Trainees gave the green light to international giant DLA Piper for its secondment opportunities and “high-quality work in the regions.”
DLA Piper training contract review 2024
What green flags do you look for in a person? Someone who’s nice to the waiter and always gets a round in at the pub? Good taste in memes? Fresh breath? The bar out there may be low, but it shouldn’t be when you’re choosing a law firm. “The people were the standout reason that DLA Piper was my number one choice,” one trainee told us. “You are very well supported and can make friends all over the firm.” The firm has seven offices in the UK, but with over 90 bases in total spanning 40 countries, “DLA is known not only nationally, but internationally.” And it could probably start a pretty mean flag collection. But let’s start with the green ones.
First up, one interviewee felt that "if you go to other firms, you become a corporate lawyer by default. I wanted a full-service firm.” DLA Piper isn’t the only full-service option out there, but when combined with the fact that “it could offer international reach and high-quality work in the regions,” trainees’ interest was more than piqued. Of the 75 or so who are recruited each year, over a third join the London office, and about a fifth take up residence in Leeds. The remaining newbies are sprinkled across the firm’s bases in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. Interestingly, a few trainees had either joined the firm after paralegalling for a stint, or they went through the firm’s solicitor apprenticeship programme.
“The international secondments are the highlight.”
And now for the green bunting. According to Chambers Global, DLA Piper is a global market leader in franchising and outsourcing, and it has a staggering number of rankings from Chambers UK. It’s particularly strong in the Northwest and Yorkshire, with top prizes in both regions for litigation, banking and finance, corporate/M&A and private equity (mid-market) and IT – these last two practices are also areas of strength for the London office. Nationally, the firm comes out top for its work with retail clients and investor representation in investment funds. There are dozens of additional regional rankings – like IP in Yorkshire and real estate litigation in the Northeast – but for a full breakdown, head to chambers.com.
In the seat allocation process, trainees rank their top three seat choices at each rotation, but with so many trainees to accommodate within the firm’s business needs, many felt “it’s luck of the draw” as to whether you can get what you want. “You apply knowing that you are not going to be prioritised over a 3rd or 4th seater – unless the seat is unpopular.” You can be sure that won’t be IP, which “has over 50 people fighting over it every six months!”
Secondments are also allocated through this process, so “it can be very competitive – the international secondments are the highlight and why people come to the firm.” In the last year, the firm has reopened its regular spots in places like Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, and Dublin. Seats are occasionally available in Brussels and Amsterdam too. However, trainees reckoned that around 60% of the secondment opportunities were here in the UK with clients. One lucky former secondee said their client secondment was “wild! I felt like I was operating at senior associate level,” dealing with “contracts in thousands and thousands of pounds.”
Back in the firm, litigation and regulation work covers investigations, commercial litigation and arbitrations, with specialist work in aviation, environment, cybersecurity, health and safety and IP. The type of work you get involved in as a junior can be “potluck” depending on supervisors. “I was given full matters to run alone, such as small-claim court work,” said one trainee who’d worked on the commercial litigation side. “I got great experience in drafting things alone, keeping track of the whole matter, and chatting with clients.” In the bigger cases, trainees' typical tasks were drafting court documents and witness statements. The firm recently firm represented Uber in a class action brought by approximately 15,000 drivers regarding their worker status. Sports fans will be interested to learn that the Football Association is also a client of the firm – DLA acted for the FA in a $213 million claim against PPLive, the Premier League’s former broadcasting partner in China. For some sub-groups like aviation, “the team is top-heavy due to the specialism” (i.e. there are more partners and senior associates than juniors) and found they were “supporting seniors by coordinating documentation for trials and completing research tasks.” Aviation clients include insurers like Allianz, and major airlines like British Airways, Emirates and easyJet.
“It was a lot of reading through old emails, like CSI stuff!”
For those who want transactional work, DLA’s corporate practice handles mid-market M&A and private equity and funds. There’s also a fair share of capital markets and IPO work, as well as a corporate insurance piece. In its M&A work, the team typically acts for buyers, like in Shell’s recent acquisitions of Daystar Power and Nature Energy Biogas. “Each office generates its own workstream,” trainees explained. In Manchester, the team advised TalkTalk on its acquisition of Virtual1, a network provider. Down in London, the corporate team advised Warner Bros on its joint venture with BT to move BT Sports onto Warner Bros Discovery in the UK and Ireland. “I had responsibility with drafting things like share purchase agreements, dealing with opposing teams, and sometimes running smaller transactions.” It’s a “very technical and fact-paced” seat, said trainees, with “a high-energy team and loads of socials with clients!” There’s also a corporate crime team in London, which advises clients on compliance and handles investigations into bribery, money laundering, fraud, tax evasion and sanctions – “it was a lot of reading through old emails, like CSI stuff!” Pretty cool!
