Winckworth offers some interesting niche practice areas like charity, Parliamentary and ecclesiastical law, together with core commercial. The broad training experience, genuine achievements in diversity, and reasonable workload make this is an attractive proposition.
“What I wanted,”said one trainee, “was a London-based firm that did high-quality, varied work that wasn’t going to consume my life.” Some people have unrealistic dreams. And some work at Winckworth Sherwood. The firm, though known for its ecclesiastical and Parliamentary work, is something of a property-pro, and regularly provides expert advice on employment and family law matters. A significant chunk of the firm's business is related to charities work in some way. It sits top of the pile in Chambers UK for its Parliamentary, rail transport, and social housing work, with UK-wide nods for its education, charities, partnership, and local government work. In London, the firm receives recognition for its construction, employment, planning, mid-market real estate and real estate litigation work.
With offices in London, Manchester and Oxford, Winckworth is very much UK-based: “The firm has always been quite open that it’s not trying to expand rapidly. It’s always going for slow and steady growth.” That said, training partner Eleanor Kilminster reveals the firm's Oxford office has recently been expanding: “Over the last two years we have recruited a number of charities, private client and commercial property specialists in order to bolster that office." She adds that as the office grows, "it is possible we will offer a future trainee role in Oxford, and it’s close enough to allow future trainees there to do a seat in London." It sounds ideal, so what’s the catch? Well, it’s less of a ‘catch’ per se, but it’s worth flagging that the firm is on the small side of mid-sized, meaning it only takes on eight trainees a year from a pool of around 300 applications. Currently, all trainees are recruited into the London base.
The select few complete four six-month seats. “You don’t choose your first one, it’s random,” trainees said, “but then you choose your following seats, and they try to give you what you want.” Trainees will do at least one property seat, which can be achieved by sitting in real estate, property litigation, planning, construction, or housing and local government. The contentious requirement, meanwhile, can be met in “commercial or property litigation, construction, family or employment.”Parliamentary “always gets a trainee – it’s quite sought after,”as are seats in real estate, and corporate and commercial. Some departments like tax “don’t traditionally take on a trainee,”but interviewees added that “they can make it work around you”if you had a burning desire to sit there. Similarly, trainees noted: “If you want to do an ecclesiastical seat you can ask for one, though there’s sometimes some overlap with that team in other seats.”
“Mad things happen in this department.”
In its real estategroup, Winckworth represents clients such as: Canary Wharf Group; Silvertown Homes; Aviva Investors; and the Cote Restaurant Group. As the calibre of client suggests, some of the deals are huge: the firm advised Redrow on the £1 billion development for the design and building of 2,900 homes in north London; Peel Land and Property on the £5.5 billion regeneration of a section of former docks along the Mersey in Liverpool; and London & Quadrant Housing Trust on the £1 billion regeneration of Beam Park. But not all the matters are that high-value and trainees said: “You can get your own matters straight away, which was quite scary, but you learn really quickly.” Sources recalled "negotiating contracts and transfers and bringing those to completion” alongside more traditional trainee tasks like "due diligence, proofreading, researching and drafting.” Overall, our sources were happy. “There have been a fair few times when you see your work being sent almost verbatim to the client,” one contented trainee recounted. “You feel like you’re actually lawyering a bit.”
By contrast, the employment seat is "semi-contentious” and there’s “a lot riding on it and so it’s a lot more supervised.” The firm has several big names on its books including BNP Paribas Real Estate; Mountview Estates; the Financial Conduct Authority; Reliance Bank; Vistra Group; and AEG Europe. The firm does both employer and employee side work, but our trainee interviewees saw more of the latter. Due to its nature, most of the firm’s work in this area is confidential, but one insider revealed “mad things happen in this department.” A typical case might go like this: “The common situation, if you’re representing an employee, is you take a narrative down from them and figure out your strategy.” After that “you send a letter to the employer and work out what the appropriate settlement should be.” On bigger cases trainees were more likely to do “a fair bit of bundling work.”
