Watson Farley & Williams - True Picture

Get ready to set sail with WFW’s deck-adent overseas secondments and energetic expertise.

We're gonna need a bigger boat!

A big differentiating factor between Watson Farley & Williams and other mid-size firms is our industry-focused services in our three main sectors of transport, energy and real estate,” managing partner Chris Lowe tells us. The firm is experiencing continued growth, particularly within the aviation department: a Bird & Bird partner, a counsel from Milbank and consultants from both Clifford Chance and Norton Rose Fulbright have all been welcomed aboard recently. There have been similar additions abroad too, Lowe explains: “The three disputes partners who joined us in the Athens office are a perfect example of how we are widening our capabilities.” WFW has historically been known more for its transactional work, especially related to shipping finance and energy. It continues to receive top rankings from Chambers UK and globallyfor its shipping finance work, as well as receiving worthy nods for its work in corporate M&A, energy and aviation finance.

As is sometimes the way with firms who have a history in shipping (by nature an international industry), the firm commands an impressive 14-office international nexus, despite having a relatively compact London headcount. This network was a major attraction for trainees with itchy feet. An overseas seat is mandatory and trainees can choose from a selection of Athens, Bangkok, Dubai, Paris, Munich, and Singapore. Keep reading for more about going abroad with the firm below.

A vessel state

WFW’s six-seat system allows trainees to get their feet wet in all the firm's major departments, including a compulsory asset finance seat in London and disputes. Insiders enjoyed the variety of work the six-seat system provides, but explained that it can make it difficult to find your niche. The possibility of doing a repeat seat can aid the process. For seat allocation, trainees chat with HR and rank their top three choices, keeping in mind the compulsory seats and the overseas secondment. If trainees want to set sail to do an overseas finance seat, they must first complete the seat in London. “Some trainees don’t always get their preferred choices," sources said, "but HR will call us and keep us in mind for the next seat.”

Asset finance trainees find themselves working on cross-border financings split between the aviation and shipping practices. (WFW is Chambers-ranked for both areas.) Trainees in what is the firm's largest department are “thrown in the deep end” (no pun intended) when it comes to liaising with clients and the other side. “In my first week, my supervisor asked me to look after a transaction, relaying directly to the client without checks,” one source said. WFW advises most banks that are active in the shipping and aviation market, such as Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered. Airbus and FlyBe are among the firm's aviation clients, while the shipping client roster includes Teekay, one of the world's biggest shipowners, and MSC, the world's second-largest shipping line. WFW recently advised ING Bank on a $252 million financing for the first ever LNG-powered aframax tankers for Russian shipowner Sovcomflot. Trainees take on a project management role here, while making sure the conditions precedent checklist and securities are ready for the negotiation of loan agreements. Trainees are involved in all aspects of the transaction, other than drafting the loan agreement itself. One shared: “As we act mainly for the lenders, especially in the overseas seats, I will be in contact directly with the borrower and opposing counsel to monitor conditions precedent and present reports.”

Since finance is the bread and butter of the firm, it's the busiest seat but “the hours still aren’t horrendous – I’ve rarely had to stay till midnight.” This source said 7.30 or 8pm is a more typical time to leave and another said for them it was 8.30pm, adding: “Finance is very international and so the hours are naturally longer yet consistent.” We heard the department is particularly busy in the run-up to Christmas. In corporate and energy the hours “fluctuate quite a bit” with trainees sometimes staying till 11pm or midnight – the latest we heard of a trainee being in the office was 5am. Ouch!

“Finance is very international and so the hours are naturally longer yet consistent.” 

