Leigh Day is a bit like the Robin Hood of the law.
A paralegal, a charity volunteer and a humanities grad walk into Leigh Day. The punchline? They're all passionate about using the law to positively impact some of society's most vulnerable people. In fact this is no joking matter, because what Leigh Day does is very serious: it acts for victims of clinical negligence; the families of those killed in tragic accidents; prisoners who have had their human rights violated; and victims of modern slavery, among others. For trainees, a huge amount of gratification was derived from righting wrongs on behalf of those who've suffered, as well as from sticking it to the likes of massive multinationals, their directors and certain governments.
Take note: paralegalling, charity work or a non-law degree are not in any way prerequisites for joining Leigh Day's ranks. However, “some experience with NGOs shows you're truly committed to this type of work, and many of us were paralegals at the firm first, which gives you the chance to prove yourself.” Click on the Bonus Features tab above for more information on getting into Leigh Day, but in the meantime bear this in mind: while the firm's widely known for its human rights work, interviewees warned that “it's actually a smaller department in the firm, so you have to show a genuine interest in at least one other area of work during the interview. Areas like employment and international and group claims [IGC] cross over with human rights anyway.”
Chambers UK awards Leigh Day's employment work top marks in London, alongside its clinical negligence and personal injury offerings – two huge areas of practice at the firm. UK-wide, it sweeps up stellar scores for administrative and public law, environment, product liability, and – of course – personal injury, civil liberties and human rights. The firm operates in a tough and competitive market affected by the Jackson reforms, public sector cuts and deregulation of the market brought in by the Legal Services Act. For managing partner Frances Swaine, though, the future looks bright for Leigh Day: “Nothing is shrinking, we've made no cuts or had any lay-offs. We're not actively going out to find new people, but we've had more people approaching us, particularly from firms moving away from the more boutique work we offer.”
“It's been an eye opener.”
Trainees split their training contract between two twelve-month seats. The first is assigned, and trainees get to state their preference for their second. Sources cherished the structure: “People who come here already have an idea of what type of work they want to do, and in departments like clinical negligence, where cases take a while to settle and where it takes you a month just to understand the medicine, you're given a chance to get to grips with everything.” A six-month secondment with the Shadow Attorney General's research team used to be on offer but isn't available at the moment. Ten trainees completed their training with the firm in 2016, and eight stayed on as NQs.
Clin neg is one of Leigh Day's biggest practices and its “financial backbone” according to trainees. Here – as across the whole firm – lawyers work for claimants only, usually people affected by catastrophic injuries that arise from substandard medical treatment. There are quite a lot of brain-related birth injuries on the docket, as well as cases concerning cerebral palsy, birth injuries, delayed diagnosis and fatal accidents. The details are usually – and understandably – highly confidential. A publishable case that garnered media attention (as is frequently the case at Leigh Day) involved the parents of two-year-old Alice Mason, who sued the three London hospitals overseeing their daughter's care when she died as a result of undiagnosed brain damage. The team also acted for the family of a 22-year-old woman who died two weeks after giving birth from an infection contracted in the ICU of Hillingdon Hospital. While trainees start off with “more low-key tasks like helping to prepare schedules of loss,” they are eventually trusted with “attending inquests with counsel and the client, drafting witness statements and even settling fatal claims alone. You begin to understand all the procedural steps required to run a case.”
Said cases move slowly, so as they progress trainees have a chance to try a range of tasks “at each stage, from pre-action, to liability, to quantum, to settlement.” One noted “a definite build-up in responsibility: if you show independence of mind they'll respond to that.” Another's highlight had been “going to trial on a liability case, which is rare, so I was really lucky.” Newbies also take turns reviewing initial enquiries from new clients. But with the nature of the injuries dealt with here, does the seat ever take an emotional toll on trainees? “At times it's been really challenging,” one admitted, “but there are many people in the team who've done this for a long time, so they're good at talking through the emotional side. It's especially hard to remain professional during inquests, as it's human nature to reach out to someone who is suffering so much. Another source of support comes from the trainees, as there are a few of us in the seat at any one time.”
"I travelled to Africa for six weeks with two partners."
The civil liberties and human rights department covers many specialisms, including prison abuses, healthcare, international human rights, modern slavery and information law cases. Clients are often, but not exclusively, NGOs and charities. There's also a dedicated team that represents victims who've suffered abuse at the hands of individuals or institutions like boarding schools, hospitals or care homes. In light of Operation Fernbridge, Leigh Day lawyers recently represented six former residents of Grafton Close children's home; they also acted on behalf of a group of men who claimed they'd been sexually abused by NHS staff at sexual health clinics. Meanwhile, information law solicitors acted for over 20 patients at Soho's 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic, whose names were mistakenly disclosed to other patients via email. Over in international human rights, Leigh Day is acting for a former Libyan dissident who brought civil claims against one-time foreign secretary Jack Straw (and others) for allegedly conspiring to unlawfully transfer the claimant and his wife to Libya.
