Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP - True Picture

After 2017's transatlantic tie-up, this is an exciting time for Womble Bond Dickinson.

The name’s Bond. Womble Bond…

When Bond Dickinson, a national firm with big dreams, combined in 2017 with US firm Womble Carlyle, the resulting conglomerate was catapulted into the top 20 firms in the UK (by revenue). “I thought it seemed ambitious and that I’d joined at a good time,” said a trainee who'd signed on with Bond Dickinson pre-merger. “Now we’re a transatlantic firm it will only help us to be seen as a real contender against firms with an international presence.” Sources were full of optimism, describing “a sense that everyone I met was proud to work for the firm and was proud of what was being achieved.” And interviewees in London had seen some material changes: “There have been partners from the US in the office almost every day and a real drive for referrals from the States.”

"... discuss opportunities to improve our offering on both sides of the Atlantics."

It's early days yet of course: other trainees reckoned they “hadn’t seen much of an effect on my day-to-day work.” But this will inevitably change. Shortly after the merger the firm set up a Transatlantic Lawyers Network where six fee earners from the UK and the US meet twice a year to “come up with strategies to help integration and discuss opportunities to improve our offering on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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Read a feature sponsored by Womble Bond Dickinson on The law firm of the future

But let's deal with the UK offering as it stands. At the time of our calls, there were 18 trainees in Newcastle, 12 in Bristol, eight in Southampton, seven in Leeds, five in Plymouth and four in London. One of our interviewees described the appeal of joining this multi-site set-up as having “the opportunity to encounter work for high-quality clients without going to a firm so big that I couldn’t make a meaningful contribution at an early stage in my career.” Bond Dickinson was a pretty strong national firm even before the injection of some American firepower – ChambersUK gives it a dominant sweep of top (or not far off it) rankings in the North East and the South, and further rankings pick it out as a national leader outside of London in banking and finance, employment, litigation, planning, and real estate.

Womble Carlyle meanwhile, with its 18 offices, was far larger than the UK piece of the pie. It originates from North Carolina, and excels in litigation, antitrust, and real estate across both North and South Carolina. A strong focus on life sciences, healthcare, technology and communications brought it work for GlaxoSmithKline and Aetna Life Insurance.


Seat options can be split into four umbrella groups: real estate, corporate/commercial, private wealth and disputes (although private wealth is only available in Newcastle and Bristol). Newbies fill out a form stating which of these broad areas they would like to sit in prior to starting each of their four seats. A few trainees grumbled that seat allocation is revealed “within a week of starting,” but most were happy with the results: “I’ve had my preference most of the time.” The majority of people we spoke to had undertaken a client secondment, which trainees apply for by passing a CV and cover letter to the client. Secondment options include marine insurer North East P&I, property manager E&M and New Look.

Within real estate there are a number of subgroups available to trainees, including property litigation, planning, agriculture, commercial and residential. Lawyers from across the department have recently been advising on the MetroWest project, the planned reopening of the passenger service between Bristol and Portishead. The project, worth around £100 million, has seen lawyers advising on land agreements and acquisitions for North Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and more. The firm is also advising Network Rail Infrastructure on the redevelopment of London Bridge station, part of the Thameslink project, by helping lease newly added retail units to businesses. There's expertise too in the renewable energy sector, and the firm has had a hand in the planning and real estate aspects of the £1.5 billion Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm project in Norfolk. On the residential front meanwhile, lawyers have worked on numerous acquisitions of residential properties for Bellway Homes. Commercial clients include Boxpark and Decathlon.

“If you don’t want the pressure it’s not forced on you.”

Those who'd sat in residential property described a national client base that consists of “large housebuilders and property investors.” One recalled “sometimes emailing clients on the other side, writing advice notes and putting together Land Registry applications and reports on title.” Trainees in commercial property described a “hands-on experience,” but found that the levels of responsibility were moderated. “If you don’t want the pressure it’s not forced on you, but if you’re happy to take it on you can manage your own files.” These files usually derive from doing “loads of asset management, where I would draft lease surrenders and settlement agreements.” Having the task of running files day to day meant “learning on the job. That helps when you get onto bigger deals – it's been the best way to learn. In other seats I felt like I would struggle if I qualified.” Other trainees found they received the most responsibility when “helping on completion. I printed the documents and checked them a billion times. I was guiding the client through and telling them exactly where to sign. That was really exciting.”

The planning seat involves working on development matters, but the more exciting work is on national infrastructure and regeneration projects: railways, roads, powerlines etc. The energy and natural resources team (ENR) then supports the planning team on projects like offshore wind farms and onshore power stations. “The team works with surveyors to document all of the necessary land interests,” insiders told us. Trainees' tasks in this seat included doing due diligence on energy schemes, drafting option agreements and leases, and negotiating documents with the other side. There's also a projects seat which focuses more on project finance. Between these departments ”there's a lot of crossover, so you see a real mix of deals.” The firm recently worked on oil and gas company Chrysaor’s acquisition of a number of UK North Sea assets from Shell, worth over $3 billion. The team also showed off its sector expertise by advising the industry regulator Ofgem (no, not a Handmaid's Tale character) on developing a new process of inviting bids for projects by developers.

