For top-notch charities and education work at a firm where trainees feel their “contribution has an impact,” hit up Bristol-born bombshell VWV.
You're a Vizard, Harry
VWV may sound something like the a car from Germany, but we don't research cars here at Chambers Student. We research law firms, and VWV is the punchy rebrand of Bristol-based Veale Wasbrough Vizards. This means goodbye to the quips about the firm's lengthy name, and so long to the magic/wizard-related jests. (The Harry Potter reference above is the last one, we promise.) VWV means business, and its snappy and straightforward title brings it in line with multiple other firms choosing to ditch their long-winded monikers in favour of concise abbreviations.
But truth be told, it wasn't the sleek new branding that made trainees come knocking. Rather, many were enticed by the firm's reputation in the education and charities sectors. Charity clients include the Soil Association, the Institute of Cancer Research and children's charity Lumos, founded by J.K. Rowling. On the education side the firm's done work for the University of Bristol, the University of the Arts London and a host of independent schools. “VWV has a lot of very interesting and niche clients and a very strong standing in the charities field," sources noted. "It's nice to be working with clients that are trying to make a real difference.”
“VWV has a lot of very interesting and niche clients and a very strong standing in the charities field."
That said, interviewees were keen to emphasise: “We have niche specialisms, but we're not a niche firm. We have a full range of practices.” Practices like charities, education and partnership disputes gain impressive UK-wide rankings in Chambers UK, while regionally the firm gets kudos for areas including construction, lower mid-market M&A, employment, family, litigation, personal injury, real estate, restructuring and tax.
Growth has dominated VWV's recent history: the most recent addition saw the firm welcome private client firm Seabourne Lawleys aboard in June 2017. Training principal Jason Prosser also highlights growing trainee numbers: in October 2018 the firm had 22 trainees versus just 16 five years before. “We recently took on our first Birmingham trainee," Prosser notes. "We're now at a stage where we have enough volume and variety of work to justify a trainee in Birmingham.” However, he says, “London and Watford are where we see the greatest opportunities to grow.” For instance, a January 2017 merger with healthcare boutique Lockharts saw the firm's healthcare work increase and “brought across lots of new clients like GP surgeries, dentists and other health specialists.” At the time of our calls there were 11 trainees in Bristol, six in London, three in Watford and one in Birmingham.
From the shire to the fellowship
As the biggest office, Bristol offers most seat options, although trainees in London and Watford tend to move between the two offices to give them a wider choice of seats. For the most part “the first seat is just allocated to you,” then for the following seats trainees are “asked for our top three choices.” Most reported getting their preferences, though trainees reiterated “third and fourth seaters get priority.” Although no seats are compulsory, sources explained: “Because the property department is one of the biggest, it's almost inevitable that you'll do a seat there.”
Many of those who had undertaken a seat in commercial property found their work leant towards one of the firm's sector specialities. Some dealt predominantly with education clients: “We do all the land aspects of schools converting into academies. It's really interesting because it's not just straightforward commercial property law – there are elements of education law and charities law.” For trainees, this means “reporting on leases, drafting licences, drafting legal charges, and direct contact with clients, local councils and the Department for Education.”
On the healthcare side, the team “specialises in working with GP practices.” This includes “helping GPs buy new premises,” “bringing new people into the partnership” and “developing properties.” The team recently helped a doctor's surgery in Deal in Kent, revise its partnership agreement to reflect changed in its composition and advised two surgeries in Trowbridge in Wiltshire, on the joint acquisition of development land from NHS Property Services. The seat can also include “more standard stuff, like drafting normal commercial leases for units in shopping centres” and “dealing with landlord and tenant work,” as well as some niche work for church dioceses.
The property litigation team is often referred work from the commercial property team. “It's usually when things go wrong,” sources observed. A typical case could see “somebody bringing proceedings for breach of an agreement or breach of covenant in a lease.” Lawyers also work on boundary disputes and “the eviction of squatters.” A recent case saw the team advise a developer on a trespass matter involving a group of protesters who had occupied a development site previously owned by the council, where a building was due to be demolished. Clients range from individual landlords or tenants to bigger companies and government agencies. The team recently acted for Highways England in a dispute over the level of compensation due after the compulsory purchase of land for a scheme in Brogborough in Bedfordshire. Trainees get involved with “drafting documents to do with lease breaks, writing advice notes for clients, legal research, preparing instructions to counsel, and putting together trial bundles.”
“Acting for a school in financial difficulty that got bought by a company in China."
