Rapacious businesses, the scurrilous press, dodgy politicians: Leigh Day are on to you.
“I came here to help people,” explained one Leigh Day trainee. The firm, a predominantly claimant-representing firm, does precisely that, taking on big corporations and even governments in its quest to hold them to account. A survey of UK news at the time of writing saw Leigh Day representing 54000doctors.org, which demanded the UK government reveal the results of a 2016 flu study called Exercise Cygnus; representing the family of Errol Graham, who starved to death after his benefits were cut off; and acting as pro bono counsel for a lawyer struck off for losing a briefcase of work documents and then lying about it. The firm, with offices in London and Manchester, rules the roost UK-wide in administrative and public law, civil liberties and human rights, environment, personal injury, and product liability. In London, Leigh Day’s work in clinical negligence and personal injury, as well as its employment work, receives top billing. The firm takes on between seven to 11 trainees a year, with the majority headed for the London office.
“High-value, difficult, complex and sad cases: massive cases.”
“You don’t come into this area of law for the money,” trainees told us, “but we get paid well for the work we do.” Being at the top of the tree in their practices makes a difference here. The salary is certainly decent, particularly at first-year trainee level, but below the London average at NQ level. Despite “working as hard as corporate firms, who we often come up against,” none of the trainees had any grumbles. “It’s interesting work and you can’t get it anywhere else.” For those interested in the firm, “you have to be passionate to work at Leigh Day. It’s a lot about your character as well.”
Leigh Day’s training contract is two 12-month seats, which sources liked. “With any new job it takes a while to settle in,” said one. “I’m pleased that my first seat was a year, because once I got over the bumpy period I could work on cases properly.” Another trainee thought that because it was “inevitable that you’ll get more experience in year-long seats,” Leigh Day trainees probably did “more substantive and less administrative work” than peers at other firms. There are “seven departments” at Leigh Day in London, “six that take trainees: clinical negligence, personal injury, product liability, human rights, employment, and international group claims.” There’s also a regulatory and disciplinary department, “which doesn’t take trainees” currently due to its smaller size. In Manchester, international, human rights and product liability are off the table as seat options (although the office is starting to do some product liability work). Because “the first seats are randomly allocated,” and with “the firm trying to guarantee one of your three preferences for your second seat,” first years were likely to end up in personal injury, clinical negligence, or product liability, with second years bagging the popular international, human rights, or employment. As a litigious firm, drafting and research were the norm across seats.
“During Covid, a lot of prisoners are claiming they’re eligible for early release.”
The firm’s human rights team – the first to be established in the country after the 1998 Human Rights Act – remains the biggest human rights team in England, and the work is remarkable. Recently the firm took part in Milasi Josiya & Others v British American Tobacco (BAT), where almost 2,000 tobacco farmers in Malawi, hundreds of whom are children, allege BAT forced them to work for low wages, while reaping tremendous profit. On top of several high-profile multinational cases, the department also does a lot of “prisoner work,” which comprises “much faster, lower-value cases.” So, for example, “during Covid, a lot of prisoners are claiming they’re eligible for early release.” Sources said that while there are “some bigger cases,” it’s “mostly simpler matters.” Sources said that “you get to know your clients” and develop a “good understanding of the prison environment, which has been interesting.”
The clinical negligence team deals with “high-value, difficult, complex and sad cases: massive cases.” The result is that for many, “you’re never going to see anything from beginning to end in that seat.” The firm secured a seven-figure settlement for a woman who was left with permanent disability following a misdiagnosis and the concomitant incorrect treatment of a wound. Sources said the seat was initially “difficult without a medical or scientific background, but by the end of the year I could navigate my way around those cases.” Trainees were “given the opportunity to experience a range of tasks” such as “drafting witness statements, orders, and correspondence with the court, and reading through records to find out what happened.” Sources said: “The work was really rewarding, attaining life-changing awards for our clients.”
“People become experts on metal-on-metal hips, for example, for three years until the case closes.”
The scope of the product liability (consumer law) team “isreally broad – hard to describe,” one trainee mused. “There are six partners, each with a different area.” Work ranges from “medical devices and fire claims from faulty white goods,” to the “VW emissions case,” where VW is accused of covering up the harmful nature of diesel emissions, to “allergy claims, breast implants” and even “financial work” where investigations and litigation relate to financial products. For those working in the department, “people become experts on metal-on-metal hips, for example, for three years until the case closes.” There “can be a lot of research into the product and the recall, especially when investing new claims,” sources added. Trainees mentioned “working on disclosure, daily client contact, reviewing medical reports, advice to clients, team discussions on strategy and tactics, cost negotiations, drafting witness statements,meeting with counsel and going to trial.” Basically, you “got exposed to every aspect of the case.”
