Property and private wealth-powered Hewitsons hopes to “capitalise on the Oxbridge corridor” and break into the UK’s top 100 firms.
It might sound like a boat full of boffins, but the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is in fact a region of the UK that the government has committed to invest heavily in, building new homes and improving local infrastructure and transport links. Where there’s money, you’ll no doubt find lots of lawyers – and with offices in Cambridge, Northampton, Milton Keynes and London, Hewitsons is as well placed as any firm to reap the rewards. “We want to make sure we’re a part of what happens there,” trainees said. “This is definitely the area we’re looking to grow in and focus on in terms of both clients and practices.”
Hewitsons already represents various Oxford and Cambridge colleges as well as local businesses in the corridor. Its commercial practice earns impressive Chambers UK rankings in East Anglia covering construction, environment, IP, litigation, planning and real estate; the firm also scores accolades in Northampton and Cambridge for agriculture work. If you’re looking for something more… hush-hush, Hewitsons’ private wealth practice scores rankings in Cambridge, Northampton and Milton Keynes. Cambridge housed six trainees at the time of our calls; five were in the Northampton office; and London was home to three.
“This is definitely the area we’re looking to grow in.”
The firm sorts new arrivals into their first seat. Before each rotation, trainees discuss their preferences with HR about halfway through the current seat. “They asked me not only where I’d like to go next, but which seats I was generally interested in and which ones I’d rather not sit in,” one impressed interviewee said. As at many firms, second-years will normally get priority; each office offers a slightly different palette of seats with the widest variety available in Northampton and Cambridge. Head to our website for the full breakdown.
Sources found their private wealth seat to be “one of the busiest of all.” The team works for high net worth individuals and families including “longstanding clients with a lot of existing, long-term work. We do everything from the creation of wills to lasting powers of attorney to the formation of trusts – everything from the moment someone passes away to the distribution of the estate.” Trainees here also get insight into the firm’s tax practice, advising clients on inheritance tax planning. Interviewees agreed that “you get a lot of client contact in this seat” – one estimated they “see clients at least four times a week.” A private client seat also offers drafting experience. “I drafted an awful lot of wills, including interesting ones dealing with property abroad,” a trainee said; others drafted letters to clients and “lasting powers of attorney.”
A seat in property tends to focus on mostly commercial property, sometimes with residential and development aspects. Interviewees had a hand in commercial tenancies for shops, factories and offices; landlord/tenant work (“mainly working for the landlord”); leases and licence alterations, and leasehold enfranchisements. Some worked “on a couple of refinancing matters” too. Hewitsons’ team in Northampton recently advised the United Church Schools Foundation on the acquisition of independent schools in Hertfordshire and Surrey; in Cambridge the firm acted for Hill Residential in transactions for the University’s North-West Cambridge development site. Sources in London dabbled in work on “high-end, high-value residential property, mainly based around Kensington and Chelsea.” As in private wealth, sources noticed that the firm has “quite a lot of long-term clients, so we’ll do renewals of a lease that we’ve worked on previously.” Day to day, trainee sources handled “lots of Land Registry applications” as well as a fair bit of research and reviewing agreements. Some had also “tackled the first draft of a report on title, drafted leases and some small licences.” All things considered, trainees were pleased with the responsibilities available: “If I’m honest, the firm is brilliant at saying ‘have a go at this’.”
"The firm is brilliant at saying ‘have a go at this’."
Corporate and employment are grouped into one seat in Northampton but are separate seats in Cambridge. In London, employment is usually paired with corporate insolvency. Trainees saw a mix of corporate deals including asset sales, company formations and restructurings; general corporate governance is also par for the course here. Hewitsons’ mid-market practice scores a top Chambers UK ranking in Northampton for its work with SMEs and owner-managed businesses, recently advising on the acquisition of the Lilac Rabbit public house in Isham by the local community via a new company, Lilacs Isham Limited. International businesses like ACF Technologies, Gambling.com and SMC can also be found on the firm’s client roster. In London, sources worked for “a lot of sports clients who need commercial assistance. We might be looking at service-level agreements for these large sports organisations.” Other common trainee tasks in transactional matters include managing data rooms, reviewing disclosure requirements, conducting company searches and general deal support research. “What’s interesting is I’ve been able to really focus on one area,” an insider said. “When queries come in from clients, I can deal with them myself – with supervision – and it’s nice to build those relationships.”
Hewitsons trainees can get contentious experience through a seat in commercial litigation, property litigation or contentious trusts and probate. The last of those covers “any dispute that arises after death – often in terms of people challenging wills for invalidity.” As in non-contentious private client, sources enjoyed “a lot of client contact” as well as experience writing letters and other court documents. Over in commercial litigation, trainees juggled various contractual disputes including in the agricultural sector (“the firm has a lot of farming clients and is on the National Farmers’ Union panel”), as well as some probate-linked litigation. The Cambridge office regularly handles cases linked to the nearby ‘Silicon Fen’ – invariably IP and patent litigation for science and tech clients. Hewitsons acted for a soft drinks brand in a trade mark dispute involving multiple multimillion-pound proceedings in the EU and UK trade mark registries. Trainees found they were “doing intensive research, as there’s always something new in every dispute,” and preparing mediation bundles and witness statements. The firm’s commercial disputes clients include the British Institute of Interior Design and RSPB.
