If a Lincolnshire setting and a balance between individual-oriented and commercial work appeals, Wilkin Chapman is the place to be.
Ah, Lincolnshire: the birth place of Sir Isaac Newton, a sagey sausage, Margaret Thatcher, and, of course, Wilkin Chapman. This regional firm has seven offices dotted around the county’s wolds, fens and coast, which together cater to the various needs of local businesses, individuals and public sector clients. Their efforts are acknowledged by Chambers UK, which praises the firm's family, private client and agricultural expertise in Lincoln, while also acknowledging its corporate and real estate practices in the East Midlands. “We’ve moved away from a high street mentality,” insiders informed us, “but we like the fact that we're a Lincolnshire firm and we don't want to expand too far, as that would destroy our image; instead we'll be focusing on the areas we're in and honing our current practices.” In line with that plan, Wilkin Chapman has recently hired laterals into its corporate and commercial, domestic property and personal injury teams; brought in a new head of business development from HSBC; hired its largest trainee intake to date (four first-years); and re-located into brand spanking new digs in Grimsby.
Despite its collection of offices, trainees are currently only hired into the firm's Lincoln and Grimsby bases. At the time of our calls there were eight in the former and three in the latter. However, if business need requires it, trainees can potentially complete stints in other offices, and one trainee on our list was spending some time in Beverley during our research. The seat system itself is unusual in that it consists of one twelve-month seat followed by two six-month allocations. Reflecting on this system, insiders mused: “It’s good to have 12 months in the first seat because it usually takes you around six months just to get accustomed to working as a trainee.” Before each rotation trainees have a chance to chat with HR and discuss their preferences for the upcoming seat. “It’s a balancing act and there are no guarantees as business need is thrown into the mix, but they really do try to accommodate everybody.” Employment was a popular option among our interviewees this year, while legal aid cuts have “meant that there's less availability in the crime department and less willingness to train up new solicitors there.”
In the private sector, the employment team focuses on the food, logistics, warehousing and packaging industries. It's also seen an increase in the amount of public sector work coming in, where clients include local authorities, educational establishments and the police. A recent highlight saw the team advise the Tolbar Multi Academy Trust on the TUPE issues surrounding its acquisition of a bunch of schools. Although the team deals with contentious and non-contentious work, “the litigious side is cooling down because of the cost of going to tribunal.” Insiders continued: “We mainly act on the employer’s side of things, advising them on claims, but also on matters like contracts, holiday and sick pay.” The team's handled many academy conversions of late, but has also been busy helping clients to find practical solutions to government cuts in the education sector. With office assistants taking care of a lot of the admin work, trainees had more time to sink their teeth into “drafting claim forms, interviewing clients, working out settlements, researching updates in the law and drafting a huge number of HR policies.”
“We like the fact that we're a Lincolnshire firm.”
The family department is known for its smooth handling of high net worth divorces, especially those involving farming assets and trusts. It also collaborates with the firm's specialist courts martial department to advise on military divorces for members of the armed forces. It’s a relatively small team with a heavy workload, so trainees were “kept busy; you could be doing anything from drafting consent forms to bundling court documents to regular admin like photocopying and billing.” When clients first approach the firm they’re entitled to a free half-hour interview, which our trainees were put in charge of: “It was a great experience to be the first port of call.” Other jobs included filling in Form Es (financial statements), attending court to present applications, arranging appointments and assisting barristers. “I’ve seen a wide range of divorce cases, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work on prenuptial agreements, cohabitation matters and separations.”
The dispute resolution team deals with “any issues of a contentious nature that don’t fit into other departments.” In short, this means that “you never know what’s going to land on your desk next.” The team deals with both commercial and personal disputes, and has recently seen a spike in land-owning clients with issues tied to the construction of renewable energy technologies. Lawyers here also act for social housing providers, linking the property, employment, corporate and commercial departments to cover all bases. “Trainees get a lot of responsibility and engagement,” we were told: “We're brought in on big commercial contracts cases, as well as smaller matters like boundary disputes or defamation claims; as a trainee the firm tries to get you involved in everything across the spectrum.” Sources had also attended a number of mediations. “I got loads of experience: I was opening files, taking enquiries, drafting witness statements, filing court documents and instructing counsel. I also went to court on a couple of occasions." Clients include Cardiff City Council, the National Farmers Union and warehouse service provider T W Logistics.
One of the firm's recent clients in the commercial property department was itself. Yes, you read that correctly; Wilkin Chapman advised on the building of its new flagship office in Grimsby (Catergate House), which formed part of a larger regeneration project in the town centre. Other clients include agricultural businesses, property developers (like Maltgrade) and investors (like Vernon Holdings). “The work was half residential and half commercial, so it was really good to be able to see both sides of the property spectrum and each stage of the matters.” Another source added: “I enjoyed the variety of it. No two files were ever the same, and there was a lot more to it than just buying and selling.I had a lot of client contact, and drafted leases, contracts, sales and purchase agreements for commercial clients.”
“I don’t think I could have had more support during my training here,” said one happy camper at Wilkin Chapman. “There are always enough people around, always people I can ring; for example when my boss is away other partners will offer to help me.” Others ruminated: “They've got the balance between supervising and encouraging personal responsibility right. I've spoken to my friends who work at firms in larger cities and they don't have as much responsibility.” Trainees also said that the work/life balance offered was a pull factor: “You need to show commitment and put in the hours when you need to, but there's no unrealistic expectation placed upon trainees. I usually stay until 6pm, but it depends on the individual – some people leave at 5pm.” This all helps to shape a “collaborative environment in which people are happy and productive. The firm does feel like one big team, and people are completely at ease.” The open plan layout of the offices helps to foster this atmosphere, and while those in Grimsby were thrilled with their “really modern and bespoke new digs,” trainees in Lincoln were just as satisfied, as their offices have just been re-vamped in the same style.
