Reinvigorated by a move to the City, Wedlake Bell comes with commercial strengths in property and a long-established private client practice.
Move on up
A City location, a rooftop veranda, an open-plan layout and oodles of glass; Wedlake Bell's 2016 office move to Queen Victoria Street meant an altogether more 21st century set of digs compared to its previous home on Bedford Row. To our minds, moving can be a horrible business, what with all of the dropped furniture, flashy estate agents and a seemingly endless number of cardboard boxes – but it's also a good chance to take stock.
In Wedlake's case, let's imagine that those boxes contain the fundamental elements of the firm. There are those labelled with corporate, private client and employment work, but by far the largest contains property matters. It's a hefty box – responsible for 32% of the firm's revenue – and bears the Chambers UK stamp of approval: a tip-top ranking for lower mid-market dealings. The lawyers stand beaming, proud of its client roster, which includes Robert Dyas, HSBC and Care UK. But there's another surprise at the back of the moving van: another box labelled 'international work.' Albeit somewhat smaller, it's full of corporate and employment work gifted by referral networks. The Wedlakers are satisfied.
“Wedlake's not a 'City firm' proper – the move hasn't changed that.”
Now the firm's all unpacked, its future will be steered by managing partner Martin Arnold and Wedlake's first female senior partner, Kim Lalli. Together they'll be on the lookout for new growth opportunities, which may well be boosted by the prestige that comes with a swish City pad. Trainees were certainly aware of “a new sense of direction,” but were keen to stress that “Wedlake's not a 'City firm' proper – the move hasn't changed that.” They detected a softer cultural edge in comparison to the legal giants that now surround them: “People here are approachable; there are no invisible barriers. Everyone goes out of their way to help you progress.”
Before joining, future Wedlakers are asked to list their preferences in order to make a seat plan. There's room to “keep updating” that plan however. “HR is great here and you can always chat to them if your choices have changed during the course of the contract.” Four seats have a property flavour – property litigation, commercial property, residential property and construction – so a stint in one is more than likely. Besides commercial property, the other seats only take on one trainee at a time, but sources were pleasantly surprised by how many of their preferences they actually got.
With 37 lawyers, property is the firm's biggest department and two trainees at a time do a commercial property seat. The team handles landlord and tenant work; the buying and selling of property; and development matters. It services a growing number of international clients drawn to the lucrative UK property market: the firm recently assisted two private offshore property companies as they sold and purchased properties in Central London and Bournemouth. Other clients include investors (Henderson Global), developers (CALA Homes) and commercial enterprises like Hugo Boss. Another recent highlight saw the team assist quirky office space-providers Second Home as they agreed a lease to expand their premises in Clerkenwell Green. From day one trainees have their own files to run, often “leases for quite standard commercial properties or shops.” Sources found that “it takes a week or two to get used to it, as you're the point of contact and expected know more about it than anyone else, but that is invaluable and really contributes to your development.”
Out of Wedlake
Private client is WB's second biggest cog, with 24 lawyers presiding over a practice that covers wills, trust and estate management, and tax planning. There's also “a contentious probate side,” which facilitates challenges to wills made under the Inheritance Act 1975. The high net worth individuals that the group typically serve are assigned to a dedicated partner. Trainees “work with lots of different partners, so you get a real diversity of experience.” Juniors told us they get to “assist with the management of probate, as well as with the drafting of wills and lasting powers of attorney. With contentious matters they are keen to get you involved in meetings and mediations, which provide good learning experiences and build your relationships with clients.”
“You're the point of contact and expected know more about it than anyone else.”
The 14-strong corporate team is known for its work in the real estate and hospitality sectors, and also handles deals that span European and Asian jurisdictions. One bumper deal of late saw the group act for Cyprus-based Baitone on its €138 million sale of Vienna-headquartered BGT – a sports betting software company – to gambling software developer Playtech. The commercial property department sends quite a few deals its way; the two groups recently collaborated on Care UK's £2.2 million disposal of one of its elderly care homes. Trainees got involved in a variety of deals, and described knuckling down on due diligence and lots of drafting: “ancillary documents, shareholder resolutions, Companies House forms – all sorts!” As a result, sources helped to “get many documents over the line; you always hear if you've done a good job or if things need to be changed. They take an interest in your training experience to ensure that you progress.”
Employment's 11 lawyers act for a mix of employers, senior executives and employees. They've built up a standing in the tech, hospitality and retail sectors, on both contentious and non-contentious matters. Clients include the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, American communications company Brocade and international resort pros Millennium Hotels. Overseas clients with cross-border issues are drawn in via the department's iGlobal subsidiary, which advises on global labour law issues in over 60 jurisdictions. “That's a really great opportunity,” said trainees. “There's a lot of liaising with local counsel, learning about different jurisdictions and relaying advice to clients.” Tribunals require trainees to “help with bundling and preparing witness statements. On one discrimination claim I went with the fee earner to take a witness statement and subsequently drafted it.” On the non-contentious side the team answers “day-to-day queries about policies that an employer might want to implement.”
