Go south to find Trethowans, whose glowing culture and established private client and commercial practices are firmly on the up.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Ambient piano plays; a slow motion close-up shows experienced hands carving a centaur out of a dark, soft wood; a voice-over tells us about the nature of birth and existence. No, not the opening moments of the latest Sundance sensation – we’re talking about Trethowan’s ‘Snapshots’, a series of short films placed front and centre on the firm's website. Here's the gist: senior lawyers explain what the law means to them while showcasing their hobbies, be it whittling, hiking, sailing or hula hooping. Managing partner Chris Whiteley tells us: “We have a motto – decent people, decent lawyers. So we decided to showcase our people!”
Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth don't research whittlers, but they do rank the firm regionally in an impressive spread of areas, including private client, banking, employment, litigation, real estate, corporate and personal injury. “Our growth over the last five year period is 80%,” boasts Whiteley. It's a real success story, but he's aware “the firm’s a lovely size. If you’re not careful you can lose something special. It takes a lot of work to maintain culture as you grow!”
It's a nice sentiment, but bear in mind that the firm is targeting a revenue of £20 million by 2020. The firm recently expanded its foothold on the South Coast by opening a Bournemouth office. “It’s exciting! There are currently three people there but there’s space for 40,” Whiteley tells us. “It puts the firm in a position of having the infrastructure for five more years of similar growth.”
“It’s their policy to put you in at least two offices during your training contract.”
Trainees are split between the Salisbury, Southampton and Poole offices. When trainees start at the firm, HR makes it clear that “it’s their policy to put you in at least two offices during your training contract.” Trainees quite liked their tour of the South: “It’s good to move around and it doesn’t hurt to get your face in front of a many people as possible!” Trainees' seat preferences are canvassed before they start, and mid-way through each seat.
Worth a pension
The commercial property department has particular expertise in representing pension funds like James Hay, Rowanmoor and Legal & General, as they buy, sell, lease and develop property. For example, the firm recently helped Bristol-based pension scheme provider Curtis Banks on the sale of the lease on a café. But the team does similar work for a broader group of clients, from developers to recognisable businesses such as Ladbrokes Coral, Stannah Lifts and construction multinational Saint-Gobain. Trainees described working on “conveyancing, leases, sales and transfers” and in particular enjoyed that “pretty much from the first day I've run all my own files.” But it's worth noting that this “includes the little admin jobs that go with with that, so you appreciate what the support staff do.” Fortunately it also included drafting leases and deeds, and preparing the documents for completion.
Trethowans' corporate team handles M&A, investment, joint ventures and management buyouts for clients that range from local SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) up to some much larger clients like the aforementioned Saint-Gobain. The team recently acted for the shareholders of family-run adhesive business Sealock on its sale to German-based chemicals company Follmann Chemie. Trainees sitting here touch on commercial work too. Juniors helped “review commercial contracts, and advise on them. The pure corporate stuff was corporate support work: helping manage and organise due diligence and liaising with corporate support lawyers.” Meanwhile the banking team serves on HSBC's legal panel, but also works with Lloyds, Santander and Clydesdale Bank. There's a lot of acquisition finance here. For example, a recent highlight saw the team advise an international manufacturer of car parts, CT Automotive Group, on its management buyout which was funded by an $18.5 million loan from Metro Bank. With a regional seam running through much of the work, one trainee found “it's not as far removed as I anticipated. The deal you're doing is a big deal to the client. You'll meet them face to face, and you'll go for a completion dinner. These aren't people working off their BlackBerries at 2am, flying around the world; they're fairly normal people running successful businesses, so there's a lot of client contact.”
Commercial litigation deals chiefly with contractual disputes and is home to lawyers specialising in property, IP, professional negligence, insolvency and contentious probate. The firm recently represented Salisbury financial services company M Finance in its £1.5 million claim that a client implemented some advice without paying for it. It's also worked for the Ministry of Defence and Taylorcocks, an accountant. While the team's biggest work centres on companies, trainees had seen more variety. “It ranges from small individual clients with disputes in their back garden to huge corporate clients who’ve got competition claims.” The stakes of the seat had trainees “terrified at first – but I ended up loving it!” Trainees start out taking calls and drafting emails, but could end up running their own “small money” matters. “I would be following the CPR [Civil Procedure Rules] process, advising clients what the next steps are, trying to settle things before they got too far.” This meant drafting, client contact and involvement in mediation and hearings. “I didn’t feel like a trainee, I felt like I was part of the team!”
“We found envelopes of money everywhere – down the back of sofas, hidden in drawers!”
A stint in private client provided “a surprising amount of responsibility early on – I did my first will on my second day!” As well as doing “at least one will a day,” trainees here will be working on tax returns, probate, trusts, estate accounts, lasting powers of attorney, and “all sorts of other ancillary things.” This is where the interesting stuff begins; we heard about a case in which the firm was appointed as executor to a deceased client – “the woman squirrelled away loads of money. We found envelopes of money everywhere – down the back of sofas, hidden in drawers!” Trainees valued the opportunity to meet clients and felt the weight of responsibility when “a lot of the clients are vulnerable – you feel the duty that you must explain things in the clearest terms to them.”
