Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP - True Picture

In 2017 a US firm Wombled over to the UK and Bonded with a sprawling national UK outfit: the result is a transatlantic tour de force with plenty of regional character.

From Womble with Love

Back in 2017 Bond Dickinson trainees were already heart-eyes-emoji-ing over this national firm’s varied practice and “work for big clients outside of London” – then came the announcement that BD was tying the knot with an American peer to become Womble Bond Dickinson. “It was already a very well-known firm but the opportunities coming in now are fantastic,” insiders cooed in awe. “Womble Carlyle and Bond Dickinson were a good fit in terms of market position, and there are lots of cross-referrals between here and the US.” Training principal Paul Stewart informs us: “The firm is doing an awful lot of work it wouldn’t have been able to do without the combination. Even closer to home we’re seeing new clients for whom we can act as a one-stop shop internationally.”

Bond Dickinson was no slouch pre-combination, worthy of 30 or so top-tier rankings from Chambers UK and a national leader outside London for banking and finance, employment, litigation, planning, real estate and real estate litigation. “It’s not easy to tick all those boxes outside the City, but WBD does national-level work from regional offices,” one trainee declared. For context, Womble Carlyle began life in North Carolina and excelled in real estate and disputes in particular, earning various Chambers USA rankings across North and South Carolina.

The freshly minted Womble Bond Dickinson has made a big splash on the other side of the pond, breaking into the AmLaw 100 list of firms ranked by revenue. In January 2019 the firm opened its 27th office in Houston. “That will be fantastic for the energy practice in particular,” according to trainees. Energy partner Simon Hughes reveals: “Houston is a bit of a game changer: we were looking at opening there prior to the combination and it means a whole host of clients have now become available to us.”

“They haven’t rolled out the Star-Spangled Banner.”

Trainees were quick to stress that they “hadn’t really noticed much ‘Womblisation’ in terms of the firm culture – they haven’t rolled out the Star-Spangled Banner or anything like that.” Womble Bond has rolled out a Transatlantic Lawyers Network where six lawyers from the UK and seven from the US meet twice a year “to discuss how to improve the partnership.” The first round of the programme involved a UK trainee.

At the time of our calls Newcastle had the largest trainee group at 18, followed by Bristol with 12, Southampton and Leeds with eight each, and London and Plymouth with four apiece. Moving between offices over the course of the training contact is “theoretically possible but not advertised,” and trainees are more likely to go cross-country for client secondments.

Seat options: oil and gas; real estate; planning; casualty risks; professional risk; corporate; employment; property litigation; finance; commercial disputes; banking; commercial; private capital; IP/IT; public services; regulatory; insurance; transport; energy & natural resource; operational property; agriculture; charities; private client; private capital; construction; developers and investors; restructuring and insolvency; environmental, construction and engineering

Pretty much every WBD trainee will do such a client secondment, often during their third seat. “We get an email about what’s on offer and a deadline to apply,” an insider explained. “They talked us through the process very well and there was a lot of advance notice.” Sources get less pre-warning on seat rotations within the firm: “Sometimes we don’t find out until a week or two beforehand what’s available and some seats come up randomly at the last minute.” This uncertainty was “frustrating,” but everybody we spoke to ended up happy with their seats. The process varies by office – smaller bases like Leeds “don’t have as many seats or trainees so we mainly work out among ourselves when we’ll do what.” Newcastle and Bristol offer many more options “so you’re never lacking choice, but it can get a bit more complicated.” WBD doesn’t offer any overseas seats at the moment.

Womble of Solace

Within real estate there are numerous subgroups available to trainees including planning, agriculture, property litigation, commercial and residential. “In most property seats you get high responsibility quickly,” according one trainee. “I managed my own files from start to finish and had lots of direct communication with clients.” On the residential property side WBD represents national housebuilders, developers and investors like Grainger, Bellway and Moorfield. “Working on the buying and selling of portfolios, I was responsible for tracking and reviewing searches,” a source explained. “I didn’t think it would be such a lively subject, but I really enjoyed being able to visualise the sites we were dealing with.”

