Taylor Wessing sits at the cutting edge of cutting-edge sectors.
'The world’s most dynamic industries', according to the Taylor Wessing website, are technology, media and communications; life sciences; energy; and private wealth. Conveniently for Taylor Wessing, these are also the firm's key areas of focus. And while that same website says the firm is 'single minded' about that focus, it would be remiss of us not to point out that there's a lot more to the firm than those four areas. For starters, Taylor Wessing has long been known for its intellectual property prowess and is highly ranked in the area by Chambers UK. Indeed some of our trainee interviewees cited the firm's IP practice as a key reason for applying. But Taylor Wessing has a full-service offering and is Chambers ranked in over 30 areas including private client, big-ticket real estate, mid-market corporate M&A, life sciences, capital markets and litigation. The clients are an eclectic bunch ranging from Specsavers and Abbott Laboratories to McLaren Property and Brentford FC. That tech sector focus means the firm also acts for quite a few cool contemporary clients like Google, Spotify and Just Eat.
The firm's UK presence is spread across three offices. In addition to its London HQ, situated conveniently close to the Royal Courts of Justice and Rolls Building, TW has a patent-focused base in Cambridge, and one in London's East End which offers corporate services to the start-ups in Tech City. Globally the firm has legal eagles practising law from 33 offices in 20 countries. These include many locations we've come to expect law firms to be based, such as Dubai, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and New York, but also some less typical spots like Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Jakarta and Bratislava.
On the face of it, seat selection sounds quite simple. “You list five preferences for your first seat,” a trainee told us, “and at each rotation put forward one fewer preference.” Trainees aren't able to rank their preferences in order, which was a sore point for some. “Most people do get what they want, but it would be nice to have the option to rank them,” said one source. Others were more sympathetic. “I understand where they're coming from,” a trainee said; “it can be hard to allocate fairly if everyone has put a certain department down as their first preference.”
Trade marks are all about protecting branding, so it's perhaps appropriate that TW's standout trade mark, copyright and media team was recently rebranded as 'intellectual property and media'. Whatever it calls itself, this mixed contentious/non-contentious department is always in high demand from trainees, and seldom disappoints. The work can still be roughly divided between trade mark, copyright and media work, although all three offer “big names and interesting clients.” The department has a broad remit, and no two trainees' experiences were quite alike. Recent work highlights include advising a major video game publisher on intellectual property, advertising and consumer protection laws applying to major game franchises, advising on the sale of ad platform Unruly to Newscorp, and defending Express Newspapers against a harassment suit brought by David Walliams and Lana Stone. Trainees are not pigeonholed into any medium or type of IP, but are a “general resource for the whole department,” and are responsible for anything from “trial bundling” and “drafting cease-and-desist letters,” all the way to “providing cutting-edge advice to clients whose trade marks were in jeopardy.”
“In theory I was both a litigation and transactional trainee.”
There's also a specific patent law group, which handles both litigation and transactional work. “In theory I was both a litigation and transactional trainee,” recalled one source, “but in reality there was so much litigation going through the department that contentious work took up most of my time.” Those interested in the non-contentious side of patent work will be interested to note that “the department has recently brought in a trainee to do purely non-contentious work,” but should be advised that much of this side of patent law is handled by patent attorneys. Unsurprisingly, many of the clients in this department come from the patent-hungry pharmaceutical and telecoms industries. The department welcomes both science and non-science graduates, we heard, and is “very open to the possibility of lawyers without science degrees qualifying here.” While arts and law grads may need to break out the old GCSE chemistry textbooks and brush up, many patent cases are so complicated that “I'm not sure how much help a science degree would be,” a non-scientist told us.
ITTC may sound like a robot from Star Wars but it's actually a snappy acronym that stands for the firm's information technology, telecoms and competition group. This is another mixed contentious and non-contentious department, with trainees helping telecom companies draft terms and conditions one day, and working on European competition law cases the next. Start-ups are all the rage at the moment, and a stint in this department allows trainees to be present at their creation. “I got to go to an initial meeting with a founder, find out their idea and help them,” said one trainee, adding: “It's also a great way to see the law in practice.”
How broad is the firm's corporate, commercial and projects department? So broad, according to our sources, “that if you filed all our corporate stuff into one big miscellaneous file, it would have to be labelled corporate, commercial and projects.” The department works for a number of industries, including the hotels sector, the corporate side of private wealth, investment funds and energy. Other clients include publishers Macmillan and D.C. Thomson (of Beano fame) and bottled water people Highland Spring. On the bigger matters, trainees were responsible for “a lot of due diligence, reviewing commercial contracts and keeping on top of key documents that need to be signed and delivered.” It's also a drafting-heavy seat, with trainees helping to inscribe everything from “200-page limited partnership agreements” to “the articles of association of a start-up company.” Trainees praised the amount of responsibility they got in this seat, particularly on “small, self-contained matters,” which they “got to run by ourselves.”
