The crème de la crème of private client, Withers whips together international work with a sweet social scene.
Withers training contract review 2024
In many ways Withers is the quintessential firm for high-net-worth individuals and businesses. The firm has been serving this core clientele since 1896, and over the years it has only expanded its practice. These days, the firm has an international network of 17 offices across Europe, North America and Asia, and boasts some of the highest-rated teams both in the UK and across the globe. Chambers Global holds Withers in high esteem for investor-state international arbitration and employment – the firm’s also recognised as a global market leader for public international law. On home soil, the firm has earned 13 accolades in Chambers UK including top rankings for its charities, agriculture and rural affairs, executive employment and ultra-high net worth family law practices. It’s no surprise then, that the trainees we spoke with were particularly drawn to its family law group – “Withers is pretty legendary for that!” – and more generally its focus on private client work.
“I wanted to work in a firm I could see longevity…”
However, external acclaim for Withers’ practices wasn’t the only draw for trainees. Cliché as it may sound, “the culture” was a key draw too – in particular the small intake and potential to develop a long career. “I wanted to work in a firm I could see longevity, that kind of familiarity without a massive turnover,” one trainee explained, “and that influences the culture too – a lot of the partners trained here, so mentors actually know what it’s like to be a trainee!”
Overall trainees were fairly positive about the seat allocation process. “Before you join they do a road show of all the seats, running through what each department does,” one trainee explained, adding that “you can highlight a particular interest in an area by speaking with someone in the team – they take that into account when allocating seats.” Those we spoke with did feel that the system could be improved with more transparency about which seats are available earlier on, but noted that there are systems in place to help ensure trainees’ preferences are taken into account. The firm currently lets trainees know which seats are available a month in advance of the move. “It can get a little competitive” as seats like white-collar only have one position. Employment, IP and private client and tax tend to be fairly popular. Trainees can also put their hat in the ring for international secondments too; “Milan is the main one, that’s usually corporate," an interviewee explained. There's also a secondment to Hong Kong to do a family rotation, and one in Geneva that is ad hoc.
“If you want the responsibility, you can have it.”
The private client and tax group often works with high net worth individuals, the likes of which sometimes feature on the Sunday Times Top 100 Rich List, helping with trusts and estates work and corporate tax matters. The group also works with some of the UK’s top charities, like The Royal Society, Cancer Research UK and Goodwill, on their structuring, governance and regulatory matters. In this seat “there’s a lot of liaising with clients,” drafting tax memorandums and advice and preparing wills and documents for trusts. “You can also get involved in litigation,” one trainee added, “and go to tax tribunal hearings, corresponding with HMRC and prepping witness statements for court.” As one trainee summed up, “If you want the responsibility, you can have it.”
In the family seat, trainees frequently work with high net worth individuals, helping with anything from divorce proceedings to disputes around children. Again, client liaising takes up a good portion of the time. Taking notes for client meetings and assisting with bundles and research are also common tasks. Our sources enjoyed attending court, both for children and financial hearings. “The first half of the seat is paper-heavy, but as you gain experience you get more opportunities for drafting correspondence to the other side or experts, prepping financial disclosure and liaising with clients,” so newbies were generally satisfied with their level of responsibility. It is worth noting that Withers’ family practice works on matters internationally, helping with the restructuring of family assets, succession planning and setting up satellite family offices to facilitate overseas investments.
Withers propensity for working with individuals carries through to its immigration practice, where the team helps with matters involving expatriation, residency and green cards, and visas and passports. We were told that, here, “you feel like you’re doing the bulk of the work, but it isn’t that high-pressure as you’re not arguing against something.” Trainees do their fair share of client-facing work here, with a good sense of “ownership” over the matters. Drafting letters of advice, instructions, letters of representation to the home office, and prepping bundles of supporting documentation for an application all crop up. While this seat does give newbies a fair few admin-y tasks, trainees were pleased to be able to make presentations for clients on their different options available. The ability to see through cases from start to finish can make this a satisfying seat.
Over in LitArb,trainees are generally split into either arbitration or litigation with the former being further divided into commercial arbitration and investor-state matters. Among the team’s client list is Qatar National Bank, which they’re currently representing in proceedings against South Sudan. The team’s also defending the Government of Ukraine in an arbitration initiated by the Olympic Entertainment Group in relation to a gambling ban in Ukraine. “International arbitration is known for being very busy,” trainees cautioned, noting that time-zones serve to drive this; Withers works with clients across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. This seat is “far more academic than others – the main task a lot of the times is legal research, looking into case law,” in addition to managing documents and bundling.
“You look at questions even the partners don’t know the answer to.”
The litigation side of the seat tends to deal with commercial matters, like drafting instructions for counsel: “You can really get in to research tasks, looking at questions even the partners don’t know the answer to, so it can be quite weird and wonderful!” A few trainees mentioned that white-collar defence can be very busy for trainees given that “they only take one, and it’s a team of five people; if you’re competent the team is comfortable to have you talk with the CPS and clients so I had the most client contact in this seat.” It’s not unheard of for trainees to work on public inquiries that are in the news everyday, summarising that day’s events for the team. The group recently represented diamond and jewellery tycoon Jatin Metha and his family in civil fraud allegations valued at around $1 billion.
