A training contract with Ward Hadaway is a bit like a Newkie Brown – one of the tastiest treats Tyneside can offer.
Home and Hadaway
This Newcastle-headquartered outfit may have some clients with a national remit – think British big 'uns like Aldi and EE – but its own scope is firmly rooted in the North of England. "Our strategy is to remain a Northern law firm primarily servicing Northern businesses," confirms managing partner Jamie Martin, adding that "we have no intention of opening in London, or anywhere else for that matter." And now that the firm's historic regional rival Dickinson Dees is more of a national player (thanks to DD's 2013 merger with Bond Pearce), why would it?
None of this is to say the firm's existing bases aren't growing, however. Quite the opposite – firm revenue grew by 26% in the five years between 2009 and 2014 to £33.5 million. WH supplemented its Geordie HQ with a Leeds branch in 2008 and a Manchester one in 2012, and both have taken off rapidly, with the latter having already doubled its office space. "I expect both will grow substantially in the next five years, and turnover will be £10-15 million in each of our Leeds and Manchester offices," Martin predicts. According to him, this three-office set-up above the Pennines puts hardy Hadaway in a prime position to capitalise on the UK government's calls for a "Northern powerhouse" to redress the balance in the UK economy. "We're absolutely delighted they picked up on that because it is bang in line with our own strategy."
Ward Hadaway's client list is chock-full of NHS trusts and local authorities, illustrating the firm's historic association with the public sector. That said, most of the firm's output is commercial, with the banking and finance, litigation, employment and real estate teams all scoring top marks from Chambers UK for their work up North. WH has cultivated a strong brand catering to some of the North's biggest institutions, including Newcastle United FC, Northumberland National Park and Newcastle Airport. It's also got banking supremos Lloyds, Barclays and Santander on the books, "which shows that despite our strong regional identity we can still service big clients based down in London," a trainee thought.
Rise and Tyne
Newcastle is WH's biggest office in terms of both turnover and manpower. The HQ housed 14 trainees at the time of our calls, while Leeds had five and Manchester four. Trainees in Newcastle have 14 seat options and get to put forward preferences for each seat before rotating, including their first. "They try to accommodate as many people's wishes as possible," said a source. "Second-years get priority; first-years are more likely to be placed based on business needs." The system is the same in Leeds, where there are only five seat choices, whereas in Manchester trainees provide assistance to all four of the office's departments rather than undergoing a traditional seat rotation. A Mancunian said: "I've found a big advantage of this is that I don't have to pass over any matters after six months; I can see a corporate transaction, for example, right through from due diligence to post-completion."
Litigation accounts for nearly 50% of WH's turnover, and the firm has one of the top practices in the North East, courting clients like Addison Motors and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Here shareholder spats and IT claims jostle for position with insurance disputes, private client quarrels and fraud cases (both commercial and public sector). "It's really varied – you see international companies with pretty large claims right down to individuals with smaller disputes." The Geordie team recently defended print provider Paragon against a claim by the DVLA regarding the replacement of the National V5C 'logbook' following thefts in 2006; meanwhile lawyers in Manchester just wrapped up a shareholder dispute for local cleaning service Sentrex. "I was surprised by the level of responsibility I encountered," said one trainee, echoing the thoughts of several other interviewees. "It's not just low-level work; I got to attend mediations and even draft some witness statements – a massive task. I was definitely never bored."
A source who'd sat with the corporate team confessed to "assuming it would be an intimidating seat – you know, corporate lawyers get that horrible hardened, cut-throat reputation." Fortunately, "I didn't seen that side to people. It turned out to be a great seat, and I was well supervised the whole way through. Nobody was standing over my shoulder, but doors were always open if I wanted to check something." Another added: "People will generally just give a basic outline, and then off you go! It can be a bit terrifying when you do something for the first time, but you get over it quickly." The practice covers three main areas – banking, M&A and corporate finance – and clients range from regional names like Northstar Ventures to more nationally known entities like RBS and the Co-op Bank. "I worked primarily on sales and acquisitions," revealed one trainee of their time with the team, "mostly for private limited companies, though I did get involved with a few family-run ones. The seat's administrative to an extent – there's a lot of due diligence and disclosure – but I found it incredibly interesting, especially when I got to liaise with clients."
