The quantitative easing and low interest rates in place since the financial crisis have boosted the wealth of the global elite — and those who act for them. Top private client firm Withers has certainly been a busy place over the last decade. Revenue has, astonishingly, more than doubled since 2007, to reach £193 million this year.
As provider of legal services to the world’s super-rich, Withers has some rather big name clients, among them Britney Spears. Most prefer to keep their names private, but the firm lays claim to having represented just over half of the top 100 on The Sunday Times Rich List.
For trainees that equates to some interesting work. Litigation is said to be particularly juicy, with “frontline” tasks including “drafting documents and attending trial” but beware of “bundling”. The firm’s large family law practice — think million pound divorces, some featuring celebs and lots of media coverage — is “paper-heavy” but often very stimulating.
The training is “generally good”, we’re told, with sessions at the start of each seat specific to a department. There’s also “team-wide training” to keep trainees in tune with the latest legal updates. “I feel that I’m more than simply another resource and that associates and partners want me to develop the skills which the firm needs and are willing to invest time in that,” reports one happy rookie.
Indeed, as trainees cut their teeth they are given close supervision — the small intake of 11 helps in this respect — “with decent levels of responsibility and strong client engagement”. Peers are a “truly non-competitive, supportive group of very friendly people” who “eat lunch together most days”. Partners — nearly half of whom, remarkably for the legal profession, are female — are “approachable, friendly and willing to help”.
Where Withers differs from most other private client firms is in how international it is, with 16 offices in nine different countries. Happily, the firm makes sure this reach translates into a decent level of international secondments. Popular destinations include Milan and Geneva, with trainees prepared for their spells on the continent with weekly language lessons before they go. We understand that it’s rather less usual to get a placement to one of Withers’ US offices, where the firm has an extensive presence following its 2002 merger with Bergman Horowitz & Reynolds.
The downside to Withers’ global status is that it behaves a bit more like a megafirm than a private client practice when it comes to working hours. The culture is definitely City law — which is reflected in the firm’s choice of headquarters location on the edge of London’s financial district. The newly qualified salary straddles the private client/City divide, standing at £68,000. On the topic of work/life balance one insider reports: “Longer hours than the firm likes to project externally but still far better than many firms. There is generally not a culture of having to show ‘face time’.” Another tells us they are “very happy with my work/life balance. Some late nights but get out by 7:30pm/8pm normally. Have worked weekends a few times, but it is strongly discouraged by supervisors.”
The firm recently relocated to a trendy glass and steel construction at 20 Old Bailey. “Looks a bit like a hotel,” quips one trainee, but “there are comfy booths to work from with lots of agile working spaces.” The open-plan office also houses a modern client lounge which, we’re told, regularly receives praise from passers-by. Themed meals for different holidays are actually a thing in Withers’ canteen. “We recently had special meals for Eid al-Fitr and 4 July which was fun and impressive”, shares one insider.
A policy of allowing everyone at the firm to work one day a week from home, which is being aided by ongoing investment in Withers’ IT systems, gets the thumbs up. If there is a downside to this it’s the firm’s fairly weak social life. “Firmwide events are few and far between: limited to summer and Christmas parties”, says one trainee. “Work/life balance means people are able to make time with their non-work friends and that usually gets prioritised over any firm based socialising,” says another.