Craving a traineeship in the City but uninspired by the usual mega-firm offering? Fox Williams may be the answer, with its mix of familiar and more niche commercial practices.
Imagine this: a group of City-based commercial law firms get together to host a fashion show based on their expertise. Down the catwalk struts the standard array of suited and booted real estate teams, slick corporate departments and fancy finance groups. The fashion magazine editors fan themselves impatiently – everybody's seen these combinations before. Then in comes Fox Williams' collection. A sector-based fusion of fashion; financial services; natural resources; technology, digital and media; and professional practices makes a bolder statement. The audience perks up. This time the usual corporate, real estate and employment styles are complemented by a chic regulatory group and a trendy agency team – its status as the trusted adviser to many a fashion agency conveyed with effortless flair.
What we're getting at is this: FW offers its trainees something a little different to the typical City experience. Its combo of specialisms means that trainees can find themselves helping to advise an intriguing mix of start-ups, large banks, tech firms, sports clubs, fashion agencies and fellow law firms. They get to do so in a much cosier environment too, as FW has just 80 lawyers beavering away in its Finsbury Square office. “It's small as far as City firms go,” one source commented, emphasising a clear benefit: “You have just one trainee sitting in a department at any one time, which means you can really impress and get some good work coming your way.”
But size and expertise weren't the only reasons trainees applied – reputation matters too of course. FW certainly has that: it often gets referral work from larger City outfits that lack the relevant expertise to handle more niche legal issues. All of this is duly noted in Chambers UK, where tip-top rankings are bestowed upon FW's partnership and contentious regulatory work. The firm's corporate, real estate and employment teams also pick up worthy nods in the capital.
“IP is always very interesting and feels quite glamorous!”
With six potential seat destinations up for grabs, trainees get to see a fair chunk of the firm during their four rotations. The first seat is allocated automatically, but trainees do submit preferences before subsequent rotations. Trainees felt that they were “overall listened to,” but as is often the case not all of their preferences could be accommodated. “HR does manage your expectations though, and the good news is that if there's a seat you especially want to do you will get it. Beyond that it's hit and miss.” Dispute resolution and corporate are the two biggest departments with a total of around 25 staff each. (The professional practices team is part of corporate.) The two next biggest teams are employment, and commerce and technology, with around 15 people each, while real estate is the smallest team.
The commerce and technology department covers intellectual property, data protection, fintech, agency work and general commercial matters. Lawyers here recently acted for Bebe Clothing as it took on Primark for alleged copyright infringement; advised fashion agency Rainbowwave on various agreements with industry brands; and represented fintech whiz Clearmatics Technologies during the negotiation of an agreement with a consortium of banks including Deutsche Bank, UBS and Santander (who were represented by magic circle firm Linklaters). Trainees found that there was a contentious bent to the seat, and much of the work was IP-related. “IP is always very interesting and feels quite glamorous! I've worked on trademark and design infringements, as well as a domain dispute.” What did that glamour translate into? “Researching points of law, attending settlement meetings, and drafting witness statements and statements of claim.”
The professional practices team advises “a lot of law firms that want to know about the legal issues tied to establishing a new vehicle or venture.” For example, the group recently counselledUS firmGreenberg Traurig on its ultimately unsuccessful merger discussions with silver circler Berwin Leighton Paisner; it also helped to establish the aptly named 'Town Legal' – a law firm that specialises in town planning. The financial services sector is another strength for the department, which handles a whole host of mergers, team moves, LLP conversions and corporate structures. Our interviewees found themselves “dealing with any queries the client might have – a lot of the time you just get questions emailed to you directly.” Another added: “It was probably the most challenging seat in that it's niche and pretty technical. It's easier to draft advice to a lawyer client as they already have legal knowledge, but if you're doing so for an accountant or an architect you can't get too technical as it won't be useful!” We also heard that trainees are likely to “end up working with Tina Williams who is the 'Williams' in 'Fox Williams.'”
“...sometimes we have to lug around garments and photograph them!”
The employment department also went down a treat. One source enthused: “I really got to use what I'd learnt at law school and do what a lawyer does: advise or act on the basis of black letter law.” An eclectic client roster includes Chelsea FC, pressure group Oxford Policy Management, TwentyFour Asset Management and barristers' set Landmark Chambers. The department attracts many a City employer and senior executive, and is especially known for its work on severance negotiations, discrimination claims and whistle-blowing issues. “You get a good mix of contentious and non-contentious work,” sources revealed, “so on the one hand you're drafting contracts and getting to grips with their general principles, and on the other you're liaising with counsel, attending tribunal hearings and synthesising all the info we have to instruct a barrister.”
A dispute resolution seat keeps trainees on their toes. “I did so much in that seat!” one breathless source informed us. “I drafted a skeleton argument, I prepared witness statements and schedules of costs, I went to a hearing, I did lots of research tasks, I bundled...” A big perk was the variety of subject matter: “You do get towork in different areas of the department; I did some Financial Conduct Authority work, a few insolvency matters and general breach of contract claims.” Areas of expertise include civil fraud, investment banking spats and insurance feuds. Recent cases have seen the team defend car hire outfit Hertz against Ryanair during a breach of contract dispute, and act for one of the directors of Mauritian oil company AOIL, who stands accused of fraudulent conspiracy. If anything obscure comes in “trainees often get to have a first look, which is great!” One example we heard about involved looking into economic torts – legal wrongs concerning an intention to harm a person's or a firm's business interests – with “some quite exotic causes of action.” Another source highlighted a more unusual task: “When fashion disputes arise sometimes we have to lug around garments and photograph them!”
