This angel of the North is working on expanding its Leeds and Manchester offices while staying true to its Newkie roots.
Ward Hadaway’s mothership is based on Newcastle’s attractive quayside, with two smaller offices in Leeds (opened 2008) and Manchester (opened 2012). This is the biggest independent firm in Newcastle, and it wins Chambers UK rankings in the North East for real estate, planning, construction, employment, litigation and corporate work, as well as scoring top marks for family, personal injury and private client. WH does a variety of public and private sector work, as well as acting for private individuals. The firm's work is strongly anchored in the North East. For example, the corporate team recently advised the shareholders of Northumberland online travel agent sunshine.co.uk on its sale to On the Beach for £12 million. Some work breaks out of the region: lawyers from the corporate, employment, commercial and property teams all chipped in to advise London private equity firm Total Capital Partners on its backing for the management buy-out of Cheltenham-based clothing brand Weird Fish.
Trainees said they were “drawn to Ward Hadaway because it balances commercial work with more traditional practice areas. I wanted a full-service firm with a regional focus and a strong presence in the North.” Recently the firm has been touting for more national business while maintaining its focus on providing legal services to Northern clients. Trainees told us they believe “Ward Hadaway manages to be a market leader while maintaining a distinctly Northern feel," hastening to add: "We don’t restrict ourselves at all, and we do attract national work.” There are indications, however, that the firm's status as an independent North-Easterner could be on the way out. In early 2017 it spent three months in merger talks with Southern firm Weightmans, before they eventually fell apart. It's not clear if the firm will pursue a merger in the future, but it's certainly possible. Managing partner Jamie Martin told us: “There are no plans for any new offices, but our development strategy is built around further developing Leeds and Manchester.”
At the time of our interviews, the Newcastle office housed 15 trainees, while Leeds had five and Manchester four. The Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester offices all operate a similar seat allocation system. Trainees submit their preferences as they go along after the first seat, which is allocated before they start. An interviewee explained: “A month before you start, HR asks where you want experience, although you don’t necessarily get what you want in the first seat.” There are about 12 seat options in the Newcastle office, and five in both Leeds and Manchester. In the smaller offices there's more competition because there are fewer seat options. “After your mid-seat review you go over what you’d like to do next with HR. Sometimes they’ll suggest something you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, but they’re not pushy at all. It’s a good process because they often explain why you’ve been allocated a certain seat.”
The property team at Ward Hadaway is the second largest in the North East and offers a range of services to house builders, commercial developers, occupiers, investors, lenders and public sector organisations. The team recently advised Santander on a £12 million loan for the acquisition of the grand County Hotel opposite Newcastle station. Other big-name clients include Aldi, Lloyds Bank and software company Sage. Trainees can do a seat focused on the public sector, planning, residential property, house building or commercial property. “You don’t specify which one you want, so it’s pot luck where you end up.” Trainees described a varied experience: “I was involved in a wide range of matters, drafting Land Registry documents, option agreements, commercial leases and licences.”
A trainee said of their commercial property work: “I did due diligence, cross-referencing with work we'd done previously, on a multimillion-pound matter for a well-known bank which was providing financing for a portfolio of over 250 properties. I got to liaise with the borrower's solicitor to make sure the priority searches were correct.” The public sector property arm does work for the NHS and local councils. "Working with the NHS is all about utilising their property better: selling off car parks, transferring land between trusts, or buying and selling different parcels of land," one trainee said. "I worked on lease reports, land registration, drafting simple contracts and obtaining insurance. ” All of our interviewees praised the amount of client contact in property: “My supervisor took me along to loads of meetings and I got out of the office a lot.”