Employment“hasquite a few group actions,” said our sources. They’re not wrong. A flip through cases at the time of writing saw the firm representing 13,000 police officers, 200 teachers and over 40,000 predominantly female ASDA shop workers in the largest-ever private sector equal pay claim, whose final value is predicted to be over £1 billion. While some trainees did “a mixture of group actions and individual, a lot of trainees work solely on group action.” Sources said that “group action work is more administrative and more about how you manage that many clients.” When the firm launches “a group action and we’re recruiting more clients,” trainees would be “drafting content for the website and using the case management system to be ready for the new clients.”
One area where some trainees felt the firm didn’t live up to its own values was its decision not to pay for the LPC. “Not paying for the LPC is exclusionary,” sources thought. The trainees “who can afford to pay for their LPC are likely to be middle class, white and privileged, and the firm is supposedly about the underdog.There’s no diversity in our year and they wonder why, but the answer is obvious.” To inject a little perspective: the UK firms paying for law school are almost exclusively corporate and commercial firms, where budgets are bigger. Nevertheless, trainees praised the firm’s decision “to do a scholarship for one trainee” as “a step in the right direction.” But they were worried that “the criteria to satisfy that are likely to be very narrow.” Trainees also said that “the NQ process makes me a bit anxious: quite often it happens quite late in the year.” We heard that “last year it was August, which was concerning for second-year trainees who are worried about having a job come September.” The firm's reasoning for holding the process at this time is so that they can offer more jobs. While trainees said that “the firm did listen to the time concerns,” with the upheaval of the Covid-19 crisis, our sources were uncertain what would happen this year. In the end, the process was delayed by a month, but the firm retainedall seven trainees in 2020, with one fixed-term contract.
Leigh Day’s commitment to a “great work/life balance” is a genuine commitment, it seems. Note how the contracted hours “9.30am to 5.30pm” are something of a novelty in London (there's more flexibility in Manchester). And “if I’m here at 6.30pm, I’m one of the last ones here.” Hours aren’t a cause of stress, but there can be a psychological toll of working on cases “where people die or suffer horrific injuries. I can’t think of an area where things aren’t emotionally challenging; it comes into all of the work we do,” one trainee candidly told us. “But,” trainees reassured us, “our HR department does a lot of pastoral care.” On top of “encouraging us to think about our mental health, the firm also offers an employee assistance line,” which offers independent counselling. A source added: “I can speak to my supervisor if I have any concerns. The firm takes on challenging cases and so they make sure we’re okay.”
Leigh way or the highway
Our sources were “so proud to work at Leigh Day.” The firm “recruits a certain type of person,” so even if people had very “different backgrounds, they have the same values. All the people I know at the firm have principles.” Trainees said: “It’s what binds the firm together. It’s more than just a law firm making money. The work is bigger than just its cases.”
How to get a Leigh Day training contract
You can apply for one of Leigh Day's training contracts via an online form. The application window is narrow and will open in early 2021 for London and Manchester traineeships starting in September 2022.
On application, the firm is initially looking at academics, motivation and work experience: you'll need at least a 2:1 degree classification and typically the equivalent of ABB or higher at A Level, although a 2:2 may be considered with mitigating circumstances. The firm remains open-minded about A levels (or equivalent) because “we use Rare’s contextual recruitment system as part of the application process,” HR manager Mark Hines explains. “It helps us consider the wider educational background of applicants. For instance, if someone attended a school with modest grade averages but significantly out-performed expectations, these circumstances are also considered rather than focusing solely on the achieved grades. Rare’s system can also provide us context to an applicant’s socio-economic and personal situation during their time in education. Without this insight, we would not be able to recognise the challenging circumstances applicants may have faced whilst pursuing their academic goals, when in fact they can be, by their very nature, exactly the character building circumstances that will help you succeed in a firm like Leigh Day.” In terms of work experience, he adds “we are not prescriptive about an applicant's background – we appreciate that some applicants will have undertaken work experience and internships with law firms similar to ours, where others may have worked in the retail or service sector to support their education and living costs - we're more interested in an applicant demonstrating and articulating the relevant skills, approaches and responsibilities they have developed from these roles, no matter where they are gained.” The rest of the application involves writing a personal statement, in which Hines is looking to see that candidates “demonstrate a genuine interest across the areas of law we operate in, identify with our ethos of ensuring access to justice for all, and can demonstrate attributes like persistence, resilience and flexibility.”
