Walker Morris LLP - True Picture

There's plenty of Yorkshire pride at Walker Morris, which acts for regional, national and international clients out of its brand new office in Leeds.

I love you Walker Morris

“The fact that Walker Morris is proud to be from Leeds and Yorkshire was a big pull,” one trainee told us. WM is one member of the ‘big six’ law firms that dominate the legal market in Leeds, but as trainees pointed out, it’s “the only one that has a single site.” True – other than a bit of office space up in Edinburgh, the Walker Morris posse can be found in its entirety under one roof in Leeds. The firm’s single site set-up won’t change any time soon, but in the summer of 2019 it moved from its former offices on King Street into snazzy and newly refurbished premises at 33 Wellington Street in Leeds’ business district. Graduate partner Duncan Loletells us: “The new office, with its mostly open-plan arrangement, should engender openness and collaboration between departments and teams.”

“The fact that Walker Morris is proud to be from Leeds and Yorkshire was a big pull.”

Walker Morris was the firm of choice for many trainees who “wanted to do top-level corporate law, but not in London.” The firm is proof that having a postcode outside the capital won’t deter massive companies with national and international clout from seeking out its expertise, whether it’s a global behemoth like Starbucks, a construction giant like Barratt Homes, or a Premier League football club like Everton.

Outside the Big Smoke, Chambers UK recognises Walker Morris as a national leader in corporate/M&A, litigation, real estate and restructuring/insolvency. UK-wide, it’s highly ranked in retail and also gets nods for its consumer finance, sport, and local government work. Of course, Walker Morris is still a proudly regional firm and with good reason: it’s ranked at the very top in Yorkshire in construction, mid-market corporate/M&A, employment, litigation, planning, real estate and restructuring/insolvency. The clincher? “People here are, well, people,” said one trainee. “They’re not working robots, but people you enjoy talking to.”

Gettin' your six

Trainees do six four-month seats, and everyone is required to do one stint in both a contentious and a non-contentious department. Several groups have both contentious and non-contentious sides, such as regulatory and construction. Secondments were also common – sources reckoned over half of the trainees spent a few months in-house at one of the firm’s clients. The system was mostly appreciated by our sources, who felt that doing six seats meant “you get to know the whole company,” although they admitted: “You can’t always get fully integrated into the work – you just get a flavour.” On the plus side, “if you’re in a seat you don’t really like, then there’s not too long to go.”

When it came to seat allocation, trainees explained: “Your first three seats are chosen for you, dependent on where there’s space and business need.” Trainees can submit their preferences from their fourth seat onwards, and they also have the option to repeat seats from their first year. Our sources felt the firm was “pretty good at listening” to what trainees wanted overall, but pointed out a couple of caveats to this.

Firstly, if lots of people are interested in the same seat, “only a couple will get what they want.” And secondly, “the NQ process starts at the beginning of your fifth seat,” which means that around the end of their fourth seat, trainees are required to make a choice about which area they want to qualify into – even though they may not yet have sat in the seat that was one of their first picks. The sixth and final seat is generally the one trainees will qualify into. As one lamented, “you really only have one choice and then you’re supposed to decide which seat you want to qualify into.” Fortunately, most of the trainees we spoke to had found an area that appealed to them for qualification, and in 2019, the firm retained all 14 qualifiers.

The firm sends out a list of NQ roles around February or March. Trainees then express their interests to HR, and “you’re able to apply for more than one job.” From there, the hiring process “differs between departments.” Some groups, such as real estate, do a “formal interview process with a written assessment, even if there’s only one person applying. In other departments, there’s no interview – the partners discuss if they’re going to hire you among themselves.”

REBL with a clause

Real estate, the firm’s biggest department, takes about four or five trainees at each rotation, so trainees said “it would be rare to avoid doing a real estate seat.” In the last year, the team has advised Canadian real estate investor Talisker on its £70 million acquisition of Wembley Central in London and The Cube in Birmingham, student accommodation construction company Crosslane on a joint venture for new student housing developments worth £125 million, and construction company Kier on the construction of Durham County Council’s £40 million offices. Trainees were pleased with how much responsibility they got, with one commenting it had been the seat where they felt “most under pressure. Trainees are expected to take on the work of an NQ and run with it – either sink or swim.” Fortunately, there were “people to help you out” and less daunting tasks like research to be done as well.

“Sorting through objection letters can take you weeks – you’re going through thousands!”

Planning also falls under the real estate banner. The team here advises on planning and environmental issues for clients ranging from landowners to property developers. Recently the firm defended Octopus Developments when its planning permission for an £11 million care home in York was challenged. It also advised property company CEG on its plans for 350 dwellings in the green belt in Broxbourne. Trainees said “it was hard to learn the intricacies” in this “very technical” seat, so admin work often fell to them: “bundling, planning enquiries, and prepping papers. Sorting through objection letters can take you weeks – you’re going through thousands!”

