This proud Northerner laid its flat cap in Manchester and Leeds, but don't expect it to succumb to London's bright lights any time soon.
The Quay to success
Much like Newcastle's rapidly regenerating Quayside, Ward Hadaway is going places – and fast. “We're young, forward-looking and very driven,” its residents told us, and indeed it's those very qualities that have propelled the Geordie firm – a single-site outfit just a few years back – into a thriving three-office joint with branches in Leeds (opened in 2008) and Manchester (2012). Already these young offices are bursting at the seams. “We've had to take up extra space for both because they're nearly full up now,” reveals managing partner Jamie Martin happily.
For a good while Ward Hadaway's comfortably occupied second place in the battle for Newcastle's biggest firm, historically trailing Tyne-Tees top dog Dickinson Dees (today known as Bond Dickinson following a 2013 merger with South West firm Bond Pearce). Now that BD's coverage is more nationally focused, Ward Hadaway has more edge than ever in the region. “We're the best choice for anyone looking to develop at a large full-service firm with a very strong local identity,” said current trainees, many of whom were lured in by WH's public sector slant. Indeed, the firm has long-standing ties with NHS trusts and local authorities – some as far afield as London and the South West – which filter in property, healthcare and litigation matters. Still, the majority of the work is commercial. The firm advises various Northern industrial and technology clients in their dealings with big multinationals and overseas investors, and it also works with well-known national corporations like Aldi, Barratt Homes, Barclays and brewmonger Samuel Smith.
At the time of our calls there were 17 trainees in Newcastle, five in Leeds and just two in Manchester. Newcastle newbies get to list two preferences for their first seat before joining, though second-years get priority and traditionally have had the opportunity to stay in the same seat for their third and fourth seat, business needs permitting. The process is similar in Leeds, though it has fewer seat choices than the headquarters. In Manchester, there's no formal rotation as yet; rather trainees divide their time between four teams for the course of their two years.
Reel big fish
Chambers UK ranks Ward Hadaway's litigation team as one of the best in Newcastle and the surrounding area. The large department is omnivorous, taking on “everything from multinational shareholder disputes to contested wills,” with plenty of corporate fraud cases, professional negligence claims, insurance disputes and private client work in between. The team recently led the way on one of 2013's biggest professional negligence cases, representing Newcastle Airport in a claim against Eversheds. “Given all the difficult cases we handle, it's amazing they don't stick us by the photocopier all day,” said one interviewee, who was “in awe of the amount of trust we're given as trainees.” Indeed our sources told of briefing witnesses, attending meetings with counsel and travelling to the Royal Courts of Justice for hearings. “There are quite a few small matters to get on with, so you'll very likely find yourself getting to run some of your own files.”
The firm's healthcare team specialises in clinical negligence work, representing over 60 NHS organisations on matters like inquests, birth injury cases and mental health claims, some of which last years and run to millions of pounds. “Liaising with all these health authorities really scratches my public sector itch!” offered one source. Let's hope that itch isn't MRSA, because trainees in this busy seat need all the energy they can get. Our sources recalled their first few weeks with the team as “a whirlwind – it takes a while to pick up the medical terminology, though the work is really interesting, especially when you get to attend inquests.” They also reported bundling, drafting witness statements and instructions, and attending case management meetings with counsel.
The family practice handles private matters like divorces and finance matters, as well as public sector care cases. Lawyers regularly work with children's guardians during care proceedings, “which can be challenging – often there's been an injury to the child, and it's quite emotional working out whether it's safe for them to go back to their family. This kind of work takes different skills from commercial work.” On the plus side, sources told us “trainees get involved with all aspects of cases and aren't left behind in the office while all the fee-earners go out.” Indeed, many reported attending court regularly, adding: “Advocacy is actively encouraged as soon as you're ready. Standing up against barristers in the County Court is such a good experience.”
