Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP - True Picture

Womble Bond Dickinson combines transatlantic reach with a “fantastic reputation” in the regions.  

Womble Bond Dickinson training contract review 2021

The Firm 

Womble Bond Dickinson has a lot of the features you’d expect to find in a transatlantic mega firm. It’s full-service for one. It has a sizeable lawyer headcount in the UK of almost 700 for another. It also pulls in some pretty hefty global revenues just shy of half a billion US dollars. On the US side it has 19 offices in key legal markets including Washington DC, LA, Boston, Houston and Silicon Valley, and North Carolina. Here in the UK, the firm’s spread of offices covers London, Leeds and Bristol, plus some more unexpected, regional locations in Newcastle, Southampton and Plymouth. It also has Scottish bases in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The origins of the firm’s eclectic geographical mix can be traced back to 2017, when the then UK-national outfit Bond Dickinson merged with American giant Womble Carlyle. “The merger has brought many positive benefits,” one of our interviewees reasoned. “For example, in my first seat we received a referral from the US for a client looking to do an acquisition in the UK. It provided an interesting contrast to the national and local work we typically do.” Down in London, “the office has doubled in size since I have been here,” a trainee told us. “That’s been stimulated by our US connection. There’s lots of people from the US walking round the office and it feels like we are the focal point of growth.” 

“We’re proud to be the biggest firm operating in the area.”

But our interviewees were also keen to emphasise that “though the big transatlantic merger might give the impression that the attention is shifting away from the regions, that isn’t the case.” Those in Newcastle maintained: “We’re proud to be the biggest firm operating in the area,” while sources in Southampton were similarly assured of the firm’s “fantastic reputation.” For one trainee in a regional office, “it’s the only firm in the area that I considered applying to.” Ultimately, our interviewees agreed that "though the firm is always looking to secure more cross-border work,” regional and national-level work makes up the lion’s share of most trainees’ workloads. 

TOP READ: Exploring the regions, with WBD: Newcastle

Further proof of WBD's stellar reputation throughout the country can be found in its Chambers UK rankings. As well as having a ton of top regional rankings, particularly in the North East and the South (go to chambers.com to see the full list), the firm is considered a national leader outside of London in no fewer than ten different practice areas, including top accolades in banking and finance, employment, litigation, planning, and real estate.

WBD recruits around 25 trainees a year. The group is split fairly evenly between the northern and southern offices, with Newcastle and Bristol tending to take in the largest chunks. Moving between offices over the course of the training contract “isn’t unheard of,” trainees indicated, but neither is it common.

The Seats 

While the firm’s offering as a whole is full-service, some of our interviewees felt there needed to be “more visibility during the application process in regard to which seat options are available in each office.” For example, “you’re not going to find an agriculture seat in London,” there's no private client department in Southampton, and you’ll have to head to Leeds to complete a seat in pure IP. “Currently there isn’t an employment seat” in London, where “you’re also very likely to do an insurance seat at some point.”

The majority of trainees will complete a client secondment either in their third or fourth seat (some disgruntled trainees in Leeds told us they hadn't had the opportunity due to the firm's business needs). The secondments often mean trainees relocate to London for six months. One former secondee explained that “the firm was very supportive" while they were away: "I was put up in a flat near the office and the firm was always in communication with me."  

Corporate is one of the firm’s largest teams and works with national and regional clients on a range of transactions. In Leeds, sources told us that the office has a particular focus on private equity, while the Southern offices are known for their energy, retail and financial sector focuses. For example, the firm recently acted for energy company RES Group on the £37 million sale of a wind farm in Northern Ireland to Italian green energy company ERG. In Newcastle, the team recently advised packaging company Mpac on its £15 million acquisition of Lambert Automation. Starting out, trainees’ responsibility tends to lean towards administrative tasks such as “compiling responses from other teams, PDF management and bibling.” But once they were up to speed, trainees cut their teeth drafting board minutes, completing stock transfer forms and taking charge of the due diligence process.  

TOP READ: Exploring the regions, with WBD: Edinburgh

There’s a broad spectrum of work under WBD’s disputes umbrella including IP litigation, antitrust and commercial disputes. A number of trainees we spoke to had also sat in the insurance ligation and professional liability teams. “In London, it’s been a huge growth story,” one insider told us, adding: “When I started with the firm, the team was just a few fee earners, but it’s now a team of 15 lawyers. We do everything from accountant negligence to issues relating to architecture and construction.” Trainees appreciated that “there are a number of small claims that you are able to run with oversight from an associate and partner. It means you’re able to do the first draft of the liability report that goes to insurers.” One source estimated their time was split “60% drafting and 40% research.” While there are a number of clients specific to the firm’s regional bases on the firm’s books, such as Plymouth University and local councils, cases are often staffed cross-office. For example, lawyers from across the firm’s UK network recently defended the Post Office against a group action by over 500 claimants based on a claim that the Post Office's IT accounting system was defective.   

