HFW - True Picture

HFW rules the waves when it comes to stellar shipping work, but it’s also a good place to navigate your career if you’re interested in its other sector focuses like energy, insurance and commodities. 

HFW training contract review 2022

The Firm 

Travel the world and the seven seas, and if you’re looking for a premier shipping practice, you’ll probably find HFW. Yes, this maritime maven is considered by Chambers Global to be a global leader in the worlds of shipping finance and litigation. With 17 officesacross Europe, the US, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, HFW is well placed to advise the world’s shipping industry come hell or high water. “Basically, I wanted to do shipping,”replied one trainee when asked about their motivations for joining HFW. “Isn’t that the reason why everyone applies to this firm?”

“When working at HFW, you’ll find a lot of the cases on the news – the work is both interesting and rewarding.”

Well, for some, yes, but others may have broader interests. HFW has more than one oar in its proverbial boat, for it also focuses on five other sectors beyond shipping: aerospace; commodities; construction; energy and resources; and insurance and reinsurance. HFW wins Chambers UK accolades in most of these areas, especially when it comes to aviation, insurance litigation, physical commodities (like metals and biofuels) and logistics in the travel space. “I was applying for industry firms,”reflected this interviewee, “and it was probably HFW’s sector focuses that I was interested in most.”Another added: “When working at HFW, you’ll find a lot of the cases on the news – the work is both interesting and rewarding.” 

For the 15 or so trainees that HFW recruits each year, an international secondment is often on the table (barring of course, the arrival of a global pandemic). The chance to sample legal life in somewhere like Singapore or Shanghaiwas a major plus for our sources, who also flagged that HFW is perfect for those who are more interested in disputes: “It’s predominantly a litigation firm. I’d say that more than 60% of the work is contentious.” Sources didn’t feel that HFW was stalling either, with one trainee telling us that “we’ll be expanding internationally, but only in key strategic locations when there is a business case.” Given its areas of expertise, interviewees were relieved to find that HFW “is an environmentally aware firm”and spoke of its involvement in The Chancery Lane Project, which is focused on devising new contractual clauses to help combat climate change.

The Seats 

Trainees complete one transactional seat to meet the SRA requirements and will most likely sit in a shipping-related area at some point during their training contract. However, we were told that "it is possible to complete the training contract without doing any seats related to shipping."Preferences are submitted before each rotation, and our sources found the seat allocation process to be “fair”and “straightforward.” Some got their first or second choice at each rotation, while others weren’t always so lucky; “I got my third choice for this seat, but I was still happy to do it.”Timings-wise, we were told that trainees find out where they are headed two weeks prior to the move, which was felt to be quite short notice.

“I worked on vessel fires, colliding ships and salvage work where a vessel runs aground somewhere.”

Shipping litigationis one of HFW’s biggest departments. Trainees here can work on both ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ matters: dry shipping covers contractual disputes, while the wet side involves incidents that may arise during a voyage, like collisions or damage to cargo (one source spoke of a matter where a boatload of bananas were destroyed, in a rather niche example). According to trainees, the wet side is where it’s at for interesting, complex matters. “It’s all very fast-paced,” one beamed. “I worked on vessel fires, colliding ships and salvage work where a vessel runs aground somewhere.” Interviewees also spoke of working on matters that involved piracy and kidnappings at sea. Newbies tackled these incidents alongside ex-mariners: “We call them master mariners; they’ve been at sea for ten to twenty years and are extremely insightful[they know all about local and international shipping laws and policies]. It’s super helpful to work with them when we interview crew members.” Trainee tasks included running disclosure exercises, liaising with counsel and drafting pleadings, advice and documents connected to cargo claims. A recent matter saw the team participate in a case involving a collision between three ships in the Suez Canal in 2018: the case marked the first time a hearing in the UK Admiralty Court was conducted entirely remotely and involved one witness giving their evidence live from a ship in the South Atlantic!