Many trainees will spend a stint with the real estate team, which is one of the firm’s biggest. In this seat, “you work with development teams, builders, and project managers, who tend to be more chill than corporate!” Some of the trainees worked on matters like pub leases, plot sales and rent reviews, while also playing a supporting role on big transactions of land, and developments of hospitals, shopping centres and housing. The team recently advised Longfellow Real Estate Partners on a £1.5 billion joint venture with investors, which aims to focus on life sciences developments in Cambridge, Oxford and London. Further north, the team acted for the University of Sheffield on a number of sites for research and innovation centres, which involved negotiating with the Welsh government for one site in Broughton, Flintshire. On the contentious side, the firm sees a lot of landlord/tenant disputes. Day to day life for trainees saw them “running low matters like licenses, which are minor but important to the firm.” One interviewees also found that “I had a bit more control and development over my skills that I haven’t got from other transactional groups.”
Keeping it transactional, the projects seat was a popular one. The team is split into public procurement and project finance. The public procurement side pertains to government contracts for large infrastructure projects, known as public-private partnerships (or PPP for short). Transport work features heavily here – think rail franchise agreements, bus services, and general transport regulatory advice. For the last six years, the firm has been advising the Department for Transport on Heathrow’s proposed third runway as part of a multi-billion pound expansion for the airport. There’s also a lot of work in the energy sector, both with renewables (a lot of wind farms in Nordic regions) as well as oil and gas sites, mostly in Africa (a focus of growth for the practice, interviewees observed). Trainees in this seat had opportunities to “run calls with opposing counsel” and “draft loan agreements which is, like, real meaty work!” This kind of work isn’t just centred in the capital – “Leeds has an important global partner, so work comes out of this office too.”
Whilst the wide range of seat choices enticed some of our interviewees, for it was the firm’s culture that was their cup of tea. “I found everyone I met super approachable, no matter how senior they were!” one Mancunian shared. And across offices, trainees praised the level of support they got from senior colleagues. “As a first seat trainee, fee earners were very patient and willing to take time to discuss and walk through instructions.”
“Lots of outgoing characters.”
Beyond the daily grind, “there’s a great social life. People will stop and chat to you and be genuinely interested in your life outside of work, which is refreshing.” We heard there are “lots of outgoing characters” in the Birmingham office, and “juniors are encouraged to get stuck in.” Among the trainees themselves, “there are a lot of good friendships, and we don’t feel like we are competing with each other. No one has been toxic!” Those in the London cohort – the biggest of the bunch – found it “big enough to create a buzz, and small enough to not just be another number.” These good vibes inevitably led to “events driven by trainees.” One hyped up event was the recent LBGTQ+ drag queen quiz, so if you’re competitive, get studying (and serving!).
A lot of affinity group events are held in London, with trainees reasoning that “people from everywhere are attracted to London, so it tends to be more multicultural, and the events cater to this.” Up in the Manchester office, the mayor recently dropped by for an event during South Asian Heritage Month. The cohort believed that representation at the firm was generally strong. “We actually calculated it,” said one discerning source, “and more than 50% of the cohort is diverse, and more than 60% are women.” One interviewee voiced that “it’s so nice when people come here and see people in a hijab, and people of colour.” Moreover, sources pointed out that by virtue of the firm’s international coverage, “the firm is organically diverse.” However, “in finance, the number of female partners is limited, and the ethnic diversity even more so,” one observed. “I would like to see more female partners so that we have a role model.” Affinity groups at DLA Piper include IRIS (the LBGTQ+ group), Mosaic (the core ethnic diversity group), PACT (the family and carers network), LAW (gender), Enabled (for those with disabilities), a neurodiversity network, and the newly created social mobility group, Horizons.
Trainees across the firm are expected to be in the office 50% of the week, and a few of the bases have had (or are about to have) a bit of a makeover. “The London office is open plan, and we have the whole building to ourselves,” right by the Barbican. We heard they're trialling hotdesking at the minute. Functions and special events are held on the top two floors, which are bedecked with outdoor terraces – “it’s such a unique space.” The regional offices have seen a new lease of life too. “We are moving the Leeds office to a new building next door,” revealed one Loiner. “I can see it being built from the window!”
“Tons of opportunities to do pro bono.”