The healthcare team at WH acts for over 60 NHS organisations and supports healthcare clients across the UK. Most of the work involves defending these parties from clinical negligence claims. “You can see anything from birth injuries and duty of care cases to misdiagnosed broken arms,” a trainee told us. Cases often end in settlements rather than going to court. “I did pre-action work like sending requests to trusts for records and advising on what a claim might be," another reported. "I also drafted formal letters before claim and drafted responses.” The firm recently defended the NHS Litigation Authority in a large £7 million claim related to brain damage suffered by the claimant when they were born in 2002 which led to cerebral palsy. However, a trainee noted that "most of the work is quite low value, and you can only get involved in so much as some cases go on for years." One interviewee described their involvement in cases: “I drafted a lot of preliminary reports and advised NHS trusts on liability. If the claimant took the case forward, I had to deal with all the court forms and follow the litigation process. During inquests I researched mental health records and reviewed witness statements, as well as attending the inquests themselves.” Despite having to deal with complex and difficult cases, interviewees said they enjoyed their time in the team. One said: “I had one-to-one supervision and got to know the cases inside out, as well as learning how to deal with clients.”
“Once I had to talk a client through 500 documents.”
WH’s family team deals with divorces and offers child protection advice and training across the health and education sectors. The department has trebled its turnover in the past five years and expanded across all three offices with the help of a couple of strategic lateral hires. “On the public law side of family you get to work directly with the head of department in Newcastle," one interviewee reported. "There’s a joke that he always has a trainee in his shadow!” Standard tasks include “taking notes at court, bundling, legal aid billing, writing outcome letters to clients, learning client care, and drafting instructions experts.” There's a fair amount of opportunity for advocacy on the public law side. One interviewee told us: “I attended interlocutory hearings, but most of the work was trying to get a timetable agreed for the rest of the case. It can be challenging because for care proceedings you only get 26 weeks to complete the final order. There’s also the pressure of trying to get it all done within a legal aid budget.”
On the matrimonial side, the family team works on high net worth divorces including ones that cross multiple jurisdictions. The department recently dealt with a divorce involving assets of around £50 million and holdings in the US. As a trainee the workload involves “drafting divorce petitions, first appointment documents and applications, plus bundling and dealing directly with clients." An interviewee reflected: "The work isn't as time pressured as on the public law side and you get to know the clients a lot better." Another added: "The best thing about a family seat is the amount of support you get. The supervision has been fantastic and people are always happy to give demonstrations and answer questions.”
The corporate team at WH covers M&A, private equity transactions, venture capital investments and capital markets work. Clients range from public companies (like car retailer Lookers and engineering company SCS) to owner-managed businesses, and a few involve another jurisdiction. For example, the firm recently advised Newcastle-based Frank Recruitment on its sale to US private equity firm TPG Growth. The team also advised on a £17 million top-up to Finance for Business North East (a group of seven investment funds which aim to stimulate growth in the North East), including money from the European Investment Bank. Typical trainee tasks include “drafting ancillary documents like board minutes, resolutions and stock transfer forms, plus dealing with data rooms. Trainees are heavily involved in due diligence and make sure all documents are referenced correctly.” As you can probably guess, organisation is key. “Towards completion you’ll attend preliminary meetings with clients and witness signatures," an interviewee reported. "There are also stamp duty issues and HMRC declarations to deal with. Once I had to talk a client through 500 documents and explain what stage of the transaction they each related to.”
Trainees said that they were usually out of the office by 6.30pm and praised the “fantastic work/life balance.” In corporate and property “there are some massive completions that mean you have to stay much later – the latest I’ve stayed is around midnight.” Employment also has its moments, with an insider telling us: “There was one time we were given 24 hours notice for a restructuring and I stayed until 10.30pm, but that was a one-off.”
Our interviewees said “the firm really takes care of its employees. You can tell the clients are happy because everybody here is so personable.” The firm's sociable personality was something our sources were keen to get across. One said: “Whenever we have vac schemers in we take them out to lunch and they always say how friendly it is here.”
There's a busy social calendar in the Newcastle and Leeds offices, with a slightly quieter out-of-hours schedule in Manchester. In Newcastle “there’s a social committee that organises two or three events per year and within departments there are various team-building awaydays and parties. You’re encouraged to socialise so you can forge stronger working relationships.” The office also got involved in 'Challenge 500' for the Percy Hedley Foundation, a Newcastle disability charity. “We and a few other law firms and businesses all raised money by hosting student quizzes, sweepstakes, race days and dress-down days. It brought the trainees a lot closer together.” Other things to get involved in include a netball, touch rugby and five-a-side football team.There’s also scope for professional networking including with the North East Junior Lawyers Division and the Newcastle Young Professionals Forum. “You’re encouraged to network as much as possible,” one source said.
