Ward Hadaway has a way with trainees looking for a mix of regional and national work grown out of strong Northern roots.
Ugh, London! Ruthless, expensive, busy old London – who’d choose it? Not the trainees at Ward Hadaway. “We’re proud to be Northern,” one beamed. “We’re proud of our Northern roots, and we’re proud to be a strong Northern firm.” Make no mistake, Ward Hadaway is a robust feature on the Northern legal landscape – an Angel of the North, perhaps? Trite Northern references aside, the firm’s commitment to the region is key: “They put an emphasis on those applying who are proud of the North East and want to see it grow.”
“There’s a real Northern focus but also national work.”
But not just the North East – headquarters are indeed in Newcastle, but the firm has two more offices in Leeds and Manchester. A spate of recent hires in Leeds has added to its commercial litigation, corporate and insolvency teams, while Manchester also welcomed in four new appointments to the family team, bolstering expertise in surrogacy and fertility matters. The trio of bases garner acclaim from Chambers UK, scoopingtop-tier recognition in Yorkshire and the North East in banking and finance, employment, IT, litigation, real estate, planning, and social housing. On the national stage, the firm is ranked for its healthcare and clinical negligence work. This balance of national and local expertise proved compelling for our sources: “There’s a real Northern focus but also national work.” Key regional clients include Newcastle International Airport, the University of Newcastle and local NHS trusts and councils, while on the national side the firm has worked for Bannatyne Group, NHS England, Aldi, the Woodland Trust, Highways England and big banks like Lloyds and Santander.
Roughly 12 trainees a year flock through the firm’s doors. Most of the cohort were housed in Newcastle, with Leeds and Manchester each taking a smattering of incomers. Newcastle offers seats in everything from corporate and real estate to commercial disputes and private client, whereas Manchester and Leeds – “both trying to expand and build names” in more competitive markets – offer fewer seat options due to their size. Despite their differences, trainees reported “lots of cooperation” between all three bases, noting the firm is “quite keen for people to spend time in other offices.” That includes trainees: “I’ve worked in another office on a Friday before visiting friends or family.”
Trainees sit in four seats for six months at a time. Newbies “roll off seat preferences” during mid-seat reviews, with the firm allocating those where possible. We’re assured the firm “wants your experience to be broad” and trainees were generally pleased with their placement, but a word to the wise: “It would be a miracle if you managed to do the training contract without a real estate seat.”
“From day one, I was drafting leases and contacting clients.”
The real estate department is broad, covering planning, commercial property, public sector work, plot deals, real estate finance and more. Alongside work for many national house builders such as Keepmoat Homes, the firm recently acted for family-owned Northumberland Estates on its acquisition and development of the Willowburn Retail Park in Alnwick. In another matter totalling £25 million, the firm acted for the Inn Collection Group in acquiring five hotels as part of the company’s expansion into the Lake District. A trainee’s experience in this seat will depend on the work of their supervisor, but it’s likely to be “more commercial than residential.” Sources reported working on “everything under the sun,” from plot sales and “big commercial leases” to the building and selling of properties. “My supervisor was very keen for me to cut my teeth,” one praised. “From day one, I was drafting leases and contacting clients. They were no baby steps!”
Distinct from real estate is a seat with housing. “We act for loads of big house builders and housing associations on new developments,” explained one rookie. The firm works with social housing providers such as Home Group, Gentoo and Yorkshire Housing. It recently advised on an £11.5 million development for Livin Housing, a local housing provider in County Durham. On another matter, the team acted for the Newcastle Parks and Allotments Trust on the transfer of ownership of all of the city’s parks to a newly formed trust. Trainees got stuck into procurement, financing, workforce management, governance, planning and development work. And there was no shortage of interesting concepts to get to grips with, whether it was providing advice on easements (the right to use someone else’s land for a specific purpose), drafting Section 106 agreements (which are made between local authorities and developers), or handling first tranche sales, where a property is owned by more than one party. Sources gleefully reported plenty of drafting experience with sales contracts, report on title documents, and property analysis.For one trainee, a highlight was “being allowed a seat at the table” when the firm brought in a barrister “on a complex area of law.” This team also hosts Housing Management Law School: a biannual event offering legal training to housing professionals, local authorities and housing associations.
