Ward Hadaway LLP - True Picture

Up, up, Hadaway. For a dreamy quayside HQ and a host of top-ranked departments, it might be time to look North.

Ward Hadaway training contract review 2024

The Firm

Whether it’s ale, football or Ant and Dec, there’s plenty that has become synonymous with the North East. Yet in recent years, cities like Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester have become some of the biggest and most important legal hubs outside of London, and North East connoisseurs Ward Hadaway have been quick to capitalise: “We are passionate about the places we live and work in,” Matthew Cormack, training principal at the firm tells us. “We are a Northern firm by geography, but a top 100 law firm by revenue.” The weight of the firm’s presence in the North East wasn’t missed by the current crop of trainees either. “I was seeking a Northern brand,” one told us, “and a competitive firm that would provide access to quality work without going into London.”

“It’s a beautiful location with views of the Millennium Bridge and the quayside."

The vast majority of the firm’s trainees are based in the Newcastle HQ, with a handful split between Leeds and Manchester. While the firm’s headcount is small, it certainly punches above its weight in reputation: “In the North East region (especially Newcastle), there is an element of prestige attached to the firm,” one trainee told us. And with good reason: the firm bags top-tier Chambers  rankings in banking & finance, corporate/M&A, employment, IT, litigation, planning and real estate. In order to better suit hybrid and collaborative working, the firm’s Manchester office has undergone refurbishments this year, but we heard that the Newcastle office was a long way from needing a face lift: “It’s a beautiful location with views of the Millennium Bridge and the quayside,” one trainee gushed.

The Seats

For new starters, the first seat of the training contract is allocated to trainees based on business need, but there is room to shape the training contract as you move through it: “Mid-seat I was able to sit down with the training partner and another member of the team to chat about where I wanted to go next; they are big on us having a role in designing our experience.” While the firm has moved away from compulsory seats in recent years, “people do still end up doing similar seats,” one told us, “for example, you’re unlikely to escape a property seat!”

As one of the firm’s top-ranked departments, corporate is a popular destination for trainees at WH, and works as a single team across Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds. The practice covers business acquisitions, the sale of companies and investments (both debt and equity). For trainees in the seat, the bread-and-butter tasks include “drafting ancillary documents and convertible loan agreements, and work on asset sales and share allotments.” In one recent deal, the firm advised North East-based designer handbag company Handbag Clinic Limited through an investment by The North East (ERDF) Venture Capital Limited Partnership. Trainees in the seat were quick to highlight the level of responsibility on offer compared to other seats: “I was working on a share acquisition, and it was just me and a partner,” they recalled. “I was able to draft the sale and purchase agreements, liaise with clients and coordinate the deal.” What’s more: “You can always pop your head up and ask for extra work, or help!”

On the contentious side of the coin, the commercial litigation department at WH revolves around “contract litigation,  commercial disputes between employers and employees, IP and defamation.” The nature of contract litigation is such that it can come up in most sectors, but there is a particular focus on insurance, health, technology, energy, and real estate at the firm. In one recent example in the healthcare space, the firm represented the Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust in its claim for over £165 million in damages over the termination of a contract with Three Valleys Healthcare. In a commercial litigation seat, trainees at WH can expect to spend plenty of time preparing court documents, but there is room for client contact and even court appearances too. “I sat through mediations, helped prepare them and worked on a few settlements,” one source added. 

"Everything from representing registered providers and councils on disrepair matters, to going to court over anti-social behaviour by tenants.”

If the prospect of Land Registry forms tickles your fancy (no judgements here), a seat in housing may be the right move. The name of the game in housing is the purchase of plots of land for developers, and the resale of large pieces of real estate. But there’s a substantial ‘human’ element to the practice too. “We cover everything from representing registered providers and councils on disrepair matters, to going to court over anti-social behaviour by tenants,” one explained. For trainees in the seat, this translates to “conducting due diligence, reading lots of land reports and infrastructure agreements, obtaining possession orders and standard research.” While the firm’s client list is extensive, you probably won’t be too surprised by the clientele, with names like the Together Housing Association, Believe Housing Limited, Yorkshire Housing and Livin Housing. Who would have guessed?

