This cunning Fox may be small, but it’s got the smarts to match law's biggest gingerbread men – and the agility to dive into niches like fashion and professional services.
You’re browsing a market stall on a sunny holiday, when you suddenly can’t believe your eyes – a designer bag? Then you see the price tag and really can’t believe it. Fast fashion knock-offs are everywhere, and the industry’s attempts to stop them are big business for lawyers. This is one of the many hypermodern areas of law that Fox Williams excels in. Founded in 1989 by former partners at big firms who wanted to shake things up, FW regularly outfoxes the competition in the financial services, natural resources, professional services, fashion technology and travel practice areas. “The year to April 2020 has been FW’s best yet," senior partner Paul Osborne tells us. “Our profits are up 30%; we’ve also grown in headcount with some exciting partner hires."
Several of the trainees we spoke to had their eye on the firm’s quirky specialisms before applying. “The firm is very well known for advising fashion clients, which fits my passion outside a work context,” one said. After all, who dreams of helping banks move money? Chambers UK grants FW top spots for partnerships and travel law, as well as strong rankings for financial services, employment, lower mid-market real estate and corporate/M&A. Fox Williams has earned its stripes with a headcount of 145 members of staff, and just the one office in London. “The small trainee intake and high ratio of partners to other lawyers make for great responsibility and quality of work,” interviewees declared.
“…fits my passion outside a work context.”
With only six departments, every trainee completes a seat in all but two, but none of them are mandatory.Everyone submits their preferences to HR, who then try and align trainees with their choices. Interviewees noticed that real estate is a typical first seat: “You get to know the ins and outs of the firm in terms of its billing and client care.” Qualification is similarly unfussy: trainees tell HR where they’d ultimately like to qualify at the beginning of their fourth seat, and heads of department approve their hiring in a board meeting. Off the back of trainee complaints in previous years and poor retention figures in 2019, the situation looks to have improved in 2020 with all three qualifiers taking NQ roles at Fox Williams.
Often the first landing point for trainees, real estate offers both transactional and litigious work linked to property. The firm’s largely lower mid-market practice balances residential and commercial property, regularly bringing in clients from the leisure and hospitality market. Canadian media company DHX took FW’s advice on leases and licences for existing and new space with a combined annual rent of £646,875; clients also include the Royal Marsden Foundation Trust, Hill Residential and international law firm Vedder Price. Trainees here learn the ropes on “lease extensions, drafting licences and reports of title,” and get litigious experience via drafting enforcement actions and statutory demands. Telecommunications work adds spice to the pot: “When companies want to put satellites and masts on top of commercial properties, we help them with that process.”
Trainees can also bounce between elements of the commerce and technology group; one told us: “You can dictate how you want your seat there to go.” While the department’s four partnersspecialise in commercial law, data protection, IP litigation and travel respectively, fashion is an umbrella topic here (a designer umbrella of course). FW has acted for Tesla, California Pizza Kitchen and Bentley Clothing, securing a crucial victory for the last of these in IP litigation against Bentley Motors. “There was a five-day trial; the car company was using the name across their own clothing without the design rights,” a source revealed. International opportunities come with travel matters, requiring trainees to examine travel package regulations and draft settlements. Research is another common task in this seat.
“You can dictate how you want your seat there to go.”
Packaged within the corporate seat you’ll find the Fox Williams speciality professional practices, providing advice to other LLPs. Typical M&A can also be found in the more ‘general’ corporate offering – FW recently advised the digital investment unit of the Allianz Group on its recent Series B investment in African ride-hailing app SafeBoda, and recently-founded publishing house Welbeck on its £6 million acquisition of Jonathan Goodman Publishing. The department’s grown recently with a lateral partner and several associate hires, but trainees had plenty of space to carve their path. One recalled a case of a company in liquidation: “We were doing hybrid investigation work. My role involved putting together settlement agreements, drafting ancillary documents and taking board minutes.”
