Medium-sized Wedlake Bell has rated consistently well in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey over the years. We’re not surprised: the 16 trainees recruited every year enjoy “lots of responsibility to project manage and run small matters”, one insider tells us. Nothing like a chance to gain exposure to real lawyering early on.
Like many of London’s smaller commercial outfits, Wedlake Bell has a big real estate division, and also does a lot of private client work. Wannabe lawyers who aren’t into leases and wills should perhaps consider looking elsewhere. Likewise, trainees are probably not going to be doing a seat abroad: the firm isn’t multinational, although it has some links abroad and an international employment law subsidiary called iGlobal Law.
That’s all right: you’ll be too busy painting the City red to worry about overseas excursions. When there’s not a pandemic going on, the social life at Wedlake Bell is positively pumping (for a law firm), with one trainee telling us that “there seems to be a conscious effort to keep the firm as sociable as possible, despite the office move and slight change in perceived firm culture. Regular drinks events and other activities (e.g., choir performance, netball matches, trips) — most people are keen to be involved”. The perks are decent too: plenty of chatter about the freebie bowls of porridge in the morning and soup in the afternoon, a day off on your birthday and “almost everyone has a Surface Pro”.
Wedlake Bell has 71 partners at the time of writing, having recently swallowed Moon Beever, Stitt & Co and merged with the more sizeable Cumberland & Ellis a few years back. These tie-ups seem to have boosted an operation that struggled for profitability at the turn of the decade: profit per equity partner was £372,000 in the firm’s most recently disclosed financial results, with a turnover of £37.5 million. The size is still pretty manageable, so newbies report a “culture of approachability” which “doesn’t feel hierarchical”. The firm itself says there’s “room to be noticed”, which isn’t necessarily the case in firms with dozens or even hundreds of trainees.
The facilities are relatively new — Wedlake Bell moved into the City only in 2016 — and the open-plan digs make for “a very comfortable and modern place to work”. Plus there’s a roof terrace on the eighth floor offering “staggering” views of St Pauls and the surroundings. There isn’t a proper canteen serving hot food, but we’re told there are occasional “chef’s table lunches” where an on-site chef whips up a themed lunch.
Lawyers need their brain food when tackling complex matters, and Wedlake Bell does offer a decent quality of work. It’s “far more varied than at my previous firm”, one junior lawyer confides — naming no names — and “something new seems to crop up every day”. Trainees say that some of their tasks are “inevitably more routine than complex” but rate their training highly. “There is formal department-specific training at the beginning of seats and regular know-how sessions throughout”, reveals one insider, whilst another adds: “I was invited by the firm soon after qualification to undertake professional exams to improve my technical expertise in the area I qualified into.” Although like many firms, the training experience at Wedlake Bell has inevitably been affected by the pandemic. One trainee tells us that their training has been “slightly impacted by a reduction in work in my second seat due to Covid-19”, but this of course can’t be helped.
What about work/life balance? If you’re looking beyond the really big firms, you’ve probably twigged that workloads are saner in a place like Wedlake Bell. You’d be right, although remember that this is still a full-service firm, meaning that there’s variation between different departments. Wedlakers can almost always bank on finishing by about 7pm. That means being able to plan evening and weekend activities — something trainees don’t appreciate until they’re stuck in the magic circle with no plans or hobbies for years on end. The trade-off is time versus money — a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor salary of £64,000 is no match for a magic circle NQ salary but still very decent nonetheless.