Hewitsons pedals its shining tricycle of real estate, private client and business services down the Oxford-Cambridge corridor.
Hewitsons and corri-daughters
“We want to build on our legacy as a high-quality firm in our main locations to become a pre-eminent regional practice in the Cambridge-Oxford growth corridor region,” says Hewitsons managing partner Colin Jones. For those unfamiliar with said corridor, it’s a notional crescent joining Oxford and Cambridge, via Milton Keynes. Owing to a mix of established wealth and university-driven research, manufacturing and educational excellence, it’s the target of government-backed growth in homes, infrastructure and business.
All this is good news for Hewitsons, a wily regional operator well positioned to snaffle much of the resulting business. “We've had a number of our best financial years in a long time,” says Jones. “In the past two years, we've increased revenue by 12% between 2015 and 2017, and we've added 18 new fee earners over a period of 18 months.” Going forward, “what we’re focusing on in the three years to come is getting our firm into the top 100, focusing on three client groups – business services, private wealth and real estate. In the short term, in particular, we will be investing in corporate, tech, employment and dispute resolution. We have a growth agenda, and we're looking for quality talent to join us."
“What we’re focusing on in the three years to come is getting our firm into the top 100."
The firm looks after a flock of clients, both regional and national, with needs ranging from more traditional private client and property quandaries through to flashier corporate conundrums. And, elevating Hewitsons above many regional lookalikes, the LawExchange International network (which the firm founded 25 years ago) brings in a smattering of international work.
It’s also worth noting that Hewitsons gobbled up a small City outfit a few years back (referred to as Hewitson Moorhead). But the firm’s largest offices are Northampton and Cambridge: between them they pick up Chambers UK rankings in areas like corporate, IP and litigation. These sit alongside excellent rankings for agricultural and rural affairs, while Chambers High Net Worth recognises Hewitsons as among the best private wealth firms in Northampton, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.
Trainees are split between Northampton, Cambridge and London, but sources had also completed seats in Milton Keynes. “You don’t get a choice where you first land,” said interviewees, “but for each seat after that, you talk to the HR manager to let them know your top three seat preferences.”
Private client matters make up more than a third of the firm’s workload, and Hewitsons offers a full platter: will drafting; inheritance tax planning; trust reorganisations and administration; foreign asset management; estate management and charitable donations. “There was client contact from the first stage,” one interviewee beamed. “It was the most involved seat I had. I got a real mixture of responsibilities such as attending client meetings, witnessing will signings, and drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney.” The firm administers quite a few trusts worth £30 million and has historically dealt with some getting closer to £90 million. Clients include high net worth individuals, the owners of family-run businesses and landowners, some of whom have international assets or trusts which need jurisdiction-specific treatment.
In the litigation seat, contentious trusts and probate, professional negligence, shareholder bust-ups, insolvency matters and property disputes all feature. A recent matter saw the team represent restaurant Fish'n'Chick'n when the lease on one of its sites was threatened by a planned redevelopment. The British Institute of Interior Design, Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki, insurance specialist PAMIA and the RSPB have all also come knocking in recent times. Trainees could be exposed to any of the range of disputes we described. As such, “a six-month seat in litigation is different for each trainee depending on what's going on,” a source revealed. One junior “was involved in doing background research tasks and preparing bundles. I'd also sit in on telephone calls, but it was less hands-on.” However, another newbie recalled “working almost independently on a file regarding a small claims issue. I was the main point of contact for the client, and did everything from giving preliminary advice to drafting a witness statement and liaising with the other side.”
“With agricultural land, nothing is as straightforward as the LPC would have you believe!”
Newbies in the agriculture and rural affairs seat play a role in advising farmers, private individuals and major landowners as they buy and sell land, tinker with their ownership structures and pursue renewable energy projects. Again, matters are kept strictly confidential, but clients include large landowners like Great Bradley Farms in Newmarket, Castle Ashby Estate, Tissington Estate and Merton College Oxford. One insider excitedly reported “visiting a farm for a signing meeting with the owners. It's great seeing it in real life when you've been drafting all those documents.” Another source was kept busy “trying to make sense of very ancient deeds, drafting lease summaries, conducting property searches and working on title investigations. It's really interesting, but can be quite a lot to get your head around. With agricultural land, nothing is as straightforward as the LPC would have you believe!”
There’s also a split corporate-employment seat. The corporate side includes M&A and reorganisations: Cambridge focuses on tech and property development, while Northampton is known for advising American clients buying and selling businesses in the UK, and focuses on the agriculture, packaging and motor sectors. The firm recently advised Medigold Health Consultancy on its £9.5 million investment from Business Growth Fund, and other clients include Amino Technologies and Danish-founded manufacturer VKR Group. A trainee recalled “drafting minutes and resolutions, attending a client meeting, carrying out the due diligence for a company takeover and drafting the statutory books.” Hewitsons’ employment team has previously worked with Stagecoach London and GB Taekwondo, but sources told us that, compared to corporate, “the employment team is smaller. You don’t get so much work from them so it’s definitely manageable.” One junior recalled being “involved in lots of research tasks, and drafting settlement agreements and letters.”
We mean you no qualm
With trainees predominantly clocking in at 8.45am and finishing by 5.30pm, sources talked gleefully about their hours. “I was told specifically that the partners would not expect to see me in the office past 6pm — they said,' As much as we love you, we don't want you here. Go home!'” Later finishes – an 11pm in corporate for example – were rarities. During “pressing deadlines everyone stays late: partners, solicitors, the lot.” This image of collective effort was a fitting one, thought trainees. “Partner/trainee relations here are fantastic. I certainly don’t have any qualms about talking to any of them and you can have very open and frank discussions. It’s a very supportive culture.”
