If you want ‘justice for all,’ seize the (Leigh) Day.
Leigh Day training contract review 2024
The idea that law and justice are coextensive may well be considered antiquated idealism. The black-and-white images of lawyers fighting for truth have been replaced by the crisp colour images of solicitors in sleek suits circling one another in a manner vaguely reminiscent of sharks hunting. For London-based Leigh Day, however, its slogan ‘justice for all’ leaves no room for misunderstanding what the firm is about. The firm is famous for its human rights, group claims, personal injury and clinical negligence practices, working on the claimant side against massive, British-based global companies.Based in London, but with offices in Birmingham, Chesterfield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Plymouth, Leigh Day is top-ranked in Chambers UK for its nationwide civil liberties and human rights and claimant-side public law, environment, international personal injury and industrial disease-related personal injury. Internationally, the firm is considered a global market leader for its business and human rights work.
“This is a place where you never have to leave your heart at home.”
For our interviewees, “the idea of representing individuals against the state or well-resourced individuals,” was a significant factor when deciding to train at Leigh Day. “I wanted to go into law to make a positive difference and help people who needed representing,” added another trainee: “If you look at big cases about fighting for justice for people who would otherwise be stepped on by a corporate, Leigh Day was the dream firm.” It was a common theme among all our interviewees, who relayed how this approach to legal work affects the firm’s culture: “this is a place where you never have to leave your heart at home. Because it’s a claimant-only firm, there’s no ethical or moral dilemma.” The firm is also growing, and planned in 2022 to double its size by 2026; something trainees said it was on course to achieve. Talking trainees, it is worth noting that for the next 1-2 years, the firm will be recruiting all its trainees from its paralegal pool.
The firm takes on around ten trainees a year, with the majority in London and a couple in Manchester. Unlike their London counterparts, Mancunian candidates only have access to clinical negligence or personal injury. Employment used to be an option, but, sources grumbled, “they’ve decided to open it up to an NQ rather than a trainee.” A quirk of the firm is its two-seat training contract where trainees spend a full 12 months in two departments. Newbies put in a preference a few months before starting at the firm, and before the second seat. We heard first years typically do personal injury or clinical negligence, with the popular human rights and international group litigation seats usually reserved for second years.
In clinical negligence, a central new-client-enquiries team allocates work to the various offices based on location, meaning each office doesits own work. The department “takes anything and everything,” sources said. “There’s nothing we refuse if we think it has good prospects of success.” That work includes spinal-injury cases, inquests, mental-health claims, and surgical errors. The team recently represented an individual in a £1 million negligence claim against the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. The client’s wife died having being given an excessive dose of Misoprostol to induce labour, after it became clear the couple’s unborn child had died. Trainees found themselves “drafting funding documentation, letters of approach and instruction to medical experts,” we heard. “Once the experts give the report back, we go through any issues that need expanding upon or need to be queried with the client.” Trainees also mentioned sitting in on client meetings and taking attendance notes and drafting witness statements.
The personal injury team is split into three areas: asbestos, cycling, and road traffic accidents.In the industrial disease space, trainees were “dealing with bereaved families or people diagnosed with cancer, who may die soon. You have to act quickly to get the witness evidence and try to unpack where and how they were exposed.” The personal injury department represents both individual and group clients. Where the former is concerned, Leigh Day represented a Liverpool fan who was assaulted by Roma supporters near Anfield stadium on match day, resulting in life changing injuries. The firm also represented 31 Malawian women in their systemic sexual assault claim against PGI Group, the British parent company of a Malawian subsidiary running tea and nut plantations in Malawi. Despite the subject material being psychologically taxing, sources felt it was “exciting investigative work! It was very hands on, often working with the partner.”
Sources also felt that “there was a clear sense of direction and what was expected of me” and liked that they “developed an understanding of the Civil Procedure Rules and how to expedite the process when leading up to settlements.You get involved in cases and get to do all of it,” one trainee recalled. “I might be in court, or at a hearing, visiting a client, taking witness statements, or meetings with counsel.” Trainees also mentioned “lots of drafting; everything from client-care letters, letters of claim, letters of advice….otherwise, you’re preparing bundles for trial.”
“We’re at the forefront of these cases.”
International claims litigation, does what it says on the tin: “international group litigation, often international tort, or human-rights issues, or some kind of environmental harm by a UK firm in a different country.” Trainees told us the work involves working on behalf of large groups of claimants, “involving a mix of UK litigation and claimants based elsewhere.” For example, Leigh Day is acting for the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta region, who allege that oil spills by Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary have caused serious land and water contamination. Because “group claims are a relatively new feature of English law – we don’t we have a history of class action suits – we’re at the forefront of these cases,” one trainee explained, “so there’s a lot of project management.” This includes “setting out the summary of each individual claims, plus a lot of management of data.” Outside of project management, “there’s a pretty big range of tasks,” we heard, “from taking notes of meetings and conducting preliminary research to instructing counsel and interviewing clients.” Drafting is par for the course: “Usually it’s witness statements for hearings, and liaising with experts to produce reports.” And what about the universal trainee task, bundling? “Yeah,” they laughed. “No one escapes bundling.”