How to spot new money
How does the private client department fit into the firm's list of the world’s most dynamic industries? Well, when it comes to the clients “there is some old money,” a trainee explained, “but a lot of it is very, very new.” As you'd expect from a private client department we can't list any client names but we can tell you the firm recently acted for a UK landed estate with properties across London, Surrey and Oxfordshire worth £100 million, a major German industrial family worth €5 billion, Middle Eastern traders worth $5 billion and several individuals from the financial sector. The department offers trainees a good variety of work, and a fair helping of responsibility too, with trainees “drafting wills and loan notes,” researching new rules on property ownership “and even taking part in the day-to-day management of an individual's estate.”
The firm's main litigation department is called 'disputes and investigations', and, according to our sources there, it's not just a fancy name. “We have partners who specialise in areas like fraud and data protection, where you need a more investigative approach,” a resolver of disputes explained. This means that while there's certainly “the traditional bundling,” and “writing attendance notes,” trainees also got to do more unorthodox tasks like “trawling through computer files looking for 'smoking gun' pieces of evidence.” Given their sensitive nature, many of the department's matters are confidential, but we can tell you that it defended PwC in a £1.6 billion claim arising out of the subprime mortgage crash, and is representing the Argentinian branch of MetLife in an ongoing dispute with JP Morgan.
Trainees can go on client and overseas secondments with rookies recently heading abroad for stints in Dubai, Singapore and Frankfurt – the options tend to change each year. Similarly, client secondments vary too. Trainees have recently spent time at pharma company Hospira and Japanese printers Ricoh. Interviewees who'd been on secondment praised the amount of responsibility this entailed, telling us that “there's something quite exhilarating about giving advice on the spot.”
With the firm doing so much work with tech companies, were there any Google-style perks like slides or ping-pong tables? “I wish,” laughed a trainee, “but law is a super-stale industry that sticks to its ways.” That said, TW is a good deal less stale than many of its rivals. 'Innovative' is a word trainees used again and again to describe the way the firm works. “Our clients want things done and don't care about the formalities,” said a spy, “and we're definitely trying to get on top of that.” Examples include “rolling out technological solutions to particularly time-consuming manual tasks,” opening a satellite office in Shoreditch's Tech City and “splitting corporate into different departments.”
“There's no department that will have you here at midnight every night,” said one emphatic trainee, but the occasional late night is a fact of life at TW. “We weren’t in late all the time,” explained one trainee, “but there were times when it was really moving.” When this is the case and trainees need to “put in the extra hours to take it to the finish line,” they can expect to be in the office until 11pm, 12 or even 1am. On a good day, trainees can expect to get in between 9am and 9.30am, and clock out around 6.30 or 7pm. This does vary by departments with real estate and private client singled out for arriving and leaving a tad earlier. For anyone still in the office after 8pm, the canteen serves dinner.
“I did a few vac schemes, and this is definitely the lightest and airiest office I experienced.”
The firm's main London base is just off Chancery Lane, near the Rolls Building. The location lends itself to some spectacular views of London's landmarks, particularly from Cloud 9, the firm's highly reviewed cafeteria on the ninth floor. “Obviously the views aren't as good if you have an internal-facing office,” admitted one spy, but thanks to copious amounts of natural light, “even that's not too bad.” Another weighed in, saying: “I did a few vac schemes, and this is definitely the lightest and airiest office I experienced.” While sharing a room with your supervisor can be daunting at first, it was also a great way to “learn by osmosis” and “pick up lots of little tricks.” And besides, the supervisors themselves were all praised for being welcoming and helpful. “They understand that trainees might be nervous,” one formerly nervous trainee told us, “but they're willing to help, and there's no such thing as a stupid question as far as they're concerned.”
“I know it sounds lame,” a trainee told us, “but we're a really, really lovely bunch.” So lovely, in fact, that even after spending late nights being duly diligent with one another, the trainees are willing to club together to organise social events. “Every year, there's a self-organised trainee dinner,” one confided in us. If you're worried that, after a long day being duly diligent, you'll be responsible for organising all manner of complicated social events... don't be. The firm itself is happy to do the heavy lifting, organising the annual Christmas bash and trainee networking event. And, of course, on most Fridays trainees can be found unwinding at any of the local bars around New Street Square, with Corney and Barrow, Café Verdano and the rather final-sounding The Last singled out as particular favourites.
