The chaps and chapettes at Wilkin bring plenty of Northern warmth to their commercial and private client work in Lincolnshire.
In the game of thrones that is England’s legal landscape, Wilkin Chapman stands proud as the King in the North… or Lincolnshire, at least. By our reckoning the firm is the largest in the region and stands out for having almost all of its offices in Lincolnshire (and a couple in East and South Yorkshire). Many of its trainees have ties to the local area; others journeyed from beyond the kingdom to pledge allegiance. Senior partner Andrew Holt informs us: “The firm is becoming more attractive to recruits from outside this area, and in the past year we’ve really invested in our people, their training and the infrastructure behind them.” A five-year strategic plan aims to push revenue over the £30 million mark by 2022; as of 2018/19 it’s got to £25.7 million. Trainees had noticed a focus on “improved marketing and better resources – for trainees that will mean new opportunities.”
In previous years, Wilkin Chapman has recruited up to four trainees a year, but this year the firm tells us it's looking to take in up to five newbies. Holt says the goal is “to boost trainee numbers while ensuring we continue to offer a high-quality training contract experience.” We’ve heard in previous years that Wilkin Chapman’s open to merging or acquiring other firms to reach its goals, and indeed it recently absorbed a small Doncaster-based insolvency outfit.
“Improved marketing and better resources.”
Many of Wilkin Chapman’s clients are local businesses or individuals; the firm earns regional Chambers rankings for private client, family law, agriculture, real estate and corporate work for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Andrew Holt says that “commercial property is one area that’s undoubtedly done very well recently, but there’s been growth in every department. The future looks very exciting for both personal and business services.”
Trainees used to do one elongated 12-month seat and two six-month stints, but Wilkin Chapman flushed that system down the can in 2017 in favour of a conventional four-seat model. Movement between offices during the training contract is common: at the time of our research there were four trainees in Lincoln, two in Beverley, two in Grimsby and one in Horncastle. It's worth noting that the firm doesn't offer training contracts in the Doncaster office. Mid and end-of-seat reviews give trainees the chance to voice seat preferences, but some desired “more structure and insight into how the seat move process works.” Trainees attend training for every department regardless of where they’re sat – these “mostly really helpful” sessions help them determine what seats they’d like to try in future.
We do not sow
Wilkin Chapman’s agricultural department represents farming families who need help with tenancy queries, property transactions and environmental matters. One trainee described the seat as more “client-driven” than others, which is to say the work is more based around random queries and demands from clients rather than, say, court deadlines. As a result trainees find themselves “communicating directly with the clients” and “doing things like Land Registry applications.” The team also handles energy-related projects – advising farmers on the construction of wind turbines on their property, for example.
There’s a fair bit of overlap between agriculture and commercial property, where development work is the name of the game. The firm represented Lincoln Corn Exchange and Markets throughout the £70 million redevelopment of part of Lincoln city centre, most recently working on a lease to the Botanist bar and restaurant chain. Work also comes in from the education sector: Castle Square Developments called on Wilkin Chapman for a lease with the University of Lincoln to construct 70 townhouses for students. Trainees begin their education in the seat “going straight in at the deep end” negotiating and drafting leases, mostly on the landlord side. “You’re not really treated like a trainee in this department,” sources suggested. “You’re given real responsibility – but supervision is there if you need it.”
Corporate and commercial forms one department at Wilkin Chapman, and trainees here typically do both types of work. The team's commercial work includes the drafting of commercial agreements and intellectual property issues. On the transactional side, one interviewee told us, the team “works on company sales and purchases up to £200 million, though more commonly in the £1 to £10 million range.” For example the firm recently advised on the £6.5 million merger of wholesalers Today’s and Landmark into new company Unitas. Such transactions require “lots of due diligence” from trainees, who also get to “draft the ancillary documents including shareholder agreements, resolutions and board minutes – everything that’s needed but isn’t the headline document.” One source noted that this trainee role means there's “less independent working, and you're quite reliant on your supervisor” compared to in private client.
“It’s a lot more hands-on than the commercial departments.”
There are two sides to the personal injury practice – the firm represents claimants involved in accidents on the road or in the workplace, but also regularly takes on some more sensitive higher-value cases. “That’s a decent chunk of the firm’s practice and we work closely with partners on those cases,” a trainee told us. Interviewees told us they spend their time speaking to clients on the phone, drafting witness statements and pleadings, putting together claims forms, and handling procedural issues. One source reflected: “The partners take a good look at everything I draft but I get closely involved in the cases.”
Wills, estates, tax and trusts is commonly known as probate – WETT is a pretty silly acronym, after all. “It’s a lot more hands-on than the commercial departments,” trainees suggested. “You get a lot of direct client contact and see lots of matters from start to finish.” Trainees get to handle their own matters including “both simple and complicated will drafting,” as well as working on “high-value estate and inheritance tax accounts for your supervisor.”
Family, duty, honour
Dolly Parton would be pleased to hear that “nine to five is pretty standard for trainees” in almost all departments. Corporate and commercial’s the odd one out, with the team out the door by 7pm on average. “I don’t ever feel pressure to stay unreasonable hours,” one source shared. “I might choose to work through lunch, but that’s because I don’t like to leave a job half done.”
