How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
2013 marks the first year Ward Hadaway started recruiting two years in advance for its Leeds office. The firm now recruits around eight trainees into the Newcastle office, two or three into Leeds and a single trainee in Manchester.
The application process
Application forms for the vacation scheme and training contract are accessible online.
Successful applicants are invited to an initial interview with a fee earners and a senior HR figure. Training partner Paula Myers tells us the interview covers “general, straightforward questions like why you chose law, your work experience, what makes a good solicitor and when you have acted as a team leader.”
You're likely to also be asked to explain why you want to work in Newcastle and atWard Hadaway in particular. Although they are important, competency questions are not the be-all and end-all, we're told. And when it comes to giving examples of your achievements, talking about “school, university or an outside activity” is as acceptable as mentioning experience in business.
Applicants who ace the first interview are asked to undertake some assessments, including a group exercise, a presentation and a written task. “The group exercise was 12 of us around a table having a discussion on how to allocate a council budget,” one trainee told us. “We worked in pairs and had to put forward particular points. It was very much about bargaining.” The same source revealed that the written exercise was “a straightforward letter of advice to a client." The assessment day ends with a short competency interview.
According to insiders, “a common mistake is that people forget they are being assessed throughout the day and get too much in their own comfort zone. When they’re chatting during lunch, they should be aware we might be looking to see if they are actually listening to the other people.”
The competency interview includes some “tough questions,” reveals Paula Myers. “In previous years we’ve asked people about the economy, what they would do if they were prime minister or chancellor, what they would do if they were managing partner, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their understanding of being a partner is.” It’s important to be original and show you can think on the spot. “We don’t want rehearsed answers.”
Dress to impress
Putting on the right kit for interview still presents something of a challenge for some people, according to Paula Myers. “They still can’t get it right. Everyone is trying to think outside the box, but you should just wear a dark suit because as lawyers we are pretty conservative.” Indeed, she tells us ties and jackets are a must; not donning them can mark you out as someone who lacks respect.
Getting research right is also important: “We had one incident where a candidate just got confused and was adamant that we have a York office. She had clearly got us mixed up with another firm. Be aware of the marketplace and have commercial savvy. We’re recruiting for the attitude and asking ourselves the question: 'Can I put this person in front of a client?'”
Ward Hadaway offers a one-week vacation scheme, two days of which are spent in two departments. The firm runs five to six schemes over the summer, with four students participating in each.
Monday kicks off with presentations and Friday ends with a written test and an interview. On the basis of that interview, the firm decides whether you’ll go through to a final interview (as described above).
One trainee recalled "doing quite substantial stuff – more than just simple research.” The firm tells us it places great emphasis on recruiting through its vac scheme as the programme "makes it easier to see who we’re getting.”
University backgrounds of the current trainee group include Oxford and the redbricks as well as some former polytechnics. That said, most of our interviewees tend to be Newcastle and Northumbria graduates, and indeed recruiters confirmed to us that most trainees hail from these two institutions.
The Newcastle legal scene
Newcastle's legal market is dominated by a handful of commercial firms. They all have something slightly different to offer, so if you love the city and want to be a commercial lawyer, you're not beholden to just one choice of firm.
What’s the story?
Dickinson Dees was always the granddaddy of the Tyne-Tees scene, and after the May 2013 merger between DD and Bond Pearce, combined outfit Bond Dickinson is now the city's undisputed father, scooping top-tier Chambers UK positions for the North East in all major practices: M&A, banking, dispute resolution, property, employment, construction and so on. With over 700 lawyers, more than 400 years of combined history and a coverage of the UK that ranges from Plymouth to Aberdeen, the new firm certainly has the resources tackle its top 20 ambitions and plans for London expansion. But will it continue its legacy firms' synonymity with the North-East? Only time can tell.
With around 190 lawyers, Ward Hadaway is Newcastle's second-biggest firm. The firm has spent almost 25 years building a practice with public sector and healthcare specialities, and various practice areas have been climbing the Chambers UK rankings in the past few years. Top rankings have been recently awarded for dispute resolution, employment and property, but Ward Hadaway still doesn't quite compete on the same level as Bond Dickinson in other areas. The firm's made moves into Leeds and Manchester in recent years, and a third of its lawyers are now based outside the North East.
Muckle has a range of departments ranked in the North East by Chambers UK, but this firm mainly prides itself on its culture and two-way loyalty. With just 80 lawyers, it's the smallest of the Newcastle firms we cover. As such, it’s little surprise it manages a more personable atmosphere than its larger rivals.
Watson Burton is actually the second oldest firm in Newcastle and at one point claimed the city's number two spot. These days, however, the firm employs just around 50 lawyers, having struggled during the recession and suffering a number of partner defections. Construction, real estate litigation and professional negligence are WB's strongest areas; it's also ranked in Newcastle in corporate, employment and real estate.
Hay & Kilner featured in our True Picture section just once, quite a few years ago now, but it can make a credible case for being a serious contender in Newcastle's commercial market. Smaller again than even Watson Burton, the firm still reigns top of the North East tree for its claimant clinical negligence work and also secures rankings for its commercial offerings.
Eversheds' Newcastle office had a bit of a rough ride a few years back, losing various teams to local rivals and sparking rumours that the it was set to close. However, the firm managed to power through and continues to maintain presence in the city. The office picks up plenty of Chambers UK rankings and is taking up more and more national and international matters, often for costs reasons. As part of a national firm, Eversheds trainees benefit from a wide network outside the North East.
DWF is a new entrant into the Newcastle market, having bought up local small fry Crutes in early 2012. The 31-strong office is home to just two trainees, so recruiting in Newcastle remains small-scale for now. Still, DWF is an on an expansionist crusade at the moment, so we wouldn't be surprised if the firm's bid to up its presence in the North East results in bigger intakes in the future.
What's the goss?
Sources at Bond Dickinson told us they chose the firm for its size, prestige and client roster. “There is nobody in North East rivalling us for size,” one boasted. “We are the biggest and best in Newcastle. The type, quality and breadth of the work is great.”
Trainees at Ward Hadaway liked the firm “for its growth” and recent expansion into Leeds and Manchester. Indeed, many had applied to work for firms in those cities as well as Newcastle.
Insiders at Muckle were largely happy working for a small player in the market, telling us “this is still a big commercial firm, though not so big that you don't know everyone here. It has a personal and family feel but also has a good reputation for its work and client service.”
Of course salaries are something to consider at any regional firm. Bond Dickinson first-years now get £28,000, compared to £22,000 at Muckle and just £20,000 for Ward Hadaway new starters. One trainee's thoughts on the discrepancy? “Bond Dickinson knows that the best people will always apply here because they want the kudos of training here. Other firms will hav to set their wages higher in the future to try to get the better trainees.”