Distinctive Trowers successfully marries a reputable presence in the Middle East with a top-notch real estate practice.
The right Trowers
Deciding where to train for two years is a big decision, so it's only natural to be picky when shopping around. But add together the individual criteria of our Trowers interviewees and you've got a pretty tall order: a mid-sized London firm, that has an established presence in the Middle East, excels in real estate, yet offers wider work, and provides a plentiful public sector slant. Thankfully Trowers exists and is just that. “We're a quirky firm,” trainees confessed, “we definitely stand out for our weird mix of practice areas.”
Courtesy of its four offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman and Bahrain, Trowers has long held an impressive presence in the Middle East. It was a leader in the market a decade ago, but since it opened in the region (way back in 1980) other big names have moved into the market. Trowers no longer enjoys the hegemony it once did, but Trowers' latest cohort were assured of the firm's reputation: “We've been there so long that we are ingrained in the legal landscape, meaning we have many long-standing client relationships to rely on.” Indeed, prestigious names such as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Bank Muscat, and Kuwait Finance House Bahrain all come calling.Looking to replicate its pioneering success further afield, Trowers became the first international firm to open up shop in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, in 2015, and it recently promoted a new partner there.
“We are a national firm, not a London-centric one.”
Back in Blighty, real estate work makes up around 45% of the firm's total turnover. But it provides a twist on the rigmarole of regular real estate. The firm picks up Chambers UK rankings in real estate, real estate litigation, and construction – but more uniquely Chambers UK acknowledges Trowers as a national leader for its bountiful social housing work. Trainees meanwhile were keen to highlight the firm's wider credentials, stressing that “we're trying to move away from being seen as a solely real estate firm; we're investing a lot into our private-sector practices.” True enough, Chambers UK also gives the nod to the firm's employment, charities and low mid-market M&A work.
Trowers' outlook also extends beyond the rosy ring of the M25. Although roughly half of trainees reside in London, the firm's Manchester, Birmingham and Exeter trainees emphasised: “The message we are keen to get across is that we are a national firm, not a London-centric one.” These regionaltrainees had their own reasons for picking Trowers. An Exeter source told us: “I wanted the South West way of living while also having access to the Trowers network, and work beyond small Devon-based clients.” Thankfully access to top-notch work isn't in short supply as “a lot of departments act as support to London, and we are often working on national projects, co-ordinating with the other offices.” That's not to say the regions are just the capital's back-up singers. As senior partner partner Jennie Gubbins makes clear: “Unlike a number of other firms, we do not practise north-shoring. Our regional offices generate their own business, have their own autonomy, and are actually growing faster than our London base.”
Home is where the heart is
Incoming trainees are assigned their first seat, and they meet with HR midway through each seat to pick the next one. Each trainee also gets to pick a 'super-seat' which they're almost guaranteed to get. Most felt the system worked well, though sources did point out that “because qualification is all done quite early – you only have a couple of months to experience your final seat before you have to make a decision.” Sources also agreed that “you're more likely to get your first choice in the regions,” though “overall there is less choice.”
The lessened choice includes access to the firm's six-month secondment programme. Take note: only London trainees are able to embark on a journey to one of the Middle East offices. Naturally this was something some trainees were bitter about, especially given the rave reviews of their counterparts in the capital: “It's a brilliant experience. Your flights, accommodation, car and an additional flight home during the seat are all included; you're involved in really high-value deals for big clients; you have opportunities to travel; the weather is amazing; and you have a great network of friends from other laws firms!” Only in the rare and exceptional circumstance that a London trainee cannot go, will places then be offered to regional trainees.
Housing and regeneration, the firm's largest department, is made up of three sub-groups: one acts for registered housing providers, another for those lending to the providers, and a third focusing on social housing governance. “It's heavily linked to politics and government decisions, which means it's constantly evolving,” sources explained. Given that housing has been high on the government's agenda, work here has not been in short supply. A prime example is the firm's work with the Greater London Authority to implement schemes which tackle the housing crisis. This includes the Homes for Londoners scheme, a £3 billion programme which aims to support housing associations, community groups, London boroughs and private developers to build at least 90,000 new affordable homes by 2021. Trowers is advising on funding, contractual structures and carrying out due diligence on related projects. Regeneration work is prominent and the firm recently acted for Swan Housing Group on its Purfleet regeneration scheme that includes building 2,800 new homes.
