Bates Wells - True Picture

Bates Wells is a champion of charities, and a place where trainees can “bring their authentic self”  to work.

Bates Wells training contract review 2024

The Firm        

They say to be good, you have to do good, and Bates Wells has this in abundance. Tellingly, the firm was the very first UK law firm to achieve B Corp status, and not by halves either: “Every product in the company from the toilet paper to the milk is B Corp,” one interviewee enthused. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, organisations who are B Corp meet high environmental and social standards. In other words, it’s a firm led by its values. These values have led the firm to the clients it serves today. Former Training Principal Malcolm Headley tells us that “we are best known for charity work and do a lot for clients who want to make an impact.”  Chambers UKcan vouch for this, as the firm is a knockout for charities and immigration work. In London, the firm sweeps up top marks for employment, electoral law and real estate too.

“Every product in the company from the toilet paper to the milk is B Corp.”

With the one office on the bank of the Thames, the firm takes on just six trainees a year. But to make it through those doors, Headley explains that “we make a big play on values and authenticity. We want people to know about us and what we stand for.” Adding that “we want people who get and buy into the B Corp status and the clients we act for, it’s not all about profit and cracking the whip on chargeable hours.” Bates Wells also offers part-time training contracts and will be offering two solicitor apprenticeships from 2024.

The Seats

Another factor setting the firm apart from others is that trainees sit in five seats over the course of their training contract, as opposed to the traditional four or six. This works out as two seats of six months in the first year and then three seats of four months in the final. First-year seats are pre-allocated by the firm, but in their second-year trainees get to submit their choices in advance. In terms of secondments, there is the chance to do a client one, though it’s not guaranteed.

The charity and social enterprise team, commonly known as ChaSe, is the firm’s biggest and broadest seat of the lot. While “70% of the work covers charities,” there are five sub teams across the department, and the work “really varies depending on which team you’re going into” as these cover elections, fundraising, social & impact finance, cultural and creative as well as faith-based charities. “There are so many different clients with purposes and aims and activities” one source enthused. Examples include the RSPCA, The British Psychological Society and the Ukraine Sponsorship Pathway UK.  In terms of trainee tasks, it’s hard to pinpoint just a few, but one source noted that “there is transactional work and regulatory strategic work and general application like drafting application and resolutions.”

Another big team at the firm is employment, which offers a mixture of contentious and non-contentious work on behalf of the employers and employees. Like many groups at the firm “there is such a range of work in this team, you can’t limit it down.” But on the non-contentious side, trainees mentioned that there tends to be a lot of “niche research tasks, drafting policies and settlement agreements.” In other words, there’s plenty of drafting and bundling to do as can be expected in a contentious seat. this group. Other tasks trainees were put to included, “attending meetings and first draft of witness statements, putting together bundles with the hearings and liaising with counsel of chambers”.  One interviewee particularly liked the contentious work, because within the team “you become so familiar, and you’re expected to progress things and think of next steps ahead to help supervisor.” The team represents a list of big charities including the British Red Cross and Unicef.

“I felt that I was doing a lot of NQ level work already and it was great supervision. I didn’t feel lost at any point!”

BW’s dispute resolutionteam is another part of the firms litigious offering, but one trainee asserted that “our mantra is mitigation not litigation.” Compared to others, this team is “smaller, so you get to work with everyone.” In fact, one insider suggested that “quite often it’s just you and one other person on a matter.” Trainees were keen to highlight that it’s not all charity work in this team as “they take on any kind of dispute.” Though, in terms of tasks, “it’s all contentious so it’s much more on the preparing for hearings side,” one source noted. As such, trainees can expect to “do anything from pre action where you’re advising the client to bring the claim, putting in the claim to drafting defences.” Trainees underlined that if you get stuck in, “you can get a lot of exposure to the client. You’re emailing them every day and you’re contacting the barrister.” Reflecting on their time DR overall, one insider said that “I felt that I was doing a lot of NQ level work already and it was great supervision. I didn’t feel lost at any point!”

