Straight outta Bristol and growing fast in Manchester and London, TLT isn’t content to settle for what it’s got.
Amid the vicious mix of widespread Y2K panic, fireworks and drunken revelry that accompanied the turn of the millennium, many may have missed the merger of two Bristol-based firms to form TLT. Nowadays the firm is much harder to avoid – it’s spread its wings across London, Manchester, Scotland and Northern Ireland and set up an overseas office in Piraeus, in Greece. Turnover grew to £87.6 million in 2019, a 7% jump on the year before; the increase was partly thanks to expansion and relocation of the Belfast base.
The South West remains TLT’s most successful stomping ground – it picks up top rankings in Chambers UK for its employment, banking and finance, IT, restructuring and insolvency, social housing, professional negligence and mid-market corporate M&A practices. The firm also earns nods for its IT and lower mid-market corporate prowess in the North West; recent lateral hires from Squire Patton Boggs and regional firm Aaron & Partners have swelled the ranks of the employment team in Manchester. “I’ve heard that the plan is for 25% firmwide growth over the next few years,”one insider shared. “It’s an aggressive strategy but partners are very confident.”
“We’re not in a department with seven or eight other trainees fighting the corporate Hunger Games.”
All of the firm’s UK bases offer training contracts. When we asked new arrivals what had lured them to TLT, Bristolians focused on “wanting a blend of a national growing firm with good long-term prospects” away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. “Bristol is among the biggest legal cities outside of London and so it suits a larger regional commercial outfit.” Londoners meanwhile liked that the firm “markets itself as innovative with an aggressive expansion strategy, the potential to be part of a growth spurt with a firm that provides quality work is exciting.” Wherever they were based our sources also noted that “there’s a happy medium when it comes to the size of trainee intakes. We’re not in a team with seven or eight others fighting the corporate Hunger Games and all feeling like cogs in a machine.”
Seat allocation for Bristol is done on a “cascading priority” basis: trainees list five ranked preferences and HR attempts to allocate them as best possible with third and fourth-seaters getting first pick. There’s a similar process in London but trainees don’t get a say on their first seat. “We don’t get a choice but rotations work out fine because that there are more seats than there are trainees,” interviewees revealed. Trainees believed the process to be “effective and fair,” but we heard some complaints about what seemed like a mandatory stint in real estate. “It’s a wasted seat if you’re not interested in qualifying into it,” one source argued.
Get it up
The corporate department handles a mix of domestic and international M&A and private equity transactions; energy, engineering, retail and food and drink clients call on TLT’s expertise. In Bristol the firm recently advised long-term venture capital client Sussex Place Ventures on its $10 million Series C round investment in medical equipment manufacturer Endomag; over in Manchester the team advised online retailer Boohoo on its appointment of Primark COO John Lyttle as its chief executive and the subsequent implementation of a growth share scheme. Trainee roles are “probably a 50/50 split between project management duties and drafting ancillary documents, shareholder and purchase agreements and board minutes.” Interviewees agreed: “You’re given enough autonomy and aren’t spoon-fed, you won’t just find yourself acting as a slave to the partner.”
“…leaving the printing with someone else so that we’re not chained to a photocopier.”
Energy was a popular corporate niche among our sources and Bristol offers a dedicated energy and renewables seat within the real estate department. Wind, solar and biogas power the work stream here: TLT advised Santander Bank on a £28.5 million facility to Battery Energy Storage Solutions; and acted for the NextEnergy Solar Fund investment manager on a £9.3 million acquisition of two solar and battery storage projects. One of the big pluses here for trainees was encouragement from partners to make use of admin and secretarial support, “allowing us to focus on more substantive drafting work and leaving the printing with someone else so that we’re not chained to a photocopier.” A source declared that they “learned more in this seat than all the others combined,” though admitted there was some repetition of similar work again and again.
Given there are close to 200 people in realestate it’s likely that trainees will do at least one seat here. The group splits into specialisms ranging from real estate finance and planning to social housing and public sector real estate. In Bristol there are different seats for each subsection; London offers a catch-all real estate seat. Trainees in more general property subgroups handled “a mix of residential property transactions involving the purchase and sale of properties, as well as the leases of properties; and commercial property, which involves the renting of commercial premises.” Real estate clients include WHSmith, Byron Hamburgers, the BBC and pub operators like Greene King. TLT assisted Punch Taverns on matters including a transitional services agreement with Heineken. In real estate seats “it’s understood that trainees get a high level of client contact from day one” according to one insider. “They’re small cases, but you get your own files to manage and commercial clients to deal with.”