WH's real estate group has four strands: property development, property services, planning and public sector property. "We've had major growth in this practice across all three offices." Indeed, in one of its higher-value matters of late, the firm advised New Tyne West Development Company on the sale of housing at The Rise, a £265 million eco-friendly redevelopment. "There are lots of small matters too," said a Yorkshire lad who'd worked on several building purchases. "On those, I'd be tasked with the Land Registry applications. It was daunting at the start because I had such a lack of experience, but that's always the best way to learn." A Geordie counterpart chimed in to say: "If my supervisor felt I was capable of something, he would give me free rein to do the majority of the work."
The quay ingredient
Ward Hadaway is home to one of the largest healthcare teams in the North, counting more than 60 NHS organisations on its roster. Much of the work here involves defending these bodies against costly clinical negligence claims. For example, lawyers recently represented North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS trust in a £5.5 million suit brought by an individual with cerebral palsy caused by hypoxia prior to birth. Several of our interviewees had been involved with similar high-value birth injury cases, with one commenting: "The backgrounds to them are very interesting as a lot of it's medical rather than legal.” Typical trainee fare in these instances includes "assisting with the instruction of experts" and "going to court for liability settlements or helping out at inquests. Mind you, only in a note-taking capacity – it's not like you're standing in front of the coroner defending the NHS!" Sources praised the seat for offering "a lot more time in court" and "exposing you to fascinating cases that let you tread new ground. It's not every day you get to go to a mental health tribunal."
Newcastle United, FedEx and Speedo are among the commercial clients the employment team services, while on the public sector side there's Durham County Council and a whole bunch of NHS organisations. "The higher-profile clients make the work a bit more interesting," admitted one source, who went on to tell us: "I spent most of my seat heavily involved with tribunal claims and drafting witness statements." The seat also spans the advisory side, which for trainees means "research or writing letters of advice."
Most trainee work filters down from one's supervisor, but this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. "I occasionally helped out a handful of partners in healthcare," one source recalled, while another spoke of "getting my workload from two associates in corporate. My supervisor was mostly on hand if I needed to clarify something." The Newcastle office is split between two locations on the City's Quayside: Sandgate House and Keel Row House. Trainees in the former share an office with their supervisor, but the latter is open-plan, so "you're not always in their immediate proximity." Leeds and Manchester are also set up in this manner. "You can hear all manner of people on the phone, which is helpful for picking up terminology and learning how to converse with clients," said a Leeds source. "And you have junior members close by to supervise you unofficially as well."
Mingling and mojitos
Our interviewees across the firm had nothing but positive things to say about the size of their respective offices and the working environment these encourage. "Being in an office of 70, you know everyone by face and by name," commented a Leeds trainee. "Everybody is approachable, and I've always been able to go and talk to any of them." Meanwhile in Manchester, which is even smaller, with just 40 lawyers, sources spoke of "a close-knit atmosphere" that lends itself to "plenty of mingling." Newcastle, home to 135 lawyers, is much larger by comparison, but "it still has this small feel about it," a trainee there said, "even though we work on big projects for big clients. Newcastle as a whole is a bit like that. It's a big city with a lot going on, but it still feels like a tight community." Trainees firm-wide agreed: "Lawyers here are so down to earth. You don’t have to be terrified of anyone."
When it comes to office space, "this is a good place to work," trainees firm-wide agreed. The Newcastle branch's Quayside location drew plenty of praise from our interviewees, who insisted: "Nobody in town has the view we do. We're right on the doorstep of the court, and the iconic skyline is right there – you could totter right out onto the Tyne Bridge!" Geordie residents admitted: "The firm could stand to improve certain facilities" –"the coffee machines are always broken," lamented one – but they conceded that "being near all the bars and restaurants is great. Everybody meets up after work on Friday, and there are tons of places to go, many of which we get a discount at." Manchester and Leeds are also right in the middle of town, the latter just down the way from the city's main railway station. "It's a bit of a trek from the shops, but there are lots of cafes nearby. I can't complain."