With its strong regional roots in mind, “the firm looks for people who are going to stick around, as they invest a lot in the training programme here and like to promote people internally.” Our interviewees were therefore hoping to stay on at the firm. Those who had started the process at the time of our calls told us that “HR have had meetings with the heads of departments and sent us a jobs list. We get a chance to say what we want to do and then interview for the role. They do it quite early on so no one feels rushed and has time to make decisions.” In 2017, all seven qualifiers were retained.
There are two firm-wide events each year. The first is a formal dinner “where you sit on a table with people you don't work with, which helps you to network.” The other is a more “light-hearted” firm social: “One year there was a sports day, last year there was an 80s night and this year we're having a rodeo-themed do.”
How to get a Wilkin Chapman training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 January 2018 (now accepting applications)
Applications to Wilkin Chapman are made in a traditional manner – a CV and covering letter, sent to HR officer Angela English either by post or email. The firm gets around 100 applications each year. The firm is happy to accept applications from both law and non-law students, but English suggests that the firm “tends to get more applications from law students now than it did five years ago when it was about 50/50 law v non-law, but there's still a mix of both every year.” A 2:1 minimum is required.
Work experience programme
Wilkin Chapman has no formal vac scheme, but does offer a two-day work experience programme for university and college students, the application for which is made and assessed in a similar way to the training contract application. Around 30 placements are offered each year – in Grimsby, spots are open to sixth-form pupils; while in other offices, the programme is limited to university students. Applicants don't necessarily need to be second-year students or to be studying law.
Those who get good feedback during the programme are subsequently encouraged to apply for a training contract as there's “a good chance that they'd make it through to the interview.” However, doing a good couple of days work experience at the firm isn't essential to making the cut.
The interview day
The 20ish lucky applicants who make it through to the interview stage gather at the firm's office in Lincoln. Interviewees are split into two groups – for morning and afternoon interviews respectively – but the whole crop assembles for a group presentation and lunch with partners and staff in the middle of the day. Alongside the main interviews with partners and HR, candidates complete a case study exercise that they are quizzed on, as well as verbal and numerical reasoning tests. A less formal stage of the process gives interviewees a chance to chat with current trainees and NQs, in order to get to know the firm better.
The interviews are described by Angela English as “quite informal and based largely around the person's CV.” Candidates are given half an hour before the interview to read through the case study and prepare some discussion points. Interviewees can also expect to be asked a question on current affairs, which has tripped some up in the past, so be sure to brush up beforehand. Publications like the FT and The Economist will no doubt help, but also look out for trends and developments that may affect Wilkin's principal areas of work. Trainees generally found the overall process to be straightforward and not very nerve-wracking, with one remarking: “I actually really enjoyed the interview, which is something I never thought I'd say!”
The Yorkshire legal market
Wilkin Chapman LLP
26 Chantry Lane,
- Partners 42
- Senior solicitors 51
- Assistant solicitors 10
- UK offices Grimsby, Lincoln, Beverley, Louth, Horncastle, Alford and Sheffield.
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Angela English, [email protected], 01472 262633
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 100
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30 (work experience)
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 September 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 March 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £18,200
- Second-year salary: £19,500
- Post-qualification salary: £26,000
- Holiday entitlement: 20 days, plus bank holidays & some given days at Christmas
- LPC fees: Partial
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenace grant: No
Wilkin Chapman LLP is a modern, forward-thinking organisation whose reputation has been built up over many years. Its aim is to exceed clients’ expectations by providing not just quality legal advice but commercially aware business advice.
The firm has made a substantial commitment to quality standards being the first firm in Lincolnshire to be awarded with the Lexcel quality mark by the Law Society in 1999. In 2015, the recoveries department also achieved accreditation to the ISO9001 quality standard.
With the main registered office in Grimsby, the firm has additional offices in Lincoln, Beverley, Louth, Horncastle, Alford and Sheffield.
Main areas of work
The firm’s recoveries team is seen as a market leader throughout the UK in the field of local authority insolvency debt collection. The public law team deal with over 150 local authorities, as well as police forces including police crime commissioners, and fire authorities, universities and NHS Trusts on aspects including ethics and conduct, governance and constitutions, housing and investigations.
Private client: The wills, probate, tax and trusts team includes 9 qualified solicitors who are members of The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). Family expertise covers divorce, mediation, collaborative law and family law arbitration as different methods of resolution. Conveyancing is covered by the firm along with a nationally recognised agricultural department. The crime team are all members of the Law Society’s Criminal Litigation Panel and in addition, the department has received accreditation from the Legal Services Commission’s Complex Crime Unit. The personal injury and medical negligence teams have accredited members of the Law Society’s Personal Injury and Specialist Clinical Negligence Schemes.
The departments that you are likely to gain experience in include; litigation, corporate and commercial, commercial property, recoveries, family and mediation, probate and tax, agriculture, personal injury or regulations and crime.
The areas of law that you will experience will depend on previous training, your stated preferences, the availability of training placements at the time and the firm’s business needs.
University law careers fairs 2017