Watson Farley & Williams - True Picture

With WFW’s guaranteed international secondments, trainees can jet off to locations around the world while getting to grips with the firm’s sector-specific focus.

Watson Farley & Williams training contract review 2022

The Firm

Going abroad might seem like a foreign concept after a year of lockdowns and restrictions, but as things slowly start resembling normality again, the trainees at Watson Farley & Williams were the first to tout the overseas opportunities available to them at the firm. “The biggest selling factor is the guaranteed overseas secondment,” one trainee reflected. Almost every single interviewee cited this factor as a key reason they applied to the firm, along with the “international element to most of the work” in the firm’s London headquarters. The firm currently has 16 overseas offices: most recently WFW expanded its Asia-Pacific presence by opening an office in Sydney focusing on hospitality, and added to its already sizeable European presence with an office in Düsseldorf focusing on energy law. Despite all these bases, sources felt “it’s international but it’s not absolutely massive.” One interviewee elaborated: “I didn’t want to be part of a huge firm where no one really knows anyone else.” Rather, most felt the mid-sized feel of the firm made it “more personable.”

The firm’s international nature ties into its specific sector focuses. Chambers UK considers WFW among the cream of the crop UK-wide for its shipping finance work – even Chambers Global describes the firm as ‘global market leaders’ for shipping finance. Back in the UK, WFW is also recognised for its aviation finance, oil & gas, renewables & alternative energy, shipping, trade finance and AIM capital markets capabilities. “I was quite interested in the more specialised side of the practice – it’s a bit different and more interesting,” one recalled. In particular, many were enamoured by the firm’s shipping and general transport expertise. Others highlighted that “the firm is extremely finance-heavy” (it’s worth noting that many of the firm’s overseas seats focus solely on asset finance) and warned that “if you’re terrified of finance, this might not be the firm for you…” Although WFW isn’t exactly a full-service firm, trainees still asserted that “there’s definitely a range of departments” and as such, appreciated the six-seat training contract which gave them “the chance to explore more areas of the law.”

The Seats

Yes, here trainees at WFW do six four-month seats as opposed to the more common four six-months – and at least one of which will be an overseas seat. The vast majority of interviewees preferred the six-seat set-up: “You still get to see a lot of the deal you're working on and connect with people, but you also get to hop around the departments of the firm.” Beyond the overseas seat, there are no compulsory seats, though many mentioned “most end up doing an asset finance seat, and it’s recommended to do one before going abroad.” For each rotation, trainees provide three preferences ranked in order. International seats are allocated a bit further in advance to allow time to organise the logistics. “Everyone gets their first choice as much as possible – I know very few people who didn’t get their first choice.”

“Where they can get you involved in the actual documents themselves, they do.”

Asset finance is one of the firm’s busiest areas, covering shipping, aviation and rail finance. The team mostly represents banks/lenders, though interviewees sometimes came across borrower-side work too. Sources worked on matters like “financing or refinancing loans relating to things like oil tankers as well as some smaller ships,” alongside “more interesting stuff like the vessel delivery of a large cruise ship.” The team recently acted for Danske Bank as lender on the $60 million financing of Avenir LNG’s first two LNG supply vessels. They also advised dry bulk shipowner Genco Shipping & Trading on a fleet-for-fleet asset swap as part of Genco’s fleet renewal plan. Trainees found the department to be “very document-heavy because of the nature of finance deals,” meaning they often worked on “document amendments, drafting corporate authorities, and running document lists – being very on top of where all the 200 documents are!” Sources also added “where they can get you involved in the actual documents themselves, they do,” so most had also had the opportunity to draft things like security documents, delivery documents, and occasionally the facility or loan agreements themselves. Trainees also emphasised that the departments are heavily international; sources were often “liaising with foreign counsel” and working on deals run out of WFW’s overseas offices.

The dispute resolution seat covers two main pools of work: construction disputes, and shipping/general commercial disputes. The former tends to cover “disputes to do with time delays or true value disputes.” Shipping disputes tend to be contractual disputes within the shipping industry, but also covered “cool stuff like ship arrests or if there was a collision.” The group represented cruise operator Carnival on various contentious and non-contentious issues arising from the abandonment of two cruise vessels at the Port of Tilbury, and also represented YieldStreet Management in a claim brought by lending vehicles managed by YieldStreet for the recovery of $76.7 million owed. Occasionally the group also deals with international arbitrations. Trainees got stuck into “a lot of research tasks” followed by “usually drafting a memo” on said research. Sources were also familiar with disclosure tasks – “trawling through documents and marking them as relevant, irrelevant or privileged etc.” – as well as “helping out with bundling and attending hearings.” One source recalled “one matter had hundreds of documents to review – it was lucky that it was an interesting case because that can be pretty intense.” 

Employment is one of WFW’s smaller teams, but still covers a range of both contentious and non-contentious work. Contentious work usually comes in the form of employment tribunals, while non-contentious work revolved largely around drafting various employment agreements: “We would help out with document review on director service agreements or consultancy agreements, and propose amendments where a clause needed to be more robust.” With the fallout from Covid-19, sources noticed in particular they were “doing a lot of redundancy work” recently, which involved working on “a lot of settlement agreements.” Beyond that, trainees would do a lot of legal research, draft emails and memos to clients, and make amendments to agreements. “The nature of the team means I’ve been trusted with quite interesting pieces of work,” one interviewee reflected.

