For law students who can tell their port from their starboard, traditional shipping specialist HFW is calling. Insiders say that this buccaneering international law firm offers solid training and peer support with less of the ‘always on’ working culture you’ll find elsewhere in the City.
“Extremely good,” one insider says of HFW’s training package. It’s an “excellent structured programme” blending trainee-specific and firm-wide sessions, with a “good mix of transactional and litigation work”. Insiders also praise the “regular training sessions” and “attention to feedback”, although one warns the level of support can often “depend on the supervisor you get”.
HFW has branched out from maritime law in recent years, building its business in other sectors like energy, commodities and construction. The involvement of trainees at the sharp end of all this activity does vary depending on the seat. “I have done my fair share of preparing bundles”, one source tells us, “but I am also asked to do work that is genuinely interesting”. Another rookie says they’re “given more responsibility and ownership over matters” compared to their peers at other firms, although administrative and document processing tasks are par for the course.
Budding lawyers keen to spread their wings are in for a treat, as international secondments are built into the training programme — although many appear to have been undertaken virtually this year in light of the pandemic. “I supported our Dubai office remotely and did manage to get a very good exposure to the type of work over there,” one rookie explains. “I unfortunately never made it over there though.” Other recent destinations — virtual or otherwise — include Piraeus, Monaco, Greece and Singapore.
Back at London HQ, the well-located, well-sized office is “somewhat unimpressive” by the admittedly high standards of the City. Although many respondents to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2021-22 were quick to praise the “nice garden”. But change could be on the horizon, with one spy claiming the firm is “actively looking for new premises” so “watch this space”.
The IT elicits a few grumbles. “Outdated laptops that often crash,” one keyboard bashing trainee explains. “This is an area that could be improved,” another adds. That said, we hear new hardware is on the way, particularly for juniors, while e-disclosure and e-bundling tech has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months.
HFW’s remote-working support also prompted mixed responses, with one spy claiming they ended up buying their own monitors “because the ones provided are not good enough for long term”. Although another rookie reports they were given “most of the equipment they asked for” and found the firm’s IT support “easily accessible”.
Unlike its maritime clients, though, equipment isn’t close to the most important thing to an outfit like HFW. In a classic service industry like law, people are what matter, and pretty much everyone at HFW is lovely. The 30 or so trainees are a close-knit bunch with nothing bad to say about one another (trust us, we asked). It’s a “good collegiate culture with minimal politics”, thanks in part to an impressively high retention rate which minimises the scope for back-biting among competing trainees. “Couldn’t have trained with a more fun bunch of people,” one chuffed trainee concludes. As for those further up the ladder, one newbie offers this experience: “All the senior members of the firm that I have come across have been very supportive and approachable when I had questions about the seat, work or anything, really! For those that have a ‘reputation’, it is usually the case that you just need to know how and when to approach them. There are very few like that at the firm in my experience though!”
Generally great vibes spill outside the office, with regular trainee drinks making up for a perceived lack of organised fun. The firm’s trainee-run Instagram account gives a flavour of the sesh, as well as some seriously envy-inducing snaps from those exotic overseas postings. The London office’s best feature, the aforementioned courtyard garden, plays host to after-work events in summer, while another multi-lingual rookie gives the firm’s “remote Spanish and French classes” a big thumbs up. That’s about it for perks, which are unusually scanty for a firm this size.
The firm has performed resiliently over the past year despite the economic headwinds of the global pandemic. Revenue creeped up 3% to £200 million and profit per equity partner jumped an impressive 30% to £683.000. The positive results were driven in part by increased demand across a number of the firm’s specialisms, including construction, energy and of course, shipping. At the time of writing, newly qualified pay sits at £73,500, up 11% on the previous year, while trainee money comes in at a respectable £44,000 and £49,000.
Working hours at HFW seem to be fairly respectable too, according to our sources. “I have friends in regional firms that put in much worse hours (and for significantly less pay),” one tells us. Another gives us this take: “The hours can differ significantly according to the group you work in, but as a general rule they reflect the amount of work that needs to be finished. I have worked some late nights (and a couple of weekends), but there have also been days when I had very little work, and my supervisor encouraged me to log off when I finished my work for the day.” We receive further reports that home-working has led to longer hours for some but that the firm is “offering mental health benefits and activities outside of work to encourage a better work/life balance”. HFW is also letting all full-time lawyers and staff in London work from home for two days a week.