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, doubled since 2007, to reach £176.6 million this year. Profit per equity partner has also risen sharply, and now stands at £402,000.
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 42% of 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”. 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.
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 and friendly and willing to help”.
Where Withers differs from most other private client firms is in how international it is, with 18 offices in nine different countries. Happily, the firm makes sure this reach translates into a decent level of international secondments; according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19, a third of rookies have spent time abroad with the firm. 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. An average arrive time of 9:05am and leave time of 7:22pm means 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 £63,000. 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.”
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 firm social life. “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,” an insider tells us.