Wilsons combines an excellent private wealth practice with a palatable pace of life in Salisbury.
Wilsons training contract review 2024
This Salisbury-based firm’s 300-year-old reputation precedes itself. Founded in the 1700s to serve the landed gentry in the surrounding area, Wilsons is widely regarded as one of the pre-eminent private client firms. Considered a national leader outside London by Chambers High Net Worth for this work, it’s hardly surprising that pretty much every trainee we spoke with cited this prowess as the primary reason for joining the firm. Although the landed gentry remain on the books (Wilsons has picked up another two rankings in Chambers UK for its agriculture and rural affairs and charities: legacy disputes work), Wilsons has branched out over the past three centuries to build a burgeoning court of protection practice, and a more commercial arm.
“Work with charities encompasses all areas of the firm."
Putting the work aside, newbies were also drawn to the firm’s “people-centred approach and supportive culture.” Thissentimentcan be hard to define, but one interviewee summed it up nicely for us: “It’s the little things. When I came in for the interview they were like 'let me show you the loo before I leave' because they know I had a long journey." This people-first culture is aided by the tiny trainee intake: the firm takes just four to five newbies a year, all of whom join the Salisbury office. Wilsons also has a small base in London’s famous Lincolns Inn.
Newbies submit four seat preferences in advance of joining the firm, and are informed of their first seat a month before starting. Thereafter, trainees submit preferences for the subsequent rotations: “In most instances, we get what we want but that’s not always possible.” Newbies told us seat allocation is decided in accordance with business needs and individual preference, but when missing out on first or second choices, trainees were assured that they’d get priority the next time round: “They’ll never make you do a seat you don’t want to do.”
“Work with charities encompasses all areas of the firm. Almost every department does some element of charity work.” The contentious trust and probate department arguably works with the most charities, representing them in disputes over gifts left in wills. For example, Wilsons is advising a national charity (the sole beneficiary of an estate) on a dispute with the deceased’s daughters under the Inheritance Act. The vast majority of the country’s biggest charities appear on the client roster, including RSPCA, Macmillan, Guide Dogs, Marie Curie, RNLI, Save the Children and the British Heart Foundation. With one of the largest charity law practices in the UK, sources reckoned “the partners are leading in their fields.” Trainees found the work was exactly as described on the tin: “You’re working with big charities and individuals on anything contentious that arises after death really.” Trainees explainedthat “there are lots of opportunities to attend trials and negotiate with the other parties.”
Property at Wilsons encompasses three principal teams, including commercial, farms & estates and residential.Budding trainees assist with what the firm excels in: “Anything to do with rural or state property sales, land registrations and farm sales and purchases.” In recent times, the teams have begun to work more closely together,which means trainees in the property department will probably do a bit of everything. On the contentious side of things “we deal with fast-paced matters, liaising with the courts leading up to trial dates. We also get a lot of client exposure.” On the transactional side, “we assist with all stages of property sales and purchases. So that’s drafting documents, and regularly speaking with clients, even during the early stages of the training contract.” Another newbie noted that “the property team makes sure we’re exposed to as many matters as possible to enhance our development.”
“The matters can change every five minutes."
The firm’s litigation department is smaller than private client and property, but often works with these groups on cross-practice cases. Some recent matters have involved an education trust, a graphic print publishers and a national care home trust. The group recently assisted an art dealer who lent money to a HNW individual, secured against the borrower’s fine art collection. Trainees reported that “the matters can change every five minutes, you can be doing something different all the time. It’s difficult to sum up a typical day because we get a variety of things come in urgently.” We also heard the team is conscious not to overwhelm trainees: “They build you up over time, so you’re never thrown things you haven’t seen before.” At the beginning, trainees dealt with simple research tasks but quickly gained more responsibility. “We’re reviewing claims, drafting witness statements, taking part in mediations and corresponding with the opposing counsel,” all under the watchful eye of the partners.
As rookies gazed out at the picturesque scenery of Salisbury, one reflected: “I never wanted to be a cog in the machine in a large London law firm.” In fact, “I wanted a hands-on experience with a smaller cohort and a supportive and friendly culture,” and that’s just what they got. “A lot of trainees moved here for the job, so we created a little group to do social things outside of work.” Friendliness extends to the higher echelons of the firm: “It’s easy to forget you’re at the pub with partners, everyone is really keen to involve trainees.” We’ll have a gin and tonic, please.
