As law firms go, Brabners is North-Western nobility, but it keeps things real with a huge range of clients and heavy helping of charity work.
When I’m two hundred and four
Back in 1815, the North West was leading the world in mechanisation and soot production. It was the seat of many a dazzling invention, but there was one landmark creation that year that wasn’t steam-powered or forged from pig iron: Brabners the law firm emerged from the furnace. Some say that George Stephenson built the Liverpool and Manchester Railway a few years later chiefly so we could witness the firm’s breadth of high-quality practices in the two cities, and also make our training contract interviews on time.
The firm’s commitment to the regional economy is beyond doubt, and anyone applying should recognise this. So "there aren’t many people who aren't from the North here," a trainee told us. But others were quick to remind us that the firm is outward-looking and "can compete with international and national firms in the region." A glance at Chambers UK does indeed place the firm in the upper tiers of the North West for IP, IT, litigation, corporate, employment and social housing. The firm does particularly well in the Liverpool rankings.
"You will often be the main point of contact for the client.”
Brabners’ 12 trainees are shared evenly between the Liverpool and Manchester offices, and stay in the same office throughout the training contract. They can sample seats in corporate, real estate, private client, commercial, litigation, employment and housing regeneration. First seats are assigned by the firm, which gets a few grumbles: "It would be nice if they asked us before we joined." But soon after it opens up: "You basically get asked where you want to go and very often get it."
Here comes the sum
The corporate department is among the busiest in the region. It recently advised Httpool shareholders on selling their stake in a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television Networks, and helped NF Football Investments acquire Nottingham Forest football club. Broadly speaking trainees can get involved with three things: M&A, finance and corporate disputes. In M&A, a trainee told us that "you will often be the main point of contact for the client but you will also be doing things like due diligence or drafting primary documents like sale purchase agreements." Avid readers of this guide will note that these front-line tasks are scarcer in the more hierarchical City firms; Brabners and firms of its ilk will involve trainees in the regional economy and the work will feel more real and tangible because of it. The breadth of the finance work resonated with our trainee sources: “you get the opportunity to see different sides of corporate work" – anything from private equity to real estate finance. The seat was "a real challenge," thought a trainee. "Supervisors in corporate are very interested in preparing you for becoming a qualified solicitor; it takes you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way."
“There’s no twiddling your thumbs in real estate,” apparently. Like corporate, trainees embraced the independence and "scope to apply your own practical commercial thinking to problems; in a team this busy you can't defer every problem to your supervisor." This did mean "you are given a lot of control over a matter. We are the first point of contact for clients and corresponding with the other side." The work can also be "a little bit academic,” trainees thought. “There is a fair bit of research and looking at case law instead of just ploughing through a document." Keeping the department occupied were a mixture of big-name clients such as Primark and Edinburgh Woollen Mill, along with locals such as Manchester-based developer Glenbrook and North-West architect Cityheart. The McColl's retail group instructed the firm to acquire 298 stores from the Co-op.
Liverpool's housing and regeneration department offers a "fantastic mix of transactional and litigious work; you can really pick and choose what you want to take on." On the transactional side, the group operates like any large real estate department but for the public sector, dealing with portfolio acquisitions, sales, leases and financing. For example, the firm acted for social housing providers Pierhead in a £22 million deal housing acquisition. The team’s caseload involves some pretty hands-on contentious cases, such as dealing with serious anti-social behaviour injunctions and disrepair disputes. A source gave an example: "I would turn up at court with a pack of documents and essentially attempt to obtain an injunction to allow a gas inspector access to a property that a tenant was refusing entry into."
"The range of work that we do is massive" in the commercial department, which tends to be visited by "medium and large North West-based businesses" such as Lucid Games, a local software developer, which the firm represented in a PlayStation software contract with Sony. Brabners also acted for the UK’s largest port operator Peel Ports on commercial contracts and an IT infrastructure overhaul. The group takes on clients with a more international purview, too, such as the Commonwealth Games Federation, which sought the firm’s expertise on its corporate structure, and marketing and broadcasting rights. The work "was a nice split between procurement law, IP and general corporate/commercial." So the work is varied, although sources did tell us, "I wasn't given a massive amount of responsibility and not much client contact" – although we would interject that everything is relative. Nevertheless, this was rated a decent training ground for lawyerly skills, with "plenty of opportunity to draft commercial contracts."
With a little help from my friends
"I think somebody who is particularly competitive wouldn’t fit in here," commented a trainee. Firm culture may be collaborative, but throughout our interviews we got a sense that the firm pushes its newbies and fosters independence. “Friends in other larger firms are surprised to see how much you’re expected to get on with yourself. You are responsible for things from day one rather than being spoon-fed." This working style begins in training: "Ultimately you learn from doing the work and going through it with the partners and associates" – how it should be.