Trainees may do a seat in real estate and banking litigation, known within the firm as REBL (pronounced ‘rebel’). On the real estate side, the team recently handled a £5 million matter for landlords Ramsgate Estates and Torquay Estates when two of their properties were impacted by the fallout from retailer New Look’s insolvency and its subsequent payment agreement with creditors. The firm also represented The Coal Authority as it sought to recover £500,000 from a defendant that had not complied with its obligations in a mineral extraction agreement for over 13 years. Other clients include household names like Starbucks and Sky, which the team advised on claims arising from a building owned by the telecommunications company where the windows repeatedly shatter. On the banking litigation side, the firm acts for banks including Lloyds, the Co-operative and Bank of Ireland. For trainees, work in this seat involved “a lot of bundling, admin, serving notices and churning out letters.”

Within WM's finance litigation team, sports work proved very popular among our sources: “I absolutely loved my time in that department!” The firm handles a wide range of sports law. The group “acts for loads of players, owners, and executives" and advises on commercial partnerships, transfer agreements, brand protection, restructuring, acquisitions and disposals, and dispute resolution. Trainees were quick to tell us the firm “recently acquired another top-level Premier League club as a client.” In the last couple of years, the firm has advised Everton FC on its multimillion-pound appointment of manager Marco Silva, and Burnley FC on its £20 million front-of-shirt sponsorship deal. The firm also recently drafted a £3 million pay-per-view fight contract for former boxing world champion Amir Khan. Trainees told us they were able to get “involved in big football club sales.” Working on an arbitration over a clause in a football player’s contract “was probably the highlight of my career so far!”

Roughly half of the trainees go on client secondment. The type of work they do depends on which client they go to. One described their secondment as “effectively a commercial seat, involving sitting in on a lot of client calls, negotiating terms of agreement and doing high-level legal reviews.” Trainees also enthused about the support they received on secondment, which involved “a supervisor at the company, who did the day-to-day supervision, and some supervision with a partner at the firm.”

In 2018, the firm’s corporate team advised on £1.5 billion worth of deals. Some highlights included advising stockbroker Numis Securities on the £103 million admission of legal services company Knights to the AIM market, Pipers Crisps on PepsiCo’s intended acquisition of the crisps brand, and US company Revolution Dancewear on its acquisition of International Dance Supplies, which is based in Devon. Trainees described being looped in to help on private equity purchases – recently the firm advised private equity house Endless on a £74 million acquisition of a distribution business from aviation company John Menzies. Trainees in this seat reported that there was a lot of “due diligence work, which was quite tedious” but on the plus side, they got to try their hand at drafting ancillary documents too.

Leeds on, Walker Morris

Life as a lawyer outside London is sometimes painted as being entirely easy – trainees in the corporate seat told it a different way: “Some of my mates have had late nights in corporate until 10pm or 11pm.” But this was about as bad as it got, and trust us, that's not very bad. The planning seat had decent hours – “I left at 5.30pm without fail" – while another trainee summed it up best: “In some departments, people would raise their eyebrows if you left at 5.30pm. In others, no one minds when you leave so long as you do the work.”

“Every department has its own mini culture with its own rules.”

Sources agreed that “every department has its own mini culture with its own rules,” although many expected the firm might soon become more uniform after the office move in summer 2019. Many were looking forward to a new open-plan layout: “You’ll get to speak to more people who you wouldn’t otherwise come across.” At the time of our calls, Walker Morris was in its former premises on King Street, where trainees in most departments shared an office with their supervisor. While this could be “quite full on and intense,” it was also an invaluable way for trainees to grow: “Even just listening in to calls that your supervisor is making helps you learn.” In addition, trainees appreciated being able to build up strong working relationships with their supervisors: “I’ve had more responsibility as my training has gone on.” One source suggested that “the only negative” with the open-plan layout could be that “it’s not going to be as easy for me to chat with my supervisor.”

While a culture shift is to be expected with any move, trainees were certain two things won’t change. Firstly, nearly everyone we spoke to highlighted the “down-to-earth” approachability of the partners, citing it as a key reason for joining the firm and wanting to stay on: “Walker Morris doesn’t have that cold corporate feel.” Secondly, our sources were clear about how seriously the firm takes its charity work. Every year, “several charities are nominated to be the firm’s ‘charity of the year’, which then goes to a vote.” This year the firm voted for Sunshine & Smiles, a Down’s syndrome children’s charity in Leeds. The firm’s charity committee is “quite active in organising bake sales, sponsored runs, and climbs to raise money.” Another source added that the firm’s focus on charity naturally spilled over into pro bono work: “I helped with a lease for our charity of the year, and then helped on a lease for another charity.”

Paralegalling at Walker Morris may be one route to the training contract: “They offered five paralegals a training contract this year. If the department puts them forward, they stand a good chance.”