Goldilocks and the three trainees
Trainees were keen to tell us all about their new locale. First off, it's open plan. “The departments each have their own little pod, which makes it so much easier to talk to people compared to the traditional corridor set-up.” With the new arrangement, we heard there's been a “big push for people to interact between departments." Trainees were generally in favour of the set up, despite “not wanting to sound stupid if you ask something in an open-plan environment!”
Despite the changes, Wedlakers are still served their traditional daily soup. “In addition to soup we now also get porridge in the mornings, with a mixture of toppings and a choice between milky and watery.” Oats, of all things, divided trainees: some dismissed the quality as “inconsistent,” while others positioned themselves in the “big fan” category. That's about as nasty as it gets at Wedlake. “Elsewhere there might be instances where you feel open to being thrown under the bus, but here everyone works together.” Despite having no formal mentors, trainees found “partners who are quite pastoral in their outlook.” Furthermore, Wedlakers are a social bunch. There are monthly drinks events in the office, plus a bi-annual skiing trip (most recently to Mayrhofen) and an annual walking trip, which involves more drinking – “you basically walk off the hangover.”
Fortunately, “there's no expectation that you'll stay really late: if you stay past eight people will come up and ask what you are doing.” A standard working day runs from 9.30am to 7pm, and the latest any trainee we spoke to had stayed was 11pm. If all of this is to a trainee's liking, they must navigate the qualification process. Acting on feedback, HR will now publish an NQ jobs list so trainees can express their preferences with a little more certainty. “If there's more than one trainee who wants to qualify in a department there's an interview, but it's quite informal.” In 2017, the firm kept on four of its six qualifiers.
“What I found most difficult about having a lot of responsibility was that it's hard not to worry. I think I worried too much: people are really understanding about your mistakes! I would have had a less stressful time knowing that.”
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018
Training contract deadline (2020): 30 June 2018
Wedlake Bell offers six training contracts each year. HR head Natalie King tells us the firm is after candidates who are “well rounded, happy to be exposed to different areas and open to new opportunities.” She adds: “We're a sociable, friendly and supportive firm with a diverse mix of talent – we look for people who fit in well with that.” Law and non-law graduates are equally encouraged to apply, as are those who've had a previous career, though bear in mind that candidates are expected to have the usual minimum 2:1 degree.
Application and interviews
Prospective trainees at Wedlake Bell need to be solid across the academic, extracurricular and work experience spheres alike. The online application form, which is the same for both vacation scheme and straight-to-training-contract applicants, contains room for a covering letter – for this, candidates need to concentrate on structure and grammar, as well as content itself.
The firm chooses its vac schemers after a one-stage interview process which also involves a written assessment. Between 35 and 45 direct training contract applicants are invited to a first-stage interview. This takes place with two members of Wedlake's training committee, which is comprised of partners, solicitors and the HR team. “We have fairly set questions for that interview,” King says, “so that we get a good level of consistency across all candidates.” Some are centred on candidates' university studies and background, while others test commercial awareness.
The second interview also incorporates a set of written tests. “They're not necessarily about the legal profession, but they do test all the obvious skills like organisation, grammar, spelling and common sense,” says King, adding that the content of these change annually.
Wedlake Bell's vac scheme takes place in July and lasts three weeks. There are eight spots available each year. Those who attend sample a different department each week, where they work alongside trainees on admin tasks as well as more substantive undertakings like research and drafting.
The placement also features lunchtime practice area talks given by senior lawyers, plus various client meetings and events.
Wedlake Bell LLP
71 Queen Victoria Street,
- Partners 59
- Non-partner qualified solicitors 73
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Contacts The graduate recruitment department: [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- LPC fees: Funding available subject to the terms and conditions of any offer
Main areas of work
For private individuals: family tax, trusts and wealth protection; offshore services; residential property.
Trainees have four seats of six months across the following areas: insolvency, restructuring and recoveries, commercial property, commercial litigation, construction, corporate, employment, IP and commercial, private client, pensions, property litigation and residential property. As a trainee, the firm encourages you to have direct contact and involvement with clients from an early stage. Trainees will work within highly specialised teams and have a high degree of responsibility. Trainees will be closely supervised by a partner or senior solicitor and become involved in high quality and varied work. The firm is committed to the training and career development of its lawyers and many of its trainees continue their careers with the firm, often through to partnership. Wedlake Bell LLP has an informal, creative and co-operative culture with a balanced approach to life.
Duration: Three weeks in July
Closing date: 31 January 2018