With offices in London (just a stone's throw from Parliament) and in Reading, BDB Pitmans advises public bodies and private companies across the UK.
Please note: on 1 December 2018 London-based Bircham Dyson Bell merged with Thames Valley firm Pitmans to create BDB Pitmans. The review below was researched and written in summer 2018 before the merger was announced.
For whom the Bell toils
“We're based in Westminster, which is a great location near our clients like TfL and people in Parliament,” a trainee told us. BDB has a specialism in government-related public law and infrastructure work, straddling the joint between the commercial and public sector worlds. Besides TfL, public sector clients include the National Audit Office, the Environment Agency, Transport for Greater Manchester, Transport for Wales and Highways England. The firm is ranked by Chambers UK for parliamentary, public law, planning and rail work. But this firm also does purely commercial stuff – it wins Chambers UK rankings for real estate and agriculture – and works for charities and individuals (it has rankings for family and private client).
“We're based in Westminster, which is a great location near our clients."
You'll notice that the public sector client base mentioned above is national in scope – the firm's broader work is too. In addition, BDB expanded its footprint outside London for the first time in 2017, opening an office in Cambridge with a ten-strong real estate team from defunct firm KWM. All trainees are based in London, and the small intake of just five a year was an attraction to many of our interviewees. In addition, one source said: “I was also attracted by the fact BDB values people with some life experience who aren't fresh out of the university womb.”
Prior to joining, newbies submit their first-seat preferences via email to HR. From then on “you have a meeting with the training principal and HR to talk about how things are going and what you want to do next.” At the time of our calls, three out of five second-years were on a client secondment – one destination we can highlight here is oil and gas heavyweight ExxonMobil.
BDB's 35-lawyer real estate department covers investment and development work for clients including Langland Estates, South Kensington Estates and nurseries group the Childcare Corporation. The team recently did the property due diligence and verification on 40 bowling alleys (worth £107 million) for the IPO of Ten Entertainment. It also advised Cording Real Estate on the £33 million purchase of seven industrial, retail and hotel properties in South Wales. “It's a very drafting-heavy department,” one newbie shared. “There are lots of lease extensions and lease renewals.” As well as juggling smaller enquiries, one insider recalled “doing a lot of investigatory research when reporting on the title of a property – it was up to me to see what was wrong with the property and whether there were any issues that needed to be dealt with.” Trainees also “liaise a lot with clients and solicitors on the other side – that tends to happen over the phone.” Real estate work crosses over with that of other departments like corporate, private wealth and agriculture, so you see “how different issues overlap.”
In a litigation seat trainees get exposure to a mix of commercial, regulatory and family disputes; the team is also specialised in public law issues. “I worked on a judicial review against a local authority,” one trainee reported, which included “preparing the witness bundle and drafting instruction to counsel.” The firm has acted for the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) on several matters recently – this is the body that regulates 16 healthcare professions in the UK. Lawyers recently acted for the HCPC in a judicial review brought by a University of Sheffield student who was excluded from its MA in social work for posting that same-sex marriage was a sin. Trainees told us that on HCPC cases they drafted witness statements, liaised with judicial review registrants “and then turned up to court.” We also heard of one trainee getting to do their own advocacy in front of a master – “it was quite intense because the social worker involved in the case turned up with her children.” On bigger cases “you do have to do some bundling.”
"Assist with drafting every time there is a transport scheme update.”
Trainees in the 28-lawyer government and infrastructure (G&I) department get a front-row seat for big regeneration projects. The firm has acted for clients including TfL, Luton Airport and petitioners objecting to HS2 including BMW, Aston Villa and Birmingham City Council. “G&I is such a unique seat,” one insider observed. “It's hard to know what you're getting into because of all the different sub-areas.” Major infrastructure projects are a significant area of work and the firm is advising TfL on all the authorisations for Crossrail 2 including environmental assessments and public consultations – Crossrail 2 is a sequel of sorts to Crossrail which will connect North and South London and be twice the size of the first Crossrail. Doing work for TfL, trainees might “attend meetings and assist with drafting every time there is a transport scheme update.” Another source reported they had been “helping to draft a piece of legislation that went through Parliament” and attending inquiries across the country – BDB has four 'Roll A' Parliamentary Agents who are able to draft Private Bills for Parliament.
The corporate/commercial team handles a mix of M&A, capital markets, data protection and commercial contracts work. On the corporate side, the team recently advised the Childcare Corporation on the acquisition of its issued share capital valued at £36 million. The team also help US-founded water provider Ecolab on its acquisition of London & General Packaging for £6 million. Typical trainee tasks include due diligence, drafting board minutes and “the dreaded task of verification.” On the commercial side, the team recently advised Country Broadband on its successful pitch to become Colchester Borough Council's sole fibre-optic cable operator. Rookies told us they'd been “writing GDPR-related articles for the firm's website” and “conducting audits of all a client's data processing activities.”
Saved by the Bell
Trainees who'd been on secondment told us: “Because you're right there with all the clients you can't run away if they turn up at your desk!” As a result you end up “doing a bit of everything, because people from different teams within the organisation come up to you and ask for legal advice.” It's fairly unusual for a small firm like BDB to offer a lot of secondments and seconded trainees noted they were often working alongside peers from big firms like Freshfields, Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright.
BDB's London office has recently had an upgrade and “there's a really nice gym downstairs now.” It puts on “yoga and pilates sessions every few weeks or so. You'll see a mix of everyone there from support staff to partners.” There's also now a breakout area with a ping-pong table, so we weren't surprised to hear one trainee say: “We're quite relaxed here: nobody wears ties, nobody's too high up to talk to and we all go out for drinks after work.” The open-plan office “mixes trainees up with associates and partners, so you can bounce ideas off each other, which is the best way to learn.” Trainees said their typical day in the office is 9.30am to 6pm with the occasional later finish of 7pm “every now and then.”
"Seminars and lunches on things like unconscious bias, meditation and mindfulness.”
“We're quite a sociable firm,” one source told us. “There are always Friday drinks, often down the road at the Old Star.” The firm's Christmas party “is quite a big event. The last one was at the London Transport Museum because everyone here loves transport. There's a history of us working on railways and the chance to see old trains and buses really got everyone going!” There are also summer and Easter parties and an annual rowing regatta on the Thames. Trainees are also given a budget by HR to arrange socials with their cohort and vac schemers. In addition, we heard about the firm's diversity and inclusion agenda, which means “there are diversity champions in the different teams and loads of events, seminars and lunches on things like unconscious bias, meditation and mindfulness.”
Trainees meet with HR and the training principal at the end of their third seat “where we can express our preferences and where we'd like to qualify.” This is circulated to the relevant departments; trainees then apply with a CV and covering letter; they are invited to interview with the heads of departments; and they are quizzed on “why we're interested and how we're going to benefit the team.” In the end three of five qualifiers were retained in 2018.
With commercial, public sector, charities and private client work Bircham Dyson Bell packs a lot into a small package.
How to get a BDB Pitmans training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens 1 December 2018)
BDB Pitmans LLP
- Partners 47
- Associates 86
- Total trainees 11
- UK offices London, Cambridge, Reading, Southampton
- Graduate recruiter: Nicola Jacobs, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,500 (London); £30,000 (Reading)
- Second-year salary: £38,000 (London); £32,000 (Reading)
- Post-qualification salary: £57,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer Recognised Practitioner
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
- Pensions Recognised Practitioner
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 2)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 2)