On these large matters, trainees may be doing reports on title, preparing advice notes, and conducting due diligence. But trainees are also given free rein to run their own smaller files. In Manchester trainees reported “liaising with local authorities and utility providers on Section 104 agreements relating to new road developments.” Others had experience managing lease extensions and transfers of small parcels of land. “At one stage I had ten to 15 files in my name,” one trainee recalled. “You are being monitored but it's up to you to organise and schedule things.”
“At one stage I had ten to 15 files in my name.”
Commercial property makes up the rest of the firm's broader real estate arm and is also divided into three groups: commercial, planning, and residential. “It's similar to housing in that you're given your own files to run,” sources explained. “A typical commercial case might involve renewing the lease of a unit in a retail park. As a trainee, it's up to you to draft the new lease, prepare the security documents, and draw up any amendments.” Trainees working within the planning team fulfil more of an advisory role and will be busy “producing research and advise notes. A typical scenario could be a developer looking to convert a building from commercial to residential use. Our job is to advise whether that would be possible. Supervisors might give you a pointer as to where the answer may lie, in statute or case for example, but the onus is on you to do the research. You then have to convert that into an advice note for the client – something very simple, using very plain language.” Acquisitions are also present: the firms advised housebuilders BDW Trading and Hyde Group on their £350 million joint venture and subsequent acquisition of the former Kodak site in Harrow, in North London.
The firm's corporate department works on mid-market M&A, acting for UK private equity firms, private companies and Middle Eastern investors looking to invest in the UK. Consistent with the firm's specialisms, deals here frequently operate within the real estate sector. For example, the firm has recently been working with Apache Capital, on their joint venture deal with retirement housing company Audley Group to develop a 13,750 sq m retirement village overlooking Clapham College. “I was involved in a number of major transactions but was never just doing the paperwork,” one trainee made clear. “I was helping to draft documents and had the chance to attend completion and negotiation meetings.”
Litigation is also split into groups focusing on property, construction and general commercial disputes. A glance at the firm's recent casework here brings into focus Trowers' varied offering. For example, the team has been acting for Ms Abeer Shamsan against her former husband Tawfiq Abdul Raheem Al Mutahar (known as the 'King of Petrol') in a probate dispute involving a $380 million estate. At the same time, the firm represented Cornwall Council to gain an injunction against a tenant to prevent her from causing a nuisance. Another case had the firm representing Midland Heart, a housing organisation, regarding the dilapidated state of offices in Birmingham formerly used by the Consulate of Pakistan. Trainees also worked on “boundary disputes, breaches of contract, possessions, and debt claims that you can run by yourself.” The Exeter office also houses the firm's dedicated travel litigation team – a popular seat down South – which mainly acts for insurance companies in overseas injury claims: “It's interesting researching foreign law and providing foreign legal advice.”
Trainees felt a construction seat was a “nice transition from real estate” as “once you've purchased the property and done the due diligence, moving onto construction is naturally the next stage." Those who opt for a seat here will find a mix of contentious and non-contentious work over a range of specialisms including asset management, operational support for complex facilities such as power stations, utilities and EU procurement. The latter involves “ensuring all valuations are done in accordance with regulations.” The firm also does a lot of work on school projects, working with the Secretary of State for Education “setting up free school contracts.” Elsewhere trainees can continue to rack up decent drafting experience through NEC contracts (standardised contracts in the construction industry), appointments of consultants, warranties and patent company guarantees.
Away from the transactional stuff a junior recalled: “I was working on an ongoing insurance dispute. Our client was a claimant whose factory burned down and the insurer refused to pay out. On the lead up to trial I was interviewing witnesses, liaising with counsel, and doing all the last-minute trial preparation.” One of the team's more unique cases of late involves a £19 million project in co-operation with environmental charity Severn Rivers Trust. The project aims to install 'fish passes' along the length of the River Severn to help out some declining and protected fish species. The firm also advised The Museum of London on its proposed move to a new site.
Training cats and dogs
The working day for regional trainees runs fairly consistently from 8.30am to 6pm. “The latest I've stayed is 10pm,” one trainee told us, while another said that “only a handful of times in a month would I be staying past 8pm.” Unfortunately, Londoners don't get it so easy, most typically clocking off an hour later, between 7pm and 7.30pm. Still, they agreed, “it is generally better than what you hear about at other places,” and felt the firm was “very considerate of any plans you have.”
