Regional focus: Bristol
18 February 2013 | By Christian Metcalfe
A strong link between firms and colleges makes the city a good place to forge a legal career
The engineering marvels of Isambard Kingdom Brunel may be credited with linking the West Country and London, but it is his innovative and creative spirit that has set modern-day Bristol on a course to outdo the old engineer.
Bristol’s first elected mayor and a City Deal last year, in which the Government gave Bristol new financial powers to attract private investment, close skills gaps and attract new jobs, should ensure the future of the city’s rich heritage. The Bristol City Region expects the City Deal to help deliver an additional 40,000 jobs and more than £1bn of investment to support local growth over the next 30 years.
Architect, social entrepreneur and independent mayor George Ferguson fought the election with the slogan ‘Bristol 1st’.
“I’m saying Bristol is a laboratory for change,” he told a group of architects as he launched a competition to find a design for the city’s long-awaited 12,000-seat indoor arena. “We are a test bed: come and try it and help me change it.”
This may have been directed at architects, but the message clearly resonates with the business community, which is dominated by a world-class knowledge economy based in aerospace, defence, engineering, ICT and electronics, financial services, media, creative and environmental industries.
According to a recent report by property consultancy Jones Lang Lasalle, Bristol is set to lead the way out of recession over the next 12 months, being second only to London in terms of wealth, jobs and economic growth.
The South West Market Review is predicting stunning growth rates of 11.4 per cent for 2013 - one of the fastest in the UK.
With a prognosis like that it is no surprise that many law firms are looking to move into the market.
In April 2012 Simmons & Simmons became the latest City firm to plan a Bristol launch in a move aimed at achieving more efficient ways of working - following City and national rivals such as Irwin Mitchell, CMS Cameron McKenna and RPC looking to capitalise on the low-cost environment and the local insurance market.
Asked why so many firms are descending on Bristol, which already boasts heavyweights such as Bevan Brittan and TLT, Burges Salmon fifth-seat trainee Mark Thompson says: “A lot of firms are waking up to the fact that there are a lot of big clients based in this area. The firm feels busy, and not only with London or international clients but also with South West-based clients.”
Feeling busy is a sentiment shared by John Westwell, managing partner of South West firm Foot Anstey, which moved into Bristol in October 2011. “A lot of economic commentary is a bit of a distraction,” he says. “Bristol businesses are focusing on their strengths and getting on with it.”
While business is getting on with it, so are the city’s education providers, with the well-established University of Bristol and University of the West of England Bristol (UWE Bristol) joined in 2010 by law school giants the College of Law (CoL) and BPP Law School.
Higher education is a thriving sector in Bristol and the providers’ growth plans will further increase demand for high-quality student accommodation - as evidenced by student housing developer and manager Unite recently being given the go-ahead for a £20m 442-bed scheme in the city.
Growth can also be seen in the legal sector. Bristol stalwarts Osborne Clarke (ranked 36 in The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report) and Burges Salmon (ranked 46) both saw growth last year.
Burges Salmon’s revenue grew by 7 per cent, from £66.1m in 2010-11 to £71m in 2011-12, while average profit per equity partner rose by 6 per cent, from £395,000 to £418,000.
Osborne Clarke expects to see turnover hit £110m in the current financial year. In 2011-12, revenue jumped by 9 per cent, from £90.3m in 2010-11 to £98.2m, which the firm says is its largest-ever income.
Osborne Clarke has embarked on an ambitious journey to transform itself from a domestic firm into a European outfit, after revealing plans to dismantle its long-standing European alliance and merge in Italy and Spain.
It is not just high-level partners who can get involved in business development, the firm is keen to include everyone.
Trainee Tom Kelsey, who is in the planning team for his first seat, says: “Other than the legal side of things, I’ve also been involved in the business development side of the planning team - where it’s going and how we’ll get there.”
