In three years, DWF has gone from having under 20 offices to having almost 30 – no wonder trainees say it’s working on a “global takeover.”
Heaven Knows I'm International Now
Manchester has given the world many great gifts. From music (Oasis and The Smiths) to transport (the railway and Rolls-Royce) to a way of life (vegetarianism and Manchester United). In the world of law, Manchester-founded DWF is in the midst of what trainees are calling a “global takeover.” In the past three years alone, this “internationally minded” nationalfirm has opened up in no fewer than 13 new locations, whether through brand new offices (like its most recent opening in Warsaw) or partnerships with other firms (like LA-headquartered Wood Smith Henning & Berman).Training principal Carl Graham tells us: “A lot of candidates talk about wanting to be on DWF's journey, and it’s not over yet – we haven’t crossed the finishing line.” The firm underwent a £95 million IPO in March 2019, making it the largest law firm to ever to go public. Graham says this move was a case of “‘what next?’ for our growth” and that the firm is set on “maintaining the pace of growth we’ve had since 2007.”
For trainees this means “the firm I did my vac scheme with in 2015 is very different to the firm now.” But even with all the changes “it’s pretty much business as usual” in the UK, where the firm works for a mix of insurance and general commercial clients.Still, everyone likes to keep up with the latest news, “especially in the Australian offices – it makes you very jealous!” Hopefully it won’t be too long before trainees can sun themselves on regular secondments abroad. At the time of our calls there were just a couple of lucky trainees spending time in the Paris and Milan offices thanks to their language skills, but these are typically ad-hoc and not guaranteed.
“The firm I did my vac scheme with in 2015 is very different to the firm now.”
What has changed for trainees is the training contract, which switched from a six four-month seat structure to the traditional set-up of four seats of six months in 2018. “While it’s frustrating that you don’t get as much choice, you probably do get more out of each seat,” trainees noted, agreeing that “the three or four-month mark is where you really get into your stride. By the end of six months you’re a much more competent team member.”
The firm has a strong national presence with trainees spread across nine UK locations at the time of our calls: 20 in Manchester, 18 in London, ten in Leeds, nine in Liverpool, seven in Birmingham and three in Newcastle. The firm also recruits trainees in Scotland. First seats are allocated automatically, but for the second seat, trainees get a list of whatever the second-year trainees haven’t chosen. Everyone can submit up to five preferences. This works well in small offices like Newcastle but is more of a challenge in London where “it’s quite dog-eat-dog when it comes to seat choices.”
This Charming Man
Trainees emphasised how “heavily insurance-centred” DWF's training contract can be: “Some people end up doing back-to-back insurance in their first year,” particularly in London.Real estate is another common destination for first-years. There are also “competitive” secondments to clients. To bag one, trainees submit their CVs and have a chat or more formal interview with the client contact.
Under the firm's insurance umbrella trainees may sit in professional indemnity, which handles the insurance side of professional negligence claims. Big insurers like AXA, Chubb, Zurich and Travelers are among the clients. Trainees run subrogated recovery claims worth “up to about £30,000, which isn’t a lot in this context!” For example, a claim might arise “if somebody has a broken tap that damages their kitchen, and their household insurance policy pays out a few grand. The insurer will then try to recover that money by pursuing, for example, a negligent plumber who didn’t fit the tap properly. Or the tap itself may be faulty, so they might go after the manufacturer.” The group also handles claims of solicitor and barrister negligence: “If a solicitor advises on a tax agreement which falls through so the client loses millions of pounds, they may say the solicitor misadvised them. Their insurer will then come to us.” London lawyers recently acted for a junior barrister in a Bar Standards Board investigation which came about become of a mistrial in a big drugs prosecution.Through work like this, trainees have to get to grips with different areas of law like employment and crime. The group also has a construction arm “to deal specifically with allegedly negligent architects, engineers and quantity surveyors. It’s all very technical, so I’ve worked with a lot of experts.”
“I had to instruct surveillance to watch the claimant and their house.”
