Ding dong! Wedlake Bell strikes in London to the chimes of real estate, private client, corporate and disputes.
If you'd been hanging around in London for 240 years, witness to the bewildering changes the city has undergone, the events of 2020 would produce nary a bead of sweat. Wedlake Bell is nothing if not resilient, demonstrating all the cultural hallmarks of a firm that always moves with the times. In the search for a training contract, trainees here were “looking for a firm that had a good mix of private client and commercial work.” Wedlake Bell acts for both businesses and private clients, drumming up Chambers UK rankings in mid-market real estate, IP, construction and family work. Chambers High Net Worth also rates the firm in private wealth law.
“A good mix of private client and commercial work.”
Trainees were also drawn to Wedlake’s modest intake of around six a year. All told, Wedlake Bell houses around 180 lawyers. This size made for what trainees dubbed a “real”culture. “Yes it’s nice to have slick, shiny brochures,” one admitted, but trainees felt their firm has a focus on their day-to-day life. “There’s a clear effort to ensure people are taken care of,” whether through appraisals, yoga, ordeep, meaningful chats with supervisors (more on all of these below).
Trainees also spoke of “relaxed vibes, good food and good conversation” – no, they were not regaling us with tales of their best Hinge dates. In fact, this was how they described the firm’s “humanised”application process, which includes a meet-and-greet with a buffet and the chance to network. And for most of our interviewees it looked like it was turning out to be a real love story. “Since I’ve joined I’ve become a much happier person,” one reflected. “The firm is very much responsible for that.” Who’s cutting onions?
Wedlake has four umbrella practice groups – private client, real estate, business services and dispute resolution – each of which contains several seats. Newbies submit choices at the start of each rotation; sources said the firm“takes into account your interests and skills to make sure you get a range of seats that fit you.” Trainees also happily pointed out that “the firm creates new seats if you have a particular interest in something.”
Three seats fall under the real estate umbrella: commercial property, residential property and construction. The firm’s real estate team acts for developers, investors, occupiers and lenders, including recognisable names like Hugo Boss, Taylor Wimpey and housebuilders Cala Homes. Healthcare and hospitality are key sectors for the team, which recently advised Care UK on the £230 million sale of 14 care homes. Trainees in commercial property got busy with “finalising leases and licences, and working on waiving agreements.” Trainees also got client contact in this seat. Some found this seat “quite tricky,” with one commenting that “people are extremely busy.” That said, one person’s ‘tricky’ is another’s “intellectually stimulating.”
Trainees on the residential property side sang a similar tune, with the work here geared towards the “sale and purchase of property.” A trainee gave more detail: “My typical tasks were drafting reports, drafting enquiries, and speaking with clients.” For one trainee, “a fond moment” in this seat was working on a lifetime mortgage “for a vulnerable elderly client who needed money for care.” As the seat goes on, “we get to run our own extension files start to finish.”
“A segue between sophisticated law and quite sensitive questions.”
Reflecting on the work in private client, trainees described the seat as “a segue between sophisticated law and quite sensitive questions. The human element was interesting.” The team advises high net worth individuals on wealth management, estate planning and wills. “The wills are pretty sophisticated,” a trainee commented. “You have to be really careful with the information you put down when you’re winding up an estate.” Beyond wills, trainees recalled supporting clients with “life housekeeping in the event that multiple members of their family passed away.”
Trainees in corporate tax told us that “the department is small, so you get a lot of responsibility.” It may be a smaller group, but lawyers throughout the firm often come here for help with tax questions, so trainees in this seat “get to build an internal network.” When they weren’t running around making friends, trainees had complex matters to get to grips with. “We’re advising on the way a client’s patent matches up with legislation,” one told us. “Because of the UK tax code, it can be quite challenging.” Matters were mostly advisory but could be contentious, with trainees getting to see “big disputes with HMRC.” Trainees may be called on to assist with tax aspects of transactions for the corporate team, which advises clients in energy, financial services, insurance, healthcare, hospitality and FinTech.
Work in construction revolves around advising purchasers, players in office developments and big hotel refurbs, and healthcare sector clients like BUPA and Care UK. There’s a private client flavour here too, as the firm represents high net worth individuals on expensive house and apartment developments. The firm recently advised one such client on the refurbishment of a penthouse in Grosvenor Square, for example. The team also provides specialist advice to other law firms: it recently supported a Canadian law firm on the £90 million purchase of a flower and herb farm by cannabis company Sundial to ensure the sale was legal under UK law. In this “high-pressure” seat, trainees told us, “we work on the collateral warranty documents, the terms and agreements, and the funding documents.” They elaborated that “you’re rarely drafting; you’re more likely be liaising with contractors and consultants trying to get everyone on board.” Trainees described a bit of a tough gig in this seat, but assured us “the team is filled with people willing to run you through anything that you don’t understand.”
“You get to delve into the depths of IP law – it’s pretty cool.”
There are some pretty well-known names on the IP and commercial disputes client list, like Tesco, Lacoste and the brand behind Which? magazine. The team recently acted for French footwear company AIGLE in a trademark dispute with American Airlines. Trainees in this seat said: “You get to delve into the depths of IP law – it’s pretty cool.” Comparing it to transactional seats, trainees noted: “There’s a lot more hands-on supervision here because everything could turn up in front of a judge.” Trainees had a lot of correspondence with courts and were “drafting consent orders and letter responses to the other side.”