"Some kind of regional connection definitely helps.”
The Newcastle office has been recently refurbished, so all three locations now sport an open-plan structure. Most interviewees praised this development: “I find open plan much better for learning things as a trainee. You hear how different people do things and keep up to date with what’s going on in the office.” Another added: “It’s the sort of place where even the partners will offer you a brew. It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a hierarchy.”
Given the firm has strong local links, we wondered if recruits are expected to have them too. “Some kind of regional connection definitely helps,” opined one trainee: “We want someone who’s committed to the North and isn’t just going to move to London when they qualify.” Another source believed: “The firm wants someone who can represent us well in meetings with important clients. As long as you can hold your own it doesn’t matter where you’re from. But everyone tends to be really down to earth, as well as quite outgoing and sociable.”
Towards the end of the training contract an NQ jobs list is sent out and second-years have to submit a CV and cover letter to apply for one. “I would prefer more transparency in the qualification process and during seat rotations,” commented one trainee. “We did have a meeting a couple of weeks ago to ask us what we would improve. It’s great to be asked for constructive feedback.” Retention rates vary: all 12 qualifiers were kept on in 2015, but just four of nine were in 2016. In 2017 six of eight qualifiers took up NQ jobs.
The firm hosts an AGM in Newcastle every year to discuss strategy and recent developments, which all trainees are also encouraged to attend.
How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 30 June 2018 (open 1 November 2017)
Applications and vacation scheme
Most trainees at Ward Hadaway have connections with the North, often via unis in Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle. The firm has a particularly close relationship with Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, offering bursaries for two law students at each university 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 solicitor/associate/partner members of the graduate recruitment team. Applicants have the opportunity to meet various levels of lawyers at lunch, and they also get the opportunity to spend time with trainees and ask any questions about life at Ward Hadaway.
The firm invites up to 25 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. “This is an opportunity to learn more about who they are as individuals and what motivates them,” director of HR Joanna Cairns 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.”
Joanne Cairns tells us: “Our different practice areas require different kinds of individuals. It’s really important that people invest the time to research who we are. We aren’t a one size fits all firm, and we’re looking for people who have the composure to present themselves well and are confident in evidencing why they are right for us.”
Our trainee sources added: “The firm looks for people who are normal and down to earth – having 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.” One interviewee highlighted: “We're a commercial firm, so make sure you show your commercial awareness and understanding of the business world. That's as important as demonstrating good communication and teamwork skills.” One final piece of advice? Having a genuine desire to stay in the region – whether that's Newcastle, Manchester or Leeds – is also very important.
The Newcastle and Manchester legal markets
Newcastle upon Tyne,
- Partners 87
- Associates 104
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester
- Graduate Recruiter: Caroline Bogira, recruitment and development manager, [email protected], 01618373810
- Training principal: Julie Huntingdon
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10-15
- Applications pa: 500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 28 February 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: £36,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
The firm is listed in the Top 100 UK Law Firms and has consistently achieved growth throughout its history.
Main areas of work
Trainees are given a comprehensive one-week induction to help them get to grips with the technical side of working at the firm. It’s an intense but enjoyable week, broken up with informal social activities.
During the 24 month training contract, trainees get experience of four seats, spending six months in each. The firm encourage trainees to share their seat preferences so that, where possible, their training contract can be tailored towards areas they’re interested in. The firm’s training contract aims to provide every trainee with a range of contentious and non-contentious areas to achieve a well-rounded legal experience. Secondment opportunities are also available with some of the firm’s key commercial clients. During each seat trainees are supervised by a partner or associate and are given a full end-of-seat appraisal, a mid-seat review, and regular formal and informal feedback.
Trainees are taken on in each of the firm’s three offices.
- Group personal pension plan with employer contributions
- Flexible benefits including health/dental cover, childcare etc.
- Life Assurance Interest-free season ticket loans for travel
- Membership to the JLD or equivalent
University law careers fairs 2017