddy and laid-back,” whereas dispute resolution “is more heads down and formal.” Interviewees appreciated the tons of social activities on offer: with a corporate away-day in Hertfordshire or a firm ski trip, trainees can experience “real bliss for a day or two.” More local social activities range from netball, hockey and running clubs, to Travers' choir which performs in the basement auditorium – “the hour-long concerts are mind-blowing.” The trainee group itself is close-knit and “there’s always someone you can hang out with after work.”
“We... have the opportunity for external counselling and there are mental health campaigns.”
As we mentioned in the intro diversity is a big issue at Travers right now. “If you look at the partnership, almost everyone is white and male and qualified about 30 years ago,” an interviewee observed, “but there’s no doubt Travers is making a massive effort to reform this.” Trainees informed us of sessions on women in leadership with a broad spectrum of women on the panel, trans visibility on LGBT discussion panels, and sessions on faith and religion-inclusive language. “There are also gender-neutral toilets on each floor,” one source added. Having said all this, some trainees voiced concerns over the firm “solely paying lip service to diversity initiatives rather than making any noticeable changes internally.” Others suggested there's a continuing lack of diversity within both the trainee cohort and vac scheme: the current trainee group is 55.2% female and 14.3% BAME.
Trainees typically start their day at a “fairly breezy” 9.30am and pack up to go home at 7pm. Real estate reportedly has fairly short days, while corporate trainees work long hours. One told us: “There was a period of six weeks when we were leaving at midnight every night and a couple of deals which required us to work five weekends in a row.” Trainees reassured that “no one rolls their eyes” if you try to maintain a life outside of work, but said that “if push comes to shove the work has to get done.” Interviewees also suggested there was a need to move towards more agile working for those at the junior end: “The firm is still heavily reliant on a desktop server structure, so we end up spending too much time in the office.” The firm told us that it's had an agile working policy in place for more than 18 months and doesn't enforce hours targets at any level.
Trainees did speak fondly of the office lay-out: each trainee shares a room with two associates and a partner. “The room-sharing structure provides a real platform to ask partners and associates any questions relating to legal support or pastoral care,” one source said. It also provides the training contract with a certain structure in terms of how much work is coming through the door. “When it comes to pastoral care,” an interviewee reflected, “there’s always more that can be done, but we do have the opportunity for external counselling and there are mental health campaigns.” Lunchtime introductory sessions are held for each department to aid the transition from one seat to the next.
Trainees told us that “a certain element of mysticism surrounds the NQ process” and that partners become aware throughout the training contract what your preferences are. In other words: it helps to network. Overall, our sources said they'd prefer for there to be a clearer-cut, more rigid structure in place when it comes to qualification, rather than “assuming that the firm will find a place for everyone.” Having said all this Travers Smith has an excellent NQ retention record: retention has been 90% or higher for the past eight years running, and in 2019 20 out of 24 qualifiers were retained.
The quality of training at Travers Smith will put you in good stead for a career in corporate law.
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)
Applications and vacation scheme
Travers Smith has 25 training contracts on offer and typically recruits just over 50% of its trainees through its vacation schemes. The firm runs three two-week placements during the summer, and one two-week scheme in the winter, offering 15 places on each.
The application for the vac scheme begins with a CV and covering letter, and the firm generally receives around 1,000 of these each year. “There are no psychometric tests or any of that rubbish,” one interviewee told us, but prospective trainees do need a minimum of AAB at A level and a 2:1 degree (or 2:1 grades to date) to get a look in. The majority of trainees tend to come from a Russell Group institution, though the firm visits between 25 and 30 university law fairs each year.
Those whose applications impress – generally around 180 – are invited to a one-on-one partner interview. According to our sources, the aim here is to get “a flavour of your character; we don't go for a long-form interview where we ask about all the different times you overcame a problem in the workplace.”
From here, the firm chooses its vac schemers, who split their time between two departments. Alongside shadowing trainees, participants attend workshops on skills like negotiations and drafting, and also get to socialise with Travers lawyers at various working lunches and evening events.
A current trainee had this advice for impressing during the vac scheme: “Relax into the atmosphere and try to be enthusiastic. Another said: “Show that you're bright, ambitious and calm under pressure, but don't take yourself too seriously.”
Those who still want to pursue a training contract after their scheme can resubmit their application for consideration. They are evaluated on their performance during their placement rather than through any further interviews.
Training contract applications
Travers Smith receives another 1,000 direct training contract applications each year. The application process is broadly similar to that of the vac scheme: applicants submit an initial form; attend a partner interview; then another, this time with co-heads of graduate recruitment Emily Clark and Danny Peel. The first lasts around 45 minutes, while the second is an hour long.
There's no cap on the number of people the firm invites to interview. Insiders tell us “the firm is big on compare-and-contrast questions” in both interviews – for example, the moral debate of a drunk driver who kills someone as opposed to someone who falls asleep at the wheel and does the same –“but isn't looking to catch anyone out.” Interviewees can also expect questions about current business stories to test their commercial awareness.
The second interview is followed up with a trainee-led tour around the office, during which candidates can ask additional questions, and meet other members of the firm.
Travers Smith LLP
10 Snow Hill,
- Partners 84
- Associates 242
- Total trainees 52
- UKoffices London
- Overseasoffices Paris, close ties with carefully chosen quality overseas independent law firms
- Graduate recruiter: Germaine VanGeyzel, [email protected], 020 7295 3546
- Training partners: Danny Peel and Emily Clark
- Application criteria
- Training contract pa: 25
- Applications pa: 1,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A Level: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places: 72
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open:1st October 2019
- Training contract deadline 2022: 31st July 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 applications open: 1st October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline:
- Winter: Rolling basis
- Summer: 17th January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First year salary: £46,500
- Second year salary: £52,000
- Post qualification salary: £85,000
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contract: London
- Overseas seats: one seat in Paris
- Client secondments: Following qualification, there are numerous opportunities for secondments to overseas law firms with whom we have a close relationship and client secondments. In recent years, our associates have worked on secondment in places such as the US, Japan, Singapore and India.
Main areas of work
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers; Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Infrastructure Recognised Practitioner
- Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 2)