Tired of the usual City fare? Why not turn your gaze south of the river to Winckworth Sherwood, which complements mainstream practices with a variety of niche accompaniments.
Politics and religion
One thing you can say about Winckworth Sherwood is that its practice areas definitely aren't boring. On top of your classic commercial and corporate areas, there are some pretty niche specialisms in parliamentary and ecclesiastical work: the firm's practice in the former comes top-ranked in Chambers UK, while its ecclesiastical department is the largest of its kind in the UK and services both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Elsewhere, rankings for Winckworth's education, charities and transport expertise further reflect its diverse practice, but our sources were keen to emphasise that real estate is a significant area, as “many of our clients [including church bodies and educational trusts] hold a lot of land.” Indeed, almost half of the firm's lawyers work in a property-related area.
Unsurprisingly, “the interesting variety of work” was popular with our interviewees, as was “the character and individuality of the firm: for a London law firm close to the City I expected it to be corporate and a bit stiff, but instead there's an approachable and relatively relaxed atmosphere.” The firm may have increased its annual trainee intake to eight, but sources found this number to be “still small enough to get some very good work – NQ-level in some cases.” In 2017, four of seven qualifiers did indeed make the jump to an NQ role with the firm.
When it comes to strategy, training principal Eleanor Kilminster tells us to “expect more of the same: we will be focusing on what we're good at and developing clients in those areas. Our staff numbers have increased and they will continue to increase.” Of late Winckworth has added lawyers to its real estate, family and corporate/commercial practices, from a mix of specialist boutiques and larger City outfits like RPC and Norton Rose Fulbright.
Trainees don't get a say in where they sit first. Subsequent seats are allocated in quite an informal way: during mid-seat appraisals, trainees chat with Kilminster about their preferences and what they've enjoyed so far. “It really feels like a joint effort about deciding where you're going next,” sources told us. There are no compulsory seats, but due to the prominence of property work it “would be a surprise if you didn't do a property-related seat.” A quick note: the firm doesn't recruit or offer seats in Manchester or Oxford.
“...obscure research into weird Acts and funny patches of land.”
Winckworth's real estate lawyers act for the UK's six largest housebuilders – including Barratt and Redrow – and are commended in Chambers UK for their development, portfolio acquisition and property funds expertise. They've recently advised Barratt on the redevelopment of West Ham United's former stomping ground, Upton Park, as well as on its bid to lead the mighty £3.5 billion redevelopment of Meridian Water – a mixed-use scheme in North London. Many sources here got a taste of development work: “You're not running Barratt's files, but you can run some for smaller developer clients,” which saw trainees having a first crack at development agreements, contracts for sale and deeds of easements. “It's a bit daunting, but you get used the level of responsibility and feel like part of the team.” This kind of work also involves “looking into obscure things like road access rights, as well as delving into the academic side of land law.”
A seat in commercial real estate and licensing, meanwhile, exposes trainees to “quite a mixture, from alcohol licences for leisure clients to estate management for telecoms companies to select committee discussions of the Licensing Act.” Social housing is another key focus for the firm, and clients here span registered providers (like Circle Housing), lenders and institutional investors. The group recently advised Affinity Sutton on its merger with Circle Housing, creating the UK's largest housing association. “The team also does a lot of conveyancing work, so as a trainee you find yourself drafting many transfers of title. You always get taken to client meetings too, so you can really get stuck in.”
Over in the parliamentary department “there's a couple of 'Roll A' parliamentary agents – people who are allowed to draft and promote legislation in parliament,” sources helpfully explained. As a result, trainees had the chance to visit both the Houses of Parliament and House of Lords during this seat. Promoting major infrastructure projects is something of a forte for the team, which counts Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link under its list of successes; the group can add the hybrid bill for HS2 (the upcoming high speed train link between London and the West Midlands) to that list: “We got to sit in open parliament and take it through all of the committee stages. During this seat no two days were the same.” All of this is supplemented by “obscure research into weird Acts and funny patches of land: it's all quite technical, but you can have a go at drafting a little part of a by-law for a London authority.”
Winckworth's corporate and commercial department encompasses a broad range of M&A deals, joint ventures, IP/IT work and corporate finance matters. Property clients are evident here (Barratt, Select Property Group), but you'll also find pharma companies like Atnahs Pharma and renewable energy outfits like Hive Energy; one recent highlight saw lawyers advise Premier African Minerals on the financing arrangements required for it to continue mining exploration in Zimbabwe, Togo and Benin. There are “good project management roles” available, “where you get to cajole and organise everyone,” and beyond that there's plenty of drafting: “There are the smaller documents like board minutes but you also get to do the first draft of larger share purchase agreements, with the partner managing you and giving feedback.” There's also some investigatory work in anticipation of shareholder disputes: “Before things get too contentious we'll be looking into what the state of play is, who owns what, and how we can untangle things.”