The fox down
“Wall flowers wouldn't necessarily fit into this firm,” sources agreed, “as working here is all about going out and getting the experience you want to get.” They added that the set up wasn't intimidating, as “everyone is very friendly and approachable. If you want to talk to a partner they really do just prefer you to knock on their door and say 'Hi, can I discuss this with you?' A rigid process would be seen as inefficient.” While a more self-starting approach is encouraged, trainees still get support froma supervising partner in each seat – often they'll sit together in the same office.
It's not all work and no play though, as the firm's calender is dotted with a number of social and charitable events. The trainees have assembled a popular cricket team that has tested its mettle “against one of our suppliers and another law firm.” Alongside this we heard of outings to Wimbledon, a comedy night, a quiz night and a wine club – “every Friday one of the partners – who's a wine connoisseur – brings in different wines. It's a good way to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet and it's super relaxed.” Sources highlighted that there was time for such occasions as the hours are generally more reasonable than those at surrounding City hotshot firms.Most trainees reported arriving between 8.30am and 9am and leaving between 6.30pm and 7pm. We did, however, hear of certain seats – like dispute resolution – that come with more regular late finishes: “I would have one 10pm or 11pm finish almost every week.”
This is how qualification works: “HR speaks to the heads of departments a few months before we qualify and they subsequently send out an email detailing where NQ jobs are available.” If roles go uncontested then applicants just need to state their interest, but if two or more trainees go for the same job “you formally apply and attend an interview.” Most sources felt the process was transparent and “quite clear from the outset.” In the end FW kept on one of its three qualifiers in 2017.
“We are going to continue focusing on our sector groups,” training principal Mark Watson tells us. “We will grow organically but if we see an opportunity to bring in the right partner to expand our offering we'll do so.”
How to get a Fox Williams training contract
Training contract deadline (2018/19): 1 April 2018
Fox Williams' recruitment process for its training contract begins with an online application form on the firm's website, which asks for personal details and work experience. Applicants also have to asnwer six competency questions. HR officer Philippa Lear tells us: “We want applicant to tell us a story about themselves. Everyone at Fox Williams has their own unique story and so want to hear what a candidate's is.”
When it comes to the competency questions the firm expects candidates to use the STAR technique (which stands for situation, task, action and result). “If an applicant hasn't used it their answers won't be as effective,” says Lear. “Candidates have to be really thorough and tell us what makes them different compared to the other applicants.” The firm receives around150 applicationsevery year, and all are read by a member of the graduate recruitment team, so a chance to impress (or underwhelm!) is guaranteed.
Roughly 12 to 18 candidates who ace the application form are invited to attend a week-long vacation scheme. Fox Williams typically runs two or three schemes every summer, and there's usually room for up to six candidates on each.“It's really an extended assessment,” Lear explains, “butit's a nice way to assess people and it gives applicants a chance to really see how we work.” And if you get a place on the vac scheme but not a training contract at the end of it, it gives you some nice work experience to refer back to later.
During the scheme candidates get a taste of life in different departments (by spending a whirlwind three hours a day in each one) and attend various presentations, which are delivered by members of HR, partners and associates. Candidates also undertake various assessments, including a technical written exercise, a group presentation and a practical group exercise (a verbal reasoning test is also completed before attending the scheme). At the end of the week, all participants “have a short 15-minute interview with two partners,” Lear explains, “which gives us a chance to delve a bit deeper into a candidate's answers from the technical written exercise.”
By the end of July or early August candidates will hear whether they've been successful or not – the firm usually offers training contracts to just three individuals a year.
For those hoping to wow training principal Mark Watson tells us FW is looking for “someone with good academics [ABB at A level and a minimum 2:1 degree], but more than just that: we want to see those who can demonstrate that they have the raw material required to become lawyers of the future who will stay and thrive at our firm.” Those who may not have come to the law fresh from university should take note, says Watson: “We're not put off by somebody who might have an atypical career path. For example, someone may have come out of university with a good degree, worked in publishing for two or three years, decided they weren't being stretched and signed up for the GDL and LPC.” A stint paralegalling also goes down well.
Watson is also “looking for someone with personality” and a good sense of humour. “We want someone who will join in our social and charity committee events, the type of person – for example – who might enjoy a lunchtime game of table football in our staff area or join a team for our annual charity quiz.” Watson is quick to add that this doesn't mean all future trainees should be extroverted table football enthusiasts: “We have many different personalities here. Everyone has their ‘story’.”
Fox Williams LLP
10 Finsbury Square,
- Partners 32
- Associates 35
- Total trainees 6
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 0 – strong international practices
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected]
- Training partner: Mark Watson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 3
- Applications pa: 200
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Autumn 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2018/19 start: 1 April 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year salary: £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work