It’s been around since 1896, but when it comes to this international firm, age cannot Wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety of private client work.
Withers training contract review 2022
Few firms manage to marry “intimate and trusting” private client relationships with far-reaching international work. But trainees found it here. “I didn’t want the typical City-type work,” one told us. “I didn’t know City private client firms like this existed!” Here, trainees enjoyed getting up close and personal with high net worth clients: “A lot of them have come to Withers for decades,” trainees told us. “They’re super interesting – lots of quirky personalities!” The firm has a commercial arm too, and the work is “certainly worldwide... I mean, it’s in the name.” To use its full name, Withersworldwide (all one word) lives up to the handle it shares with Pitbull with a spread of 17 bases in total. The London office often works closely with colleagues in Milan and Padua for wealthy Italian clients. “We’ve got a few offices in the US, a few in Asia, a few over Europe… and a few in the Caribbean, obviously.” Obviously.
“Clients need to be able to relate to you.”
The firm’s population reflects its global spread. “They don’t want robots, they want individuals who are a bit more interesting,” said trainees.The private client focus to the work here also means “this job requires communication and emotional skills. Clients need to be able to relate to you.” That may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly is for trainees at Withers – “I love having that personal relationship,” one shared.
Chambers High Net Worth rates the firm highly for its private wealth law and bestows a top ranking for its private wealth disputes work in London. Nationally it achieves top marks for family, real estate and tax. The London base is also noted in Chambers UK for agriculture and employment law, and the firm gets gongs nationwide for its art and cultural property, charities, and Court of Protection work.
Before each rotation, trainees submit three preferences for their next seat. Trainees in the know told us: “If you put employment or IP they ask for a fourth choice because those groups don’t always take someone.” Trainees also sit with HR for a “15-minute chat about what you want and why.” We heard that, though some people routinely get their first choice, “I know some who haven’t got any! It’s not exactly transparent how they allocate seats.”
At least one international secondment is available each rotation – a corporate stint in Milan is always on offer, and the Geneva and Hong Kong offices both offer a private client seat when they need a trainee. As the cohort is small, “your chances are quite good if you put your name forward.” All international secondments were remote during the pandemic, but those that get to go to Milan are usually put up in an apartment right by the beautiful Duomo di Milano cathedral. “There’s a guestbook in the apartment when you get there that previous trainees have written in with tips. It goes all the way back to someone who’s now a partner!” Who needs Trip Advisor?
More than 200 lawyers make up Withers’ private wealth team globally; nearly half of the firm’s fee earners are dedicated exclusively to this area of law. The team helps “wealthy individuals with their wills, powers of attorney, inheritance, and with managing assets in a tax-efficient way, losing and acquiring tax residency, ringfencing money, and protecting assets.” As the super-wealthy often have assets around the world, there’s a “big international element” to this seat. Trainees here were “let loose on the drafting from day one,” writing wills and trust documents – “it can be emotional for the client, so you need to be understanding.” Trainees also attended meetings, communicated with local counsel, worked on schedules and wrote advice notes.
“It’s crazy how much people can spend on sushi…”
Talking of personal relationships, let’s move on to the family seat. The team deals “mainly with divorces for” – you guessed it – “very, very, very high net worth people.” Divorces are always tricky, especially when they involve millions of pounds of assets spread over multiple jurisdictions. “It’s more complex than just dividing things by two.” There’s also some work with child arrangement orders and child support, as well as prenuptial agreements. Trainees here got “lots of client contact.” As with private wealth, emotional intelligence is needed – “a lot of these people are in emotional situations, so it gets a bit bonkers.” Anyone starting a seat here can expect to do “a lot of bundling” to begin with. “That was a rude awakening!” Once they gain more experience, trainees draft court forms, financial asset documents, instructions to counsel, consent orders and witness statements. They also conduct research – “I went through four years of Facebook messages and bank statements. It’s crazy how much people can spend on sushi…”
Real estate is split into rural, residential and commercial work. Trainees are assigned to one strand but can get work across the departments. Commercial covers commercial property, construction and real estate disputes on “really varied matters. I could be working on an interim injunction one day and the next I’ll be helping a commercial client to get back into a property they’ve been kicked out of.” Trainees also worked on collecting ground rent and possessions claims. They do a lot of bundling and letter writing, and on smaller teams “get involved with strategy behind litigations.” Residential work involved a lot of buying and selling, leasehold, and enfranchisement claims where leaseholders buy the freehold. There are also “more niche matters like airspace leases.” We heard that it’s been “particularly busy since lockdown because everyone’s changing up their living arrangements and portfolios.” Here trainees ran expenses claims, fielded enquiries and drafted leases. Rural work encompassed a lot of conveyancing for “properties in the countryside, often big estates.” The firm acts for the estate owners, doing reviews of the farm business tenancies. Pre-lockdown, rural trainees got to visit “farms and stately homes and big, grand grounds” in order to help with registrations, writing reports and drafting tenancy agreements. Across the sub-teams, trainees assisted with presenting training sessions “on case updates. It can be terrifying to start with but helps you pick up more about the sector. Partners ask questions after, which is scary!”