Another team with a snazzy acronym is the corporate commercial team, AKA CoCo. This group used to be joint with banking, though they are now separate teams. One source suggested this change was for the better, as “the team is very structured and very solid now.” One insider mused that “It’s not the biggest department but everyone works quite closely with one another.” Under the commercial side, one trainee “did a lot of drafting,” as “corporate is standard stuff like drafting documents and corporate ancillaries.” Though, one insider acknowledged that “I’ve done first draft at most things, the firm is good at offering that.” The firms corporate team advised founders of Heart & Lung Imaging Limited on the sale of 75% of their shares. Other client names dotting the list include Crisis, AQA Education and Macmillan.

Trainee Life

It’s safe to say Bates Wells is a firm that does a lot of work for good, and this is also reflected in the office culture. “The firm’s work is rooted in the values of making profit but for good, and this feeds into the people they bring on.” As such, “people here are not in it for the money” one trainee put frankly. Another noted that “this means it’s not competitive or toxic, even right from first application to now there’s not excessive competition.” When it comes to the social life, “there is a social committee” which usually organizes one or two pub quizzes, a Christmas and summer party amongst other events. Each department also has an allocated budget to organize things, and trainees get their own budget too.

Lots of firm events are put on by the diversity and inclusion groups too. For example, we heard of a Windrush celebration, trans visibility day and talks surrounding how to attract talent at different levels. The firm’s D&I is called the diversity and inclusion forum, with groups underneath this representing protected characteristics like queen street pride, reach and rise, unstoppable and STEP (seeing talent excellence and potential.)

Hearing that“there’s no pressure to stay beyond 5.30pm” is not something you’d expect to come from the mouth of a City trainee, when asked about hours. But most sources weren’t staying much past 6pm, unless you’re in a group like disputes where “as it was smaller and more harder court deadlines it could be 7-8pm.” Still, we have heard worse! Trainees are expected to be in two days a week in office, and there is a team day depending on the department we heard charities is Tuesday and employment is Thursday.

In each department, trainees get an official and buddy supervisor, and “the official one gives you a lot of work directly.”  There is also a deputy training principal who is there with them for duration of the training contract, as well as a mentor. One trainee told us that “with my supervisor I have a call or a meeting once a week, they’re not just checking in about the job but also checking everything is fine.” In fact, all of our sources thought the supervision was really supportive, regardless of the department they were in: “You can be open and free, they’re also helpful in communicating when they won’t be around, but they will make sure they do have a debrief with you.”

In terms of training, it’s mainly department based. For example, in ChaSe there are weekly training sessions and in employment there were sessions on drafting contracts mid seat. The training was also said to be a lot of content knowledge learning or “know how” trainings, as opposed to soft skill training. Though others felt the more learn as you go approach was most beneficial at the firm: “It’s getting feedback with work you get the most from. That helps as people here are good at giving feedback!”

“We don’t take on work if we think it harms society.”

Pro bono is a pretty big deal at the firm as “it’s built into the structure of the company.” The source explained that “because so many of our clients are charities, we offer reduced rates and write off work they shouldn’t be charged for.” Ultimately, not only is the firm “very, very transparent, as clients know the fees we will be charging” the firm “doesn’t see it as charity work, we see it as wanting the best for the client.”  To sum it up, one insider stated that “we don’t take on work if we think it harms society.”

So, what does it take to qualify as a Bates Wells NQ? Final year trainees gear up for the process in the New Year. Then, grad recruitment sends around a list of the positions on offer around March to April. Following this, trainees submit applications to the department they want to join. Most departments do one round of interviews, and some have written assessments too. We heard interviews take place in May, with offer letters being sent out shortly after. In 2023, the firm retained five out of the six trainees.

Waste not want not: Bates Wells office sends zero waste to the landfill.


How to get a Bates Wells training contract

  • Vacation scheme deadline: 31 Jan 2023
  • Training contract deadline: 13 May 2023
  • Training contract places: 6
  • Training contract applications: Approximately 700


Bates Wells is “passionate about making a positive social impact, so any experience that demonstrates that commitment, either personal or professional, is impressive.” 

Application process

There are three stages to the application process. Firstly, candidates complete an online application form on the firm’s website which covers academics, experiences and motivations: “We use contextual recruitment software which is built into the application form, and we take mitigating circumstances seriously when reviewing applications. Candidates can speak in confidence to the graduate recruitment team regarding those circumstances and any adjustments they might need in the application process.’