Trainees from Manchester to Leeds to Birmingham to Edinburgh were pretty chuffed with their salaries (“we get ample for the market”), but there was “disgruntlement in London.” One in the capital felt that the undisclosed NQ pay cheque “looks good on paper, but factoring in long hours and weekend work, it's not fantastic.” Trainees emphasised that hours at the firm very much depended on the seat, rather than their location: “There’s a myth that London works more hours, but the Leeds office also works cross-office with London, so we have no excuse to log off just because we’re in Leeds!” The trainees we spoke to mostly tended to clock off between 7 and 8pm, though some who’d sat in corporate had to work into the early hours to close deals on occasion. According to our survey, trainees worked about 46 hours in the week compared to the market average of 44.
Qualification kicks off with an NQ workshop with the graduate recruitment team. The list of jobs up for grabs is released a week later and trainees are asked to rank their top three choices. To be in with a chance, they need to prep their CVs and collate their end-of-seat reviews into an application package (complete with a headshot). The process is run over four weeks and “communicated fairly quickly.” In 2023, the firm didn't disclose it's retention figures.
Not just a pipe dream: “There are tons of opportunities to do pro bono,” including work with the Ukrainian Advice Project supporting refugees. Trainees can even do a seat with the pro bono team!
How to get a DLA Piper training contract
- All International Graduate training contracts are filled via the firm’s Summer Internships
- 2024 Summer Internship deadline: TBC (will be recruiting on a rolling basis)
The Application Form
Each year, the firm receives over 4000 applications at DLA Piper for our Summer Internships. Whilst the firm has removed its minimum grade boundaries at A-Level and degree, applicants will need to pass the PGDL (where applicable) and the SQE.
When reviewing your application, law-related experience is not essential, but the firm's recruiters will be looking to gain an understanding as to why a candidate is interested in law and DLA Piper and how they can demonstrate that passion throughout your application.
Candidates are required to submit an online application (including a CV) and are then invited to take the Watson Glaser test. Successful candidates are then invited to an interview and then the final stage – an assessment centre.
The Assessment Centre
The half day assessment centre will be held in-person and involves a welcome to the firm by a senior member of DLA Piper. “Candidates get to meet fee-earners from all over the UK, which gives them an insight into our 'One-UK' approach.” There are three exercises to complete, and candidates are provided an overview of these ahead of the assessment centre.
Attendees will be provided with feedback and an outcome from the day within a week after their assessment centre Those who are given good news are subsequently assigned a buddy – a current trainee at the firm – who provides the candidate with support and guidance before they start their internship at DLA Piper.
DLA Piper recruits all of its trainees from the three-week summer internship. UK, Ireland and UAE interns take part in a four-day induction in London, and then return to their local offices to sit within two practice groups across two weeks.
Across the Induction, participants will have the chance to participate in sector workshops along with lots of networking opportunities. They will also hear from: Senior leaders at the firm, the Responsible Business team, DLA Piper’s People’s networks, the Diversity and Inclusion team and many more.
Towards the end of the Induction, interns will then join the relevant practice groups they have been assigned to, in their local offices. The interns will sit in two practice groups, rotating at the end of Week 2. Feedback is provided throughout of the internship. Participants complete work that our trainee sources felt was “pitched at the right level.” As one told us: “We were genuinely assisting on real work. By the end of my scheme, I could really see myself fitting in at the firm.”
Participants are assessed throughout the scheme on various projects (as well as through participation in compulsory 'practice group insight' and 'thought leadership' sessions).
Interview with training principal Matthew Swynnerton
Chambers Student: How would you describe the firm? How would you describe its position in the market?
Matthew Swynnerton: We are a large global law firm with offices in over 40 countries worldwide. Our USP is the way the firm has grown rapidly in a short period compared to our competitors. Even with our large presence, we have local connections in the countries we’re in that we nurture too. The culture and entrepreneurial spirit we have, together with the rapid growth of the firm, is unprecedented and unmatched by our rivals. We partner with our clients everywhere they do business and in very aspect of their business - DLA Piper is not just out for big ticket work (although we do get a lot of that!). One of the reasons I have been here for so long, starting with a work placement and being a trainee in the mid-90s until now is because of the positive culture and nature of the firm. It is a nice place to be! We are a large global firm with none of the stuffiness of the magic circle.
CS: Are there any highlights from the last year you think it would be helpful for our readers to know about? E.g., changes to the training contract, office moves, etc.
