“A thorn in the side” of governments and corporations, Leigh Day has been fighting the good fight for over three decades strong.
David vs. Goliath
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the somewhat anxiety-inducing question we all had to grapple with in our school years. Now, if your answer was ‘lawyer,’ chances are you weren’t picturing yourself specialising in mergers and acquisitions or doing complex tax research. Instead, you probably envisioned yourself standing up for the disenfranchised, championing human rights, and fighting the good fight before a packed courtroom. For many it doesn't end up that way, but at Leigh Day – a claimant-only firm – acting for the vulnerable is exactly what they do. As one trainee explained, “defendants are government and public authorities,” whether it’s MI5 and MI6, the Ministry of Defence, or the Department of Health. “I liked that it had a David and Goliath feel to it,” one trainee remarked, while another joined the firm “with the intention to use the law to represent individuals where their rights had been infringed upon by states and corporations. Helping faceless companies go about their business didn’t interest me.”
Of course, we're not saying there's anything wrong with taking the corporate path. In fact, some Leigh Day trainees felt that it might actually be an easier route, considering the backgrounds of their intake: “Very few of us came straight out of law school,” they explained. “The firm puts a premium on experience that shows a commitment to its values. Most people have paralegal or charity experience.” For that reason, “the trainees tend to be older.” Another remarked “many of my friends are now qualified lawyers, earning a lot of money, and starting to buy their own houses, while I’m still in my first seat!” Somesources vented frustrations about having to self-fund the LPC (“it’s bloody expensive!”), however they did point out that for the first time the firm offered a scholarship position for its September 2020 intake.
“You can’t escape the fact that the work often collides with the political sphere.”
For those who are successful, the chance to work on controversial and socio-politically charged cases awaits. Whether it’s claims of human rights abuses in the Windrush scandal or discrimination against prisoners, this trainee felt that “you can’t escape the fact that the work often collides with the political sphere.” The firm boasts nationally top-ranked teams in public law, human rights, environmental law, personal injury, and product liability, along with top clinical negligence and employment capabilities in London – all certified by Chambers UK. Trainees emphasised that case wins “have a genuine positive impact on people’s lives,” pointing to the firm’s work in the Niger Delta several years ago as an example, when it secured a £55 million settlement for 15,000 people after two oil spills from a Shell pipeline devastated the fishing community.
Given the slant of the work, “it would be silly not to acknowledge that the firm is an idealistic one and largely made of left-leaning people,” trainees highlighted, adding that “it’s nice to be surrounded by people who are like-minded.” And while they conceded that the firm “could be viewed as a bit of an echo chamber,” they also maintained that “there is definitely room for a diversity of opinions.” People’s political allegiances “aren’t always obvious,” they added, with one pointing out that the firm’s founder and senior partner “Martyn Day has said that we have been a thorn in the side of Labour governments as well as Tory ones – it’s all about doing what is right and what is lawful.” Resultingly, London sources weren’t deterred by the firm’s £30,000 trainee salary, which is under the average for the City: “You have to really want to work here and believe in it to take the pay hit.”
Good deed of the Leigh Day
Leigh Day further distinguishes itself from its corporate counterparts by eschewing the traditional training contract structure of four six-month seats – instead, trainees complete just two 12-month seats. “Spending a year in a seat allows you to bed in and add value, rather than just seeing a snapshot of a case,” trainees felt, adding that the areas of law the firm works in “are hard to penetrate due to technicalities and how slowly they move.” On the downside, “it means you have less scope to try new areas.” Trainees are asked to express three preferences for their second seat. Clinical negligence takes on the most trainees, so it's likely that many will spend a stint here. Elsewhere trainees could sit in the employment, human rights, personal injury, product liability, and international groups.
