Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Watson Farley & Williams LLP

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Watson Farley & Williams LLP

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘Guaranteed international secondment and even the opportunity for multiple overseas seats’, ‘six-seat structure’, ‘prominence in energy and renewables’, ‘friendly firm and culture’, ‘strong finance pedigree, particularly in relation to shipping and aviation assets’, ‘the shorter rotations mean that you can try more departments’, ‘the international secondments are great (even in the current climate the firm is working hard to send us abroad where possible)’

Best thing about the firm? ‘People are genuinely friendly and pleasant’, ‘it has substantial finance expertise and is known for this in the industry’, ‘good level of partner contact, which is helpful for a trainee trying to ascertain the overall structure of a deal’, ‘Magic Circle-level work within finance but with the camaraderie of a smaller City firm’, ‘the guaranteed opportunity to complete an international secondment’, ‘the wide range of international work and the amount of responsibility given to trainees’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Lack of transparency from management’, ‘perhaps too big a focus on finance’, ‘long working hours depending on department’, ‘the four-month rotations can be tiring’, ‘sometimes tasks aren’t explained fully, especially during busy periods’, ‘the limited integration into new seats during lockdown’, ‘the coffee’, ‘not having a bin in your office and having to go to the bins in the hallway!’, ‘not enough social activities, but this could be due to Covid’

Best moment? ‘Working on big, headline deals – the firm is very good at what it does’, ‘getting the international secondment I really wanted and having access to a really approachable mentor’, ‘settling a case for a client’, ‘closing a deal in my projects seat’, ‘Bangkok secondment’, ‘signing a deal after a few weeks of hard work’, ‘completing the delivery of a new B787-9 aircraft’, ‘completing a transaction followed by a dinner with the client a couple of weeks later’

Worst moment? ‘A couple of big deals in finance and corporate which resulted in periods of late nights (and sometimes weekends) where the work is heavily administrative’, ‘staying up until 4am on a closing’, ‘not being able to go on international secondment due to Covid’, ‘working remotely sometimes makes you feel like you don’t have any visibility on what is going on and you feel forgotten about’, ‘struggling with remote working and knowing when to switch off my laptop at the end of the working day’

The Lex 100 verdict on Watson Farley & Williams LLP

A ‘leading shipping practice’ with a ‘good sized trainee intake’ plus a ‘guaranteed international secondment and high profile multi-jurisdictional work’ sum up Watson Farley & Williams’ most popular qualities. A Lex 100 Winner for international secondments, Watson Farley & Williams’ international opportunities are a major draw; one trainee found the experience ‘amazing. Our Athens office is a brilliant place to work and I am currently assisting the Bangkok office remotely. It was great to see how a different office operates. The exposure is also greater due to small teams which require you to take on a lot more responsibility which was really rewarding’. The training is split into a six-seat rotational system and provides multiple opportunities to travel abroad. Even during the pandemic some travel continued, albeit with more difficulty. The firm’s energy and finance departments are very strong, offering ‘Magic Circle levels of work’ without that culture. Trainees do mention some long hours during particularly busy periods, but praise the firm’s ‘peer-to-peer mentoring’. A trainee adds: ‘from partner down to associate, people really want you to take responsibility and control of your own workstreams’. With its shipping and aviation strengths, as well as the ‘friendly and welcoming’ culture and abundant international opportunities, Watson Farley & Williams is a popular choice.

The firm: WFW is an international law firm advising on complex transactions and disputes through local knowledge and an integrated international network. It has a strong sector focus, combining its technical excellence with deep industry knowledge across energy, transport and real estate.

The clients: Aviation Working Group; BP Pension Fund; Citibank Europe; Lightsource BP; Macquarie Bank; National Westminster Bank; Ryanair; Teekay Tankers; TUI Cruises; Vattenfall.

The deals: Advised an enlarged working group of creditors comprising certain French banking groups, ICBC Leasing and Standard Chartered Bank on the shipping-related aspects of the debt restructuring of French shipowner Bourbon Maritime; advised the bondholder group on the restructuring and recapitalisation plan of Virgin Atlantic Airways – this deal was named ‘Restructuring Deal of the Year’ at the IFLR1000 Europe Awards 2021 in April 2021; advised the lenders and arrangers, comprising a syndicate of 11 Spanish and international banks, on the €732m refinancing of a 120 MW thermo-solar portfolio of three CSP plants in Spain owned by Q-Energy, the largest CSP financing in Europe to date; advising Chesterfield Resources Plc on its acquisition of the belt scale Adeline copper exploration project, located in the highly rated Labrador region of eastern Canada, from Altius Minerals Corporation; advised TUI Cruises GmbH on the financing and implementation of its US$1.3bn acquisition of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises from TUI AG.

A day in the life of… Darius Meehan, first-year trainee, Watson Farley & Williams LLP

Darius Meehan, Watson Farley & Williams LLP

Departments to date: Projects; Assets and structured finance; Assets and structured finance (secondment to the Athens office)

University: Christ's College, Cambridge

Degree: Classics BA, 2(1)

8.00am: The first few weeks of my secondment to the Athens office are virtual owing to Covid-related restrictions, so I start the day a little earlier than usual to account for the time difference. The team in the Athens office are very friendly and sympathetic to the odd occasion when an early start has proven difficult. I work through unread emails in my inbox. I’m currently on a deal involving our New York office, so quite a bit’s happened while I’ve been asleep – story of my life – and it’s helpful to know how the transaction has progressed (so I can update the associates if they ask) and what work I may need to do today.

