Is property your cup of tea? Then look no further than this City-based boutique.
If it's worth doing, do it property
Things are pretty clear-cut with Maples Teesdale: if you know what you like, and what you like is commercial property, then MT should be high up on your list of firms to apply to. This boutique is dedicated entirely to the world of commercial property, and this fact did not go unnoticed by our land law-loving trainee sources: “I was looking for firms with strong property departments, but when I found Maples Teesdale, it became the obvious choice.” A high Chambers UK ranking for mid-market real estate work confirms MT's status in this area, but for our interviewees this firm's boutique dimensions appealed just as much as its well-regarded speciality: “I knew I didn't want to go to a very large firm – MT's a good small-to-medium size, considering its niche focus.”
Sources also had confidence in MT's future and told us that “there's definitely a push to get bigger and better. Our aim is to be the best property firm we can be, so we'll be building up our support areas and solidifying our client base.” These support areas include corporate, dispute resolution, finance and planning departments, and all serve to strengthen MT's core commercial property group, which is, unsurprisingly, the firm's biggest team. If you're looking to become a part of MT's future, then follow this interviewee's advice: “They want to see that the candidate has thought about why they want to work in property. It's therefore important to show you have relevant experience or at least a clear understanding of why you want to work here specifically.” Our sources, for example, had completed property-oriented internships, and worked as paralegals in the commercial property departments of other law firms.
“Our aim is to be the best property firm we can be.”
For those that make the cut, a “quite relaxed” seat allocation process awaits: trainees sit down with the training principal to discuss their preferences, which are “taken into account alongside the firm's requirements.” Stints in commercial property and dispute resolution are compulsory, leaving trainees with a choice of four other options: construction, corporate and property finance. “There's not a huge amount of choice,” sources commented, “but we come here as we know what we want to do, so we don't feel like we're missing out. All the available seats are interesting.” There is potentially the option to complete a client secondment, but these opportunities arise on an 'as needed' basis and require trainees to be proactive.
In the “core” commercial property department, the matters cover everything from portfolio management to development projects to investments. The type of properties dealt with includes shopping centres, hotels, leisure facilities and offices, and on the client books you'll find funds like Aberdeen Standard Investments and commercial occupiers like Cineworld. One key client is the US government, which MT advised as it sold its former embassy site in Grosvenor Square and relocated to its new Nine Elms address in Wandsworth, South London. New client Fragrance Group – a Singaporean property developer – has also lent a further international dimension to recent work, as it snapped up three hotels across the UK. “You end up working with several different fee earners, which is nice because you get to experience the different types of work that people specialise in,” sources reported. Tasks range from overseeing “more mundane things like SDLT returns” to “reporting on title, drafting basic leases and licences, and negotiating renewals.” Many relished “the opportunities to run your own matters under supervision, like short-term leases or research assignments.”
Contentious issues that crop up across the firm make their way to the dispute resolution department. Common matters include dilapidations, rights to light spats, retail insolvencies, business tenancy renewals and rent reviews. Recent cases on the landlord side include acting for The Cavendish Hotel during a dispute over its decision to reject a tenancy renewal on the grounds of redevelopment, as well as for lettings outfit Surrey Investments, as it pursued a forfeiture claim to recover possession of its retail premises in North London. The day-to-day routine for trainees involves dealing with “ad hoc research tasks – whether from a client or another member of the firm – by looking into the matter and coming back with an answer.” Some sources had got involved in arbitrations, which involved “putting a lot of documents together, gathering evidence and proofreading reports.” More responsibility could be had on lease-related matters, which enabled interviewees to “draft break notices, as well as claim forms for lease renewal proceedings.”
“In this area of law clients are more keen on having face-to-face meetings, which you get to attend.”
Construction is a comparatively smaller team at MT. It's also a more “specialised area, which means that lots of people from different departments ask for your input on deals involving a construction element, like sales and purchases, leases etc.” Trainees described the seat as “very drafting-heavy,” with lots of opportunities to sharpen their skills on appointments and warranties (“they're a big thing here”). They also felt that there was “more opportunity to engage with different people, as you're often dealing with ten or so different parties on one deal, like landlords, tenants, builders, consultants.” Client contact is therefore “very good – on the first day I was picking up the phone. In this area of law clients are more keen on having face-to-face meetings, which you get to attend.” Key clients here are property funds, banks and developers, and the team have been busy advising a joint venture outfit (formed between fund Cheyne Real Estate and property company The Collective) on the design and construction of a new high-rise building in Canary Wharf.
Joint ventures are a forte in the corporate department too, but lawyers here also cover the likes of acquisitions, disposals, shareholder agreements, partnership structures and general corporate governance issues. Deal examples of late include advising Centurion Properties on its £25 million-plus acquisition of a Midlands-based business park, and property fund manager Rockspring on the £40 million sale of The Harlequin Building (situated on London's South Bank) to Scottish Widows Investment Partnership. “It's a good seat for learning how to keep to deadlines,” one trainee commented, as they told of drafting forms to meet “the strict filing deadlines” set by Companies House. Sources typically found that they didn't have their own matters to run: “It's more about assisting partners on larger deals, so you're put in charge of smaller aspects, like drafting board minutes.”
