If you like your hijacked ships to come with a side of insurance and broader commercial work, then look no further than Liverpool-headquartered Hill Dickinson.
Head for the Hills
Recent years have proved a bit of an uphill struggle for HD, but like plucky hikers faced with a strenuous climb and torrential rain, this Liverpool-headquartered firm has donned its waterproofs, consulted its map and pressed on upwards. These challenging conditions have come in the form of a difficult insurance and shipping market – two of the firm's major sources of work – resulting in a decline in revenue in 2016 and a recent business restructuring. The firm also shuttered its personal injury-focused Sheffield office in March 2017 after its team failed to retain a significant client. Despite these setbacks, “our business services and corporate commercial practices have grown, and continue to do so,” director of HR Sarah Pickerill informs us. “As part of a strategic objective we've seen new partners join our London office in the health and corporate practices.” The firm also pointed toward growth in its retail, commodities and education sectors. And we should remember that back in 1912, the firm once represented the insurers of the Titanic; we suspect it's made of sturdy stuff.
Trainees were pretty upbeat about HD's current direction: “The corporate team is massively expanding; it's a really exciting prospect. Traditionally we've been seen as a shipping firm but we're evolving and doing a lot of work on the corporate side.” The firm splits its work into four main categories: marine, trade and energy; insurance; health; and business services, which covers the likes of corporate, property, commercial litigation, banking and employment. Chambers UK rates these areas (and more) highly in the North West and UK-wide.
At the time of our calls, trainees were quite evenly spread across HD's Liverpool, London and Manchester offices (eight were in the first two, nine in the latter). After being allocated their first placement, trainees chat about subsequent seats during each mid-seat review. If a seat isn't available in their assigned office, Liverpool and Manchester trainees sometimes hop onto the M62 to switch for a seat. Movement between the North West and London is less common. Londoners are more likely to jet off for a sixth-month marine seat in Singapore, though at the time of our calls a Manchester trainee was currently basedthere.
The team that took on the Titanic case has achieved a lot in a century, but maritime disasters are still a forte. Recently it acted for ship-owners Suez Fortune in an $85 million insurance dispute after the 'Brillante Virtuoso' was destroyed by a fire after being attacked by pirates off the coast of Yemen. However, trainees doing a shipping seat in London (where it's big) or Liverpool are more likely to find themselves getting into the nitty-gritty of ship-building contracts and contractual disputes rather than headline-grabbing accidents: “We mainly see dry shipping disputes concerning things like damaged cargo and trading disagreements,” though “there's some exposure to wet shipping” which covers things like salvagings, hijackings and fires at sea.
On the dry side, HD is representing numerous freight operators as they deal with the seizure, abandonment and redelivery of cargo, as well as the termination of contracts following the bankruptcy and collapse of South Korean logistics company Hanjin Shipping. Trainees had been assigned “case management tasks, where we keep track of all the emails and documents that are coming in. There's some lower-level stuff like bundling and preparing files for court as well.” Others had conducted research tasks and drafted submissions and correspondence to opposing counsel. Lucky trainees in this nautical seat may also get the chance to spend a few days topping up their suntan in Monaco or Piraeus.
A shipping seat in Singapore is packed to the rafters with “wet shipping litigation – it's the place to be for this kind of work. There are loads of collision cases and it's always very busy. It shouldn't be exciting when two vessels collide but it's like 'yes, let's go interview the crew!'” Many of our sources had trekked down to the harbour or boarded ships to assist in taking witness statements from crew members or harbour masters. “I took notes and had a go at drafting the witness statements – my supervisor changed about 90% of what I did, but it was good to have a go. There's not a lot of bundling out here – you're mainly assisting with negotiations and attending meetings with other parties or salvagers. I got to attend most of them and take notes.”
“Speaking to witnesses – if there are any still around who might recall what happened.”
HD's insurance team acts for major insurers – like QBE, Aviva and Swiss Re – and covers areas like professional risk, abuse, disease and marine. It also specialises in the energy, property and construction sectors. Liverpudlians and Mancunians in this seat are assigned to one of the department’s subgroups, like disease, while Londoners can get in on the insurance action through a professional risk seat. Trainees working with the occupational disease team told of working on heaps of asbestos cases; the group recently represented a glass manufacturer on a £500,000 mesothelioma claim. Dermatitis and noise-induced hearing loss matters also crop up in this area. Those in abuse assist insurers with liability claims tied to “historic sex or physical abuse occurring within churches or schools. It sounds difficult and it is.” One recent matter saw HD assist insurers RSA on a claim brought by over 250 individuals who allege they were sexually abused at a children's Catholic care home between 1958 and 1992.