Candidates that meet expectations complete a Watson-Glaser test, examining critical thinking skills – they have about a week to complete it. “We then look at the test score and re-review the application to see if we want to progress to the next stage,” Daisy explains. “If they’re applying for a vacation scheme they have an interview with 2 recruitment panel members, which range from associates to partners; if applying directly for a training contract they’re invited to a full assessment day which will include a written test and possibly a group exercise too.” The exercises undertaken at the assessment centre will also be completed during the vacation scheme; all candidates must complete the same assessments.

“Be sure to keep up-to-date with current affairs and have an opinion about what is going on in the world before you come and speak to us,” Daisy suggests. Those who’ve been successful during a vac scheme or assessment centre will then be interviewed by the firm’s managing partner and senior partner in July and will find out the decision by August.

Top tip: “Candidates who do well at our interviews are able to express their opinion on a range of issues; they’re engaged in the world around them and can show that they want to be part of a firm that is sincerely committed to making a positive social impact. They have a clear understanding of the importance of balancing purpose with profit. Those who perform less well during our recruitment processes have not researched enough about the firm and the space we operate in.”

Bates Wells recruits from both its vacation scheme and direct training contract applications, in addition to considering internal employees.

The vacation scheme

The firm runs one vacation scheme at Easter. This will take place in-person in 2024, as it did in 2023. Candidates will be able to engage directly with practice areas they are interested in, as well as completing meaningful work and tasks across the firm. Vac scheme participants will have to complete a written test, and candidates on the direct route will complete the same test when they attend an assessment centre.

The vacation scheme also comes with various workshops and presentations, plus social activities and potential client meetings: “You’ll be involved with our Diversity and Inclusion Forums as well as gaining a better understanding about the Impact Economy. ”Daisy concludes: “We receive a high volume of applications for our schemes and although we recruit on a rolling basis we do read every application submitted – yours can stand out by showing genuine motivation towards all things Bates Wells.”

Trainee profile

“Trainees join the firm because they’re interested in the nature of our work and are impressed by the clients we work with,” Daisy suggested. “They’re also committed to making a positive social impact, whatever that might be! Trainees are excited about the high-quality training offered and getting involved in interesting work from the early stages of their career. Being part of a smaller cohort also means it’s easier to build up relationships with one another and feel part of one team and firm.”

How wide is the scope of the firm's recruitment drive across the country? “Prior to Covid-19 we would travel to different events across the UK to meet potential applicants,” we heard. “You may have seen us giving away bamboo toothbrushes as a means of reducing the amount of plastic often seen at careers events! This year we will join events both remotely or in-person where possible.”

Bates Wells

10 Queen Street Place,

Firm profile
Making a profit is core to all businesses but our goal is to combine this with a real social purpose. Our values are pivotal to us, they shape our decisions and the way we live and work.

We focus on positive social impact as much as we focus on being a successful law firm. Our top tier legal advice is coupled with a real desire to drive change and we were the first UK law firm with B Corp certification, awarded to businesses that balance purpose and profit.

Today, our clients are diverse – from corporate household names, to public bodies, to start ups. We’re also the firm of choice for thousands of charities and social enterprises. We continue to lead the market we helped to shape.

Bates Wells challenges what is possible in legal expertise delivery.

Main areas of work
Bates Wells is best-known for our expertise in advising charities, we have the largest dedicated charity and social enterprise team in the UK. However, we also have a focus on commercial and corporate law, as well as employment, real estate, arts and media, immigration, litigation and public and regulatory law.

Training opportunities
When you join us, you’ll be ready and willing to bring your ideas and the best of yourself. You’ll be part of a small trainee intake and a supportive and participative culture where you can be yourself, learn, grow and develop.

All trainees complete seats in charity and social enterprise, and we’ll help you to choose other seats that will best prepare you for your preferred career path.

All trainees do seats in charity and social enterprise, and we’ll help you to choose the seats that will best prepare you for your preferred career path.

You’ll have a dedicated supervisor in each seat, who’ll make sure your work is relevant and varied, with training where necessary.