“You get a piece of research and you think it’ll take you 20 minutes, then two days later…”
Parliamentary, with its focus on “drafting legislature for big infrastructure projects,” was described as “very technical at times, quite hard, and really interesting.” Sources said they weren’t “surewhat it was about,”before going into the seat, but “having worked in it, it’s infrastructure planning: ports, trains that sort of thing. We’re doing HS2, and the legislation goes in front of MPs in Parliament.” Unsurprisingly, this often means “quite a lot of negotiation with objectors and reaching settlements.” The team also advised the City of London Corporation with regards to the Open Spaces Bill. Trainees in the seat could expect to do a lot of research: “You get a piece of research and you think it’ll take you 20 minutes, then two days later… But when you get an answer it’s very satisfying.” Perhaps that’s to be expected when you need to look at “pieces of legislation from the 1700s and work out what’s happened with them.”
Charities typically falls under the housing and local government practice. The firm advises several high-profile charities in matters worth millions of pounds, examining issues like governance, sponsorship, and researching best practice. Trainees in the department, could expect to be “involved with setting up charities, negotiating and drafting contracts with local councils, and providing charity management and advice.” The team has been involved in the restructuring of The Burlington Magazine after a governance review, and also represents multiple former Oxfam executives and trustees (including Dame Barbara Stocking) who were involved in the Charity Commission’s Statutory Inquiry into Oxfam’s handling of events in Haiti in 2011. Among others, the firm also represents The Hepworth Wakefield Garden Trust, and the Imperial War Museum.
“If people who trained here go elsewhere, they tend to come back...”
Whichever seat you end up in, the chances are good you will not be burning the midnight oil. “If you stay until 7.30pm, that’s an all-nighter for us,” one source quipped. And while that might sound slightly hyperbolic, the fact remains the latest we heard a trainee staying was “9.30pm. If you work late, people ask why you’re still here.” Alongside reasonable hours we heard “everyone prides themselves on being very friendly and respectful.”One source noticed “if people who trained here go elsewhere, they tend to come back, and if they trained elsewhere they come here because they want a friendlier environment.”On the whole, this exceeded most people’s expectations: “I thought everyone would be serious and shouting at each other, but it turned out I’d watched too much American TV! It’s not like that. Everyone is serious and gets the work done, but no one’s ever been rude.” Some reckoned that “there’s maybe the odd partner who isn’t so nice, but it’s a fairly ego-less environment.” On top of firm-wide niceness, sources mentioned “a huge social aspect.” Interviewees listed various sporting clubs alongside “departmental dos, the summer and Christmas do and going down the pub once or twice a week.”
It is perhaps because of this friendly and inclusive culture that Winckworth’s gender diversity is particularly impressive. With women making up nearly half of all partners at the firm, Winckworth is streets ahead of the national average of around 29%. “As someone who trained at the firm, my view is that the firm offers the same opportunities for males and females,” says Kilminster. Trainee reflected that other contributing factors might include that there’s “no face time culture at all” and that “flexible working is a big thing.” Additionally, trainees spoke positively of supervision, which involved a partner, who they normally sat with in each seat. “There are no silly questions,” one source enthused. And if there were, “you could always ask an NQ.” It is perhaps for these reasons that Winckworth maintains a strong retention record. Come qualification, the firm releases a jobs list and qualifiers can apply for up to two roles. A round of interviews usually follows. “In the past there hasn’t been that much competition, so I think it’s fairly informal,” sources reflected. In 2020, the firm followed its usual trend and retained seven out of eight qualifiers.
For a wink worth its weight in gold, sources warned that “the so-called ‘open day’ is actually an assessment day."
How to get a Winckworth Sherwood training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 28 February 2021
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 May 2021
Open day deadline: 31 May 2021
Winckworth Sherwood expects its future lawyers to have good academic qualifications. 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 applications 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 350 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 assessments. 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.
Interview with training principal Eleanor Kilminster
Chambers Student:Are there any highlights or significant developments from the last year that you’d like our student readers to know about?
Eleanor Kilminster: We’ve got a pretty broad practice, so it’s hard to say that any one area is doing better than others. We’re doing an awful lot on the housing development and fire safety side, which is a big area at the moment [in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster]. We’ve had a number of interesting cases, and this is a big growth area. At the same time our commercial real estate practice is also growing, acting for both investors and occupiers.
