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UK City Firms

Watson, Farley & Williams (London)

Our view...

Watson Farley is still a youngish firm in legal terms, formed in 1982 when the City was a very different place. Rumours abound that for a while after launch it was the most profitable firm in the City. It can no longer claim that accolade, but then it has expanded somewhat: it now has over 400 lawyers worldwide.

And it would have an awful lot more if it could have persuaded someone to merge with it in the mid-noughties: it tried and failed to get it together with Squire Sanders, Hunton & Williams (twice) and finally merger-happy Simmons & Simmons. Given the complete lack of success, the dream of a tie-up has faded and the firm is now content to grow under its own organic steam. And it has had a pretty good run, too, with revenue shooting up 9% to £80 million in 2009/10, 11% in 2010/11 (£88.8m), and in 2011/12 revenue rose another 12% to £99.8m. 2012/13 wasn't as good, with revenue growth slowing to 2% (£102.1m) and PEP continuing to drop, this time by 13%, although they can probably get by on £388k. Firm-wide revenue in 2013/2014 reached £117 million, a 14.6% year on year increase on 2012/13 revenue.

The firm’s key area of expertise is asset finance (particularly shipping). Accordingly it has the obligatory Piraeus office, together with Rome, Milan, Athens, Munich, Bangkok, Hamburg, Paris (rebuilt after an Orrick raid a few years back), New York (similarly put back together after a large chunk of its finance department went over to King & Spalding), Singapore, Honk Kong and most recently Frankfurt.

About half its staff are based abroad and all trainees (who do six seats of four months rather than the more traditional four seats of six) are guaranteed a stint in a foreign office - currently Paris, Piraeus, Singapore or Bangkok. If asset finance butters your crumpet and you like the idea of working for a comparatively small firm with overseas opportunities then this is clearly a good bet.

The fact that it is a niche practice will put off some, but on the other hand this may mean that its future is clearer than that of its less focussed competitors.

Pay is performance related after 2PQE, and star assistants can make Magic Circle rates. Although bonuses were paid during the credit crunch (when actually the firm did relatively extremely well), they were described as a "pittance" and there were complaints that the "fat cats were getting fatter".

You get all the usual benefits of working for a smaller firm - staff say that it is a friendly place with a good atmosphere, and the hours are generally better than the Magic Circle (although they are reputedly tougher than at other firms of similar size). According to one associate it's "a punchy little firm that hits above its weight".

However, a growing number of staff niggles means the firm fared very poorly in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2015, coming fourth from bottom.  Staff have been unhappy about the lack of focus on career development, a lack of transparency ("we find out about strategy and decisions well after they've been implemented") and too many "periods of inactivity". One junior associate complained "the partners have no idea how unappreciated staff (both fee earners and support staff) at all levels feel", whilst another referred to an "antiquated and inflexible approach to work" and that partners "don't understand career progression". 

There are those who feel that something needs to be done if the firm wants to truly compete with the larger firms.  One partner said that a big merger is needed "if it is ever to be considered more than a low level player"

The London office space has also come in for some stick with an NQ commenting that it is "really dated and claustrophobic".  Although there is hope since it is believed they are "planning a refurb..."

But it's not all doom and gloom, respondents also praised the "challenging work", a "good number of firm jollies" and generally very friendly people. Plus it also has a fantastic (if a little "dingy") restaurant run by a French chef. Phillipe gets massive praise every year. 

If shipping floats your boat, and you fancy a small firm with good international opportunities, WFW is certainly worth considering.
For more information on Watson, Farley & Williams click here


Salary (1st seat trainee): £41,000
Salary (NQ): £68,000
Salary (1PQE): £72,000
Salary (2PQE): £76,000
Salary (3PQE): £84,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

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


Grant for GDL: £6,500
Grant for LPC: £6,500
Training places per year: 14
% of trainees retained: 93%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 57%
Development: 50%
Work/Life: 47%
Openness: 33%
Biscuits: 45%
Toilets: 57%
Social: 48%
Firm of the year overall score: 48%


Holiday allowance: 25 -27
Flexi holiday: Yes
Pension: Contributory; firm matches contributions up to 5% and then adds a further 1.5%.
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: 6 weeks at 90% salary (statutory) 26 weeks at 50% (Enhanced maternity pay and statutory pay) Remaining 7 weeks at statutory level
Target hours: No targets
Childcare vouchers: Yes
Gym: Subsidised membership
Restaurant: Oui
24 hour photocopying support: No
24 hour secretarial support: No
Other: Can purchase up to 5 days holiday a year


News Stories

Exclusive: Watson Farley & Williams accidentally poisons water supply
It burns, oh how it burns ... read more > (4 comments)
Exclusive: Watson Farley shocked by sudden resignation of Managing Partner
Rumours of a hush up ... read more > (2 comments)
Exclusive: Watson, Farley & Williams bans doctors' appointments
Dr No pays a visit ... read more > (5 comments)
Exclusive: Watson Farley Williams offers trainees £5k to defer
Disputes rumours current intake are doing squat ... read more >
UK Firm of the Year 2013: Openness
Which firms are open with their plans and which are shrouded in a North Korea-like secrecy? ... read more > (2 comments)
UK Firm of the Year 2013: Biscuits, Bogs and Bonding
The all-important categories, ranked by firm ... read more > (5 comments)
Shock! Law firms announce strong results
How did that happen? ... read more >
Doh! Watson Farley publishes hours worked by every one of its lawyers
Doh doh doh doh doh. Galactic embarrassment as the firm desperately recalls email ... read more >
Law Firm Financial Results 2010
RollOnFriday's compilation of the performance of leading law firms for the 2009/10 financial year ... read more >

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