WFW's corporate department has “a lot of interaction with other departments, especially with the energy team.” Maritime, transport, energy, natural resources and real estate work all come into play here. WFW’s cross-border M&A and private equity team acts for clients such as Statkraft – Norway's state hydropower company and the largest generator of renewable power in Europe – which the firm helped sell its stakes in two offshore wind farms for a value of £1.1 billion. The firm also advised Canadian Solar, one of the world’s leading solar energy companies, on the sale of its 142 MW UK solar photovoltaic portfolio with a value of £191.2 million. Trainees also noted their involvement in AIM placings, as well as sales and purchases for AIM-listed companies: WFW advised Coro Energy on its acquisition of the Italian oil and gas portfolios of Sound Energy, which is listed on AIM. Sources admitted that the corporate seat is “admin-heavy and trainees are expected to compile documents and complete the due diligence exercises – it isn’t very interesting.” Trainees certainly do have the chance to work on some glittering deals though, such as the acquisition of a goldmine in Armenia. And sources expressed how “once the deal is closed and things go live on the news, it’s exciting and you realise the role you played was important to the bigger picture.”

WFW’s high-intensity energy, infrastructure and projects team feeds into the corporate and finance practices, with trainee tasks consisting of drafting securities, organising the physical signings post-closing, doing main-market verification and keeping up to date with circulars and prospectuses. The team recently advised international oil and gas company OMV on the sale of two upstream exploration and production subsidiaries in Pakistan to Dragon Prime Hong Kong. It also advised Norddeutsche Landesbank on the project financing of one of Europe’s largest onshore wind farms in Sweden. And WFW helped Danish export credit agency EKF with £3.5 billion worth of loan guarantees for a wind farm project off the UK coast. Dealing with such big matters means that all hands are on deck. One source felt “grateful to have done this seat later on in my training contract, purely because it brings together a lot of skills that I learnt in previous seats, such as finance and corporate.”

Is it 2008?

The firm’s occasionally “exhilarating”litigation department turns its hand to commercial, construction, property, shipping and banking litigation. To give some examples, WFW is still working with Lehman Brothers (yes, those guys) on a case worth €1 billion over losses incurred during derivatives transactions. The team also advised oil supplier Conapro Dena in a breach of contract claim brought against the government of The Gambia worth around $32 million. In a different case WFW defended renewable energy company Bester over the termination of a subcontract to build a biomass power plant in Wrexham in Wales. As described by our sources, there isn’t as much client contact in litigation compared to in the transactional teams. “Litigation is a hand-holding seat for trainees as everything consists of carefully written communication,” one trainee reported. Trainee tasks are “admin-heavy,” consisting of copy checking, drafting documents and witness statements and “assisting with bundling for those who go to court.”

The experience in litigation in London resonates in the disputes seats in Singapore and Bangkok where “trainee tasks are similar to in the London office in terms of drafting documents, but the work itself relates more often to arbitrations.” Sources explained that many trainees choose the disputes seat for their sixth seat, because it's known as something of “redundant seat” as NQ interviews take place during the fifth seat.

“...figuring out if a landowner has switched their National Grid connection to a connection with a wind farm.”

Trainees working in the real estate department are able to test the waters in more depth than in litigation by “having the autonomy to pick up a little deal and run it” themselves. The department handles all kinds of stuff including property finance, residential work, and energy projects. The last of these might see trainees having to deal with “due diligence surrounding cable roots and figuring out if a landowner has switched their National Grid connection to a connection with a wind farm.” While smaller matters might see trainees doing more “client-facing” work like “sending emails back and forth,” on larger matters a newbie's role is more “admin-focused” and “trainees are relied on to register documents with the Land Registry, collate info on properties, and raise queries with the other side.” Trainees noted that compared to other teams real estate comes with a higher volume of tasks, yet they aren’t as time-consuming.

All abroad!

With a guaranteed overseas seat, WFW attracts those lost in wanderlust. A chat with HR allows you to submit three choices in order of preference. The heightened level of responsibility in the overseas offices was greatly appreciated. “You’re expected to be able to get on with things at that point, so there’s much more freedom to run things on your own,” one source said. The hours worked in the overseas seats vary quite a bit in each location. Trainees in Athens might be seen exiting the office around 10 or 11pm, but they only usually arrive at 10.30am, due to the nature of the work. Dubai and Bangkok have “a better work/life balance,” while “Paris is busier and has a reputation for having worse hours than the London office,” since deals are staffed leanly and so require a more hands-on approach.