The firm’s real estate offering encompasses the more traditional real estate-related practices like real estate finance and commercial development. In fact, the team has sub-departments in commercial developers, occupiers and investors, real estate finance, and public sector. Given the department’s spread, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the client list is pretty varied, from Barclays and Newcastle International Airport to Darlington Borough Council and City of Sunderland College. “Different people in the team have different specialities,” one source explained, “so what you’re working on depends on who you are working for.” This might mean “work on the clauses that need to be included in the documents we draft, to drafting leases and licences that comply with restrictions.”

Trainee Life

As one trainee at the firm put it: “They are not working you just for the sake of it. You won’t be ignored in the corner.” In fact, a genuine interest in what trainees have to say about their experience is something the firm has made an effort to communicate: “We want to work with them,” Cormack tells us. “Trainees run their own quarterly townhall meeting with me and the emerging talent team, and it’s the trainees that set the agenda of that meeting.” It’s something that applies across the board too. “The firm cares about trainee experiences. A lot of people at the firm trained here and rose to partnership. That says something,” a trainee noted. When it comes to training at the firm, most of it is provided in-house, though external organisations are occasionally brought in to conduct sessions on topic such as national security or competition law. Formal feedback comes via a mid-seat review with the training partner and the people team, as well as an end of seat review with trainee supervisors. Trainees were quick to highlight that feedback wasn’t limited to the formal stuff however: “We meet every Thursday for half an hour, and I tell them if I have a lot of work on or not enough.” 

“A lot of people at the firm trained here and rose to partnership. That says something.”

The firm’s passion for the region it works in is evident in the absence of any hard distinction between offices. Trainees at WH can spend the day in other offices if they have clients there, and there are a number of seats that are split between them: “It’s nice to be introduced to different people and working styles,” one trainee noted; “it’s come as part of a broader culture change since COVID-19. The firm is more flexible now.” As Cormack explains, the aim is to enable “engagement in the wider firm”while providing them with platforms to express themselves.Alongside a new CSR and social budget, “we have a newLinkedIn page for emerging talent where they can talk about their experience. In each of these, trainees oversee and take responsibility for themselves, working with the finance, marketing and people team to make things happen. They are really engaging with the law firm as a business and broadening their skill set  at the same time.” The firm’s social calendar includes Christmas events, summer parties, quarterly drinks and charity events. “I used to play football, so I played for the Leeds office in a charity cup,” a trainee told us.

The official policy is that trainees have to be in the office twice a week, though most are in the office a lot more: “Trainees learn by osmosis, by going along to meetings and taking notes,” Cormack emphasises, “and this learning is hard to replicate through Teams.” However, those who prefer working from home aren’t left behind: “We’ve had to be a bit more formulaic with how people supervise, and also facilitate pastoral care that would previously have happened organically when we all sat in the office full time. We ask the supervisors; have you had coffee with them recently? Have you checked in with how they are finding things?” Cormack adds. With all this support, the icing on the cake is a good work/life balance. Most of our sources worked between 8.30am to 6.30pm on average. “If there is nothing pressing, the partners want you to get some downtime,” a trainee told us.

Come qualification time, trainees let the training team know where they would like to qualify. The training team then “goes back to the partners and asks if they have the capacity, based on budget and work streams.” Trainees receive a job list and apply with a CV and cover letter, followed by an interview. In 2023, the firm retained all eleven qualifiers.

A Ward to the wise: “We do a lot of work in supporting diversity via empowerment of early years education and charity programmes,” Cormack tells us. “A need for diversity is built into our recruitment process, but we also recognise that university and training contracts aren’t for everyone, and have alternative pathways available for apprentices and paralegals.” 

How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract 

  • Vacation scheme deadline (spring 2024): 31 January 2024 
  • Training contract deadline (2026): 31 May 2024 

Applications and vacation scheme 

Often trainees at Ward Hadaway have connections with the North, for instance via universities in Yorkshire, the North West and the North East. Whilst recruiting talent who share the firm’s passion for the North is essential, it is also critical that they recruit trainees with the right mix of competencies, skills, attitudes and motivation. Ward Hadaway therefore ensure that their recruitment process is multi-dimensional so that you have the best opportunity to show them what you're made of. 

Ward Hadaway's recruitment process for the 12 to 15 training contracts which are on offer begins with an online application form which can be accessed via their website. The application form asks for details on a candidate's academic history, work experience and extra-curricular activities. 

