Withers was the product of a 2002 merger with Connecticut-based law firm Bergman, Horowitz & Reynolds, although the firm’s London founding dates way back to 1896. Acting for high-net-worth individuals, the firm specialises in matters relating to tax, estate planning, litigation, employment and family law, and has been a busy place over the past decade, benefitting from the increased client demand during the pandemic and beyond.
Its revenue has more than doubled since 2007, and now sits around the £245 million mark, with profit per equity partner (PEP) figures expected to be in the region of £670,000. The firm has been making several partner hires in its overseas offices over the past couple of years, and recently boosted its London practice by adding partners in immigration and financial services litigation.
As a provider of legal services to the world’s super-rich, Withers has some rather big-name clients, among them luxury brands Moncler and MaxMara. Most prefer to keep their names private, but the firm lays claim to having represented 70% of the top 100 on The Sunday Times Rich List.
For trainees that equates to some interesting work, although it “very much varies between departments”. Training is fairly structured, beginning “at the start of each seat and focuses on the most likely tasks/scenarios a trainee will undertake. Training is always informative with handouts included to cut down on note taking, associates/partners giving the training are always open to questions”. Trainees report “a good mix of hands on and hands off supervision across seats”. Litigation is said to be particularly juicy, with “frontline” tasks including “drafting documents and attending trial”, but beware of “the more boring tasks like bundling”. One rookie notes that “if you want to, and demonstrate you are able, partners will let you take on responsibility and therefore do more stimulating work”.
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. Withers also boasts a built-up intellectual property offering following its 2018 merger with Cambridge tech boutique JAG Shaw Baker. Not that all of the work assigned to trainees is riveting. Newcomers inevitably end up with some “less exciting” and “less stimulating” admin work, although superiors “tend to be apologetic” for dishing it out. However, trainees find that “even if it’s the dullest task, the calibre of clients that work is completed for keep things interesting”.
Once qualified, the admin work will reduce. One junior lawyer says: “As an NQ, I work on a combination of smaller matters, where you are expected to lead and larger matters, where you have a team of associates. It is quite a good opportunity to learn.”
The training is “generally good”, we’re told, with partner or senior associate-led 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 think the training is really great overall,” one rookie reports. “I have been given just the right balance of early responsibility and support to enable my development.”
Indeed, as trainees cut their teeth they are given close supervision — the small intake of 13 helps in this respect — “with decent levels of responsibility and strong client engagement” accompanied by “regular catch-ups to check how trainees are progressing” and “clear feedback” on work. Trainees also share good relationships with their peers. One gushes: “The two current trainee cohorts are supportive and close knit, I couldn’t ask for better colleagues. The junior associates likewise are always there for questions and conversations around work. Some teams chat more than others in the open plan, but generally, the firm has a sociable and friendly atmosphere across all teams”. Another finds the trainee cohort “non-competitive, where everyone is actually friends – a rarity for a city law firm”.
Partners — nearly half of whom, remarkably for the legal profession, are female — are “generally very approachable”. A former trainee told Legal Cheek: “I have never been worried about asking anyone a question, even partners that have been at the firm for longer than I have been alive! Everyone is so friendly and I think this is something that really sets Withers apart from other firms.” The firm’s non-hierarchical vibe is felt through its hot desking system, which (in normal times) sees rookies often sat with various partners and associates throughout the week — allowing trainees to “get to know departments as a whole”.
Where Withers differs from other firms that do a high proportion of private client work is how international it is, with 18 offices in eight different countries, although among current trainees, only one reports on having spent a week at the firm’s Milan office, and none have undertaken a client secondment.
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. Typical hours are 9am to 7pm but some people may work 12-hour days. One trainee summarises: “with the meatiest work comes the difficulty of some long hours. This is an entirely personal choice, and if you want the work, it is there to be completed, but equally, you can opt for an easier ride and decline to push yourself, depending on the team you’re in”. Another reports on “rarely work[ing] late, often finishing before 7/7.30 pm”, with supervisors being “appreciative” and “clarifying the urgency of the task, to make sure that when you do stay late, it’s necessary”.
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 £90,000. 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 is located in a “swanky” glass and steel construction at 20 Old Bailey (opposite the infamous ‘Old Bailey’ aka Central Criminal Court). “Looks a bit like a hotel”, quips one trainee, but “there are comfy booths to work from with lots of agile working spaces”, and early birds who manage to bag a window seat can expect “an amazing view of the Old Bailey”, explains another. One spy notes that “the office still feels newish, five years after the firm moving in”. The “almost paperless” open-plan office also houses a modern client lounge which, we’re told, regularly receives praise from passers-by. You may even recognise the office building from BBC’s political-thriller Bodyguard, which according to one fan “is always great to drop into conversation”. Themed meals for different holidays are actually a thing in Withers’ “great subsidised canteen”. Trainees also delight in the “special meals for Eid al-Fitr and 4 July” which are “fun and impressive”. We hear the canteen cookies are “excellent” too.
As for other perks, Withers’ lawyers enjoy flexible working, a free barista coffee every day, access to an interest free loan for travel cards, private healthcare, monthly theatre ticket draws, as well as paid-for dinners and taxi rides home beyond a certain time (though not if you’re working from home, we’re told). It appears, however, that trainees seeking better benefits must root out hidden gems. “We do have access to a number of discounts, but I don’t think they are well-utilised, and a lot of people don’t know about them, although they are probably quite good if you do go looking,” reveals one respondent.
Trainees and new joiners also get a WFH to “kit out their spaces, and generally, people are flexible with the approach you take to splitting your time between home and office”. Junior employees received special priority in receiving a second desktop screen and other IT equipment, we’re told, which “made a big difference”. That said, trainees aren’t given work phones, “and although this would seem like a benefit, when working from home it can make things more difficult”, complains another novice. And while Withers’ IT systems held up during the lockdown, they’re apparently “very old and slow” — especially its e-bundling software — and “could do with an upgrade”. Rookies dismiss the tech as “could be better” or, if diplomatically minded, “legal tech develops very quickly, so there is always room for improvement”.