This bell tolls for those who want to sample a mix of private client and business law in an environment where “the soft skills are very important.”
Wedlake Bell training contract review 2022
Which firm in London could you go to if you wanted to dip your toes into the proverbial waters of commercial and private client work? Which bell could you ring to get early responsibility, interesting work and (pandemic aside) a great social life? A good answer to both would be Wedlake Bell. This venerable London firm, founded in 1780, has accolades in both Chambers UK – for construction, family, IP, and real estate work – and in Chambers High Net Worth;in the latter WB is recognised for private wealth and high-value residential real estate matters.
“...focused on building longstanding relationships with its clients.”
WB’s private client expertise was frequently cited as the initial factor that drew our trainee sources to the firm. However, once they became more acquainted with WB via vac schemes and interviews, they found that there were several aspects to admire. “The fact that it’s not a behemoth means you get to know everyone,” one source told us. With an annual intake of eight trainees, our interviewees felt “known by our names instead of being just a number.”The firm’s size produces an atmosphere of “familiarity and friendliness”where “the soft skills are very important.” This interviewee went on to explain that WB is “focused on building longstanding relationships with its clients. It’s not a super dry or academic place. They’re looking for people who can sit down for lunch with private clients. The traditional legal skills are required, but so are the soft skills.”
Sources were quick to highlight that although many may be drawn to WB by its work with high net worth (HNW) clients, these comprise “just a part of our client list.”Indeed: “Yes, there are more HNW clients than at other firms,” one source conceded, before highlighting that a significant amount of work is done for businesses too.
Before trainees start, they set out what their preferences are for the four seats they’ll be undertaking. The firm “tries to ensure you get a top preference at some point,” and we didn’t hear any grumbles about the seat allocationprocess. Interviewees added that the firm is “very flexible. You have chats throughout your training contract and can do something else if you change your mind.” On that note, sources explained that “if you express an interest, and the partners back you, there’s no reason not to repeat a seat.” And if there’s something you want that’s not normally a seat, the firm might “open a vacancy for you.” Both of these occurrences don't happen regularly, however, and are assessed on a case-by-case basis. The seats options fall under four buckets: business advisory, business disputes, private client and real estate (the biggest area at the firm). While you “don’t have to do something from each one,” sources noted “you’re probably going to do a property seat at some point.”
“...if you’re keen and committed you get quite a lot of responsibility.”
So, let’s talk property, and let’s talk construction. The team works on both domestic and international matters for a mix of clients spanning ultra high net worth individuals and companies in the housebuilding, healthcare and logistics sectors. Hugo Boss, Urban Logistics, Native Land, Oxford Sciences and Care UK all feature on the client list. Recent matters include advising Novanta Technologies UK on the development of a new manufacturing facility in Taunton; Elysian Residences on the development and financing of its later living sites; and Carbide Properties on the construction of several industrial and commercial warehouse units. The work, sources explained, forms “a mix of contentious and non-contentious matters for clients that cross over with the private client and commercial property teams.” The firm works on “all issues of the development cycle: procurement, appointing consultants, dealing with building construction, financing, and issues that arise from development.”For our trainees this meant “lots of drafting!” along with “client contact and research – it’s not just admin.” One elaborated: “Generally, my experience was that if you’re keen and committed you get quite a lot of responsibility.”
WB also has an established practice in the prime and super prime residential market. Those who’d been in residential property said it “was an excellent seat to do. The team is incredibly supportive and friendly, plus you get a lot of responsibility.” Sources mentioned “running files and having direct client contact, as well as drafting licences, leases and lease extensions.”One interviewee explained that “the stamp duty holiday means it’s been very busy!”A seat in commercial propertywas deemed “similar, but with bigger buildings!”Robert Dyas, Lufthansa and Taylor Wimpey are all clients here, and the group recently acted for LondonMetric Property (a real estate investment trust) as it acquired a large-scale logistics unit that has been let to Ocado. Interviewees here enjoyed “the interesting work and clients” and highlighted the “quick turnarounds on matters: it’s quite full on, but you get to work on various things from developments to landlord and tenant assignments.”
“There are weekly training sessions because employment law changes constantly and you have to be thinking about what’s important for your clients.”