Sources felt that the firm was very considerate in general: “There is no place for people to be obnoxious or rude. From the top down – from the people in the post room through to the senior partners – I feel comfortable having a conversation with everyone,” reflected one source, adding that “everyone is very willing help you as a trainee and talk things through.” The open-plan layout of the firm's regional offices lend themselves to this “more relaxed way of working. It gives you the chance to easily source work from people, without all the formalities of offices.”
“There is no place for people to be obnoxious or rude."
As they start their contract, all trainees descend on London for three weeks of initial training and then keep connected through firm-wide trainee meals midway through every seat. This is supplemented by one firm-wide party every year, on top of departmental Christmas and summer parties. In 2017 the corporate team went wine and gin tasting, while the litigation team went camping. Regional trainees can also top up their social calendar through participation via the Birmingham trainee solicitor society, or Exeter business games. But we saved the best for last: “Some London partners bring in their own dogs to work.” That's right. Dogs. At work.
The firm retained six of seven qualifiers in spring 2018; the autumn 2018 retention rate was not yet known at the time this article was published in early October 2018 (the firm had 14 autumn qualifiers). We'll share the autumn retention rate here as soon as we known it.
Trowers trainees can do overseas seats in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai and Oman.
How to get a Trowers & Hamlins training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 30 January 2019 (opens early October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 July 2019 (opens early October 2018)
Trowers & Hamlins receives over 1,500 applications for its 23 training contracts on offer each year – this figure includes both vacation scheme and training contract applications. Training contracts are split evenly between September and March intakes and positions are available in London, Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester.
Both training contract and vac scheme applications begin with an online form that features a number of competency-based questions alongside the usual qualification and work experience sections. These questions change every year, but recent ones include describing yourself in three words and deciding what key characteristics a commercial lawyer needs. Head of graduate recruitment and development Anup Vithlani advises candidates to spend several hours getting their form just right: "Research the firm, produce your application, enhance it, and create a second draft. I don't want to see answers that are rushed or not making use of the word limit."
The firm asks for a minimum ABB at A level (128 UCAS points) and a consistently strong 2:1 undergraduate degree. It pays close attention to individual exam results, though Vithlani stresses that the firm does take into account very serious mitigating circumstances.
For successful candidates applying via the direct training contract route, the next stage is an assessment centre. Around 20 make it to this point. Vithlani tells us the assessments usually last half a day, and the activities involved change every year. “No one can prepare for it – we want everyone to be on a level playing field. We put individuals in various scenarios and see how they react to what's in front of them.”
Current trainees informed us that “instead of the usual psychometric tests, there are a mix of mathematical and vocabulary tests and then exercises where you have to show your attributes and skills." They recalled the process as having “an atmosphere of friendliness.”
Candidates who impress are called back for an interview with two partners, or with a partner and Vithlani. He tells us: “We try to turn things around really quickly – if we really like a candidate, we'll make an offer on the spot if we can in accordance with the SRA's guidelines.”
The London vac scheme has places for around 24 candidates, while Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester each take on four. Each placement lasts two weeks, during which attendees sit in two different departments. Vac schemers work closely with their supervisors, and during their second week they take part in the same assessment centre outlined above. There are various socials on offer, including dinners, team-building activities, and a popular curry night.
Anup Vithlani tells us: “We don't focus exclusively on undergraduates. During my time in graduate recruitment, I’ve recruited a former chef and someone who spent 11 years as an investment banker. It's about demonstrating your skills and showing you're genuinely committed to developing a career in the law. For us as a firm, it's all about diversity. It's your talent that counts, not your background.”
Our trainee sources characterised the ideal candidate as “a team player who can take the initiative and spot solutions to problems.” They had this advice for applicants: “Don't rush your application; you need to make sure it shows you've researched the firm effectively portrayed yourself.”
Trowers in the Middle East
Trowers' overseas seats give trainees the chance to sample life in some of the most prosperous parts of the Middle East. Destinations include Manama in Bahrain, Muscat in Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, either in the capital Abu Dhabi or glitzy Dubai.
“We're well known as one of the longest-established firms in the Middle East,” Trowers' trainees reminded us, but troubled times in the region have somewhat diminished the firm's presence there: in early 2014, Trowers closed its Cairo office in light of the instability following the Arab Spring, and it was also forced to shut the doors on its hubs in Riyadh and Jeddah after partners in both jumped ship to local firms.
