After several years of growth this Southern firm now has five offices – five years back, it only had two.
A Treth of fresh air
Laundry, sleet and pavement are three unambiguously boring nouns. And according to Trethowans managing partner Chris Whiteley so is consolidation. But it's still crucial if you want to successfully and sustainably grow a business – and it's crucial to Trethowans right now. It hit a revenue figure of £18.1 million in 2018/19 and the firm is reportedly on track for its 2020 revenue target of £20 million. “Over the last five years we’ve grown 60%,” says Whiteley. “We have not just chased turnover – we have made sure that our growth is sustainable and profitable.” Something certainly seems to be working. After opening up shop in Poole following a local merger in 2015, the firm’s recently added offices in Bournemouth and Winchester. So while the firm’s “heart” may still be in Southampton and Salisbury (its two original bases), the new locations point to the firm’s desire “to be known across the whole region” and further establish its Southern footprint.
Speaking of regions... in the places where it's present the firm wins decent Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth rankings for both commercial and personal law areas. In Southampton, Trethowans is awarded a top-tier commendation for its claimant clinical negligence and personal injury work and it's also ranked for family and private client. The firm's also recognised regionally for commercial areas like agriculture, banking, mid-market corporate M&A, litigation and real estate.
“A connection to the local region as a whole.”
Interestingly we heard that even as the firm's office networks spreads, “it intends to ensure that all offices are only an hour's drive away from one another.” In light of this relatively close geographical proximity, trainees are required to spend time in at least two offices over the course of their contract, and the clustering also helps create “a connection to the local region as a whole” rather than just one place. At the time of our calls two trainees were in Salisbury, two in Southampton, one in Poole and one split their time between Southampton and Bournemouth.
Fear not though, trainees aren’t left to get lost in the New Forest between Bournemouth and Southampton during seat moves. Sources said the small trainee intake – just three or four a year – helps nurture investment in trainees and pushes rookies to play their part. “When there’s one trainee in a team, you’re exposed,” an interviewee shared. “That pushes you outside your comfort zone and requires more of you.” One thing Trethowans does sometimes struggle with – like many small firms – is retention. In the last five years, about 60% of the firm's qualifiers have stayed on at the firm. But it's good news for the firm's most recent qualifiers: all three were retained in 2019.
Here, there and…
… everywhere a trainee goes, specialisms come to the fore. Dubbed a “rabbit warren” for its archaic digs (“three houses stuck together”), the Poole office is almost exclusively focused on private client. By contrast Southampton “is massively commercially focused,” and feels a “bit louder and livelier” due to the open-plan layout and wider practice emphasis. With a blend of offerings – bar corporate – the office in Salisbury falls “somewhere in the middle.” Seat options in Bournemouth include corporate/commercial, commercial property, family, commercial litigation, and banking (sometimes these can be split with a stint in the Southampton office). The new office in Winchester does only private client and family work (though no trainees are currently based there). Trainees also added that the small size of each individual office “allows you to get to know everyone and gets your face known.” While first seats are assigned by the firm, the three remaining preferences are decided on during mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews. The firm “will give you opportunities based on business needs” in whatever office that may be. A word to the wise: be prepared to relocate.
A seat in private client tends to focus on private wealth matters for clients ranging from high net worth individuals to average households. While lawyers deal with business and agricultural assets, tax planning, wills, trusts, estates and more, trainees noted that a “strong stomach” is required as you’re regularly “dealing with death and bereavement.” While admin jobs are unavoidable – chasing paperwork from HMRC, visiting elderly clients for documents or writing to banks – responsibility and client exposure reportedly grow quickly. One source found: “There are plenty of opportunities to draft wills and lasting powers of attorney, plus lots of client contact – you get taken to every appointment and every meeting your supervisor has.” So whether they’re drafting letters, grants of probate or inheritance tax forms, or making sure debts and liabilities are paid, or transferring properties in people’s names, trainees said: “No two days are the same.” We heard that Southampton and Salisbury do “a lot of trusts and tax planning work,” while Poole handles predominantly estates work “typically in the sub one million-pound bracket.”
“I completed two lease purchases through from start to finish.”
Commercial property deals with matters worth £250,000 to £20 million, handling commercial landlord/tenant, development, retail and residential work. Besides acting for existing clients such as Santander, Lloyds and Ladbrokes the firm also recently won a spot on the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation's panel to help service mortgage applications. One of the firm's biggest recent pieces of property work saw it advise a major bank on taking security over a £23 million sixth form college. There are lots of smaller deals too, which trainees get to handle alone. “I completed two lease purchases through from start to finish,” one trainee told us, “and I wasn't just doing the admin” – rather, trainees draft leases and transfers themselves. We heard that the Salisbury office “does a massive amount of work” for pension providers – Rowanmoor Trustees and Legal & General Assurance are both clients.
In commercial litigation“things take forever and you’re often doing piecemeal work as the cases don’t finish quickly.” That's typical of the contentious work the team does, covering everything from contracts to IP disputes. The firm’s reportedly also seen a spike in property litigation recently. The team acts for some well-known names – like Jewson, the Ministry of Defence and Bacardi – though much of the client base is local. For example, lawyers represented Romsey-based tool manufacturer Great Star in a £750,000 breach of contract dispute with a rival over the supply of JCB blades. And the firm defended a Southampton taxi company against a defamation claim brought by a former director. Trainees have opportunities to go to court, attend mediations, and draft consent orders and cost summaries.
