Equally comfortable with commercial and private clients, Royds Withy King has its sights set on a place on the national stage.
The one true Royds Withy King
Just a few years ago there was City firm Royds, and there was regional firm Withy King with offices in Bath, Oxford, Swindon and Marlborough. In 2016 they joined forces. From the perspective of the HQ in Bath, the union has boosted the firm's national client base. One trainee observed: “We’re now trying to grow from being the biggest in our region to become more nationally known for the type of work we do and the sectors we work in.”
So how's the merger been bedding in? “We took our time to find a firm that matches our culture and ambitions,” training principal Richard Brooks says. And trainees observed that “a one-firm vision has been the focus over the past 18 months. There’ve been lots of events to get everyone under one banner. And many of the departmental heads in Bath spend two or three days a fortnight in London.” Trainees didn’t notice the union impacting their day-to-day work, but did observe there had been “a bit of teasing between partners!” Overall they said it had been a smooth process, despite the challenge of “transferring a West Country attitude over to the London office. They have a different work ethic there!”
“A one-firm vision has been the focus over the past 18 months.”
“The merger fulfilled our aim of growing our commercial offering, particularly in London and internationally, and to some extent our private client practice too,” Brooks tells us. “Personal injury and clinical negligence are another main focus for us.” RWK splits its offering into two broad divisions labelled ‘business’ and ‘life’. The former encompasses corporate and commercial, real estate, disputes and employment. The latter covers private client, family, clinical negligence and personal injury. Bath, London and Oxford all recruit trainees and offer seats in both strands, so that's nine or ten options in total. The firm has just recruited its first permanent trainee in Swindon, and Bath trainees often do a seat in that office too.
The majority of our interviewees had gained paralegal experience either at RWK or another firm before joining. “I think that’s how I secured the training contract,” one source believed. But if that’s not your path don’t discount RWK – trainees observed that external hiring is on the rise.
During the contract there are two rounds of seat allocation. Seats one and two are allocated at the same time with trainees submitting their top three preferences. “We’re encouraged to do a mix of contentious and non-contentious,” one source said. The process is repeated a year later for seats three and four. Those choosing the final two seats get priority, and give or take the odd grumble our sources were broadly happy. “Trainees need to be open-minded,” they advised. In 2018 five of nine qualifiers were kept on.
The business of life
The corporate and commercial group handles mid-market M&A deals worth up to £50 million for clients from the technology, manufacturing and financial services sectors. Recently the firm advised biotechnology company Oxford Genetics on a £7.5 million investment in its operations in the US and the UK. Lawyers also acted for German jigsaw puzzle maker Ravensburger in an $8.5 million investment in UK publishing start-up Wonderbly, and advised Bath City FC on its community takeover which was championed by film director Ken Loach. One trainee told us: “I did a lot of drafting ancillary documents for share sales.” Another said: “You get stuck into admin tasks and the team is heavily reliant on your findings from Companies House.” Eventually trainees might be managing their own files – “things like changing a company's name.”
The real estate team focuses on property development for “a mix of companies and property developers,” particularly in the social care, healthcare, and retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. For example, the team recently acted for Gold Care Holdings on its £90 million sale of 18 care homes. Lawyers in Bath also helped property developer Kersfield with the sale of the former Redland High School for Girls in Bristol and of four floors of offices formerly used by Tesco in Bath – both are to be converted into flats. One trainee told us: “I was given a lease extension, a remortgage and a straightforward sale to handle.” Another said: “I have to keep the client updated – even if there’s nothing to update them on as commercial clients do have know-how on what should be happening and when.” There are admin tasks too: “I did a lot of the due diligence on a large remortgaging on a portfolio worth around £10 million. I had to upload the files to the data room so the parties could see all the documents. It was turned around in a few weeks, so the pressure was on!”
“Someone who’s potentially going through the worst time of their life.”
Over on the 'life' side of the firm many trainees do a seat with the private client team, which handles wills, probate and trusts for high net worth individuals. The seat is solely non-contentious in London, while Bath and Swindon also handle contentious work. Trainees get experience drafting wills and attending meetings. “I went out to an elderly client’s house and ran a meeting with a partner present,” one said. “I went through his will checking he was happy and understood everything.” All the firm's private clients are confidential but we can tell you its Oxford, Bath and Swindon offices all receive rankings from Chambers High Net Worth.
A seat in family entails divorce, finance and children work. In Bath two trainees sit with the family team, where both childcare and divorce work are on offer. In divorce cases “you often deal with companies and properties too.” Attending court is a highlight. “I attended ten hearings!” one trainee exclaimed. “They ranged from financial hearings to custody proceedings. Sometimes it was just me alongside the barrister.” We heard there is quite a lot of client contact, sometimes with an emotional edge. “There’s a lot of hand-holding with someone who’s potentially going through the worst time of their life,” one source observed. Another said: “That puts some people off but for me it was nice to be trusted.”
Fit for a Royds Withy King?
Trainee salaries were recently upped following a review, but our interviewees were hoping to see another boost. First-years currently get between £26,500 and £32,000, while second-years get between £27,500 and £34,000. Bath trainees felt the NQ pay “should match Bristol – we’re only 15 minutes away by train!” And London sources said: “We want to attract a higher calibre of applicants. Why would they come here if they can go somewhere else and get paid more?”
It’s a fair question, and other sources had an answer: the hours. Hours in London vary a bit between teams, with family being “the early birds” and real estate “the last team in the office” at about 7pm. In most other seats trainees head home at about 6pm, but noted that while you are at work there's “a heads-down, no chit-chat environment!” The Bath office typically winds down at around 6pm, while in Oxford a 'late' night would mean staying till 7pm.
