Despite shipping off its insurance practice, Liverpool-born Hill Dickinson is still strongly anchored in its marine, health and commercial work.
The winds of change have been steering Hill Dickinson's sails over the past 18 months. After navigating turbulent shipping and insurance markets (two of the firm's long-standing areas of focus), the firm made the decision to throw its insurance arm to the wind. By throw, we mean sell. And by wind, we mean insurance buffs Keoghs. Training principal Richard Capper gives us some insight into the decision: “It was very much a strategic move for us and for Keoghs. We were keen to do the transaction as it would enable us to focus on what we believe are our core areas moving forward, while also placing people we care about in an environment that's better able to look after their needs as insurance lawyers and clients.”
This means that HD's practice is now split into three main areas: marine, trade and energy; health; and business services. Capper adds that HD has “achieved its goal” when it came to the sale, and emphasises that “we're exactly where we want to be in terms of our expectations. Considering that we've divested more than approximately 25% of our overall headcount, we're in pretty good financial health and have recorded an excellent financial performance.”
In 2017/18 revenue fell 4.8% to £96.8 million; HD's health sector practice and London-based corporate team were the highlights of the past financial year, as both posted double-digit growth. The firm's health-related work really comes to the fore in HD's Chambers UK rankings, where high UK-wide nods praise the firm's Court of Protection expertise, as well as its broader healthcare work across the contentious, regulatory and transactional spectrum. The firm's shipping practice is also commended (especially when it comes to logistics matters), while in the North West HD's lower mid-market corporate group shines, alongside honourable mentions for its real estate, litigation, employment, construction and banking and finance work.
While the firm may have said goodbye to its insurance arm, it did say hello to a new health sector-focused office in Leeds, which it opened in August 2017 and had a single trainee in summer 2018. Capper reflects: “Leeds is a bit like Manchester in that it's saturated with talent but has a fairly limited pool of work. You've got to be careful going into new cities, so we recruited a parter into our health team who is well known and well connected. He is slowly building the team around him. The foundations we've set there are good.” At the time of our research, the firm's trainees were quite evenly spread across its other UK offices: the Liverpool HQ and Manchester bases had nine apiece, while eight could be found plying their trade in London. Alongside its UK presence, HD also has overseas posts in Singapore, Piraeus, Monaco and Hong Kong.
Twist and about-turn
The firm allocates trainees their first seat. For the following seats, trainees can indicate their top three preferences during mid-seat reviews. Sources agreed that HR “do their best to accommodate our choices. It's a fair system, and they definitely take your preferences into consideration and do everything they can to put people in their first choices where they can. If you don't get one of your preferences it's usually because everyone wants the same thing!” Seat options differ slightly from office to office: Liverpool and Manchester have “pretty much the full offering” while London has more of an emphasis on shipping (though the health practice is growing). “Northern trainees sometimes rotate around the northern offices depending on what seat they want to do,” sources explained, but it is more unusual for London trainees to undertake seats up north.
Sources who'd completed a shipping seat reported working on a mix of 'wet' and 'dry' matters (think of incidents that occur at sea – like collisions – for the former, and more contractual-focused work for the latter). Our interviewees had encountered “quite a lot of dry disputes over charter-party contracts – you have to get to grips with all the terminology and the different types of contract!” Once they got used to the lingo, they enthused about “dealing directly with clients, instructing experts on matters, taking part in teleconferences and drafting e-mails to arbitrators and the other side.” Bundling was inevitable, but sources were glad to be “very much involved in the process. It's only you preparing it and looking through all the correspondence. You decide what goes in!” A recent matter saw HD represent international conglomerate The Lion Group as the defendants in a case concerning a $20 million (plus) claim over the alleged non-performance of a long-term contract of affreightment (a term used to describe an agreement to carry goods, typically between a shipowner and a charterer).
The commodities group is also part of the wider marine, trade and energy department, and specialises in what's known as “'soft physicals' – grains, sugar, things like that.” In the wake of the US-China trade tariffs, sources found that they were “advising clients in real time – there were ships on their way to China, stacked with goods that had had tariffs slapped on them. We had to advise them on how these developments affected their contracts.” Another matter saw the team act for a Guadeloupe-based tobacco importer and distributor (PHP Tobacco) as it pursued a €6.5 million claim for compensation following the termination of a distribution agreement by the Caribbean arm of British American Tobacco. “A lot of the disputes we deal with are very complex,” an interviewee pointed out, adding: “I really enjoyed the pure contract side of it, and the 'sale of goods' aspect. You'll encounter clients from all over the world.”
