Joanna Clark is the Recruitment Manager at Winckworth Sherwood. She is based at the London Bridge office and joined the firm in 2015.
I had been working as a graduate recruiter in consulting and banking, and felt like a change of industry. I was approached about this role and thought it sounded interesting as it was a mix of graduate and lateral recruitment, which is often difficult to find. I had my first interview and was very impressed by the culture of the firm, the interesting practice areas and the high-profile work. The location right on the river by Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market is wonderful too!
Our vacation scheme is usually held in the London office over two weeks in July, but depending on the wider situation with the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 vacation scheme may instead go ahead as a virtual assessment day. Candidates should apply online and we will confirm the format in due course.
We are recruiting eight trainees to start in 2023, the same number as previous years.
To explain the process, there are two routes to apply for a training contract at Winckworth Sherwood. The first is to apply for the vacation scheme by the deadline of 28 February 2021. The second is to apply for our open day by the later deadline of 31 May 2021. Last year’s vacation scheme and open day were both changed to virtual assessment days, with each attended by 18 candidates. The format worked really well, so we are confident that candidates will have a good experience even if we are not able to get back in the office this time.
Virtual assessments take place over half a day, using digital assessment software, and involve the same activities that we would normally set in the office – a mix of individual and group exercises. We are lucky to have a great team of partners dedicated to trainee recruitment – they put you at ease straight away and make the day really enjoyable, even fun! Candidates who pass the assessment day are then invited back for an interview with two of our wider panel of partners.
The virtual aspect can make group exercises more challenging, as it is harder to collaborate over Zoom than when you are all in the same room. However, we have found that candidates are generally good at being considerate toward each other and allowing one person to speak at a time. Our partners take a more active part in the group exercises than normal in order to facilitate discussions.
We are looking for the same skills whether the assessment is taking place virtually or in person, so finding the right balance between making contributions and enabling others to have input is just as important in the office.
Trainee recruitment has changed a lot for the better since I started out in the legal sector. Winckworth Sherwood recruits a diverse group of candidates every intake – our trainees tend to graduate from a range of different universities, the majority are from state schools and many are the first generation in their families to attend university. We also attract a lot of female trainees – possibly because we have a high percentage of female partners at the firm.
This year we are working with the Sutton Trust to provide work experience to A level students as part of the Pathways to Law programme, which I am very excited about.
We are also supporting The Aspiring Solicitors Foundation in their work to remove financial barriers to the legal profession.
I really enjoy interviewing prospective trainees. On paper they all have similar academics and work experience, but in person they are very different. It is fascinating hearing their stories. I have met some real characters!
The least enjoyable part of my job is telling candidates that they have not been offered a training contract, especially if I have got to know them during the vacation scheme or if they are an internal candidate.
Screening hundreds of applications can be quite challenging, but I still like to provide a personal touch. We don’t filter out any applications automatically; I look at each application as a whole and decide carefully who to invite to interview. I often get feedback from candidates saying that they like the fact that I take the time to conduct face-to-face interviews. I think this sets us apart from other firms. We have a very friendly culture and I like candidates to see that!
We want to engage with candidates and tell them about our diverse practice areas and the high-profile projects we are working on. Not many firms can say they have parliamentary and ecclesiastical practices! I also like to speak to candidates about the incredible training we can offer – sharing an office with a senior associate or a partner means trainees are given real responsibility from day one and can learn from the best in their field.
One student asked one of our trainees how he thought social housing would be funded going forward. This showed good commercial awareness as this is one of our key practice areas. Generally, candidates who ask questions about big deals we are working on impress us as they have clearly done their research.
A lot of candidates do not explain why they want to work for Winckworth Sherwood rather than any other law firm. We are a full-service firm with some quirky practice areas, so it is really important to work out why you would be suited to us and what you can bring to the firm.
Many of our partners (18%) trained at the firm and we are very proud of this fact. We look for trainees who are driven, inquisitive and have an interest in the many different areas of law that we practice, but also a real commitment to furthering their career with us. We also have an extensive CSR programme here, so candidates who show a passion for pro bono work will fit in well.
Nothing unusual comes to mind, but I would emphasise the fact that we value all kinds of work experience. Sometimes I interview candidates who have no previous legal work experience at all; provided you have solid work experience and can tell me about the skills you have gained and how they are transferable to law, don’t hesitate to apply.
Make sure that you really research the firms you are applying to. There are so many different firms out there in terms of size, culture and practice areas, so it is important to think about what you want and which firm can give you this. Only apply to the firms that really interest you and it will come across in your application.
We focus on providing the highest levels of service, commercial focus and technical excellence in all the sectors in which we act. This will not change. One of the great things about our business is our diversity and the wide range of sectors and specialisms we work across, for example, charities, commercial & corporate; commercial litigation; construction; education; employment; finance & banking; hospitality & leisure; housing & local government; licensing; private wealth; real estate and planning. Plus specialist areas like ecclesiastical, parliamentary agency and immigration.