Since the global elite began descending on London en masse in the wake of the financial crisis, top private client firm Withers has been a busy place. Revenue has, astonishingly, doubled since 2007, to reach £174.5 million this year. Profit per equity partner has also risen substantially, and this year is up a whopping 25% to £381,000.
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 of the most interesting work around. 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” and partners – nearly half of whom, remarkably for the legal profession, are female – are “approachable and friendly and willing to help”. The one complaint we received was about poor communication during the qualification process.
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 2017-18, 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 8:49am and leave time of 7:20pm 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. 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’.” The downside to this is a fairly weak firm social life. But the upside is a newly qualified starting salary that competes with corporate law money, and in the context of the firm’s PEP is pretty generous.