Winckworth Sherwood - True Picture

If it’s niche practices you’re after, look no further than this parliamentary and ecclesiastical law Londoner.

Winckworth Sherwood training contract review 2024

The Firm

We’ll be honest, it can be really difficult to differentiate between firms, but London-based Winckworth Sherwood is something altogether different. The firm offers an eclectic range of seats that you’d struggle to find at other firms: parliamentary and ecclesiastical law simply aren’t offered at corporate-centred City firms. Winckworth is one of only five firms to be ranked by our sister guide, Chambers UK, for its parliamentary work, whilst its ecclesiastical practice is so niche there isn’t even a category for it in Chambers UK. The interview process also strays from the norm: “We didn’t talk about law at all. Instead, we had a really nice conversation about China, the economy, history… all sorts of things. This is still a law firm, but it’s very dynamic in its thinking.” This mindset, coupled with the tiny trainee intake (eight a year) proved to be significant motivating factors for joining the firm.

“70-80% of the firm’s work comes from property."

Others, of course, were drawn to the firm’s more mainstream offering: “70-80% of the firm’s work comes from property. If you’re not interested in property whatsoever I’d question if this is the right firm for you.” Further areas of focus include transport, employment, charities, education, construction and social housing, all of which have earned tips of the hat from Chambers UK. In addition, the firm is recognised in Chambers High Net Worth for its private wealth law expertise. This mix of both expected and unexpected unexpectedly comes with an expectation of a genuine work-life balance. Trainees were able to confirm: “We don’t work ridiculous hours.”

The Seats

Trainees do four six-month seats, and given the focus of the firm, it's likely trainees will undergo a stint in the property department. First seats are typically assigned based on prior experience or interests, and second-years get preference. Trainees felt the seat allocation process was “sort of transparent – if you’ve pushed for a seat, you’ll get it at some point,” and felt the firm “gives you a variety of different things that you might not otherwise have considered.” A seat in Oxford is open to trainees who want to do charities, contentious probate, ecclesiastical and/or property law (because they're not offered in London) but, sources explained, the other offices “don’t offer separate training contracts.” Additionally, while a few client secondments had been handed out to trainees in the past, “it’s not common,” we heard. A lucky few had undergone secondments to Telford Homes and Barratt Homes (construction), Sainsbury's (employment and corporate governance), and Greenwich Hospital (property and governance).

Real estate“is the biggest team at the firm,” sources told us, and “brings in the most money." Interviewees explained areas like “corporate, construction and planning” all support the department to drive matters forward. “It’s very busy,” sources admitted, “and the clients are quite varied.” Indeed they are. Names like Sainsbury's, SC Johnson, McDonald's and Oxfam all appear on the client roster. The seat is split into social housing and development. Trainees felt they had loads of responsibility where the former was concerned: “There were matters that I was running.” Sources also mentioned “picking up the phone to the client to get the information we needed; I was actively encouraged to do that.”

On the development side, trainees were kept busy with investment properties and new developments. Speaking of which, the department recently advised housing provider A2Dominion on its joint venture with Hammersmith & Fulham Council to create a mixed-use development that will include a cinema, art gallery, rooftop bar and housing, more than half of which will classify as affordable. Insiders told us: “You do all sorts of conveyancing work, and get to know things like sewerage agreements and substation leases.” Yay? On bigger deals, newbies could be “working on the due diligence of a huge site. That stuff is really complex and full of interesting issues. For example, a particular issue might come up and my supervisor would ask me to find the relevant law, and ask for my suggestions.” Sources were pleased to find that their suggestions were taken seriously. “The one seat you should try to do is in real estate,” sources concluded. “We’re a full-service firm, but that feels like the centre of Winckworth.”

“It was like answering exam questions. You could be on the hotline not knowing what was going to be on the other end of the line!”

Education is “divided into three separate teams,” trainees explained, “school support, HR, and academy conversion, which has been booming.” Academy conversion and HR do what they say on the tin – convert schools into academies and deal with HR matters. The school support portion, involves working with schools on a retainer basis: “Schools can ask questions about anything that’s not property or HR.” Described as “a helpline for schools,” clients email or call in with queries covering a wide range of issues, from safeguarding to exclusions to GDPR. “It was like answering exam questions,” laughed one trainee. “You could be on the hotline not knowing what was going to be on the other end of the line.”

