Don’t let FW’s small size fox you – it stands up to some top City law firms in specialist areas including fashion and professional practices.
What does the Fox say?
Once upon a time (1989, to be exact), six City partners decided to jump ship from their respective law firms and do things a little bit differently. Step one, focus on a handful of key sectors: financial services, fashion, natural resources, professional practices, technology, media and digital. The plan has paid off handsomely so far: Chambers UK applauds the firm’s expertise in partnership law, financial services regulatory, real estate, employment and lower mid-market M&A.
Trainees arrived at Fox Williams’ door having learned of its “great reputation in areas like tech and fashion. That’s what attracted me in the first place, along with the small trainee intake and close-knit office.” All of FW's 80 or so lawyers can be found in the London HQ – five of the six original founders are still part of the line-up today. The “personable” firm recruits up to six trainees annually (across two intakes) through its vacation scheme. Emphasis on ‘up to’ – the firm will only offer spots to candidates that cut the mustard.
"…small trainee intake and close-knit office.”
Seat allocation at Fox Williams is “fairly standard in terms of rotations. There are only six departments so you will end up doing a seat in all but two.” Everybody gets allocated their first seat; informal chats about your preferences with HR determine where you’re going next.
Fox or faux?
The commerce and technology department keeps trainees on their toes. “There aren’t many people on the team, but the breadth of work is huge – we do IP litigation, general advisory IP, commercial and travel regulations and data protection.” IP at Fox Williams is “more fashion-focused” than at many firms which offer a seat in this area: the team advises designers and high street brands on their agency agreements. Holland Cooper, Superdry and Superdrug are all on the client roster – the super FW team recently advised Salvatore Ferragamo on a collection themed around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, valued at more than £100,000. Trainees in this seat recommended “going after the work you want. The seat can be as varied as you want it to be and if there isn’t enough work going on within the department, they will happily loan you out to someone who can get your hands full.” Trainees get involved with “big meaty litigation cases” for which they’ll attend hearings, draft letters and case filing statements and get stuck into “bundling and all the joy that comes with that...” Joyous indeed.
Alongside a more general corporate seat, FW offers a corporate professional practices option. The professional services group or PSG (unrelated to Parisian football, sports fans) is “much more focused on LLP work and advice, whereas corporate deals with typical M&A matters.” Newbies noted that “compared to transactional work, PSG cases have a quick turnaround but often aren’t as urgent to complete.” Other law firms make up much of the clientele along with accountancy and financial services firms. “It’s a harsh seat for a first-seater to begin with,” according to one interviewee, but PSG is a good spot for client contact: “Partners are keen to take you along to meetings to take notes, and since FW is a partner-heavy firm it’s common to be working directly with them on large matters.” Some of the most interesting deals are law firm mergers – the team advised Andrews Kurth Kenyon on its combination with US-based Hunton & Williams to form a £595 million firm. “Drafting resolutions and partnership and member’s agreements” are common trainee tasks, as arereviewing SRA applications for a firm to convert to an ABS structure and dealing with basic share purchase agreements and ancillary documents.
“FW is a partner-heavy firm so it’s common to be working directly with them.”
Over in dispute resolution, cases vary from and financial services regulatory and investment banking disputes to commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud. A recent work highlight saw the team acting for Hertz Europe against a €70 million claim made by Ryanair over a car rental supplier agreement between the two parties. “On a typical case I would be in charge of the timeline and drafting appeal documents,” one interviewee reported. Trainees in the seat also handle “instructions for counsel and drafting expert witness statements for relatively small claims.”
