Withers LLP - True Picture

Withers weathers the perfect storm of private client and commercial work for wealthy clients worldwide.

Withering Heights



Withers has long been known as a firm with a penchant for private client work – specifically, for acting for some of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families. But some wealthy folk – like entrepreneurs and investors – have more specific legal needs. And that’s where the firm has focused its recent energy: in August 2018, Withers merged with Cambridge tech boutique JAG Shaw Baker to create a new ‘Withers tech’ practice. Not only does the move add to Withers’ existing practices, it also beefs up its commercial offering, especially on the IP side of things. A trainee told us: “The IP team post-merger is predominantly JAG staff, with two or three people from legacy Withers.” Withers also took on JAG’s three trainees who were “at various stages of their training contract.”

“Practices like family have a lot of client contact, which is great for creating more personal connections.”

Despite all these changes, trainees we spoke to were mostly still attracted by Withers’ traditional practices. “I knew I really liked private client work and was instantly drawn because of that,” one said. The firm proves its prowess with rankings in both Chambers UK and Chambers High Net Worth for areas including family, private wealth law, high-value residential real estate, defamation/reputation management, charities and tax. Another source shared their view on why practices like this appeal: “I wanted a practice with more relationships with people – not just their businesses, but the emotional side of things. Practices like family have a lot of client contact, which is great for creating more personal connections.”

The firm also has a fairly hefty international side to its work. With 16 overseas office across Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific – one of which came from its recent tie-up with KhattarWong in Singapore – Withers really lives up to its website URL of withersworldwide.com. The firm's international office network is there to help “deal with clients who often have international asset holdings.”

Withers Original



Trainees put down three seat preferences when it comes to seat allocation (four if one of your choices is employment). HR will review these, then allocate seats based on both preferences and business need. We heard “priority is given to second-years’ choices, and first-years are more likely to go where the demand is.” Most agreed that “broadly, people get their preferences, and if you haven’t you’ll likely be prioritised next.” Sources noticed that the family and wealth planning seats were particularly popular as those are seen as “classic Withers seats.” Around two-thirds of the seats completed by our trainee interviewees were in these 'classic' private client areas.

“Ultra high net worth people, pioneers of business and celebrities.”

The family department covers divorces, complex financial disputes and agreements such as prenups, postnups and cohabitation agreements. According to trainees, it has “some of the best clients in the firm: ultra high net worth people, pioneers of business and celebrities.” And we would add: royalty! The firm recently acted for the estate of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg as second respondent in financial remedy proceedings between the Grand Duke's son, Prince Louis, and his wife Princess Tessy, who he separated and later divorced from. As this example suggests, a lot of the work is contentious, so trainee tasks include bundling and attending client meetings and conferences with counsel. As the seat goes on, some mentioned “drafting divorce petitions – with supervision,” “drafting instructions to counsel” and “reviewing any documents we get sent.”

Private client covers a “broad range of work in that area” and is the firm’s largest department globally. Its work includes probate, wills, estate planning, setting up trusts, administering trusts, and advising clients on matters like inheritance tax. Unfortunately all the clients of this department are confidential – wealth management is a sensitive area – but the firm's website gives a good idea of the clientele it's aiming for: below a picture of a sunny harbour filled with yachts it promises it will 'take a holistic approach to wealth structuring, working hard to identify legal solutions that work across different countries and asset classes.' As one trainee pointed out: “If our clients have international asset holdings, we provide advice on how to devolve their estates through countries like Italy, Switzerland and the UK.” Sources described this as “a drafting-heavy seat” and as such, had got stuck into “doing the first draft of wills, letters of wishes and lasting powers of attorney.” There was also a hefty amount of liaising with clients and tax bodies like HMRC, and “you do get a lot of client-facing time.”