Trainees described “outstanding”support at Wedlake Bell. While doing a client secondment, “I’d ring a partner from the firm if I had a question,” one recounted. “They called it the ‘Wedlake Bell hotline.’” Back at the mothership, “I’ve always felt like my training was at the forefront of my supervisor’s priorities.” As well as “super detailed” mid- and end-of-seat appraisals, “there are lots of professional development trainings” on topics from Excel to unconscious bias. The firm’s BAME network hosts a plethora of events and campaigns. At the time of our calls it was wellbeing week: “We’ve discussed mental and emotional health, done a bit of yoga and drunk smoothie shots.”
And how’s this for support? The firm dishes up porridge and soup for lawyers every day. “Around Wimbledon we were served strawberries and cream,” one satisfied trainee informed us. To stay in shape, trainees can attend firm-wide trips such as a ski trip, curling trip and walking trip. If you’re more about the food than the fitness, fear not – apparently the last walking trip in Kent was “more like a three-day pub crawl!” All jokes aside, trainees said Wedlake is doing culture correct: “The people here care about you.”
“I’ve been putting in more hours.”
Of course it’s not all strawberries, cream and jaunts in the Kentish countryside. Workinghours were luck of the seat draw, with construction and commercial property requiring later finishes of around 7.30pm. A couple reported their latest finish was 10 or 11pm, “which isn’t bad considering we’re a City firm.” As for salaries, trainees said it “adequately reflects the hours we’re expected to put in.” Trainees did feel that the firm was putting a bit more emphasis on billable hours, with one telling us: “I’ve been putting in more hours.” We also heard “construction even states who’s billed the most hours that week. Whether it incentivises people or not I don’t know – I find it a bit of a slog.” Another admitted: “My intention of staying here has slightly deteriorated,” but retention rates are usually pretty good – in 2020, five of six qualifiers stayed on.
All the Bells and Whistles…
Wedlake Bell brings a financial adviser into the firm to teach employees how to be more financially astute.
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
Wedlake Bell offers eight training contracts each year. HR head Natalie King tells us the firm is after candidates who are “well rounded, happy to be exposed to different areas and open to new opportunities.” She adds: “We're a sociable, friendly and supportive firm with a diverse mix of talent – we look for people who fit in well with that.” Law and non-law graduates are equally encouraged to apply, as are those who've had a previous career, though bear in mind that candidates are expected to have the usual minimum 2:1 degree. The firm has also recently partnered with Rare Recruitment.
Application and interviews
Prospective trainees at Wedlake Bell need to be solid across the academic, extracurricular and work experience spheres alike. The online application form, which is the same for both vacation scheme and straight-to-training-contract applicants, contains room for a covering letter. For this, candidates need to concentrate on structure and grammar as well as the content itself.
The firm chooses its vac schemers after a one-stage interview process which also involves a written assessment. Between 35 and 45 direct training contract applicants are invited to a first-stage interview. This takes place with two members of Wedlake's training committee comprised of partners, solicitors and the HR team. “We have fairly set questions for that interview,” King says, “so that we get a good level of consistency across all candidates.” Some are centred on candidates' university studies and background, while others test commercial awareness.
The second interview also incorporates a set of written tests. “They're not necessarily about the legal profession, but they do test all the obvious skills like organisation, grammar, spelling and common sense,” says King, adding that the content of these change annually.
The firm is currently reviewing its summer vacation scheme for 2021. Stay tuned for updates; the below information is based on previous years.
Wedlake Bell's vac scheme typically takes place in July and lasts three weeks. There are eight spots available each year. Those who attend sample a different department each week, where they work alongside trainees on admin tasks as well as more substantive undertakings like research and drafting. The placement also features lunchtime practice area talks given by senior lawyers, plus various client meetings and events. “It’s a three-week interview so don’t take your foot off the gas,” advised trainees. “Speak to as many people as possible.”
Wedlake Bell LLP
71 Queen Victoria Street,
- Partners 68
- Fee earners 110
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Contacts The graduate recruitment department: [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2022/3 start: 30 April 2021
- LPC fees: Funding available subject to the terms and conditions of any offer
Main areas of work
Trainees have four seats of six months across the following areas: insolvency, restructuring and recoveries, commercial property, commercial litigation, construction, corporate, employment, IP and commercial, private client, pensions, property litigation and residential property. As a trainee, the firm encourages you to have direct contact and involvement with clients from an early stage. Trainees will work within highly specialised teams and have a high degree of responsibility. Trainees will be closely supervised by a partner or senior solicitor and become involved in high quality and varied work. The firm is committed to the training and career development of its lawyers and many of its trainees continue their careers with the firm, often through to partnership. Wedlake Bell LLP has an informal, creative and co-operative culture with a balanced approach to life.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Mentoring Scheme, Wellbeing Events throughout the year, Wellbeing Week, Employee Assistance Programme, Mental Health First Aiders, Rare Recruitment, Inspire Work Placements, Law Society Diversity Access Scheme, Apprenticeships, Networking groups, Micro-placements Scheme with City University, working with King Solomon Academy, participated in Social Mobility Employer Index 2019, Links with Universities.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)