There's nothing hodgepodge-y about Hodge Jones & Allen: this firm's been focused on “helping the little man” from the off, and requires future trainees to be equally enthusiastic about its mission.
It was all a dream
“If you come here you have to be extremely passionate about your job – there's no doubt that every HJA lawyer is,” interviewees told us, and we felt inspired just listening to them talk about it. Their passion was not unexpected though, as Hodge Jones & Allen is well known “for being committed to social justice and defending people who aren't necessarily able to defend themselves.” In the past its clients have included veterans suffering from PTSD, striking miners and imprisoned members of protest group UK Uncut.
Back in 1977, HJA was but a glint in the eyes of two young lawyers – Peter Jones and Patrick Allen – who resolved to found a firm with the express aim of promoting social justice. All they needed was a third partner, and after thrashing out a plan over a few pints in Covent Garden, veteran human rights crusader Sir Henry Hodge agreed to fill the vacancy. The firm's come a long way from sealing deals in pubs: today it employs over 120 fee-earners and has an annual turnover of more than £15 million. Its personal injury (PI) department is the most profitable, but Chambers UK also honours several of its other practices, including crime, family, civil liberties and social housing.
“It's fulfilling but you obviously feel a heavy burden because you're dealing with sensitive issues."
Given HJA's collection of practices, it's not surprising to hear that the firm's reliance on legal aid left it vulnerable to the government's funding cuts. As a result, HJA has had to adapt: trainees told us it's taken on more private work – in areas like employment – and has had to be extra discerning when considering new cases. “What's important for us from the outset is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a case and sorting out the funding for it.” It's also been offering conditional fee agreements (CFAs) to keep the path to justice clear for its traditionally claimant-focused clientele.
Before trainees embark on their two-year crash course they receive a list of eight seats and are asked to rank each one in order of preference. “There's also a comment box next to each seat, so you can explain why you want to do them and include any relevant experience you have.” All seats are assigned at the start of the training contract, though the assignments are not set in stone. Of the eight seats on offer, the civil liberties stint is “the most popular and hardest to get,” but the newly formed employment seat has also been exerting some serious pulling-power.
Personal injury takes on two or three trainees at a time, so most complete a seat here. The department acts for claimants in a range of cases: low-value road traffic accidents, employer/public liability matters and serious injuries are all taken on here. Claim values can vary considerably, with one multiparty action comprising 88 claimants seeking around £1 million each in compensation; they all took a GSK-manufactured swine flu vaccine – Pandemrix – which is thought to have caused their narcolepsy. Other cases have seen the team take on NHS England on behalf of a 16-year-old woman after it refused to fund an expensive narcolepsy drug, Xyrem; they've also been trying to secure compensation for an ex-engineer in the Royal Marines who sustained a spine injury while on duty. The majority of trainees' work comes from their supervisors (usually a partner), and even on those large multiparty actions they're still able to get stuck in: “I went to visit some of those clients to take statements and gather medical evidence.” On smaller cases – like workplace accidents –“you do everything, from issuing proceedings to submitting claim notification forms to attending settlement hearings.”
The civil liberties team is “a huge draw” for recruits with social justice at heart. Lawyers here hold many an authority to account: police forces, the Prison Service, the Ministry of Defence and the Crown Prosecution Service all fall under their scrutiny. Actions against the police and inquests into deaths in custody are the bread and butter here. The former can cover anything from false imprisonment to malicious prosecutions to failure to investigate crimes such as rape and murder. One of the team's clients is Neville Lawrence – father of Stephen – and trainees were able to play a part in the independent review of the teenager's murder. “We helped to draft applications to court and were liaising with Mr Lawrence throughout.” Unsurprisingly, the work can be harrowing: “It's fulfilling but you obviously feel a heavy burden because you're dealing with sensitive issues. During inquests people want to know what's happened to their loved ones.” Generally it's a second-year seat as the firm prefers “trainees to have sat in crime first, as it gives you a good grounding in custody laws.”
“Everything from attempted murder to complex financial crimes.”
HJA's social housing lawyers work on a mix of homelessness, disrepair and possession claims, as well as judicial reviews. Some cases, like this one, set a precedent for local authorities: the team recently secured a victory for a mother of five against Westminster council's decision to rehouse her and her family 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. “Because she refused to take that house she was made homeless and her kids were put into care,” one trainee who'd worked on the case told us. The Supreme Court subsequently issued guidelines clarifying how councils should house the homeless. Many sources had worked on disrepair claims, where landlords failed to maintain a property. “You get to meet the client in their home, take statements and get things under way by drafting a letter before claim.”
“I actually have fun on the weekends.”
