A tasty cocktail of real estate expertise, international reach and “relatable human” culture proved irresistible for Trowers trainees.
Have you seen Bahrain?
A lot can change in 240 years. If a resident of 18th century London somehow boarded a time machine and ended up in the present day, they’d probably be shocked out of their breeches – not least at how much has changed at Trowers & Hamlins. The firm traces its history back to 1777, but really came into its own over the last 30 years. After setting up shop in Manchester in 1973, the offices started coming and didn’t stop coming: Trowers has planted flags (and lawyers) in Exeter, Birmingham, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Malaysia. The last of those is especially interesting as Trowers was the first foreign law firm to gain a licence to practise in the country.
“The firm has a strong presence in the Middle East and Malaysia, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to them,” our sources confirmed. The option of a secondment to the Middle East was a tempting prospect for many (more on that later), but Trowers trainees don’t have to leave the country to work on an international scale: a prime example is the firm’s handling of multiple disputes for the Central Bank of Bahrain. It’s not just London folks that get in on the global fun: “Trowers is international in all of the regional offices too. We get work from everywhere.” As well as its overseas reach, the firm stands out from the crowd with a top-notch real estate practice. Interviewees were drawn to Trowers’ “big clients and high-value work, especially in real estate,” and Chambers UK puts the firm top of the class for mid-market real estate and social housing, also handing it national rankings for corporate M&A, construction, local government and public procurement. “There’s a property element to most (but not all) of the work the firm does.”
“Trowers is international in all of the regional offices too.”
At the time of our calls, 26 of the firm’s trainee cohort was based in London. Another seven could be found in Exeter; six were based in Manchester; and another five called the Birmingham office home. As at most firms, Londoners get a pay uplift compared to their regional colleagues – some in the capital felt the “NQ salary could be higher,” but others were happy with their lot.
Trainees’ first seat is still allocated to them by the firm, but from then on, everybody gives a desired seat (previously known as a 'dream seat') which “is the one you definitely want to do at some point during your training contract.” Trainees also then give another three choices. “While the process is driven by business need, Trowers tries to take trainees’ choices into account,” we heard. On average, our sources got about three out of their four picks. The seat options vary slightly from office to office: “Generally the selection is quite similar, but there’s a little less variety in the regional offices compared to London because not all of the practice areas are in all of our locations.”
Talkin’ ’bout regeneration
Housing and regeneration is the firm’s biggest department, and at the time of our research the real estate practices were joining under one umbrella to form an even larger beast. A stint here is “quite a common first seat because it’s a good introduction to the firm and its work.” Much of the group’s practice involves representing social housing clients, whether that’s registered providers or those lending to them. There’s also a governance element as “housing associations are subject to different regulations and legislation” which don’t affect commercial property investors. The team recently advised Legal & General on the registration of its Affordable Homes ‘for profit’ provider with the Regulator of Social Housing; and acted for the London Borough of Enfield on the first phase of a multibillion-pound regeneration scheme aiming to build a minimum of 725 homes. Trainees in the department are able to dive into reviewing titles and providing reports to potential sellers or buyers. “I got my first taste of managing my own files in this seat,” one source recalled. “I was able to negotiate documents like Section 104 and 278 agreements, then do the initial draft of leases.” One went as far to say they “had some sort of drafting experience with every type of property document.” Others noted that “there’s a trend in the sector of housing associations undergoing mergers, so we do the due diligence on that and help put the merger in place.”
“I’ve had some sort of drafting experience with every type of property document.”
Trowers’ banking and finance team “plays a big part in helping with the housing and regeneration work.” As such, a lot of the work for trainees in this seat related to “the financing or refinancing work for housing associations and registered providers for affordable housing.” London housing association Peabody called on the firm for its £1.5 billion refinancing as three social housing providers amalgamated. The seat also encompasses real estate finance (more concentrated in Manchester) and Islamic finance (conducted from London): Trowers advised Bank Muscat’s Islamic arm Meethaq on the Omani and English law aspects of its $300 million financing. One source who came to the seat relatively fresh felt “more experienced trainees got good levels of responsibility. I felt like my role was appropriate for the stage of training contract I was at.” For trainees generally, finance matters typically involve “helping with transaction management” alongside tasks like drafting board minutes and compiling CP checklists.
Subgroups within the firm’s dispute resolution practice include commercial, property, construction and travel litigation. On the commercial side, trainees came across “general breach of contract cases, some procurement disputes and insolvency work.” Fondazione Enpam, Panasonic and the Central Bank of Bahrain are on the client roster – the firm has also been acting on the international aspects of a long-running dispute within a Bahraini family over control of the family business. Commercial litigation trainee tasks include filing claims, preparing for and attending hearings, instructing counsel and drafting witness statements. There’s similar fare on offer in contentious construction, where sources also go to do “quite a lot of site visits and liaising with experts.” As for property litigation, you’ll see a mix of repossession, general landlord and tenant disputes and dilapidation claims. The team recently acted for investor landlord Funding Affordable Homes in attempted recovery of substantial rent arrears owed by their tenant, a registered provider. Even sources who didn’t necessarily plan on qualifying in disputes found their time in the department helpful for “getting an overview of court proceedings.”
