Bristol-born TLT continues to be a disruptive success story. Since its inception in 2000, the firm set its sights on spreading its South West roots across the country and cementing its position as a national player. And that’s just what it did. TLT now operates seven offices, including a City of London base near St Paul’s, two camps in Glasgow and Belfast and even an overseas outpost in the Greek port of Piraeus. Now, the firm is ambitiously looking to broaden its cross-border services for clients through strategic alliances with firms in key European countries, the US and India. In 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.
TLT’s original formula, concocted by the current head of strategic growth David 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. The firm also has major real estate, employment and general commercial practices that serve a mixture of local and national clients.
It’s an approach that is clearly working financially with firmwide revenues growing an impressive 9% this year to £157 million — a figure that smashes TLT’s original 2025 revenue target of £140 million. But, despite this impressive performance, profit per equity partner (PEP) this year slipped to £602,000. This does, however, come after two massive years of growth for PEP at the firm, throughout which it surged 159%. Inflationary pressures impacting general profitability are another reason PEP has declined this year.
Financials aside, 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. “I’ve spoken with senior lawyers at other firms who were genuinely shocked by the quality of work I have been responsible for,” reports one hot-shot rookie.
Another third-seater details: “Regardless of the department, the levels of responsibility have been very consistent throughout. Your opinion is really valued and members of the team take out time to explain things to you even if they’re busy. I have also had scope to present my own ideas and provide suggestions which is fantastic and gets me into the habit of making decisions at such a junior level which will no doubt help shape me into a well-rounded lawyer.”
All this comes down to the fact that there is “a really encouraging culture within the firm” where trainees “receive as much or as little support as needed no matter what seat you are in”. “Associate level work, on hand supervision and good accessibility to partners” is the consensus across the board. 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. Another explains at length: “Trainees across all cohorts and offices come from a wide variety of backgrounds and are very different in that sense but we all share the same qualities: supportive, ambitious and genuinely nice people to work with. Trainees who have been in the seats you are currently in also regularly offer guidance and tips throughout your rotation which makes navigating the seat a lot more manageable. All trainees are very approachable and there is a real sense of camaraderie.”
This all bodes well for the quality of work which is “extremely varied and interesting”. A strong network of paralegals and non-fee earning staff means that trainees can “pick up the meatier things” and, with star clients including Lloyds, Sainsburys, the BBC and Boohoo, work at TLT is only getting meatier. As one sharp-eyed rookie points out, “the firm are landing more high-profile clients and deals.” Anther reports that “within the space of one year of my training contract, I can definitely see the calibre of work increasing”. There’s already “sexy work for interesting clients” though, which includes “assisting drafting complex bespoke contracts” and pretty extensive project management, alongside more standard typically trainee-level work. Recent notable deals include ongoing work organising distribution and supply agreements for WHSmith’s international franchise in India, Oman and Fiji, as well as a recent win in the Supreme Court for Barclays on a major fraud case. This success also comes after the firm launched the Barclays Joint Training Contract Scheme (BJTCS) in collaboration with the bank earlier this year, offering students who have completed the SQE or LPC the opportunity to split their training contract between Barclays and TLT.
But with this new momentum has come some damage to the firm’s reputation for having relatively reasonable hours compared to international City law firms. This spy explains: “Work life balance is very unpredictable at times and is department dependent. My seats in Corporate and FSDI were definitely where my hours were longer and working from home means expectations to work later are there. Across the firm, all teams are getting noticeably busier with more work which means long hours are increasingly becoming the norm.” That said, many rookies are still very happy with their set-up and at least one believes that “trainees are rarely slogging it out at the office after 6:30pm”. There is also more flexibility than at other firms with “no expectation to be in the office” following the firm’s announcement that it would allow a ‘fully flexible’ working strategy in 2021. In order to make this possible, TLT has invested multi-million sums hiring more than 400 support staff and will provide staff any equipment they need to make their home set-up comfortable (within reason of course!)
Helping with this is TLT’s increasing use of legal technology, which the firm “are investing heavily into”. “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. This consolidates on earlier progress when the firm launched FutureLaw, a £500,000 fund to test technology more quickly before providing them to clients. TLT also 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.
“Definitely room for more perks though,” stresses one newbie, which seems to be a weaker area for the firm. There are some decent freebies including free entry to Bristol Zoo, private healthcare (which includes an Apple watch), subsidised gym membership, free clipper tea, coffee machine coffee and snacks in the office, team drinks plus a health insurance scheme that awards goodies like cinema tickets and Starbucks coffees to those who meet their step count targets. But this all fails to make up for the fact that many feel the pay is lagging behind market rates, especially in London where NQs bag £75,000.
Chances of going on client secondments are growing, and trainee destinations have included Starling Bank, NatWest, Santander and Iceland Foods. “It was a great experience and has served me well for the future of my career,” reports one trainee.
One area where TLT is really ahead of the pack is with their sustainability efforts. And the firm’s nationwide office transformations are taking things up a notch. The Glasgow team have settled into Scotland’s first net zero office building after moving last year, and now those in Manchester get to experience Europe’s biggest living green wall when they bed down into the new Eden building in Salford. The twelve-story tower also comes equipped with completely fossil-fuel free electricity and a rooftop terrace. Elsewhere, rookies will have to make do with beehives on the rooftops and refurbs in Bristol and London, all of which has impressed. Bristol’s previously “bland and monolithic” 1970s-style office block at 1 Redcliff Street is now looking very different thanks to its makeover, boasting “incredible” views of the city — especially from the new client suite on the 15th floor. The 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” with new coffee machines creating a real buzz across the firm’s various outposts. Caterers also apparently come in for certain days, such as scones for the Jubilee, perhaps a concession to the lack of microwaves that have caused grumbles in the past.