The firm encourages interaction between its three branches. Each year, new trainees gather in the HQ for a week-long induction, and the entire cohort comes together a few times a year for training seminars. There are regular departmental webinars conducted via video conference to unite, for example, litigators across the firm, and lawyers from all three offices have a chance to meet up for a handful of social events over the year, including the summer barbecue and Christmas party. And then there's the annual firm meeting, which sees the whole firm congregate as one. "There's a healthy amount of interaction and communication." Whether the open bar on the night of the AGM helps or hinders the clarity of conversation is still up for debate.
As you might expect, Ward Hadaway often attracts candidates with links to the North: in recent years, nearly all of our interviewees were either born in or had studied in the area. Jamie Martin is keen to make it clear that "while we are not too concerned about which part of the country our trainees come from, we do want them to sign up to our culture as a Northern law firm. The whole basis of our training programme is to look for partners of the future, so we are not particularly keen on training people who want to run off to London as soon as they qualify .” Indeed, during our interview he made no attempt to hide his contempt for "a major international firm" that had recently nabbed several NQs. "I was pretty angry when they raided our newly qualifieds because they had not kept up their number of trainees during the recession. It's a compliment in one way, but extremely irritating." That said, all of our interviewees were keen to stay on with the firm, given the chance; and in the end, all 12 of the qualifying cohort took up roles with WH in 2015. Impressive!
Like many regional firms, WH is "quite reasonable" when it comes to trainee hours: many sources told us they "tend to leave at 6pm most days."
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How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 28 February 2016
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016
Applications and vacation scheme
Most trainees at Ward Hadaway come from the North, often via unis in Leeds, Manchester, York, Newcastle and Northumbria. The firm has a particularly close relationship with Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, offering bursaries of £2,000 plus four weeks' work experience for two LPC honour roll students each year.
Applications for both the vacation scheme and the ten or so training contracts on offer each year begin with a form that asks for details on a candidate's extracurricular activities, work experience and university exam results broken down by year of study.
The firm receives around 250 applications each year for its vac scheme, and picks between ten and 20 whose applications impress to attend the week-long placement. This sees attendees visit two different departments, one in each week of the scheme. “Everyone was very approachable compared with the other vac schemes I did. I don't think there was anyone I couldn't ask a question of,” testified one of the firm's current trainees.
Assessments and interview
Direct training contract and vacation scheme applicants who impress on paper are asked to attend one of up to four assessment days. Here they're set a group exercise, a drafting test, a critical skills test (sent out prior to the assessment day), and an interview with a panel made of partners and members of HR. Applicants have the opportunity to meet various levels of lawyers at lunch, and they also attend a trainee-led presentation where they can ask any questions about life at Ward Hadaway.
The firm invites ten to 20 candidates from the assessment centres and vacation scheme back to a final interview, this time with a senior partner, the training principal and a member of human resources. The conversation revolves around scenario-based questions, and candidates are asked to deliver a presentation. “At this stage it's mainly about learning who they are as individuals and what motivates them,” director of HR Lisa Davies says. One trainee found that “in comparison to interviews at other firms, I remember feeling much more at ease here. They want to get the best out of you, so they try to establish a friendly, supportive tone.”
According to Lisa Davies, “there's no one-size-fits-all here; different practice areas require different kinds of individuals. Still, it's really important that people invest the time to research us – they need to be able to back up what they're saying with evidence and have the composure to present themselves well.”
Our trainee sources added: “The firm looks for people who are normal and down to earth; but I'd say a sense of humour is important. You are asked to do a presentation at the final interview and that's what got me my job.” As one highlighted: “We're a commercial firm, so make sure you show your commercial awareness and understanding the business world. That's as important as demonstrating good communication and teamwork skills.” One final piece of advice? “Most people have ties to Newcastle the North East. The firm wants to see that you have that connection with the region and a desire to stay there.”