A seat in corporate involves “mainly M&A, for clients ranging from quite small independent family businesses to multinational companies.” There's also some corporate finance work, which means “working with major banks.” This included acting for Santander on a loan to an independent national pharmacy company. The firm's education sector focus rears its head in this seat: one source highlighted “acting for a school in financial difficulty that got bought by a company in China. It's becoming more common for schools to be bought up by foreign entities, and we usually act for the school in those, but sometimes the buyer.” For example the firm advised Bellevue Education on its acquisition of Bruern Abbey School in Bicester for approximately £5 million. Tasks for trainees include “a lot of due diligence,” as well as “drafting ancillary documents like board minutes, powers of attorney and shareholder agreements.” Some sources had got to “draft documents for the main sales contract.” Trainees are also responsible for managing company secretarial work, handling some of their own files and speaking to clients.
The commercial department covers areas like data protection, commercial contracts, IP and procurement. At the time of our research, there was “lots of work going on to do with GDPR,” which meant trainees were providing “a constant stream of instructions and advice” as well as “drafting the full sweep of documents you need to be data protection compliant.” On the commercial contracts side, trainees work on “user licence agreements and terms and conditions for brand-new start-ups” and handle “commercial work for universities and schools, like helping to draft agreements for schools setting up branches abroad.” For example, the team recently advised The King's School, Canterbury, a top independent school, on establishing a school in China that will bear its name and replicate its ethos and standards. Commercial litigation serves as a separate seat and the team handles stuff like debt recovery for schools and energy companies, insolvency work, reputation management, and partnership disputes.
The employment seat is one of the most popular options among trainees. In Bristol, the department works primarily with “education providers like universities, academies and colleges,” although the odd general employer/private company matter comes up occasionally. In Watford the team is smaller but is just as busy and varied. On the contentious side, trainees prepare bundles for trials and tribunals, as well as “drafting key documents such as witness statements, grounds of resistance and other preliminary documents.” Drafting also comes up on the non-contentious side, with trainees working on settlement agreements, employment contracts and letters to employees. Otherwise, sources were “providing clients with general advice” and getting stuck into “lots of research.” A recent case involved successfully representing South Gloucestershire Council in a tribunal claim brought by a former employee who was dismissed following a period of sickness absence.
The charities seat is currently only available in Bristol and Birmingham, but is pretty popular because of its niche nature. The team is “split into three different areas – academies, independent schools and general charities.” Lawyers also do work for church dioceses. On certain matters, like company secretarial services and the incorporation of companies, there's crossover with the corporate team. Trainees “draft, amend or update articles of association and other constitutional documents, and apply to the Charity Commission for various things.” One matter involved advising on the restructuring of the three charities which make up the Nightingale Fellowship, including the nurses' alumni association for St Thomas' Hospital, into one entity. Sources felt the seat offers “a good amount of responsibility but also excellent supervision,” alongside “lots of client contact.”
Night at the Museum
“Two of our core values are teamwork and collaboration – and that's definitely enforced here,” trainees told us. As such, sources asserted: “There isn't a culture of 'one-upmanship' between trainees. You can be honest with each other about the mistakes you've made or the things you're struggling with and that won't be used as ammunition against you.” Support extends through the ranks too: “There's a hierarchy in that there are associates, senior associates, partners etc. but that doesn't come across in day-to-day work. If I have a query I'm more than happy going up to anyone, from partner to paralegal.” Along the same lines, sources noticed that the firm has “this culture of employees being as important to the firm as the clients.” This in turn meant trainees felt they were able to “integrate into the firm very quickly.”
Social events like Friday drinks, quizzes and bowling no doubt help facilitate that integration. Sources praised the inclusive nature of the events, highlighting outings like “theatre nights, Topgolf, and trips to art galleries” as “good for people who don't want to just drink!” A highlight for Bristol folk was “the office-wide Christmas party, which was held at Bristol Museum and was really really good! Before, they used to do parties departmentally.” The same sources also raved about “billing day breakfasts where there's a good spread of bacon and sausage sandwiches in the atrium.”
“The firm definitely appreciate it when you do the extra hours – it's not expected.”
It helps that the hours are pretty reasonable too: most trainees reported getting in for around 9am, and leaving between 6pm and 7pm. “I haven't had a problem if I've needed to leave at 5.30pm for something – no one has ever said, 'Where do you think you're going?'” one source shared. The occasional late night is inevitable, but for VWV folk a late finish usually means somewhere between 8pm and 10pm. The latest we heard of any trainee staying was “one 2am finish when working on a school transaction in corporate.” But when rookies do stay late, they felt “the firm definitely appreciates it when you do the extra hours – it's not expected.”