Our insurance sources had prepared bundles for trial; updated clients on a case's progress; drafted instructions to counsel and experts; and helped to put together witness statements. Abuse trainees can also expect “a lot of document review. As the alleged events happened so long ago we're gathering as many documents as we can from that time and speaking to witnesses – if there are any still around who might recall what happened.”
That's why Iceland goes to Hill Dickinson
Banking is available in both Liverpool and Manchester. Asset-based lending and private equity transactions are the speciality in Liverpool, while the smaller Manchester group predominantly serves mid-market clients and is best known for its real estate finance work. Trainees had got stuck in on financings and refinancings, plus corporate support matters. “As soon as I got here I was running the ancillary documents on a big transaction – I produced all of those with supervision. Now I do things like reporting to clients on progress and liaising with various people in a project management role too. I've also been to completion meetings and helped with signings,” one told us. Another source had spent time conducting research and filling in precedents. Major banks like Santander, RBS and Lloyds adorn the client list alongside private equity firms (such as Next Wave Partners) and financial services institutions (like Hyde Park Finance and Liverpool-headquartered Bibby Financial Services). Work highlights of late include assisting Bibby with a €45 million loan to support its growing Irish business and acting for Betfred on a £195 million refinancing to purchase 300 betting shops from Ladbrokes and Gala Coral. Quids in.
HD's corporate group handles both public and private M&A. Corporate deal sizes usually fall within the £1 million to £40 million range, such as the £36 million sale of Carr's Flour Mills to Northampton-based millers Whitworth Brothers. “We've seen a lot of growth in the team and the work is fantastic; it's high calibre, fast paced and increasingly cross-border,” one source told us. Recent deals, for example, have involved Irish airlines, Cayman Islands leasing companies, Belize cash shells and funding from the US. The eclectic client list includes infrastructure supremo Stobart Group, textile specialist Johnson Service Group and the amusingly-named international PR company Fishawack Communications. One source had “attended client meetings, run disclosure exercises and drafted ancillary documents. The team is very focused on getting you stuck in and giving you as much exposure as possible.”
The property team is something of a heavyweight in the North West and increasingly strong in London, representing household names in sectors like retail and leisure (Iceland and Co-op) and transport and logistics (National Express, DHL and Kuehne + Nagel). Its client list also extends to energy and utilities companies, property investors and developers, plus entities operating in the public sector. Matters span leases, developments, sales and acquisitions; the department recently acted for Liverpool developer Elliot Group on its £7.1 million purchase of two tower blocks in Manchester city centre. Trainees are firmly buried in title docs, “reviewing or drafting reports on them for commercial and finance clients. There are also a lot of filings with the Land Registry to take care of.” Drafting leases, licences to assign and deeds of variation are all on the table here too, along with assisting on post-completion matters.
'A Christmas Carol' by Hill Dickens
Trainees from all of the offices come together for an induction week,as well as occasional PSC days; beyond that the Liverpool and Manchester offices try to get together fairly regularly and always for a Christmas bash. “It's a bit more difficult for London to come up but when I pop down for work it's nice to catch up with the trainees there,” one North Westerner told us. “If any of the Northerners come down to the office we always take them out,” one Londoner added. “When we do all get together, we're never divided by offices; we're always really excited to see each other.”
That said, some sources felt there was a bit of a disconnect between North and South, with one Londoner saying: “It's very Liverpool led. HR all sit in Liverpool and although we have a training committee partner here – who is very good and takes the time to talk with and support us – getting hold of people in Liverpool can be difficult. A lot of the decisions are made there too so it can feel like you're missing out in London.”
“When the going gets tough we very much get going.”
Atmosphere wise, there don't appear to be many differences between the bases. “Everybody is so approachable and ready to help out,” one Liverpool-based source told us. A fellow trainee in Manchester had “worried it would be a bit dog-eat-dog like The Apprentice, but it's not. If you're having a rubbish day or you've made an error, the first person you'd go to after your supervisor is another trainee and say 'oh god, this has happened'.” Those who'd spent time in both Liverpool and Manchester reckoned the environment between them “isn't massively dissimilar,” and put any differences down to Liverpool's greater size: “But everyone still chats to each other in the lift or in the canteen!” Londoners were similarly enamoured with their base, telling us: “Everyone is supportive. When the going gets tough we very much get going – you're expected to work hard.” Still, the hours across the firm aren't too bad compared to the likes of big City hitters: “They're not too brutal at all,” sources reported, with 6.30 or 7pm finishes a regular occurrence. And despite “the hours fluctuating in corporate, the latest I've ever had to stay was midnight,” one source told us.
London's trainee cohort are “really close; we try to do lots of different social events together,” which have seen them visit darts, ping pong and crazy golf bars. “The firm also has a really cool Halloween event where we make cocktails and carve pumpkins and win prizes.” We heard Manchester's trainees also “try to get together fairly often,” and head out to events hosted by the Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group. Liverpudlians, meanwhile, often get involved with “Merseyside Young Professionals events, plus we're going to a ball hosted by the Merseyside Junior Lawyers Division.”
