After a decade of growing, Birketts is now the beast from the East (Anglia).
Pride of a region
Captain of the hockey team; head boy/girl; BNOC. Wherever they went their good reputation went with them – you know the ones. In the East of England, this is Birketts. Its unerring sweep of practices is pretty hard to beat for its regional reputation. More specifically, whether its Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich or Norwich, you can bank on the firm having a handful of market-leading practices serving both individuals and businesses. "I wanted to stay reasonably local and I was not attracted by the idea of working in London,” said one local trainee. “Instead I wanted to find a large firm with a good local reputation, and Birketts is one of the best in East Anglia."
"I wanted to find a large firm with a good local reputation."
Chambers UK recognises this in its own fashion: in East Anglia the firm is seen as a top tier firm for mid-market corporate/M&A, litigation, construction, planning, employment, environment, restructuring, agriculture and real estate litigation. The firm is also appointed a national leader in private wealth law by Chambers High Net Worth.
But one trainee found themselves pulled in by the prospect of a bright future. "Birketts is obviously going places," they swooned. HR director Shaun Savory laid out the numbers: "Since 2008 we've grown from being a very well-established law firm with offices in Ipswich and Norwich and a turnover of £12 million to a regional powerhouse with a turnover of £45 million." The firm also experienced a significant jump in headcount – it now has around 330 lawyers. Savory tells us: “The firm is still coming to terms with its size and rate of growth.” Therefore “the five-year plan, which goes until 2021, takes the view that we need to maximise the opportunities that are currently presented to us. That means getting the most out of our current footprint.” In short, expect steady consolidation, not the mergers of its recent past.
Drapes of wrath
At the time of our calls there were 20 trainees across the firm's four offices: six in Norwich, five in Ipswich, five in Chelmsford and four in Cambridge. Trainees have their first seat selected for them. From then on, HR meets them mid-seat to discuss where they want to go next. Trainees are actively encouraged to do a seat in a different office, though the firm does not pay expenses for any moves.
The corporate team typically deals with M&A transactions, regularly advising the shareholders of local companies on the sale of their businesses. Some of these matters involve international buyers: the firm recently advised the shareholders of Essex Auto Group, which owns five Ford dealerships, on its sale to the South African Super Group. The firm also advised the shareholders of contact lens business Contamax on the £24 million sale of a 70% share to a subsidiary of Shanghai HaoHai Biological Technology. With Cambridge's techy pastures having a clear influence, the department has also developed a flair for helping tech companies in the early stages of growth. It recently advised Ultrasoc – a company working on System-on-Chip technology (no, we don't know what this means either) – on a £5 million fundraising effort. Unusually for a corporate seat, trainees could run their own files. This usually occurred away from the headline transactions. One source had done "a restructuring of a family business, which required a revamp of their articles of association and shareholder agreements. It really got me thinking about the language that we use in contracts." Another recalled “running a small share sale transaction, which included running the completion meeting, reviewing the contracts and the terms and conditions.” On the larger transactions, trainees beavered away on due diligence.
"I had one case to do with curtains, but the legal issues were really significant.”
As in corporate, the commercial litigation team has the capability to work for national and international clients, so trainees worked on spats from, "small claims stuff around £30,000, all the way up to assisting with the bigger multimillion-pound matters." At the top end, the firm recently acted for flavouring company McCormick on a $2.3 million claim of breach of contract against Plantolia, a Madagascan supplier of vanilla pods. The firm also defended Harsco Metals, an international company, against claims that two employees had committed fraud at a recycling plant in Wales. Trainees on smaller cases got to run them from start to finish. "I had one case to do with curtains," said one trainee, "but the legal issues were really significant and because the clients were invested, they were willing to chuck money at it. I got really involved as a result." Trainees adopted more of a support role otherwise, assisting with trial bundles, doing research and going to mediations.
The commercial real estate team work for a mix of public and private sector clients on a range of local developments and acquisitions. Its clients are kept largely confidential, but the roster includes real estate investors, housebuilders, banks and utilities companies. Lawyers recently advised the National Housing Association on a private housing development worth around £30 million; the firm also advised an independent utilities company on thousands of the freehold and leasehold acquisitions needed to connect new builds. Equally here, trainees got their own small matters such as "simple lease renewals that don't involve too much diligence, or research tasks investigating the ownership of a piece of land." This meant "going though deeds and dealing with the first registrations of property." But things turned away from the regular via the team's ecclesiastical speciality. Trainees would "have to deal with provisions that involved the housing of clergymen, or things to do with burials. There were all sorts of unique things that you wouldn't anticipate."
"You get estates going horribly wrong and it's like a posh version of EastEnders!"
The agriculture team advises a mixture of charities, banks and families on property and tenancy issues, typically on farms or farmland. It also advises on the energy projects of those landowners who've diversified their businesses. Trainees ran “small land transactions, where I would speak to the clients and liaise with the estate agents.” Considering that the department also works on the underlying trusts and estates, and the squabbles that surround them, another trainee defended the seat from any naysayers: “A lot of people knock it because they think land law isn't sexy – but the estates side of things is fascinating. You get estates going horribly wrong and it's like a posh version of EastEnders!"
All the small things
"I haven't met a partner who I did not feel comfortable asking a question," reflected one Cambridge source. Another felt “we're a very sociable bunch, so it is a fun place to be." We hear refrains like this a lot, so what does it mean in concrete terms? “It tends not to be big things,” said one trainee. Instead it comes down to small gestures: welcome lunches when trainees moved teams, dress-down Fridays at the end of each month, and partners offering to take insiders down to cases in the High Court in London on their first day.
