Meet TLT at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 5 October 2021
TLT is consistently highly rated for training and quality of work, thanks to an ethos that encourages young lawyers to take on high levels of responsibility. Expect “lots of hands-on work and direct client contact” if you begin your career here, insiders tell us. Rookies are known to “always be given a breakdown of the task and best way to approach it along with a template” and enjoy attending internal group training sessions.
“As a trainee I have been given a lot of responsibility (e.g., running my own files or taking the lead on specific parts of larger matters, such as leading the DD [due diligence] on large corporate transactions),” reports one TLT rookie. Others describe receiving a “high level of supervision” without “being micromanaged”, and say you are encouraged to “try and find answers yourself”.
This tricky mix is fostered by a culture that is unusually down-to-earth for a corporate law firm. Aided by the absence of private offices, partners are so approachable and friendly that it’s “unnerving”, we are told. “I feel I can talk with any of them, be it about work matters or the results from the football on a weekend,” says one trainee, while also praising the open-plan office. This chatty atmosphere among fee earners means rookies can ask “questions you feel a little daft asking of anyone no matter how senior they are”, another trainee adds.
Trainees can also expect to receive support from their cohort. “The other trainees in my intake are great, lovely people to get to know and we’ve definitely helped each other through in the inevitable trickier moments,” reveals one insider. Others have found “no evidence of any rivalry or competitiveness”, with one trainee instead stressing, “we are all genuinely friends”. One spy lauded how the firm encouraged such camaraderie: “We have regular calls and there are lots of events for trainees to interact, both within the office you work in and other offices. Trainees are encouraged to communicate with each other.”
It’s an approach that is clearly working financially, with revenue up 11% to £110 million, smashing the £100 million barrier for the first time in what is another year of consecutive growth for the firm. Profit per equity partner was last reported as £225,000. Reports of strong performance are particularly impressive considering that TLT changed leadership in April 2020 — electing its first new managing partner in 19 years. Long-time incumbent David Pester, one of the most respected legal bosses in the business, was replaced by former TLT corporate head John Wood. Pester, now TLT’s head of strategic growth, is credited with transforming the firm from a relative unknown into a major law brand since he took the helm way back in 2001. Looking forward, Wood announced TLT’s ‘2025 strategy’, with the firm setting its eyes on £140 million in revenue by 2025.
TLT now has seven offices, including a City of London base near St Paul’s, the headquarters in Bristol and an overseas outpost in the Greek port of Piraeus. The firm is also ambitiously looking to broaden its cross-border services for clients by forming strategic alliances with firms in key European countries, the US and India. In January 2021, TLT struck its second alliance with the Belgian firm GSJ advocaten, after teaming up with Netherlands firm Holla in June 2020, which will provide a convenient gateway to other countries — especially after Brexit.
TLT’s original formula, concocted by Pester, worked by undercutting global law firms on certain aspects of banking transactions, which it then handed to teams of young lawyers in Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow. But as time has gone on TLT has become a significant banking & finance player in its own right, with its London office growing in clout. TLT also has major real estate, employment and general commercial practices that serve a mixture of local and national clients. Star clients include Barclays, Sainsbury’s, Lloyds, the BBC, EDF Energy and Boohoo. Over the past year, the firm was also appointed to Vodafone’s legal panel and the UK government’s recently established trade law panel.
The work can be tough, but it’s rewarding. There’s “sexy work for interesting clients”, which includes “assisting drafting complex bespoke contracts” and pretty extensive project management, alongside more standard typically trainee-level work. Where it differs from global law firms is in how TLT makes it fit within relatively reasonable hours. Most trainees and junior lawyers barely exceed nine hours on a typical working day and rarely work weekends. “I’m in my second seat and so far I’ve been starting at around 8.30, taking an hour for lunch, and very rarely working past 6pm. The firm definitely has the mindset of work effectively rather than for longevity,” says one trainee.
While busy periods may require the odd late night, trainees are often told to come in later the next day or are given time in lieu. “It’s not a pushover here, but workloads are generally manageable,” a trainee tells us. Another notes that this is a result of the firm’s increasing success: “The firm is going through massive growth, which is bringing increased workloads (and some late nights and rare working weekends), but generally the hours remain reasonable.”
Helping with this is TLT’s increasing use of legal technology, which the firm is becoming “more serious” about. “It is getting more advanced. We are starting to use more AI [artificial intelligence] technology which has helped speed up a lot of typically menial tasks,” reports one trainee. In 2018, the firm launched FutureLaw, a £500,000 fund to test technology more quickly before providing them to clients. In the same year, TLT backed the launch of the Barclays Eagle Labs, a London-based incubator that can accommodate up to 100 lawtech-minded entrepreneurs, and partnered with US lawtech company LegalSifter, which uses AI to organise and negotiate contracts. The firm still has some distance to go, however. This insider sums up the problem: “The firm has big ambitions and there is an increased drive on tech / AI within the firm. However, we are let down by our own IT infrastructure (which has struggled with the mass movement to WFH), basic laptops and mobile phones.”
Others are more positive about the firm’s reaction to the global pandemic. One explained, “we have been provided with a full set-up, including desk, chair and desk lamp. Also, IT is always readily contactable to assist with any issues that may arise”. Others praised the “big focus on communication”, alongside increased contact and support from their superiors.
Perks are another weaker point. “They’re not something you’d move firms for,” says one trainee. Some decent freebies — including free entry to Bristol Zoo, private healthcare (which includes an Apple watch), subsidised gym membership, team drinks plus a health insurance scheme that awards goodies like cinema tickets and Starbucks coffees to those who meet their step count targets — fail to make up for the fact that pay in the firm’s main Bristol office lags behind local rivals. And there are continuing gripes about the lack of canteens at the firm’s offices.
Chances of going on client secondments are growing, and trainee destinations have included Starling Bank, Santander and Iceland Foods. “It was a great experience and has served me well for the future of my career,” reports one trainee.
The firm has now completed the final phase of the renovation of its Bristol headquarters. The previously “bland and monolithic” 1970s-style office block at 1 Redcliff Street is now looking very different thanks to its major refurb, boasting “incredible” views of the city — especially from the new client suite on the 15th floor. There was much praise for the Manchester gaff which, we are told, is a “great modern office” in the heart of Spinningfields. The recent London office refurb is also “really nice” and reportedly comes with free coffee and contactless payment vending machines. We’re told that offices come with “everything you could want” — except, unfortunately, microwaves. “Staff have genuinely learned to eat their meals cold,” one respondent grumbles.