How to get a Walker Morris training contract


Vac scheme deadline: 31 December 2019 (opens 1 October 2019)

Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 (opens 1 October 2019)

The application form

Around 750 applicants in total apply to Walker Morris through the vacation scheme and direct training contract routes. Both avenues kick off with an online application form where candidates are asked to describe their proudest achievement. Be warned though: "Your individuality needs to be reflected on your form. We quite often read that a candidate's greatest achievements are gaining a place at university or passing your driving test, so think a bit differently – why are you unique? What will make you stand out against the rest?" HR and graduate recruitment advisor, Heather Bradburn, explains: “In the past, we've heard from people who've travelled around Europe with only a small amount of money in their pocket, or by staying solely in monasteries and cooking and cleaning in return for food and shelter.”

The vac scheme route

Around 100 vac scheme applicants are invited to attend a half-day assessment with the firm. This involves a group exercise on a non-law topic. Throughout the assessment the firm is "looking for teamwork, communication and presentation skills and some commercial awareness,” outlines Bradburn.

Walker Morris offers three one-week vac schemes in April and June with up to 16 places available on each. As well as tackling various trainee-level tasks within their assigned department, vac schemers attend social events, presentations about firm life and also complete two assessments, the contents of which are kept tightly under wraps. Depending on a candidate's performance throughout the week, offers are either made directly or after candidates attend a further interview with graduate recruitment partner, Duncan Lole.

Bradburn advises that in order for participants to get the most out of the scheme they should “be themselves during the week. We're looking to recruit them as a person, not the person they think we want to see, so candidates should enjoy the experience and use the time to observe what we're like.”

Direct applications

Direct training contract applicants who successfully leap the application form hurdle are also invited for a half-day assessment centre. This is largely similar in format to the vac scheme assessment, although the group task is usually longer and more detailed and the number of attendees varies depending on how many training contract positions are filled by vac schemers.

Candidates who are successful at this stage progress to an interview with two partners to discuss their CV, experiences and interests. Bradburn tells us: “Although it's a formal interview, we're trying to get to know you as a person and observe how you interact with others, so the tone often ends up quite chatty and relaxed, although you are still asked some challenging questions!”

What they're looking for

Work experience is given considerable weight although Bradburn acknowledges that “it can be quite hard to get legal work experience and we do appreciate that. We ask candidates without legal experience to illustrate how they would apply transferable skills at a law firm. For example, someone who's worked as a waiter might have developed their client-interaction skills.”

The firm is open to recruiting trainees from its paralegal pool and welcomes those changing careers – “we've taken on army veterans, events managers and even an ex-rugby player” – but it's also not averse to those who've come straight through from university. “We take on a real mix of personalities with different skills and previous experiences,” concludes Bradburn.

Walker Morris LLP

33 Wellington Street,
Website www.walkermorris.co.uk

  • Partners 46
  • Assistant solicitors 150
  • Total trainees 33
  • UK offices Leeds
  • Contacts 
  • Training partner: Duncan Lole, [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 15
  • Applications pa: 750
  • Minimum required degree grade: ideally 2:1 or other
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 48
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1st October 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st July 2020
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st December 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £27,000
  • Second-year salary: £29,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £44,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Leeds

Firm profile

Based in Leeds, Walker Morris is the largest single site firm without a London office. With 500 people providing a full range of legal services to national and international clients. Our flag ship office move in Summer 2019 was the largest professional services relocation with the city for almost 15 years. Our new building has undergone a comprehensive £10 million refurbishment which has provided us with a premium working environment. We have grade A office space at the heart of the Leeds business district. As part of the move we have made multi-million pound investments in our IT systems to allow our employees to work more effectively and collaboratively.

Main areas of work

Real estate, corporate and commercial litigation are our core practice areas with specialists in employment, finance, IP, insolvency, energy, infrastructure and government, planning and environmental, regulatory, sports, pensions and tax.

Trainee opportunities

Trainees commence with an induction programme, before spending four months in six seats over the two year training period. Trainees can choose in which departments they wish to spend their second year. Formal training will include lectures, interactive workshops, seminars and e-learning. The PSC covers the compulsory elements and the electives consist of a variety of specially tailored skills programmes. Opportunities also arise for secondments to some of the firm’s major clients. Emphasis is placed on teamwork, inside and outside the office.

Vacation scheme

Places for 2020: 48 over three weeks
Duration: One week
Remuneration: £175 per week
Closing date: 31 December 2019
Application eligibility: Second-year law, third-year non-law and GDL/LPC students.

Other benefits

Pension,life assurance, popcorn rewards, season ticket loans, cycle to work scheme, discounted gym membership, employee assistance programme and various other money saving benefits. 

Open days and first-year opportunities

Open days to run in November/December 2019 details will be published on the firm’s website and Twitter account.

University law careers fairs 2019

Leeds, York, Newcastle and Sheffield

Social media

Twitter @wmgraduate

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 2)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Local Government (Band 4)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • Sport (Band 5)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)