Once the deadline has passed, they will invite you to complete an online critical thinking test and if you are successful at application stage, they will invite you to attend one of their assessment centres which involves a range of activities, as well as the chance to meet some of the current trainees and trainee supervisors. 

At every stage of the process, the firm assess you against their training contract competency criteria and their firm behaviours and values. The firm also provide personalised feedback at each stage after the assessment centre, regardless of the outcome, so candidates can strive to improve. 

Each year, the firm receive around 350 applications, with the majority of those applications being for their vacation scheme. They choose between 10 and 20 applicants to attend the three-day placement, held in each of their office locations. This sees attendees visit two departments across the placement as well as come together with other vacation placement students for an 'activity day' which includes a range of social and other activities. “Everyone was very approachable compared to the other vacation 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 an assessment day. Here they are set a group exercise, a written exercise and an interview with either a solicitor, associate or partner who is part of the graduate recruitment team. Applicants have the opportunity to meet various levels of lawyers at a lunch and networking session, and they also get the opportunity to spend time with trainees and ask any questions about life at Ward Hadaway.  

The firm invites successful candidates from the assessment centres and vacation scheme back to a final interview, this time with a senior partner, the firm's training principal Matthew Cormack, and the recruitment and emerging talent manager, Caroline Jones. “This is an opportunity to learn more about who they are as individuals and what motivates them,” Jones 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 an open and  supportive tone.” 

Trainee profile 

Matthew Cormack 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.” 

Another trainee source added: “It is clear that the firm are committed to creating an environment where team effort and collaboration is not just encouraged, but ingrained into the essence of its approach to working.” One interviewee highlighted: “We are 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 Leeds, Manchester or Newcastle – is also very important. 


Ward Hadaway LLP

Sandgate House,
102 Quayside,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Website www.wardhadaway.com

Firm profile
Ward Hadaway is a successful independent law firm that offers quality legal advisory services – and the services that support them – to businesses, the public sector and individuals.

We are a firm in which each person can thrive and succeed as an individual and in business. That encourages and supports entrepreneurialism. That is known for its friendly, no-nonsense approach. That behaves responsibly, and is actively engaged in its communities and with their wellbeing. That marries the best use of technology with a people-first service.

We are committed to working together to provide the best possible client and working experience. 

Main areas of work
Across our 3 offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester - Commercial; Corporate; Commercial Dispute Resolution; Employment; Health and Regulatory; Housing; Real Estate; Private Client    

Training opportunities
We offer a two year training contract consisting of 4x6 month seats as well as a Solicitor Apprenticeship.  

University law careers fairs 2023
York, Durham, Newcastle, Manchester, Manchester Met, Northumbria, Leeds, Leeds Beckett, University of Law (Leeds and Manchester), University of Liverpool

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
At Ward Hadaway, we take our social and moral responsibility to eliminate discrimination very seriously, and to promote equality, diversity and inclusion across the firm. We are committed to maintaining an environment where people are recognised for their talent and contribution, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Our university link days, school and university mentoring schemes, prizes and scholarships are all activities we are really passionate about. They provide a good platform for us to extend the work we’re doing by encouraging the next generation at an age where they can direct their studies towards a career in the legal sector. These activities open up routes to qualification, and recruitment practices that ensure a level playing field for people from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances.

Our policies and procedures embed a culture of zero tolerance towards bullying, harassment and unnecessary stress, giving everyone a platform from which to achieve their potential and make positive contributions. We support a range of different approaches to juggling work, family and life responsibilities, that help our people succeed in ways that work for them. This includes a supportive and flexible hybrid working policy.

We recognise the particular challenges posed by a fast evolving working and living environment at Ward Hadaway. We are committed to supporting our colleagues through change, promoting activities and healthier working practices which holistically improve their wellbeing and build resilience. Recently, we have launched a comprehensive three-year health and wellbeing strategy across the firm and have partnered with Mental Health in Business to bring firm-wide training and resources.

We are dedicated to investing in professional development, providing support, guidance and encouragement for individuals to learn, gain confidence and fulfil their potential. Supporting performance through investment in our people was recognised in our latest Investors in People review. We are delighted to have achieved Investors in People Gold status for the first time recently, making progress on our Silver Award which we first received in 2014.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • 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)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 5)
    • Employment (Band 3)