9.30am: I have a briefing call with a senior associate who asks me to update a mortgage agreement to reflect both the new deal we’re working on and the latest boilerplate clauses used by the firm (a few of the clauses have changed recently owing to the UK formally leaving the EU at the end of last year). The task is a good exercise in the use of the firm’s legal technology. I use document comparison software to compare our mortgage agreement with the latest version of the firm’s precedent agreement, which helps me work out what boilerplate clauses have changed and where new information is required. I then run a definitions check to ensure all newly inserted terms are defined somehow in the agreement.

11.00am: I’m invited to attend a conference call between our team and the lawyers for the other side. The call was arranged to find a mutually acceptable way of drafting a clause in a loan agreement which relates to an event of default. These clauses tend to be closely scrutinised by lenders and borrowers, because they relate to the lender’s power to cease its lending obligations if the borrower fails to meet certain requirements. After a bit of discussion, a suitable form of language is agreed. These calls tend to be more collaborative than confrontational and, while I often find there’s not much for a trainee to say on the calls, it’s great to work in a firm where you can gain exposure to these kinds of discussions and learn how more experienced practitioners handle tricky situations.

1.00pm: After a bit of lunch where I remind myself why I chose a career which had no edible element, I’m asked to have a first stab at drafting an amendment and re-statement agreement covering the amending of an existing security document. Trainees are often responsible for ‘smaller’ documents on a deal such as notices and deferral letters. But often at WFW the structure of the team – sometimes just a trainee and partner – means you can take more responsibility and thus draft more complicated documents that would normally be the domain of associates. The team doesn’t expect miracles though; they understand trainees are only a few months into their legal careers. After I’ve turned in a draft, an associate walks me through her general comments, which will hopefully help me to draft a similar sort of agreement more efficiently next time.

4.00pm: The New York correspondence which I began my day looking at has now become more of a priority as we head towards midday East Coast Time. Much of my role is co-ordination, acting as a liaison between the client and the New York office to ensure what we’re producing for the client is compatible with New York law. Sometimes the client will call to ask a question. I found it faintly terrifying the first time a client called me, fearing I would mis-speak and cause the whole deal to come crashing down. I now realise that, provided you are reasonably cautious, having a phone conversation with a client (or indeed any third party on a transaction) is a great way of building rapport and easing the transaction along. That associates and partners trust trainees enough to sanction this kind of contact is one of the reasons I like WFW: it trusts in its trainees’ capabilities.

5.30pm: After checking in with my supervisor, I take an early cut (thank you, two-hour UK-Greece time difference!). If I was in Athens, I could have an evening by the sea. Sadly, the hostelries of London will have to suffice. Fortunately, the firm is well-positioned for after-work entertainment, with Broadgate Circle a stone’s throw away, or Shoreditch further east for some variety. The trainees are a sociable bunch and, as lockdown eases, keen to get out and about. A few of us head to the firm’s unofficial local, The White Horse. A pint in, my Outlook calendar informs me I’m invited to the Athens office summer social, a Kalamaraki night by the beach. I’m not sure what Kalamaraki is, but I’m excited.

About the firm

Managing partners: Chris Lowe and Lothar Wegener

Other offices: Athens, Bangkok, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Paris, Rome, Singapore and Sydney.

Who we are: WFW strives for excellence in all that we do and views investment in our people as key to achieving our business goals and values, which rest on developing deep and long-lasting relationships externally and internally through respect, sharing, communication and integrity. Our teams are integrated across legal disciplines and offices, delivering consistently high levels of service in combination across borders and locally through a deep understanding of local business customs and culture.

What we do: Within our core sectors of energy (conventional and renewable power, oil and gas, mining and commodities), real estate and transport (aviation, maritime and rail) plus associated infrastructure, we provide a full suite of legal services including finance, capital markets, corporate, construction, planning, employment, public law, regulatory and competition, and dispute resolution.

What we’re looking for: Although there is no typical WFW trainee there are certain qualifications, skills and traits that we look for. You will need a 2(1) or above – or predicted if you haven’t yet graduated. We also look for at least ABB from A level results, 34 points from IB or their equivalent if you have taken other qualifications. Applications are read in their entirety and we take mitigating circumstances relating to academics into consideration. As well as academic achievement, we particularly value applicants with clear initiative, drive and self-awareness. These are all qualities you will have the chance to demonstrate at one of our assessment centres, as part of the application process.

What you’ll do: Our training contracts are hands-on, with as much experience of clients and challenging, high-profile work as possible. Trainees benefit from plenty of exposure to senior lawyers, many acknowledged leaders in their field.

WFW deals with training and ongoing development in an individual way. During each seat the firm discusses with trainees plans for the next one to ensure they gain valuable insight from the six-seat programme, including a guaranteed international secondment.

We believe that only total immersion can provide trainees with the experience they require.

Perks: These include 25 days’ holiday, income protection scheme, life assurance, employee assistance scheme, pension scheme, private medical insurance, interest-free season ticket loan, £250 contribution towards a sports club or exercise classes, and a flexible benefits scheme.

Sponsorship details: Fees and maintenance grants paid for GDL and LPC studies, depending on the point at which you accept a training contract with us.

Diversity and inclusion

Please visit www.wfw.com/about-us/diversity-and-inclusion for information.