Leigh Day also operates anonymised application reviewing when creating assessment centre shortlists. The reviewing panel do not have access to personal information that may directly or indirectly identify an applicant’s background to reduce any potential impact of unconscious bias/ in-group preference in the selection process.
The assessment day and interviews
Following the application review, the firm shortlists around three candidates per trainee spot and invites them to an assessment day. The day consists of an ability test (usually a critical thinking exercise), a case study, and two interviews. The case study is typically 40-45 minutes and last year, candidates were asked to read through a professional ethics judgment, summarise the main points, and “provide a critical evaluation of the judgment – do they think it was fair? Were there mitigating circumstances? Etc...”
Following these assessments, candidates have two interviews with two different Partner panels. Both interviews include a mixture of attitudinal/ competency questions and topical/ legal specific question. The attitudinal and competency-based questions typically look for evidence of an aligned ethos to Leigh Day’s and things like managing workloads, client care and dealing with difficult situations. The topical and legal specific questions provide an opportunity to “demonstrate your understanding of the legal landscapes we operate in and how they are changing. There are also questions about topical issues in the media – over the last few years, these questions have covered topics like parent company liability, the role of public inquiries, equal pay and the best interests of patients. These questions assess whether the candidate is able to identify and evaluate all sides of an argument, as well as the ethics and reasoning of pursuing certain types of case.” Hines elaborates.
Mark Hines admits the types of case they undertake can vary tremendously from one department to another and requires the ability to draw on multiple skillsets and adapt to different ways of working across the training seats but emphasises “our ethos cuts right across the firm. We're looking for those who really have the will and desire to strive for justice for individuals, and never be put off by the scale of the opposition we're working against or the nature of the claim being pursed.” Persistence and an acute legal mind will go a long way, but Hines also notes that the nature of the firm's work often means that it requires lawyers to act with “empathy and compassion” throughout.
25 St John's Lane,
- Partners 52
- Associates 120
- Total trainees 19 (9 + 10)
- UK offices London, Manchester
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7-10
- Applications pa: 500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels 128
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: February 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: March 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £32,000 (London), £25,600 (Manchester)
- Second-year salary: £34,000 (London), £27,600 (Manchester)
- Post-qualification salary: £48,000 (London), £33,600 (Manchester)
- Holiday entitlement: 29 days
- LPC fees: No
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Manchester
- Client secondments: Yes, charities and NGOs
Lawyers at Leigh Day offer a market-leading service to their clients who include individuals from around the world, charities and global NGOs.
Main areas of work
• Employment (London and Manchester)
• Personal Injury (London and Manchester)
• Consumer Law and Product Safety (London only)
• Human Rights (London only)
• International (London only)
The firm has intakes every September and welcomes applications from both law and non-law backgrounds. However, as we recruit trainees one year in advance, law students should be in their final year of studies (or have graduated), and non-law students will be undertaking (or have completed) their Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), on application.
We are looking for future solicitors and partners with the ability, passion and drive to take forward our ground-breaking claimant work.
Successful applicants will share our ethos and passion for providing access to justice to all and the commitment to the highest standards of client care; while demonstrating the ability to approach problems with persistence, intellectual rigour, logical judgement and critical reasoning.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Leigh Day is committed to the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion. We value the diversity of our colleagues, our clients and the third parties with whom we work. We seek to create an environment where everyone feels included and valued for their unique characteristics, skills and abilities and supported in their needs and responsibilities.
Some examples of initiatives, activities and accolades include;
• BAME/ LGBT+/ Women’s/ Disability & Allies Committees and Networks
• Solicitor Apprenticeship schemes for individuals from under-represented backgrounds
• Top 100 ranked Stonewall Diversity Champion as part of the Workplace Equality Index
• Active Bystander Training for all staff
Leigh Day appreciates that the legal profession ranks as one of the most stressful in the UK and are committed to fostering a culture and environment conducive to good mental health and wellbeing.
Some examples of initiatives and activities include;
• Mental Health First Aiders in all offices
• Employee Assistance Program available to all employees
• Firm -wide annual participation in Mental Health Awareness Week
• Member of Cityparents, which supports professionals with their wellbeing, work/life balance and career journey
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
Manchester and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
- Administrative & Public Law: Traditional Claimant (Band 1)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights: Prison Law (Band 2)
- Environment: Claimant (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 2)