A seat in employment tends to be “60% litigation and 40% transactional” in our interviewees’ experiences. The department advises various client types including fintech companies, financial services groups, other law firms and barristers’ chambers on employment and discrimination matters as well as other sensitive issues. “Your experience depends on your capabilities,” one insider revealed. “I may have done one or two mundane trainee tasks at the beginning of the seat but people are generally trying to gauge your capabilities at that point.” As such, “less exciting bundling and due diligence” quickly leads to drafting employment contracts, handbook policies, advice notes and settlement agreements. Sources also attended hearings and assisted with training clients on “all sorts of discrimination and restrictive covenants including whistle-blowing.” The team was recently brought in to defend an £11 million claim of sexual discrimination and harassment made by a former employee against French services group Capgemini and one of its clients. As for non-contentious work, FW advised German bank BayernLB on the employment aspects of its GDPR roll-out.
FW’s real estate practice continues to grow with the recent hire of partner Scott Keown, who came over from CMS. The team deals with urban development regeneration projects, high-end retail projects on Oxford Street and hotel and restaurant clients. ‘Sounds swanky,’ we hear you cry, and you’d be right to – the firm’s been advising on the redevelopment of Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium and acted for Trinity Buoy Wharf management and Urban Space on space regeneration and the installation of a new Thames pier. “Although the department itself isn’t big, the work is broad and as a trainee you do bits of residential and a lot of commercial development, as well as financings.” The department also spends time on corporate support for deals. Some trainees got the opportunity to attend “big networking events throughout the seat.”
Given how small the office is, “there’s nowhere to hide” at Fox Williams. Trainees recognised that there is a hierarchy but “felt comfortable asking the higher-ups questions and I could never imagine anyone raising their voice.” Kitchen catch-ups and Friday bonding over a glass of Prosecco is commonplace here; on the more ‘organised fun’ side of things, the social and charity committee hosts events ranging from curry and darts nights to comedy clubs and a ‘sightseeing’ City pub crawl. “We also have trainee breakfasts once every two months. There’s definitely a homogeneous social culture here.” The social scene has now got even busier following the introduction of diversity and inclusion events, kicking off with Pride celebrations in July 2019.
“Partners don’t like us doing long nights every day of the week.”
The luckiest trainees tend to arrive for work at around 9.30am and leave by 6.30pm. That’s not the case in every seat: “In PSG and corporate the hours surprisingly aren’t that bad, I normally left by 7.30pm. Employment and dispute resolution finishes were often later and I was consistently doing twelve-hour days.” We heard about one 3am horror finish but trainees assured us that this is a rarity and “the firm offers food and taxis home for people who are here late. Partners don’t like us doing long nights every day of the week and they encourage us to get home at a reasonable time whenever we can.” Trainees now get their own laptops, so it’s possible to work from home on occasion.
“As Chambers Student flagged last year, if there was one thing the firm could improve it would be the retention process.” Much as we like to be name-dropped, it’s unfortunate that trainees remain disheartened by the retention rates at Fox Williams: “We were told at the beginning of the training contract that there may not be enough jobs lined up for everyone. You’re then worried about impressing throughout the two years.” Qualification itself is informal – trainees inform heads of department about their plans and the small intake means there’s not much competition between qualifiers for spots. In 2019, twooffour stuck with FW.
Fox’s Simon Bennett recently made history by serving a copyright infringement notice via an Instagram message. That’s worth a like from us!
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 200 applications every year, and all are read by a member of the graduate recruitment team, so a chance to impress (or underwhelm!) is guaranteed.
The top 40 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. Candidates also will need to undertake some online assessments. The top scoring 12/18 applicants overall are then invited to a week-long vacation scheme in March (for Sept 2020 applicants) or July (for applicants for 2021 & 2022). Fox Williams typically runs two 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, 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.”
In the following month after the scheme candidates will hear whether they've been successful or not – the firm usually offers training contracts to three 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’.”
Interview with head of dispute resolution, Gavin Foggo
Chambers Student: What should people think when they hear the name Fox Williams?
Gavin Foggo: I think they should think of a medium-sized, independent law firm based in the city of London, which has a clear identity. Our mission is to be recognised for our culture, sense and ambition.
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights or significant developments from the last year that you’d like our student readers to know about?
