Unusual work in parliamentary and ecclesiastical law adds the intrigue at this property-inclined firm.
No more Mr Niche Guy
“Initially it was the firm's parliamentary law work that caught my attention, but after reading more I found the firm also has a good full-service offering,” one trainee told us, summing up what appealed to them about Winckworth. The firm's unusual areas of work, chiefly its parliamentary and ecclesiastical law practices, have long been a draw for curious trainees. The former gains top-tier recognition in Chambers UK, as do the rail transport and social housing practices. Other commended areas include real estate, real estate litigation, partnership disputes, education, charities and local government. “There’s a lot of focus on our more niche areas and it does set the firm apart,” one trainee reflected, “but the standard departments we have as a mid-sized firm are really interesting in their own right and have really good lawyers working in them.”
On the firm as a whole, sources reckoned “it’s quite old-school, but not in a stuffy way. It’s more that people have been here for years and are experts in their field.” The firm's culture is also informed by the fact it's on the smaller side for a London firm and has a relatively small trainee intake, which means trainees are able to work directly with all its expert lawyers. As a result, our interviewees experienced “a high level of responsibility with a high amount of contact with senior associates and partners.”
“ I like the fact we have lots of female partners.”
Another plus that interviewees noticed was the firm’s impressive record for gender diversity: “As a young female lawyer, I like the fact we have lots of female partners and female heads of department,” one trainee shared. The firm excels in comparison to the industry average, with 47% of its partners being female. Women are also well represented among the associate and trainee groups, with 69% and 63% of those groups being female respectively.
For their first seat, trainees are allocated a department. After that, there are mid-seat reviews with the training principal in which “you chat about how you’re getting on with the seat and what you think you’d like to try next.” Usually trainees put forward two preferences at this point. Second-years tend to get priority, but sources agreed that “the training principal does her best to arrange our choices so most people are happy.” Although there are no compulsory seats, interviewees noted that “it’s likely you’ll do a property seat because we have so many.” That said, sources added: “There’s such a wide variety on offer that it doesn’t restrict anyone.”
The real estate department, the firm's largest, covers “a huge range of work,” acting for housebuilders like Redrow, Barratt and Keepmoat as well as investors like M&G Investments and Aviva Investors. The team recently advised Redrow on an agreement with the London Borough of Wandsworth for the regeneration of the Alton Estate in Roehampton. It also advised Meyer Homes on the £107 million development of 255 rental homes in Hounslow. “When I started, I was handed 15 to 20 matters, four or five of which I was leading on,” one trainee told us. These matters could be “development agreements between developers and housing associations,” deeds of variation, highway agreements or Section 104 agreements (“to do with sewers – someone’s got to do it!”). “The seat is really good for developing skills to do with matter management and client management,” sources reflected. As such, many reported regularly liaising directly with clients. Other common tasks include Land Registry applications, as well as “taking initial instructions from clients, drafting leases, and reporting on negotiations.” On the commercial and licensing side, many had worked on alcohol licensing “for retail clients as well as petrol stations.” This means handling both licensing applications and licensing hearings on the litigious side.
Property litigation deals with the contentious side of the firm’s real estate work. A recent matter saw the team act for further education group Capital City College in its dealings with British Land about a development scheme next to one of the group’s main college sites. Other clients include housing associations, property developers, charities and housebuilders. This team is also where some ecclesiastical law work can rear its head, as the department regularly “works closely with other departments in the firm.” Trainee tasks include “a lot of interesting research into particular areas of law” as well as attending hearings.
Separate to property litigation, trainees can also do a seat in commercial litigation. “Our property clients inevitably have commercial disputes as well as property disputes, and we’ve also done some defamation work and some shareholder disputes,” one interviewee reported, reflecting on the hodgepodge of work the team does. Trainees said they themselves draft letters of action and communications with the other side’s solicitors.
“Getting infrastructure projects approved.”
The parliamentary department includes three 'Roll A' Parliamentary Agents (who have the power to draft and promote legislation) and does a lot of work surrounding “getting infrastructure projects approved.” Several of our interviewees had got stuck into work on “big infrastructure projects” including HS2 – a team from Winckworth worked with lawyers from Eversheds to help the Transport Secretary get the HS2 bill through parliament. The team has also been advising the Department for Transport throughout the duration of the delay-plagued Crossrail project. “We’ve also done work on wind farms and ports,” one source added, “so as trainees we have to do quite a lot of research into random areas of law or local regulations, as well as drafting responses to objections orders.” Rookies also sometimes get to visit Parliament to attend hearings.
Trainees can sometimes do a full seat in the ecclesiastical department. We heard that “the department itself doesn’t always take a trainee, but the clients feature in a lot of the other departments.” The firm advises both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, handling matters like parish reorganisations, marriages, the appointment of clergy, and matters to do with properties owned by churches.