Commercial property comes with a similar mix of “smaller files for trainees to manage” and larger projects. Renewable energy is one of WBD’s strong suits – Bristol and Southampton lawyers recently helped Dudgeon Offshore Wind with the real estate aspects of a £279 million wind farm off the Norfolk coast. “I got to see every stage of a transaction,” one trainee declared. “On one deal I swooped in at the end for an exciting 4am completion – I got to ring the completion gong a few times!” Another important source of work is local councils: Middlesbrough Council called in WBD’s Newcastle team for a £55 million manufacturing park development.

“the emphasis is on taking matters into your own hands.”

A planning seat involves working on all kinds of development matters, but the most exciting work is on national infrastructure and regeneration projects: railways, roads, powerlines etc. “There's a mix of disputes and non-contentious work,” and most trainees get to see both, once again getting to “run a few smaller matters on which you're the first point of contact for clients.” Larger projects call for research and document review, but sources were “involved in lots of conference calls” too. WBD acts for both private and public sector clients including the North Wales Police and the Department for Education (in London), Bristol Airport, Reading Borough Council and Taylor Wimpey (in Bristol), and Intu Properties, Persimmon Homes and Three Rivers District Council (in Newcastle). Lawyers in Leeds and Newcastle recently advised Lewisham Borough Council on planning for the £1 billion residential and sports facility at New Bermondsey.

Fancy a more niche real estate experience? Agriculture, farms and estates is “as varied as any other property seat” – but the clients are very different and the team also works on unusual things like processing unregistered land. There’s crossover with WBD’s private wealth department as the firm represents landed estates and farmers. Clients also include the National Trust, the National Farmers Union and English Heritage. Trainees are encouraged to “deal directly with clients –  the emphasis is on taking matters into your own hands.”

Live and Let Womble

WBD's commercial team covers IP, outsourcing, supply and sales contracts, and – in the wake of GDPR especially – data security. Our sources got involved in “quite big compliance projects proofreading fee earners’ work. I also got to draft my own policies and send them to the client without many amendments.” The firm recently advised Brittany Ferries on £46 million of contracts with the Department for Transport to prepare for a no-deal Brexit; other well-known clients include TSB, Network Rail, Costa owners Whitbread and the Ministry of Justice. Some trainees do a seat dedicated mostly to IP, drafting cease and desist documents and calling clients.

“We work on big deals outside London.”

Corporate clients include both “nationally influential businesses” and local companies with whom WBD goes way back years. One source said: “We work on big deals outside London, that’s absolutely what I wanted.”For example, in Newcastle the firm advised Durham-based digital lender Atom Bank on a £149 million fund-raising round with Spanish bank BBVA. Besides financial services, the firm also has retail and energy expertise and recently advised Countrywide Farmers on the sale of its £29 million LPG distribution business to Flogas. Lloyds Development Capital is another client – it called on the firm during a £10 million investment in Yorkshire-based property agency Linley & Simpson.

There’s a split in banking between regulatory work and transactional finance matters. The team “deals with big banks like Santander, HSBC and Lloyds,” as well as organisations receiving funding such as the National Trust. Energy helps power this department too: the firm advised investment fund The Renewable Infrastructure Group on the £195 million refinancing of seven onshore wind farms. “I was involved in drafting anti-money laundering documentation on the regulatory side,” an interviewee revealed. On the deals side, trainees draft parts of opinions and “key parts” of larger documents, plus handle post-completion scanning and companies house searches. In addition, the team is “incredibly hot on current awareness so we also get to blog a fair amount.” Workloads can rise and fall, and things can definitely get busy: WBD assisted the Department for Education on the banking aspects of 13 college mergers and restructurings in 2018.

The firm offers client secondments in various different practice areas and across the UK, including “a lot in London, which makes sense commercially.” Most opportunities are available to all trainees in any office, though some require them to have already done a seat in a certain department. “It’s by far one of the best parts of the training contract and has really helped my self-development,” one interviewee declared. Another agreed: “Working with a large in-house team is a good thing to get under your belt. Supervision was less present than in private practice because everyone’s so busy with their own workload.” WBD does keep an eye on secondees: “I felt totally supported from the word go.”

Womble Another Day

Another benefit of secondments are the regular nine-to-five working days. Life back at WBD isn’t quite as cushy, but “generally the hours are good unless your department is crazy busy.” Trainees normally finish at around 6pm, give or take “differences between teams” with commercial and banking in particular requiring trainees to occasionally stay a few hours more. Still, a midnight finish would be very peculiar. "Your team members are stringent about us not sticking around for the sake of it.”