“...there were ships on their way to China, stacked with goods that had had tariffs slapped on them.”
The health litigation seat “deals with clinical negligence and employer liability claims brought against NHS trusts,” and as such, the team's main client is NHS Resolution; HD's lawyers recently defended it against a negligent mental health care claim, and obtained a liability discount that reduced the value of the multimillion claim by half. Trainees here were given their own lower-value cases to run from start to finish, which revolved around matters like delayed diagnoses and alleged breach of duty. These involved “reviewing medical records, liaising with the defendant, obtaining evidence from experts, and drafting substantive reports that form the foundation for the letter of response to the claims.” Sources relayed that “you need to be organised and efficient because of the short timescales involved.” Trainees also assisted partners with high-value claims (“these could go up to £15 million in damages”) relating to cerebral palsy and birth injury cases. On these matters, interviewees had “drafted witness statements, attended conferences, assisted at court hearings and prepared updates for the client.”
Trainees can also undertake a seat in HD's health business group. The work gave interviewees a chance to get to grips with the “regulatory and governance aspects of healthcare law; our clients are all NHS bodies in some way, and they'll have queries relating to their organisational structure, or how to handle information in light of the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], for example.” Trainees therefore spend quite a lot of time conducting research and drafting advice letters for clients, but also get involved in “regulatory investigations into under-performing GP surgeries or care homes, where the Care Quality Commission go in and conduct reviews. We help to prepare the formal documents for these investigations.” Sources liked that “this is a seat where you're given a problem and tasked with trying to provide a solution – we might get a member from a clinical commissioning group [CCG] calling with an issue concerning the collection of clinical waste or the barriers for entry to receive IVF treatment.” The group have recently advised NHS Northumberland CCG on the development of a flagship 'New Care Model' project, which will combine both health and social care partners.
“... you're given a problem and tasked with trying to provide a solution.”
On the commercial side of HD's practice, a few of our sources had completed a banking seat. This department is particularly strong in Liverpool and Manchester, and does work for big names like Santander, Lloyds, RBS and HSBC. The team recently acted for gambling industry outfit Betfred in connection with a refinancing to help fund the purchase of over 300 betting shops from Ladbrokes and Gala Coral. “We do a lot of securities and facilities agreements,” trainees reported, “and sometimes quite complex agreements like apportionment arrangements between investors on large co-investments.” One source reflected: “When I first started I was doing a lot of conditions precedent exercises and drafting board minutes, but as I progressed through the seat I got more experience drafting security documents and getting involved in loan agreements. It was also one of the best seats for client contact – I probably spoke with clients a couple of times a day!”
Many sources found “the culture difficult to describe because we're a broad firm with international dimensions.” One captured the consensus, however, when they said: “In London it feels very international because of the type of work we do, but overall the firm also has a nice regional, down to earth feel because of the Liverpool HQ.” Tales of friendliness came from all corners of the firm, with one interviewee reporting that “everyone says hi to you in the lift, even if you've never met!” On the whole, sources felt that HD “is a very accommodating and relaxed place – but that approach doesn't affect the quality of the work we bring in and complete. The firm has a very reasonable and balanced ethos.” This extended to working hours: most sources got to the office between 8am and 8.30am, and were able to leave by 6pm most nights. “Every now and then there's a late one – 9pm maybe – but that's rare.” Others added: “There's a big thing about being flexible and making life easier – I can leave earlier and work from home if there's a valid reason for me to do so.”
Although each office has a similar vibe culturally, there is some disparity in the actual surroundings. Manchester sources revealed that “it's no secret that the office here is not the nicest of buildings. But because everyone is aware that it's not that nice, we have some weird solidarity and protective attitude about it!” Rumours, however, were circling that the lease may be expiring in a few years... Liverpool was described as “a nice modern office with lots of glass, in a nice part of the city.” It's conveniently located in St. Paul's Square, so “there are lots of restaurants, cafés and bars around us.”
