M&A mastermind Travers is shedding its reputation for being traditional and aiming to be the gold standard for diversity in the City.
Historically Travers Smith certainly has a reputation for being ‘traditional’ – having a “privileged, white, male environment” as one trainee put it – but the past few years have seen the firm “ready to admit that historically it’s been an elite place and put effort into making that less and less true.” As the numbers show, Travers is still very much a City firm in its social make-up, but the big step the firm has made is acknowledging that City firms weren't doing enough. Click here to learn more about the firm's diversity efforts.
"Historically it’s been an elite place.”
Trainees told us they were attracted to Travers for the opportunity to do “excellent quality corporate work and have good exposure to clients” without working in an “intimidating, sprawling international network.” That makes sense: Travers only has offices in London and Paris, but the firm handles corporate deals with values stretched into the billions and holds Chambers UK rankings for both high-end and mid-market M&A. Travers also gains rankings in transactional areas like capital markets, private equity, real estate, banking and financial services, as well as well as litigation, employment and contentious regulatory work. Interviewees added that Travers' (almost) single-site operation means “it doesn’t have that soulless huge corporate atmosphere – it’s much more personal.”
Last year Chambers Student said the word we most associated with Travers Smith is 'traditional'. Now a different word – or rather phrase – springs to mind: #thatsnotcool. The firm recently introduced this as a 'safeword' to allow employees to call out inappropriate language and behaviour in the workplace. Though apparently “no one says the hashtag,” employees are using the catchphrase "when someone slips up – it encourages people to apologise and say they won’t do it again.”
Prior to joining, incoming trainees attend an afternoon session where they’re given “a taster of the different seats on offer.” From there they rank their preferences based on “what you think is relevant for you.” Both a corporate and contentious seat are compulsory – the latter usually in either disputes or employment. Beyond that trainees list in order of preference their choices for the specialist departments and the firm does its best to accommodate them. Almost everyone gets their first seat preference, we heard, and trainees noted that “the operational risk and environment team only takes one trainee, but other than that there are a decent number of trainees per department.” Interviewees felt they’re “kept in the loop” on an allocation process that’s “quite flexible.”
At any one time around 12 trainees call Travers' corporate group home; they sit in either corporate finance, investment funds or private equity sub-teams. The latter is the most popular and specialises in managing transactions for private equity houses. A perusal of the client list shows the firm acts for many mid-sized UK private equity houses like Bridgepoint, 3i, Silverfleet and Lyceum Capital. The firm recently advised on private equity-backed transactions such as TA Associates’ investment in synthetic calcium makers Biocomposites, Bridgepoint's acquisition of the UK master franchise of Burger King, and investments in cycling shop Bike24, laboratory company Exova and Miller Homes. Trainees draft warranties, mark up documents and project manage which means “generally being responsible for organising everything – the associates would be lost without me!” Despite this, trainees felt that the workload was generally “quite sensible.” Weekly team meetings from the partners update trainees on recent goings on – “it’s nice to know where everything is, and partners generally monitor workload."
"It’s less exciting but it just needs to be done!”
A corporate finance seat provides work on IPOs, public M&A and private M&A. Insiders told us there’s less chance of seeing multiple types of action in this group. One reported: “Apart from helping out on a bit of M&A, there was one particular reorganisation we were doing that took up my whole seat.” The work touches every corner of the globe: the US, Ireland, the Netherlands, China, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, the Caymans, Australia... Deal size ranges from a few tens of millions into the billions. For example the firm recently advised The Peel Group, the largest shareholder of shopping centre group intu, on property developer Hammerson's £3.4 billion offer for intu. A smaller but still sizeable deal was Bridgepoint’s sale of Oasis Dental Care to Bupa for £835 million. The group also advised Shazam on its acquisition by Apple, and on storage company Safestore’s purchase of Alligator Self Storage for £56 million. On these deals trainees “do things like maintaining documents and getting those signed – it’s less exciting but it just needs to be done!”