The corporate department straddles M&A, private equity, capital markets, venture capital and restructuring work. It also houses a specific banking and finance team, and in Leeds, we were told that there's an international debt collection team too. Trainees got to work on transactions ranging “from five figures to seven or eight figures” in value. Of note, the firm recently acted for Millex Investments on the £20 million sale of its tenant referencing service Van Mildert to Rightmove. Ward Hadaway also lent its expertise to IP services group Perfect Image in its management buyout by Chiltern Capital, a private equity house based in London. Trainees noted that contract work “tends to be more regional,” whereas the corporate governance “comes from around the country.” One particular highlight was working on “a large restructuring of a film production company.” For commercially focused trainees, Ward Hadaway also offers client secondments, which in the past have included a six-month stint with Newcastle-headquartered Virgin Money.
Ward Hadaway’s dispute resolution team covers all manner of commercial spats including procurement, financial, joint venture, director and shareholder disputes, as well as professional negligence claims, judicial reviews and disputed wills. In a highly publicised matter valued at around £200 million, the firm is representing a local NHS trust after its PFI contract was terminated, with the trust seeking damages and the PFI funders looking to recoup their investment. Ward also recently defended Aldi in a judicial review brought by one of the supermarket’s competitors questioning the validity of planning permission granted for a new store. The team acts for individuals too. For example, it recently represented a Chinese businessman in his dispute with a football agent in the UK, valued at around half a million pounds. Given the variation of these examples, it won’t come as a surprise that trainees dubbed this the “most varied seat,” citing involvement in disputes with insurance and energy companies, and some contentious probate work. Given that cases often run for years, trainees said that “you’re diving into certain points” of a matter rather than seeing it from beginning to end.Trainees’ days were coloured with tasks such as bundling, drafting letters before claim and witness statements, legal research, and handling bankruptcy petitions.
“Stopping to chat with the managing partner isn’t a scary scenario!”
The family andmatrimonial group is having a growth spurt at the moment, having trebled revenue over the last five years. Given the highly sensitive nature of the work, we can’t provide any examples of recent matters. But beyond conventional areas of family law like divorce, the firm handles private and public law children disputes, as well as safeguarding children work. The firm also handles multi-jurisdictional cases with assets in the USA or other European countries. There’s crossover with the private client team, which is highly ranked by Chambers High Net Worth in Newcastle. As one trainee explained, “we do private law with child proceedings, finding suitable custody and maintenance agreements.” Trainees often worked on divorce and finance proceedings, and described a tiny bit of prenuptial work. In this vein,the team recently attended a wedding fair to discuss estate planning and wills with savvy brides and grooms. We heard “there were actually quite a few parents coming up, so it did generate some instructions and enquiries into prenups.” Task-wise, trainees liaised with clients, helped with disclosure work before court proceedings, assessed assets and liabilities in document review, and attended court hearings and negotiations.
Northerners are known for their no-nonsense chat, warm personalities and strong cups of tea. So the questions beckons: are the tropes true at Ward Hadaway? “I was so nervous on my first day,” one trainee recalled, “but people stopped by and asked if wanted coffee or tea.” Interviewees across offices chorused: “It’s incredibly personable. The partners are very approachable, and you can have a laugh with them.” In fact, even “stopping to chat with the managing partner isn’t a scary scenario!” In the open-plan Manchester office specifically, “I can literally walk two steps to a partner’s desk and they’ll always put time aside for me.” There was more praise for trainee supervisors. “Even while working from home, I was getting lots of pastoral calls and caring emails,” said one.
“There are sometimes really rubbish cakes, but it’s amazing to see the effort.”
Trainees highlighted “an emphasis on getting people integrated” at the firm. Social calendars were filled up with awards ceremonies, lunches with local press, casual post-work beverages and organised seasonal parties. “There’s a nice balance of firm events and self-led trainee initiatives,” they explained, adding that “each department also has a budget to do team activities.” We heard one team took an excursion to do a Crystal Maze challenge. Beyond frivolities, “we do a lot of charity work. Last year, a few colleagues slept outside Manchester Cathedral to raise money for a homeless shelter.” Cake sales are also common: “There are sometimes really rubbish cakes, but it’s amazing to see the effort,” said one, channelling their inner Prue Leith.
