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UK City Firms

Holman Fenwick Willan (London)

Our view...  

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.


Salary (1st seat trainee): £36,000
Salary (NQ): £58,000
Salary (1PQE): £62,000
Salary (2PQE): £66,000
Salary (3PQE): £73,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %


Grant for GDL: £6,000
Grant for LPC: £7,000
Training places per year: 14
% of trainees retained: 100%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 47%
Development: 47%
Work/Life: 72%
Openness: 58%
Biscuits: 61%
Toilets: 47%
Social: 75%
Firm of the year overall score: 60%


Holiday allowance: 25 - 27
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Employee contributes 5%, firm contributes 10%
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: Statutory plus discretionary
Target hours: 1500
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: Subsidised
Restaurant: Yes
24 hour photocopying support: No
24 hour secretarial support: No
Other: Night secretarial support only if requested.


News Stories

Exclusive: HFW partner who denied cheating in Xmas quiz resigns
Didn't he do well ... read more > (1 comment)
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Exclusive: Orrick to keep, uh, 0% of its trainees
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Your Views

Feel free to enter your comments on the news story below, subject to our terms and conditions. Please note that comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Please keep it nice. Thanks.

anonymous user
30/03/2012 11:35
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The target hours are actually 1600.
anonymous user
11/06/2013 17:36
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and childcare vouchers are now offered
anonymous user
13/06/2016 16:37
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I applied for a TC and Vacation Scheme, got all the way to the assessment centre, never heard back from them with an outcome...not even an automatic email. I wrote to the general HR email twice after 2 months of the assessment centre, still no reply. Called 2 members of HR, both out office without any date when they will be back.

Considering that most firms provide feedback when you get to the assessment centre stage of the application, not even replying looks really bad...