The international buck doesn’t stop at the corporate finance group. It also seeps into the dispute resolution team, which has recently worked on matters spanning Pakistan, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Belgium, Australia, Iceland, Portugal, Russia, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa, Bermuda, South Korea, Morocco and China. The team recently acted for Pathfinder Minerals in a dispute relating to the ownership of a mining concession off the coast of Mozambique. Another case saw the firm defending Renesas Electronics against a case brought by Vodafone after the European Commission said the former had operated a smart card chips cartel. The group also acted for Hewlett-Packard in a $5 billion fraud claim against the former directors of Autonomy, a software company HP bought in 2011. “It sounds great to say that the headline figure of the case you’re working on is £5 billion, but the reality is you’re a smaller piece of that puzzle,” a trainee reflected. Each case typically has two main trainees on it, “then some trainees doing ad hoc bits and bobs. A couple have been prepping for a case management conference; another has been in a doc review for a couple months; some are in on witness interviews.” Daily tasks include preparing for mediations, presiding over case management conferences and drafting ancillaries. A favourite task was “preparing for and attending tribunals – to see how that works in practice is cool.”
Strictly Come Financing
Should trainees not fancy a stint in disputes, they can do a contentious seat in employment. The group “almost exclusively acts for the employer/company side, and also does some work supporting the corporate team on mergers.” Clients come from across all sectors and include Metro Bank, Virgin Active, Western Union and Teva Pharmaceuticals. The firm recently advised New Scientist magazine on contracts surrounding its acquisition by a consortium of investors. The team also defended a leading media organisation against a gender/pregnancy discrimination claim brought by Strictly Come Dancing’s Kristina Rihanoff. Trainees do typical low-level tasks: document review, bundling and running the disclosure process. The firm also works on various things for IPSE, the UK's main body representing the self-employed, recently helping it partner with Uber to create better working conditions for Uber drivers. Trainees can expect to dig their teeth into “a range of advisory work, like advising HR departments on updates in the law and how they need to amend their policies” – for instance updating contracts for GDPR.
The finance department is divided into three sub-teams: general finance (covering acquisition finance, real estate finance, fund finance and corporate lending); derivatives and structured products; and restructuring and insolvency. Most of our sources had done a derivatives seat, though they told us over half the work in the group overall is acquisition finance.
The biggest subgroup does “a lot of startup-related work as well as lending to mid-market tech companies.” The team recently advised Zoopla on making two loans for Money.co.uk and Hometrack.co.uk £125 million bigger. The derivatives sub-team works with clients like Microsoft, Vodafone and British Steel Pensions. It also recently advised the industry body for UK clearing banks on the launch of a new payment system for processing cheques, allowing people to pay in cheques by smartphone. Due diligence, conducting the document signing process, and running conditions precedent checklists fall to trainees in all subgroups. However, there’s also the chance to get your hands on “leading correspondence in the negotiation process, liaising with banks, and proposing changes to documents.” A trainee favourite was visiting client offices. “You get to go quite often for the signing process, typically every four to six weeks," a source reported. "You get a lot of client contact from day one – you’re copied into all the emails and are encouraged to get your face out there.” If you're a bit shy don't worry – “you’re definitely helped along the way the first few times!”
“It’s learning by osmosis.”
When it comes to training, newbies get a formal plan “comprising departmental and firm-wide training sessions.” We heard that these are “always really detailed and informative and they tailor them to trainee-specific tasks so they’re actually useful.” However, trainees felt that the most useful training came as a result of the lay-out of the office: “Each trainee sits in a room with two associates and a partner. You pick up and improve your way of doing things without realising you are – it’s learning by osmosis.” Interviewees also liked this seating plan because “it means you can demystify partners a bit. If you sit next to them every day it humanises them.”
Bach to life
Trainees beamed about the recently refurbished office, which they said feels “really fresh – it’s all shiny and glassy.” One detail trainees like is the art adorning the walls. “We hang up art by final-year art students from Royal Holloway and the University of Westminster. It looks great, plus the artists get money when we auction it off at the end of each year.” Other office-based creative programmes include Friday yoga and music lessons: “We have a grand piano and it’s brilliant to hear a senior partner trying to learn Three Blind Mice!” Virtuoso students from the nearby Guildhall School of Music & Drama also sometimes perform music in the office at lunchtime. Besides these more artsy extracurriculars, Travers also has netball, rugby, hockey and football teams as well as “regular drinks and cook-offs.” Among the trainee group, “people are good at doing social events. We have a Whatsapp group and we meet up for drinks – quite a few people live together!” The trainees get on extremely well. “We’re a healthy, friendly group," one source said. "There’s no one I’d pass silently in the corridor or not sit with in the canteen!”
“It’s brilliant to hear a senior partner trying to learn Three Blind Mice!”
