Holman Fenwick Willan (London)
Along with Ince and Co and Clyde and Co, Holman Fenwick Willan is one of the leading shipping firms in the City. Shipping isn't its only area of expertise - the firm has strong trade, commercial, insurance and energy departments - but it still dominates the practice and perhaps it shows, as one insider commented, there "appears to be one rule for the shipping department and one for everyone else
HFW has a rather different culture from the traditional corporate firms as a result. An assistant noted that HFW "benefits from being a relaxed environment in which to work
", and that it had "a non-hierarchical vibe
The firm has been expanding its international footprint, with 17 offices including three in Australia, plus associations including in Singapore and China. In 2016 it opened offices in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. All of which means "good opportunities for working abroad/secondments
". A junior responding in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey agreed that there were "great opportunities to work abroad as a trainee or a NQ
There has been praise from staff in the surveys for "good quality of work
" and "big clients
". However, pay is not in the top tier. One lawyer said "salaries are on the low end of average
" whilst another complained that the firm does "all the work and hours of a big hitting corporate firm
" but has "small pay for it
". However, in the 2017 survey, several lawyers credited HFW with a decent work/life balance. Hours "are decent
", said one, while even a critic conceded, "We get to get away from the place and the shocking atmosphere pretty much every weekend
And for those specialising in shipping, the hours tend to be pretty civilised by City standards.
It wasn't been the best year for the firm financially in 2014/15, as revenue dropped 3% to £139m and average profit per equity partner (PEP) fell a sizeable
15% to £469,000. There was improvement in 2015/16, as PEP lifted 5% to £519,000 and revenue rose 3% £143m, up 3%. Net profit also rose, by 11% to £42m.
There is a mixed response on morale at the firm, which performed pretty poorly in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey (but better than in 2016). At the dissatisfied end, in the 2016 survey, one lawyer said a recent 'engagement' survey revealed that "25% of staff are disengaged
", but since conducting the survey "absolutely nothing has changed
". One associate reported that "there are some knobs (not the delicious oat biscuit kind) in positions of power"
. Also, a worried lawyer noted that there is an "exodus of people at the moment
In 2017, a senior lawyer said the firm "seems to be in the middle of a generational shift from some of the older dinosaurs to some of the more business minded people. Whilst this means that a number of the more 'senior' but lower billing partners have left, it has resulted in a lot of politics and constantly changing procedures as a management merry go round takes place
Also, "There's now no point in getting in early for the chocolate hob nobs - they don't exist any more at HFW Towers".
However, others were more positive in the 2017 survey, highlighting that partners are approachable, which is very sporting of them, and maintaining that there there is a "Brilliant atmosphere (very collegiate)
And there is a place to wig out: "About two years ago we got a prayer room",
one lawyer told the 2017 survey. "It wasn't getting much use, so now it doubles up as a music room".
A few moans persist about IT support, which is "good when it happens, but takes a long time to get there
". And there were complaints about the "lack of 24 hour secretarial support
", but that's the rub when you work for a smaller firm. Also the firm hasn't passed the toilet test so it would seem, as one insider commented in 2016, "when rats aren't popping up out of the toilets, it takes weeks to fix a toilet seat".
Overall, despite a few grumbles, there is interesting work, and if shipping floats your boat, the firm remains a solid choice.