BCLP's founding transatlantic merger is all new and shiny – just like the London skyline it has helped to shape.
You've got a match!
Bryan Cave's Therese Pritchard and Berwin Leighton Paisner's Lisa Mayhew made history when they decided to join forces to create BCLP in April 2018 – remarkably (or perhaps not) this was the first female-led transatlantic merger in the world of law. The new entity has combined revenues of over $900 million and is made up of 1,600 lawyers spread across 32 offices worldwide – altogether it’s one of the 50 largest law firms in the world. Integration takes time, but the legacy BLP trainees caught up in the whirlwind saw signs for optimism: “A lot of time has been spent making sure the merger would be the right cultural fit. That's part of the reason why the merger with Greenberg Traurig was called off. Despite Bryan Cave being a US firm, I don't see us becoming overly Americanised.”
"Despite Bryan Cave being a US firm, I don't see us becoming overly Americanised.”
United, the firm is touting its strength in international M&A and real estate. BCLP is not one of the big M&A powerhouses just yet, but we can vouch for the latter. The UK half of the duo provides the realest real estate muscle – Berwin Leighton Paisner was best known as one of the country's pre-eminent property firms, backed up by over a decade of top rankings from Chambers UK. The firm has had a part to play in the transactions behind some of London's most iconic architecture. The record-breaking £1.3 billion sale of the Walkie Talkie building in 2017 is but one example. A golden real estate thread runs through many of the firm’s departments: “If you look at the main corporate deals we do and the disputes we handle they typically involve substantial real estate assets,” sources pointed out. BLP’s quest pre-merger was to be the world-leading international real estate and infrastructure firm – the new offices this merger has brought it will only help that.
But it would be wrong to see BCLP as a one-trick pony, very wrong. There’s a pretty full spectrum of work available – BCLP scoops notable Chambers UK rankings in London for its information technology, corporate M&A, employment and litigation work, plus many more. It also receives top honours for its capital markets work on the Alternative Investment Market. Bryan Cave, for its part, was the larger of the two firms, adding 25 offices, and a reputation for tonnes of M&A, as well as litigation expertise. We’d expect to see a growing amount of referral work coming from the US in these areas.
Reminiscing about their choice to join the firm, many sources recalled wanting to avoid the magic circle firms for being “too clinical.” Instead our interviewees came looking “for a City firm capable of operating at a very high level, but with a better working ethos.” That “better working ethos” claim is worth checking – our sources expanded: “I do genuinely believe the firm is a place where you are first and foremost an individual, and a lawyer second – you don't have to adopt some kind of work persona here. People are interested in who you are, what you're about and what you got up to on the weekend – it's a very charismatic firm.” Another continued: “It's definitely not a standoffish or unsettling environment. I am quite a vocal trainee and have felt comfortable making jokes with senior partners from the off.”
“You are first and foremost an individual, and a lawyer second.”
As discussed in the intro, the firm is definitely a big competitor in the City. It must be said of course, that beyond real estate, the matters here aren’t consistently comparable to the work of the magic circle. But maybe this leads to better hours, as part of this “better working ethos” ? One trainee laid it out: “I would split my training contract into thirds. A third of my time I would be leaving at 6pm, another third at 7pm, and another around 10pm.” It’s certainly a schedule that falls short of the City’s most exacting examples. “I would also flag that weekend working is not really a thing,” one source highlighted, adding that “if people do want you to work on the weekend, they will tell you far in advance.”
It’s also worth mentioning that trainees study the firm's bespoke LPC together before starting. For one trainee this meant “having at least 40 mates before my first day” – what a legend. That chummy momentum can carry through to a summer party at Somerset House and a Christmas party at Old Billingsgate, or alternatively, into one of the firm's numerous sports teams – there's netball, softball, football and hockey. Sources also highlighted “the time and care put into fostering the talent of ethnic minority and female lawyers. We have lots of discussion groups and forums on a regular basis which don't feel like tokenism. We also have our annual pride celebration which features speakers from trainees all the way up to partner level discussing their experiences – it's a real celebration.”
However, a low retention rate is one sure-fire way to generate animosity from trainees. The 2017 retention rate dropped to 63%. “It's definitely not good enough,” said one source. The 2018 retention rate wasn't great either with 28 of 41 qualifiers kept on. Trainees put the result in 2017 down to “an over-subscription of trainees to certain departments,” and one Pollyanna remained optimistic that “with the merger, I think there is going to be more scope for departments to take on trainees.”
