With a name like Winckworth Sherwood you could be excused for thinking we’ve included a profile on one of the extras from Bridgerton, but this mid-sized heartthrob is catching eyes for different reasons. Having originally set up shop in London as Trollope & Winckworth in 1777, this now established City player boasts two further offices in Oxford and Manchester (only London and Oxford offer training contracts currently). But with “super nice” superiors, an “excellent” work-life balance and a flair for work with a social purpose, the firm offers something a little different to its larger competitors elsewhere in the City.
Leveraging its history as a firm of parliamentary agents, Winckworth Sherwood continues to undertake a large amount of public affairs work. It has a particular specialism in railways, having worked on Crossrail, HS1, HS2 and the Channel Tunnel, but also boasts niche expertise in charity work, as well as stand-out real estate, construction and employment practices.
And this leads to some pretty stimulating work according to the trainees we spoke to. “In my time here, I’ve realised that although a business law firm, what makes WS’s work interesting is that nothing any of the firm’s teams do is ever purely commercial — there is usually always an extra socially purposeful layer on top, and that makes the work on offer really stimulating,” one spy tells us. “Examples I have done myself or heard from my colleagues include helping the Department for Transport promote HS2 before a parliamentary select committee, arranging grant money for a charity in Sierra Leone or building social housing for some of the country’s largest housing developers.”
Juniors in the employment team could find themselves working on high-profile cases involving brands such as Twitter, with the firm currently representing UK employees there in an ongoing dispute. Those in real estate, meanwhile, might find themselves working with clients such as Pret a Manger, which the firm recently advised on its launch of cafes in Tesco’s supermarket. Other notable clients include McDonalds, Oxfam, Lloyds Bank and Network Rail, but trainees should also be prepared for “a fair amount of procedural work”, warns one insider. Real estate in particular is said to have a decent chunk of the less-exciting trainee tasks.
One way that Wincks does fit the City mould is with “absolutely top notch” training. “There’s contact and support from all levels,” said one junior. The firm is said to focus on providing its trainees with business skills coaching and network development, alongside their legal training, and you can expect direct client contact from seat one. You’re also given a bespoke training diary which is regularly reviewed as well as bi-annual appraisals from seniors. Rookies are generally seated alongside a partner or senior associate for support and supervision but don’t fret, they won’t bite! “You can ask questions to solicitors, associates, senior associates and partners. You can pop into their office or give them a call,” one trainee tells Legal Cheek. It should be noted, however, that some teams “are pretty old fashioned in how they are run and how trainees are integrated into them”, making them less appealing when it comes to qualifying. The firm is said to have good supervision and solid training post-qualification.
Another area where the firm scores well is partner approachability, with rookies describing their peers as either “super nice” or “super friendly” — super! The firm’s social scene includes a football team which is said to be “good fun”, as well as two trainee socials a year and a firmwide Christmas party — past events have included quizzes, shuffleboard and darts. The small trainee cohort — around eight each year — means a lot of direct partner and senior lawyer contact and the firmwide open-door policy encourages a flat hierarchy. But “whether that translates into approachability depends on the individual team,” says one insider.
Generally, the work-life balance is rated as “excellent”, as one rookie tells us: “I get to go at 5:30-6pm most days. Obviously, there’s the odd late night but that has only happened to me once so far across multiple seats.” Trainees are allowed to WFH 50% of the time, with the firm’s set-up said to be “fairly seamless”.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about legal tech in the office, which is said to be “behind the curve”, with keyboards and mouses that “look like they come from a school computer lab in 2006”. The inside scoop is that trainees are holding out for an upgrade when they move office.
Yes, that’s right; Winckworth Sherwood is on the move and rookies seem excited about it. It is relocating in September 2023 to the eighth and ninth floors of the brand-new Arbor building in Bankside Yard, Southwark. It’s a state-of-the-art, net-zero building, using fully renewable energy, and is “much more modern and impressive” than the firm’s digs at Minerva House, sources tell us.
Client secondments are also available for those looking for a change of scenery, with rookies recently doing six-month stints at the likes of Sainsburys and housing association, Notting Hill Genesis.
Perks aren’t incredible, with free fruit being the highlight, but employees do get a standard package of private medical insurance, dental cover, subsidised gym memberships, a cycle to work scheme and childcare vouchers. The firm also hosts regular corporate responsibility (CSR) activities that trainees can get involved in, such as recently completing the Three Peaks Challenge for charity, and a spot of gardening at Winchester Palace!