Only some offices are open-plan, but trainees all over the shop told us: “It feels like there are no doors between people and I could ask anybody anything. There’s no sense of a hierarchy when I’m making a cup of tea next to a partner in the kitchen.” Many got the sense that “people know you’ve got things to do other than being here,” and felt there was room to stamp their own personality on the annals of WBD – “nobody says ‘This is the type of lawyer you need to be,’ you are who you are and that’s okay.”

The firm’s keen to get to know trainees quickly no matter who they are, inviting everybody to summer and Christmas parties “to ensure prospective starters can get as involved as possible.” There’s plenty to throw yourself into, whether that’s one of the various sports teams (football, netball, rugby, running… it’s exhausting just to list them) or charity fund-raising events. The Prince’s Trust Million Makers challenge is especially popular – “partners and trainees get involved, aiming to raise £10,000.” Recent efforts to reach the milestone included partner sumo wrestling – “we broadcast it to the whole firm and everybody took bets on the winners!” Such CSR initiatives represent “a fantastic way to get all the trainees to do a joint project together.”

Some trainees told us: “There’s a fair amount of training including practice development lawyers for each business group,” but the consensus was that “most of our learning comes on the job. People have asked for the firm to run courses in the past, which they did.” Certain departments are more reliable when it comes to training and feedback than others. “I don’t feel like I need a mid-seat review because I always know if I’m going in the right direction,” one insider felt. “The firm makes sure supervisors realise how big a responsibility the position is.”

NQ applications “are pretty straightforward – you don’t have to write War & Peace.” Trainees can apply for two jobs in any office. When we spoke to trainees, there were some concerns about “multiple people applying for the same NQ jobs” and competitive interviews. In the end 22 of 28 qualifiers stayed on. Looking beyond qualification, trainees noticed that “a lot of partners have been with the firm since their training contract.”

Trainees praised WBD’s diversity and inclusion efforts, including a #BeYourself campaign encouraging lawyers and staff to bring their whole selves to work.

How to get a WBD training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 28 February 2020

Training contract deadline (2022): 28 February 2020

A good first step towards landing a training contract is getting a place on the firm's placement scheme. As one current trainee pointed out, “almost all of us did it.” Out of a total 1,741 applicants in 2018, 1,531 applied for the work placement week.

Everyone begins their applications with the same online form which asks about candidates' academic achievements, outside interests and work experience – legal or otherwise. “On top of that, we ask some fairly searching competency-based questions,” head of recruitment Samantha Lee tells us. In 2018 the firm requested 386 candidates send in a pre-recorded video interview before inviting the successful 114 to assessment days.

Assessment days

The half-day session involves an individual insight exercise, a group exercise which looks at creative thinking and communication, and a short interview with members of the graduate recruitment team. The best applicants progress to a final interview, which takes place during the placement week. This involves giving a presentation, prepared in advance on a commercial topic, to a partner and HR member.

Those who are unable to attend a placement will be invited to spend the day with the firm, when the training contract interview will take place following a morning spent in a team of their choice.

Our sources agreed that demonstrating commercial awareness is key to getting a training contract here. “Preparation is everything – find out as much as you can about our clients,” trainees advised.


Womble Bond Dickinson ran placements in its Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, London, Plymouth and Southampton offices this year, accepting 72 candidates in total. All placements last one week and candidates are invited to choose which team they’d like to spend their placement with.

All placement candidates are allocated a supervisor and get a chance to work on live matters. “We try to give them an experience as close as we can to the trainee one. It's about making sure they fit into our culture – we want to give a flavour of who we are so they can walk away saying yes it's for me, or no it isn't,” says Samantha Lee.

Lee continues: “We rely quite heavily on feedback from supervisors when deciding who should get a training contract. They complete a form on the quality of applicants' work and how commercially minded they are.” Her advice for impressing? “Come prepared, and treat the scheme as though it's a one-week interview. The number one thing to do is to look like you want to be here, which means getting stuck in, being enthusiastic and inquisitive about our different practice areas, and producing the best-quality work you can.”