Every little helps
To decide their seats, trainees submit five preferences and chat with graduate recruitment before each rotation. BCLP offers a number of client secondments (including ones to Goldman Sachs and AIG), plus international stints in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The real estate department is split into four teams, with trainees assigned to one for the duration of the seat. Partners' varied specialisms include hotels, asset management or housing associations, but the set-up “doesn't prevent you from reaching out to the other teams.” Trainees can therefore sample a variety of work, and sources found the team tried to accommodate their preferences. “The divide is more on a pastoral level to make sure everyone is supervised because the department is so big,” explained sources. The work across the department includes development, infrastructure and regeneration matters. Clients include Heathrow Airport, BlackRock, Tesco, The Crown Estate, Canary Wharf Group and the Greater London Authority. We’ll say it again: the work here really is top-drawer. Recently the department advised Landsec on the pre-let of 21 Moorfield, a swanky new development in the City, for Deutsche Bank to use as its London HQ. In the lucrative student accommodation market BCLP lawyers recently advised real estate investor Tristan Capital Partners on its £439 million purchase of a 90% stake in a 3,636 bed UK student housing portfolio. The real estate finance team, which offers a separate seat, is also impressive. It recently helped developer Lodha on the £517 million financing for its One Grosvenor Square luxury residential development.
“Sometimes these processes take days, sometimes months.”
Sources told us that “a lot of the lower-value work has moved to the Manchester hub,” but trainees could still run small leases and licences. One trainee recalled enjoying “getting the opportunity to do a lot of work for the same client and building their confidence in me. I handled leases and licences: licences to alter, to sublet, or – a very common one since it’s 2018 – licences to install broadband connections.” Running one of the files “involves opening a new account, submitting conflict checks and once open, you can then charge to the account. When you then draft something like a licence you will co-ordinate with the asset manager to authorise any decisions. Sometimes these processes take days, sometimes months. A lot of the work is fixed-fee work, worth under £10,000.” Sources estimated that trainees “might be running anywhere between 14 and 40 of these matters at a time.” But trainees also experience the mega-deals: a number of trainees mentioned their involvement on the aforementioned Walkie Talkie sale, “running property queries and collating information for clients, buyers and solicitors.”
BCLP's commercial disputes lawyers handle regulatory, financial crime, insurance and banking disputes, as well as more general commercial litigation. Clients here include National Grid and Tesco. The firm recently acted for Citicorp Trustee Company in a claim against BNP Paribas, a bank, over alleged negligence and a possible breach of contract in its management of a $650 million sukuk (bonds structured to be Shari'a-compliant). Trainees reported a range of tasks including “drafting advice relating to contractual interpretations,” writing letters to clients and drafting witness statements. Inevitably the burden of more “mind-numbing tasks” also fell on trainees' shoulders, but sources felt it was one worth bearing: “True, no one wants to be sitting at their desk doing disclosure and doc review all day but it's a key part of any case and it's cost-efficient for trainees to do that. But our job is made easier by the paralegal team we have in Manchester and the use of predictive coding.”
The contentious side of the firm’s real estate department is comparably prestigious. One significant highlight involved representing Tesco in its appeal over a legal ruling that applied separate business tax rates to cash machines, a case the media seized upon as the potential end of free cash withdrawals. While a litigious slog-fest might make good reading, trainees stressed that “this is a disputes team in a wider sense. It’s not only about litigation, but it’s also about avoiding it. So where difficult questions crop up with leases and licences, and people want to avoid a dispute, that’s where we come in and advise.”
"It’s not only about litigation, but it’s also about avoiding it."
Plenty of big banks populate BCLP's banking department, including Barclays, HSBC and Goldman Sachs, but it also works for borrowers – it recently acted for Gett, a global taxi company, on its $100 million financing from state-owned Russian banking and financial services company Sberbank. The firm has a particular focus on asset finance, and picks up acknowledgement from Chambers UK for its aviation and rail finance work in particular. The team recently advised Beacon Rail on its financing when it bought a load of trains (Bombardier Classes 220 and 221 if you're interested) from subsidiaries of Lloyds Bank and RBS. The capital markets subgroup meanwhile is seen as one of the best in the country for its work on AIM listing and secondary offerings. “Some of the work isn't particularly glamorous,” trainees admitted, whose role was mainly limited to managing conditions precedent checklists. However others did report on opportunities to draft security documents, corporate authorisations and to attend completion meetings.
“It's a small department but it's one of our key sectors, and a premier practice in London.” That's an upbeat appraisal of the firm's private client practice, which, true enough, is ranked highly in London by Chambers High Net Worth. The work is extremely international, encompassing many Russian and Israeli clients. “The deadlines aren't as strict as in transactional seats but inherently the law can be a lot more complex,” sources here reasoned. Wealth management work is commonplace, but there are property transactions too. “It's very different providing advice to a billionaire in America who wants to come to the UK and wants to know their tax position.” Trainees can sample a mix of contentious and non-contentious work here and may find themselves drafting wills, attending court, and putting together tax advice.
