Standing up to colossal corporations might seem an intimidating task, but it’s just an average day in the life of lawyers at Leigh Day.
Leigh Day training contract review 2022
It’s no mean feat holding big businesses and governments to account, but someone’s got to do it – and no one does it quite like Leigh Day. The London-based firm (with a second office in Manchester) specialises in claimant-side cases within the realms of clinical negligence, employment, personal injury, consumer law and product safety, human rights, and international law. It’s no surprise then that many trainees cited wanting “to help other people” as a key reason for joining, feeling they would be able to achieve this at Leigh Day. Trainees were particularly keen to get stuck into “worthwhile cases” where “you feel like you’re on the right side.” Onecurrent trainee elaborated: “I wanted to work for a firm that strives to 'do good' for the most vulnerable, so I could be proud of my work every single day.”
“You feel like you’re on the right side.”
The firm’s reputation for having “unmatched expertise and ethos” is well earned: two-thirds of the firm’s Chambers UK accolades are of the highest possible rank, meaning that Leigh Day is among the best in the country for administrative & public law, civil liberties & human rights, industrial disease personal injury, and product liability (all on the claimant side, of course). The firm is also top-ranked in London for clinical negligence, employment (employee and trade union) and general personal injury.
That’s its expertise. Now its ethos: the firm’s attitude towards helping others isn’t just limited to the firm’s clients. “The firm really cares about its employees,” sources added. Interviewees were also keen to highlight that “they recently introduced an apprenticeship scheme for young black aspiring lawyers who will qualify as solicitors after six years.” Others also mentioned several diversity events and workshops such as “one on micro-aggressions as well as regular unconscious bias training.” This left trainees feeling that even internally, the firm “tries to live up to the same values of the cases it handles.”
Trainees do two 12-month seats at Leigh Day. Some noted that “the firm does lots of interesting work, and people might lose out if they don’t get one of the seats they want,” but for the most part, trainees recognised that 12 months in a seat meant being able to “get meaningfully involved in cases” and “get the best chance to maximise training.” Most first-years are put in either personal injury or clinical negligence, then for their second seat, trainees can list their top three seat choices, which “are taken into account, but not necessarily guaranteed.” That said, most reckoned second-years get their preferences more often than not. The firm’s Manchester office offers fewer seat options due to its size: employment; clinical negligence; and personal injury.
“I started being told to consider case strategy and think about what we should do next.”
Sources came across a range of matters in clinical negligence, from “smaller, minor claims, to huge complex claims like if someone’s partner died from clinical negligence.” A recent example saw the team represent a child in High Court who had suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury caused by negligence during his delivery. The team also represented the mother of an 18-year-old who died as a result of sepsis caused by meningitis W, which was preventable. Given the sensitive nature of many of these cases, interviewees found they “didn’t have a huge amount of direct, personal responsibility for cases,” but found this to be appropriate. “I would assist by preparing letters and instructions to barristers, and attending conferences,” one recalled. Towards the end of the seat, one source noted “I started being told to consider case strategy and think about what we should do next.”
The personal injury group has quite a broad remit. The more general side covers employer liability matters, occupier liability, public liability and “a lot of cycling work.” The group also covers more specialised areas such as product liability and industrial disease matters – several to do with “asbestos-related cases.” The firm also does a lot of work for British Cycling, meaning many trainees had come across “representing cyclists injured in road traffic accidents” including those with catastrophic injuries to do with brain injuries or paralysis. The team recently represented a 74-year-old claimant who suffered a serious brain injury, a fractured hip, and visual problems after being struck by a vehicle while out cycling. On the product liability side, trainees highlighted working on various inquests, including the high-profile matter involving Pret A Manger surrounding sufficient allergy information. Sources also saw matters like “where fires were caused by faulty products” and clinical negligence-related claims “where there have been medical devices used and it hasn’t gone to plan.” Typical tasks included attending inquests themselves, reviewing disclosure, preparing witness statements, drafting letters to clients, and dealing with new client enquiries. Some trainees even mentioned running some smaller-value matters themselves, which involved “a bit of negotiating” and “putting together schedules of loss.”
