Ward Hadaway's 30th anniversary marks its status as Newcastle nobility – Manchester and Leeds are next in line.
Ward Hadaway first put down Newcastle roots 30 years back, using the intervening period to become the largest independent law firm in the North East. Furthermore, its regional success allowed it to branch out, opening offices in both Leeds and Manchester in the past decade. We found many trainees who joined the firm because of connections to the local region. “I wanted stay in the North East and this is one of the biggest firms here,” one source said. As for the future, the firm contemplated merging with Liverpool firm Weightmans in 2017 (talks which ultimately failed), and our impression is that Ward Hadaway's future plans are somewhat up in the air at the moment. What we do know is that the job of developing the firm going forward will fall to a new managing partner, Martin Hulls – he replaces Jamie Martin who'd been in the role for 20 years.
“I wanted stay in the North East and this is one of the biggest firms here.”
Chambers UK gives the firm excellent regional rankings across a broad scope of areas: banking & finance, construction, corporate, employment, IT, intellectual property, litigation, planning, real estate, restructuring and family. It also picks up two national nods for its work in clinical negligence and healthcare. As you'd expect, a good portion of its clients are either local through-and-through (like Newcastle University and Newcastle International Airport) or have some regional tie, but operate on a much larger scale (like Newcastle-headquartered Virgin Money, and Bannatyne Fitness, whose first health club was built in Teesside).
Work from outside the region arrives in a number of ways – for example, national housebuilders like Story Homes provide work on property sales in distant counties, and the firm has also worked with London-based private equity firm Total Capital Partners.
At the time of our interviews, 13 trainees plied their trade in Newcastle, while Manchester and Leeds held three each. Offices vary in the number of seat options they offer, with Newcastle usually having around ten options, while Manchester and Leeds have just a handful. Though trainees sometimes move between offices to complete their seats, it's rare, so it's worth checking what is offered where. When it comes to allocating the seats, trainees had mixed experiences. While trainees discuss their seat preferences in their mid-seat reviews, sources welcomed the recent decision to allow trainees to revise those preferences once they knew which seats were available for the next rotation. But we still heard some grumbles about certain decisions being handled with “a lack of transparency. They are not that great at letting you know where they are in the process.”
The corporate team at Ward Hadaway covers a lot. It handles M&A, private equity, capital markets work and venture capital. It also includes a specialist banking team, since the firm sits on the panels of Barclays, Lloyds Bank, RBS and Santander. The wider corporate team has more clients from the financial industries (Maven Capital Partners and London investor Total Capital Partners) and it's also well known for its work with public venture capital programmes, like the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund. But there's plenty of work for more diverse companies: the firm advised the shareholders of software firm Kykloud on its sale to US company Accruent, and it helped Northumberland travel agent sunshine.co.uk on its £12 million sale to holiday retailer On The Beach.
Trainees' experience was “a fantastic way to learn the principal tasks, like data room management, helping to collate enquiries and drafting board minutes.” But one Newcastle source gave higher praise for the supervision: “It's really easy to give trainees the lower-level work, but my supervisor wasn't particularly keen on that. He wanted to challenge me and got me drafting an entire sale purchase agreement which was 100 pages long. That was daunting, but they gave me really good feedback and I learned a lot more than if I had just done Companies House forms for six months.”
“It's really easy to give trainees the lower-level work but my supervisor wasn't particularly keen on that.”
Commercial was equally enjoyable for our sources, one of whom “expected to be a little cog in a big machine and spend my whole day churning out documents. However my supervisor made a big point of taking me out to meetings with clients.” The team helped Newcastle International Airport negotiate the contracts for its check-in systems, provided data protection advise to both Virgin Money and Arizona-headquartered Isagenix International to help them conform with the EU's General Data Protection Regulations, and worked on IP issues with a host of start-ups supported by the University of Teesside's Launchpad Programme. As with many commercial departments the topics and issues trainees could cover was broad, but a good portion of their time was spent on IP. “There was a lot of research which allowed us to tell people what the law is. Our clients work in heavily regulated areas: there's a lot of EU regulation surrounding procurement and contracts.”
The litigation team handles all sorts of commercial litigation, but has particular expertise tackling professional negligence, director and shareholder disputes and litigation of a financial or insurance-related nature. The team represented 175 retail investors who lost £2.3 million in the collapse of mini-bonds offered by Providence Bonds. It also represented the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust in its efforts to obtain a court decision on the termination of a multimillion-pound PFI contract funded by the Bank of Scotland. And dehumidifier manufacturer Ebac also recruited the team's services as it attempted to hold a component supplier responsible for overheating faults its products suffered – a matter worth £750,000.
Quite a bit of trainees' time was spent on research exercises, along with “drafting letters to the court and letters of claim to the client – the sort of tasks you can spend a good afternoon on and really get your teeth into.” More mundane work came in the form of “a lot of disclosure, where you document every piece of correspondence. But it lets you really get to grips with the facts of the case.” There's also a “lot of running to court as we're about three doors down from it in Newcastle. I have been there every day of the week dropping things off!”
If you Hadaway with words...
The employment team's client base includes Nissan, pharma giant Merck, utilities comparison company Utilitywise and housing association Homegroup. Newcastle United are also a long-standing client, with the firm recently helping out on the departure of Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul. The team also helped global beautician Sally Salon Services to navigate a restructuring of its European operations which saw 10% of its UK workforce made redundant. Trainees working on contentious matters experienced the extra challenge of “adapting your work because you and the opposite side do not want the same outcome. You are dealing with people who are actively disagreeing with you and you need to adapt the way you write letters and handle yourself.”
“I was the main point of contact.”