Trainees can also sit in occupational health, which focuses on injuries sustained in the workplace, with the firm acting on the defendant/insurer side for insurers like QBE, Chubb, Aviva and RSA. In one case, “the claimant was working in a cherry picker and got hit by a bus and sustained lots of injuries.” As well as getting practice drafting defences, trainees can unleash their inner James Bond (sort of) by spying on claimants who've made dodgy claims. “People exaggerate their symptoms,” one source explained, “so I had to instruct surveillance to watch the claimant and their house. Then we saw them doing heavy lifting in B&Q! That helps us to say we think the claim should be reduced.” Trainees also keep clients up to date on settlement negotiations – “the important thing is not to go to trial, so if we can settle that's the best thing to do.”
(What’s the Story) Morrisons Glory?
Trainees in commercial get exposure to both public and private sector work. On the private side, “we do a lot of work for big supermarkets.” The firm works regularly with Morrisons – in the past three years it’s advised the supermarket on no fewer than 800 contracts. Over the same period, it advised Marks & Spencer on over £1 billion worth of contracts. Outside retail, the firm works with clients like Serco, outsourcing company Equiniti and Manchester City FC (which also takes trainee secondees). On the public sector side, Cornwall County Council, Aberdeen City Council, Leeds City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority are all clients. The team also deals with competition matters such as when a client “wants to receive money from a local authority, but EU rules say they can't.” Manchester lawyers recently advised the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council and Durham County Council during an investigation by the European Commission into grants for a venue in the North East in the context of state aid rules.
“In my first week they took me down to London for a completion.”
The corporate team has a particular focus on financial services, retail and technology, but trainees were “learning about all kinds of different businesses” from hotels to pharmaceutical companies. Lawyers in Liverpool recently acted for biscuit company Burton’s on the sale of its chocolate plant in the Wirral to European cocoa giant Barry Callebaut. Meanwhile Manchester folk advised Swiss machinery manufacturer Schweiter on its £92 million acquisition of acrylic company Lucite and acted for property business Assura on the £30 million acquisition of Stratford Healthcare Centre. A North West trainee remembered: “In my first week they took me down to London for a completion of a private equity investment.” Another trainee recalled their involvement in an investment deal: “We built a corporate structure from scratch. We started off with one company and ended up with 15 or 16 in different jurisdictions.” Trainee tasks include due diligence and project management: “From the beginning of the deal, I was asked to create a document list and keep a running commentary of who had the latest draft.”
Real estate is a common first seat, so “lawyers here spend a lot of time training you.” The team works with commercial clients and also has a social housing team. The Manchester office does a lot for Premier Inn and Costa: acquisitions, disposals, estate management and property litigation. Trainees handle new leases for these clients, which is “quite mechanised because they have so many!” By the end of the seat trainees are also independently handling “simple matters like licences for alterations.” Other clients include Greene King, EE, Q-Park, Homes England and Odeon Cinemas, which Manchester lawyers advised on its head office relocation. Colleagues in Leeds meanwhile advised on the £40 million redevelopment of two of the stands at Headingley Stadium, while in Newcastle trainees are given “high autonomy doing lease management work for regional clients” like local housebuilder Ascent Homes. Meanwhile in London, the team acted for asset management company Ares Management on its £140 million acquisition of a portfolio of 12 properties.
Half The World Away
Everyone was pleased that the NQ process “kicks off nice and early.” Trainees submit and rank two choices for qualification, with formal interviews likely. We heard that in 2019 Manchester and London trainees were afraid to miss out on NQ jobs because roles in the commercial teams were oversubscribed. The firm did not disclose its trainee retention figures.
Trainees are busiest in the commercial seats too. A 7pm finish is pretty standard in real estate, but corporate is much more up and down. “The latest I worked was 3am for a completion,” one Liverpool source told us, while a Manchester trainee said: “I could count on two hands the number of times I’ve been here past 9pm over two years.” It was only a little worse in London: “Once in a while I might stay late for a week, but I mean 9 or 10pm.” In summary: demanding hours do feature, but without the grinding consistency of most top City or US firms.
“Once in a while I might stay late for a week.”
Those in the North West felt “DWF is quite a light-hearted firm,” with Leeds trainees quick to add: “HR describes us as the most chilled.” We’d be pretty relaxed too if we had £250 to put towards massages every year – something trainees in all offices can indulge in. Everyone also appreciated congregating in Manchester for induction training at the start of the contract – the firm puts up non-Manchester trainees in accommodation. Graduate recruitment is based in Manchester too, so for trainees elsewhere “if you want a quick chat it has to be by telephone or email, which removes the personal touch.”