Over in aerospace,HFW’s lawyers handle complex aviation transactions and disputes. The department has 80 lawyers working across nine international locations. The aerospace bunch work mainly for airlines like Iceland Air, Fly Jamaica Airways and Caribbean Airlines. HFW recently represented Iceland Air during a claim brought by a cabin crew attendant arising from an alleged incident of ‘cabin air contamination’ that caused long-term health effects. Trainees here spoke of handling personal injury claims on behalf of airlines, which involve “a lot of insurance work where you draft reports.” The subject matter can cover “everything and anything that you can think of happening in the aerospace sector, including incidences of PTSD, engines catching fire and even a high-profile plane crash. If you see a shipping or aerospace case in the news, we are likely to be working on it.”The team are currently working on the legal case surrounding the plane crash that resulted in the death of footballer Emiliano Sala in January 2019.

“I was in charge of setting up the arbitration and making sure everyone had a hotel to stay in. I was running the whole thing!”

Oil, coal, grains, metals, cement and cotton are just some of the things covered by HFW’s extensive commodities practice. The department represents the big players in the world of energy and commodity trading, including Vitol and BP. A recent case for the latter involved pursuing a $17.2 million restitution claim on its behalf after a prepaid order of 211,387 barrels of crude oil failed to be delivered. “It was a very busy seat,” recalled one source, who told us about collaborating with the shipping team on an arbitration matter: “I was in charge of setting up the arbitration and making sure everyone had a hotel to stay in. I was running the whole thing!”Others had worked on delay claims and charter disputes, as well as some dramatic-sounding matters where ships carrying oil had been apprehended by the relevant authorities. We also heard about some oil and gas disputes that led to trainees attending hearings, drafting witness statements and instructions to counsel, and managing the case. “It’s a really good seat with high-value matters and a breadth of work,”one source summarised.

Contentious, regulatory and transactional matters can crop up in the insuranceseat. The team often act for policyholders, as well as insurance brokers, managing agencies and Third Party Administrators (‘TPAs’, who insurers pay to handle some of the admin work tied to their activities). The department also provides more specialist services, like Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulatory work. The pandemic and the aftermath of Brexit have seen plenty of insurer clients turning to HFW for advice, according to this source: “It's a transitional period and companies want to see how it will affect their business.”On the transactional front, “it’s basically corporate work with insurers,”which for trainees meant plenty of “company secretarial matters and delivering advice on how an insurer could set up new branches within regulations.”Those who’d sampled the litigious side had some major organising to do: “There were four arbitrations going on in various jurisdictions, so I was keeping track of all the documents and filings. There were so many different elements!”Professional indemnity and product liability cases pertaining to those within the insurance industry are handled here, as well as cases brought against policyholders. A transactional matter saw the team advise Bain Capital Credit on its acquisition of Beat Capital Partners, which owned a group of insurance intermediaries.

Trainees enthused about the high probability of getting an international secondmentat HFW; popular locations include Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Monaco. When it's time to apply, the firm sends out a list of all the destinations available and how many trainees they can take on in each; we heard Singapore typically takes on two at each rotation and other locations tend to take on one. “The allocation process is very fair,” a representative source commented. “Everyone tends to get their office preferences.”HFW organises accommodation close to the overseas office and helps to get trainees settled in quickly, we heard. One trainee told us that going away provided them with invaluable experience: “I met up with all the other secondees and we bonded over lots of meals. I was also given a really fancy apartment that was centrally located with a pool and a rooftop terrace.” Perks of the job, eh?

Trainee Life 

“The people at HFW are really the selling point of the firm,”we were told by many. Some of the words used to describe colleagues included “friendly,”“supportive,” and “switched on.” One interviewee was pleased to tell us that “everyone's down to earth – there’s no arrogance, which you can sometimes find with high-powered people.” When investigating HFW’s culture, we heard that “every department has a different vibe.” For maximum collegiality, head on over to shipping: “The hub of the firm is the fourth-floor shipping team – they are a super social team and have drinks every Friday.”In the aerospace team, meanwhile, "everyone is super friendly, but they tend to just do their work and have their own lives.” Another felt that “there’s not much mixing between departments. Still, the culture overall is pretty ideal; everyone works hard and our weekends are very much respected.” Trainees' social calendars were brimming with activities, such as pub quizzes, breakfasts, lunches and barbecues. For the more adventurous, we even heard about quad biking events. 

"The culture overall is pretty ideal; everyone works hard and our weekends are very much respected.”