“I’ve had more time in the evenings than I’ve ever had in my life.”
Events that went amiss during Covid are making a pleasant return, one of which is the senior partner drinks. This is a networking event that sees as many partners as possible gather in one room so that anyone in the firm can strike up a conversation. A standout for our interviewees was the work/life balance at the firm: “the work hours are very healthy.” To be specific, rookies reported logging on about 9am and clocking off by 5:30: “If you’re in the office late, seniors will tell you to leave.” And when compared to city life, “I’ve had more time in the evenings than I’ve ever had in my life.”
Trainees are expected to be in the office as much as possible for training purposes, but “the firm is flexible. If you or a partner is unwell, or you need to wait for someone to look at your boiler then there’s no problem.” The office itself benefits from it's location in central Salisbury, like easy access to the train station and onsite parking, but most importantly: “the number of bakeries is amazing.”
Trainees spoke highly of the supervision and training at the firm. By all accounts “anyone is easy to approach. The office is open, which makes it ideal to turn and ask for help on something.” Another interviewee explained: “We get a new supervisor every seat. They’re there to support you with weekly catch-ups” and to monitor how much you have on your plate. In addition, trainees have a mentor in the form of an NQ who is there for all trainee needs: “My mentor is always available for advice and confidential one-to-one chats.” Training begins at the start of each seat: “They put on a bite-sized crash course which acts as a good kick-starter.” The firm also provides the opportunity for trainees to gain professional skills through the Law South group: trainees can take courses on business writing or even gain business experiences such as how to run a (pretend) law firm.
Trainees in love with the culture in sweet Salisbury told us: “I see no reason to leave Wilsons. There are partners here that started as trainees and that’s great to see.” Qualifying as an NQ is a fairly informal process we hear, “the wheels are in motion early on. Everyone knows you really well because of the social side of the firm, so you’re always having conversations about which departments you’re interested in,” our source said. The process often starts with a meeting with a trainee mentor: “They advise you on how best to approach qualification,” but for every trainee “it’s a case-by-case basis. Generally, if there is space then you’re offered the job.” In 2023, all four qualifiers were kept on.
Rise and Shine
Wilsons has its very own mental health breakfast club: “We take an hour out of the day to have a tea, coffee, orange juice and pastries.”
How to get a Wilsons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 31 March 2024
Training contract deadline (2026): 31 May 2024
Applications for Wilsons' training contract are found on its website and must be completed by 31 May 2024 for its 2026 start. For those interested in the vacation scheme in 2024, the application must be in by 31 March 2023.
The firm runs an assessment day, in which 12 to 14 people are invited and complete both individual and team tasks.
The vac scheme
The firm’s vac scheme runs over a single week in June, during which each person will spend one day each in five different teams throughout the week.
St Johns Street,
Main areas of work
Family: The team’s expertise ranges from pre-nuptial agreements and civil partnerships to divorce, children’s arrangements and surrogacy law.
Charity: Wilsons has one of the most highly ranked teams in the UK. We advise on the complete range of legal needs and have a particular specialism in contentious and non-contentious legacy work. The constitutional and governance team has considerable expertise in advising military charities and the charitable care sector.
Agriculture: Wilsons’ rural team has developed a practice centred on the needs of rural business and landowners. These include complex sales and purchases, development options for landowners, grants and diversification advice and property litigation, including landlord and tenant, partnership matters, boundary, title and rights of way disputes.
Commercial: The commercial team specialises in employment, commercial property and corporate work. Corporate work focuses on commercial tax and asset planning, transactions and refinancing. The team deals with an unusual breadth of work requiring high-quality, bespoke commercial advice.
Property: Our clients have substantial commercial, agricultural and residential property interests and the firm advises on purchasing, letting and sales, and has a reputation for gaining excellent results in the options over and sales of development land.
Litigation & Dispute Resolution: Wilsons has one of the largest teams outside London. We advise clients on a wide range of contentious matters to provide an efficient and effective means of dispute resolution. In addition to its expertise in agricultural and probate disputes, the firm has specialists who can advise on all aspects of commercial dispute claims and reputation management.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- Charities: Legacy Disputes (Band 1)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)