VWV excels in education, charities law and more while offering a princely work/life balance.
Fairytale of… Bristol?
“VWV is in that Goldilocks zone: the people are friendly, the work we do is good-quality, and you get to have a life outside of work.” That’s one assessment of the firm’s appeal, neatly summarised by a trainee – we’d also point to VWV’s niche specialisms in education, charity, healthcare and other areas of law that sit slightly left of the norm. “It’s not just a standard commercial law firm – which is one of the key reasons many of us applied,” another trainee weighed in.
If you’ve got an old copy of Chambers Student, you see that VWV was once the legal artist formerly known as Veale Wasbrough Vizards. Following a rebrand the firm’s mostly abandoned its unwieldy old moniker (possibly because it was so difficult to spell in a Google search), but certainly hasn’t abandoned a broad client base which includes national charities like the Royal Academy of Music and Institute of Cancer Research. On the education side, the firm’s worked for big names including the University of Exeter and LSE. There’s a lot more to VWV than these two specialisms: browse through the firm’s Chambers UK rankings and you’ll find a lot more going on. Of course, VWV fares well nationwide for education and charities, but it also earns regional plaudits for its construction, employment, family, lower mid-market M&A, litigation, real estate, restructuring and tax and personal injury practices.
“It’s not just a standard commercial law firm – which is one of the key reasons many of us applied.”
Many of those plaudits fall in the South West: VWV began life in Bristol and that office remains the firm’s largest. At the time of our calls there were 11trainees based there; London housed another five, three were in Watford and Birmingham had just one. Training principal Jason Prosser tells us the intake has grown in step with the firm as a whole: “Looking forward we’re hoping to bring in more trainees in Birmingham especially.”In the last few years VWV’s swallowed up a series of smaller firms, most recently private client boutique Seabourne Lawleys in June 2017.
Seat options at VWV vary wildly depending on which office you’re staffed in; the Bristol HQ comes with the widest variety. Trainees in London and Watford often move between the two offices. Wherever you are, “your first seat is allocated to you” and from there on HR asks trainees for their top three choices with “preference given to second-years.” Our sources informed us that there are no compulsory seats “but the firm would prefer if you opt for at least one real estate or property seat as those are our biggest departments.” Trainees do have to complete a contentious seat to fulfil SRA requirements.
A seat in commercial property allows trainees to lean towards education or healthcare or tackle more traditional real estate work. The education team “deals with interesting content that wouldn’t come up elsewhere,” acting for academy trusts and independent schools as well as occasional work for church-based clients. Trainees calculated that they’d seen a “50/50 split between general commercial property matters and academy conversions.” The firm recently advised the University of Bristol on the leasehold acquisition of a new student accommodation site; lawyers from various offices assisted on matters for the Diocese of Gloucester Academy Trust, including a restructuring of its team. Trainee tasks include drafting legal charges and licences, reporting on leases and liaising with local councils and the Department of Education. Interviewees described the commercial property seat as “gripping a baton of fire. It is one of the most fast-paced seats as we’re expected to churn out work quickly.” A “well-balanced” approach to supervision meant trainees weren’t getting burnt.
“The team really lets trainees take a steer on matters.”
Following mergers with Matthew Arnold & Baldwin in 2016 and Lockharts a year later, VWV’s healthcare department continues to expand and tend to the needs of GP practices. “A really interesting client base” includes local authorities and healthcare providers of different types; the team assists practices on development and funding work, partnerships and developing business models. Recent examples include advising on a merger of nine medical practices in Cheshunt and helping GP practices in East England with models for collaborative working. There’s also some dispute resolution and NHS contract work. “The team really lets trainees take a steer on matters,” we heard. “You gain a lot of confidence over time as you know you’ve done something once and what the next step will be.”
Trainees take on “more of an advisory role” in the property litigation team. Cases ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to large-scale spats involving businesses and government bodies tend to be referred across from the commercial property team. “The nature of the work means that you get less client contact than in the commercial property seat and there’s a lot more supervision involved,” trainees reasoned.Those we spoke to could still get involved with preparing trial bundles and instructions to counsel as well as writing advice notes for clients, legal research and drafting leases. “It’s the most helpful contentious seat to do if you’re interested in property work more generally,” a source explained. “Landlord and tenant issues make for a nice change of pace.” The team has acted for big names including Airbus, PwC and Oxford Brookes University; Oxford City Council called on VWV to assist with lease renewals for its famous Covered Market.
Much of the M&A and finance going on in corporate involves local clients and family businesses. The firm represents multinationals too as well as educational institutions and tech start-ups like Inovo Robotics, an early-stage company developing robotic arms. The Bristol team advised the company during a £1.5 million investment by the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund. There’s education work here too: VWV acted for the shareholders of Bellevue Education during its sale to GEMS, an international education company. “We’ve also been able to work on fairly big purchases from the buyers side and it’s been super helpful to get insight on both sides of a corporate deal.” Trainees cut their teeth on due diligence and told us that “drafting ancillary documents and disclosure letters is the meaty side of the work in this seat.” Some also got to draft sale and purchase agreements and had a hand in the sales of local businesses, accounting firms and manufacturers.
“We’re not just stuck putting paperwork together.”
The employment team in Bristol deals primarily with educational institutions such as universities, academies and colleges, plus a few commercial matters: examples of the client base include the British Library, Eton College and South Gloucestershire Council. “It’s mostly employer-side but we represent employees as well,” insiders explained. “You get to work with everybody on the team.” A recent case involved advising Cheltenham Ladies' College on gender pay reporting and the impact of the Mencap sleep-in hearing on terms of employment for staff. Over in Watford, the focus is more heavily on healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Trainees across the firm worked onemployment contracts and handbooks and attended cross-examinations of witnesses.Our sources welcomed early responsibility with open arms: “We’re not just stuck putting paperwork together. I’ve been preparing trial bundles and instructions for counsel and producing articles every week for publishing.”