MS: There have been a few developments in the past few years. In terms of secondment opportunities, our international secondments are now open to trainees, which is great as it speaks to our global nature. The offices we have available are Bangkok, Dubai, Dublin, and Hong Kong. Other processes that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic was our graduate assessment centres. We are happy to announce that these are back in person, and it is nice to see everyone again. DLA Piper tried to give the best virtual experience we could during the pandemic, and it was as successful as it could have been. But it’s nice to see our future trainees back in person again!
Other developments in the firm include the Birmingham office moving to a brand-new office, and the Leeds office is currently in the process of moving to an amazing brand new office. The internal networks have also come into their own now that people are back in the office. Our affinity groups are IRIS (LBGTQ+ group), MOSAIC (BAME group), PACT (family and carers group), ENABLED (disability group), and we also have gender and social mobility networks too. These groups are trying to be as progressive as possible which is important to our trainees and graduates as they come into the firm.
CS: How would you describe the training environment/culture that you have aimed to create at the firm?
MS: It is very inclusive. We have within DLA Piper a set of values which permeates every aspect of our business: bold, supportive, and collaborative. These are valued by everybody, really. It’s not just a trainee thing! There is a development pathway for trainees to help with not just the technical side of being a lawyer but developing soft skills too. Since my day, the younger generation has different expectations of their careers, so things are always changing. Our internal network, culture and training reflects that to give trainees appropriate transferrable skills, wherever life takes them. For all trainees, we aim to try to get them involved in a wide range of practice areas, different types of work and sitting in on different meetings. Trainees have had a great experience from feedback we received. Our trainees aren’t treated as dogsbodies doing tedious work. Their supervisors want them to qualify into their department, so they ensure trainees get an interesting range work to set them up to do so.
CS: What’s the current set up with remote working for trainees? Is there a set number of days where trainees are expected to come into the office?
MS: There is a generally applied policy called WorkSmart+ (which is for everybody) and it encourages people to be in office three days a week. Our experience with the trainee cohort is that they tend to be in more than that, at around four or five days a week. At the trainee stage in particular, learning is important and it’s easier to do that in the office. However, everyone has been set up to work remotely, with laptops and tech systems that support remote working, since the first lockdown back in 2020.
We found that trainees enjoy not only the learning from being in the office but also the social networking side too, which is an important part of being a trainee. Trainees begin building up an internal network, and this is much harder to do remotely. There are no set days as it depends on different departments, but most encourage their teams to come in on certain days for physical team meetings and social events.
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?
MS: There are two things I tend to look for. One key personality trait is enthusiasm. This is very important at any stage of a law career, but it can set a great trainee apart from an average applicant. In this industry, you will naturally have to do some jobs which are less interesting than others. But it is important to still approach work with enthusiasm and keep motivated.
Another personality trait that we look for is someone we will get along with and approach things with a great attitude that reflects the firm’s values. This is the sort of person that thrives at DLA Piper, and our aim is to try to create a culture where anyone can thrive. With our values and the networks I mentioned earlier, individuality is important to us. We often say, if someone has a good and viable idea, no one will put obstacles in the way of implementing it, and this applies at every level. This is a key part of the firm’s culture so we would want the message to be that everyone can thrive if they share our values and approach the role with enthusiasm.
CS: And finally, do you have any advice for those thinking about pursuing a career in law either at your firm or more generally?
MS: I would like toreiterate the importance of enthusiasm to any role. The unique thing about law and the training contract is that we see a lot of people coming through and it is easy to compare people. Coming to a seat with lack of enthusiasm will mark you out. Another point is that newbies to the legal world should come to a law firm with an open mind about what they want to do and where they want to end up. I am a pension lawyer and I had never done pensions law before I worked at DLA Piper. It was not taught when I went to university and if you asked me if wanted to be a pensions lawyers, I would have said ‘why?’. But I did it as a seat as a trainee and I ended up really enjoying it, despite it being a difficult and technical area in law. If I hadn’t approached it with an open mind, I may not have discovered that I liked it, and spent the next 25 years doing it! When going through a training contract, trainees may not always get their first choice of seats on each rotation. Some people have a clear idea of what they want to do, which is great, but the expectations may be different to the reality. So, keep an open mind!
Also, during a training contract, trainees should be aware feedback follows you round, and you may meet people in a seat that you end up working with in the future, so bringing a positive attitude to each seat will nurture future relationships.
DLA Piper LLP
160 Aldersgate Street,
At DLA Piper, innovation and challenging the status quo are the vital spark to how we think and what we do. Together, we create exceptional experiences, outcomes and growth for our clients and people.