“A lot of the day-to-day running of family businesses."
Withers’ corporate team advises a mix of fashion, sports, luxury brands and tech clients on public and private M&A, joint ventures, financings and more besides. There’s a “good mix of pure corporate and advisory work,” as well as a corporate tech sub-team formed via a merger in 2018. Trainees liked this injection of innovation into the department: “it used to deal with just old money, but now we’ve got more entrepreneurial clients coming in, doing seed funding and public company deals.” The firm recently acted for TransferWise (a money-transferring start-up) on a multimillion-dollar financing round. The team also deals with “a lot of the day-to-day running of family businesses” and assists the trusts team when “someone who owns a business dies and there’s a dispute about how it’s run afterwards.” Trainees here drafted attendance notes, board minutes and articles, and got to be “the main point of contact for start-up clients – you can just call them and chat about an issue.” They also worked on managing signings and other unexciting but important admin– “people say, ‘We couldn’t do this without you.’”
Emails about pro bono are circulated regularly – “we’re encouraged to do it but whether you can depends on what seat you’re in and capacity needs.” No one we spoke to had completed any, but we were assured others do.
Trainees at the time of our interviews had only worked with their current supervisor over Zoom. “My supervisor blocks half an hour every day to have a catch-up,” one told us. “We talk about my to-do list and work, but we also just chat as friends, which was important in lockdown.” Overall, supervisors were described as “fountains of knowledge” and “great, lovely people. I feel very comfortable and supported with them.”Supervisors are keen for trainees to move at their own pace – “if it takes ten hours to do something, then it does. They want us to learn properly.”
Newbies also get assigned partner mentors, who “help you get a balance for your career direction and act as an overarching person to reach out to on the training contract.” There are also NQ buddies, informal associate mentors and an HR mentor who all “take you under their wing and offer support.” When in the office, Withers’ solicitors can be found at their open-plan office at 20 Old Bailey. Trainees who remembered the days of yore told us they enjoyed “being able to chat with and sit next to different partners and associates. It took me a while to figure out who partners were because everyone was so friendly!”
While remote working, the firm “tries really hard,” to keep that friendliness a staple. We heard of socialactivities such as “guessing whose house it is from the pictures,” video interviews, a Desert Island Discs style event, Zoom quizzes, a performance from a Zoom choir and “Friday Happy Tunes, where every week you suggest a song that makes you happy and they put together a playlist.” Despite this fruit basket of frivolity, “in normal times, we’re not the most social. It’s not ‘laddy’ and we don’t go out drinking all the time.” Trainees do go out for drinks now and then, and there are sports teams for anyone who is so inclined. The cohort was described as “tight-knit – the trainees they pick are really nice so everyone gets on.”
Trainees had the sense that Withers is “making a big effort to be a business that moves with the times.” When it comes to diversity and inclusion at Withers, it’s all about the Tree of Life. This is the name of the firm’s CSR programme, with branches for diversity, wellbeing, and pro bono. Each branch has a committee that meets every six weeks. “Anyone can get involved” with the firm’s wellbeing workshops and seminars. “This week we had a talk from a sleep doctor. We also had a ‘ditch the detox’ talk about eating properly.” In terms of diverse representation at the firm, trainees felt “it could be better, but they’re very aware of the improvements that need to be made.” They were heartened by representation of women at partner level – “last year they made up five or six women to partner, so it was good to see that.” In general, trainees assured us that “here it’s safe to be different. It’s just a very open, welcoming place.”
“The partners all trained here. Hopefully I can do the same as them.”