London trainees can sit in human rights. The practice is split into sub-teams including prisons, Court of Protection, inquests, children, and international. “More broadly, it’s a split between public and private work, which often overlap,” trainees clarified, adding: “The scope of the work is huge. You have some really eye-catching judicial review work, like looking at the legality of the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia. One team might be working with victims of torture and detention, while another is looking at claims regarding people who have died within psychiatric units.” The firm has represented over 30 victims of the Windrush scandal in a group claim for damages for losses suffered under the Human Rights Act. Further afield, the firm has worked on behalf of 142 people claiming that iron ore producer Tonkolili instructed police to use excessive violence to stop protests near one of its mines in Sierra Leone.
“You develop a much deeper sense of empathy for prisoners when you can conceptualise their backgrounds.”
Many of our interviewees had worked in the prisons team within the human rights group.“I did a lot of cases relating to disability discrimination claims,” one source told us. “For example, you might have a prisoner who is blind, and as a trainee I would be the one to go on the prison visit, take instructions, do the document review and marshal all the facts to build the case.” Another trainee described working on behalf of a client who required a wheelchair: “There were a number of reasonable adjustments that hadn’t been made, such as the widening of their cell door,” they recalled. “I had to take down a list of their requirements, help write the letter of claim, attend the settlement meeting and make sure the client was satisfied with everything after.” Trainees who did this kind of work said: “You develop a much deeper sense of empathy for prisoners when you can conceptualise their backgrounds and why they ended committing the crimes they did.”
As with the human rights practice, “there’s a whole spectrum of work” within the clinical negligence team including birth injury, delayed diagnosis, amputation, consent treatment and catastrophic injury claims. Depending on their supervisor, trainees may work across these different types of claims or focus more exclusively within just one. Recently the team negotiated a six-figure settlement after a 35-year-old woman died during an angiogram (a type of X-ray), and won £4.4 million for a woman who suffered tetraplegia (a type of paralysis) following spinal surgery. If you’re struggling with some of the vocab here, don’t worry – you’re not alone: “Learning to read medical records is like learning to read another language, but you do end up learning all sorts of new things! Some of the medical issues are so complicated and getting the relevant expert advice can take a long time.” Sources pointed out that “the nuts and bolts of the work is similar to that in human rights in that you’re going through records, drafting instructions to experts and attending conferences with counsel.” However,they also pointed out that “as the work isn’t legally aided, certain tasks are better undertaken by junior fee earners.” Cases in clinical negligence are often worth millions, so “you tend to be more closely supervised.”
A seat in consumer law is available in London. The team handles “group claims on behalf of people who have suffered injury or loss as the result of a defective product or system.” Cases cross many sectors including medical devices, pharmaceutical products, clinical trials, cosmetics, sporting equipment, food, and children’s products. The team has worked for claimants on headline cases such as the VW emissions scandal, and the contaminated blood scandal, which arose when it emerged that thousands of people had been given contaminated blood products by the NHS in the 1970s and 80s. The firm also represented the families of two people who died from allergic reactions after eating food from Pret A Manger. Trainees here also had the opportunity to work “on a big group claim relating to a fire in a tower building in Shepherd’s Bush as a result of a defective tumble dryer.” Work on that involved “gathering information from victims, obtaining all the relevant documents about the defective product, and gathering receipts about their losses.” Trainees added that “you’re often corresponding with the other side to try and progress the claim.” One source even described “attending a meeting with around 50 to 100 people in the room who suffered losses as a result of a fire.”
In keeping with the ethos of the firm, Leigh Day’s personal injury practice is exclusively claimant-focused, with traditional cases including amputation, brain injury, fatal accidents and other severe life-altering injuries. There’s also a dedicated industrial diseases practice which handles a lot of claims for mesothelioma victims. Cases here can also overlap with other parts of the firm, including the firm’s international group and human rights group. For example, the team has recently acted on behalf of 272 villagers and miners, who claim they were subject to human rights abuses by security forces of a gemstone mine in Mozambique. The allegations include sexual violence and torture, and there were even reports of people being buried alive. On less severe cases, trainees may be responsible for new enquiries that come into the firm. “That might mean taking all the information down from the initial call,” one explained. “Over the whole seat I’d see every stage of a case, so I attended client appointments, drafted particulars of claim and helped with the finishing of costs.”
