One of Bristol's finest firms has been beefing up its presence and pushing its sector-based know how, which includes particular strengths in education, healthcare and charity work.
Upon hearing this firm's name, you could be forgiven for imagining a wand-waving posse carving up a realm in some fantasy video-game. Alas, you'd have the wrong end of the wand. Sadly we can't credit this Bristol-headquartered firm with magic powers, but we can tip our pointy hat to VWV's regional standing in the South West, as well as its growing presence in the other locations it operates in: Birmingham, London and Watford.
Over the past three years VWV has snapped up a Bristol-based private client shop (Parkhouse & Co); gobbled up 30 corporate and real estate lawyers from the now defunct Matthew Arnold & Baldwin in Watford; and absorbed a specialist healthcare practice in London, Lockharts. Despite all of this expansion, sources were keen to emphasise VWV's loyalty to its home stomping ground: “We're not one of those firms that just pushes the London side and hides the regional aspects. We are very proud of our Bristol heritage, plus there's a growing tech market in the city, which we're honing in on.”
“We're a very sector-focused firm,” our interviewees added, citing VWV's reputation in the education, healthcare and charity spaces especially. Its knowledge in all three is commended in Chambers UK, where its education work receives tip-top nationwide marks. Elsewhere, the firm is well-regarded for its real estate, construction, lower mid-market corporate and personal injury practices. Among its other sector specialisms (there are 13 in total) you'll also find energy, technology and private wealth expertise.
At the time of our calls there were nine trainees in Bristol, three in London and one who split their time between Watford and London. The Birmingham office doesn't currently recruit trainees. It is possible to complete a seat in another location, but trainees usually stay put in the office they initially joined. Before each rotation HR releases a list of seat options and trainees submit threepreferences. “Overall the system is fair: you might not get your number one choice but your preferences are taken into account as much as possible.” Stints in real estate, commercial litigation, corporate/commercial and employment are commonly available across the offices.
Macaroon, Mr. Lagerfeld?
VWV's real estate practice attracts an eclectic mix of clients hailing from the worlds of retail, education, banking, charity and religion. At the moment you'll find the Truro Diocesan Board of Finance, University College London, Santander and high-end patisserie Miss Macaroon Retail (which counts fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld among its customers) on the client roster. Matters here can be equally broad, covering development, sales, investment, property management and leasehold work. “In property, you learn by doing,” sources agreed. For one Londoner that meant “running my own small industrial leases, which was good for developing my matter-management skills.” In Bristol, seats can have either an education or healthcare focus. On the former side, sources were working on “an academy conversion involving three religious schools – it involved lots of digging around to find deeds dating back to the 1880s and figuring out what their practical impact is today.” Healthcare matters, meanwhile, saw sources “helping to transfer property interests on behalf of GP partnerships – it's different to standard corporate transfers, and there were some interesting elements to navigate as the law is quite complex.”
“We're a very sector-focused firm.”
Corporate insolvency, contractual disputes, debt recovery cases and professional negligence matters are just some of the issues that VWV's commercial litigation team handles. Recent highlights include acting for long-term client EDF Energy during a multi-million claim after a power plant it operated failed; assisting banana-supplier SH Pratt as it challenged a tender for the NHS' School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme; and representing a retired GP partner as she pursued an arbitration claim for unpaid capital from her former surgery. “It prepared me most for the transition into the NQ role as we get our own case-load,” one source reflected; “a lot of enquiries came to me and I had to try and figure out what the issues were.” Another interviewee told of handling files tied to school fee recoveries: “I was speaking with debtors on the phone – you have to prepare yourself for a call from an angry person who's just received your letter of action!” On larger cases trainees contributed by drafting instructions to counsel, witness statements and particulars of claim.
A split seat between corporate and commercial work is also available. On the corporate side there's an emphasis on family businesses, tech start-ups, social investment and life sciences matters. The department has been busy advising early stage tech company enModus on the venture capital investments it's received, as well as helping a Bristol-based family business, Park Furnishers, during its £6.4 million sale to a Welsh company. Sources here had been “working on a lot of M&A for private schools, as many of them are being bought by foreign investors.” This involved conducting a lot of due diligence for the buyer, but some matters provided more hands-on experience: “I worked for a client whose business was being invested in, so I drafted the share purchase agreement and the share certificate, and filed everything at Companies House.” Commercial work, on the other hand, saw this source “mostly drafting contracts for schools; many require facility hire agreements for weddings and other events over the summer. There's a lot of back and forth with the client as everyone wants the agreement to be different!”
A dedicated stint in VWV's charity department is similar to corporate in that “it's very much about the governance and structure of the organisations you're setting up, but the fact that there are so many regulations applied to the sector makes it really interesting.” Clients include the University of Bristol, the Institute of Cancer Research and the Beacon Centre for the Blind. Alongside governance and compliance work, the department assists charities with procurement, state aid and collaborations. The work is split between “company secretarial services,” where trainees draft the likes of applications to the Charity Commission, and “ad hoc research tasks, where you look into Citizens Advice Bureaux and other educational institutions.”
Down by the water
Sources deemed the hours “quite reasonable” across the firm. Most were clocking in at 9am and heading out the door by 6pm.This even held true in the London office, but interviewees here did say that “completion meetings in corporate may require you to stay to 11pm – that's the nature of the work and we're happy to do it.” While trainees accepted “the trade off of a lower salary for better hours,” they still wanted to see it bumped up a bit, especially in London: “It's not quite where it should be.”