Leigh Day’s human rights department represents claimants in human rights and civil liberties matters including abuse and exploitation, privacy and data breaches, discrimination, prisons, and judicial reviews. Leigh day is currently representing nearly 100 Zambian miners who allege instances of physical assault, cruelty, false imprisonment, dog attacks and shootings by security forces at the Kagem Emerald mine. The claims are against Guernsey-based mining company Gemfields, its UK subsidiary and the Zambian subsidiary that operates the mine. Leigh Day is also involved in several high-profile health and social care matters.
However, it’s not all massive, international work: “right now,” explained one trainee, “I straddle court of protection work and inquests of failures at care homes and universities – plus some judicial review work.” Trainees thought the seat was “far less research-heavy than international claims litigation. It’s largely case and transaction management.” Trainees reckoned “supervisors like us to run cases, with oversight. It’s on you to show you have the capacity to do so.”
All this work serious comes with surprisingly reasonable hours, “I typically do 8.30am to 5.30pm.” That said, “in the lead up to a deadline you’re working later – around 7pm.” Given the nature of the firm’s work, the salary isn’t as high as that at other London firms: “We’re not a corporate firm, so we don’t get a corporate salary.” Fair enough. Sources unanimously agreed “we have quite a relaxed atmosphere, no one is in a suit.” Sources also felt the environment was “really inclusive. I feel like my contributions are valued… it’s really motivating.”
“There is a sense of peace and security.”
Working at arguably the best human rights firm in London caused some trainees to feel a tad pressurised “everyone is very impressive. You have to stand out.” Others, however, felt the really hard part was getting the training contract. “There is a sense of peace and security,” said another trainee calmly, “because you know if you perform well, there’ll be a job.” Indeed, Leigh Day has a reputation for keeping a high proportion of those who want to stay at the firm post-qualification. Speaking of which, trainees are sent a list of jobs for which they submit a CV and an email. Given that they only sit in two seats, newbies have the option to apply for any of the available jobs. “Interviews follow and then you’re told whether you’ve been offered a role.” While this year’s second-year trainees weren’t affected, first years were concerned that the SQE’s new approach to getting qualifying work experience, which would allow paralegals to apply for NQ positions next year, would increase the competition for places. In 2023, the firm retained ten out of twelve trainees.
One area where there wasn’t concern was the firm’s approach to diversity and inclusion. “It’s genuinely very good here!” enthused one trainee. “We have people from different backgrounds and countries.” The firm is home to several affinity groups including “a women’s group, one for people with a disability, and another for ethnic minorities,” noted one. “They are formalised parts of the firm, which put on regular events.” Trainees said they were “encouraged to join a group and take part in activities.” Each group also has a direct link with HR. Another important aspect of D&I at Leigh Day is mental health. “You’re dealing with clients who are often at their lowest point,” acknowledged one source, meaning “the work is emotionally heavy.” The good news is the firm is “sensitive to what people can take on,” so if someone isn’t emotionally equipped to deal with a particular matter, the firm will find someone else to step in: “You do see the firm making an effort to improve things from a mental health perspective.”
Overwhelmingly, sources felt supervision was good. The firm has an open-plan office; traineeseither sit next to or near their supervisor, making it easy to “turn around and chat.” Sources were also pleased to report that supervisors were always available. “I work with a very senior lawyer” noted one trainee, “you’d expect them to be too busy for supervision, but they always make time for me.”
Trainees are expected to be in the office three days a week.
How to get a Leigh Day training contract
Training contract deadline (2025 start): Mid-March/Mid-April
*From January 2024, the firm will be recruiting trainees exclusively from its paralegal pool.
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 2024 for London, Leeds, and Manchester traineeships starting in September 2025, however, the window and process may open earlier to better accommodate the SQE preparation course onboarding schedule!
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,” Head of Recruitment, 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, Hines 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 can “demonstrate a genuine interest across the areas of law we operate; provide evidence, through their actions, that they 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 seat and invites them to an assessment day. The day typically consists of ability tests (typically covering critical thinking and reasoning), a case study, and two panel interviews with Partners.
The case study is a neutral topic (typically professional ethics) to ensure all candidates are on an even playing field and are not advantaged/ disadvantaged due to their specific interest, knowledge, and experience. Candidates will be asked to read through a professional ethics judgment, summarise the main points and evidence, then “summarise the main points and provide a critical evaluation of the judgment – do they think it was fair? Were there mitigating circumstances? Etc...”
Candidates have two interviews with two different Partner panels. Both interviews include a mixture of attitudinal/ competency and topical/ legal specific questions. The attitudinal and competency-based questions typically look for evidence of an aligned ethos to Leigh Day’s, along with practical skills 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 immigration policy, ESG; mandatory vaccination, the role of the law in tackling the climate emergency and racial inequity, parent company liability, and the purpose and importance of public inquiries. These questions assess whether the candidate can 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 explains that 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 “whether you are working on an individual personal injury claim, or a multi-party consumer law claim - our ethos cuts right across the firm. We're looking for those who have the will and desire to strive for justice for individuals, and never be put off by the scale of the opposition we're 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 cases requires lawyers to act with “empathy and compassion” throughout.
27 Goswell Road,
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, 2023
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 1)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Administrative & Public Law: Traditional Claimant (Band 1)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights: Prison Law (Band 1)
- Environment: Claimant (Band 1)
- Group Litigation: Claimant (Band 1)
- Immigration: Human Rights, Asylum and Deportation (Band 3)
- Inquests (Band 1)
- International Human Rights Law (Band 1)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Public Inquiries (Band 2)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 2)