In private client, there’s “a mix of old and new money,” an interviewee informed us. The department is split into “offshore, onshore and contentious matters, and as a trainee you get to work on everything.” Sources relished the opportunity to be in what they dubbed “the powerhouse of the firm: it’s what we’re known for and there are great clients.” This interviewee also felt that they benefited from the long-established infrastructure the department has: “In terms of know-how and that sort of thing they’re super on it – you get to sit in on sessions every week and gain real experience on matters.” Trusts, estate planning, domestic and overseas tax provisions, and Court of Protection work are all covered here. Areas of growth for the department include cross-border succession planning matters, as well as work involving the incorporation of new charitable structures. An emerging theme in disputes is the implications of remotely witnessing wills – something that has been made possible by temporary legislation put in place to respond to the impact of the pandemic.
The firm’s full-service employmentteam serves clients in sectors like outsourcing, hospitality, and the arts. Financial services clients are a big focus here and include wealth managers and alternative asset managers. There’s also a particular forte for work with senior executives when it comes to company issues like remuneration structures and downsizing plans. Clients include hotels and leisure operator Fuller, Smith & Turner and automotive engineering company Cosworth Group Holdings, which the team advised in relation to the employment aspects of its acquisition of Delta Motorsports. Trainees here were certainly kept on their toes: “There are weekly training sessions because employment law changes constantly and you have to be thinking about what’s important for your clients. There’s corporate support work on transactions, but also nuanced situations where there’s no precedent and you need to do a lot of research to make sure you get it right.” Sources had also drafted contracts and researched the legal framework behind whistle-blowing claims. “It feels really human,”said one. “As a trainee you have contact with the clients.”
While WB doesn’t normally have “a culture of working long hours,” a few of our interviewees remarked that the firm had been especially busy throughout the pandemic. Trainees were rewarded for the extra work they’d put in with a lot of demonstrable appreciation: “The partners were ringing us up to say thank you for doing such a good job.”So, while we heard of some occasional early morning finishes, this source said their “standard hours are 8.30am until 7pm” and another added that “if you’ve done your work, you can log off at 6pm. The firm’s respectful of your time outside of work and never encourages us to work on weekends or holidays.”
On the social side, during “normal times, there are firm-wide monthly drinks in the office,” as well as “chef's tables, where the in-house chef makes the lunches.” If that’s not enough to get your social appetite rumbling, then WB also hosts a “Christmas party, which is a big thing every year, and a walking trip every summer. It’s a long weekend for ‘walking’ but it’s more of a pub crawl,” one source wistfully quipped. As we’ve heard from trainees across the board this year, the virtual social life was “nothing to write home about”and sources couldn’t “wait to be back in the office” and on the summer rambling trail.
“The partners were ringing us up to say thank you for doing such a good job.”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the course of the pandemic is “the level of support” that our satisfied sources enthused about. “There’s definitely a culture of respect and support, which was even more important while working from home.” Interviewees also raved that “the supervision is excellent,”with one adding: “It’s not a stereotypical law firm horror story! It is hierarchical by nature, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a tight-knit firm where people make strong friendships.”On top of excellent supervisors, “there are mentoring schemes and you’re encouraged to join them.”There’s the informal “mentoring that occurs quite naturally in your team, but you’re also encouraged to pick a mentor outside of your team, who has an unbiased perspective.”
“It’s not an uncommon perception,”a trainee noted, that those working in private wealth law in London are thought to be rather, well, ‘posh’. However, our sources were quick to inform us that “in terms of hiring, it comes down to the skills you have. We have a social mobility network [which is a branch of the firm's diversity and inclusion committee], and these are things the firm is very aware of.” Another interviewee felt that “the firm celebrates individuality. People here don’t have to fit the mould of ‘the City lawyer’.”The firm was praised for its gender diversity, with this trainee noting that “there are some very strong women partners here. The construction industry as a whole is very male-dominated, but in our construction group all of the partners are women.”
In April, second-year trainees were sent a timeline that laid out the qualification process. These trainees then indicated where their interests were before the firm “decided which departments would be hiring and how many roles would be available.” Our sources felt it was a streamlined process this year, with interviews occurring if more than one candidate applied for a role. In 2021, four of six qualifiers were retained.
The last-call Bell?
“It is a sociable firm,” sources acknowledged. "Going to the pub after the interview process is probably a good sign. You need to demonstrate you’re willing to build relationships internally as well as in terms of the business.”
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
Vac scheme deadline: 31 January 2022 (applications open on 1 November 2021)
Training contract deadline (2024): 30 June 2022
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.
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.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency: Personal Insolvency (Band 1)