Interview with partners Simon Hughes and Paul Stewart

Chambers Student: How has progress been with the Womble Bond Dickinson combination?

Simon Hughes: With any combination, there’s always a sense of uncertainty of how things will play out, but it’s been very positive so far and there are lots of opportunities to look forward to. The combination has been met with great engagement by juniors, and we’re willing to give them the resources to make the most of it.

We’ve already established our Transatlantic Lawyers Network, through which six lawyers from the UK and five from the US have spent time in different locations across the firm and reported back on what they’ve noticed. We had a trainee on that process in the first round and they were instrumental in driving it.

Paul Stewart: I was recently in the US for a conference and that programme was one of our main talking points – we’ve just recently closed applications for the second round. It’s demonstrated clear similarities between the two sides of the firm in terms of ethos, and lots of opportunities. Look at what’s happening in the US – with the recent opening in Houston and recent hires into California – and you’ll see we’re making lots of important strides.

CS: What opportunities will the Womble Bond Dickinson combination offer for trainees?

SH: It broadens the international work available to trainees. My own practice is almost solely dedicated to energy and Houston is a bit of a gamechanger: we were looking at opening there prior to the combination and it means a whole host of clients have now become available to us. The breadth and depth of our firm’s relationship means a whole host of new clients are available to us and as a junior that’s exciting.

PS: The firm is doing an awful lot of work it wouldn’t have been able to do without the combination. Even closer to home we’re seeing new clients for whom we can act as a one-stop-shop internationally. For example, lots of businesses in the North East are interested in investing in America.

The simple truth of any training contract is that it works best when trainees are getting a good variety of quality work with high levels of responsibility available, and the combination allows us to offer more in that sense.

CS: Are there any practice areas that are doing especially well at the moment? In what areas do you see most potential for the future?

SH: The disputes team has had an absolutely stellar year…

PS: Yes, it’s likely been our best year ever. The international arbitration market is one we can grow further in the UK given our expertise in the US. We’ve been looking at more financial compliance and investigatory work: white collar crime is quite often transatlantic in nature and a definite potential growth area.

SH: Another key one is IP and IT, an area in which we’re going from strength to strength. The firm’s acquisition of bolt-on businesses and an office in California demonstrates our ambition in that area. Womble Carlyle had a stellar reputation for IP law already which translates fantastically to our own, and we’ve got a real desire to build that practice.

PS: One of the big reasons why the combination is working is overlap between sectors. We have a very strong energy practice which goes hand-in-hand with our litigation work and can grow and help us expand in areas like transport. The danger is picking out edited highlights when we’ve got so much going for us!

CS:As growth continues, do you foresee the firm offering more training contracts in future?

SH: It’s a good question – there’s a huge desire for growth across the business and the natural assumption would be that trainee numbers increase. There are a few variables to consider there including the introduction of the SQE and our market-leading legal apprenticeship programme, which we’re expanding to Bristol. In the short-term we can confirm there will be no reduction in the traditional training contract even as new technology might come in.

The challenge is always that you’re recruiting two years in advance for the training contract and four years for NQ roles but we’re very much looking for people with a future at the firm, not just putting bums on seats.

PS: That point is really important – looking all the way back in our history to Dickinson Dees and Bond Pearce we’ve always looked to recruit on that basis. We’ve never ran a programme looking for resources, we want people who will stay with the business long-term.

We’re all really pleased with the apprenticeship programme and that will continue to be a key part of our recruitment, but we’ll also be looking at potentially increasing trainee numbers outside of that.

CS: What kind of person would fit in well at Womble Bond Dickinson?

PS: There’s always a danger answering this question to sound like every other firm. We want people from any number of backgrounds, degrees or universities and the apprenticeship programme has helped us broaden that. What we’re looking for is real enthusiasm to want to be a lawyer at Womble Bond Dickinson, to learn what our clients do and how best to advise them. It obviously goes without saying we’re looking for intelligent, articulate, hardworking people who can communicate: it’s enthusiasm for building a career that makes candidates stand out.

SH: We recently introduced pymetrics – gamified neuroscience based exercises, into our assessment criteria as we’re really interested in how people think. Academics speak for themselves but they don’t tell the full story. The days of lawyers just providing legal advice are long gone, we need to think more broadly. Trainees that recognise that and are fundamentally inquisitive in this environment and with clients, who want to understand businesses and play a part in making them successful, will fit in well at the firm.

Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP

4 More London Riverside,
Website www.womblebonddickinson.com

  • Partners 130
  • Associates 1000+ (globally) 
  • Total trainees: 55
  • UK offices Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Joanne Smallwood [email protected] 0191 2799046
  • Training partners: Simon Hughes and Paul Stewart
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contract pa: Up to 25
  • Applications pa: Approx 1,500-1,700
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 90+
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract deadline 2022: 28 February 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 28 February 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: Bristol and Southampton - £30,000; Leeds - £27,000; London - £38,000; Newcastle - £26,000; Plymouth - £28,000; Scotland - £22,000
  • Second-year salary: Bristol and Southampton - £32,000; Leeds - £29,000; London - £40,000; Newcastle - £28,000; Plymouth - £30,000; Scotland - £24,000
  • Post qualification salary: competitive (benchmarked annually)
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Full cost of the course plus £6,000 grant
  • GDL fees: Full cost of the course plus £6,000 grant
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton.
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile

Womble Bond Dickinson is a transatlantic law firm, providing high-quality legal capability and outstanding personal service, to a wide range of regional, national and international clients from 27 key locations across the United States and the United Kingdom – Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Plymouth and Southampton. Our clients range from FTSE 100 businesses and governmental organisations to privately managed business and wealthy individuals. Our clients’ interests always come first. Strong personal relationships, dedicated client teams and a deep understanding of our clients’ businesses mean they have confidence that we can respond to their needs effectively and efficiently. Our regional heritage, flexibility and commitment to innovation enable us to offer focused, relevant services as a compelling alternative to other firms..

Main areas of work

With a focus on eleven key sectors (energy and natural resources; financial institutions; healthcare; insurance; manufacturing; real estate; retail and consumer; transport, logistics and infrastructure; life sciences and pharmaceuticals; technology and private wealth) the firm’s experience allows it to build strong relationships and deliver an excellent service to clients.

Trainee opportunities

At Womble Bond Dickinson we look for intellectually able, motivated and enthusiastic graduates from any discipline or background. Successful applicants will understand the need to provide practical, commercial advice to clients. You’ll share the firm’s commitment to self-development and teamwork and its desire to provide clients with services that match their highest expectations. We look at our trainee recruitment as a long-term investment. Trainees at Womble Bond Dickinson will have an opportunity to spend six months in four Business Groups, gaining a real breadth of experience along the way. This is your training contract and it’s up to you to make the most of it, but along the way we offer fantastic opportunities to develop your legal career in a growing firm. Our supervisors are trained and fully supported on an ongoing basis. You’ll have access to high quality work and senior client contacts. We regularly second trainees to our most high profile clients. We keep our trainee intake relatively small, which means that more often than not, you’ll be the only trainee in a team, giving you a large amount of access to the experience and advice from people who are happy to teach. We’re looking for people across seven of our UK offices. There is no typical Womble Bond Dickinson trainee — our trainees come from varied backgrounds and bring a range of different experience, and that’s very important to us. What all of our people do share is an enthusiasm for law and a passion for our business. Beyond that we look for our trainees to have a strong academic background, although this is not the only criteria we use when shortlisting applications. It’s as important to us that candidates can demonstrate commercial awareness.

Vacation scheme

The firm’s work placement weeks are part of the recruitment process and all applicants should apply online at www.womblebonddickinson.com. The first stage is an online application form which assesses the core behaviours we look for: thinking, communication, motivation and drive, teamwork and a commitment to our business and our clients.

Other benefits

Childcare vouchers, dental, subsidised gym, healthcare, pension, PMI as part of flexible benefits package. Other flexible benefits include travel loan schemes, discounted car parking schemes, carbon offsetting, eye care, employee assistance programme, Cycle to Work scheme, buy and sell holidays, charity giving plus many more.

Social media

Twitter @WBD_Careers
Instagram @WBD_Careers

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
    • Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Charities (Band 3)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Health & Safety (Band 2)
    • Local Government (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
    • Partnership (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 3)
    • Retail (Band 1)
    • Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 1)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)