This kind of growth throws up many opportunities. Ben Coulson graduated with a business economics and business law degree from Portsmouth before moving to Swansea for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and then on to UWE Bristol for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) in 2007.
Now a trainee with the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS), Coulson made “countless applications” for training contracts before he succeeded.
In the meantime he worked as a paralegal at a Bath law firm that, “gave me a lot of exposure to litigation. I was thrown in at the deep end working from starting claims to attending court hearings.”
In 2009 he moved to CLS as a paralegal and after 18 months secured a training contract. “I moved to CLS because it was relatively young and was growing very quickly,” he says. “I saw a lot of scope for moving on and up - I also took a bit of a punt as there were rumours of training contracts.
“The good thing about CLS is that if you apply for a training contract and are not successful then there are other areas where you can get up the ladder - there are clear career paths available to people in the business.”
In the middle of a recession, Westwell also sees opportunities. “Bristol is a very exciting place and there’s a lot of opportunity for growth,” he says. “The office in Bristol is quite new and has an evolving capability. It’s exciting, entrepreneurial and dynamic - it’s a great opportunity for a trainee to see how a firm grows from a new office.
“In October 2011 we had nine people, in October 2012 we had expanded to 40 - the office has grown very rapidly.”
The new office was an instant success, powering to 30 per cent ahead of revenue budget, a key factor behind Foot Anstey’s overall turnover rising by 11.7 per cent to £22.9m last year, securing it a place in The Lawyer’s top 100 at number 99.
But it is not just size that should attract trainees to firms such as Foot Anstey. Westwell says: “Our specialisms are interesting for trainees as well. In Bristol we’ve set up an Islamic finance unit. It’s grown from one person [partner Imam Qazi who joined from
Burges Salmon] to five in the space of a year. It’s a different specialism and is a different angle - it’s something new to get right into the heart of.
“A lot of that is work from London but served in Bristol and everyone is very comfortable with that. Both the clients and the specialist teams don’t feel that being in Bristol is an inhibitor to doing London work.
“As a differentiator in the marketplace and being ahead of the curve, Islamic finance is absolutely there.”
A big draw for students to the city is not only the law firms themselves but the close connection between Bristol firms and the education providers.
UWE Bristol LPC student Catherine Gifford graduated with a psychology degree from Manchester University in 2008 before working in Bristol prison for a couple of years as a substance misuse worker. In 2011 she began studying the GDL at UWE Bristol.
“The reason why I am studying in Bristol is because I want to train in Bristol - the quality of firms in Bristol is really high and quality of life is also better than elsewhere.
“The law firm contacts are really good, we have just had Bond Pearce and TLT come in to see us and there is a real feel that firms have an interest in UWE Bristol - they come in a lot.”
Fellow UWE Bristol LPC student and sociology graduate Hannah Malone worked in child protection for three years in her home town of Cheltenham before enrolling. She secured a training contract at Veale Wasbrough Vizardsafter a summer placement.
“There were a lot of firms in Bristol I could see myself working for,” Malone says. “UWE Bristol has good links with those firms and a foot in the door can be really helpful.”
Bristol does not just offer oppor-tunities for solicitors. Ian Graham is studying the BPTC at UWE Bristol after 24 years in the Navy.
With a degree in oceanography and marine zoology from Swansea University, Graham completed the GDL at Plymouth University before moving to Bristol.
So why Bristol? “The quality of the course came first - I spoke to a number of recent graduates of UWE Bristol who spoke very highly of the course. The number one determining factor was the quality of what was provided here.”
Looking to practise on the Western Circuit, Graham has a pupillage at Colleton Chambers in Exeter. Links with chambers in Bristol and the South West are important to Graham, but he rates two other things most highly: “First, the quality of practitioners they get in to teach the course is very high - there are very sharp and enthusiastic people teaching here. Second, the facilities they provide - the study rooms, mock court set-up and IT systems are first class.”
The importance of client contact is a recurring theme among the trainees Lawyer 2B spoke to.
