The bells at this London City firm sound out for real estate, private wealth, and commercial work – but listen out for chimes in more niche areas like art and construction as well…
Wedlake Bell training contract review 2024
Figuring out the best London law firm for you can be a daunting task, but once you get your priorities straight, you can start to narrow down your shortlist. For one who now calls Wedlake Bell home, “I was applying for mid-size firms that had a smaller intake, because I wanted to work directly with partners.” Wedlake Bell checks both of those boxes, but what set the firm apart from others was the scope of its practice. As partner Hilary Platt summarises, “we are an independent London-based law firm that straddles private client and corporate areas, and this duality is key.”
Trainees indeed found themselves drawn to “our two big-ticket items,” highlighting the firm’s particular strength in mid-market real estate, which is awarded a high ranking in Chambers UK. The firm’s construction, family and IP practices are also recognised in the capital, and its personal insolvency expertise comes out on top in the UK. There are more shout-outs to be found in Chambers High Net Worth, including the top prize for art and cultural property law.
“It’s small enough that people know you and your face.”
One talking point among trainees was the firm’s growth over the last year. “The corporate department recently took on five people from Bates Wells and this added more life and work,” they observed. Other recent lateral hires include specialists such as Jake Ghanty, who brings his expertise in financial services regulation to the firm’s commercial practice. A new arts and luxury team also joined the private client group. “With a lot of sub-groups, there will be further growth,” says Platt. Watch this space!
As for that small trainee cohort? With an intake of eight a year, this bunch said, “it’s small enough that people know you and your face, but big enough that you have people working with you.” And, spoiler alert, the firm is soon to launch solicitor apprenticeships, so watch this space.
Seats are available in almost every practice (projects and infrastructure is the exception). To begin with, “we list our preferences. The training principal and HR then allocate seats.” Demand depends on the cohort: “Private client was popular in my intake, but the newer group is more interested in IP and commercial.” No seats are compulsory, but trainees can expect a stint in commercial property.
In that case, let’s start with commercial property! As the firm’s largest department, it takes three or four trainees at each rotation. The practice deals with the selling and leasing of commercial premises and is split roughly into two sections: core and logistics, and housebuilders. There's also a bit of planning work. “Logistics deals with warehouses, housebuilders works with developers looking to purchase land, and core is everything else related to landlord/tenant work and the leasing of office spaces” – retail too. According to trainees, this seat is known for providing the most responsibility and autonomy to newbies. “They give you your own matters to handle and you speak to clients,” one explained. “It can feel like a baptism of fire when you start but it is a way of getting really good experience.” Trainees drafted documents such as leases, deeds, licenses to alter (which leaseholders need if they want to make major changes to their property), and licences to assign (a key document allowing leaseholders to assign their lease to whoever is buying their property in a sale). Trainees were also in charge of file management, in touch with clients, and carrying out research tasks. Clients include construction companies like CALA, residential care providers like Care UK, and well-known brands such as Hugo Boss. Flexing those art and cultural property muscles, the firm recently advised the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on extending its facilities in Deptford.
Construction works closely with the commercial property team, but it’s a separate seat all of its own. Some contentious work is available, but “the majority of the lawyers are transactional lawyers.” And, trainees added, “there is a good representation of women and men” in the team. Trainees here drafted similar documents that they encountered in commercial property, like reports on title and leases – but all with a construction angle. In addition, there are opportunities for pro bono. “I was assisting with the Build UK helpline where we give legal advice to contractors and smaller developers.” Housebuilders like Chartway and real estate investment companies like Oxenwood are on the books, as is Jimmy Choo! In a recent matter, Wedlake Bell advised developer London Land Group on a residential development in Poole.
“It was nice having that personal touch in private client.”
With over 60 people in private client, two trainees sit here at each rotation. The practice advises on offshore and onshore tax, estate planning and general wealth management – there’s also the art and luxury team we mentioned earlier. “The emphasis is on high-net-worth clients looking to structure their wealth in tax-efficient ways and set aside their estates in the best way possible,” an interviewee explained. For trainees, “it requires a lot of organisation skills!” They were responsible for drafting wills and Lasting Power of Attorney forms (LPAs, in shorthand), assisting with probate matters, taking part in private client disputes, and liaising with clients. “All meetings tend to be virtual,” they noted, “but it was nice having that personal touch in private client.” On that note, “there is a lot of pressure from beneficiaries, so you have to manage their expectations!” Good people skills are a must for this type of work.