On the subject of diversity, trainees found “the numbers seem to be a reflection of the lack of diversity in the North East” rather than the firm itself.Gender diversity is “getting better,” and trainees thought the firm was “quite strong in recruiting new female partners and loads of female trainees.” There are apparently “lots of ethnic backgrounds” in the Manchester office, “which make kitchen conversations really interesting.” The firm reportedly doesn’t have any specific diversity initiatives, “which is a shame.”
“My really late finishes have been few and far between.”
Trainees found their hours“pretty manageable” by all accounts, with 9am to 6pm coming out as an average day, though “it does vary between seats.” Naturally, there are “lots of long hours” in corporate, with one telling us they occasionally “worked into the dwindling hours” in that seat.But interviewees said this wasn’t the rule. “They encourage you to avoid late nights,” sources said. “My really late finishes have been few and far between.” As for salaries, first-year trainees start on £24,000, and NQs are paid £36,500, which is in line with other firms in the North East.
Explaining the qualification process, trainees told us that“usually, the list of jobs would come up, and you’d apply and then interview. But Covid has kind of blown it all wide open.” At the time of our calls, the process was on hold and “a lot of trainees have been furloughed, which is sad but not uncommon across the industry.” Despite uncertainties, trainees said: “We’re quite confident as a firm emerging from the crisis.” The firm had not released its retention figures by the time we went to press.
Every year the firm honours growing Northern companies in the Fastest 50 awards.
How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): TBC
Training contract deadline (2023): TBC
Applications and vacation scheme
Most trainees at Ward Hadaway have connections with the North, often via unis in Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle. The firm has a particularly close relationship with Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, offering bursaries for two law students at each university each year.
Applications for both the vacation scheme and the ten to 15 training contracts on offer each year begin with a form that asks for details on a candidate's extracurricular activities, work experience and university exam results broken down by year of study.
The firm receives around 250 applications each year for its vac scheme, and picks between ten and 20 whose applications impress to attend the week-long placement. This sees attendees visit various departments across the week. “Everyone was very approachable compared with the other vac schemes I did. I don't think there was anyone I couldn't ask a question of,” testified one of the firm's current trainees.
Assessments and interview
Direct training contract and vacation scheme applicants who impress on paper are asked to attend one of up to four assessment days. Here they're set a group exercise, a drafting test, a critical skills test (sent out prior to the assessment day), and an interview with solicitor/associate/partner members of the graduate recruitment team. Applicants have the opportunity to meet various levels of lawyers at lunch, and they also get the opportunity to spend time with trainees and ask any questions about life at Ward Hadaway.
The firm invites up to 25 candidates from the assessment centres and vacation scheme back to a final interview, this time with a senior partner, the training principal and a member of human resources. The conversation revolves around informal questions, and candidates are asked to deliver a presentation. “This is an opportunity to learn more about who they are as individuals and what motivates them,” director of HR Joanna Cairns says. One trainee found that “in comparison to interviews at other firms, I remember feeling much more at ease here. They want to get the best out of you, so they try to establish a friendly, supportive tone.”
Joanne Cairns tells us: “Our different practice areas require different kinds of individuals. It’s really important that people invest the time to research who we are. We aren’t a one size fits all firm, and we’re looking for people who have the composure to present themselves well and are confident in evidencing why they are right for us.”
Our trainee sources added: “The firm looks for people who are normal and down to earth – having a sense of humour is important. You are asked to do a presentation at the final interview and that's what got me my job.” One interviewee highlighted: “We're a commercial firm, so make sure you show your commercial awareness and understanding of the business world. That's as important as demonstrating good communication and teamwork skills.” One final piece of advice? Having a genuine desire to stay in the region – whether that's Newcastle, Manchester or Leeds – is also very important.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Newcastle and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 5)
Yorkshire: South and West
- Employment (Band 3)