Want to do some groovy real estate work while (peacefully) combating the country’s housing crisis? That’s Trowers power, baby.
Amidst a nationwide housing crisis, the government faces huge demand for affordable homes. To bring housing to the masses, they need… well, they need housing powerhouses. That’s where Trowers & Hamlins comes in. Few firms in the UK are brave enough to wade into the political uncertainty and shifting budgets that come with social housing and public work. Fortunately, Trowers is one of them. “Our real estate work is a flagship of Trowers,” said trainees. “It’s the driving force of the firm.” The firm’s mid-market real estate work is ranked top in London by Chambers UK, and outside of the capital, the firm is a national leader in social housing work (it’s actually the only top-ranking firm in this field). “It excites me to think I’m learning directly from experts in our field,” said one insider.
“Our real estate work is a flagship of Trowers.”
Clearly, anyone who digs real estate should take a second look at Trowers, but the firm also handles other types of work like commercial litigation, corporate, finance, employment and private wealth. “Several departments do have underlying property elements,” trainees helpfully pointed out, but it isn’t the entirety of the firm. Trowers gets additional national rankings for its work in local government, public procurement, international personal injury (claimant and defendant side), charities, projects, and administrative & public law.
At the time of our calls, around two-thirds of trainees were based in the London office, with a handful or so in Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester. “Trowers is very good at pushing a national team mindset,” they said. “We’re one big unit.” Those outside the capital told us: “We generate our own work and help out with London too.” As well as taking advantage of the national network of offices, trainees were keen to capitalise on the firm’s “international elements.” With four offices in the Middle East, Trowers picks up a top ranking in Chambers Global for its corporate and finance work in Bahrain, as well as additional rankings in Oman and the UAE. Trowers also has an office in Malaysia, where it was the first foreign firm to get a licence to practise in the country. For London trainees, the opportunity to do international secondments was another “big draw” (more on this below).
The firm allocates trainees’ first seats, but from then on, everybody puts forward a most desired seat – “it’s more than likely you’ll be able to do that seat at some point during the two years.” The seatallocation process starts with an “open conversation with the graduate recruitment manager, then they balance what you want with business need.” Folks in smaller offices like Birmingham liked the fact that “because there’s only a small number of teams, there’s not much competition and it’s likely you’ll get the seats you want.”
Introducing Trowers’ newest team: real estate. “Wait, what?” we hear you cry. Up until 2020, the firm had delineated real estate departments, but now it all falls under one umbrella, including the two main streams: commercial, and housing & regeneration. Trainees in this seat now get to act as generalists, “making the most of the different specialisms people have in the group.” Interviewees speculated on the thinking behind merging the groups: “We’ve got strong social housing expertise, but we want to attract more private companies who invest in commercial property too.” The firm’s current commercial clients range from pension funds to general commercial property investors, which the firm helps on matters like leases, renewals and tenancy agreements. For example, the team recently acted for a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund on the 20-year letting of Aviation House in London's Holborn to WeWork. In this “naturally drafting-heavy” area, interviewees got to draft leases and tenancy agreements themselves, remarking that this was “a good way to fully understand the business and learn what the firm’s about.” And then “once you’re ready, they’re comfortable to give you hands-on opportunities with clients.”
“It’s great to help out in the middle of a housing crisis.”
Housing and regeneration makes up a larger share of the real estate team’s work. The group works with public bodies such as Homes England as well as private developers on “large-scale site acquisitions.” As a trainee explained, “they buy large areas of land which will ultimately be built on for housing stock. Another part of the team then deals with the agreements for building on the land.” Then finally, the team deals with the sales of the individual plots that get built. “It’s a nice little Russian doll-type thing,” one commented. “Everyone goes further and further in with the creation of one housing project.” There’s also some charity sector work as well as grant funding, where “government bodies give away monies to housing associations to build affordable homes.” One interviewee felt “it’s great to help out in the middle of a housing crisis.” The group recently helped Homes England in its endeavours to make grant funding more flexible and apply £1.5 billion of funding to deliver more affordable housing. It’s also advising Enfield Borough Council as it embarks on a £6 billion regeneration project that includes the creation of 10,000 new homes. Trainee tasks here include legal research, presentation writing and drafting documents such as reports, grant agreements and lease transfers. Trainees might also be put in charge of the “transaction formalities – finalising applications, making sure everyone’s on track, and sending documents out.”
