The Newcastle legal scene

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, quite a few 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.”