Coulson, who is looking forward to a personal injury role, says: “In personal injury I got client contact on a daily basis - dealing with anything and everything relating to that client’s particular case.”
With client contact comes responsibility, something that Caroline Allen, a first-seat trainee at Osborne Clarke in the residential development department, felt acutely. “Having that trust put in you is quite daunting,” she says. “On day one you know the firm has invested a lot in you and you want to show that it was worthwhile.”
Kelsey, who studied computer science at Bristol followed by the GDL and LPC at the CoL, adds: “I was really quite surprised by the level of unfiltered client contact.”
The level of client contact made one deal a highlight of Thompson’s training contract. “In my corporate seat I acted on a private equity investment deal for a Bristol-based lounge and café bar chain called Loungers - it won Deal of the Year at the South West Dealmakers Awards.
“It was a highlight because of the level of client contact. There was a lot of transaction management involved and it was a fast-paced five weeks. It was outward-facing and involved dealing with the other side and clients a lot. I saw it right from the word go through to completion,” he enthuses.
Secondments are also crucial to building up relationships. Craig Diamond, who is completing his fourth and final seat in commercial litigation, says: “As part of my residential property seat I went on client secondment with Linden Homes for one month, helping with their year-end.”
He liked the connection it gave him to the client. “Their head of sales even gave me a lift to Glastonbury [festival],” he says.
Diamond benefited from Osborne Clarke’s connections with Silicon Valley, where the firm has an office.
“As part of my corporate tax and incentives seat [into which Diamond is qualifying] the work is very technical and the team supports the whole of Osborne Clarke, so we can get random questions from anywhere and lots of interesting things to do.”
Diamond got to work with one of Osborne Clarke’s solicitors in Silicon Valley on start-up Airbnb’s share incentive scheme. “While there was already a share incentive plan in the US it had to be adapted to Europe,” he says.
Work for tech clients means that Bristol is also a hub for intellectual property (IP) work.
Burges Salmon fifth-seat trainee Caroline Hart explains her interest in IP: “My first career was in biology. I studied at King’s College London, became a research academic, did a PhD in the UK and then post-doctoral research at Harvard and MIT for five years and then came back to the UK.
“I had always thought about law so I took a big look everywhere. I’m interested in IP and there are very good firms in London and I looked very hard at them. I also looked at Manchester and Leeds, but I liked this firm a lot. I went on a tour and met a couple of IP partners and did a vacation scheme. Bristol is an obvious draw but the firm was the big draw. When I was researching from the US, Burges Salmon just kept coming up again and again.
“When I looked at the IP work here it was top-notch stuff, for example, the Discovery History case [in which Burges Salmon partner Jeremy Dickerson won the case for Discovery earlier this month]. During my disputes seat I got involved in that on its way to trial, doing work that was heavy duty - going through witness statements and looking at arguments. I attended a conference in London with John Baldwin QC. It was four hours going over everything and it was brilliant.”
The variety of work to be found in Bristol is obvious in the trainees’ varied experiences.
Rebecca Malone is in her third seat in the projects team at Osborne Clarke. “I’m doing a real variety of different projects. I’m doing a lot of secondary PFI markets, lots of wind and solar projects as well as a lot of work for international clients from Spain, Germany and northern Europe, being drawn in by subsidies the UK Government is offering at the moment. We’re also seeing referral work from subsidiaries. And in my second seat I did a really large judicial review - it’s been an exciting 18 months.”
Coulson’s highlights include dealing with a train fatality claimant. “I was assisting the solicitor in that case. I went to the client settlement meeting where we settled for £325k, which helped secure the future of the family that was left behind. At the time it was the record CLS settlement.”
As well as working on the Loungers deal, Thompson worked on London’s Crossrail project for Spanish train manufacturer CAF. “It was great to be involved in the biggest engineering project in Europe. I attended multiple client meetings and had a go at drafting certain clauses in the contract documents. When those particular points I had worked on arose in calls the partner got me to take the client though it. It was a scary but invaluable experience - nine times out of 10 the partner had warned me beforehand - but it is a really good example of the sort of things I am doing that a lot of my friends elsewhere are not doing.”
