This global tech-oriented firm is pushing its cutting-edge credentials as it prepares for the next generation in business.
Wess side story
Late 2018 saw Taylor Wessing launch a cutting-edge system design, TW:detect, which helps clients spot when their websites have been targeted by hackers. It’s initiatives like this that single out TW as the firm embracing the future. From Cisco to Sky, Citymapper to Pfizer – the firm’s client list looks like a who’s who of big tech, media and pharma, but there’s much more going on.
“They market themselves as this trendy tech and innovative firm,” one trainee told us, “but I really responded just as well to its strong private wealth and banking focus.” As one source notes, this balancing of modernity and tradition (whether clients or practices) is what sets the firm apart in trainees’ eyes: “They seem to be the ‘cool’ firm, but once you’re there, you realise it’s a strong full-service firm,” as reinforced by the firm’s Chambers UK rankings.
“Having not studied law, the broad spread and wide scope of what you could do was really appealing.”
But the science and media-oriented practices certainly put a spin on the rest of the firm’s departments. Corporate work covers a broad scale, but transactional work is so often involved in these techy sectors, meaning there’s a lot of start-up and venture capital work, and private equity, for which the firm also receives applause in Chambers UK.
STEM graduates naturally find their way to the firm – patent cases in particular favour a scientific mind – and non-law graduates are as welcome here as LLBers. To view any law firm as an extension of university life would be an error, but the opportunity to continue learning with people you want to socialise with is a given at TW. “It has a friendly environment where the emphasis is on development and growth.”
TW has 33 offices in 19 countries, and the firm has set up TechFocus offices – in Shoreditch and Cambridge – which aim to offer a unique service and encourage innovative processes for tech companies throughout their business life cycle. Pushing what trainees call “ground-breaking” work seems to be paying off for Taylor Wessing in this transitional epoch for business. Overseen by new UK managing partner, Shane Gleghorn, TW saw global revenue grow to its highest on record, with domestic profits rising by 10% to £62.6 million. The firm’s newly minted co-operation with star Silicon Valley firm Wilson Sonsini will only have stimulated economic successes in the tech and life sciences domain.
Two eyes, two ears, Tulip
Trainees happily reported seat selection as an “organised process,” in trainees submit five areas of interest to the talent team halfway through each rotation. They have to sit in at least one corporate and litigation team, although litigation can be spread about: “you can split the seat between half contentious and half non-contentious.” On the note of secondments, while client placements are very common – “four or five go off every rotation” – being relocated in the firm’s international network of 33 offices is restricted to associate/partner level. Even domestically, the new office in Liverpool has yet to house trainees, as is the Cambridge office.
“It’s just so rewarding to have an insight into how companies at the forefront of curing diseases actually function.”
On the old-school practices side, the firm’s real estate team was a popular destination for our sources. Broken into fluid sub-teams – general real estate, disputes, planning, finance, and construction – TW offers a multidisciplinary approach to the sector, with a client base spanning the globe. Having acted on behalf of the buyer in purchasing The Gherkin in 2014, the firm advised the same group on the proposed building of a 1,000 ft new skyscraper, known as The Tulip. The firm also advised Secure Income REIT on its acquisition and associated financing of a portfolio of assets – including the Manchester Arena – for £224 million.
Naturally, for trainees, tasks vary in scope and size depending on the matter and client. For some, work originates from forward funding projects, licensing issues, and ongoing property management. For others working in the construction team – divided between contentious and non-contentious work – issues arise from disputes between contractors and employers, with collateral warranties, drafting letters, or preparing witness statements being common tasks for juniors. One trainee described their highlight: “We worked on a right to light issue, which was really exciting to bundle for. I then got to go to an intense mediation which was really eye-opening and went on into the early hours.” In keeping with form, the firm’s also monitoring developments in the growth of smart buildings and property-tech.
Tinker Taylor Lawyer Geek
Tech-wise, the firm’s patent team – distinct from its IP and media group – is divided between contentious and non-contentious work, and mainly deals with life sciences and telecoms clients. On the contentious side, trainees were let loose drafting certain clauses and reviewing agreements, as well as drafting research notes for clients – this is unusual at any high-end law firm. In life sciences, things get technical. “You have to learn and get your head around the chemical equations,” told one source, “but the firm make allowances and try to encourage learning for the lay person.” In one case of such complexity, the firm continues to assist and successfully represent Pfizer in challenges brought over trastuzumab – an antibody used to treat breast cancer – in a cross-jurisdictional matter valued at around $5 billion worldwide.
Noting that patent work “is similar to a game of chess, in anticipating what your client needs and what’s out there,” sources celebrated being able to witness all stages of the process. From filings at the High and Administrative Court, to attending Court of Appeal hearings, to then filing documents for ECJ hearings, “it’s just so rewarding to have an insight into how companies at the forefront of curing diseases actually function.” The non-contentious side “is more accessible if you don’t have a science background,” and tends to involve more rudimentary tasks, such as advance collaboration agreements or due diligence support for any corporate elements of a matter.
