This South Easterner is a people pleaser, but now it wants to do business with businesses; it wants companies for company. And it wants trainees to help it grow.
Blaser Mills may have started life as a high-street firm, but for several years now its ambition has been to be much more than that, especially by working for more and more commercial clients. This ambition was a draw for trainees, as was the firm's presence in affluent Buckinghamshire. One interviewee shared their reasons for joining the firm: “It attracts clientele from London and Oxford, and there are a variety of seats to choose from. You can go from family to corporate to disputes and mould your training contract.” Blaser Mills’ highest Chambers rankings are for its personal injury, family and private wealth practices, although its real estate and litigation practices are gaining recognition.
“You can go from family to corporate to disputes and mould your training contract.”
According to management executive Dave Matthews, "five years ago commercial work accounted for around 20% of our turnover. Now it’s 40-45% and growing. The gist of our three-year plan is that commercial will continue to grow and will account for 50-60% of our turnover." As for what all that means for trainees, Matthews reveals that Blaser Mills is planning to "continue taking on four per year. What’s happening more is we’re taking on specialist or dedicated trainees who started out as paralegals here, who will do most of their contract in one department. It’s quite attractive for trainees and for us too because they’ll have more specialist expertise."
Before starting their contract, incoming trainees send over their top three preferences for seats, as well as any others they’re interested in. Following this, halfway through each seat trainees “discuss how the seat is progressing and where we want to go next, which is then fed back to supervisors.” Trainees felt that there’s “a good chance of going where you want to go, but it is subject to business need.”
Wills, bills and Blaser Mills
“The corporate and commercial department has gone from strength to strength,” a second-year trainee told us. “When I joined it was working on share sales worth one or two million, but now with new partners the level of the clients and deals has escalated.” Recent laterals include Robert Cain who specialises in the tech and motorsport industries, and Valerie Findlay, a specialist in working for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). All the firm's corporate work is confidential so we can't give any specific client examples, but we can tell you the team works mostly for SMEs, handling sales, purchases and contracts as well as tax and IP matters. “We could be acting for an international company protecting its IP rights or helping a sole trader with terms and conditions,” one trainee told us. “The variety keeps you on your toes and gives you a broad understanding of different areas.” Rookies were interested to get an insight into “the commercial risks companies can face, whether they’re looking to compete at a national orinternational level.” Interviewees were also pleased to report that they were given “a lot of autonomy” in the seat, including “pitching for work and getting involved in business development, as well as getting to do every piece of drafting possible.”
One trainee described their stint in real estate and development as “my first real experience of handling matters myself.” The team covers things like property sales, lease extensions and landlord and tenant matters under the 1954 Act. An interviewee described working on “a large property portfolio being sold as part of a greater share purchase agreement.” Another enjoyed “being able to negotiate the terms of a lease for a client, mitigating risks and having a positive impact on the individual.” Interviewees described the client base as “everyone from small businesses and landowners right up to large portfolio owners and industrial businesses.” Trainee workloads consist of “handling clients directly, drafting deeds and general correspondence.”
“In my first week my supervisor plonked a file in front of me and said, ‘Have a go!’”
A wills, trusts and probate seat offers trainees experience drafting “wills, lasting powers of attorney and declarations of trust.” One source recalled: “I thought I’d be sitting in the background doing research, but in my first week my supervisor plonked a file in front of me and said, ‘Have a go!’” As well as plenty of drafting experience, tasks include “information-gathering exercises – largely from banks and other financial institutions – as it’s quite a paperwork-heavy area.” One interviewee felt: “The supervision you get is second to none. They take you through the process in depth so that by the time you’ve finished the seat you feel confident taking a client’s instructions and running a probate file from start to finish.” Trainees added that the team works across offices frequently, meaning “you get to know everyone, from partners to support staff.”
Interviewees who'd sat in dispute resolution had experienced work for commercial clients as well as individuals, on both the claimant and defendant sides. “The team advises on a whole variety of litigation including commercial contract, property and probate disputes.” Lawyers recently acted for a London wine merchant in a €20,000 dispute with a customer in Finland who had totally ruined its stock of wine by not storing it correctly. The team also advised a petrol station supplier in a £100,000 dispute over the bill it had charged one petrol station. Again, trainees enjoyed being able to get substantive experience including “attending court, liaising with counsel, drafting instructions and taking witness statements. You’re a point of contact rather than just making bundles.” Another source added: “The firm is great at encouraging networking, so I’ve been able to meet all the barristers who are going to be in court." We spoke to interviewees who'd shadowed a judge during their seat.
Blaser Mills’ new recruits described the firm’s culture as “friendly and supportive.” One said: “The teams can be quite top-heavy in terms of partner to junior ratio, which could be intimidating, but it just means you get great hands-on experience.” Another source added: “If you’re struggling with a piece of work it’s an open forum.” Interviewees linked the support they got from seniors to their potential future with the firm. “A lot of partners here started out as trainees,” one said. “It’s fantastic to know that’s something we can aim for.” NQ retention at Blaser Mills is pretty good for a small firm: from 2015 to 2018, 13 out of 18 qualifiers were retained and in 2019 two of four were.
“A shift to a slightly more corporate environment.”