GF:Our headcount level has increased by 10% in the last year. We have strengthened our offering in capital markets, corporate, financial services and FinTech. We also have two new areas – travel regulation and securities litigation – they’re both subgroups. We already have an existing travel practice, but we’ve recently taken a lateral partner hire, Rhys Griffiths, who is a leading lawyer in travel regulation for companies in the travel sector. Obviously, he does a lot of other services in that sector, but travel regulation is his specialism.
In the other area, which is within my own department of dispute resolution and litigation, we have Andrew Hill who specialises in security litigation, which is a very new area – it’s only been going on for half a dozen years. It’s a period of exciting growth for us.
CS: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve?
GF: There’s a three-year plan in place currently, which will be reviewed and superseded by another three-year plan in 2021. We basically aim to stay independent and to continue our organic lateral growth. In the last half a dozen years, we have grown 40% and we want to continue to do this by fostering a great culture. We are very proud of our culture and that is one of the values and guiding lights of the firm. We are also ambitious which is helping with our growth, both in terms of the number of people we have, and also the quality of work and clients that we have. These are the two main things we want student readers to know about.
CS: What are the major challenges the firm faces in achieving those goals?
GF:I think the legal sector has never been more competitive, and I think all lawyers need to deal with the technology and the changing marketplace. The business world is also changing at a faster rate than it has ever done before, and this includes lawyers in the business world. I believe how they use and adapt to technology is a key factor.
CS: How are new technological developments affecting the firm?What aboutartificial intelligence?
GF: In the last few months, the firm has revamped its IT system and all lawyers now have laptops, which makes flexible and agile working much easier. The tech works much faster and there is less paper around. I think being able to support people working out of the office really benefits us and there is a demand (particularly amongst more recent graduates) to be able to have the flexibility. It also benefits us on the diversity and inclusion front.
With regards to AI, look, we are a relatively small firm and the very large law firms and accountancy and consulting firms have far more resources than us. So we will not develop AI platforms ourselves and no one would expect us to, but we will keep pace with what is happening in the market place. It is already happening – instead of having armies of paralegals, people have done keyword searches across a large number of documents and now there is also predictive coding. This requires a lawyer to read a sample set and then the software company’s algorithm mimics the lawyer, which is then refined. You can actually get a more accurate review with a large number of documents and this is at a cheaper rate, rather than having the army of paralegals do it. It maintains a more consistent approach, but that doesn’t mean we won’t need lawyers. We still require the lawyers to build the stories and the case.
CS: Which practice areas are doing particularly well at the moment?
GF:Most of them, I’m pleased to report. I would say corporate and M&A are booming at the moment. In one sense, Brexit causes uncertainty but in another sense it creates opportunity. One of the by-products of Brexit has been that our currency has devalued against the Dollar and the Euro, so that has made UK assets cheaper for foreign businesses to purchase.
The other areas would be IP, litigation, international arbitration and financial services.
CS: Who is the sort of person that really thrives at your firm?
GF:We look for people who are bright, committed, and who have a personality – we’re really looking for these three main things. We obviously cannot provide any of those characteristics, but if the people who come to us can provide them, then we can make them great lawyers.
CS: What experience do trainees get at Fox Williams that they would not find elsewhere?
GF:I think because the firm is smaller, the transactional and case teams tend to be of a more manageable size, so our trainees get more hands on experience, more client contact, and they are more easily able to see the strategy in the case and on a transaction. They can also have a close relationship with the partners they work with. This is why I believe we can provide a first-class experience.
CS: What advice do you have for readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
GF:I think the profession can provide a wonderful career of well-paid and very interesting work with some fantastic people. But it has never been more competitive, so I think people have to be very committed – more committed than ever.
Fox Williams LLP
10 Finsbury Square,
- Partners 35
- Associates 50
- 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 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020/22start: 31 January 2020
- 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
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
- Partnership (Band 1)
- Partnership: Large International Structures (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 1)