Those sitting in the IP and media team got to work with a host of household names – American Airlines, Burberry, Orange, Dior. The group covers trade marks, brand management, design rights, and “increasingly more digital forms of IP.” For one trainee, “a client had consistent infringement of their products online and in store. So I essentially interpreted those matters and wrote cease and desist letters to the infringer. Things went further into litigation, which was exciting. I got to run with matters almost at associate level.”
“I was lucky enough to draft certain clauses in the loan agreement.”
While the corporate team encompasses conventional areas – such as M&A and private equity – much of the team’s work goes towards techy companies and their investors. Working for big-name clients such as Babylon Health, Google Ventures, Depop, Citymapper, and more, TW adopts its customary multi-practice approach. The firm has advised Monzo since its inception and on all its fundraising to date. On the corporate tech side, it’s “a mixture of M&A and venture capital fundraising, with a little bit of private equity work.” For fundraising, a typical trainee task would be anything from first drafts of subscription agreements, to disclosure letters or shareholder agreements. “I closed a venture capital investment. It was only a small investment, but as a trainee, to agree a completion was wild.” Working with such innovative companies proved popular for our interviewees: “It’s exciting to work with the really early-stage companies and chat directly to the founders, who are grateful for our involvement.”
The corporate finance team has a focus on equity work, “preparing companies for an IPO or AIM listing,” typically. A similar client base emerges though. “We work with lots of start-up companies, which may be blended with tradition, but most have a tech angle.” One trainee found themselves working for a direct carrier billing company: “Their IPO raised around £50 million, which completely superseded their expectations. We went to the stock exchange with the client and then out for a fancy dinner!”
Similarly, crossover between departments emerge. Trainees in banking find there’s a “a lot of real estate financing work.” Our sources equally found themselves working on acquisition financing, leverage financing, or even Islamic financing: “the offering is so broad, everyone works together and it’s pretty fluid.” Clients similarly range from “traditional banks” to “funky start-up companies needing their first commercial loan.” Inevitable tasks were reported – such as managing ancillary documents or keeping the conditions precedent checklist up to date – but as trainees progress, “you get given more exciting things, such as security draftings. I was lucky enough to draft certain clauses in the loan agreement.”
Bill and Taylor’s Excellent Adventure
“We’re all quite different,” said one source, “I don’t think there’s one TW mould.” So mould-free, what characters float to the surface? “Everyone says ‘hi’ and genuinely wants to know how you are,” one trainee happily revealed, and another – possibly an engineering grad – described the vibe as “efficient but friendly.” We joke, but the remark speaks to the experience of most: “It’s generally a really nice place to work. I always look forward to coming in.” Our sources had “never been made to feel unequalas trainees.” Although hierarchy does exist, our interviewees felt it was well disguised: “In terms of seniority, there isn’t a huge divide; it’s really easy to grab a partner’s ear and seniority doesn’t affect or determine people’s attitudes.” More succinctly, “unless you know the team, you can’t really tell who’s senior there.”
“I saw their words materialise when I arrived: we walk the talk.”
Sources also chose to champion the ‘dress-for-your-day’ culture: “It’s quite nice that if you don’t have meetings you can come in jeans.” Trainees felt the firm was genuine in so many respects. “We don’t just say we’re good in tech or that we’re a friendly firm, we generally do show and are that. I was sceptical, but I saw their words materialise when I arrived: we walk the talk.”
“There’s always something going on” at TW, socially. Firm-led get-togethers include seasonal parties, sporting events and quizzes, but trainees get to shape their schedules through the ‘trainees’ solicitor council' – this trainee-only group is given a firm budget to organise social events for their fellow trainees. “There’s also a trainee-only business development event where we get to invite our contacts in varying industries to come along,” said one source, with another adding: “We’ve got a wonderful terrace overlooking all of London. It’s a beautiful space to entertain people, which they let us have for the evening.” Spontaneous after-work drinks were also common within a “close-knit” trainee cohort. The firm takes its commitment to mental health seriously: “There’s been a real celebratory push for mental wellbeing in the last year. The visibility and discussion has really surprised me.” The fact that each trainee is given a free corporate membership to the mental wellbeing app, Headspace – coupled with a new mental health first aider scheme – points to the firm’s commitment.
“In comparison to other firms,” said one source on the topic of hours, “it’s not the end of the world. The late nights aren’t consistent.” Those "other firms" they're referencing must be the magic circle or US operators, because some departments like corporate tech are renowned for later finishes. Average hours tend to be around 9am to 7 or 8pm. Naturally late nights crop up, but “if you ever do an all-nighter, you’re never the only one there,” as fee-earners would kick around too. “It’s not long hours for the sake of long hours.”
