Bates Wells is a City firm that does things differently. With its pledge to create a positive impact, it eschews the traditional corporate model of ‘profit over all’ for a mantra of social purpose and climate responsibility.
Its status as the first ever law firm to become a B Corp, a certification given to businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability, is a great example of how Bates Wells operates.
The firm was founded in 1970 by Andrew Phillips, Baron Phillips of Sudbury, who believed that “a legal system that only served the interests of the wealthiest sections of society was no legal system at all.” Ever since, this message has been the core of what the firm does. Its first recruitment advert affirmed: “We do not seek to maximise profits. We realise there is a life to live outside the office. We seek to serve the public interest as well as our own.”
A full-service commercial firm which is well known and embedded within the charity sector, Bates Wells is rich in interesting projects and active in supporting the local community. One example of this is its annual Steven Lloyd Awards: an initiative where social enterprises nominate themselves for a grant from its charity foundation and receive additional pro bono support alongside.
The firm’s turnover is understood to sit around the £28 million mark. More than half of its clients operate in the charity and social enterprise sector, however, there are other opportunities here too as the firm is also known for its work in education, health and social care, technology, the public sector and the creative industries. Particularly noteworthy work the firm has been involved in includes: advising the Horniman Museum on the return of its collection of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, winning a Supreme Court victory against Uber protecting the rights of its drivers, and the firm’s immigration team were involved in lobbying the UK government on behalf of those fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine.
“I am entrusted with interesting work and high levels of client contact. Our clients are diverse and are always seeking to achieve fantastic things, meaning the work we then do for them tends to reflect their interesting and diverse ambitions,” says one trainee we spoke to. Our sources emphasised the broad variety of work available to them and the consensus that each department offered its own “stimulating” and “exciting” projects. “As a trainee, there will always be administrative tasks which need completing but whenever possible the teams will try and involve you in fee-earning work,” details one insider.
Each year the firm offers training contracts to six new trainees with a starting salary of £41,000 that rises to £43,000 in the second year. Once qualified, this increases to £70,000. These rates may be at the lower end of what other City firms offer but as ever there is a work/life balance trade-off which many feel is well worth it.
Work/life balance at Bates Wells is fairly good, according to our sources, although this can of course vary from department to department. One trainee explained that “partners and senior colleagues make a point of leaving on time and a lot of them have flexible working patterns to fit in around their families and other commitments.” Another trainee affirmed, “I can count on one hand the late nights I have worked which have only been when there was no alternative, each time I do, it has been genuinely acknowledged and appreciated.”
The UK-based firm’s only office is located on Queen Street Place, just a stone’s throw from Southwark Bridge. A roof terrace with “beautiful views across the city” makes the most of this location, however, the office itself is apparently “not as swanky as some of the other City firms.” One insider described it as “full of space, plants and natural light,” which certainly doesn’t sound terrible. As for working from home, the firm requires a minimum of two days in the office each week but can be flexible. Apparently, everything staff need to work from home is provided “in an environmentally conscious way,” using sustainable sources.
The training is said to be “excellent” with the winning combination of small cohorts and hands-on experience. This means trainees can expect a high level of responsibility but are also supported throughout. “You are able to learn quickly without it being too overwhelming,” said one insider. “The solicitors and partners at the firm are some of the sector’s brightest and most conscientious minds, therefore the training is of the highest order,” another spy enthused.
The firm prides itself on being non-hierarchical and senior staff are said to be very generous with their time and keen to see rookies learn and develop. One source reported: “Even when I have not produced high-quality work at first, superiors continued to work with me to see me improve and to produce top-level work.” Another seconded this supportive atmosphere, saying, “There are no conversations I would struggle to have with my supervisor or head of department and I know they would support me if I needed it.” Trainee cohorts are very close-knit, one trainee told us: “There is absolutely no competitiveness amongst peers but rather a culture of knowledge sharing and amplifying each other’s successes.”
Perks at Bates Wells appear to be centred around their feel-good ethos. Those joining can expect the usual health and insurance perks, the chance to buy additional holiday and a “cycle to work scheme with nice showers and lockers available”. Then, there’s the more unique: B Corp Discounts and “an extra day’s holiday if you choose a sustainable mode of travel which takes longer to reach your vacation destination”.
If there was an award for the firm with the most extensive collection of recycling bins, our money would be on Bates Wells. Many respondents mentioned this quirk, noting not just numbers but variety: “There are about ten specific bins for different types of recycling, medicine blister packs, contact lens packets, anything you can think of.” One spy calls it the “greenest law firm in the City.” There’s even a report that employees committed to public transport get up to two extra days of paid leave per year.