You fundraise me up
The responsibility levels that trainees are “thrown into,” can be “quite daunting, but the support is there to chivvy you through it.” Trainees described supervisors' training style as “hands-off and very trusting,” but help is “always there if you ask for it.” So take note: “It requires you to have the courage and the conviction to tell someone you don’t quite understand something.” Luckily, Trethowans trainees found their colleagues to be “very open, supportive and approachable.” Combine this with a working culture that sees most people leave by 6pm each day, and you get what one trainee described as “a huge quality of life!” The latest we heard of anyone leaving was 7pm – every staff member even gets a day off on or around your birthday.
With trainees split between three offices, socialising wasn't the easiest, but “we still make the effort to do it,” said sources. “We’re meeting up for a curry next week.” All the offices except Poole are all open-plan, which trainees found valuable for “listening to what’s going on and having the opportunity to jump in and volunteer yourself to help out.” The Poole office benefits from being based in the town centre and near the station, but its three-building site left it feeling “disconnected.” The more modern Salisbury and Southampton offices are based in out-of-town business parks, meaning “you can’t live without a car!”
“A major pillar of our cultural values is charity fundraising and getting involved in the local community,” reported trainees. Nominated charities rotate regularly and recently included children's charity Wooden Spoon, Julia’s House and Salisbury Trust for the Homeless. Ways to chip in include ‘wear your slippers to work day’, fun runs, marathons, a golf day, and a monthly cake sale organised by trainees. The firm has “traditionally scored quite low on retention,” but it seems that the recent growth has done something to improve the situation. Two of three qualifiers were kept on in 2018.
Roughly half of trainees had followed non-traditional routes into the firm. In a past life juniors had variously been horse groomers, wine merchants and navy pilots.
How to get a Trethowans training contract
Trethowans' application process is in the form of an online application form. According to training partner Jon Kelly 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 Kelly and the HR manager. “There are no strict filters,” says Kelly, “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 Kelly, “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 Kelly.
How to wow
Kelly 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,” he tell 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.
Interview with managing partner Chris Whiteley
Chambers Student: Could you talk us through the firm’s growth over the past few years?
Chris Whiteley:It’s growing a lot! We achieved the accolade of being the fastest growing firm in the UK – the small print of that is that it’s in the up to a £24 million turnover category. So we’ve grown pretty quickly and it’s for all sorts of reasons. One is our culture: people like being here! We don’t just speak it, we do it and we live it. When I was a student I wondered what culture is, and you soon realise it’s your actions, your morality and your values. You can’t pretend it’ll happen on its own.
Our growth over a five year period is 80%. But we’re not growing for growth sake and we’re not chasing turnover. The firm’s a lovely size and if you’re not careful you can get too big and lose something special. It’s got to be sustainable – it takes a lot of work to maintain culture as you grow! So we’ve got no plans for any mergers, we’re protective of our unique way. But we have been attracting people from large national firms, they want to come and make a difference. They feel involved, have an identity and have a say in things.
CS:What's the strategy behind opening an office in Bournemouth?
CW: It’s quite nice to do something in a big town within your own region, rather than take anybody over and have potential culture clashes. We’ve got a brand new office, which we’re now filling – it’s exciting! There are currently six people there but there’s space for 20.
We made sure that our Salisbury and Southampton offices can accommodate further growth so with the opening of the Bournemouth office, looking to move to a better, more modern office in Poole and intending to move to a bigger office in Winchester... all this puts the firm in a position of having the infrastructure for five more years of similar growth without having to take on more overheads apart from salary. If the firm can sustain growth without the extra cost of more offices then it’ll be even more profitable.
We’ve put the firm in the right position. We will have all the bricks and mortar we need and now our vision is to continue growing and become the best firm in our region.
CS:Tell us a little bit about Snapshots, the firm’s short film.
CW: We went to a company who are a cutting edge, creative art house. You see firm’s videos that are just some talking heads and it’s boring! Your website is your shop window, so we decided to showcase our people. We are proud of our people, we’re protective of our culture and we’re all down to earth and all support each other. We have a motto: decent people, decent lawyers. Not the other way around! It shows Gareth in his old army Jeep that he uses for WW2 re-enactments – he doesn’t commute in it though!
We are also changing the website – it will be slicker and simpler and the colours will change slightly. It’s a subtle rebrand.
London Road Office Park,
Botleigh Grange Business Park,
5 Parkstone Road,
- Partners 40
- Associates 48
- Total trainees 6
- UK offices Salisbury, Southampton, Poole, Bournemouth
- Graduate recruiter: Kate Ellis, [email protected], 02380 321000
- Training partner: Jon Kelly, [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 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 28 June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year and second-year salaries: Competitive market rate with regular reviews
- 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: Partial (up to 50%)
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Service excellence is a priority — clients value the firm’s ability to deliver expert advice, in a personable and friendly manner.
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 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 first-hand 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 2018
• University of Law, Bristol – 28 November 2018
• University of Law, Guildford – Spring 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)