All offices are open-plan, and everyone is “encouraged to sit at different desks” regularly. Apparently “you get called out if you don’t!” Manchester is fitted out with a “really nice” bistro, while London trainees enjoy the dizzy heights from their base in the Walkie-Talkie building. In the capital everyone is “getting a bit squashed in,” due to recent lateral hires. Trainees noticed a lot of those laterals were men, which sources lamented saying they wanted to see a return to a focus on diversity. “One of the things that attracted me to DWF was how diverse it was!” one said. Another source observed a different effect of recent growth: “As the firm’s getting bigger, you can be at the Christmas party with people you’ve never seen before!”
Across offices, on the last Friday of every month, everyone gathers for ‘Friday Fridge’, when the firm provides free booze. “It used to be quite a big deal” in Leeds, “but now you get a last-minute email.” Everyone stays for “at least one” in Manchester, with the same core group “always around to drain the last few drinks at half nine.” Londoners reckoned “the insurance half of the office feels quite different to the commercial side,” with corporate described as one of the most sociable groups. In Liverpool “every team had to decorate for a different country” for the World Cup, and “the office went really OTT” – there was cherry blossom wall art for Japan, while others “brought in a giant inflatable football player.” The Birmingham office turned into a casino for a charity poker night, while Newcastle trainees said that “if there’s a networking event, they push you to get involved.”
DWF sometimes offers trainees the chance to do a seat in the firm's own in-house legal team.
How to get a DWF training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 10 January 2020 (opens 2 September 2019)
Training contract deadline (2022): 26 June 2020 (opens 2 September 2019)
Pupillage deadline (2020): 2 August 2019
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.
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 senior partners' event, which gives applicants the opportunity to meet and impress the firm's business leaders. The format is that of a lawyer speed-networking type of event that sees applicants pick the brains of the practice group heads as well as Group CEO Andrew Leaitherland. “It just goes to show how much the senior figures want to invest their time in the recruitment process,” said one trainee.
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 also 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 really 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 has an academic threshold of AAB at A level/AAABB at Scottish Highers (or equivalent), plus a minimum 2:1 degree (either expected or obtained). However, they do take mitigating circumstances into account and are also 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 on 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.
Chambers Student interview with partner and training principal Carl Graham
Chambers Student: It’s been a busy year for DWF. Let’s start with the firm’s IPO in March. What would you like to tell our readers about that?
Carl Graham: In many ways, it was seen as a brave move, but it almost felt like a natural progression for us in terms of our expansion plans. It was something we looked at in terms of ‘what's next?’ for our growth, and making sure we’re maintaining the pace of growth we’ve had since 2007. Looking at it from that perspective, we’ve expanded both internationally and domestically, so when you need to grow further that’s when you’re looking at investment – an IPO seemed to be the next step for us. It’s not something we rushed into; you do it at the right time. The rewarding part is the engagement of the business as a whole, and our people buying into the process.
CS: The firm also began an association with US law firm Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman. What was the purpose of that?
CG: It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while. Again with our international growth, the demand has been client led. We’re not necessarily a firm that says we need a fancy office in a trendy city in X and Y country. We're looking at markets where our clients tell us they need support and we have a track record of expanding our global reach through acquisitions and associations. America is the world's largest market for both legal and insurance services so it was an obvious one for us. Importantly, it always has to be with the right people. The guys we’ve linked up with in America are very like us. The fit was apparent from very early on.
CS: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve over the next few years?
CG: I think from my perspective, the IPO presents lots of opportunities in terms of investment and making sure the foundations are in place for the next stage of our development. I keep being asked questions from people joining us in terms of the ‘journey,’ and I suppose that’s quite an exciting way of looking at it. A lot of candidates talk about wanting to be on DWF’s journey, and it’s not over yet – we haven’t crossed the finishing line. We said in our prospectus for our IPO that we see further opportunities for international expansion; we need to grow further to be present where our clients need us. We’re not a business that takes its foot off the gas.
CS: Which practice areas are doing particularly well at the moment?
CG: Well we just provided our first trading update to the market post-IPO. Our full results are out at the end of July but our trading update showed that we expect to report growth in each of our divisions in particular our international business, which at an estimated 70% is a huge growth area.
