These lawyers have mastered the craft of top-notch sector work with a forgiving work-life balance. Some would say they’re Vizards…
VWV training contract review 2024
For trainees at this Bristol-based big shot, VWV represents balance. Not just because of its perfectly symmetrical acronym, but the firm has “a good work-life balance along with high-quality work.” Throw into the mix “a local firm with a local feel, strong community presence and enough work to give a broad range of experience,” then you have the essence of what VWV is all about. Jason Prosser, training principal and construction law partner, offers his perspective: “We’re not one of the biggest firms, but that allows us to provide a strong offering in terms of the type and quality of the work we do. Trainees in some of the larger firms often don’t get a huge amount of client contact, but ours do.”
If you’re curious as to where the name came from, it’s the amalgamation of the Bristolian firm Veale Wasbrough and Londoner Vizards Tweedie – try saying that three times over! After a string of specialist firm acquisitions and a name rebrand, VWV now has offices in Watford, Birmingham and a second Bristol branch to accompany the bigger Bristol HQ and London base. Adopting a sector-focused approach, the firm has a particular knack for education, charities and life sciences work. In fact, Chambers UK recognises the firm’s nationwide strength in school-specific education work and medical partnership. The guide also awards top-tier rankings to its South West personal injury practice and its Thames Valley lower mid-market corporate/M&A. Tips of the hat also go to its London real estate, South West real estate litigation and Bristol family/matrimonial practices.
“The firm is big on retaining prospective talent.”
Quite a few trainees start their training contract with some paralegal experience under their belt, either from the firm or elsewhere. One source explained that “the firm is big on retaining prospective talent,” noting that the firm even keeps in touch with unsuccessful applicants. While paralegalling isn’t required to secure the training contract, Prosser explains how “sometimes people apply for a training contract and do well but not quite well enough.” In these cases,Prosser tells us, “we say, ‘What you could do with is time here as a paralegal, getting to know the firm and our sector.’” What’s more, the firm also offers feedback and mentoring to unsuccessful internal training contract applicants to support them in their next application.
Trainees are assigned seats according to their preferences, with priority going to senior trainees. Newbies don’t get a say when it comes to their first seat; we heard that commercial property is often assigned as a first seat as it's a good introduction to the firm. It used to be the case that London and Watford trainees would complete seats across offices, but the firm has now implemented separate training contracts for each branch. However, there’s still room to work across bases, especially since there’s a larger range of seat options available in the Bristol hub.
The commercial property team works across healthcare and education, with Bristol offering two separate, sector-specific seats, giving trainees an insight into a range of real estate work. “It’s important to do a property seat during your VWV training contract,” said a newly qualified interviewee. “It comes through in all our departments, so I still rely on the information I learned from my time with the team.” On the healthcare side, the department works with a range of medical clients, such as GP surgeries, dentists and vets. Trainees got to work on a variety of transactions, getting to grips with specialised NHS property regulations. For instance, the group acted on behalf of Lakeside Healthcare on a variety of partnership arrangements, practice acquisitions, lease renewals and developments of its property portfolio. Day to day, newbies review or draft documents such as leases, licences, reports on title, transfers and property deeds. Other standard tasks included submitting land registry applications and reporting on property searches, though our interviewees were grateful for the client interaction. “I’d built a relationship with clients by the end of the seat,” said one trainee, “so I’d lead meetings when they came to me with queries.” Sources added that the seat came with a lot of autonomy as supervisors trusted them to make decisions on how to proceed.
Meanwhile, those working on the education side take part in land transactions for schools, academies and higher education institutions. You might recognise your own university from the client list, as the group has worked with a massive range including Bournemouth, Bristol, King’s College London and Southampton. Specialist education institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute and the Royal Academy of Music also make the list. Academy conversions (where land is transferred to a new corporate body) are typical matters for trainees to get involved in. There’s plenty of collaboration with the corporate and charities teams on transactions too – as independent schools count as charities! – and trainees often liaise with the Department of Education. Newbie tasks are similar to those on the healthcare side, along with plenty of opportunity to draft various deeds of easement or variation for schools. Once again, insiders were happy with the level of responsibility and the chance to “see things through from start to finish. It’s satisfying and enjoyable.”
“Whatever it is, they get you drafting.”
On the contentious side, interviewees explained that the property litigation team mainly focuses on corporate disputes for clients across various sectors, including education, charity, public sector, healthcare, and corporates and individuals. However, matters aren’t limited by region, and the team recently worked with the DVSA on its nationwide portfolio, taking care of property disputes related to trespassers, lease renewals and decarbonisation. The practice covers a range of work, including disputes over possession, dilapidations and portfolios. Given the niche subject matter, one interviewee commented that “fee earners make sure to explain the cases, what’s required, how to approach a task and what to look out for.” Even though they’re well supervised, a source told us: “I’ve often dealt with clients and counsel on a one-to-one basis.” Trainees also got to draft letters and email advice to clients – “whatever it is, they get you drafting” – as well astaking notes in meetings and acting on next steps.
