Hark at the bell, sweet Wedlake Bell, trainees seem to say ‘apply!’ to this modestly sized City firm with varied strengths.
Carol of the Wedlake Bell
Hearing the name ‘Wedlake Bell’, your mind might conjure up a positively pastoral scene – but you certainly won’t find this tight-knit London outfit running through fields of wheat. WB is busy working on a combination of private client and business work, earning Chambers UK rankings in construction, family and IP for its troubles. The firm also bags top marks for its lower mid-market real estate practice. Wedlake may not have the brand recognition of larger City rivals, but it’s not afraid of taking on headline-grabbing matters: Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave instructed the firm for a potential challenge to the government over the 2019 EU elections.
Trainees arrived at WB looking to be “a bigger fish in a smaller pond.” A firm that consistently takes just six trainees a year certainly fits that description; the pond did grow slightly in 2018 when Wedlake absorbed smaller City practice Stitt & Co. The arrival of four new partners brought the firm’s total up to a still modest 66.Sources told us: “It’s clear that a lot of the partners here have worked their way up through the ranks,” a good sign for those with long-term career ambitions.
“It’s clear that a lot of the partners here have worked their way up through the ranks.”
Wedlake Bell has four umbrella practice groups – private client, real estate, business services and dispute resolution – that each house various seats. Incoming trainees list their preferences from one to four in order to formulate a seat plan before they join; HR asks before each rotation if they’d like to update their choices. We heard mixed reviews about the system, with some trainees getting just one choice out of the four, while others told us that “most people have had at least two or three preferences.”
Are you offshore about this?
Trainees described the private client practice as “very academic. The clients and their issues are very sophisticated, often involving families and assets in different countries.” Clients (that we obviously can’t name) come to WB for help with trusts, wills and estate planning; trainees described working on “a lot of administrative tasks like writing estate briefings in letters to secretaries, getting evaluations for furniture and working on advice pieces relating to wills and tax.” Others enjoyed taking on “a lot of offshore work, preparing wills and documents for US and European clients.” They added that “because clients have varying levels of understanding you have to be able to communicate complex legal processes to them.” This is the second-largest umbrella group in the firm and work here has a strong technical dimension.
We can tell you about the firm’s commercial property clients – these include Hugo Boss, Lufthansa and Birkbeck, University of London. The team recently advised property developer GSE on the redevelopment of Waterbrook Park near Ashford in Kent. Professional services group Charles Taylor called on Wedlake to assist with its relocation to the Minster Building in London. Sources told us that “because you’re dealing with surveyors and lawyers on the other side you can be more instructive” than in private client. Others enjoyed “working with the team to get to a common goal of finalising a lease or selling a property.” Clients include investors and landlords nationwide and we heard “it’s an interesting time because the legal uncertainty surrounding Brexit means a lot of people are reassigning leases.” They added that “the business development element in commercial property is great. I met a lot of clients, which really improved my confidence.” When not getting to know the clientele, trainees were typically working on “general leases, licences, waiving agreements and investment work. You’re able to run with your own matters.”
"I met a lot of clients, which really improved my confidence."
We heard similar reports on the residential side of the property department where trainees get involved with “small sales and purchases, which meant I got to see a full transaction. It was a really good learning curve.” Others added that “in many ways it’s like private client because there’s more of a focus on individuals rather than dealing with corporate entities.” We heard reports on “higher-value residential conveyancing and flat rentals. I’ve worked on quite a few lease financings ranging from one to six million in value and I’ve dealt with files from letters of engagement to completion.” Insiders told us that there’s “definitely a London focus but there’s sometimes a crossover with the private client team working with larger estates and farms outside the City.”
Trainees in corporate take on “more of a project management role.” Within the practice there are subgroups like capital markets, insurance and energy; the latter team recently advised Diversified Gas & Oil on its $183 million acquisition of Core Appalachia Holding. Other clients here include insurance group Global Risk Partners and the Bank of Ireland. Wedlake Bell works mainly on lower mid-market transactions including M&A deals, private equity matters and some listings on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Trainees described working “flat-out with other juniors working on a placement on the AIM market.” Private equity and M&A deals call for “more standard trainee tasks like asset purchase agreements and disclosures. We also had to review a company’s books, which was tough because some were pretty historic!”
A stint in WB’s cosy banking team (usually comprised of just five people) involves “a lot of jargon specific to banking, which takes a while to get your head around.” Sources also told us that because the team is smaller “you get pulled in on different matters at the same time. I was able to draft smaller loan agreements, they were a good way of cutting my teeth.” Others described “working on conditions precedent checklists and drafting ancillaries, board minutes and shareholder resolutions. It sounds simple but there’s a real art to it all.” Picasso would be envious, we’re sure...
Wedlake Bell of the ball
Hours may “fluctuate from department to department” but most of our sources turned in “a solid working day” of around 8.30am to 6.30pm. “If you need to work late or on the very occasional weekend people are so grateful, and that ‘thank you’ makes a huge difference.” Trainees told us that “because you’re in a pod with your supervisor you don’t have to wait until your mid-seat review to get feedback.” Others agreed: “In all the teams I’ve worked in I’ve found that they really make the effort to sit down and mark up documents with you.”
Trainees described WB’s culture as “very down to earth. Obviously we work hard but you’re not expected to sign your soul over.” Because of the office’s open-plan structure “everyone’s jumbled up together. No one’s on a pedestal, you can ask anyone a question.” It makes sense then that “the firm looks for competency and intelligence but also trainees who can get along with people.” Wedlake’s roof terrace is a popular spot for drinks that are “supposed to be quarterly but it seems more frequent than that.” As well as social, we also heard that the firm is “very inclusive. There’s a high level of female partners, many of whom have families and work flexibly.” The recently launched Social Diversity Program includes “a push to ensure that our work experience is managed to avoid nepotism. We recently had a group of Year 12 school students visit the firm.”
"Obviously we work hard, but you’re not expected to sign your soul over."
Interviewees were also pleased to report that the firm is “very transparent” when it comes to the bigger picture. “If there’s ever any news or major developments there’s a firm-wide email to relay the firm’s strategy to us.” Wedlakealso has a ‘Brexit Steering Committee’ available for all members of staff to join, plus departmental meetings “where we talk about strategy whether it’s how we service clients or broader opportunities for improvement. I think everybody feels in very safe hands.”
Second-years experienced some frustration come qualification – several said that the process took longer than they’d hoped. Some departments interview potential NQs while others take a less formal approach, especially if there’s no competition for a spot. Sources advised future trainees to “put yourself out there and ask to shape your training contract how you’d like from the get-go.” In 2019, five of six trainees stayed on at Wedlake.
Four of Wedlake’s 11 seat options are property-focused, so it’s likely you’ll do at least one at some point in your training contract.
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 30 June 2020
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 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 66
- 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 start: End of June 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: End of January 2020
- 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.
Duration: Three weeks in July
Closing date: End of January 2020
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)