Dispute resolution splits between commercial litigation and financial services streams. The latter covers investment banking disputes and civil fraud cases; the former leans towards securities litigation and international arbitration. Hertz Europe, Global Risk Partners and a former CEO of Lloyds Bank have all called on Fox Williams’ services – on a recent dispute the firm represented The Software Incubator in a £600,000 claim against American software multinational Computer Associates. “In my first few weeks I got to run a case,” a trainee revealed. “Partners are happy for you to carry out the most challenging tasks and propose the next steps.” Civil fraud was a popular area: “Multiple claimants bought shares in a company that had inaccurately published its value,” a source recalled of one case. They spent their time on document review, organising client meetings, making applications for administration and stock market research.
“Partners are happy for you to carry out the most challenging tasks.”
As at many firms, Fox Williams’ employment practice straddles advisory and litigious elements. "The seat is what you make of it,” with freedom once again for trainees to scope out their own interests. Some of the cutting-edge work here revolves around advising financial services, FinTech, insurance and professional services firms on regulatory issues. The firm advises both senior executives and employers – FW recently acted for the London office of a US law firm after two partners departed, with one issuing whistle-blowing proceeding in the Employment Tribunal. Trainees recently saw a milestone: the team’s first virtual hearing. “It was an interesting experience,” they said, “especially seeing everyone dressed up in their homes!” More typical tasks include working on settlements with clients and sending out discrimination letters. Here too, we heard “partners are happy for you to take on a lot of responsibility if you’ve proven yourself.”
Feedback comes through monthly catch-ups with supervisors, and other partners tend to “take the time to explain how your work could be better, but don’t completely change your drafting style.” When workflow is steady (especially in property), 9.30am to 6.30pm is a typical day for trainees; the unlucky ones were finishing at 8pm, with corporate and employment tagged as the most “intense” seats. Weekend work is possible, but rare. Interviewees didn’t have too much to gripe about the hours, but some would have liked more pay for their efforts. “It’s on the cusp of market rate and there could also be better benefits,” one complained.
“The small size of the firm means everyone knows your name, so you’re not just another trainee.” That’s helpful given the firm’s full social calendar of events including yoga sessions, monthly breakfast outings, Easter egg hunts and escape room trips – nothing’s worse than forgetting someone’s name while trapped in a tight space with them. Fox Williams’ City office is anything but tight, with an open layout and full wall windows providing a view of Finsbury Square. The best news for trainees? “There’s always lots of free food and drinks!”A generous spirit carries across the firm culture, which insiders summarised as “welcoming, friendly and transparent.” Whether it be during kitchen catch-ups or Friday wine club (starting at 5.30pm sharp), Fox folks quickly got to know one another.
“The small size of the firm means everyone knows your name.”
Fox Williams’ diversity and inclusion committee arranges its own regular events including nutrition webinars, HIIT workouts and a celebration of World Culture Day. The last of those is one for the foodies: staff and lawyers alike contributed to a firm recipe book of dishes from different cultures. “Together we celebrate diversity in an exciting way: through food!”Sources more generally described FW as an “open and inclusive environment. The firm has made significant progress within the last year or so in its D&I initiatives, and I would only expect them to improve further with time.”
21st century Fox
Who thrives here? "Candidates who demonstrate a real knowledge of Fox Williams; inclusivity and positivity always stand out," senior partner Paul Osborne advises. "We also look for them to engage with Fox Williams, whether that be through external outreach, social and charitable events or our sports teams."
How to get a Fox Williams training contract
Fox Williams' recruitment process for its training contract begins with an online application form on the firm's website, which asks for personal details and work experience. Applicants also have to answer several competency questions. HR manager Liz Blight tells us: “We want applicants to tell us a story about themselves. Everyone at Fox Williams has their own unique story and so we want to hear what a candidate's story is.”
When it comes to the competency questions the firm expects candidates to use the STAR technique (which stands for situation, task, action and result). “If an applicant hasn't used it their answers won't be as effective,” says Blight. “Candidates have to be really thorough and tell us what makes them different compared to other applicants.” The firm receives around 250 applications every year, and all are read by a member of the graduate recruitment team, so a chance to impress (or underwhelm!) is guaranteed.