Something that wasn’t so welcome was the hours – “they’re longer than I’d have expected from a private client firm! Don’t forget – it’s still a City firm.” Though many seats will see a 10 to 12-hour day, corporate can have “unpredictable 2am finishes. On completion week I didn’t even have time to do anything but work for three days. But after that the associate told me to log off and get some sleep.” Those with an aversion to late nights should head to private client, where 6pm finishes are the norm. “Sometimes you can go into the evenings but on the whole it’s manageable.”
With an NQ salary of £68,000, trainees felt that “it’s very competitive for a private client firm, but not for a City firm.” But for our interviewees, compensation wasn’t “the biggest factor” in choosing Withers – “I get paid enough to do the things I want to do and actually have time to spend the money.” The firm confirmed that it is currently reviewing salaries and that those at the junior end can expect a bump.
Withers doesn’t publish a jobs list, so come qualification time “you apply and hope for the best – it’s quite scary!” Trainees can put as many choices as they want, “but you have to interview for all of them. Most people put two or three.” Trainees can order their choices, but department heads don’t see that. In the past, when people haven’t got any of the positions they applied for, they were given interviews for other teams. “I want to be here a long time,” one told us. “The partners all trained here. Hopefully I can do the same as them.” In 2021, Withers kept nine of its twelve qualifiers.
Withers has a ‘fashion tech’ team, helping companies at the intersection of the two industries. Can we put in an order for an invisibility cloak?
How to get a Withers training contract
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2022
Vac scheme deadline: 31 January 2022
The online application form includes the standard 'why law?' and 'why Withers?' questions alongside several competency-based questions. “These ask for examples of how someone has demonstrated communication or commercial skills,” head of talent acquisition and diversity (EU/Asia) Jaya Louvre tells us, “and are a key part of the application form. Don’t just give a three-sentence answer; be specific and thorough.” Applicants can also expect to be asked an unusual question – 'what do you wish you had invented and why?' Have a good think about that one; apparently a lot of people say 'Facebook', so maybe that's a reply to avoid. Two online tests – one numerical, one verbal reasoning – round off the initial application.
Those who impress on paper are invited in to complete a written test followed by a first interview, which takes place with a partner and a member of HR who will ask questions surrounding the application form and various competencies. There's also a written test. “They give you a poorly worded letter and ask you to revise it,” one trainee revealed. From here, vac schemers are chosen.
Meanwhile, direct training contract applicants who are successful at the first interview go on to complete an assessment centre. Candidates are given a week to prepare for a ten-minute presentation on one of four topical subjects (a recent example of one such topic is corruption in sport). Louvre's advice for impressing? “Put the research in and make sure you're knowledgeable about your subject – the partners will grill you about it!”
Recruiters told us that Withers is looking for candidates who are “bright, enthusiastic and personable.” They also mention the firm warmly welcomes those with language skills – Italian, Russian and Mandarin speakers are especially in demand. And remember that “if you put language skills down on your application form, expect to be tested on them.”
Withers runs three two-week vacation schemes, usually in the spring and over the summer. Participants split their time between two departments and are assigned a supervisor for each. “You don't know what it's like to be solicitor in practice before you actually spend some time in a firm, so it's a good opportunity to get an inside view,” reflected one trainee. “I was trusted with taking attendance notes and completing some research tasks.”
In addition to their supervisor-led work, vac schemers work as a group on a non-live matter. “On the final day you partake in a mediation and negotiation exercise with the other vac schemers,” a trainee reported. “Someone acts as a mediator, and you have to reach a settlement. I found it a really authentic insight into all the processes that go into these matters.”
20 Old Bailey,
- Partners 189
- Associates 258
- Total trainees 32
- Total staff 1,129
- UK offices 1
- Overseasoffices 16
- Graduate recruiter: Graduate Recruitment firstname.lastname@example.org 02075976244
- Training partner: Rachel Hawkins
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 11
- Applications pa: 900
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 18
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 30 June 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31 January 2021
- Open day deadline date: 28 February 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £68,000
- Holiday entitlement: 23 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Geneva, Hong Kong, Milan
The firm’s mission is to offer a truly integrated legal service to people with sophisticated global wealth, management and business needs. Withers’ reputation in commercial transactions and litigation, along with its status as the largest private client team in Europe and leading family and trust disputes teams, sets it apart from other city firms. The firm is consistently ranked amongst the top international law firms in its major practice areas.
Main areas of work
Trainees spend six months in four different departments. Working in a team with a partner and an assistant solicitor provides autonomy, responsibility and fast development. Buddy and mentor systems as well as on the job training ensure trainees are fully supported from the outset.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 3)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 2)
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 2)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)