"The office has a real community feel to it."
Reading over these cases, you’ve probably realised that even if the outcome of them is ultimately successful, few are cheery in origin between the injury and environmental disaster. “Being able to deal with difficult subject matters is one of the key things the firm looks at when recruiting,” sources told us. “That said, they’re not just going to send you off to a prison without so much as a goodbye.” The firm provides training on how to deal with trauma and the victims of trauma, as well as an employee assistance programme to support lawyers' wellbeing. Sources were also keen to point out "the office has a real community feel to it. There are lots of sports team available to join and the firm will often put money behind a local bar.” Trainees need not worry about the prospect of burnout here either. Most were clocking off consistently around 6.30pm, with “maybe one or two days a month requiring you to stay past 7pm.” At the time of our calls in late May, the qualification process wasn’t yet underway, which was “quite frustrating for some trainees.” In the end, seven of eight qualifiers stayed on with the firm.
Leigh Day also has a Manchester office taking one or two trainee a year. The firm's three satellite offices in Chesterfield, Liverpool and Birmingham serve as accessible hubs to communities with a history of heavy industries, where asbestos cases may be more prevalent.
How to get a Leigh Day training contract
Training contract deadline (2021 and 2022 start): March/April 2020 (opens February/March 2020)
You can apply for one of Leigh Day's coveted training contract spots via an online form. The application window is narrow and will open in early 2020 for London and Manchester traineeships starting in September 2021.
At the initial stage, the firm is looking at academics, motivation and work experience: you'll need at least a 2:1 at undergrad, although a 2:2 may be considered with mitigating circumstances. There isn't a minimum A level requirement per se, because “we use RARE’s contextual recruitment system,” HR manager Mark Hines explains. “It helps us consider the wider educational, socio-economic and personal 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.” In terms of work experience, he adds “we are not to 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 the applicant demonstrating and articulating the relevant skills and approaches they have developed from these roles, no matter where they were gained.” The rest of the application involves writing a personal statement, in which Hines is looking to see that candidates “demonstrate a genuine interest in 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 applications, the firm shortlists around three to four candidates per 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 landscape we operate in and how that is 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, but emphasises “our overlying ethos cuts right across the firm. We're looking for people who really have the will and desire to strive for justice for individuals, and not be put off by the scale of the opposition we're working against.” Persistence and a 'get-up-and-go' attitude will go a long way, but Hines also notes that the nature of the firm's work means that it requires lawyers to have “empathy and compassion.”
25 St John's Lane,
- Partners 44
- Assistant solicitors/associates 124
- Total trainees 17
- UK offices London, Manchester
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7-10
- Applications pa: 550
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: February/March 2020 (TBC)
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: March/April 2020 (TBC)
- 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)
- 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
Main areas of work
• Personal injury (London and Manchester)
• Employment (London and Manchester)
• Human rights (London only)
• International (London only)
• Consumer law and product safety (London only)
Training opportunities Unlike many other firms, we offer two 12 month training seats as we believe this is best way to acquire more responsibilities, get stuck in to cases and develop a true in-depth appreciation of a particular area of law. Seat availability depends on departmental needs but a London trainee should typically expect to be assigned their first seat in clinical negligence, consumer law or personal injury, before expressing interest for their second seat, which will typically be in, but not limited to our employment, human rights or international departments. Second seat preferences cannot be guaranteed but are usually accommodated. Manchester trainees should typically expect to undertake one seat with clinical negligence and the other with personal injury or employment. Trainees work closely with their supervising partners and associates on their client work and have a dedicated learning and development team on hand to support them through their professional training. Our learning and development team also support trainees with a comprehensive development programme, drawing on the experience of internal and external experts, to build their skills as a solicitor for the future.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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 Recognised Practitioner
- 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)