This Lincolnshire firm is “loyal” to the locals, but its work isn't confined to one county. Trainees say there are “fantastic opportunities” to work with clients further afield too.
The best of both wolds
Surrounding the scenic Lincolnshire Wolds, you’ll find a handful of market towns and a city which Wilkin Chapman calls home. This regional firm’s six offices exist to look after the “down to earth” folk and businesses of the local area. That could mean working on the development of a leisure complex in the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, advising the drainage boards that protect the county’s low-lying land from flooding, or perhaps acting for members of the National Farmers’ Union in agricultural disputes.
“A firm on the up.”
Trainees hailing from Lincolnshire and beyond say they joined Wilkin Chapman looking for a regional firm with a “loyal, people-focused” attitude that still acts for some well-known business clients. Those clients include KPMG, Aga Rangemaster and construction company Galliford Try. The firm does M&A work too, recently handling the sales of card payments provider Retail Merchant Group and Henderson Insurance Brokers. It’s this kind of work that gave our interviewees “the sense we're a firm on the up.”
Senior partner Andrew Holt tells us there's a five-year strategic plan to hit a revenue target of £30 million (the figure was £22.8 million in 2016/17). “We won’t achieve our target from organic growth alone,” he says. “There will have to be a continued focus on resourcing and acquiring the right skills, whether that is by lateral individual hires, mergers or acquisitions down the line.” Wilkin Chapman earns regional rankings from Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth for corporate for SMEs, real estate, agriculture, family and private wealth.
The seat pattern used to typically involve one elongated 12-month seat and then two six-month stints – or the reverse. However, since September 2017 the firm has instated a conventional system of four seats lasting for six months each. Mid and end-of-seat reviews give trainees the chance to voice preferences. Moving between offices is a possibility too, but at the time of our research trainees were mostly in Lincoln and Grimsby with one in Beverley and one in Louth. The firm recently closed its small office in Sheffield.
This land is my land
A seat in corporate and commercial is common. “Some firms split corporate and commercial," observed one trainee. "Getting to do both gives you a broad range of work.” The department does sales and acquisitions, reorganisations and refinancings for both businesses and individual shareholders. Some trainees said they'd also encountered work related to charities, trade marks, renewable energy and banking. “I’ve been working on one deal worth a million pounds and another worth a few hundred thousand," reported one trainee (deal value can range into the multimillions). They continued: “I deal with all the due diligence enquires and prepare board minutes and shareholder resolutions.”
Interviewees described their tasks as “heavy on reading and reviewing documents – more so than in the other seats!” Trainees get to have a crack at doing first drafts, though “it’ll get amended a hundred times.” As Wilkin Chapman is a regional firm, “you might think there isn’t big work available, but there are even opportunities to work with international clients.” For example, the firm recently acted for a shareholder on the £3 million sale of a microwave sales company to a US buyer. Most work is more regional though: lawyers recently advised on the £25 million sale of seven petrol stations in the Midlands and on the acquisition of two secondary schools in Louth by a multi-academy trust.
The commercial property group also does work related to academies. “We worked with the corporate and commercial team in negotiations between the local council and an academy," reported one trainee. "They were refreshing an agreement they had for sports facilities, but there was confusion over the ownership of land.” A core strand of work for the commercial property group is development, and the firm works with local and national housebuilders like Cyden Homes and Linden Homes. “I was able to work on a number of their projects," reported one trainee. "It was good to be part of the planning process, whether just after permission was obtained or just before when the builder was getting ready to apply.” The firm recently acted for Lincoln Corn Exchange and Markets Ltd on its proposed £70 million redevelopment of Lincoln town centre and on the development of a multimillion-pound leisure complex in Cleethorpes. A trainee told us: “They were agreeing lease terms before the development was even off the ground, so trainees were helping put together initial drafts.”
"Going through the deeds of a lot of properties!”
Other real estate clients range from landowners (the Earl of Yarborough) to social housing groups (Shoreline Housing and the Lincolnshire Rural Housing Association). Initially trainees are tasked with “simple leases where the terms had already been agreed so it made me focus on the drafting rather than negotiation. Gradually you begin to handle matters which are still in the negotiation phase.” We heard of trainees handling the remortgaging of pension fund property portfolios and helping out on the redevelopment of a large industrial estate by a local authority. “The site had restricted covenants on 90-odd premises," one source reported. "I was negotiating a price with all of them individually to pay off the restrictions, which meant going through the deeds of a lot of properties!”