A property seat can have a number of slants to it: residential, commercial, planning, house-building, or the public sector. The firm counts national property developer Barratt Homes as a client, acting for it in the majority of its acquisitions and developments in the North of England. It also helped the Northumberland National Park Authority with both the acquisition and planning on a site intended for a £12 million discovery centre. One Newcastle source thought “property was fantastic. I was given a lot of my own files to work on, and take the lead on.” A Manchester source's experience was similar: “I did the day-to-day management of three files. I was the main point of contact, preparing replies to enquiries into title reviews and collating title packs to the other sides' lawyers. Those transactions were really beneficial in helping me develop.” Experiences were similar across sub-teams, but planning required “that you work to certain time scales, because people in councils are not in the office at 9pm at night.”
Ward Hadaway's healthcare team acts for over 60 NHS organisations across the UK, representing them in clinical negligence claims and inquests, but also handling non-contentious work. For example, the firm recently helped the North East Ambulance Foundation Trust on its establishment of a trading company, and advised the NHS Business Services Authority on the procurement of around £159 million worth of ICT support services. Trainees found that they were working “with only one or two clients, so you can develop a good relationship with them. It's different in property where you deal with 20 people a day.” Since they were mostly involved in the contentious matters, trainees' work revolved around preparing cases for trials, “doing chronologies, taking notes at meetings and attending court to observe things.” The clinical negligence cases can be highly emotive. One source told us: “At the very beginning I was very surprised at some of the things you read and see. But you come to see both sides to the argument; if you can't then you're not a very good lawyer. You put that analytical head on and act in your clients' best interests.”
Ward Hada-why aye man
Unlike Newcastle, which is spread across two buildings, the open-plan office in Leeds has “everyone on the same floor. so you get to know everybody really well. If I was working in commercial and needed to talk to someone in insolvency I would know who to go to, and where they were.” It was the same story in the Manchester office where “it is very easy for you to to settle in. Being open-plan, you can hear conversations going on between partners, so that's a fun aspect to it.” In all the offices, insiders sang in chorus about the approachability of their seniors, telling us: “There are no bad apples. The firm wants to maintain a Northern identity – that's part of the marketing – so the atmosphere is meant to be open and friendly.” Our research found exactly that – another source told us: “We are all very down to earth and welcoming.”
“Most social events are office-specific,” trainees informed us. “But there are at least two or three occasions a year, such as the Christmas party and summer barbecue, when the offices come together, plus fee earners move around quite a bit.” Leeds trainees informed us they had a pizza night, bowling and end of year drinks, while Manchester got “a budget for team-building days. They also hold quizzes and there's a drinks trolley every Friday.” In Newcastle drinks by the quayside are popular, and “trainees are quite good at going to events with the junior lawyer division or young professional forums. If one person is going, they all go!” Finally, a popular distraction across Ward Hadaway's locations was office buffets, “where everybody brings in some food on a theme, gathers in the kitchen, catches up and has a chit-chat.”
Trainees start out with a two-week induction course. The first week brings all the trainees together, and “covers the IT systems, how to use the firm's programs, time recording and all of that stuff.” Seminars are then run throughout the year in Newcastle, with video conferencing used to beam the sessions to Manchester and Leeds. Our interviews revealed that it was commonplace for trainees to leave the office between 6pm and 6.30pm, having clocked in around 8.30am. In planning you could finish even earlier (at 5.30pm) while litigation and corporate pushed it closer to 7.30pm. Work can drag on longer but, aside from one corporate trainee who had ploughed through to midnight, insiders said this didn't usually go past 8pm.
However, we did find some issues regarding qualification. Sources found it “difficult because what a department says may not be the case given they need extra authorisation before the final decision. I would like some more transparency on the process and how decisions are made.” Another trainee noted that “they publish the jobs list quite late and people look elsewhere to protect their own position. In recent years the retention rate has not been good, particularly in Leeds.” In 2018 the firm retained 11 out of 16 qualifiers.
Support for local charities is a common theme across offices, and trainees were tasked with organising regular events.
How to get a Ward Hadaway training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (open 1 November 2018)
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.
The Newcastle legal scene
Newcastle upon Tyne,
- Partners 91
- Associates 97
- Total trainees 24
- UK offices Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester
- Graduate Recruiter: Caroline Bogira, Recruitment and Development Manager, [email protected], 01618373810
- Training principal: Julie Huntingdon
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10-15
- Applications pa: 500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 28 February 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: £36,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
In its 30-year history, Ward Hadaway has grown rapidly, investing in and supporting the development of its teams as well as recruiting and maintaining the best talent across all areas of its business.
Main areas of work
Trainees are given a comprehensive one-week induction to help them get to grips with the technical side of working at the firm. It’s an intense but enjoyable week, broken up with informal social activities.
During the 24 month training contract, trainees get experience of four seats, spending six months in each. The firm encourage trainees to share their seat preferences so that, where possible, their training contract can be tailored towards areas they’re interested in. The firm’s training contract aims to provide every trainee with a range of contentious and non-contentious areas to achieve a well-rounded legal experience. Secondment opportunities are also available with some of the firm’s key commercial clients. During each seat trainees are supervised by a partner or associate and are given a full end-of-seat appraisal, a mid-seat review, and regular formal and informal feedback.
Trainees are taken on in each of the firm’s three offices.
- Group personal pension plan with employer contributions
- Flexible benefits including health/dental cover, childcare etc.
- Life Assurance
- Life Assurance Interest-free season ticket loans for travel
- Membership to the JLD or equivalent
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Social Housing (Band 1)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Partnership: Medical Recognised Practitioner
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Employment (Band 3)