Newcastle's legal market
Below is a description of the commercial firms which dominate Newcastle's legal scene. Each has something slightly different to offer. Read on to find out what that is.
What’s the story?
Dickinson Dees was always the granddaddy of the Tyne-Tees scene, and after its May 2013 merger with Bond Pearce, combined outfit Bond Dickinson is now the city's undisputed father, scooping top-tier Chambers UK rankings in the North East for 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 coverage from Plymouth to Aberdeen, the new firm certainly has the resources to tackle its top 20 ambitions and plans for London expansion. But will it preserve its legacy firms' synonymity with the North East? Only time can tell.
With around 180 lawyers, Ward Hadaway rings in as Newcastle's second-biggest firm. The firm has spent almost 25 years building a practice with public sector and healthcare specialities. Several other practices have been climbing the Chambers UK rankings in recent years, including dispute resolution, employment and property – all of which now have top rankings. That said, Ward Hadaway 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.
It may have just under 80 lawyers, but Muckle has a range of departments ranked in the North East by Chambers UK. This firm mainly prides itself on its culture and two-way loyalty, and manages a more personable atmosphere than its larger rivals. As one trainee put it: “Someone quiet might be better off at Ward Hadaway or Bond Dickinson.”
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 suffered a number of partner defections during the recession. Construction, real estate litigation and professional negligence are WB's strongest areas; it's also ranked by Chambers UK in Newcastle for its corporate, employment and real estate expertise.
Hay & Kilner featured in our True Picture section just once, many many years ago now. Despite being smaller than Watson Burton, the firm still manages to sit at the top of the Newcastle market for its claimant clinical negligence work. It also secures Chambers UK rankings for its commercial offerings.
Eversheds' Newcastle office had a bit of a rough ride a few years back, losing several teams to local rivals and sparking rumours that a closure was in the works. However, the firm managed to power through and maintains a presence in the city. The office picks up several Chambers UK rankings, and is taking on more and more national and international work – 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 shop Crutes in early 2012. The office is home to around five trainees, and recruiting in Newcastle remains small-scale for now. Still, DWF is on an expansionist crusade at the moment and poached a team of 12 real estate lawyers from Eversheds' Newcastle branch in 2013.
What's the goss?
Sources at Bond Dickinson told us they chose the firm for its magnitude, prestige and client roster. “There is nobody in the 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.” According to trainees at other local firms, “you can easily spot Bond Dickinson people, because they've got this fierce confidence, and an attitude that their firm is number one.” A BD source summed up: “Since the merger we're definitely top of the pile, but whether that will suit you depends on what you want. I got chatting to some landowners at a farmers' market recently, and they told me the merger makes them feel less proud of Bond Dickinson as a local entity.”
Trainees at Ward Hadaway told us they chose the firm “for its growth” and recent expansion into Leeds and Manchester. In fact, many had applied to work for firms in those cities as well as Newcastle. Some words from the gossip mill: “There are people here who've done a vac scheme at both Bond Dickinson and Ward Hadaway, and they say we're a lot friendlier, with a more diverse range of people. We're all different, and that makes for a more creative environment.”
Insiders at Muckle were largely happy working for a smaller 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, family feel, and a good reputation for its work and client service.” One trainee told us: “I got to know quite a few firms through their vacation schemes and recruitment processes, but at Muckle it was easier to chat to anyone at any level.”
Interview with managing partner Jamie Martin
Student Guide: How has the last year been for the firm? Are there any particular highlights you would pick out?
Jamie Martin: It's been a good year but it's a challenging environment within which the firm operates as the North East has the smallest regional economy. However, we faced up to those challenges and continue to prosper each year. We've achieved over 10% growth over the last two years, which we regard as a positive indicator.
SG: Any practice areas that are performing particularly well?