We’re full service, but we like to think we’re second to none in real estate and development projects and infrastructure. We’re still acting on HS2, which is a fantastic project to be on. It’s a great source of work that will continue for many years.
There has also been a big push on our private business and wealth initiative. This initiative brings together our private client, family, employment, immigration and commercial services. The group acts for a variety of HNW individuals, family offices, private businesses and executives.
CS:What will the firm look like in five years’ time?Any plans to expand?
EK: We’ve always had an Oxford office, originally born out of our work with the Diocese of Oxford. Over the last two years we have recruited a number of charities, private client and commercial property specialists in order to bolster that office. The team size and practice areas serviced by the Oxford office have grown significantly.
As our practice areas in Oxford are expanding it is possible we will offer a future trainee role in Oxford, and it’s close enough to allow future trainees there to do a seat in London.
Our Manchester office is unlikely to offer a trainee role given that the work types carried out in that office are much more limited, focusing on planning and property.
Other than that, we have and are likely to continue to focus on organic growth rather than a merger with another firm for example. That said, over the last ten years we’ve brought in different teams based on client need so we do target areas where we see a gap such as the new charities team that has joined our Oxford office.
CS:Has Brexit had any impact on the firm so far? Do you anticipate it having any effect in the next couple of years?
EK: Our residential development practice slowed slightly immediately after the referendum. However, it was only temporary, and it has brought opportunities in a number of our other practice areas. Our development practice weathered the storm and subsequently returned to pre-referendum levels of activity. Our turnover has been fairly consistent over recent years, and with every change comes opportunity.
CS: The Covid-19 pandemic is obviously big news at the moment – is it impacting the firm in any significant way?
EK: Like everyone else, we’re reviewing contingency plans, but we had recent experience of testing those plans prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, so in many ways were more prepared than lots of other firms.
CS: Why do you think Winckworth has such good gender diversity (compared to other firms) at a partnership level?
EK: As someone who trained at the firm, my view is that the firm offers the same opportunities for males and females. The firm is fairly flexible in terms of part-time working and flexible hours for all staff. Perhaps it has to do with the practice areas? Perhaps it has something to do with the environment? I think there’s something to that, but it’s hard to identity the cause.
CS: Do you think enough is being done to tackle implicit bias at law firms?
EK: It’s hard to comment on other law firms’ practices without reviewing their policies. At WS, when recruiting trainees and other employees, we blind-screen applications for a range of different characteristics to avoid any unconscious bias. We don’t see names or ethnic backgrounds, for example.
Generally, we recruit via vac schemes or open days and we get feedback from different people at different levels, which also reduces the impact of any personal implicit biases on the outcome of the process.
CS: Are you growing or shrinking trainee numbers? If so for either, why?
EK: We’ve taken eight trainees per year in London for a while now (meaning we have sixteen at any one time). We have no plans to change the numbers in our London office, although we are considering whether to recruit for an additional trainee in our Oxford office next year.
We currently have a trainee from one of our clients (who has established itself as a training centre) on secondment for six months, as the trainee wanted to experience private practice. This will not reduce opportunities for our prospective trainees, however.
CS:What sort of person thrives at the firm?
EK: We’re a firm with so many diverse practice areas and so we like to think that whatever your characteristics, there will be a team at WS that suits you. We pride ourselves on having a friendly, collegial environment, but the majority of our legal personnel are very driven.
5 Montague Close,
- Partners 61
- Assistant solicitors 100
- 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
- We expect candidates to have good qualifications but we look at their application as a whole.
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 14 November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: See website
- Vacation scheme applications open: 14 November 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 28 February 2021
- Open day deadline: See website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year: salary £39,500
- Post-qualification salary: £58,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days, plus bank holidays, plus one extra day at Christmas
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Will be paid in exceptional cases
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 2020
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
We support the Aspiring Solicitors Foundation and Pathways to Law.
We provide an Employee Assistance Programme which provides support and counselling on a range of issues.
We also run a mentorship scheme within the firm.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
- 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 3)
- Local Government (Band 4)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 2)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 1)