Want marine, health and commercial prowess with an open, supportive environment? You might be HD ready.
Running up that Hill
Searching for friends, not colleagues? Organic fun without too much rigidity? Or simply a regional feel alongside some international flair? We’re not talking Tinder here – these are the traits that Hill Dickinson’s trainees were keen to highlight in their firm. HD is HQ’d in Liverpool but boasts offices in London, Manchester and Leeds plus four more overseas in Europe and Asia.
After selling its insurance arm to specialist firm Keoghs, Hill Dickinson took stock of its place in the legal landscape: “I’ve witnessed the recalibration and renewed vision following the fallout and consolidation after the insurance sale,” a source said. “We’re now back in a period of growth.” Turnover in the first half of 2018/19 reached £43.6 million, a 9% increase from the same period a year earlier. “Recalibration” to focus on growing health and corporate practices is propelling HD forward – one trainee noticed “there’s an intensity picking up. We’re growing and we’re growing quickly, but it’s still the same firm we signed up to.”
“Everyone here is proud of the fact that they work at Hill Dickinson.”
“People here are dead approachable,” they continued. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, I absolutely love it.” The love-in continued when we spoke to other trainees who chalked the friendliness down to a “Scouse vibe. They really have your back here – senior people are there to develop you in a firm that’s small enough to be friendly, but big enough for big work.” We’ll leave Chambers UK to summarise that big work: the firm fares well in the North West for lower mid-market corporate, employment and litigation while also picking up UK-wide rankings for transport logistics, clinical negligence, healthcare and more. One interviewee summarised that “the firm offers a range of mid-market commercial work with quality that speaks for itself. Everyone here is proud of the fact that they work at Hill Dickinson.”
Trainees are fairly evenly spread across London, Liverpool and Manchester, while the Leeds office housed just one when we came calling. There’s change afoot in the structure of HD’s training contract – the firm’s practices are divided broadly into marine, health and business services groups and for the next intake there’s “a new plan to recruit on a sector-focused basis.” This means that there’ll be a health-focused training contract available in the Northern and London offices; a business services training contract in Liverpool and Manchester; and a business services and marine option in London. As it stands trainees are currently defined by their region, so while it’s normal to flit between Manchester and Liverpool it’s unlikely that a trainee from London will switch ends of the country. The Leeds base currently specialises solely in healthcare law.
The firm currently decides where trainees sit first but the next three choices are discussed during mid-seat reviews. “I’ve never not had my first choice but if you don’t get it then they work to accommodate your next,” we heard. Nothing’s mandatory but the firm “likes you to do a contentious seat.” Marine-related seats include shipping, regulatory and yachts (!); health work includes litigious, regulatory and corporate and commercial sub-streams; and business services encompasses pretty much everything else.
Clinical negligence and employer liability claims form the bulk of the work in health litigation. Following its reappointment to the NHS Resolution Panel, Hill Dickinson was also selected as one of only three firms to sit on the Medical Protection Society’s National Panel. “We also act as their indemnifiers and have to agree defences with both clinicians and the NHS.” On one matter that attracted nationwide attention, the firm acted on behalf of Alder Hey Hospitals in the case surrounding whether continued treatment of Alfie Evans, a child with a neurodegenerative brain disorder, was against his own interests. It’s common to deal with such complex issues and moral conundrums in this seat – “There can be so many different threads to pull together. You have to be pragmatic and think beyond the moral elements.” Trainees get their own caseloads with expert instructions, reviewing low-to-mid value cases to determine whether it’s best to settle or go to trial. One enthusiastic source shared their highlight: “I got to do my own advocacy at County Court level; it was terrifying but so good to get under my belt.”
“I got to do my own advocacy at County Court level; it was terrifying but so good to get under my belt.”
Trainees can also get a look at the business end of healthcare. The firm recently advised Bolton-based community healthcare and wellbeing provider ABL Health on a £2.5 million equity investment by private equity firm Foresight Group; other typical matters include mergers and acquisitions of NHS trusts. “We do a lot of work with public healthcare providers,” a source told us. Deal work requires “lots of due diligence” on the part of trainees, but further down the line they got to lead client calls and conduct training sessions for the clientele. A growing strand of work is within the tech sphere, advising large online GP providers on “anything from checking patients’ identities to hacking. That’s where the law is really developing.”
Most of HD’s marine seats are London-based, but there’s also a cargo and logistics option available in Manchester. The shipping crew advises P&I clubs from all over the UK, Scandinavia and America and defended the Lion Group international conglomerate in the Commercial High Court of Justice in a dispute with Classic Maritime over a contract of affreightment exception clause and whether or not millions of dollars of damages were due. “Historically, shipping was the firm’s big thing,” a legacy that stretches all the way back to advising the owners of the 'Titanic' after its sinking. In this seat trainees tend to see a mix of “wet matters happening at sea like crashes in transit, and dry cases that happen in-dock.” If you’re looking for an international secondment, a marine seat used to be the “only way to really get across the globe.” However, the availability of overseas seats is no longer guaranteed.