From their digs on the south of the river (close to Southwark Cathedral), trainees felt that Winckworth exhibited a different atmosphere to the big City giants across London Bridge. “It doesn't feel hierarchical,” commented one; “you feel very able to speak to anyone at any level across the firm.” Sources pinned this “more supportive atmosphere” on the fact that “many people have been here for 20 years or more, which creates a more positive culture; this isn't a place where people move on all of the time.” Having “a more unusual client base” was also felt to influence the culture: “It's defined by the interesting and quirky people who work here – Winckworth has bags of character.” Despite having “some more traditional clients,” interviewees didn't detect a whiff of stuffiness, but did highlight that “Winckworth isn't a place that's pushing boundaries or innovating massively.”
“We don't go out every Friday,” admitted sources, “but each department has its own social events – how much you go out depends on how much your team goes out.” The firm's Christmas and summer parties went down well, and one other thing everyone is “super, super keen” on is corporate social responsibility. At the time of our calls, trainees were helping to organise a summer art exhibition where “artists – both amateur and professional – donate art to raise money for charity.” Lawyers also get a paid day-off each year to go out and do something for charity.
Trainees deemed the working hours “very reasonable.” Several agreed that “usually you don't see many people around after half six: there's no culture of staying late for the sake of it, or to show people you're in the office. As long as you've done the work required, you can go home and actually have a life.” The latest we heard of trainees in the office was 9.30pm, especially in real estate, “but that was only because it was crunch time – our work is mainly UK-focused, so there's not a lot of waiting around for people in different time zones.”
Winckworth occasionally offers a seat in its ecclesiastical department, which advises church clients on a mix of canon law, commercial, employment and property issues.
How to get a Winckworth training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 28 February 2018 (opens 16 November 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 30 June 2018 (opens 16 November 2017)
Winckworth Sherwood expects its future lawyers to have three As at A level and a minimum 2:1 degree. Successful candidates are primarily drawn from either Winckworth's vacation scheme or open day. Once applicants have completed one of these, there is a second interview with a panel of partners. Occasionally, an 'exceptional' candidate will be interviewed directly if they are unable (for logistical reasons) to attend either the vacation scheme or the open day. Our trainee recruitment sources warn applicants to get their applications in early: “We review the forms as they come in and interview before the deadlines.”
Winckworth Sherwood runs a two-week vacation scheme each July for those applying for a training contract. The firm typically receives around 200 applications for the eight places available on the scheme. On average, two or three people in each eight-strong trainee intake have completed the vacation scheme. To apply for a place, candidates must submit an online application by 28 February 2018, which includes an essay on why they want to work at the firm and what they will contribute. Take note: The firm is interested in those who anticipate staying around, not those looking to use the training contract as a launch pad to go elsewhere. Candidates who impress are invited to interview with the firm's recruitment executive.
Vac schemers are paid £150 per week and visit two departments during their placement. They sit alongside an associate or partner, and have a trainee mentor. Typically, they undertake research projects and basic drafting, but also get the chance to attend seminars and meetings. In addition, they'll also complete various exercises. There's also a second interview with a panel of partners to help determine whether they'll nab that training contract or not.
On the social side, there’s usually an introductory lunch with the partners and drinks with the trainees. Other social activities include a Southwark walking tour and cricket matches.
The firm organises an open day each year in July for training contract applicants unable to set aside two weeks of their summer holiday for a vacation scheme. In order to attend, candidates must first complete either a face to face or phone interview. Around 20 of the top applicants are then invited to the office to learn more about the firm. The day includes individual exercises and a group presentation which is assessed by a panel of partners. On top of that, a lunch is scheduled to assess candidates' social skills.
5 Montague Close,
- Partners 58
- Assistant solicitors 87
- Total trainees 14
- UK offices London, Oxford, Manchester
- Contact Recruitment executive: Joanna Clark, [email protected], 020 7593 5183
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 16 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30h June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 16 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 28 February 2018
- Open day deadline: 30 June 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year: salary £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days, plus bank holidays, plus one extra day at Christmas
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
Main areas of practice
Employment and partnership: We provide contentious and non-contentious advice covering financial, insurance, retail, hotel, media, publishing, real estate and educational establishments. We also advise senior executives and on partnership disputes, as well as specialist non contentious partnership advice.
Infrastructure projects: We specialise in private legislation promoting projects of major strategic importance. We also advise central and local government bodies, developers and operators on infrastructure planning, development, construction, procurement, structuring and finance.
Not for profit: We advise a large number of educational and affordable housing operators, charitable and religious organisations and cultural and leisure services providers, delivering a full range of legal expertise.
Private wealth and tax: We advise high net worth individuals, families, senior executives, private trustees and executors on a full range of private legal matters, including complex residential proerty solutions, tax and succession issues, pre-marital advice, divorce and family.
Real estate and planning: We work for many of the leading national residential and commercial developers, national house builders, investors and fund managers. This includes commercial real estate and regeneration, planning, development, corporate finance, funds, tax, construction, asset management and property litigation capability.
We have a well developed in-house development programme which draws upon the expertise of partners, associates and guest professionals. As well as legal training, we also provide business skills training such as presentation skills, project management, networking and client development.
We provide each successful applicant with £150 per week to assist with expenses and travel costs.
University law careers fairs 2017