The qualification process involves submitting a CV after the NQ jobs have been announced, then attending an interview with a partner or two within that team. There were a few grumbles about when jobs are announced: some felt “they should let us know as early as they can – I wasn't sure until quite late whether there would be a job or not, which was quite nerve-racking.” That said, sources were confident that “the firm is keen to retain its trainees, as they invest a lot in us.” In 2017 all qualifiers were kept on and in 2018 six of nine were.
In the name of charity, Bristol folk recently organised an event called 'Partner Pandemonium' based on I'm A Celebrity... We heard from 'the jungle' that is VWV's office: “Partners had to do all sorts of gruesome challenges and eat various disgusting things. They still haven't forgiven us!”
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Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 20 January 2019 (opens October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens October 2018)
VWV usually recruits between eight and ten trainees each year. Around half of the firm's trainees tend to enter the firm through its vacation scheme and half from their internal paralegal group. Unless you have completed the scheme before, the firm encourages all applicants to apply for the opportunity.
The Bristol, Watford and London offices each run week-long placements over the summer. Though Birmingham does not currently host a scheme, management has hinted that one may be organised once the office becomes more established.
Vac schemers are hosted by a current trainee, and usually spend time working on a mixture of real and mock tasks in several different departments.
Both vac scheme and direct training contract applicants begin their applications with an online form. An eagle eye is an important asset for any prospective applicant, as training partner Jason Prosser explains: “Please don't make elementary spelling mistakes or grammatical errors on the form – good lawyers are defined in a large part by what they write. It's difficult, but try to find a way to demonstrate some independence and originality of thought, or some unique experience, that will help your application stand out. Sometimes less is more: you don't have to fill up the box if you have made the point you wanted to already. Write clearly, precisely and simply to convey your answer and a sense of you as a person. Decorating your response with unusual words found in the thesaurus often looks more odd than impressive.”
Assessments and interviews
The firm runs assessment days in March, which deduce which candidates will get a place on the vac scheme.
The firm prefers not to circulate the precise details of what the assessment entails, preferring to put candidates' ability to perform under pressure to the test. The process also changes year-on-year, so if you're trying to work out exactly what you can expect, your guess is as good as ours. However, past tests have involved short presentations on topics such as reforms to the education system or freedom of expression. Some years have also included a written component.
During the vac scheme, students also have an interview with a member of HR and a member of the trainee recruitment panel.
For those candidates who have completed the vacation scheme in previous years, or who are already working for the firm, VWV runs another assessment day in July.
In recent years a fair number of VWV's trainees have paralegalled at the firm before beginning their training contract. Some apply for the role directly, whereas others, upon being offered a training contract, are asked whether they’d like to work as a paralegal in the meantime. Those who do work as paralegals are able to count some of the time against their training contract, allowing them the opportunity to qualify earlier.
A rough guide to Bristol
Trends in the education sector
Rising tuition fees, the introduction of EBaccs and combating extremism – read about these developments and more in our feature on trends in the education sector.
Narrow Quay House,
- Partners 77
- Associates 132 non-patner UK qualified solicitors
- Total trainees 21
- UK offices Bristol, Birmingham, Watford, London
- Graduate recruiter: Ellen Marsh, [email protected], 0117 925 2020
- Training partner: Jason Prosser
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8-10
- Applications pa: 290
- Minimum required degree grade: Preferably 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 20 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- Minimum first-year salary: £23,000
- Minimum second-year salary: £25,000
- Minimum post-qualification salary: £40,000 (Bristol and Birmingham); £45,000 (Watford); £50,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25-28 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes, £2,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Bristol, London and Watford
VWV has national recognition for its sector-focused approach. The firm directs its skill, energy and expertise towards understanding clients in the sectors they operate in, the sector focus is underpinned by core legal services.
Each and every client receives bespoke and high-quality legal counsel, with VWV’s lawyers going above and beyond to meet clients’ needs. VWV’s 400-strong team, located across offices in London, Watford, Bristol and Birmingham, brings a wealth of sector expertise and professionalism.
VWV is proud to have the reputation of being a friendly firm to work with.
VWV also offers high-level legal advice to private clients, which includes the specialised areas of contentious probate, personal injury and high-quality conveyancing.
Main areas of work
The firm also manages a personal injury division, Augustines Injury Law.
Working as a paralegal – VWV encourages applications from their paralegals and supports them throughout the application process.
Bristol: Charities, commercial, commercial litigation, commercial property, construction, corporate, employment, private client (family), property litigation, contentions, probate
London: Private client, real estate, property litigation and construction, commercial, regulatory compliance, charities
Birmingham: Employment, private client, real estate, charities
Watford: Real estate, employment, corporate
Seats are four six-month rotations.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
LinkedIn VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards)
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Partnership (Band 3)
- Partnership: Medical (Band 1)