There are two London bases: you'll find one near Spitalfields Market, where sources reported that “we're outgrowing the space. We have two floors in this building – we mostly have two people to an office, but other teams are stretched to three to an office.” The second London pad is situated in the swanky West End on Jermyn Street, where trainees can do a seat focused exclusively on the yacht and 'superyacht' markets.
“We go out for drinks quite regularly and text about things like Love Island!”
Trainees in their respective offices get together a reasonable amount: “We get on very well in my year, as well as with the year above, so we organise our own events easily enough.” One source added: “I'm definitely friends with my colleagues – we go out for drinks quite regularly and text about things like Love Island!” Opportunities for trainees across the offices to come together happen through annual departmental training days: “They're like an away day, where everyone from London, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds meets up in a hotel, and there are games and ice-breakers, followed by an evening meal and drinks.” All trainees usually gather to do their professional skills course (PSC) training in Liverpool as well.
The firm used to post a list of available NQ jobs come qualification time. During the latest round, however, HR “e-mailed all second-year trainees as and when a job came up.” The process is pretty standard from there on: trainees submit their application with a CV and covering letter, then usually have an interview. Many felt secure in the knowledge that “the firm only recruits the number of trainees that it's looking to retain as NQs.” In 2018 this was reflected in the retention rate as 12 of 14 qualifiers stayed with the firm.
Trainees have in the past done overseas seats in Singapore and Monaco. Piraeus is a current option. These seats tend to focus on marine work, so “if you aren't heading for marine and shipping upon qualification, then these offices are unlikely to take you on for a secondment.”
How to get a Hill Dickinson training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019
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.”
A little extra on Hill Dickinson's property seat...
A property seat also falls under the commercial banner, but trainees here had occasionally “helped out on residential sale and purchase work.” On the commercial side, there are plenty of property finance matters to get stuck into, which involve collaboration with the firm's banking department. “We're working for the bank as a lending transaction takes place to allow for the sale or purchase of a property,” sources helpfully explained. During the 'pre-contract' phase, trainees “devise reports on title, and look at the aspects we need to analyse, like mortgages.” After helping to draft contracts and make necessary amendments, sources moved on to the post-completion phase, which saw them work on “the registration of titles and Stamp Duty Land Tax returns – it's interesting for a while but can become repetitive!” The department “also acts for some big retail clients,” a source added, “for whom we draft a lot of commercial leases, which is really enjoyable.” Clients here include the Co-operative Group, Iceland, National Express and Lloyds. The group have been doing a lot of work for DHL of late, and recently advised the courier company on the multimillion-pound development of a new warehouse in Avonmouth.
Lawyering in the North West
Hill Dickinson LLP
No. 1 St Paul’s Square,
- Partners and legal directors 175
- Senior associates 65
- Associates 112
- Total trainees 27
- UK offices Liverpool, Manchester, London, Leeds
- Overseas offices 4
- Emma McAvinchey-Roberts, Jennifer Hulse in the Talent & Development Team
- [email protected]
- Training partner: Richard Capper
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 10
- Applications pa: Approximately 1000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 44
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31t January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £32,000 (London), £24,000 (elsewhere)
- Second-year salary: £34,000 (London), £26,000 (elsewhere)
- Post-qualification salary: Within a range, up to £58,000 (London) or £40,000 (elsewhere) dependent on discipline
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- Maintenance grant pa: (London) £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Liverpool, London and Manchester
Main areas of work
A mentor: your mentor (a Hill Dickinson solicitor) will be on hand from day one and throughout your training contract to offer advice, guidance and support.
Office sharing: you’ll share an office with a partner, who will help you develop your legal knowledge and be there to support you.
A social scene: as you’d expect, our trainees work really hard but when they do let their hair down, they get together and do it properly! We organise events and competitions throughout the year and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in our corporate responsibility activity, too.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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)
- Planning Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Aviation (Band 4)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 2)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 1)
- Health & Safety (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Defendant Recognised Practitioner
- Police Law: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Professional Discipline (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 3)
- Transport: Logistics (Band 1)
- Travel: Regulatory & Commercial (Band 3)