The firm’s corporate seat was “the most varied” according to one source. “They work with a huge range of clients from public sector to private sector, and through loads of different industries,” a few of which include energy, infrastructure, logistics, and real estate. The team advised Bio Capital on its acquisition of anaerobic digestion plant Redstow Renewables from Downing LLP, and elsewhere, advised CNG Fuels on an £80 million funding by Foresight Group in a joint venture to build a nationwide network of refuelling stations that will allow HGVs to run on carbon-neutral fuel. Trainees dealt with various “company incorporation tasks like articles of association,” as well as “researching points of company law,” and keeping track of document lists. Trainees can also do a seat in the firm's separate energy and projects team (the second largest team at the firm), which mainly deals with financing for energy projects. “I mainly did renewable energy work – solar and wind,” one recalled.In a recent matter, the team advised NatWest on its £110 million three-year loan facility to Bluefield Solar Income Fund to finance its acquisition of a 64.2 MW UK solar portfolio.

"You’re more on the frontline – you’re still supported, but people don’t babysit you.”

At the time of research, trainees were doing international secondments to offices including Athens, Paris, Bangkok, Singapore, Hamburg, and Dubai. Some of these had to take place virtually due to Covid-19, though a few were still able to actually go abroad. Those doing virtual secondments often found they had to contend with awkward time differences but also found that the firm made concessions: “With Bangkok, it’s nine hours’ time difference. I started work at 7am and finished at 4pm so there was some overlap, then they’d give me work I could do while they weren’t in the office.” Those who made it to their overseas destinations noticed the other offices were “much leaner and you get much more exposure to clients. You’re more on the frontline – you’re still supported, but people don’t babysit you.”

Trainee Life

What with WFW’s sizeable network of offices, interviewees were pleased to find “they definitely try and consider it all as one big firm.” And because of that connectivity, trainees were able to take advantage of “the opportunities to work with international offices, even in teams like employment which are more UK-specific.” It also meant that “there is a lot of knowledge within the firm” – sources were able to make the most of this because “everyone is very generous with their time, even when busy.” A few interviewees reckoned the firm had a more ‘traditional’ feel to it in that “it’s very up-the-ladder – an associate will email you to do XYZ, then you send it back to them, then they send it to the partner,” but socially speaking, most agreed that “colleagues are down to earth and kind.”

Views were quite divided when it came to diversity, inclusion, and mental health efforts at the firm. “When you look around, you can see it’s not that diverse,” one interviewee admitted. Trainees did praise the firm’s gender diversity, saying that “there are a lot of female partners who hold positions of responsibility – the maritime co-head is female, for example,” but reckoned “racial diversity isn’t great.” In terms of the steps taken to address this, one source said: “Ot is getting much better with employee networks popping up and various social/educational events.” While sources felt this side was “heading in the right direction,” many thought things could be improved when it came to supporting trainees’ mental health. One noted: “There are various wellness workshops, but I wouldn’t say there was anything tailored to trainees. Being a trainee is quite intense – more specific resources would be helpful.” Interviewees did however praise the “mental health representatives, who are very approachable.”

“It’s a very rare thing to work on the weekend.”

One source of some stress was trainees’ hours. “I don’t think my hours could be compared to American firms where they’re working till 1am or 2am, but the hours are definitely consistently later than other jobs.” Finance and corporate seats were considered the heaviest for hours, and considering that the majority of trainees end up doing an asset finance seat at some point, this is certainly worth bearing in mind. “On average, I’d finish around 9pm, with a couple of weeks finishing between 10pm and midnight,” one recalled of their assets seat. Other seats like employment and certain litigation subgroups “weren’t too bad” for hours, though on the whole, sources warned that “the hours here are not 9 to 5…” However, one concession was that “it’s a very rare thing to work on the weekend.”

When it comes to qualification, the firm publishes a list of available positions and qualifiers can then apply for as many roles as they'd like (though it's usually two at most). Sources noted that this year there were “enough jobs for all the people qualifying,” which went down well, though some of these were in overseas offices. Trainees then interview with two partners from the department and a member of HR – “it’s usually a mix of competency and technical questions” – before finding out if they are successful. Most found it to be a “smooth process,” and in 2021, the firm retained 16 of 18 qualifiers, with one hired on a fixed-term contract.

Get Hired


Vacation scheme deadline (2022): 4 January 2022 (opens October 2021)

Training contract deadline (2024): 3 July 2022 (opens October 2021)

Watson Farley & Williams receives around 600 applications each year: about two-thirds are for the firm's vacation scheme, while the rest 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. Following the success of the format which had to be introduced during the pandemic, assessment centres will continue to take place online. 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.”

There is also an opportunity to chat with some of the current trainees to find out more about their experiences at the firm. 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. There may also be opportunities for shorter, virtual, placements in the future.

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.  These interviews will be conducted in person.

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 175
  • Associates 400+
  • Total trainees 36 (18 first years and 18 second years) 
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices 16
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Lucie Rees, Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager,uktrainees@wfw.com
  • Training partner: Kavita Shah, Assests & Structured Finance, uktrainees@wfw.com
  • 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: 7th October 2021
  • Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 3rd July 2022
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 7th October 2021
  • Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 4th January 2022
  • Open day deadline: 26th November 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £45,000
  • Second-year salary: £48,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £85,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • 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, Hamburg, 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 4th January 2022.

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 a virtual Open Day in December. 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 2021

Please come along and see WFW at one of the following law fairs: AllAboutLaw, Legal Cheek, All Wales, Warick, Kent, Durham and Lancaster.

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

Social media

Twitter @WFW_UKTrainees
LinkedIn WFW-UK-Trainees

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (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 4)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Shipping (Band 3)

More from Watson Farley Williams:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.

Follow the firm on Twitter.