Vacation scheme
Our vacation schemes are a great way to make your mark — and could lead to a training contract. By applying for a vacation scheme, you’re guaranteed to be considered for a training contract. You don’t need to apply for both the vacation scheme and the training contract — you only need to choose one.

We accept applications from both Law and Non-Law university students, as well as from graduates of any discipline, but please make sure you are eligible to begin a training contract in 2026 when applying. Applications for vacation schemes close in January 2024, so be sure to apply before the deadline, and note that we recruit on a rolling basis.

Other benefits

Life insurance, private healthcare, cycle to work scheme, gym, employee assistant programme, pension, profit sharing scheme, recognition scheme, season ticket loan, wellbeing weeks, access to complementary therapies, volunteering days, agile working, extra day of annual leave (usually in December) as well as many more.

Milkround events
Aspiring Solicitors Virtual Diversity Law Fair – 9 October
Legal Cheek Virtual Law Fair – 10 October
All About Law x Bates Wells: Navigating AI's Impact on Data & Privacy Law 16 October
All About Law x Bates Wells: Unearthing Work Experience Opportunities in the Legal Field 17 October
BPP National Law Fair – 18 October
All About Law Virtual Law Fair – 19 October
Young Professionals Solicitor
Apprenticeships Fair: 25 October
Inn Group Q&A – Being Part of a Small Trainee Cohort – 31 October
93% Club Careers Fair: Date TBC

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
How we treat each other day-to-day is underpinned by our Purpose and Values and our Code of Conduct and Dignity at Work Policies demonstrate our commitment to this. We also require all new joiners to complete our Equality and Diversity training before they start and our partners and employees undertake further inclusion training on an annual basis.

We are happy to hold ourselves to wider scrutiny, either as required by law, for example Gender Pay Reporting, or being active members of programmes which promote inclusivity within the legal sector. We are signatories of the Law Society Diversity & Inclusion Charter and the firm has actively participated in the Law Society’s Women in Leadership Law project with the recent release of our co-authored practical toolkit for women in law.

We strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential whatever their background and having a diverse team and an inclusive culture is integral to our success. We are signatories of the Halo Code Agreement, Race at Work Charter and Race Fairness Commitment.

We strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential whatever their background and having a diverse team and an inclusive culture is integral to our success. We are signatories of the Halo Code Agreement, Race at Work Charter and Race Fairness Commitment.

Our Management Board appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Forum (DIF), led at senior partner level and supported by HR, which include volunteers at all levels of seniority across the firm. Their remit is to reflect our values by striving to have a positive impact on our clients, our people and society by: (a) creating a workplace enriched by diverse talent, views and thinking; and (b) striving to be leaders for change in the legal profession and society in relation to diversity and inclusion issues.

Working alongside and with DIF, is our Employee Forum. By raising topics of interest, they can be brought to the partnerships’ attention, discussed and taken forward.

The health and wellbeing of our people is a high priority for the firm and so we have established a number of different initiatives and continue to innovate in this space.

We have encouraged training a number of Mental Health First Aiders, including Senior Partners, who are available to support employees, in addition to an Employee Assistance Programme.

Bates Wells also holds Wellbeing Weeks each year providing our people with access to nurses and nutritionists to discuss health issues, exercise and healthy eating. It’s also a time to connect with our colleagues and participate in activities that would not be on offer every day, like welcoming therapy dogs to the office! Whilst working remotely we have continued with wellbeing weeks, but coordinated virtual activities and events.

We promote wellbeing by operating a cycle to work scheme and giving free access to cycle storage and changing facilities, offering access to subsidised gyms, in addition to webinars. We have an Employee Assistance Programme as well as Private Medical Insurance, which has a range of resources through Bupa such as Help @ Hand or counselling. There is also Bupa Support, which can be used for family members that need to speak to someone on their mental health line.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 2)
    • Employment: Employer: Third Sector (Band 1)
    • Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 1)
    • Administrative & Public Law: Mainly Public Sector & Charities (Band 2)
    • Charities (Band 1)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Immigration: Business (Band 2)
    • Immigration: Human Rights, Asylum and Deportation (Band 2)
    • Immigration: Personal (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Theatre & Live Events (Band 2)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Electoral Law (Band 1)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 3)