DWF - True Picture

After an impressive and “ambitious” run of expansion, DWF is hunkering down and immersing trainees in its commercial and insurance offering.

DWF training contract review 2021

The Firm

Many law firms describe themselves as ambitious, but how many of them are ambitious enough to float on the stock market, acquire an additional law firm and buy a legal services firm, all in the space of a year? DWF was. Its £95 million IPO in March 2019 made it the largest UK-listed law firm and secured its status as a firm that’s “ambitious and a bit different.” Following this trend, DWF went on to make a jumbo £40 million acquisition of Spanish law firm Rousaud Costas Duran, which increased its headcount by over 400 and added offices in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. A year after completing its IPO, DWF acquired Mindcrest, a US-headquartered legal services company.

Despite these positive moves, it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Not long after these developments, the world was plunged into a global pandemic, and unfortunately DWF was not immune to its impact. In cost-cutting measures, the firm shut up shop in Brussels and Singapore, and cut jobs in Dubai and Cologne. Here in the UK, trainees who were due to join the ranks in September 2020 have been deferred to February 2021. The firm’s 39 qualifiers were also hit with the news that the firm would be offering 25 NQ positions. “Our NQ list reflects the current market,” training principal Carl Graham tells us. “There’s less activity in corporate and transactional areas. It's going to be difficult for people who are determined to enter the corporate world, but we continue to monitor the market, and business demand will adapt our trainee seats in line with this". Going forward, Graham admits that “we're not going to be as ambitious as we have in the past in terms of acquisitions, but perhaps that is just an inevitable part of our maturity as a public business.”

“A reputable firm, while not being too much of a corporate beast.”

Fortunately, the firm had already achieved many of its ambitions pre-pandemic – in addition to its ten bases spread across the UK, DWF has 26 overseas offices and additional connections with partner firms like LA-headquartered Wood Smith Henning & Berman. Hundreds of lawyers work across DWF’s UK bases, but trainees reckoned the firm “strikes the right balance of having great clients and being a reputable firm, while not being too much of a corporate beast.”

Chambers UK awards the firm top national rankings for health and safety, volume claims insurance, personal injury, and product liability. The firm has several professional negligence rankings at a regional level, and scoops high accolades in the North West for its mid-market corporate/M&A, employment, IT, litigation and pensions work. The firm was founded in Manchester and this is where the largest number of trainees can be found today, closely followed by London. Leeds and Liverpool both took eight trainees, Birmingham took six, and Newcastle took two. The firm also hires for its Scottish offices.

The Seats

Seat allocation is largely the same across offices, in that trainees’ first seats are decided by the firm, and then for subsequent seats trainees can submit preferences from a list of available options. Seat options vary depending on the office. That said, sources added that core insurance and commercial seats are available in most offices. “In theory it’s possible to move between offices too,” one interviewee noted, “but I don’t know if that really happens in practice.”

DWF also offers numerous client secondment options. It’s actually a very common undertaking for trainees in London, which sources put down to the fact that “many key clients have their main offices in London.” There are also a couple of options in Manchester, and one source told us that a regional trainee had recently been placed with a client in London, with the firm putting them up in an apartment. Despite the number of international offices, the firm doesn’t currently offer overseas secondments – “hopefully there will be one in future,” trainees said. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

“… defending or pursuing claims concerning fires, floods, and subsidence.”

Insurance is DWF’s biggest department. Depending on the office, trainees can sit in sub-groups including commercial insurance, professional indemnity, catastrophic personal injury and criminal defence. Commercial insurance matters included “defending or pursuing claims concerning fires, floods, and subsidence.” There were also “policy coverage issues” to contend with and small claims track matters, dealing with claims of £10,000 or less. DWF works with big insurance names like Aviva, NFU Mutual, and Tesco Insurance on claims including personal injury matters, fraud recovery, credit hire claims, and motor insurance matters. Although the experience was “a bit of a baptism of fire,” one source was pleased to report getting the chance to “manage my own caseloads.” After receiving the initial claim, this involved “drafting the acknowledgement of service, drafting instructions to counsel, and drafting defences.” Once the claim kicked off, trainees were tasked with “keeping the client updated, reviewing documents, and filing documents in court.”