Litigious options vary by office. All three English offices run a seat dubbed disputes and investigations, while Bristolians and Manc trainees can also sit in commercial disputes. Bristol is more banking-focused as a whole: “Large banks effectively outsource their legal work to us,” one source said. “The range of work is as broad as that suggests.” That’s not the whole picture of disputes – recent big cases at TLT include acting on behalf of the Indian government in a dispute with Pakistan over £35 million held in a British bank account for decades. Over in Manchester the firm represented Lancashire County Council during a juridical review of Defra’s decision to withdraw Waste Infrastructure Credits worth £90 million. Interviewees across litigious seats “started with a good level of responsibility and it increased from there. There are areas I have more experience in than fee earners, so they take my word for it when considering contractual positions.”
Trainees can complete a seat in commercial or one in IP and technology – if they can’t make their mind up, split seats are possible. Commercial clients span retail, financial services and clean energy: they include Lucozade Ribena Suntory, JD Sports and the Treasury. Sainsbury's recently came calling for advice on a collaboration with a national chain of petrol station convenience stores; TLT also acted for clothing site PrettyLittleThing on a five-year agreement with Clipper Logistics for warehouses and services. “We tend to represent large clients on their various contractual issues and deal with debt recovery contract disputes,” trainees said. “We’re also working alongside the real estate team on property disputes, I’ve been able to attend court hearings.” The seat also comes with “a fair bit of research and drafting.” A source described commercial as “slightly different to some other teams in that you don’t have your own projects, you’re working under other people. I’ve definitely progressed as I’ve gone on and people above me are brilliant on checking in.”
“I’ve definitely progressed... and people above me are brilliant on checking in.”
TLT’s IP know-how covers software, technology and digital rights. The team worked with BT Sport to implement a system designed to take action against commercial premises showing BT’s channels without a licence. Meerkat ad producers (and price comparison site operators) Compare the Market rely on the firm for trade mark portfolio management. Trainees work on “a lot of the due diligence but also draft negotiations, contracts and supply agreements.” One source went deeper: “My supervisor explained the process of each matter from start to finish and where you fit into a complex chain. I learned a lot about project management from that seat.”
Advisory and contentious work for individuals and employers flows into the employment department. Industrial action, employment tribunals, whistle-blowing and minimum wage disputes are a few of the work streams – TLT also advised various high street employers on their compliance with the recently introduced gender pay gap regulations. In this seat, trainees tend to take on a more administrative role “handling the secretarial work of trial bundles and due diligence reports,” while alsochecking employment contracts and dealing with unfair dismissal claims. “It’s probably more secretarial than other seats I’ve done. I’m going through due diligence in collaboration with the corporate department.” Corporate support makes up a fair chunk of the employment practice as a whole.
TLC with TLT
An average working day for trainees runs from around 9am to a 6.30pm or so finish. The ones we spoke to were keen to dismiss any ideas of a facetime culture pervading: “If my boiler stopped working one day, I’d just say that I need to work from home and they’d be totally okay with that as long as I get the work done.” Corporate can be more demanding than other seats and we heard about a few 3am finishes but those “aren’t regular occurrences. It’s all part of the art of being a corporate lawyer.” If you’d rather get some art done in your spare time, housing seats are more likely to run nine to five.
Trainees had enough spare time to enjoy a healthy social calendar. On top of Christmas and summer shindigs, the firm hosts crazy golf and there’s a softball league in Bristol. Less sporty sources were more likely to be found “going to the pub on Fridays with the partners.” That’s testament to the “distinct lack of hierarchy” within the firm: “You can chat with anyone from paralegals and secretaries to senior management. Everyone is willing to help trainees out.” We heard from some that “it becomes quite clear that the trainees here have a very similar personality, which to some extent explains why we all gel so well.” What’s the secret ingredient to make a TLT trainee? “The firm could chuck us all in a room together with clients and they wouldn’t worry about us. There’s no egos or winding each other up.”
“We got close when we spent three weeks together for our induction.”
During our calls we were impressed (and mildly sickened) by the friendly feelings within the trainee cohort. “We got close when we spent three weeks together for our induction at the beginning of the training contract,” one told us earnestly. “That lead to firmwide WhatsApp and Facebook groups to keep in touch – the firm could do more themselves to improve connections between offices.” Others pointed out that departments run weekly Skype calls between Bristol, London and Manchester “so we can see what’s going on and sort out how to distribute the work coming through the pipeline.” Many were open to moving between offices: “I was encouraged to go to London which gave me the chance to catch up with people and work there. You need to be proactive about making those trips happen.”