To finish, trainees offered praise for the support and training available to them, calling it “abundant. You come in two weeks before your first seat starts and have an overview and partner welcome. You get given a partner mentor who takes you for a coffee and from the minute you walk in they are thinking about your future. You’re also given an associate supervisor who is your day-to-day contact. Once you’re in your department for the first month you have various training sessions specific to the team: a presentation on clients, the life of a transaction, and what trainees should be doing. You’re given the tools you need to do exactly that.”
BCLP has signed off on its own real estate deal, making the decision to move to new offices at Governor’s House in the City.
How to get a BCLP training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: 31 October 2018 (winter); 18 January 2019 (summer) - for penultimate-year law students, non-law finalists and graduates
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 May 2019 - for penultimate-year law students, non-law finalists and graduates
Insight programme deadline (2018): 5 February 2019 - for first-year law students and second-year non-law students
Open day deadline: 19 October 2019 - all university students
'Kick-Start' work experience deadline: 31 January 2019
BCLP gets around 2,500 applications each year for its 35 training contract places. These flood in via online forms that detail applicants' knowledge of the firm, reasons for considering a career in law, and work experience. The application process is the same for those aiming for a vacation scheme spot and straight-to-training-contract hopefuls.
All applicants sit an online verbal aptitude test, and from here the graduate recruitment team select between 550 and 600 candidates to attend an assessment day. This begins with a drafting exercise in which applicants write a report on the basis of various documents they're provided with. A one-on-one role-play and group negotiation follow. The day concludes after a group lunch and trainee-led tour around the office.
The next step to getting a training contract for both vac schemers and direct entrants is an interview with two partners. This usually includes questions on applicants' technical knowledge, core knowledge of law, and motivation for wanting to work at BCLP. “We hope to make our interviews quite informal, yet structured in a way to get the best out of our candidates, so there's often a lot of discussion around topical events or news stories that will affect our clients,” graduate recruitment and development manager Alan Demirkaya tells us. Think Brexit, external investment into the UK, property purchases etc.
Between 70 and 80% of BCLP's trainee intake comes in through its vacation schemes. BCLP takes around 80-100 vac schemers a year, spread across three placements. There's a week-long winter scheme, plus two two-week schemes in the summer.
Each placement features presentations from partners from the firm's core areas, a strategy talk by a member of the management board, and a few socials like a corporate social responsibility activity or ping pong tournaments. Still, it's not all fun and games: Demirkaya warns that “throughout their time here vac schemers are assessed for a training contract. We give them real tasks so we can get a real indication of how they'd perform trainee-level tasks, and ultimately how they'd fit in with our culture.”
Alongside these tasks attendees complete a group task – for example, a client pitch involving an international topic – in which they produce a draft of written work and deliver a presentation in groups of four.
Demirkaya elaborates on what BCLP is looking for: “One of the core qualities we look at is someone's motivation levels and how driven they are to succeed in a career in law. A lot of applicants will still have two years' study ahead, so we need to know they're fully committed to us.”
The firm targets over 25 universities across the country in search of future trainees. A good whack of trainees have traditionally come broadly from different Russell Group institutions, though our sources noticed a growing number of Oxbridge recruits joining the ranks recently. Mature applicants also get a look in. “We have people coming from previous careers in industries like finance and construction – areas that resonate well with our clients,” Demirkaya tells us: “It's essential to have a mix of backgrounds as our five core practice areas are so different.”
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP
- Partners 156 (200 globally)
- Associates 315
- Total trainees 74
- UKoffices London, Manchester
- Overseas offices 32
- Contact Graduate recruitment: [email protected], 020 3400 1000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 35
- Minimum required degree: 2:1
- Minimum required UCAS points: 136
- Vacation scheme places pa: 80-100
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: May 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: September 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: October 2018 (winter); January 2019 (summer)
- Open day deadline: October 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 (London) *
- Second-year salary: £45,000 (London) *
- Post-qualification salary: £70,000 (London) *
- * Regional and international salaries vary.
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,200
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Manchester, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Abu Dhabi, Brussles, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore
- Client secondments: Yes (AIG, Goldman Sachs, Heathrow)
Main areas of work
Client secondments are a popular choice, and there is also the opportunity to undertake an international seat in either our Brussels, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai or Abu Dhabi offices.
You will get to choose the departments you sit in across your two seats and will be assigned a trainee ‘buddy’ who you will shadow. You will very much be considered ‘part of the team’ and will be involved in every aspect of the department from client meetings to court runs and work with senior lawyers.
You will be trusted with real client work and you will benefit from attending a series of partner-led talks and workshops to help build up your knowledge about BCLP. Alongside working in your seats and your skill sessions, we also host numerous social events throughout the vacation scheme which provide the opportunity to network with firm representatives.
The duration of the programme varies from one to two weeks, and students are paid £400 per week.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law career fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Licensing (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 5)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives Recognised Practitioner
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 1)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 4)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 5)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 4)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 1)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 5)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)