HJA only really attracts trainees who “never really looked at commercial firms in the first place.” But to get in, trainees really had to impress: “You have to be driven, committed to the values the firm represents and socially minded about the same issues – it's fair to say everyone's quite left-wing.” While flagging the “rewarding nature of the work,” sources also highlighted a clear drawback: “I knew I'd never make the same money my friends do in the City.” But there are perks to this, of course. “Our contact hours are 9.30am–5.30pm, and you're not expected to stay beyond them because you're not paid to.” Another interviewee put it like this: “I've got friends at big firms and they are so stressed out and always on call, but I actually have fun on the weekends.”
According to our sources, HJA's Euston-based HQ is “not exactly a beautiful building with loads of light flooding in.” The office is open-plan, with “the partners sat around the edge and the admin staff in the middle” (though there are still a few individual offices). However, unity is regained in HJA's basement, which is something of a focal point for the firm's social activities: “There's a bar down there as well as a pool table, a dart board and a TV – they open it up to all HJA employees on Thursdays and Fridays.” The firm hosts regular basement-based jazz nights and “there's always something going on afterwards without a doubt.” As you might expect, “we also do a lot of fund-raising for various charities and causes that need assistance – hence why we host so many quizzes!”
What happens after the training contract left sources asking the questions instead of answering them: “I have no idea how qualification works,” said one, echoing several others. “It doesn't seem like a very structured process, so it'd be nice to have some clarity.” We hear that trainees can apply for NQ positions in as many teams as they like, and in 2016, five of seven qualifying trainees kept sticking up for the 'little man' full-time.
HJA recently featured on the BBC's Employable Me, as it followed Ben Stevens, who has autism and was undertaking a week-long placement. He is now a paralegal.
How to get a Hodge Jones & Allen training contract
Training contract deadline (2018): 27 July 2017
Application and interviews
HJA currently recruits around half of its trainees from its support staff (including a number of paralegals, see below) but both internal and external applicants follow the same process. Candidates apply directly to the firm by submitting an application form online or by post. “It's a simple, open format, which makes it easy to express what you'd like to say about yourself without being restricted by lots of questions,” thought one trainee.
Around 400 applicants are whittled down to a shortlist of 25, who are invited to attend an hour-long interview with two partners. Candidates are given half an hour beforehand to peruse a list of legal scenarios and consider one to discuss. “We're not expecting interviewees to be able to answer the question in-depth, but we are keen to see how they demonstrate their thought process and come to an answer,” an HR source tells us. The rest of the interview involves discussions based on the candidate's CV, “the choices they've made in terms of degree subjects and what area of law they might be interested in,” says HR. One trainee recalled: “It felt informal and the interviewers were very kind. It's a simple process, without any stupid questions.” Demonstrating a thorough understanding of the firm's work and what it stands for is essential to making a good impression. Candidates fare less well if they “can't coherently explain a point or are unprepared to answer the questions put to them,” our source adds. Applicants are then interviewed by an HR representative, who gauges motivation and fit with the firm.
The candidate pool is halved for the second round of assessments. Applicants complete a half-hour written exercise, and then meet with a current trainee for a tour and chat about life at HJA from a junior perspective. This is followed by a final interview with two members of the firm. Offers are made shortly afterwards.
Paralegal vacancies tend to crop up around every two months, so check HJA's website frequently and submit a CV and cover letter when they appear. Each position typically attracts between 25 and 50 applications. Shortlisted candidates are interviewed by a lawyer within the team they're applying to. Interviewers vary in their style: some ask competency questions or discuss a case study, while others follow a more straightforward CV-questions format.
Achievements and experiences
HJA expects candidates to attain a 2:1 in their degree. Recruiters are also keen to see previous work experience in either a legal or non-legal capacity. “We take on a number of people who have volunteered at the Citizens Advice Bureau; any work experience, whether it's paid or unpaid, can help your application,” an HR source tells us. “We accept people from all backgrounds, whether they're straight out of university or are changing careers.” The source adds: “We've employed people who are doctors, psychotherapists, even a car mechanic. It's particularly helpful when applicants who are in the process of changing careers are able to identify with our clients.”
Social justice work
Hodge Jones & Allen LLP
180 North Gower Street,
- Members 10
- Partners 26
- Senior associates 9
- Associates 15
- Solicitors 46
- Contact Emma Antoniades, HR assistant, [email protected]
- Selection procedure Interviews and assessments
- Method of application Application form via post or email
- Closing date for 2018 27 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 5-10
- Applicatons pa 400
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £24,000
- Second year: £26,000
- Offices London NW1
Main areas of work
• Communicate clearly and effectively
• Have an excellent academic record
• Can demonstrate they are interested and committed to the work the firm does
• Are hard-working and dedicated
• Understand and share the ethos of the firm
• Have a record of achievement in extracurricular activities
• Life Assurance
• Permanent Health Insurance
• Interest free travel loan in second year
• Piano lessons
• Additional discretionary holiday
• Sports and social committee