The firm-wide charity challenge galvanises trainees and apprentices up and down the country. Teams are handed £100 and tasked with raising as much money as possible. Traditional bake sales and raffles won't cut it though; we heard of Christmas gift wrapping services; mince pies and mulled wine deliveries to parched lawyers' desks; and sales of bacon butties the morning after a boozy client event – “that one went down particularly well.” Blowing away all the competition and racking up a whopping £2,000 was a candlelit Christmas carol service hosted by a team in London – “the venue was gorgeous and the choir were amazing!” The event proved so successful it's returning next year.
On to a more established annual event – the qualification process – and most interviewees were confident of being kept on; in the end 11 of12were retained by the firm.
HD has two London offices – onenear Liverpool Street station in the slick Broadgate Tower and one in posh St James's, which houses the yachts team for the super-wealthy.
How to get a Hill Dickinson training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018
Applications and assessments
Hills Dicks has 14 training contracts available for 2020. If you want to bag yourself a place on the vac scheme or training contract, then in addition to a written application, you'll have to go through what training partner Richard Capper describes as an "extended selfie." He's referring to the process of answering questions via an online video submission, a requirement which is becoming increasingly popular among graduate recruiters.
Candidates who stand out at this stage are invited in for an assessment day which is split into three stages: a presentation, group exercise and a written exercise. For the presentation applicants are given a brief in advance of the assessment day. The group task is usually a negotiation exercise, while the written test could involve drafting a document or letter to a client, and aims to test analytical skills as well as spelling and grammar.
There are no two ways about it: the day is “difficult and high-pressured,” trainees told us. That said, when it comes to the interview it seems the firm is mostly concerned with ensuring candidates really want to work for Hill Dicks: “It’s important for them to be able to present a convincing case, with evidence, as to why exactly they’re applying here,” Capper stresses. Other questions revolve around situational judgement, business development and commercial awareness.
Hill Dickinson offers around 50 one-week vac scheme places a year: 10 places each week in Liverpool and Manchester, and five in London. The first four days are spent in a specific department, and the fifth consists of a training contract assessment day just as previously described. Our sources appreciated that they hadn’t been treated “like a spare part” and felt that they’d “been able to actually contribute something to the team.” At the same time, they’d found the first four days “fairly informal” and “more like work experience really.”
Richard Capper tells us vac schemers might be taken to court, to client meetings, and to tribunals, and also sit through talks and presentations from various business groups. There are also “fancy lunches and drinks with trainees,” before the assessment really starts to bite on Friday. The firm recruits heavily through the vac scheme, with more applying via that route than for a training contract alone.
The ideal candidate
The firm requests that candidates have no less than an ABB at A level and 2:1 at degree. “We usually recruit slightly more law grads than non-law (about 60/40),” Capper adds, ”though you don’t need a law degree and experience in a commercial firm to work here. Any work experience is useful provided it’s informed your decision to apply, and this allows us to recruit an interesting and diverse mix of individuals.”
Lawyering in the North West
Hill Dickinson LLP
No. 1 St Paul’s Square,
Website www.hilldickinson.com / www.laracyco.com
- Partners and legal directors 190
- Senior associates 83
- Associates 139
- Total trainees 25
- UK offices Liverpool, Manchester, London
- Overseas offices 4
- Graduate recruiter: Emma McAvinchey-Roberts, Jennifer Hulse in the Talent & Development Team, [email protected]
- Training partner: Richard Capper
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 14
- Applications pa: Approximately 1,200
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 44
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- First-year salary: (London) £32,000
- Second-year salary: (London) £34,000
- Post-qualification salary: Within a range, up to £40,000 dependent on discipline
- Post-qualification salary: (London) Within a range, up to £58,000 dependent on discipline
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- Maintenance grant pa: (London) £7,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Liverpool, London and Manchester
- Overseas seats: Singapore
Main areas of work
Immediate responsibilities: because of our small intake, there’s a lot of interesting work to go around and you will be given challenges from the start.
Choices: you will work four seats and select preferences from a variety of different areas of law.
A mentor: your mentor (a Hill Dickinson solicitor) will be on hand from day one and throughout your training contract to offer advice, guidance and support.
Office sharing: you will share an office with a partner, who will help you develop your legal knowledge and be there to support you.
A social scene: our trainees work really hard and as you’d expect, it’s not all fun and games. But then they do let their hair down, they get together and do it properly. You’re welcome to get involved in the firm’s staff and family and sustainability programmes.
University law careers fairs 2017
• King's College London – 25 October 2017
• UCL – 14 November 2017
• University of Manchester – 14 November 2017
• University of Southampton – 15 November 2017