Two trainees also sit with the smaller corporate department, which mostly focuses on M&A for buyers and sellers. Trainees were involved in disclosure exercises and due diligence tasks. They also conducted research, drafted ancillary documents, updated share purchase agreements and dealt with Stamp Duty payments. The department also does advisory work, like “helping set up family investment companies.” One trainee recalled helping companies adhere to new legislation that was introduced to help overseas companies register their property in the UK after Russian sanctions – the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, if you want to look it up. Others had worked on share-for-share exchanges, which is exactly what it sounds like – shareholders exchanging a number of their shares in a company for shares in another company. The firm recently represented the shareholders of Zeigo, a clean tech renewable platform, in its sale to a UK subsidiary of Schneider Electric. In another matter, the team acted for the family shareholders in the sale of Ufford Park, the owner and operator of the Ufford Park Hotel Golf & Spa in Suffolk. And lastly, just a quick note on the hours – “in corporate, work fluctuates. It’s quite exciting working under pressure!”
As for hours more generally, “most departments have a consistent busyness. As a trainee, you probably do 40 to 50 hours a week.” Interviewees agreed a typical day ran from 8.30am to 6.30pm, or 7.30pm when it’s busy. “The office is dead after that!” Most trainees agreed “the salary is decent considering that we aren’t expected to do crazy hours.” There were one or two dissenters, and others revealed “there’s a reputation that once you go further up, you get paid less than others on the same level” at other firms. “But for the work-life balance, it works.” The firm tells us salaries are reviewed annually, and the NQ salary just got bumped up by £5,000. Trainees also get a bonus after six months and 18 months.
The firm has a hybrid work pattern, “however, the more junior you are, the more you are expected to be in the office.” The firm tells us that trainees are encouraged to be in five days a week, but insiders still had the impression that “the firm is flexible for whenever is beneficial for you to stay home. You just have to inform your supervisor.”
“It’s impossible to find an evil partner at the firm because they don’t make it here.”
Trainees agreed that the open plan office does a good job at making things more sociable and keeping any OTT hierarchies in check. “I’m sat around partners,” said one interviewee, setting the scene. “At the beginning, I didn’t know how I felt about being exposed, but now I like it.” Good job too, because “we work directly with partners!” One trainee recalled “talking to a senior associate who told me that it’s impossible to find an evil partner at the firm because they don’t make it here. They come in and leave pretty quickly!”
“Across the firm, everyone is welcoming and takes a keen interest in trainees.” With the recent expansion of the corporate team, one noted that “parts of it feel more corporate and commercial. However, Wedlake Bell is serious about high standards while keeping a culture of approachability.” As the firm grows, “and it gets busier, trainees are encouraged to be a support group for each other.”
To boost camaraderie, the firm organises regular trips to the theatre, annual ski trips and walking trips in different places – last year was in Cambridge and this year it’ll be in Reading.There are also monthly socials featuring food, drinks, table tennis, and the occasional performance by the firm's choir. According to a source, “these events allow you to get to know paralegals, other trainees, and people in other departments. We get referred work from other teams, so attending the events also creates professional relationships.”
Back in the office, trainees are given formal reviews at the beginning, middle and end of seats, but can expect weekly feedback sessions with supervisors throughout the training contract. “Every department is different,” sources reiterated. For example, “I currently have a very relaxed relationship with my supervisor. It’s very easy for me to call her and discuss anything.” For another interviewee, supervision at “arm’s length is helpful and nice when you are in your last seat and don’t require lots of supervision.”
And that leaves more time to focus on qualification. “Throughout the contract, you hold an open dialogue with HR about what you are enjoying and what you aren’t. Once you put forward where you want to qualify, they inform the departments who pitch a business case to the board for approval.” If there is more than one trainee interested in a role, they go through an interview. In 2023, 11 out of 13 trainees were retained.
Wedlake Wellness: The firm recently put a spotlight on neurodiversity in a D&I event. “It was nice to see people open up in front of their colleagues. It became an open conversation.”
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
- Vac scheme deadline: 23:59 on 31 January 2024
- Training contract deadline (2026): 23:59 on1 May 2024
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 also partners 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 30 and 40 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.
During each interview stage, candidates will be asked to complete a written test.
The firm is also holding an Open Day in December 2023 to allow candidates to gain more insight into the firm.
Wedlake Bell's vacation 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 typical 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 will begin recruiting Solicitor Apprentices in September 2023, with the first cohort joining the firm in September 2024. Further information is available on the firm's website.
Wedlake Bell LLP
71 Queen Victoria Street,
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.
Wedlake Bell will begin hiring solicitor apprentices in September 2023.
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, 10,000 Black Interns placement, volunteering opportunities with Future Frontiers.
Careers site: Early Careers - Wedlake Bell
Application: Apply here
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: £10-100 million (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 6)
- Real Estate: £50-150 million (Band 2)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency: Personal Insolvency (Band 1)