Trowers’ banking and finance team works with banks, lenders and commercial borrowers on loans, financings and funds work. The team recently advised Global Net Lease on its £230 million refinancing, for example. Unsurprisingly, “the majority of the work has a real estate element to it.” Clients include private affordable housing finance lenders, and the team also works on funds for private commercial property developments. Sources reported “helping out on registered facilities and sorting loans,” as well as doing a little work with Middle Eastern lenders. Trainees were responsible for putting together conditions precedent checklists and drafting board minutes, but it’s “not just the usual trainee tasks – they’re happy for you to put your hand up and ask for more.” ‘More’ could mean helping to create presentations, and getting drafting experience with facility agreements and loan agreements.
“One day you’re talking with bankers; the next you’re talking with the person installing the lifts.”
There’s more property-related work in the projects and construction seat, where interviewees worked mostly on the construction side. The “interesting” projects work available is mostly in the renewable energy sphere – trainees said: “If you want to get involved you just need to ask!” Another niche is public procurement, where the team helps private companies secure contracts from the government (Chambers UK ranks the firm nationally for this work). The Exeter office also offers trainees the chance to do construction litigation, whether it’s a dispute about faulty cladding or poor building work. Nationwide, the construction team works on development projects covering social housing developments, school buildings, business parks and office blocks. The team recently advised Berkeley Homes on the £1 billion Stephenson Street development in east London; it’s also representing the Museum of London in its relocation to Smithfield Market. Interviewees were happy with their client contact, and we heard this seat is also “drafting-heavy,” with development agreements, building contracts and construction reports. “I enjoyed drafting collateral warranties,” one shared. “They’re problem-solving-focused and you need to tailor it to the client’s needs.” Another felt “one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects” of the seat was the variety of people they dealt with: “One day you’re talking with bankers; the next you’re talking with the person installing the lifts in the project.”
Trowers offers overseas seats in its Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Bahrain offices, usually as a second seat. These, however, are only available for London trainees, unless Londoners don’t want to go or someone drops out. Trainees in other offices weren’t “too fussed,” since “they make it clear at the interview stage and keep your expectations in check.” As for the lucky Londoners who get to go, trainees can submit a preference but don't have the ultimate say in where they can go. However, all the overseas offices are much smaller than the London office, so “you’re not stuck doing work for one department and can push for the kind of work you want.” Interviewees found “the transition really easy; there wasn’t the culture shock I expected.” Some did point out there are “a few etiquette things to learn with clients, especially for women.”
Trainees said the firm’s many clubs (football, netball, yoga, book club) were “a really good way of integrating new people in the firm and getting to know people across departments.” There are regular socials across offices, including “drinks, pizza evenings and pub crawls – and it’s not uncommon to end up at karaoke!” The firm’s social committee is looking for ways to “make sure it’s inclusive of everyone” after the firm got feedback from an inclusion survey suggesting more alcohol-free socials. Future renditions of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' may be on the quieter side without Dutch courage, but at least they’ll be in tune.
“It’s great to see a firm promoting Asian leaders and black female leaders.”
Efforts like these prompted trainees to rate the firm as “ahead of the curve” on diversity. Diversity network TrowersIncludes brings together groups of religion, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ individuals, age and social mobility. “The firm encourages you to be you,” trainees praised. For a Birmingham trainee, “one of the factors that influenced my joining is the fact that the previous head of the office was Amardeep Gill, and the new head is Yetunde Dania. It’s great to see a firm promoting Asian leaders and black female leaders.”