“I did a lot of GDPR and mediation work for companies ranging from multinational organisations all the way down to high-street retailers.”  

WBD’s commercial team comprises five sub-teams: commercial contracts, competition, data and privacy, IP, and technology. Like litigation, the team works together as a national unit with representatives in most of the UK offices. There’s an eclectic mix of clients including New Look, TSB, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Transport, which the firm recently supported with a variety of Brexit-related commercial issues regarding the roads, rail, aviation and maritime sectors. The firm also recently advised Network Rail on the £150 million redevelopment of Gatwick Airport Station. One trainee told us that “it’s a team with a lot of support staff and paralegals,” freeing up time for trainees to engage in tasks such as drafting contract amendments, enjoying direct client contact, and conducting research. Another told us: “I did a lot of GDPR and mediation work for companies ranging from multinational organisations all the way down to high-street retailers.”  

Our London interviewees identified banking and finance as another “big growth story.” One source mentioned their recent involvement “representing a syndicate of banks on a huge real estate finance deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds – that was a real game-changer in terms of value for us.” The team recently advised Adventure Forest (which owns Go Ape) on a refinancing. In Leeds, the firm represented Homes England in connection with a £150 million development facility for the development of 660 new homes and an 11,000-seater stadium on the former Wimbledon dog track. One insider explained that “a lot of the time it was just me and a partner working on a deal. I was charged with running the entire conditions precedent checklist and coordinating with four different banks on one deal.” 

Podcast: The Law Firm of the Future, with Womble Bond Dickinson

A seat in restructuring offers trainees a blend of contentious and non-contentious work. The firm has a number of well-known financial institutions on its books including Deloitte, KPMG, Lloyds and Santander. The firm recently advised Byland UK on its acquisition of fashion brand LK Bennett from administration. “At the start of my seat I was assisting an associate on various contentious matters,” said one, “but by the end I was running the files myself." Others we spoke to reported working closely with partners "to produce first drafts of witness statements and letters before action.” The firm has also represented the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in winding up companies in the UK and overseas on the grounds of public interest after investigations conducted by the department’s insolvency service. 

Trainee Life

WBD may be part American, but it certainly doesn’t adhere to the late-night working culture associated with US firms. As one trainee in London told us, “many people in the office, including the most senior partners, have kids and families so the office tends to empty out by 7pm.” That doesn’t mean trainees don’t roll their sleeves up when there's work to do – we spoke to trainees in Bristol who had the odd finish approaching midnight, for example. But for the most part, trainees can expect to be clocking out between 5.30pm and 6.30pm. 

There’s no denying the UK’s regions have different identities and idiosyncrasies, but interviewees across WBD’s offices made it clear that the firm bridges geography with a shared culture. For starters, they said there’s no strict hierarchy between different levels, and “people don’t take themselves too seriously.” In other words, “you can have fun and a more causal relationship with partners.” This meant that trainees had “no reservations picking up the phone to a partner when you don't understand something." Another told us: “If I made a mistake, they are happy to explain how to deal with it.” Even in London, where working cultures can often be more intense, trainees insisted that “it’s a fun office to work in.” For example, “we have a pop-up pub in the office once a month and when the notification email goes out, there are always funny photoshopped photos of the partners who host the drinks.” 

“We had a day out in the forest throwing axes and trying out some archery before heading to the pub.”

Trainees indicated the offices were fairly sociable, although some felt that there could be more going on. “A lot of the socialising is on us as trainees,” a Leeds source said. On the plus side, trainees do “make efforts to arrange a drink whenever we have PSC training,” which takes place in Newcastle for northern trainees and in Bristol for those down south. There are also annual team days that bring all office departments together. For example, the commercial team recently reconnected with nature (sort of). “We had a day out in the forest throwing axes and trying out some archery before heading to the pub for lunch,” a novice archer explained. “I think we all needed to blow off some steam after GDPR!” Elsewhere, there’s plenty for trainees to throw themselves into, whether it’s joining one of the sports teams (football, netball, rugby or running) or helping with charity fund-raising events. Each office partners with a chosen charity, which it assists with fund-raising, mentoring, volunteering and pro bono work. In Bristol, the firm partners with local charity SARSAS, which provides support to survivors of rape and sexual assault.  