A slew of events also help: we heard about an annual summer quiz run by the construction team, who donned "silly fancy dress.”The firm also paid for food and travel to the Blickling Proms. Trainees also benefited from quarterly drinks and nibbles, Friday drinks every week, and a lunch club in Norwich. The trainees' comradery even extended outside of work, with a group of them attending Glastonbury Festival together.
In general, trainees' hours followed the regional firm model, with trainees arriving around 9am and leaving between 5.30pm and 6.30pm. However, we still heard of trainees occasionally leaving at 11pm, particularly in corporate. On such occasions however, "the firm is very considerate of our efforts and are ready to expense any cabs home. They do appreciate when we burn the midnight oil." The firm's appreciation of trainees extends to sparing them an interview at qualification, unless more than one trainee goes for the same spot.In 2018 the firm retained all 12 qualifiers.
Birketts are a charitable bunch: a team recently won a charity rounders tournament (raising money for GeeWizz), and lawyers also scaled some Cumbrian peaks for Walking with the Wounded.
How to get a Birketts training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019
Applications and trainee profile
The vast majority of Birketts' trainees come through the summer vacation scheme, and the firm strongly advises applicants to go through that route. “It's important that candidates make it clear on the application form why they want to join Birketts specifically,” recruitment officer Suzannah Rogers tells us, “it's crucial that they understand our culture and ethos by doing research. Networking with members of our community makes all the difference.” 120 UCAS points at A Level and a 2:1 degree are the standard requirements, and the firm favours applicants with some form of work experience be it law-related or otherwise – “we want them to be able to demonstrate a work ethic,” says Rogers.
Birketts receives between 150 and 200 applications for both its vacation scheme and training contract each year. Commitment to the East Anglia region is essential, particularly as many of the firm's clients are local. Rogers explains that “we don't want people to apply here thinking they'll 'give a regional firm a go'; we like to see commitment to the location.” Wannabe vac schemers apply to a particular office (all four run a programme), and the graduate recruitment partner in each will look for different traits – again, networking in advance will be a big help to get the lay of the land.
Vacation scheme candidates go through a 45-minute interview conducted by two partners at the office they've applied to. At this stage, the firm will already have vetted applicants' academic credentials, so the focus is on skill set and fit. Candidates are asked to prepare a ten-minute presentation on a topic of their choice in advance of the interview. “The biggest mistake they make is not bringing the presentation back to themselves and their skill set.” Creativity is welcome, but make sure you reinforce why you'd be a good candidate for a spot on the vacation scheme.
Between 22 and 24 places are available each summer. Vac schemers rotate through a four-seat 'mini training contract', and the majority will spend time in corporate and commercial; property; private client; and a contentious department. More niche areas may be available, but it depends on the office a vac schemer is based in. The work is designed to replicate trainee tasks as closely as possible, and includes shadowing meetings, preparing contracts and going to court if the opportunity crops up. There's also a social side to the programme, which includes an all-trainee lunch, a firm-wide quiz evening (during which hosting colleagues usually put on a dress-up skit), dinners and drinks. A mock trial and a Q&A session with partners also helps vac schemers to get to know the firm and its work.
At the end of summer, all those who want to be considered for a training contract are asked to write a short piece on what they've learned during the two weeks and why they'd make a good trainee. Some departments will invite candidates for an informal coffee, but there are no official interviews after the vacation scheme, which acts “as a two-week interview,” Rogers tells us.
Living and working in Cambridge
1 Gilders Way,
141-145 Princes Street,
22 Station Road,
New London Road,
- Partners 64
- Associates 222
- Total trainees 25
- UK offices Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich and Chelmsford
- Graduate recruiter: Suzannah Rogers, [email protected], 01473 406232
- Training partner: Matthew Newnham, [email protected]
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 450
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: BBB/120 points
- Vacation scheme places pa: 24
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 February 2019
- Training contract deadline 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and Benefits
- Current first-year salary: £25,000
- Current second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: £39,000-£40,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days + bank holidays
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
We are large enough to provide specialist expertise at a standard that is frequently compared with major city firms, but not at the expense of maintaining a personal and tailored service. We are flexible about everything except our reputation for maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards.
Main areas of work
You are likely to spend time in corporate, commercial property and private client teams as well as the firm’s specialist practice areas such as employment, litigation, shipping and agriculture. From the beginning of your training programme, you will have direct contact with our clients. You’ll feel valued and involved, and will see first-hand the importance of going the extra mile.
Our trainees have regular meetings and a more formal mid and end of seat review ensuring that they receive regular, constructive feedback on their progress.
We welcome anyone to the scheme who fits our academic criteria and is available to start a training contract in two years’ time, i.e. penultimate and final year law students, final year non-law students and graduates.
All applications for training contracts should be made using our online application system.
What will the interview be like?
We interview between 35 and 40 potential summer placement students . You will be interviewed at the office to which you have applied by two partners and the interview will last 45 minutes. You will be asked to present for ten minutes on a topic of your choice..
• Life Assurance
• Contributory pension scheme
• Private Medical Insurance
• Permanent Health Insurance
• Interest free season ticket loan
• Discounted legal services
• Subsidised gym membership
• Cycle to work scheme
• Childcare vouchers
• Social events
• Agile Working Policy
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Cambridge and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
Ipswich and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Norwich and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 3)
- Franchising Recognised Practitioner
- Health & Safety (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 5)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 3)
- Transport: Road: Regulatory (Band 3)