There were no gripes when it came to the culture, however. “It's great! The office is open plan and reflects the temperament and attitude of the people here,” commented one Bristolian. “It comes down to the little things,” said another; “I was nervous about changing seats and some solicitors from the team I was moving to sent me emails to say hi and to tell me to pop over if I had any questions.” One interviewee told of “messing up quite badly, but I just had a word with the partner who helped me. There was no shouting or reprimanding. I don't want to say that there's no hierarchy but it doesn't feel like there is!”
This all bodes well for a good social life. In Bristol, the office is “down by the waterfront, close to all of the restaurants and bars.” On Fridays, trainees “visit a couple of nearby pubs,” while a cash-injected social committee plans events throughout the year: “We had our summer party at Clifton Zoo, but we've also organised quizzes and cheese and wine-tasting nights.” Londoners alsogave a thumbs up to their social scene: “It's a small, friendly office with an active social committee. We've been to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain and been to the theatre to see The Kite Runner – all paid for by the firm.”
Across the offices interviewees were “fairly confident” about qualifying with the firm. “The departments release NQ jobs based on business need, and both internal and external candidates are invited to apply. The jobs themselves are not confirmed until quite late, which can be a bit of a problem.” Second-years then submit their CVs and can usually expect an interview “to make the process fair.” In 2017, all six qualifiers were retained.
Five out of the firm's current crop of nine second-years had paralegalled at the firm. “It's not a pre-requisite but it helps in the recruitment process because you can better demonstrate your potential.”
How to get a VWV training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 20 January 2018 (opens October 2017)
Veale Wasbrough Vizards usually recruits between eight and ten trainees each year. Around half of the firm's trainees tend to enter the firm through its vacation scheme. Unless you have completed the scheme before, the firm encourages all applicants to apply for the opportunity.
The Bristol and London offices each run week-long placements over the summer. Though Watford and Birmingham do not currently host a scheme, management has hinted that one may be organised once the offices become more established.
Vac schemers are hosted by a current trainee, and usually spend time working on a mixture of real and mock tasks in several different departments.
Both vac scheme and direct training contract applicants begin their applications with an online form. An eagle eye is an important asset for any prospective applicant, as former training partner David Emanuel explains: “Please don't make elementary spelling mistakes or grammatical errors on the form – good lawyers are defined in a large part by what they write. It's difficult, but try to find a way to demonstrate some independence and originality of thought, or some unique experience, that will help your application stand out. Sometimes less is more: you don't have to fill up the box if you have made the point you wanted to already. Write clearly, precisely and simply to convey your answer and a sense of you as a person. Decorating your response with unusual words found in the Thesaurus often looks more odd than impressive.”
Assessments and interviews
The firm runs assessment days in March, which deduce which candidates will get a place on the vac scheme.
The firm prefers not to circulate the precise details of what the assessment entails, preferring to put candidates' ability to perform under pressure to the test. The process also changes year-on-year, so if you're trying to work out exactly what you can expect, your guess is as good as ours. However, past tests have involved short presentations on topics such as reforms to the education system or freedom of expression. Some years have also included a written component.
During the vac scheme, students also have an interview with a member of HR and a member of the trainee recruitment panel.
For those candidates who have completed the vacation scheme in previous years, or who are already working for the firm, VWV runs another assessment day in July.
In recent years a fair number of VWV's trainees have paralegalled at the firm before beginning their training contract. Some apply for the role directly, whereas others, upon being offered a training contract, are asked whether they’d like to work as a paralegal in the meantime. Those who do work as paralegals are able to count some of the time against their training contract, allowing them the opportunity to qualify earlier.
Trends in the education sector
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Dickens and the law
VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards)
Narrow Quay House,
- Partners 71
- Associates 121 non-patner UK qualified solicitors
- Total trainees 18
- UK offices Bristol, Birmingham, Watford, London
- Graduate recruiter: Ellen Marsh, Emarsh@vwv.co.uk, 0117 925 2020
- Training partner: Jason Prosser
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8-10
- Applications pa: 290
- Minimum required degree grade: Preferably 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 20 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- Minimum first-year salary: £23,000
- Minimum second-year salary: £25,000
- Minimum post-qualification salary: £37,500 (Bristol), £40,000 (Watford), £45,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25-28 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, London and Watford
VWV has national recognition for its sector-focused approach. The firm directs its skill, energy and expertise towards understanding clients in the sectors they operate in, the sector focus is underpinned by core legal services.
Each and every client receives bespoke and high-quality legal counsel, with VWV’s lawyers going above and beyond to meet clients’ needs. VWV’s 400-strong team, located across offices in London, Watford, Bristol and Birmingham, brings a wealth of sector expertise and professionalism.
VWV is proud to have the reputation of being a friendly firm to work with.
VWV also offers high-level legal advice to private clients, which includes the specialised areas of contentious probate, personal injury and high-quality conveyancing.
Main areas of work
The firm also manages a personal injury division, Augustines Injury Law.
Bristol: charities, commercial, commercial litigation, commercial property, construction, corporate, employment, private client (family), property litigation.
London: private client, real estate, property litigation and construction, commercial, regulatory compliance.
Watford: real estate, employment, corporate.
Seats are four six-month rotations.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017
• University of Bristol
• University of Law
• University of the West of England
LinkedIn VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards)