Winckworth is well worth a look for more than just its niche yet high-profile work for church and state.
It was parlia-meant to be
Traditional wisdom suggests you should never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. Hopefully you're not hungry – these are two of the most distinctive areas of Winckworth Sherwood's practice. Not only does the firm boast a parliamentary department that's top-ranked in Chambers UK and has worked on legislation for Crossrail and HS2, it also has the Church of England and the Catholic Church on its roster of ecclesiastical clients.
However, it's important to add that “the breadth of work” was a big hook for trainees. “Some people fixate on us doing niche stuff but a lot of the work is property-focused and much of the rest of our practice relates to that,” a source shared. Indeed Winckworth wins over a dozen Chambers UK rankings spanning employment, social housing, real estate, planning and education. Almost half its lawyers work in property-related areas, and nearly every trainee does at least one seat with a property connection. There's been expansion lately too with the firm bringing in lateral hires in private wealth, social housing and real estate.
“Some people fixate on us doing niche stuff but a lot of the work is property-focused."
Given the venerable religious and political institutions the firm works with, it's no surprise that “the firm's culture is quite traditional, but not in a stuffy way.” Trainees weren't put off and suggested “certain areas are really pushing forward new opportunities, and there's an increasing focus on business development.” Training principal Eleanor Kilminster tells us: "The range of work available to trainees is expanding. We can offer a range of work that a lot of City firms can't."
London takes eight trainees a year (Manchester and Oxford don't offer traineeships) and they're slotted into their first seat by the firm. Subsequent seats are allocated quite informally: during mid-seat appraisals trainees chat with Kilminster about preferences and what they've enjoyed so far. Interviewees felt “the training principal goes above and beyond to make sure we're happy in the second year especially.” There were some grumbles about qualification – the June timetable left many worrying that NQ jobs at other firms would already be taken if they're not kept on. Fears were somewhat allayed by good recent retention rates, and in 2018 all seven qualifiers were kept on.
Winckworth's real estate lawyers act for the UK's six largest housebuilders – including Barratt and Redrow – and are commended in Chambers UK for their development, portfolio acquisition and property funds expertise. The team recently acted for both Aviva Investors and Barratt as the former acquired a mixed-use development portfolio from the latter; another deal saw engineering consultancy firm HORIBA MIRA call on Winckworth for the multimillion-pound acquisition and development of its new technology park. “I handled my own files from day one," a trainee told us of a general property seat. "I drafted leases and Land Registry applications, and I corresponded with clients on the progress of matters.”
There's also a seat available in commercial real estate and licensing, where the work is for “telecoms companies, new development sites and estate management.” Trainees found alcohol licensing matters particularly interesting, and declared that “you can run your own matters from start to finish again and again to build experience.” Contentious cases led some to visit the House of Lords and witness the giving of evidence before a committee.
“You can run your own matters from start to finish again and again.”
Hitting the Lords and Commons is commonplace in a parliamentary law seat. Winckworth's team has carved out a niche working on large infrastructure projects and includes three 'Roll A' Parliamentary Agents with the power to draft and promote legislation. Winckworth was recently retained by the Department for Transport to advise on the Parliamentary Bill to push through the next phase of HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe. “We sometimes have speakers talking about it in our training sessions," a trainee told us. "They pick topics that will be relevant in other seats." One area that overlaps is planning. This team acts for local authorities (like the London Boroughs of Ealing and Wandsworth) and housebuilders and developers (like Bellway, Meyer Homes and L&Q). Trainees get involved in “drafting deeds of variation and Section 106 agreements" and "assist on rights of light matters related to development risk and help to prepare papers for judicial review applications." Supervision was praised: "I sat with a partner and every time an important phone call came in he'd put it on speakerphone so I could listen in."
Over in employment, Winckworth works most often for senior executives who understandably want to keep their affairs private, so all the work is confident – we can tell you only that the firm represents clients across the professional and financial services sectors. “We work on high-profile whistle-blowing and discrimination cases,” a trainee elaborated. “We're mostly on the employee side negotiating and drafting grievances, settlement agreements and appeals.” The work is “faster-paced” than in other seats because “cases tend to settle quickly and there's a higher turnover of clients." One source reported: "A lot of the clients come to us in redundancy situations, so I was looking at the facts leading up to someone being made redundant, reviewing papers they sent through, and looking at what elements might make it unfair, like discrimination or unequal pay." Trainees may also "get to go to tribunals a few times," spending their time "preparing the bundles, interviewing witnesses and assisting with statements."
In commercial litigation Winckworth's client list is again largely confidential, though we can tell you Crossrail Ltd is a client. Trainees found that in this seat “responsibility is more limited overall.” One interviewee explained: "Even basic emails get checked – there's an extra layer between you and what you send out to clients." Trainees do attend conferences with counsel and go to court as well as having frequent client contact. The property litigation team handles both residential and commercial cases, including “a lot of health and safety work and tenant management” as well as disputes over “the interpretation of leases and contractual obligations." There are also some “unusual” disputes related to churches, and other clients include Greenwich Hospital, United Westminster Schools, Peabody Housing and the Canary Wharf Group. Trainees are generally "a very important small cog in a larger wheel – you have to stick to deadlines or it all goes wrong.”
Trainees can sometimes do a full seat in the ecclesiastical department, advising church clients on canon law, plus commercial, employment and property issues. Describing the work as “land law plus,” a source told us: “It's quite gratifying because the parish clients aren't as experienced at dealing with solicitors, so it's a different experience to working with your average corporate developer.” An eye for detail is essential here, as “the legislation isn't widely commented on and a lot of the books are out of date. You have to really work out what things actually say!”
“This isn't the sort of place you're rewarded for sticking around for the sake of it.”
Winckworth's office is right on the Thames and “everything looks lovely out the windows.” One small grumble about the office was that “there's no cafeteria or place to eat,” leaving many to lunch at their desks or eat out. The hours left trainees with little to grumble about, however – “this isn't the sort of place you're rewarded for sticking around for the sake of it.” Most trainees leave around at 6.30pm, and some told us: “You can do a nine-to-five and there'll be no questions asked or eyebrows raised.” Busier periods in departments like employment and real estate can call for later finishes but even then “9.30pm is the latest I've done,” one source said. “I've only heard of one trainee staying until midnight and that was because they hadn't done handover notes for when they went on holiday.” (Oops!)
Interviewees reported that “Winckworth doesn't have the drinking culture some firms have, so it's not like everyone decamps to the pub after work.” The social scene varies by department – the larger teams are more likely to hang out after work, we heard. There are also “some really good events” for the whole firm including pub quizzes, a Christmas carol concert and (recently) a James Bond party. Trainees also revealed that “social events are often tied in with raising money for charity and corporate social responsibility.”
Winckworth well outperforms the market when it comes to gender balance: 46.7% of partners are women.
How to get a Winckworth training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens 15 November 2018)
Open day deadline: 30 June 2019
Winckworth Sherwood expects its future lawyers to have three As at A level and a minimum 2:1 degree. Successful candidates are primarily drawn from either Winckworth's vacation scheme or open day. Once applicants have completed one of these, there is a second interview with a panel of partners. Occasionally, an 'exceptional' candidate will be interviewed directly if they are unable (for logistical reasons) to attend either the vacation scheme or the open day. Our trainee recruitment sources warn applicants to get their applications in early: “We review the forms as they come in and interview before the deadlines.”
Winckworth Sherwood runs a two-week vacation scheme each July for those applying for a training contract. The firm typically receives around 200 applications for the ten places available on the scheme; on average around half of these have received training contracts. To apply for a place, candidates must submit an online application which includes an 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 executive.
Vac schemers are paid £150 per week and visit two departments during their placement. They sit alongside an associate or partner, and have a trainee mentor. Typically they undertake research projects and basic drafting, but also get the chance to attend seminars and meetings. In addition, they'll also complete various exercises. There's also a second interview with a panel of partners to help determine whether they'll nab that training contract or not.
On the social side, there’s usually an introductory lunch with the partners and drinks with the trainees. Other social activities include a Southwark walking tour and cricket matches.
The firm organises an open day each year in July for training contract applicants unable to set aside two weeks of their summer holiday for a vacation scheme. In order to attend, candidates must first complete either a face to face or phone interview. Around 20 of the top applicants are then invited to the office to learn more about the firm. The day includes individual exercises and a group presentation which is assessed by a panel of partners. On top of that, a lunch is scheduled to assess candidates' social skills.
Interview with training principal Eleanor Kilminster
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?
Eleanor Kilminster: It's been a very positive year despite the difficulties presented by the London and South East markets – a lot of firms have been struggling even to retain existing clients. Winckworth has had a profitable year, we've added more strength to our departments where we've seen gaps in the market. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, introduced by the EU in May 2018) was an important area that needed to be plugged and we brought in two partners to help there, one of whom was a former trainee at the firm. Real estate and development have been a growth area despite the drop in property prices following the referendum, and our private wealth practice is expanding. On the HS2 side we've been appointed for the next phase as government advisers, showing our parliamentary team is the go-to group for that kind of work.
From a trainee perspective, our growing practice means you can get a broad range of training with us – certain teams go very in depth into specific areas, while others cater to a broader interest. We can offer the range that a lot of City firms can't.
CS: What makes a training contract at Winckworth Sherwood distinctive to those offered by other firms?
EK: The range of subjects available to trainees is expanding – we now offer a seat in regulation, data and information and not many firms have seats in ecclesiastical or parliamentary law. These can be very helpful experiences for trainees to get under their belt – if they've worked on HS2 from a parliamentary perspective, that's invaluable if they're interested in tackling large infrastructure projects. Winckworth Sherwood is also a friendly firm with a relatively small trainee intake, everybody tends to know everybody by the end of their training contract.
CS: Do you see the firm expanding trainee numbers going forward?
EK: It's possible in future that the Manchester team could take a trainee, but that office is currently dedicated mostly to planning and property work so I don't think a whole training contract there would be well-rounded enough. We've steadily increased our London intake from six to eight trainees a year, reflecting the growth of the firm, but have no plans to increase significantly at the moment. Some firms see trainees as a resource to bring in and do paralegal work, but that's not our approach.
CS: Last year you mentioned outside interests and skills are important for a candidate applying to the firm – how important is past work experience?
EK: From our perspective a lack of work experience wouldn't count you out of contention, but it's a good means for a candidate to show their interests in a practical way. We're looking for someone who wants to join the firm long-term, and expect them to make an informed choice on where they want to go. Work experience helps us know a candidate is dedicated but we'll want to snap up the highest quality applicants regardless.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
EK: I don't expect a huge shake up, though some firms are very against the proposals – I'm somewhere in the middle on it all. Where I see a difficulty is trainees needing to pass their exams at the end of their training contract: both trainees and firms need to be able to make long-term commitments, and there may be more turnover at one or two years PQE if firms need to bring more people in because trainees don't pass their exams for one reason or another.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
EK: The law can be very hard work and you've got to have genuine passion for it. We get some applicants who think they want to be a lawyer but haven't fully investigated what it means to be one and what it will mean to them.
Some take a scatter-gun approach when applying and don't look into specific practice areas and the firms within those markets – that's important to consider, because once you're part of one type of firm or practice it can be difficult to move. Don't rush into applying for anything if you can afford not to, do try and get experience in different areas. It's bad for both the trainee and the firm if they decide come qualification time that the work they've been doing isn't for them.
5 Montague Close,
- Partners 62
- Assistant solicitors 98
- Total trainees 15
- UK offices London, Oxford, Manchester
- Contact Recruitment executive: Joanna Clark, [email protected], 020 7593 5183
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA
- Vacation scheme places pa: 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 15 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 15 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 28 February 2019
- Open day deadline: 30h June 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year: salary £38,500
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days, plus bank holidays, plus one extra day at Christmas
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
Main areas of practice
Employment and 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 a large number of educational and affordable housing operators, charitable and religious organisations and cultural and leisure services providers, delivering a full range of legal expertise.
Private wealth and 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 proerty solutions, tax and succession issues, pre-marital advice, divorce and family.
Real estate and 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.
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.
We provide each successful applicant with £150 per week to assist with expenses and travel costs.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
- Family/Matrimonial Recognised Practitioner
- Planning (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 2)
- Charities (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 3)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 1)