After undergoing an online assessment test, the top 40/50 candidates who ace the application form are invited to attend a drinks and canapés event in the firm’s offices to meet with some of the partners. The top-scoring 12/18 applicants overall are then invited to a week-long vacation scheme, usually in July. Fox Williams typically runs two or three schemes every summer, and there's usually room for up to six candidates on each. “It's really an extended assessment,” Blight explains, “but it's a good way to assess people and it gives applicants a chance to really see how we work and check that we are the right firm for them.” And if you get a place on the vac scheme but not a training contract at the end of it, it gives you some good work experience to refer back to later.
During the scheme candidates get a taste of life in two different departments and attend various presentations, which are delivered by members of HR, partners and associates. Candidates also undertake various assessments, including a technical written exercise, a group presentation and a practical group exercise. There’s also time for socialising with the current batch of trainees and some senior associates, so candidates get a chance to ask the trainees what it is really like at the firm. At the end of the week, all participants “have a short 30-minute interview with two partners,” Blight explains, “which gives us a chance to delve a bit deeper into a candidate's intellectual rigour and commercial awareness.”
Within the following month after the scheme, candidates will hear whether they've been successful or not – the firm usually offers training contracts to three to four individuals each calendar year but looks to hire up to two years ahead.
For those hoping to wow, training principal Mark Watson tells us FW is looking for “someone with good academics [ABB at A-level and a minimum 2:1 degree], but more than just that: we want to see those who can demonstrate that they have the raw material required to become lawyers of the future who will stay and thrive at our firm.” Those who may not have come to the law fresh from university should take note, says Watson: “We're not put off by somebody who might have an atypical career path. For example, someone may have come out of university with a good degree, worked in publishing for two or three years, decided they weren't being stretched and signed up for the GDL and LPC.” A stint paralegalling also goes down well.
Watson is also “looking for someone with personality” and a good sense of humour. “We want someone who will join in our social and charity committee events, the type of person – for example – who might enjoy a lunchtime game of table football in our staff area or join a team for our annual charity quiz.” Watson is quick to add that this doesn't mean all future trainees should be extroverted table football enthusiasts: “We have many different personalities here. Everyone has their ‘story’.”
Fox Williams LLP
10 Finsbury Square,
- Partners 36
- Associates 52
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected]
- Training partner: Mark Watson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB/128 points
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12/18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2021/22 start: 31 January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: £62,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work
We have departments in the following five areas – corporate, dispute resolution, employment, real estate, commerce and technology. Our sectors focus on financial services, fashion, professional services, technology/media/digital, fintech, travel and natural resources.
Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing
Our People is at the heart of our core values - we seek to understand and celebrate what makes each of us unique. We are committed to ensuring that each individual is valued, respected and treated fairly at work. As part of that commitment, we also focus on the physiological and psychological health and wellbeing of our team. We demonstrate this commitment through our well-being Wednesday programme, our sports teams and the various medical benefits we offer.
We strongly believe that diversity is critical to our success as a business: a more diverse workforce encourages fresh thinking, new perspectives and different approaches to our clients’ issues, and makes Fox Williams a rewarding place to work.
The firm proactively encourages a diverse and inclusive culture. Whilst our Diversity and Inclusion journey is underway, we recognise that we still have a lot to learn, understand and celebrate. We do this with our ‘Bringing the Outside In’ calendar, which includes partner and staff-led social, cultural and religious celebrations, external and internal speakers and sharing insightful content. We report on our Gender and Ethnicity Pay Gaps internally and are a member of the Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Charter.
Our commitment to enabling the friendly, strong relationships you will make with your colleagues comes to life through our active Social & Charity Committee – whether it is the 3 peaks challenge, playing for the Foxcatchers netball team or our cricket and football teams, cocktail making, the London Legal Walk or quiz nights to name a few - there are a variety of activities for everyone to get involved with all year round. Each department also hosts its own social events to build stronger team relationships.
We nominate an annual firm charity who receives all of our fundraising monies each year but we also recognise we may want to give back to our own communities in different ways, which is why FW supports half a day volunteering per quarter for a charity or cause of your choice.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 4)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 5)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 1)
- Partnership: Large International Structures (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 1)