Wilkin Chapman’s done a comprehensive job of overhauling its offices recently: almost all of them are now open plan, “which is really helpful because partners are more approachable.” The new four-floor Grimsby HQ went up as part of a town-wide regeneration. “It’s a really plush office” on the edge of the town centre that comes with a more corporate atmosphere than the “close-knit and less hustle-bustle” feel in Beverley. The Lincoln office is in a “nice location right by the waterside” near the station. These differences aside, trainees from all offices agreed that “everybody at every level of the firm is supportive – of course we’re friendly, we’re Northerners!” Interviewees were also pleased to report that following grumbles about trainee and NQ salaries, Wilkin Chapman upped pay in September 2018 “to be more on par with other firms in the area.”
“Of course we’re friendly, we’re Northerners!”
The firm’s social calendar features two big events – a black-tie dinner each January, and an October social with a different theme each year (recent examples include a game show and a rodeo). “Among the young lawyers there’s a lot of socialising” on a more impromptu basis too, though some are held back from pub outings by a lengthy commute. Trainees suggested Grimsby is the best bet for regular out-of-hours hangouts. The firm also hosts a welcome party in July for trainees-to-be before they start at the firm.
Everybody we spoke to got on equally well with colleagues in the office. They found “supervisors were always willing to explain why you should do something differently rather than just letting you get on with it.” Supervision tends to get more hands-off as the training contract progresses: for example, trainees are supposed to get two formal check-ins with their supervisor in each seat but “that was less rigorously adhered to later on.”
Some sources wanted more insight into the firm’s qualification process. Officially, the firm circulates a list of jobs and trainees apply, then interview for their preferences; in practice, some head into the process having already established with their preferred department that there’s a spot for them. In 2019 all of the firm's qualifiers were retained.
Many of our interviewees had done work experience at Wilkin Chapman prior to their training contract – head to Bonus Features to find out more.
How to get a Wilkin Chapman training contract
Last year Wilkin Chapman moved away from the traditional route of applying with a CV and covering letter and introduced an online application system. The firm gets around 100 applications each year. The firm is happy to accept applications from both law and non-law students, but HR officer Angela English suggests that the firm “tends to get more applications from law students now than it did five years ago when it was about 50/50 law v non-law. There's still a mix of both every year.” A 2:1 minimum is required.
Work experience programme
Wilkin Chapman offers 15 one-week work experience placements in the Easter and summer holidays across its Grimsby, Lincoln and Beverly offices. Applications are made online, and applicants don't necessarily need to be second-year students or to be studying law. These three offices also offer a limited number of placements to sixth form students.
Successful applicants will spend time in two of the firm’s core divisions and experience the different types of work within those. A supervisor is at hand in each of those departments as well as a trainee solicitor buddy to assist students throughout the placement. Students work alongside trainees, solicitors and partners on real client matters and may get the chance to draft documents, conduct research and meet clients.
There is also an opportunity to attend a lunchtime social event to get to know some trainees and newly qualified solicitors, and quiz them on what it’s really like to work at Wilkin Chapman. There are also presentations during the week on training contracts with Wilkin Chapman and other aspects of the firm.
Those who get good feedback during the programme are subsequently encouraged to apply for a training contract as there's “a good chance that they'd make it through to the interview.” However, doing a good couple of days work experience at the firm isn't essential to making the cut.
The interview day
The 20ish lucky applicants who make it through to the interview stage gather at the firm's office in Lincoln. Interviewees are split into two groups – for morning and afternoon interviews respectively – but the whole crop assembles for a group presentation and lunch with partners and staff in the middle of the day. Alongside the main interviews with partners and HR, candidates complete a case study exercise that they are quizzed on, as well as verbal and numerical reasoning tests. A less formal stage of the process gives interviewees a chance to chat with current trainees and NQs, in order to get to know the firm better.
The interviews are described by Angela English as “quite informal and based largely around the person's CV.” Candidates are given half an hour before the interview to read through the case study and prepare some discussion points. Interviewees can also expect to be asked a question on current affairs, which has tripped some up in the past, so be sure to brush up beforehand. Publications like the FT and The Economist will no doubt help, but also look out for trends and developments that may affect Wilkin's principal areas of work. Trainees generally found the overall process to be straightforward and not very nerve-wracking, with one remarking they "actually really enjoyed the interview, which is something I never thought I'd say!”
Wilkin Chapman LLP
26 Chantry Lane,
- Partners 45
- Senior solicitors 26
- Assistant solicitors 33
- UK offices Grimsby, Lincoln, Beverley, Louth, Horncastle, Alford, Doncaster
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Angela English, [email protected], 01472 262633
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Applications pa: 100
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Work experience places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st November 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £21,750
- Second-year salary: £23,250
- Post-qualification salary: £32,000
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days, plus bank holidays & some given days at Christmas
- LPC fees: Full
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenace grant: No
We have made a substantial commitment to quality standards, being awarded the Lexcel – the Law Society’s accreditation standard in 1999 and then ISO 9001 quality standard in our recoveries department in 2015.
As a modern, progressive firm whose reputation has been built up over many years, we work to a set of values and behaviours known as ‘STAIR’ values. They define who and what we are and underpin everything we do. Wilkin Chapman is, therefore, committed to providing a highly professional, efficient and personal service with a client-centred focus. We believe that we can only provide the best service by recruiting and supporting the development of the best staff. That is why we place great emphasis on ensuring your training programme is robust, providing you with the best opportunities to develop your career progression to becoming a solicitor.
Main areas of work
Private client: The firm’s private client services include conveyancing, wills, estates, tax and trusts, family and children matters, personal injury and medical negligence, personal disputes, immigration, issues involving the military and crime. We have established some very niche expertise in specialist sectors so we have the expertise and specialist knowledge across the whole spectrum of legal services to provide dedicated advice.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Real Estate (Band 3)
Lincoln and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
York, Hull and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial Recognised Practitioner