Across departments trainees usually finish around 7pm or 8pm, though we did also hear of “weeks working from 8am to 2am” in corporate and the occasional 24-hour day (!) in finance. Trainees were sanguine about their long hours: “When it comes to work/life balance, I can’t really complain.” Perhaps this is something to do with the firm’s “friendly, relaxed and inclusive atmosphere” that leads to “a good sense of camaraderie.” One trainee beamed: “I can’t tell you enough how kind people are. Everyone’s treated equally and made to feel completely comfortable at the office.” What about the firm's reputation for being traditional? "I don’t think that’s something I’d say about the firm," one source commented. "Since I arrived it has worked really hard to change that perception."Learn more about what Travers has been doing to improve diversity and inclusion.
Sources said the firm's “culture of kindness” extends into the qualification process too. “I’d describe the atmosphere among second-year trainees as 90% confident," one source said. This confidence comes from the “constant feedback that makes it easy to gauge how the departments respond to you.” No doubt the high retention rates help too. In 2018 all 26 qualifiers were retained. Impressive!
Go to chambersstudent.co.uk to read more about Travers' recent efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (opens 1 October 2018)
Applications and vacation scheme
Travers Smith has 25 training contracts on offer and typically recruits just over 50% of its trainees through its vacation schemes. The firm runs three two-week placements during the summer, and one two-week scheme in the winter, offering 15 places on each.
The application for the vac scheme begins with a CV and covering letter, and the firm generally receives around 1,000 of these each year. “There are no psychometric tests or any of that rubbish,” one interviewee told us, but prospective trainees do need a minimum of AAB at A level and a 2:1 degree (or 2:1 grades to date) to get a look in. The majority of trainees tend to come from a Russell Group institution, though the firm visits between 25 and 30 university law fairs each year.
Those whose applications impress – generally around 180 – are invited to a one-on-one partner interview. According to our sources, the aim here is to get “a flavour of your character; we don't go for a long-form interview where we ask about all the different times you overcame a problem in the workplace.”
From here, the firm chooses its vac schemers, who split their time between two departments. Alongside shadowing trainees, participants attend workshops on skills like negotiations and drafting, and also get to socialise with Travers lawyers at various working lunches and evening events.
A current trainee had this advice for impressing during the vac scheme: “Relax into the atmosphere and try to be enthusiastic. Another said: “Show that you're bright, ambitious and calm under pressure, but don't take yourself too seriously.”
Those who still want to pursue a training contract after their scheme can resubmit their application for consideration. They are evaluated on their performance during their placement rather than through any further interviews.
Training contract applications
Travers Smith receives another 1,000 direct training contract applications each year. The application process is broadly similar to that of the vac scheme: applicants submit an initial form; attend a partner interview; then another, this time with co-heads of graduate recruitment Emily Clark and Danny Peel. The first lasts around 45 minutes, while the second is an hour long.
There's no cap on the number of people the firm invites to interview. Insiders tell us “the firm is big on compare-and-contrast questions” in both interviews – for example, the moral debate of a drunk driver who kills someone as opposed to someone who falls asleep at the wheel and does the same –“but isn't looking to catch anyone out.” Interviewees can also expect questions about current business stories to test their commercial awareness.
The second interview is followed up with a trainee-led tour around the office, during which candidates can ask additional questions, and meet other members of the firm.
Inclusivity in the City
Travers Smith LLP
10 Snow Hill,
- Partners 83
- Associates 205
- Total trainees 48
- UKoffices London
- Overseasoffices Paris, close ties with carefully chosen quality overseas independent law firms
- Graduate recruiter: Germaine VanGeyzel, [email protected], 020 7295 3546
- Training partners: Danny Peel and Emily Clark
- Application criteria
- Training contract pa: 27
- Applications pa: 1,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A Level: AAB
- Vacation scheme places: 72
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open:1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline 2021: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: rolling (winter); 31 January 2019 (summer)
- Salary and benefits
- First year salary: £45,000
- Second year salary: £50,500
- Post qualification salary: £78,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contract: London
- Overseas seats: one seat in Paris
- Client secondments: Following qualification, there are numerous opportunities for secondments to overseas law firms with whom we have a close relationship and client secondments. In recent years, our associates have worked on secondment in places such as the US, Japan, Singapore and India.
Main areas of work
We’ll give you responsibility from day one — you will quickly find yourself on the phone to clients, in meetings and handling your own work with all the guidance you need. As such the firm looks for people who can combine academic excellence with plain common sense; who are determined, articulate and able to think on their feet, and who take their work but not themselves seriously. A law degree is not a necessity — just over half the trainees who joined last year came from a non-law background.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 3)
- Banking Litigation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives Recognised Practitioner
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 2)