Reflecting on the firm’s history and its ambition to expand its corporate and commercial practices, sources told us: “We’ve retained elements of a high-street firm, particularly in the private client groups, but if you want to be a commercial lawyer we offer that too.” Others felt that there has been “a shift to a slightly more corporate environment, because of the office layout and our interactionwith clients.”
At the same time, trainees felt that “unlike at some larger corporate firms there’s a lot more buy-in here to us as individuals. In smaller teams everyone has to pull their weight equally, so the better equipped the junior people are the more successful we’ll be as a business.” To offer further support, in corporate and commercial there are group seminars, webinars and discussions, while training in wills, trusts and probate is more prescriptive. “If there are particular nuances to a matter your supervisor will sit down and take you through them in detail,” one source reported. As well as mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews, trainees told us heads of department meet with trainees regularly to check on their progress.
On the social side of things, sources told us about “bimonthly interoffice events” as well as “firm-wide parties each year.” We also heard that trainees are encouraged to get involved with business development, so spend part of their time attending seminars and networking with clients. Fortunately there’s plenty of time for networking, socialising and life outside the office, as one trainee told us: “There’s rarely been a day when I’ve stayed beyond 5.30pm, though I’ll be on my phone for emails if I need to.” We did hear about some late nights in corporate and commercial due to the nature of transactions, but even then one source still said: “The latest I’ve been here is 8.30pm and that was on the day of a deadline.”
Blaser Mills may not be a name you've heard before, but if you want to practise law near London, working for individuals and small to medium-sized businesses, then it might be worth considering.
How to get a Blaser Mills training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 14 June 2020
The application form
The firm recruits its trainees two years in advance. To secure a training contract, candidates must first submit an online application via Apply4Law. On average, the firm receives around 100 applications each year.
On the application form, candidates are asked to supply all the standard information concerning their university grades and work history. If applicants meet those criteria – happy days – their application is then passed on to the training team. If not, all isn't lost. The leader of that training team, training principal Dave Matthews, tells us “the applications of those who do not meet the academic criteria are always considered before any final decision is made as other aspects of their application may indicate other valuable qualities or experience.”
The applications aren't judged on strict black or white criteria: a number of questions are posed to draw out some of the applicant's personality and add colour to the picture. “The questions are designed to make the candidate think outside the box,” says Matthews, “and to give us an idea of how well they will fit in with our firm.” Pay attention to these questions – they might just get you over the line. A long list of around 50 candidates is drawn up and is further whittled down to the lucky 15 to 20 who make it through to the assessment day.
The assessment day
The assessment day is held in Buckinghamshire and involves a mix of group exercises, an individual presentation and a final interview. There are also talks and Q&As with a selection of partners and current trainees. All of the exercises are observed, marked and assigned a score by a team of partners. Matthews explains: “As well as finding out whether the candidate is suitable for our firm, we want the candidate to be able to make an informed decision about the type of law firm we are and to decide that Blaser Mills Law is a good fit for them.”
The final interview
This takes place with two partners. Matthews tells us that “candidates are able to sit down and have a conversational-style interview where they can really show their true personality.” It's not exactly a walk in the park, though: the yearly trainee intake is roughly half of the number of those who make it through to the assessment day. Whether candidates have the job or not, they are informed within a couple of days.
Blaser Mills Law is not running a vacation scheme in 2020.
Blaser Mills Law
40 Oxford Road,
- Partners 23
- Assistant solicitors 50
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices High Wycombe, Amersham, Silverstone, London
- Graduate recruiter: Apply4Law - our online application form
- Training partner: Dave Matthews, [email protected] 01494 478608
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4-5
- Applications pa: 100
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 March 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 14 June 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £27,000
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: High Wycombe, Amersham
Our highly regarded firm has a strong business services offering, including corporate and commercial, employment, commercial property and dispute resolution. We also have experienced private client and family lawyers, as well as specialist lawyers in personal injury, child care, residential property and criminal defence.
We offer a fresh approach to law, with a focus on not only building relationships with clients, but also building employee relationships. The success of our business, and the high-quality service we provide for our clients comes from nurturing the skills and promoting the talent and diversity of our staff.
Types of work
• Residential property and development - 22%
• Wills, trusts and probate - 16%
• Personal and serious injury - 10%
• Family and divorce (including child care) - 11%
• Criminal defence - 4%
Training starts in September with a full induction day. Trainees will have varied (four six-month) seats in both non-contentious and contentious practice areas, giving them the opportunity to gain experience across a broad range of legal disciplines in a variety of locations. From day one, trainees are given plenty of responsibility and hands-on experience, with the ongoing support from experienced training supervisors. In addition, we operate a mentor scheme that gives trainees confidential access to recently qualified lawyers who can offer first-hand experience and advice. Part of the mentor scheme includes getting the trainees together three times a year for social events.
Throughout the training contract, trainees will develop their technical skills, department knowledge and client care. Business Development is a further skill that we look to develop in our trainees, so when it comes to qualifying, they are confident to approach prospective clients and build their own client list. Trainees will have access to multiple business development opportunities, whether that be through article writing, presenting at seminars or attending networking events.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate (Band 4)
Watford, Uxbridge and surrounds
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)