With profession indemnity or catastrophic personal injury cases, the firm mainly works for insurance companies on the defending side. “If, say, there is an accident at work and the insurance company has to pay out, our main role is to try and get the best deal possible for the insurer,” trainees explained. In this seat they’d been able to “speak with witnesses, draft witness statements, and work with experts to review evidence.” Writing reports to insurers was also a big part of the seat.

In the corporate seat, sources came across “a lot of M&A – disposals, acquisitions, management buyouts” – as well as a growing amount of private equity work. A Manchester source recalled “working for a lot of private equity houses” during their seat. The team recently acted for Inflexion Private Equity on its investment into Grindeys Legal, a property and conveyancing services company. Elsewhere the team advised aerospace company Arlington on its £23 million acquisition of a thermostat business. Some had also worked on several restructurings. Typical tasks included drafting ancillary documents, due diligence and dealing with “day-to-day corporate queries.” In the Birmingham office, trainees can also do commercial work alongside corporate in the same seat. “It tends to be more ad hoc – I’ve drafted framework agreements for instance,” one source revealed. “It’s usually contract-based, like looking at contracts for clients.” More unusually, some offices also offer the opportunity for trainees to sit in the firm’s in-house legal team (known as Group Legal), where interviewees got stuck into “drafting lots of different contractual agreements like sponsorship agreements and legal service agreements.”

“The claims were more high-value and complex than the small claim matters in insurance.”

Commercial litigation was quite a popular choice for trainees. Interviewees came across “a variety of commercial disputes for both claimants and defendants.” These could be typical breach of contract matters, shareholder disputes, contested probate matters, or copyright/IP disputes – just to name a few. In a particularly high-profile matter, the Manchester and Liverpool teams have been defending Morrisons in a civil claim brought by more than 8,000 employees and former employees of the supermarket whose confidential data was made public by an ex-employee. Elsewhere, the team acts for British Airways defending civil litigations stemming from the cyber attack and data theft it experienced in 2018. In this seat, “the claims were more high-value and complex than the small claim matters in insurance,” one trainee reflected. This meant there were fewer opportunities to manage their own cases, but not zero: “I did have some cases to manage, but it wasn’t as large in volume.” Trainees still got experience drafting court documents, with the caveat that it’s “heavily supervised – it needs to be.” Sources liked being able to attend mediations and hearings as well, and appreciated “getting experience with alternative dispute resolution.” More admin-based tasks like bundling were inescapable here, and although interviewees admitted the seat generally had a slightly lower level of responsibility, sources still felt “it builds up as you get more comfortable with the subject.”

In the “busy” real estate team trainees encountered classic lease agreements and licences, development matters, and real estate finance work. Similar to insurance, trainees are often given their own matters which they’re “trusted to run with.” These often include lease renewals, general licences, rent deposits, and other “standard landlord/tenant real estate documents.” Sources also flagged opportunities to get involved in “more complex matters, supporting more senior fee earners.” One insider explained: “On these I would be assisting from a case management point of view.” Interviewees also noticed a lot of occupier side work “for big, household names,” estimating that these types of matters made up “about half the work of the team.” Examples includeacting for adidas on the completion of its flagship store on Oxford Street in London, and advising Premier Inn on the £35 million development of two new hotels in Manchester and on the Isle of Man. The group also acted for Liverpool City Council in relation to its £17 million Park Life community sports development project.

Trainee Life

A common theme that came up with interviewees across all offices was the inclusive, “people-oriented”environment at DWF. “I always feel able to approach anyone with questions,” said one. Another source reiterated that “there’s a lot of partner contact – they’re not seen as scary people you can’t talk to. They’re willing to have a laugh.” This left most people with the impression that “everyone is welcoming, friendly and down to earth.” This atmosphere also meant regular socialising. “It’s not the kind of firm where you just go to work and go home,” they said. “There’s always stuff going on after work, whether it’s drinks, talent shows or pub quizzes.” Along with firmwide events like summer and Christmas parties, each office has its own social committee. All offices organise “a big social in the kitchen” called Friday Fridge once a month, except for Londoners, who organise a similar get-together on a Thursday (which is the new Friday, after all, and is called 'Thirsty Thursdays'). Outside of drinks-related activities, Manchester sources recalled one team organising a hike and a “10 km hell run.” See you at the finish line.