Wither’s corporate group has trainees working separately from its renowned private client practice, instead giving them opportunities to work on due diligence for M&A, contract review and drafting board minutes and presentations. “The first two weeks are quite admin-heavy,” one trainee admitted, “but there’s quite a lot of responsibility, and if you want to specialise in a particular area you can.” The seat also doesn’t tend to be very client-facing but “the work is very flexible – you’re never forced to do anything you don’t want to do so there can be a good level of responsibility.” The firm has its lawyers working on high-profile clients, like Soho House; the group recently advised the sellers of EastHORN, a contract research organisation, to Novotech.
“We’re opposite the Old Bailey near St Paul’s, which is really cool,” one trainee told us of the firm’s office; “it’s open plan, so not even the partners have offices,” something that helps trainees to learn by osmosis from wizened hands. Going into the office our interviewees praised the subsidised food in the “The Hub,” free barista hot chocolate and the “random free food everywhere?!” but also noted that trainees are under no obligation to go in all the time, though this does vary somewhat by seat. “You have to be in at least twice a week” but beyond that “it depends on the team.” We heard that family and disputes were generally pretty flexible. Teams that deal more with hard documents, and run more in-person meetings (like private client) have slightly more stringent expectations. The trainees we spoke with did tell us they prefer to go in for the social side of things: “You get invited to things more when you’re in the office.” Across the board our interviewees “really, really enjoy going in. It’s because of the people; there’s a lot of laughter in the office, and interaction at all levels from secretaries to paralegals to partners – 99% of the people are approachable and it feels like everyone knows each other!”
“There’s a lot of laughter in the office.”
On the more formal side of things trainees get a budget to organise socials. These are generally instigated by teams however. While there are office-wide gatherings for holiday events – “we had a Christmas party with lots of sushi, popcorn and chocolate fountains!” – each team approaches events differently. “Litigation work hard and play hard,” grinned one trainee, pointing out that the arbitration folks dabble in karaoke. Others highlighted white-collar and IP for their drinks and away days, but the corporate side of the firm also has its strengths in the social arena; “corporate has a social committee to organise drinks as well as team-building exercises every three months!”
Withers also lets trainees and associates set up societies, giving groups budgets and helping to promote events through the year. “There’s been no resistance,” insiders told us; “they help us put on and advertise events via email for different religious or cultural celebrations like International Women’s Day, so there’s always something going on!” The firm also has a number of D&I groups, including LGBTQ+, women's, disability, and parents and carers groups. Sources were pleased to find the firm brings in speakers on a range of topics. It recently hosted a Holocaust survivor who spoke about their experience. Of course the firm does caution against joining too many groups – “they recommend you focus on one because you do have to do your job!” – but trainees can get involved in anything from green initiatives to discussions around art!
Back to the more formal side of things, and trainees were similarly positive about the training on offer over the two-year training contract. Outside of on-the-job learning newbies also pick up knowledge via “compulsory professional skills course training. It’s team training mostly run by knowledge lawyers where you learn the typical skills needed before a seat starts.” Trainees are prepped on bundling, taking board minutes and the basics of corporate trainings to name a few. In addition, trainees are also expected to turn up for department-wide trainings every two weeks; “last week we probably had three hours a day of litigation training so yeah, I’d say they’re pretty organised in that department!” When it comes to qualification however, trainees did tell us: “It’s similar to how seat choices go – they keep their cards to their chest…” What we can tell you is the process kicks off in the springtime; HR and the firm's training partner meet with trainees to have a think about where they'd like to qualify. There's another formal meeting a month later, and then interviews commence. Luckily, “teams will try to tell you ASAP if they’re not hiring.” In 2023, the firm retained 10 of 13 qualifiers.
(Not) Withering Away
Our survey indicated that Withers’ trainees do the exact market average when it comes to hours (44 a week).
How to get a Withers training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 May 2024
Vac scheme deadline: 31 January 2024
The online application form includes the standard 'why law?' and 'why Withers?' questions. Applicants can also expect to be asked an unusual question. Have a good think about that one; think outside the box and relate it to yourself. An online test (a strengths-based assessment, which aligns with Withers’ values and the behaviours and abilities needed to excel as a trainee at the firm) rounds off the initial application.
Those who impress on paper are invited to 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. 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 six topics. Jaya Louvre's (head of talent acquisition and diversity) 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 two one-week vacation schemes, usually in the spring and over the summer. Participants split their time between scheduled sessions and one department where they are assigned a supervisor. “You don't know what it's like to be a 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.”
20 Old Bailey,
Main areas of work
Trainees spend six months in four different departments. Working in a team with partners and associates provide 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 opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial Finance: Ultra High Net Worth (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence (Band 3)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 1)
- Charities: Legacy Disputes (Band 1)
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 2)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded Spotlight
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
- Public International Law (Band 3)
- Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)