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Hamish's Experience | Trainee at Watson Farley & Williams

Book open Reading time: 6 mins

We caught up with Hamish, a trainee at WFW, about his experience at the firm. Hamish discusses what he’s learnt through different projects so far, alongside what WFW are doing in the space of Diversity & Inclusion. Keeping reading to find out why the firm could be the place to kickstart your legal future…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into law

I read classics at university and then studied for a master's in the same subject, so my interest in law came later. It was only actually in that postgraduate year that I began to seriously consider law as a career path. I wanted something more grounded in the real world and more sociable, but still with an element of academia and study to it - something which could potentially open further doors down the line. Having decided I would prefer the feel of a smaller intake, and with vague interests in certain fields, I filled out (countless) online applications for vacation schemes, undertook two over the spring/summer of 2020, and was offered a training contract at WFW. I hadn't attended careers fairs, or open days, so I wasn’t overly clued up on the process or how to approach applying. I would wince to read some of my first applications, and this definitely played out in the fact that it was only really the later ones which led to invitations to further rounds - so start brushing up as early as possible.

What is your role and how long have you been at WFW?

I'm a trainee, currently sitting in the firm's RPC team (regulatory, public law and competition). I've been at the firm for about sixteen months, during which I've also completed two finance seats (one in London, one in Paris), and a projects seat. Seats here are four months long, so you end up doing six across the entire Training Contract.

What has been the single most important thing you’ve learned so far as a trainee?

I would say there's no one "most important" thing about being a trainee. The role is by design extremely varied, so you need a few strings to your bow, and that will vary depending on what kind of lawyer or trainee you want to be. But as for things I've found helpful, the first would be being yourself (which I'm aware is a platitude) and making the most of being physically present in the office. You have to work every working day of the week and being yourself will tell you a lot about the culture of a place and whether or not you're the right fit. A training contract is as much about you deciding if you like your firm as it is about your firm deciding if it likes you. Secondly, don't bring preconceived ideas to what you think you might enjoy as a trainee. Often trainees will end up in seats they desperately didn't want to do, only to find they love the work. What you want is as much variation as is possible within your firm's offering. You will specialise one day and have to stick with something for the rest of your career, so take advantage of the element of flux. If the worst comes to the worst and you hate it, you can manage four or six months. Lastly, I would say it's important to seek out mentors, meaning more senior colleagues with whom you get along, and from whom you can learn a lot more than you can via Practical Law etc. These needn't always be your supervisor, but other people you work with or whose work interests you.

What’s been your favourite project/thing you’re most proud of from your time so far?

Being sent to Norway for a closing in my first seat was a lot of fun - even though the country was in a lockdown. I stayed in Alesund, near where the Arctic explorer vessel which our client was acquiring was docked. Obviously there was quite a lot of stress - I was the only WFW representative at a 3-day meeting and had about fifty different documents to keep track of, as well as more client exposure than I've ever had before or since - but it showed me how much you pick up in such a short timeframe. It wasn't exactly a free rein (there was always oversight and assistance from London), but I had the opportunity to really get stuck in and was trusted to be proactive. My time as a trainee in Paris is also something I'm proud of, as you generally end up with more responsibility in our overseas offices than you might have in London, by virtue of size. Actually, sometimes the length of rope I was given and the expectations of the team were kind of a shock.

But I would say overall the actual substantive work I've been proudest of have been the matters I worked on in the Projects team and the RPC team. In those teams you end up advising on deals and problems that have a direct bearing on, or are at least are directly related to, some of the most pressing and politicised contemporary issues, and with a tangible impact. Whether that's helping on renewable energy projects in Europe and Asia, or ensuring clients are properly discharging their ESG obligations, or monitoring international diplomatic negotiations for team knowhow. (The opportunity to work in these fields was really what drew me to the firm in the first place.)

What aspect of the legal industry do you find the most interesting?

Probably how plugged into current affairs the work can be. Also the inherent sociability of it - if you like talking to people then it's a good profession to get into.

What is the company culture like at WFW?

I think at any large company/firm you will find that the culture is never entirely consistent, the same as a country's culture differs from region to region. So, there are always differences between teams and departments, which can be more noticeable when you rotate as a trainee. When there are overseas offices thrown into the mix, they will naturally have their own distinct styles and habits - which is not a bad thing. But I would say the abiding feature of WFW's culture is sociability and approachability. Not to labour the point, but you work Monday to Friday, and so being able to chat pretty easily to fee earners (and support staff) of all levels - whether that's about work or your weekend plans, makes the working week a lot more enjoyable. It also contributes hugely to the quality of your output. If, when you've exhausted all possible avenues of your own research, you can walk into a partner's office and ask for advice, you'll doubtlessly be learning a lot more and getting better work done for your team and the client. It's for that reason that I generally prefer working in the office than working from home.

How important is diversity to you and what is WFW doing in this space at the moment?

I think diversity is vital, not only in terms of it making business sense and clients wanting to see it evidenced, but in terms of it making an office an enjoyable one to work in. And it's definitely a "more is more" situation. I don't think there's a cap you can ever reach and think, "this is it, we've arrived". The world is always changing, and diversity needs to be committed - and recommitted -  to as a constant effort. What looks diverse now may not in a decade's time. At WFW there are various networks and constant events. There's a real drive among the D&I team to enact tangible changes in the office and to include people who aren't themselves part of a specific D&I network. There's also, reassuringly, a real sense of self-awareness regarding where we are in our D&I journey, and where we need to be headed. While I've been here, there have been D&I film screenings, the launch of the D&I book club, Pride Week, D&I Week, and various articles and initiatives published internally. There's also a nice amount of integration under the D&I umbrella. The network I'm personally involved with is the PROUD network for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies, but we team up regularly with the other networks, like Mosaic and We Further Women. PROUD also go to events with the LGBTQ+ networks from other firms, so again, it's pretty sociable.

Keen to follow in Hamish's footsteps? Explore WFW's live opportunities here.