Most departments offer some form of training. For example, real estate holds individual training with a professional support lawyer every Tuesday. Trainees gladly reported on receiving “the best support on both a work and pastoral level” in the London office, but supervision in the overseas seats had been “a let-down” for some. Some sources thought that the perceived lack of supervision abroad was down to the fact “they assume we can get on without it.”

When asked to ponder WFW’s make-up, trainees expressed the need for the firm to recruit from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The representation of women and ethnic minorities in the partnership is fair to average for a City firm, while the number of women trainees at the firm in 2018 was bang on the national average across all firms (62%). But things aren’t looking so great for ethnic minorities as recent trainee intakes have had a “very white cohort,” according to sources. Trainees said there is heightened awareness of diversity issues among new trainee intakes and that there has been “a more diverse spin on affairs recently” at the firm with the arrival of an LGBT society and a mental health allies scheme.

“A more diverse spin on affairs recently.”

Friday drinks in each department “make the late nights bearable” for trainees, though perhaps one unintended consequence of the drinks being departmental is that “the firm doesn’t always integrate that well on a social basis between teams.” Still, the WFW crowd do get to enjoy some firm-wide events including an energy industry reception in the Sky Garden of the Walkie-Talkie building and black-tie promotions parties. The firm also has worldwide football and netball teams and “the tournaments can get quite competitive – all the money raised goes to our annual charity.”

The NQ jobs process begins in early March with a jobs list, “allowing trainees enough time to search out the job market” if they want to go elsewhere. Those keen to stay on have a week to decide their preferences and NQ decisions are made in April. “I am confident that if you aren’t fussy about where to qualify, you will get a job here,” one source reported. Finance jobs tend to be consistently on offer every year, “but qualifying into employment or real estate requires a bit more luck.” Trainees also informed us of the “increasing number of jobs abroad as the firm expects trainees to take the opportunity and make connections with the wider firm.” In 2019, 12 out of 17 qualifiers were retained.

The firm most recently opened an office in Hanoi.

How to get a Watson Farley training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 13 January 2020 (opens October 2019)

Training contract deadline (2022): 13 July 2020 (opens October 2019)

Open day deadline: 25 November 2019

Watson Farley & Williams receives around 700 applications each year: about half are for the firm's vacation scheme, while the other half are from applicants gunning directly for a training contract.

Both types of application start with an online form that asks for details of an applicant's academics and work experience. “Legal work experience is important for those applying directly for a training contract,” says graduate recruitment & development manager Lucie Rees. “We need to see that these candidates really understand the profession and the role of a trainee at a commercial firm, as well as having identified us as a firm they want to train at.”

The form also includes various open-ended questions. “It's difficult to get an accurate feel for a person from an application form,” Rees admits, “so we also ask about their involvement in extracurricular activities. This is a chance to talk about activities that have provided them with some life experience and some useful skills.”

Assessment centre

For vac scheme and training contract applicants alike who impress on paper, the next step is a video interview and then an assessment centre. Rees is reluctant to reveal many details about the day, but she does tell us: “It's fairly typical in that it involves group and written exercises. We've tried to make these as close as possible to the sorts of things trainees do daily at the firm. We don't ask people to take any form of standard verbal reasoning test or off-the-shelf psychometric test.”

The day also involves lunch with the current trainee cohort. Rees insists that “the trainees are not briefed to feedback to HR, as we want people to be able to relax and ask questions,” though we suggest keeping to your best behaviour regardless. At the end of the day, assessors give candidates group feedback on their assessments. “We feel it is important to recognise the efforts candidates have put in up to this stage and give them something to take away from the day,” Rees explains.

The vacation scheme

Following the assessment centre, WFW chooses its vac schemers. Rees encourages trainee hopefuls to apply for the scheme: “Generally we find vac schemers are better informed about us and what we do, and as a result can make an informed decision about whether we are the right firm for them. Ideally, we aim to offer training contracts to a high percentage of our vac schemers, as they have spent time seeing the firm first-hand and we've seen what they can do.” That said, “we deliberately leave some places for those who apply directly,” she points out. “We find we're fishing in a different pool of applicants at this point – we often pick up people who attended other vac schemes and then decided a firm wasn't for them.”