Corporate is the most popular seat within the business services division. Hill Dickinson specialises in mid-market private equity, M&A and capital markets work – clients include Regency Casinos and UK Oil & Gas. Manufacturing and retail are big money areas for the Manchester and Liverpool offices; in London, the team recently advised Africa IP and data provider Liquid Telecom on the acquisition of the remaining 50% stake in its Zambian joint venture. Our interviewees liked how the firm structures work for trainees over the course of a seat: “You work from the end of the transaction backwards, doing post-completion documents and bundling. Then you progress to drafting and ancillary documents and board minutes, then tackling disclosure points and seeking instructions from others.” By the end of this process trainees “learned the narrative of corporate transactions. It’s really useful to see the full scope.” Corporate is a larger team than some others so it’s more likely you’ll be drip-fed work from associates that they’ve received from partners.
A small banking team sits alongside the corporate group in Liverpool. “It’s a really good seat for responsibility and progression over time,” sources said. “They get to know you early on and adjust your workload accordingly.” Trainees assist the corporate department when a big deal needs refinancing and link up with project finance on development matters. Hill Dickinson advises a mix of lender and borrower clients including Santander, HSBC, Betfred and infrastructure firm Stobart, whom the firm advised on its £80 million revolving credit facilities with Lloyds and Allied Irish Bank.
Our interviewees did mostly commercial work in the property department but residential, retail and development matters can all be found here. As in a corporate seat “you go further back in transactions the longer you’ve been in the department. I’m towards the end drafting substantive leases, purchase agreements and deeds of transfer.” Iceland Foods, Liverpool City Council and Lloyd’s Bank are all on Hill Dickinson’s books. The firm recently acted in various transactions for logistics client DHL, advising both on the sale and leasebacks of warehouses in Swansea and Ebbw Vale and construction and lease of new facilities in Reading and Howden. Trainees get experience liaising with government bodies like HMRC and the Land Registry – for one the latter involved “sourcing 1,800 year-old documents written on pig skin to find the root of title.” That may have been a slight exaggeration on that trainee’s part, but others declared that high responsibility is par for the course in a property seat. “At times you may feel relatively inadequate and end up with imposter syndrome, but they really help you step up to the mark.”
“There was so much urgent work to do, even the bundles were on fire.”
There’s also a construction seat on offer in the Liverpool office. Sat with the broader property department, the sub-team is equally adept in the renewables, transport, insurance and energy sectors, advising a mixed client base including public bodies and utility providers. Liverpool City Council appointed Hill Dickinson to advise on a pre-construction services agreement with a Northern Ireland-based contractor, and the demolition of a pontoon. For one trainee, the local element proved most rewarding: “There are usually developments up here so it’s great to see the nearly finished projects from our office window knowing I helped.” There’s certainly plenty to be getting on with: “Everything was on fire all the time while I was there. There was so much urgent work to do, even the bundles were on fire.” Better bring a hazard suit! Trainees in this seat also drafted appointments and warranties for contractors.
A Hill to die on?
Looking up from the bottom of the proverbial hill, trainees all agreed that openness permeates the different levels of Hill Dickinson. “The people really make the place: I sit two doors down from the chairman and he’s running around the office making everyone laugh all the time.” It’s not just the head honcho putting smiles on faces – “we all get on really well,” one source laughed appreciatively. “Most of my peers are really good friends and we all get together to talk about Love Island.” Another HD trainee with hopefully better taste in TV told us that the firm has “a very collaborative atmosphere,everybody mucks in to help each other out.”
Be advised that the Hill Dickinson experience can vary by location. Liverpool’s mix of open-plan space and separate offices means “there’s none of that hierarchical posturing,” but Manchester trainees reckoned “it’s a more social place because everyone knows everyone. This isn’t a big inhospitable glass building and that breeds a certain solidarity.” There are two different London offices – one near trendy Spitalfields Market and the other in the West End. Leeds feels like “it’s own thing” according to even Northerners at HD, “it’s so new and niche that it essentially feels like a satellite office.”
“Most of my peers are really good friends and we all get together to talk about Love Island.”