Winckworth advises a range of schools, and recently assisted the Archdiocese of Liverpool and St Joseph Catholic MAT (multi academy trust) on its establishment. The MAT project is being piloted by the Department of Education to turn around underperforming schools. While some sources sat solely in support, others “helped with everything,” like attending tribunals and drafting related correspondence. Others, meanwhile, had “been helping with the real estate side of things – selling property, helping with forms, reading title, and making enquiries.”

The planning team is divided into “normal planning and development risk. Trainees do both.” On the planning side, the larger half of the department, “there’s a clear link with real estate. Often developers buy land and want planning permission, which is where we come in.” Makes sense. But instead of planning where the bathrooms go, “you’re pitching to a local authority, explaining that the development is good for the area.” For trainees, that meant “understanding what the local area needs and what its targets are.” Newbies spent a lot of time drafting 106 agreements (large-scale planning agreement). On the risk side of things, sources mentioned doing “more research and drafting.” For trainees, it was “nice to be involved in things that are tangible. We deal with interesting clients and sites,” such as advising on the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea planning framework between Wandsworth and Lambeth Councils. TfL, English Heritage and the landowners will deliver more than 20,000 new homes, a new school and major infrastructure, including the recently opened Battersea tube stop. The high-profile redevelopment of Battersea Power Station was also part of this framework. 

The parliamentary seat was described as “really legalistic and academic; that’s where you get to do that more nerdy digging through books to find an answer.”On the parliamentary side, the firm worked with Eversheds Sutherland to advise the Secretary of State for Transport on the legislative elements of the HS2 Bill. Blimey. “That was a big matter,” deadpanned one trainee. “The seat was really interesting,” sources told us. “You’re looking at the nitty-gritty of legislation and what powers authorities have.” Sources described it as “planning, but to such a large scale you need to get laws passed for it.” For trainees, this meant “lots of hard thinking, lots of research and a lot of looking into where legislation comes from, like ‘where did this random subclause in this 1980 act come from?’ You need that evidence.” On top of research, trainees mentioned “quite a lot of drafting” and hinted you “might draft a clause for the legislation.” Less epoch-defining drafting involved “things like responses to objections, explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing and the legal justification behind it.”

“It’s the biggest and best ecclesiastical department in England and works with more dioceses than any other!”

Ecclesiastical and regulatory received high praise. “I say this without bigging it up,” humblebragged one trainee, “it’s the biggest and best ecclesiastical department in England and works with more dioceses than any other!” The department “does a huge range of work,” we heard. “Real estate is a big part of that,” but there’s also “employment work; complaints against clergy; charity law and the restructuring of cathedrals, which now falls under the charity ambit.” Sources also mentioned drawing up “new constitutions, and related statutes.” Newbies also spent time “doing some basic drafting and, from the beginning of the seat, quite a lot of research, leafing through old dusty books of Church of England law. Our physical library has got smaller,” noted one trainee, “but ecclesiastical books probably account for more than half.”

Trainee Life

Despite early responsibility, trainees reported a genuine work-life balance. Even when things were busy, “I probably finished around 7pm. I never felt I’ve had to cancel my evening plans,” one grateful trainee confirmed. But, it’s still work and it’s still law, so trainees highlighted you need to “learn how to deal with pressure and manage workloads.”

Overall, sources were happy with the level of training and supervision, with “regular seminars, guidance and feedback on your work.” Each trainee has a trainee diary, filled with a list of learning objectives for each seat. Trainees tick off what you should be doing with the supervisor during mid-seat reviews, with a follow-up during end-of-seat reviews.

"Because real estate is bigger, it’s more social and friendly."

Socially, things vary from seat to seat. Interviewees agreed that “because real estate is bigger, it’s more social and friendly. We regularly go out for drinks – and we have a drinks trolley!” Other social events included a firm-wide summer party and departmental Christmas parties. Trainees also get to organise their own events: “We have a budget, but that will only stretch to one event if you include all the future and current trainees.”