TLT’s office in the capital went through refurbishment in August 2018. Summer-minded trainees noted that they’re “able to eat outside in the sun. We’re right next to St Paul’s Cathedral.” Bristol sources described their base as a “15-storey monstrosity, like something went horribly wrong during the construction of the Colosseum,” but were happier when describing the “newly refurbished glass and chrome client suite on the 15th floor. It’s got one of the best viewpoints in Bristol.” This year’s AGM away-day took place in Manchester: trainees from all of TLT’s offices get to have a no-holds barred discussion with the training principals. The most recent event also included a talk by a Paralympic athlete, a mental health awareness activity and a boat trip across the Mancunian canals.
Interviewees had some grievances to air about the informality and structure (or lack thereof) of TLT’s qualification process. “It’s the one thing I dislike about the firm, we’ve been left in a state of anxiety over it,” one bemoaned. HR advertises vacancies during the final seat following discussions with trainees across the course of the training contract. The informality means “the process can change with each intake” but interviews are rare unless multiple trainees want one spot. London sources pointed out that “this office has fewer departments. Bristol has a far wider seat offering and it needs to be made clearer that certain departments are only offered as qualification spots there.” TLT retained eight of ten qualifiers in 2019.
Through a partnership with the Ablaze charity, Bristol trainees spend their Tuesday or Thursday lunchtimes helping Year 5 and 6 students to read.
How to get a TLT training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2020
Applications and assessments
TLT receives around 2,000 applications each year – this figure includes both vacation scheme and direct training contract applications. The firm now has 37 training contracts on offer across its offices each year, taking between 15-20 trainees each intake. A minimum of 300 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree form the baseline criteria on the academic front.
Around 300 candidates are selected for an online critical thinking test. For vac scheme hopefuls, acing this leads to a half-day assessment centre in the office for which they've applied. This replaces the video interviews the firm previously held to select candidates and allows applicants to get face to face with recruiters before the vac scheme. TLT strongly encourage applicants to apply for a training contract via the vacation scheme if possible.
As for direct training contract applicants, those who pass the critical thinking test move on to complete a video interview. This centres on applicants' interests, work experience, reasons for choosing law and reasons for wanting to work at TLT specifically. Those who perform well on camera head to the assessment day, which entails an interview with an HR member and partner, a presentation, a group exercise, and a written task. The firm now uses 'strength-based' interviews, which are designed to discover what a candidate actually enjoys doing rather than just what they can do (which is tested in more traditional competency-based interviewing).
The presentation centres on a commercial topic that you can choose, while the group exercise sees each group posed a problem and asked to deliver a solution, with questions from assessors to follow. The written task, meanwhile, takes the form of a client letter.
The Bristol, London and Manchester offices all run vacation schemes: Bristol offers up to four week-long schemes over Easter and the summer, with eight candidates on each, while London hosts six vac schemers for a week at the end of July. Manchester offers two week-long schemes over Easter and in the summer. Those on the vac scheme are paid £265 for the week.
Each vac schemer is assigned to a single department for their visit, though they do have the opportunity to network with associates and partners from the other practice areas. At the end of the vacation scheme, participants go through the same strengths-based interview as those who attend the assessment day.
One Redcliff Street,
- Partners 135
- Solicitors 300
- Total trainees 38
- UK offices Bristol, London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast
- Graduate recruiter:TLT Recruitment Team 0333 006 0000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 38
- Applications pa: 2000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or above in any discipline at degree level
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 300/24
- Salary and benefits
- See firm website for details
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, Manchester, London, Glasgow, Belfast
- Client secondments: A variety of large commercial organisations and smaller, niche clients
Combining expertise with open-mindedness, we have a straightforward goal at TLT. We help people to excel; both our clients and the individuals that work here. Our culture provides a bright, innovative place to work, with a flexible approach, where fresh ideas are valued, hard work is recognised and everyone gets out every bit as much as they put in.
Don’t just be part of our future, shape it.
We are an ambitious UK commercial law firm, with a growing reputation. Since 2002, we have more than tripled in size, with revenues reaching £87.6m in 2018/19.
We are described by clients as an ‘energetic firm’ with an ‘open-minded entrepreneurial culture’ and have previously been named as a ‘first class’ employer by Best Companies Limited.
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
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University law career fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 2)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Banking Litigation (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Licensing (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Consumer Finance (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 3)