“We're all completely open-plan, so everyone sits together. Partners and secretaries included!”
The Northampton office was deemed to be “fairly modern,” one source revealed. “We're completely open-plan, so everyone sits together. Partners and secretaries included!” General firm infrastructure was in need of a shake-up according to Cambridge-based trainees, and that office received “a massive overhaul in early 2018 – it was called Project Bob. I have no idea why, but it's made a world of difference! We've all been given new iPhone 7s, there's a new kitchen area where we sit for lunch and it's given us a buzz to get into work.” However, some grumbles about slow IT systems remained. On compensation, trainees felt that “the salary for the region is quite good. Particularly the NQ salary because it almost doubles to £40,000!” There’s no second-year salary increase however. “It would be nice if it did – even if it was just by £500.” Good news: the firm told us that it's currently reviewing this situation.
Some felt that “the offices’ locations aren’t great for transport, so it can make it quite difficult to have inter-office socialising.” Still, we’d heard about “a firm-wide trip to Milton Keynes to watch the ice hockey and a theatre trip to London to watch 'Wicked'.” A social committee aimed at organising more frequent events has been set up, but some trainees preferred the informal gatherings they have now: “We’d rather just go to the local pub.” There’s a Christmas party every other year (2018's will be held in the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge), plus a ‘Sausage and Beer’ networking event which the firm launched in Northampton.
“NQ jobs are released very early here,” explained trainees. “We were circulated an email in December with all the jobs available. You email back and then you’ll interview with the partner who's supervising you.” Lasting between 45 minutes and an hour, the interviews were usually informal, though one source felt they were “grilled a bit.” In 2018 the firm kept on all five of its qualifiers.
“The firm’s very good at training you up.” Trainees undertake a three-hour training session every week throughout their training contract, either by video conference or meeting together in the Northampton office.
How to get a Hewitsons training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 August 2019 (opens 1 July 2019)
Hewitsons offers around seven training contracts a year – five in Cambridge, and two in Northampton – though according to director of HR Caroline Lewis, “we may increase the numbers where we are impressed by particularly good candidates.” The firm's small intake means that snagging a training contract can be competitive, but Lewis insists that this helps to “ensure that there is plenty of responsibility and enriching work for all of our trainees.”
The firm does offer placement opportunities during June, July and August for one week. Those who are interested in applying should send in a CV and covering email to [email protected] The placements are highly sought after and provide rookies with the opportunity to shadow fee-earners practising in areas of interest. Preference is given to undergrads on course to achieve at least a 2:1 with AAB at A level.
The application form
To score a traineeship, candidates are first required to fill in an application form. “We're looking for consistently good academic results,” Lewis asserts, “as well as a coherent, measured and logically reasoned account as to why you've decided you'd like to be a lawyer at Hewitsons.” Fibbers should take note, as Lewis “will always ask to see applicants' original certificates,” later on in the offer process, so make sure you have a copy of your A levels, degree, GDL and LPC to hand. If you haven't always made the grade then fear not: “If a candidate has spent a year as a fee-earning paralegal at Linklaters, it may mitigate against them achieving three Bs at A level,” Lewis says, by way of example. “We don't want to lose out on people who miss the cut by a thread.”
All applications are collated into one giant spreadsheet at the end of August. Candidates' names are withdrawn from the document to ensure anonymity, and those that meet the aforementioned criteria are then invited to interview. It's a process that Lewis feels works well, as “the only thing I know at this stage is that they're an individual applying for a training contract. I learn applicants' names on the very day that I interview them, so it's all very fair.”
The interview itself is held with Lewis and a member of the firm's trainee interest group (who is always a partner). The interview is relatively formal, and is designed to test interviewees' commitment to a career in law, and a career at Hewitsons. “It's important to show us that you've done your research,” Lewis nods. “We want to see applicants who are excited to explain where they want to be and why they think they'll get there with us.” Evidence of good teamwork is also important, so we'd advise applicants to think up a few scenarios where they've led or been responsible for a group of people. There is also a practical exercise involving a case study which is undertaken on the same day but in advance of the interview.
Though evidence of prior work experience can be valuable, “we try not to put too much store on it. There's a chance that someone who's spent a week at a magic circle firm may have just secured that experience through their father's friend, so what we're really looking for is something a little more substantive that demonstrates a degree of individual merit.” Lewis hints that a stint paralegalling could be a good example of this.
When it comes to academic credentials, Lewis feels that “it is good to see the benefits of a mix of learning experiences, including non-law degrees.” And as far as universities are concerned, “we've found that the likes of Oxbridge, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, Durham, Sheffield and Leeds have produced a number of excellent solicitors for us. They're certainly not the only places that we'd look to hire from, but we have been particularly impressed with their graduates in the past.”
Working in Cambridge
42 Newmarket Road,
- Partners 45
- Assistant solicitors 64
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices Cambridge, London, Northampton, Milton Keynes
- Overseas offices: None but the firm is a founder member of LawExchange International.
- Contacts Caroline Lewis, director of HR, [email protected], 01604 463121
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 minimum
- Minimum A levels: AAB minimum
- Work experience: June, July, August
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 July 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021: 31 August 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £23,500
- Second-year salary: £23,500
- Post-qualification salary: £38,500
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days, bank holidays and an extra dat at Christmas
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Generally Cambridge and Northampton with placements in London and Milton Keynes
Main areas of work
Trainees will be supervised by a partner and their professional development is monitored throughout.
Application is by way of letter and CV to [email protected]
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Cambridge and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 4)
Northampton and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)