Charity, ecclesiastical, parliamentary, education and property work: the eclectic mix that's on the cards for trainees at Winckworth Sherwood.
Unusual pursuits and interests: lots of us have them. In the legal world Winckworth Sherwood can certainly claim to have its fair share. First up, there's the parliamentary practice. Winckworth is one of just seven firms in the country that employs 'Roll A' Parliamentary agents, who promote private bills in Parliament. Its lawyers also have particular expertise in infrastructure developments, harbours and rail projects (HS2 is a big matter). Ecclesiastical clients are an ecumenical matter: both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England come to Winckworth for legal advice on canon law, commercial, employment and property issues.
Given all this – plus the firm's presence in the charity and family spheres – it's hardly surprising that trainees were “intrigued by the quirky areas of law” on offer here. However, they were also quick to point out that “this is still a commercial firm in the heart of London that tackles a really wide range of matters.” Property forms a substantial chunk of the business and together with the Chambers top-ranked social housing group this team absorbs just under half of the firm's lawyers. The practice accounts for around 42% of total revenue. Litigation, commercial and corporate, education and employment also form part of the Winckworth package. Growth is clearly on the agenda, as evidenced by the half dozen laterals nabbed from firms such as Osborne Clarke recently. In 2015/16 revenue rose by 12% to £37 million – in fact, annual revenue has grown by around 10% every year since 2013. As a result of all this expansion, the firm now takes eight trainees a year (all based in London), up from five in years gone by. And in 2016 all six qualifiers were retained.
The firm allocates a first seat to trainees, but they have more of a say over subsequent destinations. “Halfway through each seat you have a chat with the training principal to indicate which departments you're especially interested in. There are no guarantees but they try to fit you in – it's all very benevolent.” Completing a property-related seat is likely; this could mean a straightforward stint in real estate or planning, or one in a specialist area like education or ecclesiastical law – church bodies and educational trusts are often large landowners. A source flagged up that prospective trainees should “bear in mind that the firm is very property-heavy, despite all the niche stuff.”
“Real estate is the engine of the firm.”
Winckworth's real estate lawyers act for the UK's six largest house builders, including Barratt and Persimmon, plus residential property funds, businesses, charities and educational and religious bodies. Of late the firm's been advising Battersea Power Station on its high-profile redevelopment, and acted for Barratt on the development of a derelict industrial site at Fulham Wharf into a complex containing 737 new homes and 27,000 square feet of shopping, leisure and office space (including a huge new Sainsbury's). “Real estate is the engine of the firm and there are loads of interesting urban regeneration projects going on,” a trainee observed. As well as working on hefty projects, rookies also get to run their own files. “I'm given free rein to draft leases, licences and easements – I'm encouraged to act like a lawyer and come up with amendments!”
The social housing department represents all of the so-called 'G15', London's 15 largest housing associations. The team recently advised Affinity Sutton on its merger with Circle Housing to form the UK's largest housing association, with around 127,000 properties across England. Solicitors are also helping the Metropolitan Housing Trust regenerate the Clapham Park estate. Sources who'd sat here reported high levels of responsibility from the get-go: “On my first day in the departments I was handed 25 files to take on myself, which was pretty daunting! By the end of the seat I was handling over 45 files. I did commercial and residential conveyancing, drafted reports on title and did legal research.”
As mentioned, a lot of the parliamentary work has an infrastructure bent. Lawyers have worked on HS2, Crossrail, the extension of London's Metropolitan and Northern Lines, harbour projects in Hull and Grimsby, and the rebuilding of Reading railway station. “If a new railway's being built we tend to have a finger in the pie,” said one trainee. “It's been quite manic the last few weeks,” reported another. “I've been helping some petitioners against a bill – they're landowners objecting to their land being taken for a new project. We guide them through the Commons and Lords procedures.” Another source opined: “The work is quite hard as the law is dry and intricate. If you want an answer you often have to go through the legislation to find it. It's a bit of a logic puzzle.”
“... intrigued by the quirky areas of law.”