There were very few complaints about a qualification process characterised by “clarity.” Trainees noted how the firm has “worked really hard in the last couple of years to improve transparency,” meaning the system is now “formalised,” with everyone having to interview for NQ roles. Retention-wise, the firm tends to do quite well: 18 out of 22 qualifiers stayed on at the firm in 2019.
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Get Hired at Taylor Wessing
Apply for a training contract through the firm’s vacation scheme
The firm hosts 3 open days across November, and one first year insight in March each year. The First Year Insight is targeted solely at first years, while the open days are for penultimate year law and non-law finalist students .
The firm generally receives over 800 applications for its 35 to 40 vacation scheme places each year, with up to 20 training contract places up for grabs. Applications begin with an online form, and candidates need a minimum ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree. There’s space to list prior work experience, though Harte tells us the firm "appreciates that not everybody will have been able to take advantage of such opportunities.” The form contains a few questions designed to gauge a candidate’s motivations and general commercial awareness.
“We’re looking for the whole package,” says Harte. “We look at applicants' academic achievements and commercial awareness, but also for evidence that they can think innovatively and work well in a team: I recommend that candidates isolate key differentiators about themselves that clearly exhibit their skills, and then show how they could use these at Taylor Wessing.”
At present, if you pass the first round of screening you will be invited to complete an online game-based assessment. This is a game-based psychometric test, which looks at your behaviour and approach to each task to highlight certain personality traits, such as your ability to innovate. After completion of the assessment you receive a personalised feedback report that details your strengths. While you may be tempted to spend a few days playing Fortnite to practice for this test, we're told that no prior experience of online gaming is required.
Applicants who pass the initial screening stages are invited to attend a half-day assessment centres. Each assessment centre consists of a group exercise, as well as a commercial awareness exercise and interview. During the group exercise, candidates are given a business scenario they could potentially encounter as a trainee, and then asked to come up with a solution and present it to a member of the graduate recruitment team, plus an associate or partner.
“We review both their leadership skills and their team-working abilities,” Harte tells us. “They need to balance these and show that they can build strong, collaborative relationships.” A candidate’s focus and ability to prioritise is also assessed. The interview takes place with a partner and a member of the 'talent' team. This involves commercial awareness tasks, plus a competency-based discussion on the candidate’s application form and prior experiences.
The firm makes its vac scheme offers straight off the back of the assessment day.
Taylor Wessing runs two two-week vac schemes over June and July. There are up to 20 spots on each.
Participants spend each week in a different practice area and are assigned a supervisor, usually an associate, as well as a trainee buddy. Both delegate live work. Alongside lunches with their trainee buddies, vac schemers attend several ‘focus on’ sessions that provide insight into various practice areas and the trainee role within them.
Vac schemers work on a group project throughout their placement and present the results to a panel at the end of the scheme. “The management team usually gives you an article on a high-profile commercial issue or sets a question to kick-start the project,” a current trainee told us, mentioning that “ours was ‘What country would you invest in and why?’” On the social front there are drinks events, comedy nights, bowling excursions and karaoke contests. “Make sure you demonstrate that you have the ability to network well and connect with others,” our sources advised. Indeed, Taylor Wessing's trainees regularly participate in business development initiatives, so recruiters will be keeping an eye out for those with stellar mingling skills.
Each vac schemer is reviewed at the end of the process, and those who impress are offered a training contract.
How to wow
As for trainee backgrounds, you might wonder if the firm's tech/start-up edge attracts individuals with a certain type of degree background, eg science. But this isn't the case: the firm works hard to ensure there is a good representation from different degree backgrounds. Of the 45 trainees with the firm at the time of our calls, four had science degrees. Just under half had studied law at undergrad (20) and the next most common degree was history (nine graduates).
That doesn't mean you should be disengaged from the firm's focus on tech and the 'industries of tomorrow'. Graduate recruitment and development partner Matthew Royle advises "being curious about the world in which we operate and being curious about your chosen path and industries will stand you in good stead."
Taylor Wessing LLP
5 New Street Square,
- Partners 350
- Associates 500
- Total trainees 45
- UK offices London, London Tech City and Cambridge
- Overseas offices 29
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Harte [email protected], 020 7300 7000
- Training partners: Anna Humphrey and Matthew Royle
- Application criteria
- Training contract pa: up to 20 recruited through vacation scheme
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A Levels: ABB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Apply for a training contract through our vacation scheme
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 13 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First year salary: £40,000
- Second year salary: £44,000
- Post qualification salary: £77,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contract: London
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
First year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Employment: Employer (Band 4)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 4)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 2)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 1)
- Professional Discipline (Band 5)
- Retail (Band 4)