If your interest in “fighting the good fight” extends beyond sharing the odd Facebook post, HJA's pursuit of social justice could be appealing.
Lawyering with good intent
It's 2017 and social activism is all the rage. Obviously that's a good thing, but you can probably place the antics of Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad fairly low on the actually-made-a-darn-bit-of-difference spectrum; those budding white knights with more serious intentions should head to Hodge Jones & Allen, who've been proudly standing for social justice since 1977. “Helping people who need access to justice is an interesting challenge,” trainees told us, and it's crucial that potential Hodgers identify with these aims. “I liked the fact that the ethics are prominent at this firm – that's important to me.” More than 100 lawyers preside over practices handling personal injury, crime, family, civil liberties and social housing – all of which are ranked by Chambers UK.
HJA's flown the banner for the 'little man' through good times and bad, and the current era certainly tends towards the latter. A raft of government funding cuts to legal aid – which HJA is largely reliant on – have proved challenging, while reforms to personal injury claims (the firm's biggest money spinner) look set to rule out large numbers of low-value road traffic accident claims and impact other areas of the practice. “It would be normal to be concerned about the firm as it relies on that income, but the overall feeling is confidence,” judged trainees.
Before trainees embark on their two-year odyssey they receive a list of eight seats and are asked to rank each one in order of preference; there's the opportunity to update those preferences as the training contract progresses. Some got their top three choices, while others only nabbed preferences lower down on their list. “There could be a bit more transparency when it comes to how decisions are made and if any criteria are used.”
Stick it to the man
Most trainees complete a seat in personal injury. The department acts for claimants in a range of cases: low-value road traffic accidents, employer/public liability matters, serious injuries, and child-related abuse and brain injuries are all taken on. Lawyers here have been busy working on a number of industrial disease claims of late; one example involved a former forensic officer for the Met Police, who was exposed to asbestos in the immediate aftermath of the Brighton bombing in 1984, while another involved a former shipyard worker who was exposed to the same substance while working as an apprentice joiner – both individuals have since died as a result of developing mesothelioma. The majority of trainees' work comes from their supervisor (usually a partner) and includes “going to see clients and taking witness statements. You also put together legal aid applications and draft schedules of loss, consent orders and letters of instruction.” One source described it as “a more procedural seat,” but maintained that “you're also more responsible” since trainees are involved at every stage on smaller cases, right up to attending court.
Lawyers in the civil liberties department hold many an authority to account, including the Ministry of Defence and the Crown Prosecution Service. One ongoing case against the former has seen the department represent a number of relatives of British servicemen who were killed in Iraq while travelling in the much maligned Snatch Land Rovers. However, actions against the police (for the likes of malicious prosecutions and failure to investigate crimes, as well as inquests into deaths in custody) are the bread and butter here. One subset involves the representation of political protesters who've been arrested: examples include acting for individuals who protested against the EDL in 2013, and those who protested against the deportation of Ghanaian asylum seekers in 2012 – both of which achieved settlement. Trainees were “encouraged to attend inquests,” but told us that “a lot of the work you encounter is in its initial stages, so we're setting up conditional fee agreements or trying to get funding by applying for legal aid, which can take a long time.” As cases get moving, sources found themselves “taking initial instructions from clients, drafting letters of claim, attending conferences with counsel, and analysing all sorts of records for the case.”
HJA prefers trainees to have completed a seat in its crime team before heading to civil liberties. The department covers “general crime, like robbery, theft and murder, but also complex fraud cases and some specialist extradition matters.” Part of a crime lawyer's role involves representing the freshly apprehended at police stations, but trainees need to obtain police station accreditation before doing that: “It's worth it but does take a while as you have to write up a portfolio,” one informed us. Cases are often high profile: consider the firm's representation of a member of the 'Heathrow 13' protest group, which forced the airport's closure, resulting in suspended sentences for all involved; or its representation of Sidney Cooke, 'Britain's most notorious paedophile' (as The Guardian dubbed him in 1999), who was recently interviewed in prison regarding the alleged 'parliamentary paedophile' ring. Trainees told us the seat “involves lots of meetings with clients, talking to witnesses or people who know the client and taking statements.”