"It was intense but rewarding."
The social life seems to revolve around charity: “We fundraise throughout the year.” A trainee went on: “We had a charity pub quiz last week. We entered that and got pie and mash.” Once again, responsibility is thrust upon trainees, who play a pivotal role in ‘The Big Idea’ – “an annual competition between the Manchester and Liverpool offices to raise as much as we can for our charities." One Liverpudlian told us: "We got pizzas donated from a local pizza company, designed a website to collect donations,” and then the games commenced, which saw “trainees get given £50 and have an apprentice-style rush around to see how much money you can make.” Together the event raised £4,500, “which the firm rounded up to £5,000. It was intense but rewarding;" the proceeds went towards hospices for children. For anyone alarmed that all socials involve a form of vigorous competition, be assured that Brabners trainees “just tend to go for drinks regularly.” We also heard about informal sports teams.
Trainees had plenty of time to get involved, since most arrived around 9am and finished around 6pm. In certain departments such as corporate "there's sort of a culture of staying later," though in practice that meant exits at 7pm. In litigation there are a few occasions when hours get longer: "I had a meeting that took 12 hours and finished at 11pm."
Despite not having a very clear idea of how they would secure NQ roles at the firm, trainees were upbeat about the qualification process. "Brabners is relaxed," one yawned; "the impression I get is if they have a trainee who they would like to keep they will make a business case for keeping them. A lot of it will be down to performance, and personally I enjoy the informality." For those interested in maximising their chances, another source advised: "The first step is to show continued interest throughout the seat. It's a case of chatting to your supervisor and attempting to bend their ear slightly." All six qualifiers were retained in 2018.
Trainees spoke highly of the firm’s marriage of social life and charity. "We’re encouraged to get involved and it's a great way to get to know everyone else in the firm rather than just your department. We just organised a trip to the World Museum to see the Terracotta Army."
How to get a Brabners training contract
Training contact deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens 2 January 2019)
The initial application
All prospective trainees must apply directly for a training contact. The recruitment process is overseen by the firm’s director of training, Dr Tony Harvey, though both Manchester and Liverpool have designated training partners who are “very hands on” during the process, according to trainees.
Applications begin with an online form through Apply4Law. Dr Harvey tells us the most common mistake during the application round is neglecting to research the firm properly. It's imperative to get a handle on where Brabners is placed within its market and focus your application accordingly.
The assessment centre
Of the 500-plus candidates who apply each year, between 50 and 60 candidates are invited to a two-stage assessment centre. The order of these stages is not set in stone, and is often reversed.
The first stage involves a presentation on a topic of the candidate’s choice prepared ahead of time, plus an interview with a panel of partners chaired by Dr Harvey. “They did a little bit of a grilling with some technical questions, but a lot of it was about what I had been up to as a student,” a trainee recalled. “Overall it was pretty informal, and they definitely weren't mean in any way.” The second stage sees candidates divided into groups and tasked with a non-legal negotiation exercise.
How to impress
Dr Harvey tells us recruiters are on the lookout for “well-rounded candidates with strong commercial awareness – although not necessarily in law. Good grades are essential, and we like to see some indication you've worked in a position that requires responsibility and trust.” He adds: “Build up a personal profile on the pro bono front, for example, or become a treasurer of a society. Work on more than just your grades.”
Our trainee sources corroborated this view, adding: “It's not just about having sterling academics; it's about being someone the interviewers want to work with, someone who will fit in when staff drinks roll around on a Friday. You'll need to be able to make an effort here socially.” As Harvey concludes, ideal recruits are “bright, enthusiastic, and have a sense of humour. We don't like dull people.”
Lawyering in the North West
55 King Street,
7-8 Chapel Street,
- Partners 62
- Senior associates 21
- Associate 23
- Fee-earners 55
- Total trainees 14
- Graduate recruiter: Liverpool office: Dr Tony Harvey, director of training, risk and compliance
- Training partners: Rupert Gill, Helen Brown, Sam Mabon, Lydia Edgar
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or post-graduate degree
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 2 January 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: No less than £25,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Main areas of work
We carry out a wide range of specialist legal services in a number of core sectors including real estate, business services, healthcare, media, technology, retail, sport and charity.
Trainees are given a high degree of responsibility and are an integral part of our culture. Each has partner-level supervision, and the training programme is overseen by the training principal dr Tony Harvey. Our culture is supportive and friendly, plus we have an excellent social programme.
We do not believe in presenteeism – there is no long-hour culture here, rather a focus on you finding a work-life balance from the outset. Many of our partners undertook their training with us, and a high proportion of our staff are long-standing.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Liverpool and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Manchester and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 3)