JM: Half of our business is contentious and that has been very steady. But there has been major growth in the property sector across all three offices, and that department is very busy. The firm is very strong on the house-building and development side. The commercial practice has been quite busy because it has a number of clients who are also busy. The rest of the firm is pretty steady.
SG: How do you view your current place in the market?
JM: In 2008 we opened our Leeds office and we opened the one in Manchester a few years ago, both with the aim of targeting the North of England. Our strategy is to be a northern law firm that services northern businesses from those three commercial centres. I'm absolutely delighted that politicians have picked up on that with the 'northern powerhouse' ideal, as it is bang in line with our own strategy.
SG: The firm has obviously grown with openings in Leeds and Manchester fairly recently. How are those two offices performing and what are your long-term visions for them?
JM: The long-term vision is for three equal-sized offices; we haven't set ourselves any particular timetable for that. The idea is to take whatever opportunities there are, both in terms of winning work and taking people on. Leeds is growing rapidly, but Manchester less so. The world and his wife are in Manchester, and competition is relatively fierce. The firm has recruited good people in both offices. Although there is competition, the Manchester office has doubled in space to fit in new people. I expect both will grow substantially in the next five years, and turnover will be between £10 and £15 million in each of our Leeds and Manchester offices.
SG: Do you think the culture of Ward Hadaway has shifted at all as the firm has embarked on growth?
JM: We're much more outward looking than we used to be, for obvious reasons. The people we brought into the new offices have helped us to develop our culture through new and fresh ideas. That's had a really positive impact. We now think about the whole northern market as opposed to taking a narrow view of life in the North East. We are now a northern rather than a North-East law firm – we have no aspiration to be a national firm or to open in London. Going forward we'll be concentrating on those three commercial centres and making them stronger.
SG: Are you looking for larger trainee intakes as you progress? Or has recruitment been scaled back?
JM: I think we'll be steady as we go on that at the moment, but who knows in the future? As the firm grows, and offices grow, we may look for further trainee roles. We are looking at professional apprenticeships and, at paralegal training. I'm the chairman of an organisation called NCG which has a further education college in Newcastle. NCG offers a professional apprenticeship and paralegal qualification. I think such qualifications will have an impact in terms of the traditional trainee solicitor route.
SG: How has the Bond Dickinson merger affected you as a firm, if at all?
JM: I think it's dangerous to comment on other firms. I think we have been able to recruit good people from Bond Dickinson, and we're delighted to have them on board.
SG: Do you look for trainees who have links to the region? Why is that important?
JM: Traditionally it was. While we are not too concerned about which part of the country our trainees come from, we do want them to sign up to our culture as a northern law firm. The whole basis of our training programme is to look for partners for the future, so we are not particularly keen on training people who want to run off to London as soon as they qualify. We've only lost a few people as you inevitably do, and one of our recent qualifiers has come to Newcastle from London, so it does go the other way. We have had three or four NQs recently who have been taken by a major firm, and I'm fed up with that. I was pretty angry when a major international firm recently raided our newly qualified group because they had not kept up their numbers of trainees during the recession. It's a compliment in one way but extremely irritating. Hopefully, there won't be the same problem this year!
SG: Do you have any tips or advice for students who might be thinking of applying to Ward Hadaway?
JM: I think they need to understand that there is life outside London – and I speak as someone who trained in London myself! Students can come and get really good training here and do good quality work. There aren't many international deals and isn't much City work here, so, if that's what you want: go to London. But if you want a good grounding in commercial law, you can get that here, in places like Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester. I know that some university faculties are keen to push their graduates into big City firms, but there is life outside the City of London, especially where the law is concerned.
Newcastle upon Tyne,
- Partners 80+
- Total trainees 21
- Contact Graduate recruitment team
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Firm’s application form
- Selection procedure Assessment Centre and interview
- Closing date for 2018 31 July 2016
- Training contracts p.a. 10
- Applications p.a. 600+
- % interviewed p.a. 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- 1st year (2015) £22,000
- 2nd year (2015) £24,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. Varies
- Post-qualification salary (2015) £34,000
Main areas of work