Trainees in the private client department work on much more personal matters that are, understandably, confidential. There are two separate teams, one of which covers contentious probate and another spanning estates, trusts and tax planning. Most of our interviewees found themselves in the latter team, drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney for clients. Sources indicated that there’s a fair amount of admin work on matters following a client’s passing, such as applying for probate, filling out forms, collecting their money from the bank and liaising with HMRC. One explained that “it’s a long process, so you’ll rarely see anything from start to finish in six months.” Newbies also got loads of drafting experience and client contact, which requires a sensitive approach given the heavy subject matter. “Understandably, people can be quite emotional on the phone,” an interviewee reflected. “But the paralegals have been so helpful, and it’s great being able to sit next to them and listen to how they deal with those calls before trying it ourselves.”
“It’s gratifying to help someone set up a charity and learn about what they're doing.”
Trainees described the charities seat as “half transactional and half advice work,” with a range of clients including universities, orchestras and religious bodies. For instance, the team advised Gravesend Gurdwara, a Sikh temple, on a variety of matters, including property acquisitions, elections and other governance issues. As a sector-focused seat, the work spans practices and “crosses quite seamlessly between corporate and commercial.” This can include setting up new charities, incorporating and merging existing charities, establishing subsidiary bodies, winding down charities and offering strategic advice to clients. Trainees get stuck into secretarial support such as company filings and due diligence, while also drafting a range of documents, agreements and articles. Although there are a fair number of chances to jump on client calls, interviewees explained that “the work is quite technical so your communication with clients is slightly less direct. Partners are the ones capable of explaining the nuances of charity law after all.” Aside from working on exciting transactions, sources in this team found subject matter pretty engaging: “it’s gratifying to help someone set up a charity and learn about what they’re doing.”
“The firm always tells us there’s no point in working later than we need to,” a trainee said about hours. Adding that, “as long as you deliver what needs to be done, there’s a lot of leeway.” Indeed, many of our interviewees said they work 9 to 5.30pm, with a few indicating that 7pm finishes were quite rare and perhaps the latest they had worked. Considering this, some interviewees were happy with the salary, though most agreed that it could improve. “I think the firm’s got a reputation for being a lower payer,” said one trainee. “But then again, you’re compensated by the fact you’re not expected to work late all the time.”
“A partner posted on LinkedIn that she was using her wellbeing day to go see Beyoncé!”
The flexibility of working days has helped in the context of DE&I and supporting working parents at the firm. One trainee commented that “there are tons of female partners, so it doesn’t feel like having a family or being a woman is a barrier to progression.” Meanwhile, one trainee was looking forward to making the most out of their wellbeing day, noting how “a partner posted on LinkedIn that she was using her wellbeing day to go see Beyoncé! It’s good knowing that it's there for us to use.” However, sources felt that the firm could improve in terms of representation of different ethnic backgrounds. While some chalked this down to cities outside of London lacking diversity, others remarked that Bristol is still diverse, so local firms should catch up. That said, many sources were reassured by the firm’s progress, and Prosser highlights how half of the most recent training contract offers went to people from the Aspiring Solicitors scheme. VWV will also be taking on its first two apprentice solicitors this year.
How often trainees go into the office depends on the team, though Prosser advises that “ideally, they'll be in four days a week during their first seat. Once they’ve got a grounding, then we still say we prefer them in more often than not.” Those who do make it in at the end of the month can partake in firmwide drinks, and the social committee is making an effort to put on more formal events. On top of the standard Christmas and summer parties, there have been team-specific lunches, dinners and networking events. Sports events are on the rise too, with yoga sessions and netball tournaments appearing on the calendar. And for the musically inclined: the Bristol office has an in-house band that performs at various firm events, and even recently competed in a local Battle of the Bands competition!
“I’ve always felt invested in as a person, and that they want to progress me and my career.”
For many, the open-plan office sets a tone for the firm culture, with trainees noting that “there are no barriers in the firm. Everyone is super approachable, and it’s generally relaxed, personable and open.” Sources appreciated that the set-up “makes asking questions a lot less daunting. You don’t have to knock; you just swing around to see if the person you want is there.” Interviewees also felt well integrated and supported, and one mentioned that “I don’t just do work for teams. I’ve always felt invested in as a person, and that they want to progress me and my career.” This was the ideal environment for our survey respondents too, 100% of whom said they were happy and felt that VWV was the right place to train.
Our interviewees also had good experiences with their supervisors, acknowledging that each has their own style: “Some would ring every day to see what I’m doing and help me manage my workload. Others would check in less frequently but would be right there if I called them.” Though casual check-ins depend on the supervisor, trainees can expect to meet with them for mid- and end of seat reviews. A trainee added: “We’re encouraged to take ownership and seek feedback as often as we can.” Although most learning took place on-the-go, we heard that general practice sessions were particularly useful. The commercial property team, for instance, holds talks to discuss tips and tricks, new cases and topical discussions.