“A lot of people have been here for a very long time,” a trainee told us. “What that means is people know each other very well and the firm has more of a family feel.” In Northampton, the open plan office ensures plenty of face time with your work family, but even in other bases with “more split, traditional offices, there’s never an issue of not being able to knock on someone’s door. Nobody feels intimidating or unapproachable.” Trainees across Hewitsons told us they were “encouraged to visit other offices and meet people. When a firm is spread out like this, there’s a risk that each office becomes its own colony, but Hewitsons has done well to prevent that.” The secret to the firm’s success? Inter-office rounders matches and a firmwide pub quiz. In Cambridge, the social scene is largely a sporty one: netball, football and cricket teams participate in local leagues, competing against other law firms. Northampton suggested that “more charity events” are the norm there.
"On the rare occasions you have to work late, people check in to make sure you don’t stay too long.”
Trainees across the network were please to find their hours had been “very reasonable” so far. Of course, they can “vary depending on how busy you are,” but sources emphasised that “on the rare occasions you have to work late, people check in to make sure you don’t stay too long.” Most interviewees rocked up to work by 9am and left “just before 6pm on an average day.” Several found “the private wealth seat was the busiest – I left after 6 more times in that seat.” On the other hand, trainees in commercial property were often able to head home by 5.30 – even our sources in London were impressed, describing the hours as “one of the perks of working at Hewitsons.”
Before qualification season, HR sends round a list of NQ positions available across all four offices. Teams then hold interviews (“which really feel more like conversations than interviews”), and soon let trainees know whether they’ve been offered the job or not. There was disappointment in London in 2020, as no NQ jobs were available there. Nationwide, Hewitsons retained four of seven trainees.
All I want for Christmas is...
Hewitsons holds a firmwide Christmas party every two years, bringing everybody to one location; on the in-between years “each department gets some money to go towards Christmas dinners.”
How to get a Hewitsons training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 August 2021 (opens 1 July 2021)
Hewitsons offers around seven training contracts a year – five in Cambridge, and two in Northampton – though according to senior HR executive Sally Denton, “we may increase the numbers where we are impressed by particularly good candidates.” The firm's small intake means that snagging a training contract can be competitive, but Denton insists that this helps to “ensure that there is plenty of responsibility and enriching work for all of our trainees.”
The firm does offer placement opportunities during June, July and August for one week. Those who are interested in applying should send in a CV and covering email to [email protected] The placements are highly sought after and provide rookies with the opportunity to shadow fee-earners practising in areas of interest. Preference is given to undergrads on course to achieve at least a 2:1 with AAB at A level.
The application form
To score a traineeship, candidates are first required to fill in an application form. “We're looking for consistently good academic results,” Denton asserts, “as well as a coherent, measured and logically reasoned account as to why you've decided you'd like to be a lawyer at Hewitsons.” Fibbers should take note, as Denton “will always ask to see applicants' original certificates,” later on in the offer process, so make sure you have a copy of your A levels, degree, GDL and LPC to hand. If you haven't always made the grade then fear not: “If a candidate has spent a year as a fee-earning paralegal at Linklaters, it may mitigate against them achieving three Bs at A level,” Denton says, by way of example. “We don't want to lose out on people who miss the cut by a thread.”
All applications are collated into one giant spreadsheet at the end of August. Candidates' names are withdrawn from the document to ensure anonymity, and those that meet the aforementioned criteria are then invited to interview. It's a process that Denton feels works well, as “the only thing I know at this stage is that they're an individual applying for a training contract. I learn applicants' names on the very day that I interview them, so it's all very fair.”
The interview itself is held with Denton and a member of the firm's trainee interest group (who is always a partner). The interview is relatively formal, and is designed to test interviewees' commitment to a career in law, and a career at Hewitsons. “It's important to show us that you've done your research,” Denton nods. “We want to see applicants who are excited to explain where they want to be and why they think they'll get there with us.” Evidence of good teamwork is also important, so we'd advise applicants to think up a few scenarios where they've led or been responsible for a group of people. There is also a practical exercise involving a case study which is undertaken on the same day but in advance of the interview.
Though evidence of prior work experience can be valuable, “we try not to put too much store on it. There's a chance that someone who's spent a week at a magic circle firm may have just secured that experience through their father's friend, so what we're really looking for is something a little more substantive that demonstrates a degree of individual merit.” Denton hints that a stint paralegalling could be a good example of this.
When it comes to academic credentials, Denton feels that “it is good to see the benefits of a mix of learning experiences, including non-law degrees.” And as far as universities are concerned, “we've found that the likes of Oxbridge, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, Durham, Sheffield and Leeds have produced a number of excellent solicitors for us. They're certainly not the only places that we'd look to hire from, but we have been particularly impressed with their graduates in the past.”
42 Newmarket Road,
- Partners 41
- Assistant solicitors 61
- Total trainees 14
- UK offices Cambridge, London, Northampton, Milton Keynes
- Overseas offices: None but the firm is a founder member of LawExchange International.
- Contacts Sally Denton, Senior HR Executive [email protected] 01604 463122
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 minimum
- Minimum A levels: AAB minimum
- Work experience: June, July, August
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 July 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2023: 31 August 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £24,500
- Post-qualification salary: £40,500
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days, bank holidays and an extra day at Christmas
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Generally Cambridge and Northampton with placements in London and Milton Keynes
Main areas of work
Trainees will be supervised by a partner and their professional development is monitored throughout.
Application is by way of letter and CV to [email protected]
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Cambridge and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
Northampton and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)