We make this happen with a culture where graduates bring their passion and individuality to work every day.
DLA Piper is a global business law firm with lawyers located in more than 40 countries, with over 90 offices throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.
We help clients succeed through innovative and pragmatic legal solutions. Our clients range from multinational, Global 1000, and Fortune 500 enterprises, start-ups, public sector bodies and governments. DLA Piper’s sector groups cover the full range of business law services.
In today’s world, environmental, social and governance issues are of critical importance to business. At DLA Piper we are helping clients transition to, and thrive in, a more sustainable future. We ask tough questions about purpose and transparency and find the answers together.
We are also looking for opportunities to integrate sustainability into our governance, decision-making and operations. We ensure their people have the right resources and support they need to perform and deliver at our best for clients.
We, at DLA Piper are connected with our people, clients and communities in everything we do. We live by four values:
• Be Supportive: We care about others, value diversity and act thoughtfully.
• Be Bold: We stand tall and challenge ourselves to think big.
• Be Collaborative: We give, we share and we join in.
• Be Exceptional: We exceed standards and expectations.
Unlike many law firms, DLA Piper is organised to provide clients with a range of essential business advice, not just on large scale mergers and acquisitions and banking deals but also on people and employment, commercial dealings, litigation, insurance, real estate, IT, intellectual property, plans for restructuring and tax. We have a comprehensive, award winning client relationship management programme and our brand is built upon local legal excellence and global capability. DLA Piper has the following practice groups: corporate, employment, finance and projects, restructuring, intellectual property and technology, litigation and regulatory, real estate, tax.
Our International Training Programme seeks to create a culture of learning and development from the time you accept an offer with us. Before starting with us you will be sponsored to attend a Masters level preparatory course which includes the SQE1 and SQE2 examinations which are required to qualify as a solicitor. For non-law degree joiners, a law conversion course will be sponsored before you attend the SQE preparatory course.
Across the two-year programme, you will undertake four, six-month rotations within our practice groups, giving you breadth in your knowledge of the law as well as the practical skills that will stay with you for your entire career. You may also get an opportunity to complete client secondments or international secondments as one of your rotations.
By the end of your Training Programme, you will emerge with a clearer understanding of where your talent and interests lie, which will guide your decision in applying for our newly qualified solicitor roles at the firm. The experience you’ll have gained - and the networks you’ll have nurtured - will provide a strong foundation for your future career at DLA Piper.
Our Summer Internship is designed to give students a real insight into DLA Piper. The programme runs across our Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, London, Dublin, Hong Kong and Dubai office.
Gain first-hand experience of working at DLA Piper with our in-person Summer Internship. Our paid programme starts with an induction event held in the London office (UK, Dublin and Dubai interns) and Hong Kong Office (Hong Kong interns) followed by time working in your chosen office location. This is the gateway to our International Training Programme and will provide you with opportunities to explore your interests and make informed career choices.
Life insurance, private healthcare, cycle to work schemes, gym, restaurant, employee assistance programme.
Our onsite Insight Programme offers students an insight into life at a global law firm. Our programme includes:
• An insight to DLA Piper, our practice groups and our global scale and reach in the legal sector
• An interactive legal case-study
• Professional skills training, including advice on how to excel in our application process
• The opportunity to meet senior representatives and current trainees.
Our 2024 Insight Programme will be hosted during the Easter break in our London office.
This programme is perfect for those that are interested in finding out more about DLA Piper and our Summer Internship programme.
Furthermore, upon completion of the program you will qualify to submit a priority application for a Summer 2025 Internship at any of our participating offices, provided you have the right to work in your chosen location.
•Studying a law degree: you can apply for the programme if you are a first-year student on a three-year course or a second-year student on a four-year course.
• Studying a non-law degree: you can apply for the programme if you are a second-year student on a three-year course or a third-year student on a four-year course.
• Open to students from any degree background at universities across the UK and Ireland. Please note if you are studying abroad at the time of Insight Programme you will need to have the right to work in the UK.
Deadline: We recruit on a rolling basis, and therefore would encourage early applications. Once we have enough applications for the Insight Programme applications will close.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
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- Competition Law (Band 5)
- Construction: Contentious (Band 2)
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- Corporate/M&A: £100-800 million (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
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- Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Pensions (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: £150 million and above (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 5)
- Restructuring/Insolvency: Disputes Spotlight
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North East & Yorkshire
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- Employment (Band 1)
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- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
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- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
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- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
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- Corporate/M&A: £25 million and above (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
Yorkshire: South and West
- Employment (Band 2)