With so many paralegals-turned-trainees qualifying early, you might expect that qualification would be a struggle for the early careers team to organise. However, sources reported that they’re on the ball, making a head start with early qualification discussions. Though some mentioned the jobs list was released a couple of weeks later than promised, we heard the application process itself was quick and easy. All trainees had to do was chat to partners in the teams they wanted to qualify into (before the list was released), apply online and then interview. An insider elaborated that “you have a chat with the supervisor of the team, and they let you know whether they can take you on or not.” In 2023, the firm kept 13 out of 14 trainees.
Very Welcoming Vibes
Lots of partners have stayed with the firm for decades, and the last two managing partners both started at VWV as trainees!
How to land a training contract at VWV
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): February 2024
Training contract deadline (2025): February 2024
Applications and assessments
If you’re growing sick and tired of the old ‘CV and cover letter’ charade, there’s good news. VWV’s tailored online application form will ask all the questions the firm needs to know. But what is it exactly that they are looking to find out? Like a lot of firms, previous legal work (whether that’s volunteering for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, a university legal clinic, or work as a paralegal or legal assistant) is helpful but not essential. In fact, according to early careers specialist Emma Colls, any office-based or customer service experience can also be advantageous: “We do however understand that finding legal work experience is difficult, so we also look for anything that illustrates an interest in a legal career.” Honourable mentions include participation in clubs and societies, or attending insight days and webinars. Having as much as you can in the locker is in your interest too, the firm has to sift through approximately 300 direct applications a year.
The firm’s recruitment drive is relatively spread out, with VWV accepting applications nationwide (though there is a particular focus on events local to the firm’s offices (Bristol, London, Watford and Birmingham). The firm invites around 50 of the best internal and external applicants to one of two virtual assessment days, comprised of a mixture of written exercises, a group activity, and a presentation, as well as an informal session with current trainees.
Candidates who are successful at the assessment centre stage are invited to attend the vacation scheme, along with an interview, which forms the final stage of the process. As a part of the training contract assessment, there’s no separate application process for a vac scheme at VWV, so external candidates interested in a training contract will need to complete one of the firm’s vac schemes – offered at each of the firm’s offices every June – first. Those invited to interview will face three people – a partner, a member of early careers (recruitment), and a recently qualified solicitor who trained at the firm – for an hour.
The vac scheme at VWV involved sitting in a minimum of two departments, completing tasks that range from research to drafting and reviewing documents. The idea, Colls explains, is to provide vac schemers with exposure to the kinds of work typical for a first seat trainee: “We also hold events throughout the scheme, designed to let participants learn more about VWV, and how we work.” This includes sessions with partners, trainees, and the wider HR and business services teams.
As one of the key ways to demonstrate an interest in a legal career, insight days offer a means by which to bolster your training contract application. VWV holds open evenings in December for anyone who is interested in a training contract at the firm.. Dates, location and information on how to sign up is advertised on the VWV’s website, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Narrow Quay House,
VWV is an award-winning firm which puts its clients at the heart of everything it does.
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 500 - 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
VWV’s core sectors include charities, education, family-owned businesses, healthcare, private client and public sector. The sector focus is underpinned by core legal services including real estate, corporate, commercial (including IP and technology), employment, dispute resolution and tax.
The firm also manages a personal injury division, Augustine's Injury Law.
Working as a paralegal– VWV encourages training contract applications from their paralegals and supports them throughout the application process.
Seats are four six-month rotations and can change slightly each rotation. An example of the seats which are available are:
• Bristol – Charities, Commercial, Commercial Litigation, Commercial Property, Construction, Corporate, Employment, Family, Personal Injury, Planning, Private Client, Property Litigation, Regulatory Compliance
• London – Charities, Commercial Litigation, Commercial Property, Employment, Private Client, Property Litigation
• Watford - Corporate, Commercial, Commercial Property, Property Litigation, Private Client
• Birmingham – Charities, Commercial, Employment and Immigration, Private Client, Real Estate
The firm’s popular summer vacation scheme offers three days' work experience, providing an insight into the day to day workings of a large firm as students spend time across a range of different legal teams. The vacation scheme is part of the training contract assessment process and there isn't a separate application. An interview will also form part of the vacation scheme.
25+ days annual leave, pension, life assurance, private healthcare, permanent health insurance, season ticket travel loans, non-contractual discretionary bonus, cycle to work scheme, eye-care scheme, wellbeing day, volunteering day, local discounts.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Information evenings will be held in December and information for how to register will be on VWV's website.
University law careers fairs 2023
University of Bristol, BPP, University of Law, University of the West of England, University of Hertfordshire
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 1)
- Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 3)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Partnership (Band 4)
- Partnership: Medical (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)