Each office hosts its own social festivities, be they payday drinks, ad-hoc nights out, “gin journeys” or more organised affairs like the annual Christmas and staff family parties. “The social life isn’t too forced – things do happen because people here want to hang out. When we do we’re not talking about Hill Dickinson and nobody is discussing files while drinking!” Some of our insiders went above and beyond to get to know each other: “We meet up at the weekends because we’re actually friends outside work. I’ve been to a colleague’s nan’s house.” Some Leeds and Manchester sources craved more links with their colleagues in the City. “It’s definitely harder to socialise with the London intake because of the geography,” told one source. “The trainees are as lovely as the ones here but we never get to see them.”
We’re not saying that everybody’s stuck in the office 24/7: in fact we heard very few complaints about hours. Days tend to start by 9am and wrap up by 6pm at Hill Dickinson. Mega busy stretches can call for “some 4am finishes” but those are an anomaly and 8 or 9pm is “a more common time to go home when it’s busy. There’s no expectation to stay just to be seen and nobody’s stood around clock-watching.”
“The firm’s reluctant to lose people and they really don’t want to see trainees go.” Good news everyone: Hill Dickinson retained 10 of its 13 qualifiers in 2019.
How to get a Hill Dickinson training contract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 January 2020
Applications and assessments
Hill Dicks has 10 training contracts available for 2021. If you want to bag yourself a place on the vac scheme or training contract, then in addition to a written application, you'll have to go through what training partner Richard Capper describes as an "extended selfie." He's referring to the process of answering questions via an online video submission, a requirement which is becoming increasingly popular among graduate recruiters.
Candidates who stand out at this stage are invited in for an assessment day which is split into three stages: a presentation, group exercise and a written exercise. For the presentation applicants are given a brief in advance of the assessment day. The group task is usually a negotiation exercise, while the written test could involve drafting a document or letter to a client, and aims to test analytical skills as well as spelling and grammar.
There are no two ways about it: the day is “difficult and high-pressured,” trainees told us. That said, when it comes to the interview it seems the firm is mostly concerned with ensuring candidates really want to work for Hill Dicks: “It’s important for them to be able to present a convincing case, with evidence, as to why exactly they’re applying here,” Capper stresses. Other questions revolve around situational judgement, business development and commercial awareness.
Hill Dickinson offers around 44 one-week vac scheme places a year, 10 of which are in London, with the rest up North. The first four days are spent in a specific department, and the fifth consists of a training contract assessment day just as previously described. Our sources appreciated that they hadn’t been treated “like a spare part” and felt that they’d “been able to actually contribute something to the team.” At the same time, they’d found the first four days “fairly informal” and “more like work experience really.”
Richard Capper tells us vac schemers might be taken to court, to client meetings, and to tribunals, and also sit through talks and presentations from various business groups. There are also “fancy lunches and drinks with trainees,” before the assessment really starts to bite on Friday.
The ideal candidate
The firm requests that candidates have no less than an ABB at A level and 2:1 at degree. “We usually recruit slightly more law grads than non-law (about 60/40),” Capper adds, “though you don’t need a law degree and experience in a commercial firm to work here. Any work experience is useful provided it’s informed your decision to apply, and this allows us to recruit an interesting and diverse mix of individuals.”
Hill Dickinson LLP
No. 1 St Paul’s Square,
- Partners and legal directors 175
- Senior associates 75
- Associates 125
- Total trainees 25
- UK offices Liverpool, Manchester, London, Leeds
- Overseas offices 4
- Graduate recruiter: Jen Hulse, Alex Knight in the Talent & Development team – [email protected]
- Training partner: Richard Capper
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 10
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: Please visit our website for further details
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st November 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st January 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,000
- Second-year salary: £28,000
- First-year salary: (London) £37,000
- Second-year salary: (London) £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: Within a range, up to £41,000 (Northern) or £59,000 (London), dependent on discipline
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Liverpool, London, Manchester, Leeds
Main areas of work
• A specialist approach – Our training contracts offer tailored, focused routes, which puts you in control of your career from day one. You have the choice to train in the area of law that you want to progress in, allowing you to become a specialised lawyer from the outset.
• Recruit to retain – Our small intake of 10 ensures that each trainee has our full attention and means that we have the resources to give you as much support as you need at the beginning of your career.
• Stimulating work – You will be given immediate responsibilities and challenging tasks as you become a valued and important member of our team. We involve and positively acknowledge the role of trainees working with experienced colleagues in large corporate deals and cases.
• Giving back – Whether it’s volunteering at a charity you wish to support personally, working with our community partner charities or getting involved with some of our firm-wide environmental, diversity and inclusion initiatives, we’ve got something for you.
• Wellbeing – We have a dedicated programme offering a variety of activities and benefits to support you. We want our people to have a good work life balance and encourage an agile and flexible approach to working.
If you want to find out more, please visit our website at hilldickinson.com/careers where you will find all the latest updates on our programme in line with the introduction of the SQE.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Liverpool and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 2)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 3)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 1)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 2)