Contentious trusts and succession acts for the same classic wealthy clients as wealth planning, but also has a formidable charities clientele, which the firm helps “deal with issues that come out of contentious wills, like when someone has died and left a charity a massive legacy instead of a family member.” The team recently defended the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust as two beneficiaries of a £500,000 estate against a claim from someone saying she should get the money because the deceased treated her like a daughter. (The charities won.) Other charity clients include Greenpeace and Barnardo’s. But the clients aren't always charities: “Sometimes we’re dealing with tiny estates left to someone that someone else is challenging for some reason.” The seat also covers international trusts work for “some of the richest families in the world.” For example, the team has been acting for the eighth Nizam of Hyderabad in his claim to try to get back £35 million which was transferred to the Pakistan High Commission by the seventh Nizam after the Indian takeover of Hyderabad in 1948. Trainees often undertake research tasks into points of trusts law and spend a fair amount of time in court or at mediations. “Responsibility levels vary considerably,” one trainee reflected. “On smaller matters, where the charity doesn’t want to spend a lot on a tiny estate, the trainees are trusted with progressing those matters. In those cases, client contact is considerable.” On the flip side, the department also deals with some sensitive issues such as capacity matters, and “those clients don’t want too many people involved.” Bundling can always be expected, alongside reviewing medical records and drafting witness statements.

“The firm’s historical focus was private client, so a lot of the corporate work has that spin to it.”

As mentioned earlier, the firm does have a commercial arm. Commercial seats include (but are not limited to) corporate, IP, real estate, and commercial litigation and arbitration. Sources explained that “the firm’s historical focus was private client, so a lot of the corporate work has that spin to it.” For example, the team acts for family-run businesses as well as for entrepreneurs and wealthy individuals buying or selling businesses. The corporate team also recently advised motor racing company Racing Point on the administration of Indian Formula One team Force One, and advised TransferWise on a multimillion-dollar funding round.

Commercial litigation covers reputation management, data protection matters and other commercial disputes, while arbitration covers perhaps the most unusual work at Withers: “representing governments and states suing countries.” On these types of matters “trainees' exposure and responsibility levels are usually less because you are a small piece of the puzzle for a short time period on an enormous matter.” The arbitration team recently represented a company which specialises in tech for blind people in an investor-state arbitration against the Czech Republic, while on the commercial litigation side the team acted for clothing company Diesel on the recovery of around £1.5 million owed to it by House of Fraser.

Withers also offers trainees the option of doing an overseas seat. The most common is Milan, which “pretty much takes someone every seat rotation,” while stints in other locations are “more sporadic.” Trainees don’t necessarily need to speak Italian to go to Milan, though it helps when dealing with Italian-speaking clients. The seat is commercially focused, and those that had been to Italy mentioned seeing “a lot of standard corporate M&A” as well as “commercial agreements for individuals such as sports players.” In the past, trainees have also gone to Hong Kong and Geneva to do wealth planning.

Withers or without you



It’s evolving,” trainees reflected on Withers’ culture. “The firm had a reputation for being traditional based on its client base more than anything else, but it is doing a lot of things to actively change that.” Part of this included “the acquisition of a funky boutique tech firm” (that’s JAG Shaw Baker, if it wasn’t immediately obvious…), which sources felt was a “step in quite a different direction for the firm.” Withers also moved its London HQ to a “brand new office [next door to the old one] which is open plan and has hot-desking – a huge departure from the partner/associate two-person office set-up.” Interviewees praised this new format, saying: “It definitely helps for meeting people, especially coming in as a first-seat trainee!” Of course, this was quite a drastic change, and some admitted: “A few more vintage partners have been quite vocal about not liking it,” but added: “It’s becoming much more natural now.”

“We’re not a very boozy firm and people have their own lives outside of work.”

Despite the ability to meet people more easily, some felt that “there could be a bit more happening on the social side.” Most reckoned “people just get tired and pull out of things.” That said, sources noted that “between trainees the social life is great – our cohort do a lot of things together.” Such things include Friday morning breakfasts and Friday night drinks. There’s also a social committee that arranges Christmas, summer and Easter events. Otherwise, the social scene “depends on the vibe of each team.” For instance teams such as trusts and property have afternoon teas with “a variety of cakes and biscuits – that’s very Withers!” Others added: “We’re not a very boozy firm and people have their own lives outside of work.”