The work-life balanceat HFW is pretty good by City firm standards: on average trainees were working from 9am until 6.30pm. Shipping was viewed as one of the busiest departments that could come with longer hours: “You’re pulled in every direction, but it's very rewarding at the same time.” If life does get stressful, then the firm has an employee assistance programme that provides support services like counselling. We also heard that HR are a great resource for helping to divvy out trainees' workloads: “If I have too much work on, I can go to HR and they will help me out,” said one source. Although many had positive things to say about the hours, at the time of writing there were a few grumbles regarding the salary, but the firm has since raised its first-year and NQ salary to £44,000 and £73,500 respectively.

“My supervisor talks to me every day on Teams to make sure I’m okay." 

A source was pleased that HFW “has tried to put things in place to try and counter the negative aspects of remote working, like a buddy system.” Trainees are paired up with associates and have social or work-related calls once every two weeks. Supervision within seats “depends on the team,” but most interviewees reported high levels of guidance and support: “My supervisor talks to me every day on Teams to make sure I’m okay. They give me interesting work that is going to teach me a lot instead of the boring admin tasks!” In addition, the firm runs two technical training programmes throughout the training contract: one focuses on transactions and the other on dispute resolution.

When asked about HFW’s efforts to increase diversityat the firm, one source pointed to “the blind recruitment process we have – in terms of recruitment they’re definitely making efforts.”As with all firms, diversity was deemed to be “much better” at the trainee level than the higher levels, though an interviewee was pleased to tell us about the most recent International Women’s Day events at HFW: “I really appreciated them, and they showed what the firm was working towards. There were lots of women partners talking about their careers, childcare and how they got ahead.”

When approaching qualification, HR releases an NQ jobs list about a month before interviews go ahead. Interview processes reportedly vary between departments: shipping, for example, tends to be more “rigorous,” with one explaining that “you complete an interview and a case review – the previous intake were revising a lot!”Still, trainees have regular catch-ups with HR, who guide them through the process. After the interviews, trainees don’t usually have to wait too long to find out how they’ve done – job offers are made within a couple of days. The firm did not disclose its retention figures in 2021.

But first... lemme take a selfie!  

Search for @life_at_hfw on your Instagram for a glimpse into trainee life; current trainees post about events and their daily whereabouts. You can also DM the page with any questions and a current trainee will get back to you. 

How to get into HFW


Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 31 January 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)

Training contract deadline (2024/25): 31 July 2022 (opens 1 October 2021)

Vacation scheme

HFW typically runs a week-long vacation scheme in the spring, as well as various summer schemes during June, July and August. In 2020 and 2021 we moved our schemes to virtual.

Vac schemers spend time in one department each week. Our HR sources tell us “the work is hands-on and is set to them by fee earners, and there are a couple of assessed exercises throughout.” Participants, who are assigned a trainee buddy to help them settle in, also attend a handful of practice area presentations and workshops. At the end of the scheme, which includes several organised socials, attendees have an interview with two partners.

Our sources encouraged prospective HFW trainees to apply for a vacation scheme if possible. “Many of our training contract offers are made to individuals who have completed a vacation scheme with us.  It's a good way for us to get to know you, and for you to get to know our firm and our sectors.”

The application process

HFW offers around 15 training contracts each year. Applying for the vac scheme means you're automatically considered for the training contract too. The firm typically receives 500 vac scheme applications and 300 or so direct training contract applications. Candidates – from both avenues – who impress on paper are invited to a half-day assessment centre. This involves a written exercise, a critical reasoning test, a group exercise and an interview, typically with an associate and a member of HR, or two associates.

The group exercise sees candidates discuss a topical commercial issue, while the written one asks them to read a document and write a letter of advice. The interview lasts about 45 minutes and “questions might include: what drew them to HFW, why they chose an international firm, and a few commercial questions,” HR tells us. “People should know they don't have to be knowledgeable about shipping – or indeed any of our industry sectors – in particular; they just need to demonstrate an understanding of what it means to provide a service, in any context. It's also important candidates show they understand our scope of work, and that it's something they're interested in.” Trainees added: “The firm doesn’t want someone who’s blanket-bombed their applications. You need to demonstrate a genuine interest in the firm.”

