Watson Farley & Williams
The Legal Cheek View
Having begun life in 1982 as a breakaway from Norton Rose’s shipping practice, Watson Farley & Williams’ (WFW) raison d’etre remains all things high seas-related — and that is reflected in trainees’ workflow — but it has also expanded into many branches of corporate law. Shipping, aviation finance and renewable energy are also key specialities.
The work is highly international, and around half of WFW’s staff are based overseas. As such, all WFW trainees are required to do an international secondment of at least four months. Popular destinations include Athens, Singapore, Paris, Dubai and Bangkok. As well as these locations, and the HQ in London, the firm also boasts offices in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York and Rome.
Following flat financials after a big year of investment for the 2020/21 financial year, this year’s results saw revenues rebound 6% to £187.8 million, whilst profit per equity partner grew a more muted 2% to £565,000.
There’s a nice vibe among trainees, who are known for meeting up together on Fridays for drinks at one of two local bars and pubs close to WFW’s offices near Liverpool Street station resulting in the odd night out every now and then. “Everybody is supportive and takes time to help when needed, the trainee cohorts get on well and this makes it easier to ask questions and support each other,” says one.
Partner approachability is excellent with rookies getting close partner contact through the two-person offices shared with their supervisors. Although sometimes “quite busy”, you can get work directly from partners and senior staff are “generally very helpful and approachable”. Many trainees clearly feel that their supervisors are really something to write home about: “Some excellent supervisors who really take the time to teach you” and are “a clear highlight of the firm.”
Pay levels (see below) are seen as reasonable in view of the fairly good work/life balance offered by the firm. As one trainee concisely sums it up: “Working past dinner — uncommon, working at night — rare, working weekends — very rare.” Here’s a slightly longer take: “For a city law firm it is very good, there are some late nights as expected but you rarely need to work weekends. The international nature of the work means that deals can be closing anytime, on bank holidays or at 3am in the morning for example!”.
The firm also looks like it has decent perks. On top of the standard gym grant, cycle to work and health cover, there’s well-stocked drinks fridges, “really good” parties and social events, even an annual firm football tournament that took place this year in Madrid. For the non-footballers, other social events include quiz nights, a rooftop summer party, an “escape room” away-day and a ping-pong tournament.
The refurbished office is considered a major improvement. The client floor is said to be “very smart”, while the firm’s decision to stick with offices over open-plan has been well-received overall. There has been some criticism, though, of the heavy use of the colour grey and ban on sticking things on the walls which makes the place feel “a bit pokey” and “a bit claustrophobic”. And, despite its honourable intentions, a decision to remove lawyers’ personal bins with the aim of encouraging recycling has not proved too popular: “it leaves everyone trundling to the communal bin with their hours-old banana peel and box of wastepaper at the end of the day”. However, insiders tell us that an office move is now in the works so watch this space. “The canteen is very good and good value” one insider tells us, with food at WFW being served in a beautiful atrium dining room with fresh food cooked every day by Italian chefs.
In other respects, the firm performs solidly. Training is said to be “generally good”, but “could be improved by more structured training sessions”, while “in the smaller departments, and in particular the international seats, the work is very stimulating”. Consensus is that the training experience is dependent on the department and your supervisor with “a lot of high-level work offered, especially in the smaller teams.” “In some departments trainees are given a lot of responsibility early on to draft agreements and manage transactions, of course you will still carry out usual trainee tasks like CP lists, research tasks etc,” one spy reveals.