Something else that is very Withers is pro bono work. Many trainees had taken on matters through LawWorks – “there’s one trainee who sends round an email each week with a list of matters we can get involved in.” These have included “advising charities on leases they’re thinking of entering into” or “advising charities on updating their constitutions.” Overall, sources felt that “there’s definitely an interest in pro bono at the firm,” though added that “you have to get your supervisor on board, and obviously people are quite busy.”

“If you’re going to court, people stay late to get things done.”

As Withers spans both private client and commercial practices, trainees found the hours can vary quite substantially. Those in family reported pretty regular starts between 8am and 9am and finishing by 6.30pm. In commercial seats, like real estate, interviewees reported later nights ranging up to 9pm or 10pm, though that was usually when “working on massive deals completing before Christmas.” In litigious seats, sources explained, “if you’re going to court, people stay late to get things done.”

When it comes to qualification, second-years submit their preferences of where they'd like to end up, although the firm does not publish a jobs list, so some felt “you’re applying for things in the dark, which isn’t great.” Trainees are then interviewed by the department they're interested in – if there is availability. Sources reckoned that “you’re matched with your first choice wherever possible.” Historically, the firm has had decent retention rates, and in 2019 this continued as the firm retained seven of its eleven qualifiers.

On the topic of diversity, trainees reckoned that there’s “a definite push on that front.” Half of partners are women, the firm has a diversity committee and it has recently held events with Aspiring Solicitors.

How to get a Withers training contract 



APPLY HERE 

Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020  

Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020

Applications 

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. 

Interviews 

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.” 

Vacation scheme 

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.” 

Withers LLP

20 Old Bailey,
London,
EC4M 7AN
Website www.withersworldwide.com

  • Partners 189
  • Associates 258
  • Total trainees 32
  • Total staff 1,129
  • UK offices 1
  • Overseasoffices  16
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Graduate Recruitment [email protected] 02075976244
  • Training partner: Ceri Vokes
  • 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 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 July 2020
  • Vacation scheme applications open 1 November 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline 31 January 2020
  • Open day deadline date 28 February 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £38,000
  • Second-year salary: £40,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £63,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 23 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • 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

Firm profile



Withers is a leading international law firm dedicated to the business, personal and philanthropic interests of successful people, their families, their businesses and their advisers. 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



The wealth of today’s private client has increased considerably and many are institutions in their own right. We have responded to these changing legal needs by broadening our international base and strengthening our range of legal services to offer comprehensive advice to its clients. The firm has unparalleled expertise in commercial and tax law, trusts, estate planning, litigation, charities, employment, family law, immigration and other legal issues facing high net worth individuals. Work is often international due to the complexity of our client base which includes some of the wealthiest global citizens. We have acted for 55% of the UK Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ and a significant number from the US and Hong Kong ‘Forbes’ rich lists. Trainees who speak a relevant language may have the opportunity to complete a seat in one of our offices abroad.

Training opportunities



Each year the firm looks for a diverse mix of trainees who are excited by the prospect of working with leaders in their field. Trainees must have an excellent academic background and great attention to detail. Team players with leadership potential are of interest to the firm, as is an international outlook and foreign language skills. 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.

Vacation scheme



The firm runs two-week long placements at Easter and over the summer in London. Apply online by 31st January 2020 for places in 2020. Interviews take place between January and March.

Open days and first-year opportunities



The firm runs an open day for first-year law students in April. Apply online by 28th February 2020 for a place in 2020.

Other benefits



The firm offers a wide range of benefits including: flexible gym membership, private medical, season ticket loan, lifestyle discount etc. 

University law careers fairs 2019



• Edinburgh – Wednesday 25th September
• Bristol – Thursday 3rd October
• Nottingham – Monday 21st October
• SOAS – Tuesday 16th October
• Cambridge – Thursday 24th October
• Queen Mary – Tuesday 22nd October
• Warwick – Tuesday 22nd October
• UCL – Monday 28th October
• LSE – Tuesday 22nd October
• Oxford – Saturday 9th November
• Exeter – Wednesday 20th November
• Durham – Wednesday 20th November

Social media



LinkedIn withers-llp
Twitter
@WithersRecruits
Facebook
WithersWorld

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
    • 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 1)
    • Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
    • Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)