Another big feature of the DWF culture is corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Sources highlighted the firm’s 5 STAR Futures scheme, which is “a work experience programme to help children from low socioeconomic backgrounds.” DWF also has its own foundation (DWF Foundation), which many sources had helped with fundraising efforts. Other CSR events included organising “a Christmas grotto at a women’s shelter,” and a “fashion show in partnership with Debenhams.” Trainees emphasised that “the firm is of the attitude that they expect you to be giving back,” and thankfully, “the firm gives you time to give back!”

On average, trainees estimated they worked a 40 to 50-hour week, though it would vary depending on the seat. Corporate, for instance, involved “working with companies from all over the world, which was a bit more gruelling in terms of hours.” In seats like commercial litigation, the hours more closely resembled 8.30am to 6.30pm, and most trainees agreed that the latest they’d stayed in the office was 8pm. Others added they’d “never felt the need to log in at the weekend,” and had enough time for their private lives away from the firm. Salaries vary by office, and our interviewees felt adequately compensated.

At the time of research, the qualification process had been delayed as a result of Covid-19 and a recent change in management. Usually, a jobs list will come out with vacancies across the firm. Upcoming qualifiers can list two choices (in order of preference), and then depending on the department, applicants may or may not be required to interview. Trainees are also free to “apply for jobs in other offices if there’s not a job you want in your home office and you’re willing to relocate.” DWF ended up retaining 24 of 39 qualifiers in 2020.

The student becomes the master… To help trainees with career planning in the time of Covid-19, DWF is pairing trainees with partner mentors who had to navigate their early careers during the 2008 financial crash.

How to get a DWF training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 22 January 2021 (opens 3 September 2020) 

Training contract deadline (2023): 25 June 2021 (opens 3 September 2020) 

Pupillage deadline (2021): TBC

Initial application and video interview 

DWF receives around 2,000 applications each year for both its vacation scheme and training contracts. The online application form is the same for vacation scheme and direct training contract applicants. It asks candidates to outline their academics, work experience, reasons for pursuing a career at DWF and what transferable skills they have. 

Successful applicants are then invited to take part in a video interview which takes around 20 minutes to complete. 

Assessment centre 

The next stage is the assessment centre. This consists of a strengths-based interview, a group exercise/presentation, a short, written exercise and the chance to network with the assessors. From here, vacation scheme offers are made to the vacation-scheme applicants, only. 

The final stage of recruitment for both the vacation scheme and direct applicants is a 'meet the leaders' event, which allows applicants to meet and impress the firm's business leaders. The format is a lawyer speed-networking event that sees applicants pick the brains of the practice group heads and senior leaders within the business. “It just goes to show how much the senior figures want to invest their time in the recruitment process,” said one trainee. 

Vacation scheme 

The vacation scheme runs for two weeks in June, with specific dates depending on location. 

Attendees sit with two different departments during their visit, attend a series of presentations and workshops, and undertake a group project. The firm's current trainees praised the work they were given as vac schemers, telling us they'd carried out “typical day-to-day trainee tasks like researching cases and drafting letters to clients.” There is also a social side to the scheme, giving participants the chance to meet current trainees, associates and partners. This allows them to get a good picture of the DWF culture and values, as well as have some fun! 

How to wow 

DWF accepts applications from any university, and look for good A-Levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent qualifications) plus a minimum 2:1 degree (either expected or obtained). They also take mitigating circumstances into account and are using the Contextual Recruitment System, which allows them to consider academic achievements in the context in which they were gained. 

Throughout the application process, it is important that candidates display a sense of why DWF is the business they want to work for, and why they think it is different from its competitors. This means showing an understanding of the legal market and where DWF sits within it and demonstrating sufficient knowledge of the business's sector groups and clients. 


In autumn 2018 DWF announced that its advocacy unit (DWF Advocacy Ltd) was recruiting a pupil barrister to join the team in 2019. The firm offered three pupillages for next year, two in general civil litigation and one in commercial litigation. The pupillage consists of two six-month seats with the aim that on completion the successful candidate will be offered a permanent position as an employed barrister. The deadline to apply was August 2019, and the position was advertised on the firm's website and the Pupillage Gateway. It's not yet known if DWF will be recruiting a pupil in 2020/21 too, but keep your ear to the ground for future opportunities.