We’ve got an enviable list of clients across both our UK commercial and insurance practices, and we’re making sure we link up and grow those businesses. For example for our international insurer clients; we’re looking to link up across Europe, and globally. That’s what insurers want from their panel: to look at the entire business across a global perspective.
CS: Is the firm planning any more office openings in the near future?
CG: There are lots of discussions at various times into where the client leads are. We opened in Warsaw recently. There will be other opportunities, but it has to be the right business and the right people; otherwise, you’re just heading for a fall. To say, ‘We want an office in country X’ just doesn’t work for us as a business. It has to be client led and with the right people.
CS: How has the uncertainty of Brexit been impacting clients and the type of work the firm is doing?
CG: Lawyers are relied upon in uncertain times because clients want a bit of peace of mind. In terms of our established client base, I think people are still looking to invest, but they’re making plans for when Brexit happens. There are one or two clients that are airing on the side of caution because of the market, and they’re being sensible investors. Otherwise, as lawyers, we’re called upon to advise on questions such as: if Brexit happens are we in the right place? It’s about confidence in the uncertainty. Clients want to know the impact of various scenarios, and we stand alongside them. It’s important we hold their hand throughout the process. No lawyer has a crystal ball to say what’s going to happen – we just make sure we’re managing the risks of clients as best we can.
CS: Are you growing trainee numbers to match the firm’s wider growth?
CG: Not particularly – in an era where we’ve got legal apprenticeships and the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination process coming in, the numbers will remain fairly consistent. We’re looking at greater numbers in international bases, so we’ve had an increasing number of secondments to Paris, Milan and Dubai. As those offices grow, they’ll be looking to increase numbers. We’re in an era where there’s a push for apprenticeships, so we need to look at all those areas to make sure we’ve got solicitor apprenticeships covered. It’s going to be a busy few years.
CS: With such rapid expansion, it would be surprising if there wasn’t some sort of culture shift at the firm – how do you think the international expansion will shape the firm’s culture?
CG: It’s interesting because we had dial-ins with all our international offices to look at where our needs are from a people perspective. There are very similar issues across all offices – whether it was partners in Australia commenting on CSR activities or the DWF Foundation, people across our business have similar issues and needs. There is going to be that strain in terms of business growth to make sure we maintain the right culture, and it’s not something we take lightly. Unless we have people who are the right fit, have a similar outlook and share our values, we’re not going to merge. It’s a challenge, but it’s not something we’re blind to.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?
CG: We have applications from vast numbers of very well-educated and bright individuals. The key message I’ve suggested to people is how you as an individual offer something different and I think that’s the same within the business. You see lots of application forms saying, ‘I passionately believe in all DWF’s values’ and ‘I go further and higher.’ Unless you evidence that in the application process, it’s a bland application. Something we say at the trainee induction is to work hard, get involved in the culture, impress your peers and supervisors, show insightfulness, and treat each new seat as if you’re going to qualify into it.
1 Scott Place,
2 Hardman Street,
- Total trainees: 86
- UK offices: Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, London, Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Tucker, [email protected] 0161 838 0098
- Training Partner: Carl Graham
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: c35
- Applications pa: c2000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum A levels: AAB at A-Level or AAABB at Scottish Highers
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 2nd September 2019
- Training contract deadline 2022: 26th June 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 2nd September 2019
- Vacationscheme 2020 deadline: 10th January 2020
- Open day deadline: Friday 1st November 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: Location specific:£22,000 –£38,000 (excluding Belfast and Dublin
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- Sponsorship LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Belfast, Birmingham, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester
DWF is a global legal business, transforming legal services through our people for our clients. Led by Group CEO Andrew Leaitherland, we have over 27 key locations and over 3,000 people delivering services and solutions that go beyond expectations. By questioning traditions and thinking beyond conventions, we achieve outstanding levels of innovation. 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. Building business relationships that inspire trust and confidence across all levels of our business; means we deliver an exceptional client experience. We work with a range of FTSE 100 multinational household names to private individuals, from both the public and private sector.
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 & Hospitality, Technology and Transport.
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. 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.
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.
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 2019 and you can apply via our website: www.dwf.law/graduate.
University law careers fairs 2019
Please see our website for the full list of law fairs that we are attending this year.
Facebook: DWF Graduate Recruitment
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 4)