And DE&I?“What they are doing seems quite sincere.” No one we spoke to had any concerns about fitting in and sources mentioned “a D&I committee and various networks, including a women’s group and an LGBTQ+ group.” Indeed, the firm has a WS EDI Network, a WS Disability Network and a WS LGBT+ Network. Trainees added that “in terms of gender diversity, it’s really good. There are lots of women in senior positions.” The firm also held a cultural food event in April, where people from different backgrounds could celebrate their culture by bringing in traditional food.

For those wanting to stay, a job list is circulated in June and trainees can apply to up to two roles, submitting a CV and cover letter to head of department. After that, there’s an interview with two partners (and some groups have a follow-up written assignment), and trainees find out shortly afterwards if they’ll be kept on.

I Sher-wood like to stay… In 2023 Winckworth Sherwood retained seven out of eight trainees.

How to get a Winckworth Sherwood training contract   

  • Assessment day and training contract deadline (2026): 29 February 2024 

Entry routes   

Winckworth Sherwood expects its future lawyers to have good academic qualifications. Successful candidates are drawn from the firm’s two assessment days in July. Once applicants have completed one of these, there is a second interview with a panel of partners.  

WS screens applications on a rolling basis, but interviews are held after the deadline to ensure all applicants have the opportunity to apply. The firm encourages applicants to submit their application ahead of the deadline. 

Assessment days  

The firm typically receives around 350 applications for its eight 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 in person or via Zoom.  

Successful candidates are then invited to one of two assessment days held in early July in the London office. The day includes individual exercises and group exercises which are assessed by a panel of partners. It is also a great chance to learn more about the firm and to speak to lawyers from a range of practice areas. There are drinks with the current trainees at the end of the day. 

Winckworth Sherwood

Minerva House,
5 Montague Close,

Firm profile

A full-service law firm with a diverse client base, Winckworth Sherwood prides itself on providing market-leading advice across a broad range of sectors and markets. Delivering a first-class service is key to everything we do.

Our clients range from some of the UK’s largest businesses and institutions, housebuilders and developers through to investors, professional partnerships, family offices, not for profit organisations and private individuals – all of which benefit from the flexible, practical approach of our lawyers.

We can trace our firm’s history back to 1777 and although much has changed in that time there is one constant: our desire to be a dependable, trusted advisor to our clients. We are proud of our ability to adapt and truly understand the needs of our clients at any given point in time.

Winckworth Sherwood has earned a reputation for successfully delivering high value, high profile projects throughout the UK and demonstrating the highest levels of client service. 

Main areas of practice

Corporate and commercial: We advise on corporate, mergers and acquisitions, partnerships and JVs, commercial arrangements, outsourcing and procurement, corporate finance and capital markets, funds and IP, IT contracts and data protection.

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 many 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. 

Training opportunities

Trainees will be placed in four departments in six-month placements. We encourage early responsibility and substantial client interaction. You will usually sit with a partner or associate and may be given the opportunity to manage your own files, subject to suitable supervision.

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. 

Other benefits

We have a flexible benefits package which includes core benefits such as: pension, life assurance, income protection and private medical insurance. Optional benefits such as: dental cover, health cash plan, gym memberships, cycle to work scheme and childcare vouchers. 

Law careers fairs 2023

BBP’s Autumn Law Fair, Aspiring Solicitors VDLF Autumn Law Fair, Legal Cheek Virtual Careers Fair

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Aspiring Solicitors – we attend virtual careers fairs, have a page in the legal diversity and inclusion directory and provide professional ambassadors from the firm.

The Aspiring Solicitors Foundation - we support the AS Foundation in providing financial assistance to students pursuing a career in law.

The Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Law Programme –we host students and allow them to take part in an interactive programme and will work within a range of teams and so experience different legal disciplines.

UpReach –we are working with UpReach to provide mentors and networking. We will also be using their contextual recruitment tool to screen trainee applications.

Deltas - We participate in ED&I initiatives alongside other law firms. The group's objective is to help eliminate barriers within education & training whilst increasing employment opportunities for people from all backgrounds and lifestyles.

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, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 5)
    • Employment: Senior Executive (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: £50-150 million (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Charities (Band 3)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Local Government (Band 3)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 1)
    • Partnership (Band 2)
    • Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 1)

More from Winckworth Sherwood:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.

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