“The people at this firm are some of the nicest and most interesting people I’ve met,” one of our interviewees gushed when we asked about Winckworth's culture. “People have odd and interesting hobbies – they have things to talk about other than work.” As such, others found the firm to have “quite a relaxed and approachable culture.” On top of that, another trainee said: “You are treated as part of the team, not just a temporary trainee who will be gone soon. The seat moves can be quite difficult because you’ve made real connections, and every time you move you start from the beginning.” But luckily, sources found “people really make an effort to get to know you,” making the process slightly less daunting.
As people have other hobbies, interviewees reckoned “there’s not a massive drinking culture here.” The social side of things was said to differ from team to team, but firm-wide, interviewees noticed that social events usually tie in with charity fund-raising activities. One said: “We do fund-raising things like charity bake sales, pub quizzes and sports events. And at Christmas we held a Christmas fair in our office where a partner dressed as Santa and we invited representatives from charities to come in.”
“It’s not a firm where you often see people in the office past 7pm.”
All interviewees reported “very respectable” working hours, with most averaging 9am to 6pm. “It’s not a firm where you often see people in the office past 7pm,” sources reflected. There are occasional late nights (“I stayed until half ten when closing a deal”) but when those occasions roll around, sources emphasised that “everyone pitches in, and trainees are never left in the office alone – the partner stays too.”
The training principal and HR talk trainees through the NQ process in the spring. A jobs list is published in early June and second-years have two weeks to apply with a cover letter and CV. There may then be an interview too, with the final decision on who stays coming in by the end of June. Winckworth has a strong retention record, especially for a small firm, keeping on 25 of 31 qualifiers (81%) from 2014 to 2018. In 2019 it kept seven of eight.
If you fancy getting involved in pro bono as a trainee, Winckworth encourages its newbies to help out at a rent arrears clinic organised by Citizens Advice.
How to get a Winckworth Sherwood training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 28 February 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): See website
Open day deadline: See website
Winckworth Sherwood expects its future lawyers to have three As at A level and a minimum 2:1 degree. Successful candidates are primarily drawn from either Winckworth Sherwood’s vacation scheme or open day. Once applicants have completed one of these, there is a second interview with a panel of partners. Our trainee recruitment manager warns applicants to get their applications in early: “We review the forms as they come in and interview before the deadlines.”
Winckworth Sherwood runs a two-week vacation scheme each July for those applying for a training contract. The firm typically receives around 300 applications for the ten places available on the scheme; on average around half of these have received training contracts. To apply for a place, candidates must submit an online application which includes a short essay on why they want to work at the firm and what they will contribute. Take note: the firm is interested in those who anticipate staying around, not those looking to use the training contract as a launch pad to go elsewhere. Candidates who impress are invited to interview with the firm's recruitment manager.
Vac schemers are paid £150 per week and visit two departments during their placement. They sit alongside an associate or partner, and have a trainee mentor. Typically they undertake research projects and basic drafting, but also get the chance to attend seminars and meetings. In addition, they'll also complete various exercises. There's also a second interview with a panel of partners to help determine whether they'll nab that training contract or not.
On the social side, there’s usually an introductory lunch with the partners and drinks with the trainees. Other social activities include a Southwark walking tour and cricket matches.
The firm organises an open day each year in July for training contract applicants unable to set aside two weeks of their summer holiday for a vacation scheme. In order to attend, candidates must first complete a face to face interview with the recruitment manager. Around 20 of the top applicants are then invited to the office to learn more about the firm. The day includes individual exercises and a group presentation which is assessed by a panel of partners.
5 Montague Close,
- Partners 61
- Assistant solicitors 103
- Total trainees 16
- UK offices London, Oxford, Manchester
- Contact Recruitment executive: Joanna Clark, [email protected], 020 7593 5183
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 14 November 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: See website
- Vacation scheme applications open: 14 November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 28 February 2020
- Open day deadline: See website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year: salary £39,500
- Post-qualification salary: £61,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days, plus bank holidays, plus one extra day at Christmas
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
Main areas of practice
Employment & Partnership: We provide contentious and non-contentious advice covering financial, insurance, retail, hotel, media, publishing, real estate and educational establishments. We also advise senior executives and on partnership disputes, as well as specialist non contentious partnership advice.
Infrastructure Projects: We specialise in private legislation promoting projects of major strategic importance. We also advise central and local government bodies, developers and operators on infrastructure planning, development, construction, procurement, structuring and finance.
Not for Profit: We advise a large number of educational and affordable housing operators, charitable and religious organisations and cultural and leisure services providers, delivering a full range of legal expertise.
Private Wealth & Tax: We advise high net worth individuals, families, senior executives, private trustees and executors on a full range of private legal matters, including complex residential property solutions, immigration, tax and succession issues, pre-marital advice, divorce and family.
Real Estate & Planning: We work for many of the leading national residential and commercial developers, national house builders, investors and fund managers. This includes commercial real estate and regeneration, planning, development, corporate finance, funds, tax, construction, asset management and property litigation capability.
We have a well developed in-house development programme which draws upon the expertise of partners, associates and guest professionals. As well as legal training, we also provide business skills training such as presentation skills, project management, networking and client development.
We provide each successful applicant with £150 per week to assist with expenses and travel costs.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
- Family/Matrimonial Recognised Practitioner
- Planning (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 3)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 1)