“The whole aim is to poke fun at the partners. It’s a great laugh.”
The firm’s split between commercial and private clients manifests itself in some of the offices, particularly Bath, where there are actually two buildings. “They’re very different to work in!” we heard. Private client and family work is done in the smaller office in Queen Square – the city centre location means “clients are more likely to drop in.” It's a charming 18th-century building with “lots of small rooms and fireplaces,” though we heard its lack of aircon is not ideal in summer. The other office is outside the old Georgian town and is where all the commercial teams sit – it's more modern and “a bit more suited to being an office.” The London office is in the City and has one floor dedicated to commercial work and one floor for private client. Oxford lawyers are right in the city centre and the office hosts themed socials, trainees reported: “We might have Spanish wine, chorizo and churros, or an Oktoberfest night. And recently for the World Cup we got in a load of Domino's pizzas!”
A firm-wide Christmas party is hosted for all the offices: “There’s normally a speech from either a senior or junior associate, and the whole aim is to poke fun at the partners. It’s a great laugh, they take it well!” The event is reflective of the broader culture. “Everyone is very friendly from the moment you walk in,” said one trainee. “Literally – I have very long chats with the receptionist!”
RWK lawyers recently raised £19,000 for charity by walking from Bath to London over the course of three weeks.
How to get a Royds Withy King training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 14th April 2019 (opens 3rd December 2018)
Royds Withy King receives around 300 online applications a year for its ten training contract spots. In 2018 about 120 candidates were invited to the second stage, a video interview. Recruitment manager Claire Fennell explains: “We ask five questions and look for a response of one to two minutes, so it’s quite short.” The top 50% of performers are then invited to one of the firm’s selection events held across its offices, typically in either London or Bath. The assessment consists of a group exercise, a written exercise, a one-to-one interview, and a Watson Glaser psychometric test.
About a third of candidates (roughly 20) at the selection events make it through to the firm’s final stage interview with the training principal, the recruitment manager and another senior partner. But there’s more: “Wealso ask them to deliver a presentation on a topic of their choosing. It’s a totally blank canvass.” And there’s no catch – presentations this year ranged from complex topics like surrogacy to the Reformation, and there was even one on Love Island. Bit of a risky move? “That candidate was offered a training contract,” Claire Fennell tells us. “The best presentations are the ones where we can see passion, engagement, and possibly where we learn something.” The topic of travelling features a lot, so beware if you want to stand out: “Listening to someone else’s travel stories becomes very samey.”
The vacation scheme
The firm does hire through its spring vac scheme, but it’s a separate recruitment process from the training contract for now. Claire Fennell says “the plan in the future is for the vac scheme and training contract applications to be more aligned.”
RWK takes ten vac schemers a year across its offices. The week-long placement sees students spending time with one or two teams. Their workload “varies department to department but they could be sitting in on client meetings, doing legal research, drafting documents, reviewing files and if they’re lucky they may get to go to court.”
Who fits the bill?
Claire Fennell says the firm looks for “rounded people that aren’t just about the academics.” RWK does have a history of recruiting candidates with previous legal and commercial experience, either at the firm itself or elsewhere. “We find that candidates with some work experience tend to do better than those who’ve had no work experience,” says Claire Fennell. “Some have dedicated their whole life to studying, and those candidates are more likely to struggle a bit. Candidates who’ve had diverse experiences are in a really strong position.”
A snapshot of the clinical negligence department
Royds Withy King’s clinical negligence practice handles claimant work for cases of catastrophic injury to adults and infants, including birth injury and brain injury. The firm boasts expertise in matters arising from amputation, delayed diagnosis, weight loss surgery, cerebral palsy cases, genetic brain injury disputes and niche low-value claims particularly in dental negligence. Chambers UK recognises the group as a national leader outside London with key offices in Bath and Oxford – both are ranked in the very top tier by Chambers UK, and last year the former settled cases worth over £32 million in damages.
A clinical negligence seat in the Bath office saw trainees “working closely with associates reviewing medical records, and drafting letters to experts.” Attending inquests was a work highlight, but sources found it could be “quite harrowing both in terms of what you read and see.” Client contact also presented another challenging aspect: “You’reheavily involved with new inquiry calls. Clients can be crying down the phone or angry about what happened to a family member.” One case involved drafting a witness statement for a client who didn’t have full mental capacity. “I had to make sure they had fully understood that we would be recovering a portion of the damages. The judge was impressed – to have a witness statement scrutinized by a judge and still stand up isn’t bad,” a modest source divulged.
Royds Withy King
5-6 Northumberland Buildings,
- Partners: 67
- Associates: 120
- Total trainees: 21
- UK offices: Bath, London, Oxford, Wiltshire
- Graduate recruiter: Claire Fennell, [email protected], 01225 730 100
- Training partner: Richard Brooks, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:2
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 3 December 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 14 April 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 22 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 December 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,500-£32,000
- Second-year salary: £27,500-£34,000
- Post-qualification salary: £37,000-£45,000
- Holiday entitlement: 26.5 days
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bath, London, Oxford, Wiltshire
Great service is a given. What differentiates us is our commitment to going the extra mile for our clients and looking for opportunities to help them stay ahead of the curve.
We are proud to be ranked for the last five years as a Sunday Times ‘100 Best Mid-Size Company to Work For’. Royds Withy King also received a three star ‘extraordinary’ accreditation from Best Companies in 2017 — one of just six UK law firms to have done so.
Main areas of work
Sectors: Retail, leisure and hospitality, health and social care, private wealth, technology and media, life sciences, sport, charities.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
National Leaders (outside London)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
Oxford and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Sport: Horse Racing & Equestrian (Band 1)