“Because we're still quite small the firm does have that distinct 'everyone knows everyone' community feeling,” our sources agreed. They were quick to highlight the benefits of that feeling, and praised the partners for being “incredibly approachable – they are always willing to help, and you feel that no question would be viewed as a stupid question.” Alongside this “very supportive” nature, sources were also keen to emphasise how hard-working people are at MT, and put that trait down to the unified sense of purpose at the firm: “Property is what we do best. Whether someone is in commercial property, or construction, or corporate, everyone has a clear focus. Everyone is on the same path.”
And sometimes, on a Friday, that path leads to drinks at the local pub. “People usually go out together for drinks without it necessarily being planned in advance. Trainees also tend to go out for lunch together – the small trainee intake means we know each other quite well.” There's also a social committee that organises an event “once every few months,” often with a sporty edge, and in the past nights have been spent playing ping-pong and darts (“there's talk about a mini-golf excursion coming up...”). If you fancy yourself as a more erudite individual, then the new 'culture club' will appeal. No, it doesn't involve rehearsing early 80s Boy George anthems; it involves “monthly mini-excursions to local cultural places like Guildhall or the Bank of England Museum. It's a relatively new idea and a nice way to explore the local area.”
When it comes to qualification and retention, sources turned to MT's track record for a confidence boost: “Generally they seem to be keeping their trainees on, and last year all qualifiers were retained. We're viewed as future members of the firm.” A recent qualifier explained that the process was “quite informal. We sat down with the training principal and they asked us individually where we'd like to qualify, and if we were set on one department or whether we'd consider different departments as well. The firm was growing so they had space and could offer us all jobs.” In 2018 two of three qualifiers were retained.
Trainees relayed that MT is “a good firm for hours and work/life balance.” Their average day started around 9am and finished between 6.30pm and 7pm.
You may also be interested in...
Our practice area feature on Property/Real Estate
These smaller commercial firms in London:
How to get a Maples Teesdale training contract
Maples Teesdale uses an online application form which can be accessed on the trainee section of the firm's website. Training principal Anastasia Klein tells us that the form asks “probing questions, including 'why us?' We want to know if and why candidates want to go to a specialist real estate firm with a comparatively small headcount. It's different to applying to the very large full-service firms.” Maples usually receives about 50 applications, and approximately 10% of those candidates are invited to interview.
There's one interview, conducted by a panel of two partners, which typically lasts about an hour. “That's usually enough for us to a get a sense of somebody and why they feel they should be joining us, as a niche real estate firm. We can ascertain whether they've really researched us.”
Interviewers look out for evidence of “a clear interest in the area the firm works in, like study modules taken in real estate, but we're not necessarily going to grill somebody on legal matters if they're still only at university.” The interview includes a brief property-focused case study that candidates are asked to discuss at the interview. Anastasia Klein says “there are no absolute right or wrong answers but it helps give us a feel for the candidates’ basic understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the subject.”
What else are they after? Klein tells us that “it's nice to see paralegalling experience in a real estate department. Then we can see that someone has exposure to it and likes it. It can help an application along if a candidate can genuinely point to an interesting deal they've come across, for instance, and what problems they might have faced. It shows that they already understand something about the subject.” However, Klein emphasises that this isn't a prerequisite.
The interview is also a chance for “us to learn about candidates, and there are questions on the application form about what challenges they've faced and what they like to do outside of work. We like to see how they engage in a social context.” A final word of advice? “We are genuinely looking for people who are excited by the commercial real estate industry, not just someone who wants a job. We see trainees as our future, and so we need to invest in the right candidates who have a passion for real estate, like we do.”
Maples Teesdale LLP
30 King Street,
- Partners 18
- Assistant solicitors 36
- Total trainees 6
- UK offices London
- Contact Training partner: Anastasia Klein [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3
- Applications pa: 50
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 degree
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 16 August 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,600
- Second-year salary: £37,625
- Post-qualification salary: £59,700
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
Main areas of work
Trainees have the opportunity to gain experience, skills and knowledge across these different departments in four, six-month seats. There may also be an opportunity to spend time on secondment with clients. During each seat rotation, trainees sit with a partner who acts as their supervisor allocating work to them and ensuring that they are also getting regular opportunities to work with a variety of fee-earners. They also play an active role in advising and developing their trainee throughout their training contract. Maples Teesdale want you to feel part of the team from the outset.
The training is very ‘hands on’ and aims to give you as much responsibility as you are confident to handle. You will be actively encouraged to become a valuable member of the team, drafting documents, doing research and attending client meetings.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)