Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has long been famed for the quality of its canteen. With legendary French chef Philippe at the helm, the firm’s food apparently reached levels that would have brought Michelin stars if WFW were a restaurant rather than a law firm. So you can imagine the shock and bewilderment at the news that Philippe has left the firm. WFW has denied claims from trainees that the chef was “forced out” by “cost savings”, but a decision to outsource its London catering services may have left him with little choice.
The new culinary regime hasn’t been taken to kindly. One insider reports: “Since the decision was taken to show our famous French chef the door and replace him with a third party supplier, the quality has deteriorated significantly; gone are the days of freshly cooked steaks, tuna steak and battered fish all made to order.”
WFW’s canteen rating has plunged from an A* to a D in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. It all seems very unfortunate, because the firm has had a really good year in business terms, increasing revenue by more than 20% to nearly £160 million. Profit per equity partner has soared 27% to reach £608,000.
Fortunately, the revolt over the canteen doesn’t seem to have spilled over too much to other areas, with morale generally quite good. Still, you might expect a little more joy at a firm that has achieved such stellar financials.
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”. Having begun life in 1982 as a breakaway from Norton Rose’s shipping practice, WFW’s raison d’edtre remains all things high seas-related – and that is reflected in trainees’ workflow – but it has also expanded into many branches of corporate law. Alongside the shipping, aviation finance and renewable energy are key specialities.
There’s a nice vibe among trainees, who apparently get together every Friday for drinks at one of two local bars and pubs close to WFW’s offices near Liverpool Street station. The gatherings often turn into a night out. But there can be some distance in the relationships with partners, even though there is close contact through the two-person offices that rookies share with their supervisors.
Pay levels (see below) are seen as reasonable in view of the fairly good work/life balance offered by the firm. “So long as there isn’t urgent work, it is normal for the office to empty out at around 7:30pm,” we are told. But with a host of rival outfits upping their trainee and NQ money this year, there may be pressure for WFW to dilute those partner profits slightly by raising salaries.
Although “there have been some good socials lately” (including quiz nights, a rooftop summer party, an “escape the room” away-day, and a pingpong tournament away-day), some trainees perceive there to be “not as many firm-sponsored drinks/social events as at some other firms”. However, the refurbished office is seen as a major improvement, even if the powers that be have “completely failed to do up the loos despite this being really the only area that was in desperate need of attention”. Legal Cheek understands that plans are afoot to sort out the toilets.
Keeping trainees sweet are the international secondments, which are plentiful. With around half of WFW’s staff based overseas, everyone is, should they wish, guaranteed a four-month stint outside the UK. Popular destinations include Athens, Singapore, Paris, Dubai and Bangkok.