Taylor Walton LLP:
Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm
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Taylor Walton has for many years been the pre-eminent firm in the thriving Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire region – the area stretches along the M1 corridor from the northern home counties to Milton Keynes. Geographically it encompasses the successful commercial industries based in Bedfordshire and the surrounding area, as well as the prosperous Hertfordshire towns of St Albans and Harpenden.
Taylor Walton is well known for servicing a high-calibre commercial real estate and corporate client base, as well as advising high-net worth individuals, so it follows that the attraction to trainees has always been the mixture of seats on offer during their training contract.
Being at a Top 200 firm allows trainees to experience some work comparable to a City practice but, with a small intake of trainees each year, individuals and can expect an individualised approach to their training and future opportunities.
Jim Wrigglesworth, the firm’s chief operations officer, is in charge of the early part of the two-stage recruitment process. Led by him the firm has taken a conscious decision to make the whole nerve-racking journey more informal than many of its rivals, which appear to make the process more daunting every year.
Jim uses a broad scoring matrix to screen applicants initially. While academic attainment is important it is by no means predominant. The essence is to uncover interesting people with varying attributes who will fit in to the life of the firm and who, it is believed, show the potential to develop into well-rounded practitioners beyond the training contract. Jim recognises that being a modern lawyer calls for a wide spectrum of skills and personal attributes, which may be demonstrated by candidates who have organised events, charitable endeavours, responsible work experience, outside interests and achievements. Unlike some other firms, Taylor Walton insists on a covering letter to accompany its online application form and Jim places weight on the candidates’ writing style and letter content.
Competition for up to four training contracts each year remains fierce and the calibre of applicants continues to be high. Typically Jim will invite a dozen candidates for the first round of interviews. In order to allow candidates to perform at their best, he says he aims to conduct the interview in a relaxed manner. He is not a fan of asking innane questions and takes a more straightforward approach, genuinely trying to get to know each candidate, what drives them to become a lawyer, their interest in Taylor Walton and what sort of person they are. “I want to put candidates at their ease and free candidates of the pressures surrounding attending bootcamps or assessment centres,” he explains. “However, I do still like to see how a candidate thinks on their feet. I like to ask topical questions about the legal market and ask for their opinion.” Jim has found that candidates often ask about retention rates and he is only too pleased to recite exceptionally high statistics in this regard adding that the firm’s ethos is not to simply recruit for the duration of the training contract but to try to look for longer term potential.
Taylor Walton has always been keen to involve its own trainees in the recruitment of its next intake. Candidates are encouraged to take advantage of being able to ask a trainee questions on a one-to-one basis. The firm is keen that all candidates get a sense of the culture and what sort of training and support a trainee can expect. The involvement is also considered to be a valuable learning opportunity for trainees themselves and their input into shortlisting for second interview is highly valued.
A sealed envelope includes Jim’s report on the candidates who are to be invited back to meet two partners – including Tracy Harris, the firm’s training principal – at a second interview. The envelope remains unopened until the end of the second interview stage so that the partners are not swayed before meeting candidates for themselves.
Do they ever disagree? “We look at candidates from an added perspective,” acknowledges Tracy. “We will discuss our views and make a collective decision taking everything into account.” This goes to the heart of the approach and time Taylor Walton takes in learning as much as possible about each candidate and finding the right fit.
“I think it’s critical to give trainees challenging and meaningful work, exposure to clients and opportunities for taking on responsibility at an early stage but in a supportive and encouraging environment.”
In addition to Hudson postgraduate exercises, what also sets the firm apart is the inclusion of a realistic legal proof-reading task. Tracy elaborates: “We are after individuals with a great eye for detail. It’s a simple task, but to do it properly takes concentration and thought – attributes we want in our lawyers. It’s just another thing that helps us to set candidates apart.”
Final-seat trainee Elizabeth Wilson recalls that her interviews were tough, but not daunting. “There were more legal questions at my second interview,” she says. Elizabeth graduated from Durham University and completed the GDL, so to answer legal questions might be seen as a tall order but Elizabeth goes on to explain, “I think the firm is more interested in your approach to answering such questions, rather than actual legal knowledge – that you’ll be able to tackle legal problems and approach issues calmly and logically.”
So this is the recruitment route a candidate can expect – but what about the training contract itself?
Tracy, a partner in Taylor Walton’s commercial litigation department, has been the firm’s training principal since 2001. She maintains that the content of the training contract is vital in helping to shape the lawyers of tomorrow. “I think it’s critical to give trainees challenging and meaningful work, exposure to clients and opportunities for taking on responsibility at an early stage but in a supportive and encouraging environment.” Tracy meets with each trainee at the end of each seat and is particularly keen to ensure that the trainee experience is living up to these aspirations in reality.
Elizabeth’s training contract experience has taken her full circle, having spent her first and final seat in the firm’s corporate department – an area she was particularly interested in from the off and where she will assume a qualified position. In her experience, while wanting to proactively encourage trainees to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time in the firm’s different legal practice areas, where a trainee expresses a particular interest and aptitude, Taylor Walton will allow trainees to do more than one seat in a department.
Tracy confirms this approach. “I would never place trainees into four seats before they join,” she says. “I want trainees to experiment and I often encourage trainees to try a seat which may not first appeal. Many reflect very positively on the experience and even end up favouring the seat! I do, however, ask trainees for their preferences in time for each seat rotation and this largely drives the combination of seats a trainee will experience.”
In support of the firm’s commitment to delivering a quality training contract, Tracy explains that all lawyers significantly involved in trainee development receive specialist training and many have been involved for a substantial proportion of their professional career. “It gives great satisfaction to know you have helped develop another person,” she says. “Each of our lawyers bring different qualities to that relationship, helping to develop each of our trainees as individuals – many of them having started with us a trainees themselves – including the managing partner.”
The firm openly listens to ideas from trainees. “At one of our end of seat reviews, a trainee said that they found the two-year lead time, between securing their training contract and starting, long without any direct contact with the firm,” Tracy recalls. “As a direct consequence, a number of years ago we introduced a ‘buddy scheme’ where incoming trainees are put in direct contact with an existing trainee and are invited to trainee social events. We are keen to get that perspective from trainees – those actually going through the process.”
So what is it that ensures that Taylor Walton comes top of its class? Tracy cites the quality of work and clients, as well as the fact that trainees play a hands-on role in supporting their supervisor’s work. “Trainees feel that they are genuinely contributing to the work we do for clients, their work matters,” she explains. In addition, she believes that a lot is due to the personality of the firm – a nebulous concept, but an important one to consider.
“The firm has a friendly atmosphere,” Elizabeth suggests, “but one offering an exception calibre of work. As a trainee, you are involved with work for a number of lawyers, so you do get wider exposure to different areas of law. I get the impression from some of my friends at City firms that I’m given greater responsibility and more direct client contact – they can also be quite envious that I’m working so closely with partners.”
When asked to reveal Taylor Walton’s secret ingredients, Jim strongly believes that the firm balances professionalism and drive with a welcome degree of informality and personality.