“State and private schools are represented in my trainee group, as are most ethnic groups,” said one trainee on the subject of diversity. “I wouldn't say it's a perfect cross-section of society, but it's certainly not a bad mix of people.” While conceding that the firm could do better on the diversity front, our sources detected a “definite push towards greater diversity.” More generally, our sources were hard pressed to think of any one Taylor Wessing personality trait. “We're a very varied bunch,” one told us, although “no one is just who they are at work; everyone vigorously pursues some external interests.” At the time of our research, the firm was still ramping up for the qualification process, and eventually kept on 17 out of 22 qualifiers in 2016.
A lot of law firms talk the talk on diversity, but Taylor Wessing is one of the few this side of the pond to train its staff on unconscious bias.
How to get a Taylor Wessing training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 30 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 30 April 2017
Check out Taylor Wessing's own graduate recruitment video...
The firm hosts a handful of open days throughout the year. Some are for first-years only; others are targeted solely at law students or non-law students. There are also a few focused on specific practice areas.
The firm generally receives 600 applications for its 40 vacation scheme places each year. The number of applications it gets from those gunning directly for a training contract – the firm looks for around 24 trainees each year – has risen from around 600 to 900 over the past couple of years.
According to graduate talent advisor Sarah Harte, a vac scheme is “the most straightforward way to secure a training contract here.” Indeed, around 70% of TW’s trainee intake each year comes via the vac scheme.
The application process is the same for both vac scheme and training contract applicants, and begins with an online form. Candidates need a minimum ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree. There’s space to list prior work experience, though Harte tells us “we appreciate that not everybody will have been able to take advantage of such opportunities.” The form contains a few questions designed to gauge a candidate’s motivations and general commercial awareness.
“We’re looking for the whole package,” says Harte. “We look at their academic achievements and commercial awareness, but also for evidence that they can think innovatively and work well in a team: I recommend that candidates isolate key differentiators about themselves that clearly exhibit their skills, and then show how they could use these at Taylor Wessing.”
Applicants who impress on paper – Up to 80 vac scheme candidates and 25 direct-to-training-contract candidates – are invited to attend one of six half-day assessment centres. Each kicks off with a group exercise in which candidates are given a commercial scenario they could potentially encounter as a trainee, and then asked to come up with a solution and present it to a member of the graduate recruitment team, plus an associate or partner.
“We review both their leadership skills and their team-working abilities,” Harte tells us. “They need to balance these, and show that they can build strong, collaborative relationships.” A candidate’s focus and ability to prioritise is also assessed. Next is an interview with a partner and a member of the HR team. This involves commercial awareness tasks, plus a competency-based discussion on the candidate’s application form and prior experiences.
The firm makes its vac scheme and training contract offers straight off the back of the assessment day.
TW runs two two-week vac schemes over June and July. There are 20 spots on each.
Participants spend each week in a different practice area and are assigned a supervisor, usually an associate, as well as a trainee buddy. Both delegate live work. Alongside lunches with their trainee buddies, vac schemers attend several ‘lunch and learn’ sessions that provide insight into various practice areas and the trainee role within them.
Vac schemers work on a group project throughout their placement and present the results to a panel on the penultimate day. “The management team usually gives you an article on a high-profile commercial issue or sets a question to kick-start the project,” a current trainee told us, mentioning “ours was ‘What country would you invest in and why?’” On the social front there are drinks events, comedy nights, bowling excursions and karaoke contests. “Make sure you demonstrate that you have the ability to network well and connect with others,” our sources advised. Indeed, TW’s trainees regularly participate in business development initiatives, so recruiters will be keeping an eye out for those with stellar mingling skills.
Each vac schemer is reviewed at the end of the process, and those who impressed are offered a training contract.
How to wow
As for trainee backgrounds, you might wonder if the firm's tech/start-up edge attracts individuals with a certain type of degree background – eg science. But this isn't the case: of the 47 trainees with the firm at the time of our calls, just five had science degrees. Just under half had studied law at undergrad (20) and the next most common degree was history (nine graduates).
That doesn't mean you should be disengaged from the firm's focus on tech and the 'industries of tomorrow'. Graduate recruitment and development partner Amar Ali advises: "Being curious about the world in which we operate and being curious about your chosen path and industries will also stand you in good stead."
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Taylor Wessing LLP
5 New Street Square,
- Partners 400
- Trainees 47
- Vacancies 24
- Method of application All candidates are required to complete our online application form, which can be found on our website www.taylorwessing.com/graduate
- Closing dates for 2017/19
- Vacation scheme: 30 January 2017
- Training contract: 30 April 2017
- Training salary
- First year: £40,000
- Second year: £44,000
- Post qualification salary £63,000
- Offices Amsterdam, Berlin, Bratislava, Brussels, Budapest, Cambridge, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Indonesia, Hamburg, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Jeddah, Kiev, London, London Tech City, Munich, New York City, Palo Alto, Paris, Prague, Riyadh, Singapore, South Korea, Vienna and Warsaw Representative Offices Beijing, Brno, Klagenfurt and Shanghai
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