In normal times, WBD’s qualification process is fairly standard: trainees can apply for two jobs in any of the firm’s offices. However, in response to the pandemic the firm has taken the decision to delay the entire NQ process until March 2021 and is requiring all its trainees to complete a fifth seat. Though many of our interviewees initially reacted a little frostily to the news, most ultimately agreed that "it's better to have a job in March than be out of a job in September."  

The law firm of the future…

Go to Spotify, Apple Podcasts to listen to our podcast with WBD on how tech is transforming the legal industry.

How to get a WBD training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 28 February 2021

Training contract deadline (2023): 28 February 2021

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 1280 applicants, 1123 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 (life history), along with a 850 personal statement. This year the firm requested 444 candidates send in a pre-recorded video interview before inviting the successful 113 to assessment days.

Assessment days 

The assessment day involves an individual insight exercise, a group exercise which looks at creative thinking, engagement and communication, and a series of speed interviews. 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 a member of the recruitment team. 

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 runs placements in its Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, London, Plymouth and Southampton offices, accepting up to 90 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: “supervisor feedback is taken into consideration along with the interview when deciding who should get a training contract". 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 show your enthusiasm for the firm, which means getting stuck in, be inquisitive about our different practice areas, ask questions and take up opportunities given to you.”

Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP

4 More London Riverside,
Website www.womblebonddickinson.com

  • Partners 126*
  • Associates 523* 
  • Total trainees: 51**UK figures 
  • UK offices Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton
  • Overseas offices: 19
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Joanne Smallwood joanne.smallwod@bonddickinson.com 0191 2799046
  • Training partners: Simon Hughes and Paul Stewart
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contract pa: Up to 25
  • Applications pa: 1,200-1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 (all applications are considered)
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 90+
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Please visit website for application information. We encourage early applications
  • 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’s regional heritage and local knowledge, combined with a transatlantic reach, gives us the insights capable of unlocking more opportunities for our clients and our people.

With locations on both sides of the Atlantic, we provide the breadth of legal experience and services to meet our clients’ needs without losing connections within our different communities. These strong local and regional ties enable us to remain close to the issues our clients and our people. A UK Top 20 and Global Top 100, all service commercial law firm, Womble Bond Dickinson has more than 420 partners and 1,000 lawyers based across 19 US cities and eight UK cities. The firm’s reach also extends to Europe where it has strategic partnerships with other law firms in Germany and France.

We take our commitment to being a Responsible Business very seriously and care about the impact of our actions on our people, our local community and the environment. Building sustainable relationships through partnerships with charities, community projects and our own initiatives and networks, we are determined to play a strong role in creating better places to live, work and do business. We want our actions to have real social value impact, and so focus our activity on social mobility, BAME and LGBTQ+ communities. Hoping to give empowerment and unlock potential with Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Main areas of work

In the UK, Womble Bond Dickinson advises in excess of 40 FTSE 350 companies, many of the largest businesses in the country, government organisations and wealthy individuals. With a focus on twelve key sectors (public, government and third sector; technology, healthcare; insurance, manufacturing; real estate; retail and consumer; transport, logistics and infrastructure; pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and life sciences; technology and private wealth).

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, show diversity of thought and share the firm’s commitment to self-development, teamwork and its desire to provide clients with services that match their highest expectations.

Our training contract forms part of our early talent pipeline. Trainees at Womble Bond Dickinson will have an opportunity to spend six months in four Business Groups, gaining a real breadth of experience. 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 contact. We regularly second trainees to our most high profile clients.

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 honesty, drive and motivation, good communication skills, resilience, adaptability, diversity of thought and commercial sense.

Vacation scheme

We run one-week long summer work placements which form part of the recruitment process. You’ll need to take part in our work placement scheme to apply for a training contract. During the week you’ll get involved with the business as a whole as well as learn more about the firm’s culture, the people who work in the business and get a feel for the work of a junior lawyer. Applications open on 1st October 2020 and we encourage early applications.
For more information and to apply please visit our website.

Social media

Twitter @WBD_Careers
Instagram @WBD_Careers

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

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 2)
    • 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 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • 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)
    • 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)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Charities (Band 2)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Health & Safety (Band 2)
    • Local Government (Band 4)
    • Partnership (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 3)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • 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)

More from Womble Bond Dickinson:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.