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.
“So far so good,” one insider says of their TC to date. “Hands-on training at HFW is great and you learn a lot by being the only junior associate or trainee on a matter, often working directly for the partner, with good client contact. The firm puts on a lot of useful training sessions to assist trainees and NQs with their development.” It’s an “excellent structured programme” blending trainee-specific and firm-wide sessions, with a “good mix of transactional and litigation work,” another source tells us. Insiders reveal the level of support can vary between departments and supervisors, indicating that a few are letting the side down, but on the whole most juniors seem happy. “I am very satisfied and feel prepared to become an associate,” one rookie tells us.
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.”
At its best, the work is hands-on with lots of client exposure. “I have written a memo to a blue chip client which was sent off largely unedited, done my fair share of original drafting, and been heavily involved in intense contract negotiations lasting well into the night,” says one spy. Another summarises their experience like this: “As a first seat trainee, you are expected to find your feet and the work will often reflect that. But three months in I have seen a substantial uplift in the work I have been given which has ranged from drafting parts of witness statements, to drafting instructions for experts to research notes where the senior associate is asking for my opinion on how it would apply to our case.”
Like with many firms, however, there is plenty of admin like bundling, document production and document review. So it is a balance between the “very stimulating” and the “mind-dumbing document-based tasks”. 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.. Newbies have recently jetted off to destinations such as Paris, Piraeus, Monaco, Geneva, Melbourne, Dubai and Singapore.
Back at Blighty, the firm recently relocated to an “amazing” new skyscraper at 8 Bishopsgate in the City. Dubbed “London’s most sustainable tall office tower”, HFW occupies three floors of the 50-storey building, with lawyers and staff able to access their own private roof terrace offering uninterrupted views across the capital. And it appears to be a major step up from the old digs, which juniors describe as “crumbling” and a bit of “dump”.
The IT has also improved slightly, insiders say. “It takes the firm/IT team a lot of time to make decisions, but we now have some “decent tech” thanks in part to the office move. “Not advanced compared to other law firms,” another source suggests, but the online software and resources are said to be solid.
Fortunately, the firm’s remote-working support prompted a wave of more positive responses. “It’s great,” says one rookie. “At the start of my training contract my firm supplied me with a top of the range monitor keyboard and mouse as well as a great laptop. I already had a desk so I was ready to start working immediately.” Another tells us: “We are provided with everything so it is good. Although there are different policies from WFH in different offices.”
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). “Your intake and the other juniors around you are extremely supportive and a vital support network when starting out your career,” one happy rookie reports. “The firm is known as being friendly and everyone is normally very willing to help — obviously some people will have their bad days though!” Meanwhile, another proclaims: “I love all the trainees!”
As for those further up the ladder, one newbie offers this experience: “My experience in the firm is that everyone is willing to help — approaching them is the hardest thing. You often feel like you might be bothering partners, but usually they will be happy to talk through things if they have the time. You have to pick your moments of course, but that also comes with experience, and you can always ask a more senior associate in the first instance.” Friendliness can vary between teams – like at many firms – and shipping partners apparently have a particularly good rep for ensuring trainees are warmly welcomed aboard at HFW.
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. Another multilingual rookie gives the firm’s “Spanish and French classes” a big thumbs-up, while others flag the usual City sweeteners such as medical insurance, subsidised gym, travel card loan and solid pension. “A large Hotel Chocolat hamper at Christmas plus a Christmas bonus for all staff was very much appreciated,” says one source.
And the bonuses might continue if the firm’s latest financial results are anything to go by. In a 2021 that saw a relatively flat performance, HFW has rebounded strongly with a 19% uptick in net profits to £64.7 million. Revenue rose more than 13% to £225 million thanks in part to a sustained international expansion, including a new office in Shenzhen, China. Profit per equity partner (PEP) is also up an impressive 17.5% to £786,000. Global senior partner Giles Kavanagh hailed the impressive numbers as the firm’s “best-ever year financially by some distance”.
Newly qualified pay sits at £95,000, a little on the low side by City standards but a reasonable trade-off for a decent work/life balance. “Can’t complain,” one respondent tells us. “Our hours are much better than other London law firms and my team are generally very supportive of having your time outside of work. That might change of course when there’s an upcoming deadline or big hearing!” Others highlight how they are “mostly able to make weekday social plans” (a rarity in the City law game) and claim their work/life balance is “much better than friends at other law firms”. Ultimately, it’s a pretty good deal: “As a general rule the work/life balance is absurdly good for the salary.”