"... dealing with prisoners’ rights matters and discrimination cases.”
Leigh Day’s human rights team was a huge draw for many. The group’s scope is incredibly broad, covering an array of areas including prisoner work, data protection, historic child abuse, environmental matters, judicial reviews, and Court of Protection work. The group takes on complex and high-value class actions in this sphere, including representing thousands of Malawian tenant tobacco farmers and their families against British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands in claims to do with unlawful, exploitative and dangerous working conditions. Those who’d dabbled in prisoner work flagged “dealing with prisoners’ rights matters and discrimination cases,” while those doing data protection largely dealt with “data breaches by companies, whether it was an innocent mistake of copying everyone into an email, or the company had insufficient security in place to protect the data.” Elsewhere, other trainees came across a fair few inquest cases – “in particular, related to deaths in mental health settings, like psychiatric hospitals.” Members of the team recently acted for the bereaved family on an individual where the coroner found failings by the DWP were the predominant factor in the death. Other team members acted for the family of an individual who died after going missing from a rehabilitation centre.Across the practice, interviewees appreciated “having a lot of client contact” as well as “the opportunity to go to court hearings quite often.” Other trainee tasks included reviewing records, drafting letters and other correspondence, finding experts, and general bundling. One source described the seat as “quite full on, but a very good and diverse experience.”
“The culture here is different from traditional corporate and City firms,” one trainee began. We usually take these kind of statements with a pinch of salt, but sources elaborated: “Everyone comes to Leigh Day with common values and a belief in making a difference. They want to do work that has meaning beyond just having a job, and there is definitely a sense of everyone working towards something together.” One interviewee reckoned the nature of the work draws “people who are compassionate and care about the humans behind the claim, rather than the claim itself.” This distinction lent itself well to fostering good interpersonal relationships at the firm too: “You feel well supported. From top to bottom, there’s no one I don’t feel I could approach.” The firm's social events helped reinforce the general approachability of people at the firm, though some noted “with virtual events, they’ve tried but it was a bit difficult to get people to participate in the same way.” However, trainees were certain things would go back to normal once back in the office.
“No one would think it odd if you left at 5.30pm.”
Even as it extends to working hours, most agreed that there’s “respect for trying to adhere to 9.30am to 5.30pm as much as possible – though sometimes it goes beyond that due to the nature of the work.” A slightly more realistic average of trainee hours was 9.30am to 6.30pm with “the odd couple of weeks of 7pm to 9pm finishes.” Trainees emphasised that “there’s certainly no pressure to stay late” and that “no one would think it odd if you left at 5.30pm.” As such, everyone we spoke to found they had enough time for their private lives away from the firm. One source even added: “There’s never been anything where I’ve had to miss plans because of work.”
Qualification takes place a bit later in the year at Leigh Day. The firm usually releases jobs listings after partners have discussed where the firm has capacity for NQs somewhere between May and July. Trainees can then apply and interview with their preferred department before positions are announced around August. “The firm is good at catering for anyone that wants to stay on,” sources found. Indeed, the firm historically does quite well with retention, and in 2021 this was no different – all nine qualifiers stayed on as NQs.
Training contract deadline (2023 start): TBC – provisionally March 2022
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 2022 for London and Manchester traineeships starting in September 2023.
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, 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 consists of ability tests (typically covering critical thinking and reasoning), a case study, and two panel interviews with Partners.
The case study is 40 minutes and will be on 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. Last year candidates were asked to read through a professional ethics judgment, summarise the main points and evidence, then “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 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 Covid19 mandatory vaccination policies, the role of the law in tackling the climate emergency, defending controversial legal cases, the importance of public inquiries. 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 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 equal pay 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.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- 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)