If you are intrigued by the changes that look set to sweep Bristol and want to be part of perhaps the biggest revolution to hit the city since Brunel designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, it might be just the place for you.
For more on Bristol, including interviews with lawyers like TLT’s training partner Maria Connolly and Burges Salmon trainee Madison Fowler and more on Caroline Hart’s experience on the Discovery History case check out the rest of lawyer2b.com.
Bristol firms’ vital statistics
Total lawyers: 107
Total trainees: 7
First-year salary: 22,000
Second-year salary: 23,000
NQ salary: 36,000
Total lawyers: 112
Total trainees: 8
First-year salary: £24,000
Second-year salary: £25,000
NQ salary: £39,000
Total lawyers: 278
Bristol trainees: 45
First-year salary: £33,000
Second-year salary: £34,000
NQ salary: £42,000
Total lawyers: 36
Total trainees: 8
First-year salary: £32,000
Second-year salary: £34,000
NQ salary: £44,000
Total lawyers: 216
Total trainees: 10
First-year salary: £26,000
Second-year salary: £29,000
NQ salary: £38,000
Total lawyers: 19
Total trainees: 2
First-year salary: £21,500
Second-year salary: £23,000
NQ salary: £38,000
Total lawyers: 151
Total trainees: 15
First-year salary: £32,000
Second-year salary: £33,750
NQ salary: £40,000
Total lawyers: 38
Total trainees: 3
First-year salary: £32,000
Second-year salary: £34,000
NQ salary: £44,000
Total lawyers: 206
Total trainees: 17
First-year salary: £26,550
Second-year salary: £27,550
NQ salary: £38,500
Sponsor’s comment: Dagmar Steffens, head of LPC, UWE Bristol
Bristol’s legal community is highly successful and the professional training support provided by the Bristol Institute of Legal Practice (BILP) at UWE Bristol is clearly a significant contributor to this.
For decades it has provided top-quality legal training and has always taken its responsibility seriously.
While it is important for a modern lawyer to be competent in areas other than pure law, firms and chambers need to trust that GDL students will have a thorough knowledge of the academic foundations of the law. UWE Bristol’s thriving undergraduate law provision enables the GDL to be staffed by practitioner tutors and also academics, who can teach the depths of the GDL’s essentially academic subjects.
The LPC is still the main path to becoming a solicitor, but it also caters for the South West’s paralegal and case-worker market. As UWE Bristol LPC graduate Ben Coulson says, there is growing scope for alternatives to the traditional trainee route. Legal training providers have a responsibility to give practical support to their professional customers (ie firms and chambers). Increasingly, junior lawyers require commercial and social skills.
UWE Bristol’s Bar Professional Training Course is the only bar course in the South West. The close relationship between all the law courses’ students and tutors leads to lasting practical understanding of each other’s areas of expertise.
Professional law courses clearly need to be related closely to practice. UWE Bristol students find themselves at the centre of practice-oriented, skills-based courses that are focused firmly on the student’s destination.
Virtual case studies supervised by local practitioners and recorded mock court sessions create a professional atmosphere. Expectations and benchmarks are related closely to the reality of private practice.
Students also benefit from strong links with the ever-evolving world of legal services. Bristol firms’ clients are players in a world-class knowledge economy, and junior lawyers are required to become business as well as legal advisers, something fostered early through our contact with in-house teams at companies such as MITIE and Imperial Tobacco. Our broad local alumni base provides work placement schemes, interactive practitioner workshops, advocacy competitions and commercial awareness field trips.
Foot Anstey managing partner John Westwell says the frm’s new Bristol office is “a great opportunity for a trainee to see how a firm grows from a new office”.
We are confident our alumni at the firm feel well-equipped to make the most of that opportunity.