Another brick in the wall
Projects and construction is the non-contentious side of the firm’s construction practice. “We do everything that goes on before the construction itself begins,” sources explained. Many of the projects in question can be found in the capital: the team advised the Borough of Sutton on preparations for a life science campus within the ‘Golden Triangle’; and the London Museum on relocating listed buildings to Farringdon. Trowers also acted for the West Midlands Combined Authority on a public sector intervention into telecommunications as part of a 5G rollout. Sources noted that “construction is split between public and private investment – the public side involves things like school buildings, while the private side works on projects like sports stadiums and entertainment venues.” Interviewees were pleased with their drafting experience in this seat – one had “helped draft preconstruction service agreements; reviewed construction clauses within bigger agreements; and drafted duty of care deeds.” In terms of the responsibility on offer, sources reckoned: “Construction is more technically challenging than property, so there are less chances to run matters. I was happy to learn from others.” A smaller section of the team also deals with energy and procurement work.
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; there’s also a real estate element to the work here. “Corporate is a very good seat for stepping up and taking the lead,” sources told us. “I’ve worked on reviewing contracts and providing amendments, plus the normal corporate tasks like Companies House forms and the ancillary documents that go with a deal.” The team recently worked for private equity firm Inflexion on the investment of £230 million into Danish vaccination provider European LifeCare Group.
“It feels like another world, but it’s definitely enjoyable!”
Trowers offers overseas seats in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Bahrain, which usually take place in trainees’ second seat. We should note that these are normally only available for trainees in the London office; if nobody in London can go, sources reported that trainees in other offices can apply for the spot. “That’s not common, but it has happened a few times in the past few years,” a trainee shared. Of course, regional trainees diplomatically argued they “would prefer if secondments weren’t just for London trainees.” Trainees who had scored a ticket to the Middle East reported that “it feels like another world in terms of atmosphere, but it’s definitely enjoyable! The legal system there is very different to in England.” The firm sorts out flights and accommodation and provides cars in all locations besides Dubai (“cars aren’t necessary there, and you get a travel allowance”).
Shiny happy people
Across the board, trainees agreed that Trowers is “a people place.” We’d hope so, given there are hundreds of people working there – what does that mean in practice? “They place importance on you personally, not just the work you’re doing,” a source said. “Whether it’s the support staff, associates or partners, you never feel like other people are more important than you.” This attitude extends to the firm’s external relationships: “Trowers really focuses on making sure that clients are able to deal with humans and people they can relate to.” Interviewees emphasised that the firm “is very encouraging of people being themselves as individuals,” which feeds into diversity and inclusion efforts. “Those were another key reason I was interested in the firm,” one interviewee revealed. Not only did trainees reckon the firm has “quite a diverse range of people,” but they also highlighted a number of events aimed at furthering cultural awareness including “lunchtime sessions where someone might come in and speak to us about a topic like mental health or gender.”
Being a ‘people place’ also extends to a healthy social scene. Trainees all gather in London for mid-seat socials which are “usually meals, but next time we’re going out for beer pong and karaoke!” There’s also a dinner at the end of the training contract for qualifiers. Sporty peeps have various teams to sign up for and departments usually organise their own cross-office activities too. “There used to be a more siloed effect where the offices were their own hubs, but in the past few years you can definitely see the offices are more integrated,” trainees admiringly noted. “Each department is a national department and you’ll quite often meet with the rest of the team across the country.” They also suggested that “there’s not a separation of London and elsewhere – we have a national presence.”
“Each department is a national department and you’ll quite often meet with the rest of the team across the country.”
Even in the capital, trainees found their hours “pretty good” on the whole – most found “you don’t leave after 7pm often.” That’s not true of every seat: “Corporate came in waves,” an insider recalled. “Sometimes I’d work on weekends if required, but that wasn’t the norm.” Housing also comes with slightly longer hours, and an average finish time of 8pm. Even with these modest bumps in the road, trainees agreed: “There’s no facetime culture. People here know you could probably get paid more elsewhere, but they don’t want to sacrifice the work/life balance and good culture here for a small increase in salary.” Sources added that “if we do work the extra hours, that’s always acknowledged and appreciated.”
At the beginning of their fourth seat, trainees sit down with graduate recruitment to go over “how the qualification process works and what to expect.” The firm will then release a jobs list which covers all the offices; trainees submit a cover letter and interview with their chosen department: “It’s mostly a recap of how you performed over your training contract but there might be a few technical questions as well.” Trowers’ 2018 retention was disappointing, as one third of qualifiers moved on to new pastures. Things got back to normal and the firm retained 20 of 24in 2019.
Fancy a mani? A nail technician visits the London office once a fortnight and staff can get their nails done “at really good rates!”
How to get a Trowers & Hamlins training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 30 July 2020
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 & Hamlins LLP
3 Bunhill Row,
- Partners 153
- Associates 239
- Total trainees 45
- UK offices London, Birmingham, Exeter, Manchester
- Overseas offices 5
- Contact Eleanor Beattie [email protected]
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: early October 2019
- Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2020
- Open day deadline: 30 November 2019
- 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 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation (Band 4)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Construction Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- 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)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Defendant) (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 2)