Banks of the Tyne
Ward Hadaway's corporate department is split into three teams: banking, M&A and corporate finance. Trainees do a mix of all three. On the M&A front, sources told of filing, drafting board minutes and keeping on top of forms for both domestic and cross-border transactions like Growth Capital Partners' acquisition of multinational healthcare communications outfit Fishawack, and business software supplier Sage's sale of its specialist construction software division. Meanwhile the corporate finance side deals with listings and funding, often for local start-ups like Applied Graphene. Lawyers recently oversaw the Teeside manufacturer's £22m AIM flotation.
Over in banking there are plenty of big'uns on the books, among them Barclays, Lloyds Banking and RBS. “You feel like you're at the sharp end of the international finance scene.” The work here is complex, ranging from acquisition finance and PFI funding arrangements to bonding structures and venture capital funds, but our sources found that “supervisors take a very structured approach – they make sure you're neither overstretched and therefore panicking, nor sitting around feeling too comfortable.” Most newbies start out working on due diligence before progressing to higher-level tasks like drafting ancillary documents.
WH represents “a nice mix” of public and private entities on the property front, including Aldi, Barratt Homes, and several NHS trusts and local authorities. Trainees in this seat found themselves “dealing with properties from Cornwall to London to Manchester – we have a solid national presence.” The firm recently advised the Borough of Telford & Wrekin on its Building Schools for the Future project, and oversaw more than £20m worth of energy-related developments in 2013. There's been a good bit of work on village green inquiries lately, which one source revealed are “very contentious, so they almost feel like court cases. I had to travel to Manchester to help take witness statements for one.” Trainees on the whole were happy with the levels of responsibility they'd encountered during their time with the team, telling us: “Partners are very willing to take you along to meet clients, and they don't just give you little pieces of work; you're closely involved throughout the whole transaction.” In fact most get to take the lead on small files by the end of their seat. There's a separate seat on offer in WH's small property litigation group, which gets involved with “everything from boundary disputes and trespassing cases right up to massive repossessions.”
According to our sources, supervisors at WH expect trainees “to require less and less of their help as we progress.” Still, they made it clear seniors are “always willing to go through and explain work to you. You also get tons of feedback, which is very nice.” Indeed, trainees benefit from mid and end-of-seat sit-downs with the training partner and head of HR, which they found “incredibly useful – the reassurance is helpful, as is being able to set objectives for your next seat.”
No Tyne like the present
WH's Newcastle headquarters are located by the Gateshead Millennium Bridge in the Quayside district, which has benefited from “a brilliant resurgence” in recent years. Staff are split between buildings across the road from one another: Sandgate House and Keel Row House. The former overlooks the River Tyne – “we have the best views in the country!” – and contains individual offices, while the latter hosts an open-plan environment much appreciated by trainees. “It's got a more communal feel, and you can learn so much by listening to partners making calls.” Meanwhile our Leeds sources had plenty of praise for their “very clean, very bright” branch, which resides in a new development just down the street from the city's chief railway station. “We've got all the professional resources you'd expect, but the office is small enough that you really get to know people here,” said one occupant. WH Manchester is located smack in the middle of town and, like its Leeds counterpart, is expanding steadily, having just taken over another half floor.
The firm makes “a great effort” to keep up connections between its three offices, interviewees felt. All trainees gather at the HQ for an induction at the start of their training contract and from there regularly travel between branches for training seminars. There are also periodic departmental sessions held via videolink, and everyone assembles in Newcastle for the firm's annual meeting. “There's a free bar afterwards – it's a nice chance to mingle with all the trainees across the firm.”
Having got to know their colleagues firm-wide, our sources were confident in their claims that WH attracts “a diverse range of people – there are a lot of different personalities here, which makes for an environment that's not too rigid.” There are some commonalities among the bunch, though – for starters most come from universities based near the firm's offices. “The firm looks for a genuine commitment to the area.” And attitude-wise, most trainees are pretty down-to-earth individuals. “There's no real bluster here; we maintain a sense of calm professionalism.” Of course, that doesn't keep the cohort from kicking back every once in a while. “I'm reluctant to say we're 'fun', but there's definitely no shirking from going out for drinks together.” Tipples are usually taken at the nearby Pitcher & Piano, which “has a terrace overlooking the river and is great for relaxing after a long day.” Fortunately the days aren't too long at WH – most sources reported finishing up between 6 and 7pm, leaving plenty of time to get involved with the many sports teams and networking events on offer.