1 Scott Place,
2 Hardman Street,
M3 3AA

  • Total trainees: 382
  • Associates: 778 (including Senior Associates)
  • Total trainees: 86
  • UK offices: Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, London, Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast
  • Overseas offices: 26
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Sarah Tucker, sarah.tucker@dwf.law
  • Training Partner: Carl Graham
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 30
  • Applications pa: 2000
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Good A-levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent qualification)
  • Vacation scheme places ps: 25
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 3rd September 2020
  • Training contract deadline 2023: 25th June 2021
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 3rd September 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 22nd January 2021
  • Open day deadline: 13th November 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: Location specific: £22,000 –£38,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: No
  • Maintenance grant pa: No
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester

Firm profile
We are a global legal business, transforming legal services through our people for our clients. Led by managing partner and CEO Sir Nigel Knowles, we have 31 key locations and over 4,000 people delivering services and solutions that go beyond expectations. We became the first Main Market Premium Listed legal business on the London Stock Exchange in March 2019. We have received recognition for our work by the Financial Times who named us as one of Europe's most innovative legal advisers, and we have a range of stand-alone consultative services, technology and products in addition to the traditional legal offering.

Main areas of work
We connect on a global scale, sharing our knowledge and technical expertise to identify and anticipate challenges. We are finding new solutions for clients within eight core sectors, including energy and industrials, financial services, insurance, public sector, real estate, retail, food and hospitality, technology and transport.

Training opportunities
At DWF, we use our values to help define and reinforce our culture, enabling us to recruit, retain and develop the highest quality people. This is reflected in our training contract, where our future trainees are made to feel part of the DWF team from the initial offer. Once within the business, our trainees get a high level of responsibility in terms of legal work, exposure to business development and CSR. Many of our trainees have the opportunity to undertake a client secondment. There are opportunities to learn from leading legal, technical and sector experts, and all our trainees are supported to go beyond their full potential with a range of training, practical day-to-day working and in-house learning and workshops.

Vacation scheme
The DWF vacation scheme takes place in June, dates of which depend on location. If you are in your penultimate or final year of a law degree, final year of a non-law degree or a graduate of any degree discipline then you are eligible to apply. Applications will be open from September until January, and you must make an online application via our application portal, Apply4Law. The business recruits the majority of its trainees through the vacation scheme, so it's a good opportunity to get ahead and see why DWF is the right business for you. The two-week vacation scheme gives you the chance to work with partners, associates and trainees across two different practice groups. You'll work on live legal matters and will be given responsibility right from the start. This is combined with a variety of internal workshops and presentations, helping you understand DWF as a business. You'll also complete a group project that's designed to aid your professional development and provide you with some of the essential skills of a successful commercial lawyer. As well as gaining fantastic experience, you'll also be paid reasonably for your time on the vacation scheme.

Other benefits
Pension, healthcare, childcare vouchers, season ticket loan, life assurance, retail vouchers, employee assistance programme, subsidised staff restaurants in various locations. Open days and first-year opportunities Our open days are open to all first-year students, non-law students, graduates etc. Our application portal will open in September 2020, and you can apply via our website.

University law careers fairs 2020
Please see our website for the full list of law fairs that we are attending this year.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
At DWF, we are proud of our reputation as a supportive and inclusive employer. We aim to be an employer of choice to talent across generations and life stages by providing interventions that advance social inclusion and enable our colleagues to balance their work lives while providing the development opportunities to enjoy fulfilling and rewarding careers. As a responsible business and force for good in society, we embed our culture and values at the heart of everything we do, recognising that our people not only want a great place to work, but take pride in creating it.

Our Global Diversity & Inclusion Strategy 2020 sets out how we will make diversity & inclusion truly part of the way we do business. The global strategy is driven by a Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Group comprised of 46 senior leaders and supported by a growing network of diversity champions. We have identified six priority strands integral to improving inclusion in our workplace, Gender, LGBT+, Disability, Agile Working, Race & Ethnicity and Age. Our Executive Sponsors for each strand serve as visible advocates to help advance the understanding of diversity & inclusion in DWF and beyond.

Our affinity networks, open to all, provide colleagues with an opportunity to become meaningfully involved in developing and driving our diversity initiatives and programmes. Our networks include: Out Front (our LGBT+ Network), This is Me (Our Gender Network), Race & Ethnicity, Carers, Working Families, Agile Working, Disability and Age. The Networks host educational and social events internally and with our clients.

Social media
Twitter: @DWF_Graduate
Facebook: DWF Graduate Recruitment

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 3)