Planning dovetails with parliamentary work, with lawyers advising on big projects across the UK and compliance with laws like the EU's Habitats Directive on wildlife and nature conservation. Clients include the London Borough of Ealing, developer Essential Living, and Nine Elms LLP which is developing the area around the new Nine Elms tube station. “I met with counsel, dealt with various judicial review matters and drafted Section 106 agreements,” a trainee told us.
Occasionally an ecclesiastical seat becomes available, where clients include the Archbishop of Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral. Churchy clients also crop up in seats like education and property litigation. “One minute you could be researching an obscure point to do with church land and vicarages and the next working on a dispute to do with a fence on a private property,” said one trainee who'd sat in property litigation, while another added that “there's lots of telecoms work, which is good if you like technical matters! I spent a lot of time responding to notices relating to mobile phone masts."
The growing commercial and corporate group tackles joint ventures between property developers and investors, M&A, funding arrangements, IP and IT contracts, and other commercial agreements. Trainees attend client meetings, manage document rooms, handle due diligence, prepare bibles and draft board minutes and business sales agreements. A source told us: “You have to get to grips with lots of technical bits and bobs to do with tax. For instance, there are various exemptions that apply to social housing projects.” One mentioned that this seat “is one of the more challenging ones in terms of hours and content.”
No dinosaurs here
While corporate/commercial has the longest hours, sources said they'd “never felt pressure to stay late.” Interviewees reported a normal day lasting from 9am to 6 or 7pm, and the latest any of our interviewees had worked was 9 or 10pm but “that doesn't happen often.” Trainees share an office with their supervisor, who's usually a partner. “It sounds terrifying at first as you imagine they're going to be looking at everything you do and listening in on every phone call. But it's actually really good – there's always someone there to answer questions and you pick up on a lot by seeing how your supervisor works.”
Given the firm's 'Establishment' clients and long history (it was founded in 1777) we wondered if it was a particularly traditional place. “I can see why people might think of us that way,” said one trainee, “but actually the firm has a lot of young partners – there's lots of joking and a real sense of camaraderie. It's not like being stuck with the old boys' club.” The firm has a notably high number of female lawyers: they make up 41% of partners and 75% of associates.
On the social side there are some “really nice parties” and the most recent Christmas gathering took place at the Natural History Museum. More regularly there are Friday pub jaunts and sporty folk can join a running club or participate in cricket and charity football events. There's also a craft club at which some trainees are “learning to knit to make scarves for homeless people. The older secretaries are showing us how.”
All our sources at Winckworth were involved in CSR activities like school reading schemes, volunteering at food banks, or running a CAB renters' advice clinic.
How to get a Winckworth Sherwood training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 28 February 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 30 June 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 grad recruitment sources warn applicants to get their applications in early: “We review the forms as they come in – it’s first-come, first-served.”
Winckworth Sherwood runs a two-week vacation scheme each July for those applying for a training contract. The firm typically receives around 180 applications for the eight places available on the scheme. On average, two or three people in each eight-strong trainee intake have completed a placement. To apply for a place, candidates must submit an online training contract application by 28 February, which includes an essay on why they want to work at the firm and what they will contribute. Take note: Winckworth's interested in those who anticipate staying around, not those looking to use the training contract as a launchpad 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 an assessment day during the first week. 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 a night out 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 vac scheme. In order to attend, candidates must first complete either a face-to-face or phone interview. Around 25 of the top applicants are then invited to the office to learn more about the firm. The day includes a group exercise that's presided over by a partner, and a presentation which is assessed by a panel of partners. On top of that, a lunch is scheduled to assess candidates' social skills.
Government departments explained
5 Montague Close,
- Partners 55
- Assistant solicitors 84
- Total trainees 14
- Contact Joanna Clark, 020 7593 5183
- Method of application Online application form (www.apply4law.com/winckworths/)
- Selection procedure Summer vacation scheme, trainee assessment day and panel interviews
- Closing date forSeptember 2019 30 June 2017
- Number of training contracts pa 7
- Applications pa 350
- % interviewed 16%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training starting salary £36,000
- Holiday entitlement 24 days plus bank holidays and one extra day at Christmas
- % trainees offered job on qualification 100% (2016)
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 & 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 property 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.