The firm runs three placements – Easter, June and July – and each lasts two weeks.

Final interviews

The firm aims to interview around 25% of those who have attended an assessment centre, including vac schemers who undergo their interview during the second week of their placement. Direct applicants, meanwhile, attend theirs in either August or September.

The interview is conducted by a partner and a member of the graduate recruitment team, and opens with a chat about the interviewee's motivations and interest in law.

The rest of the interview is split between competency-based questions and those designed to eke out a candidate's personality. “We want to ensure that they understand the work we do and are motivated to work for us in the long term,” says Rees, adding: “We especially want to see an interest in the sectors we work in, though we don't expect them to be sector experts at this stage.”

Watson Farley & Williams

15 Appold Street,
Website www.wfw.com

  • Partners 157
  • Associates 400+
  • Total trainees 36 (18 first years and 18 second years) 
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices 14
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Lucie Rees, Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager,[email protected] Training partner: Christina Howard, Corporate Partner, [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 18
  • Applications pa: c.600
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 30
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: October 2019 Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 13th July 2020 Vacation scheme applications open: October 2019 Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 13th January 2020 Open day deadline: 25th November 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £43,000
  • Second-year salary: £46,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £73,700
  • Holiday entitlement: 25
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £8,500/£7,500 dependant on location 
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London
  • Overseas seats: Guaranteed in either Athens, Bangkok, Dubai, Munich, Paris or Singapore Client secondments: Ad Hoc

Firm profile

WFW is an international law firm advising on complex transactions and disputes through local knowledge and an integrated international network. We have a strong sector focus, combining our technical excellence with deep industry knowledge across energy, transport and real estate. We strive for excellence in all that we do and view investment in our people as key to achieving our business goals and values, which rest on developing deep and long-lasting relationships externally and internally through respect, sharing, communication and integrity. Our teams are integrated across legal disciplines and offices delivering consistently high levels of service in combination across borders and locally through a deep understanding of local business customs and culture.

Main areas of work

Within our core sectors of energy (conventional and renewable power, oil and gas, mining and commodities), real estate and transport (aviation, maritime and rail) plus associated infrastructure, we provide a full suite of legal services including finance, capital markets, corporate, construction, planning, employment, public law, regulatory and competition and dispute resolution.

Trainee opportunities

WFW deals with training and ongoing development in an individual way. During each seat the firm discusses with trainees plans for the next one to ensure they gain valuable insight from the six seat programme, including a guaranteed overseas secondment.

Training contracts will be hands-on, with as much experience of clients and challenging, highprofile work as possible. Trainees will benefit from plenty of exposure to senior lawyers, many acknowledged leaders in their field

WFW believes that only total immersion can provide trainees with the experience they require.

Vacation scheme

The firm’s vacation scheme is the best way to familiarise yourself with WFW. The two-week placements are at WFW’s London office in Spring and Summer, and are open to anyone applying for a training contract in the current recruitment cycle. To appreciate first-hand the type of work trainees undertake day to day, participants will work with solicitors in one of the firm’s practice groups for the whole period, where possible. To complement this focus on one area, they will also attend a variety of talks and social events designed to give a general overview of the firm. Participants will receive a payment of £325 per week during the scheme. Applications must be received by 13th January 2020.

Other benefits

These include 25 days holiday, income protection scheme, life assurance, employee assistance scheme, pension scheme, private medical insurance, interest-free season ticket loan, £250 contribution towards a sports club or exercise classes, and a flexible benefits scheme.

Open days and first-year opportunities

The firm currently runs Winter Open Days. Applications for these open in October, closing the following month. Anyone in their first year of university onwards is eligible to apply via the online application form.

University law careers fairs 2019

Please come along and see WFW at one of the following university law fairs:
Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Warwick or York.

The firm’s representatives would be delighted to meet potential applicants and answer questions in person.

Social media

Twitter @WFW_UKTrainees

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 3)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • Shipping (Band 3)