If you’re wedded to the idea of training in a tight-knit environment and fancy a mix of business, real estate and private client work, then WB could be the perfect fit.
Under Wedlake's spell
There's nothing like an office move to breathe new life into a firm; Wedlake relocated from its barristerial stomping ground of Bedford Row to a slick new City address (in Queen Victoria Street) in 2016, giving it a more modern edge and image. Since then, Wedlake's head honchos have been formulating their plans and re-jigging the firm's practices. It now has four umbrella practice groups: private client, business services, real estate and dispute resolution.
Of those overarching practices, real estate is definitely Wedlake's forte – the firm's lawyers have earned a top Chambers UK ranking in London's lower mid-market. Elsewhere, the firm picks up real estate-related nods in London for its construction and finance expertise, as well as more broadly in IP, family/matrimonial, and lower mid-market corporate/M&A. For our trainee sources, Wedlake's combination of practices was a major pull factor. “We offer services to both businesses and individuals, so you get to encounter a varied set of clients,” one enthused, while another added: “There's a nice level of diversity among the practice areas, including a strong private client offering, which interested me.”
“...big enough to handle larger transactions but small enough to allow trainees to do good quality work.”
Another crucial element for our interviewees was Wedlake's size: at just over 60 partners and around 115 solicitors/consultants, this firm sits at the smaller end of the London scale. The trainee intake size hasn't strayed from six per year for a while – a perfect number, according to trainees: “It means you get lots of client contact and much more involved in the work. The firm is big enough to handle larger transactions but small enough to allow trainees to do good-quality work and get recognised around the firm.”
That’s the AIM of the game
Incoming trainees list their seat preferences between one and four in order to formulate a seat plan before they join. “They essentially guarantee that you'll get your first choice, and you're very likely to get your second choice as well. The rest is basically done on business need, as we're not a huge firm and there may be times when you need to plug a gap.” That may sound quite rigid, but sources were pleased to report that they're allowed to review their plan and update their preferences before each subsequent seat change. “That's good because no one knows exactly what they want before they start working here.” Four of the 11 seats on offer are property-focused, so most trainees end up doing at least one seat in this area at some point.
Real estate is WB’s largest practice group, and within it commercial property is the biggest team – it takes on two trainees per seat rotation. Development, investment, lender and occupier work is available here, and clients regularly come from the healthcare, hospitality, retail and insurance sectors. Matters of late include advising developer Taylor Wimpey on a £200 million project in Suffolk; Luxembourg company Silver Sea Properties on the £32.5 million sale of the freehold interest in two care homes; and Hugo Boss on the acquisition of three new sites in shopping centres and outlets across the UK. “You do get autonomy,” agreed sources who’d sat here. “You handle your own files that allow you to deal with lower-value leases, as well as licences to assign. You’re typically handling about 15 matters at a time, so the seat teaches you how to prioritise your workload.”
“It’s not like the partners are on a pedestal – they’re always happy to help with any problems.”
Under the real estate umbrella, our interviewees had also spent time in property litigation and construction. The latter team deals with both contentious and non-contentious work. “Construction law is very contract-based, so you get to apply the key principles of contracts early on, which serves you well throughout your training contract,” one trainee revealed. Another commented that “on the contentious side you get to work on some high-value claims, where you meet with expert witnesses and regularly get taken to client meetings.” Clients here include health and social care company Care UK, the Bank of Ireland and investment firm Ronson Capital Partners, which the team recently advised on the construction of Chiltern Place, a luxury multimillion residential development in Marylebone, in London.
Private client is the second biggest overarching practice group, and services here cover (among other specialisms) tax and succession planning, the administration of trusts and inheritance disputes. Sources praised the group for giving them “the best learning experience – it’s such a technical area, so you get a lot of good feedback.” The technical nature of the seat also makes it “one of the most challenging, as you need to get your head around complicated tax queries and trust work.” Trainees begin to acquire the necessary knowledge through plenty of research tasks, but also hone their skills by drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney (LPAs).
Over in the business practice group, the corporate team is a common destination. Trainees flagged the team’s strong focus on the hospitality sector, and also described encountering a range of lower mid-market transactions, including M&A deals, private equity matters with “up-and-coming businesses”, and some listings on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Recent work highlights include advising clean tech outfit Verditek on its £2.75 million IPO on AIM and the founders of London-based restaurant chain Chick ’n’ Sours on a £1 million investment from Active Private Equity. What trainees can do “depends on the type of transaction and its size: most trainees will get involved in the disclosure aspects of larger acquisitions, but on smaller transactions – like a joint venture we had that wasn’t overly complex – you can get proper hands-on experience. In those situations you’re trusted to be the point of contact, and can have a first stab at more substantial documents like shareholders and asset purchase agreements.”
These boots are made for walking
Working hours were deemed “pretty good” across the board, with sources tending to get into the office between 8.30am and 9am, and leaving between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. Still, hours “do vary between each seat,” and “because of the nature of the work,” the more transactional seats like banking and corporate can come with some late finishes: “In corporate I had three or four 4am finishes as deals completed, but generally I’d say the work/life balance has been really good.”
Sources also felt that they got “rewarded through the social aspect of life at the firm.” Highlights include monthly drinks in the office and quarterly events (like a table tennis tournament), as well as annual traditions like a ski trip to a European resort and a walking-oriented weekend away in the UK: “Last year we went to Norfolk and in 2018 it’ll be held in Canterbury. The whole firm’s invited to take two nights away and it’s always good fun. There tends not to be a great deal of walking involved – there’s a lot of socialising, drinking and eating!” Food also becomes a reason to socialise during WB’s monthly in-house chef’s table: “The chef will put out some themed food – in January the theme was veganism, for example – which goes down very well!”
Culinary treats weren’t viewed as the only perk of the new(ish) office. “Bedford Row was very traditional, but this office is the complete opposite – very modern and open-plan.” The seating arrangement means that the atmosphere “isn’t hierarchical at all. Everyone sits together, so you don’t notice the division between people. It’s not like the partners are on a pedestal – they’re always happy to help with any problems.”
With such cordial relations all round, trainees were keen to stay and appreciated being told in January how the qualification process would work: “We got an email from the training principal, and it was handy to know the details early on.” Second-years submit their qualification preferences in April (after the firm's board has confirmed which positions are available), and if two or more candidates apply for an NQ job in the same team interviews are held. By the end of June qualifiers find out whether they’ve been successful or not, and in 2018 four out of six continued their careers at WB.
“There’s a real bond of friendship between the trainees, which is lovely. That’s the benefit of a smaller intake. When you’re swamped, other trainees will come over and see if they can take on work to help you, even if they’re not in the same department.”
How to get a Wedlake Bell training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019
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 61
- Fee earners 10
- 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, 2021 start: End of June 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: End of January 2019
- LPC fees: Funding available subject to the terms and conditions of any offer
Main areas of work
For private individuals: family tax, trusts and wealth protection; offshore services; residential property.
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 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer Recognised Practitioner
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 6)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)