From here, vac scheme spots are allocated, while direct applicants who pass go on to complete a second interview, this time with two partners. Vac schemers undergo this interview during their placement.

Trainee profile

HFW look for candidates with a strong academic background, but have moved away from having fixed academic requirements. HR are keen to stress that extenuating circumstances are considered, and that the firm takes a holistic approach to areas such as transferable skills as well as academics. The firm attends around 12 law fairs each year, but this isn't the limit of its recruiting scope. “This year we've got trainees from 17 different institutions,” HR tells us.

We're told the firm seeks out “bright, pragmatic and globally minded individuals – someone who wants to make a mark on things rather than blend into the background.” Legal experience is always a plus, but the firm values all types of exposure to business – “even working in a bar and cashing up every night.” Current trainees added: “Looking back on the recruitment process I think they’re looking for someone who’s happy being dropped into a situation.”

Applicants should be aware that a seat abroad is compulsory at HFW (circumstances permitting e.g. covid). As such, “they're definitely keen on languages,” current trainees told us. That said, training principal Nigel Wick is quick to clarify that while “languages are always a useful additional string to your bow," they are "not compulsory in any way."


Friary Court,
65 Crutched Friars,
Website www.hfw.com

  • Partners 176
  • Associates 300
  • Total trainees 46
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices 19
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Sarah Burson, sarah.burson@hfw.com, 0207 264 8293; Dimple Nasvaria, dimple.nasvaria@hfw.com, +44 (0)20 7264 8163 
  • Training partner: Nigel Wick
  • Application criteria  
  • Training contracts pa: 15
  • Applications pa: 900
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 35
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1 October 2021
  • Training contract deadline 2023/24 start: 31 July 2022
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2021
  • Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 31 January 2022
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £50,000
  • Second-year salary: £55,000
  • NQ salary: up to £107,000
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £7,000, £5,500 (Non-London) 
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London and Hong Kong
  • Overseas seats: Varies – recent secondment locations have included Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Monaco, Piraeus, Singapore
  • Client secondments: Vary

Firm profile

We are a sector-focused, entrepreneurial law firm. But there’s more to us than that. We have a passion for the sectors we work in — whether we are solving complex issues across construction, aviation and shipping, or providing advice across insurance, commodities and energy. We’re people who like to get things done. Our clients say‘less traditional’–‘progressive’, even. We say we’re specialist lawyers here to add value to our clients. 

Main areas of work

Aerospace, commodities, construction, energy, financial institutions, insurance and reinsurance, logistics, mining, ports and terminals, shipping, space, yachts, travel, cruise and leisure.

Training opportunities

Every year we recruit only a small number of trainees — around 15 per year split across a September and a March intake. This enables us to give every trainee our full attention, and means that your individual contribution makes a real difference. A training contract at HFW consists of four six month seats — very often three contentious seats and one transactional seat. Typically trainees spend at least one seat outside of London in an international office. Overall, we aim to provide you with a dynamic, supportive and varied environment in which you are challenged to become the best lawyer you can be and encouraged to contribute to the success of our global business. 

Vacation schemes

Our vacation schemes are a key part of our recruitment process for trainees and we interview all of our vacation scheme participants for a training contract. Completing a vacation scheme provides you with a valuable insight into our industry sectors, our global reach and our culture.
We typically recruit around 80% of our trainees from our vacation schemes.

Other benefits

Study assistance and grants; generous contributory pension; optional season ticket loan; group life cover, personal accident insurance and income protection; non-contributory medical insurance; private GP scheme; other voluntary benefits including gym membership, cycle to work scheme, dental insurance, dining card, home insurance, travel insurance, Give as You Earn. Music lessons and on-site massage.

Open days and first-year opportunities

We run an open day for individuals who are in at least their penultimate year of a law degree/final year of a non-law degree in the winter of each year. We run an insight day aimed at first year students in the spring.

University law careers fairs 2021

We will be attending a number of virtual law fairs and events in 2021 Please see our website for details.

Social media

Instagram hsfgraduatesuk
Facebook HSFgraduatesUK

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 3)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 2)
    • Aviation (Band 2)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Physicals (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
    • Shipping (Band 1)
    • Transport: Logistics (Band 1)
    • Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 2)