United Arab Emirates
“Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very popular destinations,” trainees told us. Dubai has long been a top choice for firms looking to break into the Middle East market, thanks to its relative political stability, large expat population, and oil-rich locals. The cosmopolitan nature of the city makes for varied work as far as law firms go. Trainees who'd spent some time in Trowers' Dubai digs told us: “The office services a lot of international businesses wanting to set up in Dubai. We also work for the British Embassy, local companies and a number of clients from Africa.”
Trowers' office is in Bur Dubai, the city's historic quarter. “It's not as flashy as the International Finance Centre, where most firms are based, but I liked being somewhere with a lot of locals around.” Outside of work, sources found Dubai to be “a great place to live, plus the firm really looks after you when you're there as well. They take care of the visa, flight tickets, accommodation – it's a really easy transition to make.”
Fewer trainees head to Abu Dhabi, which offers a similarly plush experience. As one of the world's largest oil producers, the city owns the majority of UAE's oil wealth, and it's also the state's centre of finance. Both oil and gas and finance matters flavour the work on offer here. In both locations, trainees found that they were given “plenty of responsibility: you have to take the lead on a lot of things, which really improves your confidence.”
Oman has relatively modest oil resources compared to its wealthier neighbour. Still, it benefits from its reputation as one of the most peaceful states in the Middle East and from its strategic position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It is also known for having a more diverse economy than its neighbours.
“I did a lot of corporate and commercial work for American and Asian companies looking to set up in the region,” reported one trainee of their experience as a secondee in Trowers' Muscat base. The office frequently administers advice on partnership agreements, as such companies need a local shareholder to operate locally. Having a base in Oman also helps Trowers to secure work occurring elsewhere in the region: one trainee here got the chance to work on “the Kuwaiti side” of a high-profile project involving both countries. Tom Wigley, the firm's head of energy and natural resources, moved from London to the Oman office in 2017 – a demonstration of Trowers' commitment to its Middle East presence.
A multimillion-dollar advertising campaign from controversial PR wizards M&C Saatchi a few years back set about rebranding this country as 'Business Friendly Bahrain'. However, government-imposed curfews on the business community and violent crackdowns on protesters in 2011 unfortunately meant that many of the new entrants lured by this campaign went on to make a speedy exit. Trainees here found that there are “a lot more obstacles” to everyday work, “even when it comes to simple things – it can be hard to find up-to-date laws online, for example.”
Trowers is still holding firm to its office in Manama – it does, after all, occupy the sweet spot of largest international law office in the country. Here, the firm is big on M&A, banking and finance, and real estate.
High up on trainees' list of reasons to go on a Middle Eastern secondment was Trowers' integrated network of offices. “There's a really good relationship between them and we're often liaising with Oman and Dubai on matters,” our sources in Abu Dhabi remarked. Trainees were also keen to point out that future secondees shouldn't be put off if they can't speak the local lingo: “Most of the documentation is in English, and our clients prefer to use it. It's no way a barrier if you can't speak Arabic.”
Trowers & Hamlins LLP
3 Bunhill Row,
- Partners 153
- Associates 239
- Total trainees 45
- UK offices London, Birmingham, Exeter, Manchester
- Overseas offices 5
- Contact Anup Vithlani, [email protected], 020 7423 8312
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 23
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above
- Minimum UCAS points: 320 (ABB or above)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 34
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: early October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: early October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 30 January 2019
- Open day deadline: 30 November 2018
- Salary and benefits (as of July 2018)
- First year salary: £37,000 (London) and £28,000 (Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester)
- Second year salary: £40,000 (London) and £30,000 (Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester)
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000 (London) and £42,000 (Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester)
- Holiday entitlement: 5 weeks
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: £6,500 (London) and £6,000 (outside of London)
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai and Oman
- Client secondments None
Main areas of work
Our training contract is divided into four six-month seats. All trainees are teamed with a supervisor, whose role it is to guide them through each of their seats and ensure that they are given plenty of challenges (together with the support they need). From the outset, our trainees are given real responsibility and the opportunity to learn from hands-on experience in a supportive working environment.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction Recognised Practitioner
National Leaders (outside London)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 4)
- Charities (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Local Government (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 2)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 3)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 2)