"A lot of clients are in desperate situations."
HJA's social housing lawyers work on a mix of homelessness, disrepair and possession claims, as well as judicial reviews. They recently acted for the residents of North London's Strawberry Vale estate, who pursued a case against their property managers Peabody after their gas supply was cut off for an extended period. Trainees found that “the hardest thing is getting the local authorities to respond; it can take a dozen calls and email exchanges to find who to send a letter of claim to – it takes patience and persistence.” Judicial reviews, meanwhile, see trainees “taking instruction, preparing the brief to counsel, drafting the pre-action letter, putting the bundle together and issuing it.” By “the middle of the seat you're talking to clients and trying to take on your own files.” That responsibility came with rewards, as “a lot of clients are in desperate situations. If we get a really good result then you can see how grateful they are and what a difference it makes.”
Plenty of client contact and the opportunity to go to police stations meant that trainees' exposure was “exciting,” but “sometimes intimidating. You're often thrown right into it here, but I've really liked and enjoyed it. You have to be a little gutsy.” For many sources, a good dose of relevant work or volunteer experience was the best preparation. They added that it's a different ball game to the usual commercial fare, “particularly when you've met with the client – you feel a bond and want to do your best for them.” To that end, “the firm looks for commitment to the set of principles it is built around,” so trainees have “quite similar mindsets. We all believe the disenfranchised need the most legal aid and assistance, and that's why we became lawyers – otherwise we'd be making more money in the City.” The salary's not astronomical – “you have to be realistic, we work in legal aid and it has been cut left, right and centre” – but the hours aren't debilitating: “In crime you stay later but in general you'll leave around 6.30-7pm. It's nothing compared to City firms.”
"You have to be a little gutsy.”
Lawyers head underground for a break from the demanding legal world above. No, HJA's lawyers aren't mole-men and women – there's a swinging subterranean bar in their Euston-based HQ. “It's not a dingy basement – it's a place for people to socialise after work on Thursdays and Fridays.” Cheap drinks are a draw, plus a grand piano, jazz nights and charity quizzes, but we hear “some departments go down there more than others,” and office socialising in general can be “quite departmentalised.” At the end of their contracts, trainees have to grapple with a qualification process that “could be clearer.” Rather than publishing a full jobs list, positions “are advertised as and when they come up, whichmakes planning ahead difficult.” Trainees must submit a form to apply for a position, before interviewing to snag that prized place. In 2017 the firm kept on four of its six qualifiers.
HJA's managing partner is Vidisha Joshi, who was only 38 when she was appointed. “She's really inspiring,” gushed one trainee.
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How to get a Hodge Jones & Allen training contract
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 by email or 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 350 applicants are whittled down to a shortlist of 30, 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 30 and 60 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.”
HJA and social justice
Hodge Jones & Allen LLP
180 North Gower Street,
- Partners 38
- Associates 61
- Totaltrainees 15
- UKoffices London NW1
- Graduate recruiter: Emma Antoniades, [email protected], 02078748446
- Training partner: Peter Todd
- Training contracts pa: 5-9
- Applications pa: 400
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Closing date for 2019: 27 July 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: TBC
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
Our philosophy has always been to enable individuals to have access to justice where otherwise they might be denied it and this ethos remains as strong today as it did back then. We strive to right wrongs, achieve justice for all and get the very best results for our clients. People have always been at the heart of our firm and this is recognised by our Investors in People Gold accreditation.
‘We have been on the forefront of the legal sector - changing lives, making headlines and advancing the law, since our inception and hope to continue this for many years to come’ - Patrick Allen, senior partner.
Main areas of work
The firm is looking for people who:
• 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.
The firm offers a two year training programme across four seats. You will be regarded as a fee earning member of staff during this time, and you will be expected to provide a high quality legal service to all our clients, under the supervision and training of a qualified solicitor. The firm will also support you through your Professional Skills Course.
• Life assurance
• Permanent Health Insurance
• Interest free travel loan in second year
• Piano lessons
• Additional discretionary holiday
• Sports and social committee