In terms of training, the firm hosts talks on topics from “updates in tax law to gender diversity. There’s also a lot of emphasis on developing non-law business skills.” All trainees do a three-week induction in London (regional trainees get put up in accommodation). “It’s a great opportunity to get to know your intake across offices,” trainees said. “Whenever I go to London, it’s really nice to catch up with everyone.”Culturally, trainees reckoned that there’s “a little separation between London and the regional side of the firm,” but quickly followed up that “it’s not a bad thing – it’s nice to go to another office and feel a different vibe.”
“I’d be surprised if a trainee was working past 7pm regularly.”
Interviewees rated their salary as “market standard and fair” in their respective cities (London trainees and NQs earn about £10,000 more than their regional counterparts). “There’s not a long-hours culture here,” they added. “I’d be surprised if a trainee was working past 7pm regularly.” Across offices, most people “leave between 5pm and 8pm,” with real estate and banking tending to be on the later side. Prior to the pandemic, trainees could also work from home on an ad hoc basis.
We also heard partners check in on trainees’ hours: “If you’re staying too late, they’ll do something about your workload.” Trainees also liked that partners are “open about needing an NQ” or not on the approach to qualification time, “so you can make your own contingency plans if need be.” During the final seat, a jobs list is sent round. Interested qualifiers submit an application and cover letter before taking part in an interview, “which is a bit bizarre seeing as it’s with people you’ve been working with for at least two years!” The interview contains a few of the “usual questions,” as well as a short exercise. Interviewees were heartened by the fact that “most of the successful people at the top here are people who’ve been loyal to Trowers since they trained, or even paralegalled here. There is a culture of longevity at Trowers.” In 2020, 19 of 23 qualifiers were kept on.
Mistletoe and wine
Trainees described “prolific” Christmas parties at Trowers & Hamlins.
How to get a Trowers & Hamlins training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 29 January 2021
Training contract deadline (2023): 30 July 2021 (TBC)
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. Outgoing 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 & Hamlins LLP
3 Bunhill Row,
- Partners 139
- Associates 217
- Total trainees 46
- UK offices London, Birmingham, Exeter, Manchester
- Overseas offices 5
- Graduate recruiter: Jacqui Bernuzzi [email protected]
- Training partner: Lucy James [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 23
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 46
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 30th July 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme deadline: 29th January 2021
- 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: £68,000 (London) and £44,000 (Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: £7,000 (London) and £6,500 (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
University law careers fairs 2020
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
We’ve always been proud of our natural commitment to diversity and inclusion – TrowersIncludes formalises and focuses this into a powerful initiative at the heart of our firm.
Championed by senior leaders and driven by teams across our business, TrowersIncludes brings together a network of groups and initiatives. These include age, ethnicity, gender, work and family, LGBTQ+, social mobility, religion and belief, and physical and mental wellbeing. Diverse by nature, they are united in their mission to spread the word about the positive impact of diversity. We also run a full calendar of events as well as highlighting issues and initiatives across our internal communications channels and via social media.
More than a desire for political correctness or orthodoxy, TrowersIncludes is organic, self-perpetuating, and reaches out to our clients and suppliers too. Inside the firm, we have always been known for the variety in our partnership and have never believed that background, gender, race, disability or orientation should be a barrier to talent.
Our hard work has borne fruit. We were awarded top marks twice over for the Diversity and Inclusion and Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative Awards at the CILEx National Awards and have one of the lowest gender pay gaps in the UK’s top 50 law firms.
With 42% of Trowers partners female, 7.1% British black, Asian and minority ethnic and 6.3% from the LGBT+ community, we’re aware that there’s more work to be done but are proud of the great strides forward we’ve made and the impact this is having.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer: Third Sector (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 5)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate (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)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 2)