The insolvency and recoveries team, spread between Grimsby and Beverley, works with local authorities “throughout the country,” from London to the Midlands and the North. The firm recently worked on the administration of Woods Farming Partnership with assets valued at £1.1 million, and handled the insolvent estate of a deceased farmer. Wilkin has its own in-house insolvency practitioner, “so we can be appointed to do things like recover unpaid council tax. I was working with the practitioner to seek damages agreements.” Trainees were around to see some intense action: “After a few years of battling, we eventually repossessed this property. When the bailiffs entered, it turned out there was a cannabis farm in the house! It ended up with quite a significant police presence to get it under control.”
Trainees who'd done a stint in agriculture said they much preferred the client relationships here to those in corporate. “Farmers are more relaxed," they believed. "They’re happy for you to go to their properties and have a chat.” The group works for members of the National Farmers' Union and larger farming companies, “some with tens of thousands of acres.” The firm recently acted for a group of landowners in the sale of farmland worth £2 to £3 million to create a flood defence barrier at Horncastle. Trainees were involved with selling agricultural land and “meeting clients to draft basic partnership agreements.” The group also handles energy-related matters, for example advising farmers on the construction of wind turbines on their property.
Keeping it fresh
We heard a couple of salary grumbles from our interviewees (“I’d hoped for more compared to other firms in the area,” said one source), but the money wasn’t enough of an issue to deter any of the current lot from wanting to stay on (new joiners will be pleased to hear that trainee salaries received a bump in September 2018: first-years now get £21,750, while second-years take home £23,250). It helps that lawyers “typically work nine to five, only occasionally later.” The latest we heard of a trainee staying was 8pm. In 2018 two of three qualifiers were retained.
Interviewees praised management for fostering a good work/life balance. “It’s an ethos of family first," said one source. Not that people don't enjoy being in the office. One interviewee believed: "At larger City-based firms you’re a number, but at Wilkin Chapman you’re always a name.” The firms' ‘star colleague’ award is testament to this, said our interviewees: “You can nominate employees you think have gone above and beyond, and whoever wins receives an award. It’s hard to introduce that without alienating others, but they’ve really tried to bring everybody together.”
“The firm is still built into the town’s history.”
Sources reported that “the offices are gearing up to become open-plan.” Beverly has already made the move, while it’s still individual rooms in Louth. Lincoln’s two open-plan floors overlook the picturesque Brayford Pool, and there’s nothing grim about Grimsby’s shiny new block, which is part of a town centre regeneration. One source here observed: “The firm is built into the town’s history, but there’s a fresher feel now and a focus on bringing in new and younger members of the community.”
Trainees across offices catch up over departmental training sessions. These weren’t always a welcome interruption to busy schedules, but everyone liked the chance to get together for a natter: “If you hate your seat or something’s gone wrong, you can tell each other. It won’t feed back to the partners!” Firm-wide, there’s an annual themed event of some kind. Most recently it was a rodeo night, complete with fancy dress and a bucking bronco – “even the partners had a go!”
Wilkin Chapman doesn't run a formal vac scheme, but does offer work experience stints. Click on the 'Get Hired' tab above for more.
How to get a Wilkin Chapman training contract
This 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
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Angela English, [email protected], 01472 262633
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 100
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Work experience places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 September 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £21,750
- Second-year salary: £23,250
- Post-qualification salary: £32,000
- Holiday entitlement: 20 days, plus bank holidays & some given days at Christmas
- LPC fees: Partial
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenace grant: No
Over the last ten years the firm has spread geographically, grown in turnover, doubled the number of partners and staff and developed new practice areas. We are currently ranked 106 in The UK Lawyers’ top 200 law firms.
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
Our recoveries and insolvency team is recognised as a leading national firm and our public law team deal with over 150 local authorities, as well as police forces including police crime commissioners and fire authorities, universities and NHS Trusts.
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.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
Lincoln and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency Recognised Practitioner