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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 comments, 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 notes that HFW "benefits from being a relaxed environment in which to work", and that it has "a non-hierarchical vibe".

The firm has been expanding its international footprint, with 13 offices including three in Australia, plus associations in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. All of which means "good opportunities for working abroad/secondments".

There is praise for "good quality of work" and "big clients". However, pay is not in the top tier. One lawyer says "salaries are on the low end of average" whilst another complains that the firm does "all the work and hours of a big hitting corporate firm" but has "small pay for it". Although another lawyer reports that the hours are "not as bad as they could be". And for those specialising in shipping, the hours tend to be pretty civilised by City standards.

It hasn't been the best year for the firm financially, as revenue was down 3% in 2014/15 financial year to £144m. PEP also dropped a sizeable 15% to £469,000.

There is a mixed response on morale at the firm. At the dissatisfied end, one lawyer says a recent 'engagement' survey revealed that "25% of staff are disengaged", but since conducting the survey "absolutely nothing has changed". One associate reports that "there are some knobs (not the delicious oat biscuit kind) in positions of power". Also, a worried lawyer notes that there is an "exodus of people at the moment".

However, others are more positive highlighting that partners are approachable, which is very sporting of them, and that there is a "decent work-life balance". There is also praise for "good co-workers" and a "friendly atmosphere". Whilst another reports that "most people are game for a laugh".

A few moans persist about IT support, which is "good when it happens, but takes a long time to get there". And there are 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 comments "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: 40%
Development: 43%
Work/Life: 63%
Openness: 42%
Biscuits: 43%
Toilets: 63%
Social: 93%
Firm of the year overall score: 50%


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.


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Your Views

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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...