The clinical negligence and personal injury team mainly represents claimants, and trainees reported having great exposure and responsibility when dealing with individuals and bigger clients such as Zurich Insurance or the RSPCA. Naturally when “dealing with the personal side of things,” emotions can run high: birth complications, misdiagnoses, fatal accidents and life-threatening injuries aren’t necessarily the easiest cases to work on. But from a legal standpoint, trainees found the department gave “a really good insight into how litigation works.” One source proudly declared: “I went to an inquest where I represented the client on my own with a barrister. I was liaising with the client myself and was asked questions directly by the coroner, which was terrifying!”
I know you
Where negative change may often accompany growth, our sources didn’t seem to notice this at Trethowans. “We’ve grown for years,” one trainee us, “but the firm has been very good at guarding its culture.” So what is that culture? Well, it's one where due to the firm’s size “everyone knows everyone,” which our sources said elevates the status of trainees.The firm also nurtures trainees through “wholesome” community-focused initiatives: charity walks, bake sales and local sporting tournaments all allow rookies to get immersed in the fabric of the firm. The presence or absence of out-of-work socialising depends on the office and trainees also noticed some small differences between locations – Southampton’s reportedly a bit more “lively” while Poole is “a little bit more traditional.”
Across offices a healthy work/life balance was celebrated by all our interviewees. “Your personal life isn’t up for debate – it’s honoured,” one trainee told us. This is helped by a pretty rigid 9am to 6pm work schedule. “The latest I’ve ever stayed is 8pm” one source reported, “and that was considered late by everyone!”
On its website Trethowans lists dress-down Fridays, ice creams and sausage rolls among the perks it offers trainees. Who said law was all flash suits and caviar?
How to get a Trethowans training contract
Trethowans' application process is in the form of an online application form. According to training partner Lucy Gleisner this allows the firm to ask more uniform questions, which makes comparing candidates that much easier.
Interview and assessments
The firm usually receives around 80 applications, which are examined by Gleisner and the HR manager, Kate Ellis. “There are no strict filters,” says Ellis, “and we consider every application on its merits rather than dismissing good applications because of arbitrary rules.” The duo then shortlists around 30 to attend a short interview via Skype. We're told that candidates have given the new system their seal of approval, and also help to make HR's job easier: “We didn't interview anyone from a beach in Malibu this year,” jokes Ellis, “but we could have.”
Post-Skype chat, between 12 and 15 applicants are shortlisted and invited to an assessment day that involves group and individual presentations, a meet-and-greet lunch, plus trainee and associate-led talks. “The message is to be yourself; it's not about saying the right thing so much as seeing how candidates interact with each other,” says Gleisner.
How to wow
Gleisner tells us that Trethowans is looking for the “well-rounded lawyers of the future.” Beyond the required 2:1 degree, such a creature will have the ability to “manage a case load, get along with clients and demonstrate an aptitude for winning new business,” she tells us. Applicants don't have to be from the local area, but you will need to show that you're committed to living in the region if you want to win over recruiters.
London Road Office Park,
Botleigh Grange Business Park,
5 Parkstone Road,
- Partners 45
- Associates 48
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices Salisbury, Southampton, Poole, Bournemouth, Winchester
- Graduate recruiter: Kate Ellis, [email protected], 02380 321000
- Training partner: Lucy Gleisner, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3-4
- Applications pa: 80+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 29 May 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £25,000
- Second-year salary: £27,000
- Post-qualification salary: Competitive market rate
- Holiday entitlement: 23 days as a trainee; 25 days post qualification, increasing to 28 days on an incremental basis. Plus Bank Holidays.
- LPC fees: 50%
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Many of our teams and individuals are rated in both Chambers and Partners and Legal 500.
'Without doubt one important ingredient in our success has been our culture. We pride ourselves on not only being professional and providing an excellent service, but also providing a supportive, inclusive working environment. The fact is when recruiting we look for good, decent people as much as outstanding legal professionals.’
Chris Whiteley, Managing Partner.
Main areas of work
Legal advice to businesses includes: corporate, commercial, banking, commercial property, commercial and property litigation, insurance litigation, employment, licensing, health and safety and regulatory work. Legal advice to individuals includes: personal injury, wills, trusts and tax, wealth structuring and inheritance planning, agriculture and rural property, family, clinical negligence, and residential property.
Trainees work closely with the supervising lawyer/partner to whom they are responsible. They are considered an important part of each team and become closely involved in the team’s work to obtain firsthand legal experience. Each trainee’s performance is reviewed regularly by their supervisor and regular feedback is provided. Trainees are an integral part of the firm from day one. They are responsible for an internal communications blog, involved in organising annual social events, and participate in business development and in supporting the firms nominated charities.
University law careers fairs 2019
• University of Law, Guilford– Spring 2020
• University of Law, Guildford – November 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Southampton and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Licensing (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant Recognised Practitioner