Bristol, London and occasionally Birmingham offer a seat in charities law. Our interviewees explained that “the charities team is a subgroup which falls into the corporate and commercial department in London.” Big clients range from universities including UCL and Bristol to other bodies like the Institute of Cancer Research. One matter involved advising a charity based in the Midlands on the removal of its chief executive after a loss of trust; VWV also acted for the disadvantaged children charity CCHF on its £6 million merger with the Outward Bound Trust. Trainees in this seat deal with company secretarial work – reminding clients of dates and deadlines – but also get to “draft articles of association and agreements or even the initial instructions involved with setting up a charity.” Large transactions involve co-operation with the employment and commercial teams; sources agreed that charities “is a strong team across the offices and they throw you in as much as they can with the client contact.”
There’s no I in team… but there’s a team in VWV
A “jovial and relaxed culture” carries across the VWV network. “We give short shrift to people who aren’t team players,” an insider told us. “That’s something we don’t put up with at all.” That’s reinforced in London by shared working spaces, collaborative pods and a “hot-desking culture that promotes a flat hierarchy. Views of the Shard and Tower Bridge help brighten the mood too!” There’s a “bit more of a lively atmosphere” in Watford, where “it’s often the partners leading the way to the pub for a catch-up.”
As for Bristol, sources singled out the real estate team as a sociable bunch: “It’s a big team and they have more people within a similar age range.” Social events in the office range from cocktail nights arranged by associates and an upcoming wine and cheese evening to charity quizzes and trips to an open-air cinema. Our interview samples suggested that if there’s an area for VWV to improve on, it’s inter-office communication. “This year they ran the first trainee away day in the Bristol office, which was great,” we heard. “There are quarterly meetings via a video link but otherwise we could do with more conversations between the locations.”
“I’ve never had to work on a weekend – that boundary really exists.”
Interviewees were much happier to talk about VWV’s consistent 9am to 6pm working hours, and late nights that only run to 7pm. “Our supervisors always ask us whether we have plans and if we do then they encourage us not to stay past 6pm,” one said. “Corporate can entail a couple of weeks of back-to-back late nights since everyone needs to muck in and get us over the line, whereas you won’t probably stay past 6pm in private client as there’s less of a sense of urgency.” Work/life balance is taken literally here: there’s no need to work remotely and trainees aren’t given work phones. One told us they’d “have never had to work on a weekend – that boundary really exists.” When matters hotted up and later nights were required, trainees felt “noticed and generally receive some form of thanks for putting in the effort.”
Reasonable hours are “a compromise for a lower salary than some of our competitors, that’s a gripe amongst trainees.” Those we spoke to agreed that “it does balance out with the lack of pressure to be here late. What you get out is relative to what you put in.” Trainees also appreciated the “consistent levels of supervision and support” that come with a smaller trainee intake than at City giants.
Informal chats between HR and trainees about qualification take place throughout the course of the second year: “We’re generally able to sound out in advance what roles are available and whether there is a possibility of qualifying in your desired seat.” The process itself begins with HR announcing qualification spots officially – trainees then submit applications and go through an interview with a partner. Some wanted a bit more certainty around the qualification process; “I feel like we couldn’t approach the departments we wanted to qualify in as openly if we hadn’t done a seat in it yet.” Looking at ways to improve things, trainees reckoned there could be more “centralised organisation, it would be more helpful if all the jobs were announced at the same time.” VWV retained 11 of 12 qualifiers in 2019.
Insiders noticed that “a large proportion of the trainees here were paralegals at VWV first,” but the firm certainly takes outside applicants too.
Training contract deadline (2022): 30 June 2020 (opens end of October 2019)
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 create an environment where candidates have to think on their feet as would be required in a real life scenario. 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.
Narrow Quay House,
- Partners 81
- Associates 129 non-patner UK qualified solicitors
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices: Bristol, Birmingham, Watford, London
- Graduate recruiter: Emma Forrester [email protected]
- 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 2019 Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 30th June 2020 Vacation scheme applications open: October 2019 Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 20th January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- Minimum first-year salary: £23,000
- Minimum second-year salary: £25,000
- Minimum post-qualification salary: Bristol & Birmingham - £40,000, Watford - £45,000, London - £50,000
- 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, Birmingham, Watford, London
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 425-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, Augustines Injury Law.
Working as a paralegal – VWV encourages applications from their paralegals and supports them throughout the application process.
Seats by office (seats are four six-month rotations):
• Bristol – Charities, commercial, commercial litigation, commercial property, construction, corporate, corporate tax, employment, planning, private client, property litigation, regulatory compliance
• London & Watford – Charities, commercial, commercial litigation, corporate, employment, private client, property litigation, real estate
• Birmingham – Charities, employment, private client, real estate
The firm’s popular summer vacation scheme offers a week’s unpaid 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. VWV encourage candidates to apply for the vacation scheme as this is part of the trainee assessment process. Assessment days are held in March each year for those applying for the vacation scheme, VWV also holds a final assessment day in July for those just applying for training contracts.
Pension, life assurance, private healthcare, permanent health insurance, travel, non-contractual discretionary bonus, childcare voucher scheme, eye-care scheme.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Details of VWV’s trainee information evenings and how to register can be found on the VWV website.
University law careers fairs 2019
Cardiff University, University of Bristol, BPP, University of Law, University of the West of England, Exeter Uni Law Fair.
LinkedIn VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards)
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- 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)