Additional firm-sponsored socialising takes place during the Christmas, spring and summer dos, as well as annual departmental team-building expeditions. Recent destinations include Alnwick Castle – aka Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films – and Amsterdam and Dublin. There's also the chance to get involved with the local community through business development events and charity walks. This year's trainees had a blast taking on the Sunshine Fund Trade Up Challenge, which saw them haggle their way from an Ant and Dec-autographed teddy bear right up to a night at a posh Yorkshire hotel.
Ward Hadaway usually has pretty decent retention rates but 2014 was something of a blip with only seven of 12 qualifiers kept on.
How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 28 February 2015
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2015
Applications and vacation scheme
Most trainees at Ward Hadaway come from the North, often via unis in Leeds, Manchester, York, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland. The firm has a particularly close relationship with Northumbria University, offering bursaries of £1,000 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 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 200 applications each year for its vac scheme, and picks between ten and 12 whose applications impress to attend the week-long placement. This sees attendees visit five different departments, one on each day of the scheme. “At other vac schemes I attended, it felt like we were being tested all the time, but here they seem to focus on giving you a really broad experience,” testified one of the firm's current trainees.
Assessments and interview
Direct training contract applicants who impress on paper are asked to attend one of four assessment days. Here they're set a group exercise, a drafting test, a critical skills assessment, 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 20 candidates from the assessment centres and vacation scheme back to a final interview, this time with a partner, the training principal and a member of human resources. The conversation revolves around competency-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: “A lot of the partners here are very personable, so confidence and a relaxed demeanour count a lot. Don't be afraid to engage in conversation and lead the interview.” 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? “Ward Hadaway is really keen on commitment to the region – play up local connections if you have them.”
The Newcastle legal scene
The following commercial firms dominate the Newcastle legal scene. Each has something slightly different to offer – read on for how that plays out in trainee terms.
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 positions for the North East in 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 a coverage that ranges from Plymouth to Aberdeen, the new firm certainly has the resources tackle its top 20 ambitions and plans for London expansion. But will it continue its legacy firms' synonymity with the North East? Only time can tell.
With around 190 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, and several practice areas 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.
Muckle has a range of departments ranked in the North East by Chambers UK, but this firm mainly prides itself on its culture and two-way loyalty. With just 80 lawyers, it's the smallest of the Newcastle firms we cover. As such, it’s little surprise it 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 in corporate, employment and real estate.
Hay & Kilner featured in our True Picture section just once, quite a few years ago now. Despite being smaller than even Watson Burton, the firm still manages to sit top of the North East tree 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 the it was set to close. However, the firm managed to power through and continues to maintain presence in the city. The office picks up plenty of Chambers UK rankings, and is taking up more and more national and international matters, 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 small fry Crutes in early 2012. The 31-strong office is home to just two trainees, so recruiting in Newcastle remains small-scale for now. Still, DWF is an on an expansionist crusade at the moment and recently poached a team of 12 real estate lawyers from Evershed's Newcastle branch. We wouldn't be surprised if the firm's bid to up its presence in the North East results in bigger intakes in the future.
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 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 here is a lot friendlier, with a more diverse range of people. We're all different, and that provokes a more creative environment.”
Insiders at Muckle were largely happy working for a small 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 and family feel, and a good reputation for its work and client service.” One junior told us: “The fact that it's based solely in the North East appealed to me. There's something different about the atmosphere too. It's a little less stuffy than other firms round here – more like a business, less like a law firm.”
Post-merger, Bond Dickinson's trainee salaries have been standardised across North and South, which means that lucky first-years there now get £28,000, compared to £22,000 at both Muckle and Ward Hadaway.
Newcastle upon Tyne,
- Partners 80
- Total Trainees 18
- 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 2017 31 July 2015
- Training contracts p.a. 10
- Applications p.a. 600+
- % interviewed p.a. 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training Salary 2014
- 1st year £22,000
- 2nd year £24,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. Varies
- Post-qualification Salary (2014) £34,000
Main areas of work