Specialist prison lawyers act on behalf of inmates who claim their human rights have been violated. A recent matter saw the team act on behalf of a Muslim prisoner, who was forced to break his fast during Ramadan because the prison wouldn't allow his medications to be taken outside of daylight hours. A source working with this team became “very involved with the clients, as I often went on prison visits and wrote correspondence to them, as they couldn't phone or come in. I found myself acting on behalf of disabled clients who weren't given the things they needed in prison, or for vulnerable people who found it hard to express themselves.” We heard that rookies also gained exposure to various courts, “from the County Court to the Administrative Court to the Court of Appeal.” They concluded that “this area is very interesting from a legal perspective; you have to consider your strategy and do a lot of research. The cases move quickly and the issues are endemic. It's been an eye opener.”
Day of reckoning
The international and group claims (IGC) practice, led by Martyn Day, works to hold governments and multinationals to account for abuses that take place abroad. Cases here are often large-scale, and the workload is "really varied" – there are environmental issues, personal injury claims, product liability cases, abuse investigations and more. The team is currently representing over 1,800 Zambian villagers who are taking action against mining giant Vedanta's subsidiary KCM; they allege that the company's activities contaminated their water sources and farming land, causing illness and loss of crops. An interviewee who had worked on a similar case was “put in charge of managing the doc review process, which involved recruiting a number of paralegals and supervising them. I also liaised with the experts and counsel in meetings. When the case settled, I travelled to Africa for six weeks with two partners to consult with the clients and take their instructions.”
Securing compensation for victims of road traffic accidents and industrial diseases comprises the bulk of the personal injury team's workload. The former line of work often involves cyclists and pedestrians – the team is currently working on four fatal accidents involving cyclists and counts the British Cycling Federation and the British Triathlon Association as clients. On the industrial side, cases involving mesothelioma (a result of exposure to asbestos) are common and can take years to get to court. Sources felt “involved in every aspect of the cases: we're responsible for the day-to-day running of them, and we're able to use our initiative to suggest what the next steps should be.”
“People bond over the difficult work they're dealing with and it makes the atmosphere more open.”
Leigh Day's employment team is known for its links with major unions like UNISON and work on complex multiparty claims. It also takes on a lot of work for executives and other top professionals during injunction proceedings or multimillion-pound discrimination claims. Details of these cases are often strictly confidential, but they involve discrimination along the lines of disability, sex, race and age, as well as severance package and bonus-related issues. The team recently acted for over 20,000 ASDA employees who brought an equal pay claim against the supermarket for allegedly not paying its female workers the same as men in its distribution warehouses. “My time here started with working on a smaller multiparty equal pay action in the private sector,” a trainee relayed, “and at the same time I had four or five individual cases running. You've got supervision when you need it, but you're given room to build up your expertise as you go along.” A number of trainee sources had been involved in a long-term blacklisting case, which recently concluded with a £5.4 million win for Leigh Day's clients – 116 GMB union members who brought claims after being included on a secret blacklist to target workers associated with trade union activities.
You can add trainee hours to the list of differences between Leigh Day and its corporate City counterparts. Most reported starting at 9.30am and being out by 6.30pm every day. As you might expect, “when there's urgent work like a trial or a deadline you stay later, and some departments expect you to check your emails over the weekend, but other than that it's been really regular and reasonable.” Not that Leigh Dayers are looking to shoot out of the office at the first opportunity: insiders thrived on the atmosphere and commented that “there's a unified sense of everyone working together to give victims access to justice. We're all quite different, but there's an underlying sense of tenacity and determination.” However, “that's not to say we're all terrifying!” sources qualified. “There's a really laid-back, open-door philosophy and you can feel comfortable joking around with supervisors or talking openly about cases.” Indeed, the very nature of the work corralled people to the pub: “The culture is geared towards socialising and organising events. People bond over the difficult work they're dealing with and it makes the atmosphere more open.”
Leigh Day's office is a distinctive horseshoe-shaped building in Clerkenwell. Trainees described it as “a bit old-school” with “a mixture of open-plan space and individual offices.” The firm launched a base in Manchester in 2014, which, as managing partner Frances Swaine tells us, is “growing the most: it started off small but now all of our departments – except for the international teams – are represented there.” Given the extent of its growth, the Manchester office welcomed its first trainee in September 2016, and will look to offer two new training contracts every year.
Interested? Most applicants who get an interview here will have done voluntary work or paid public-interest work before applying.
How to get a Leigh Day training contract
In Spring 2017 Leigh Day will open its trainee application process for September 2018. Visit Leigh Day's website for opening and closing dates for trainee applications in 2017, as the firm won't accept any applications made prior. The firm receives around 600 applications – of which 5% are invited to interview – for its eight to ten vacancies. Good A levels and a minimum 2:1 degree is a must for potential trainees.
Applications and assessments
Completed applications should include:
More on PI, clin neg and abuse claims
25 St John's Lane,
- Partners 43
- Assistant solicitors 98
- Total trainees 20
- Contact Vash Arora, HR manager, 020 7650 1200
- Method of application Online selection procedure, interview with partners followed by a full assessment day
- Closing date for August 2018 February/March 2017. For exact dates please refer to our website
- Training contracts p.a. 8-10
- Applications p.a. 600
- % interviewed per annum 5%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2015)
- First year: £30,000
- Second year: £32,000
- Holiday entitlement 29 days plus bank and public holidays
- Post-qualification salary pa (2015) £45,000
- % trainees offered job on qualification (2014) 90%
- Overseas/regional offices London, Manchester
Main areas of work