The borrowers

In banking and finance, London lawyers recently provided advice to Santander on the refinancing of the North Western construction group Forrest, which included the amendment of a £26 million facility provided by the bank. The Leeds team meanwhile has done a huge amount of work for the Department for Education on college mergers and restructurings. Combined, the firm's teams cover project finance, asset finance and real estate finance, and it's particularly respected for its work in the energy sector. As one trainee helpfully described, “there's a mixture of work for big banks like HSBC and Lloyds, and corporate borrowers.” Trainees in this seat judged that “there’s scope and space for trainees to hit the ground running. As well as doing first drafts you’re given a client-facing role where you can get to know bank managers, which is really rewarding.”

WBD's commercial team covers IP, as well as more general commercial work such as outsourcing contracts, the supply and sale of goods and services, and data security. Public sector work features (the team has worked for the Ministry of Justice) and trainees found themselves “working on massive public projects that can last for six months at a time.” One ongoing piece of work involves supporting the Post Office in the Network Transformation programme, a major project to switch branches onto new operating models. The team also advised Immediate Media – formerly BBC Magazines – on new contracts with the printers of titles including the Radio Times, Top Gear and BBC Good Food. Other well-known clients include Kingfisher (which owns B&Q and Screwfix) and New Look. One source recalled: “I was able to draft contracts myself through various iterations.”

As one trainee testified, a seat in commercial disputes can range from “standard contracts and insurance claims to Equality Act claims with massive reputational issues and media interest.” There's also “a health and safety focus which involves working with the Health and Safety Executive on prosecutions – so you never know what you’re going to get!” The firm recently acted for Stanbic Bank Ghana in their $10.8 million claim against Indian company Rajkumar Impex over a late payment on a loan. Back in Blighty meanwhile, the team advised West Berkshire District Council in a judicial review brought against it by an unsuccessful bidder for a £125 million redevelopment project. Trainees here had enjoyed a spot of court time taking notes, preparing bundles and attending inquests: “There was a bit of client care involved, making sure the witness understood everything. It’s a really good experience.”

“I know I can leave on time and nobody will bat an eyelid.” 

Trainees across the board praised the balance between supervision and responsibility, saying: “It’s been bang on; it’s clear they’re trying to stretch you but never too thin. The only time I’ve been overloaded is when the whole team has been overloaded.” Others mentioned the “excellent” pastoral care at the firm, as well as the opportunity to get in front of clients. “WBD is very conscious of getting trainees out there and inviting me to drinks and meetings.” Trainees' reports of their hours brought more good news, with most experiencing a steady 9am to 7pm working day. Despite “a few peaks and troughs in transactional seats,” where trainees had stayed as late as 10.30pm, trainees asserted that “if I'm in control of my workload I know I can leave on time and nobody will bat an eyelid.” 

Merger on the dancefloor

There’s been such a good atmosphere over the combination,” said trainees – but there's much to suggest the atmosphere was prospering beforehand too. Trainees explained that WBD “tries to push a single firm culture; you’re encouraged to get to know people from your team in different offices.” Interviewees also pointed to the fact that WBD holds PSE courses in different offices across the two years so that trainees can “foster relationships, which I’ve found really useful. If you need help you can just email a trainee in another office because we all know each other.” Trainees also worked together on a ‘Million Makers’ fundraising drive for the Prince’s Trust. “There’s a genuine commitment to CSR here that really shone through,” sources explained. “In Bristol we raised £30,000 for St Peter’s Hospice.” Insiders added: “There’s an active event calendar for mental health awareness that goes beyond ticking boxes. There’s also a real enthusiasm for diversity and inclusion and there are events that celebrate where we are and push towards greater inclusion.”

“The partners always join in on nights out.”

There's a healthy dose of socialising too. Trainees reported weekly Friday drinks, annual scavenger hunts, tag rugby tournaments, a commercial team trip to the New Forest and a US/UK-themed fancy dress party to celebrate the firm’s transatlantic merger. In London the partners host a monthly ‘pop-up pub’ which featured one Eastenders-themed makeover “with a cardboard cut-out of Peggy saying, 'Get out of my pub!'” And this fun isn't the reserve of trainees: “The partners always join in on nights out,” we heard. “It’s a great way to break down barriers and see people as people as well as colleagues.”

WBD is also distinctive for its embrace of emerging AI technology. The firm holds an annual ‘Innovation Week’, during which trainees learn about different technologies, including AI programs that help out with due diligence and other “rubbish jobs you wouldn’t want to do by hand.” In particular interviewees spoke about the potential use of KIRA in the coming years, a piece of software which summarises documents. But the biggest change may apply to the firm's offices. With Newcastle lawyers still based in a site with individual offices, Southampton has been used as “a guinea pig for new plans which will be rolled out to the other offices over the next couple of years.” These new plans include “pods you can go and work in, meeting rooms and open-plan offices.” For now, firms can't rely on AI – they still need junior lawyers doing their bidding. In 2018, the firm kept 18 of 26 qualifiers and sources praised the firm's qualification process: “It could easily become stressful and competitive, but they were very good at putting trainees at ease.”

“People might expect that we’ll be London-centric,” said one interviewee. “But that’s not the case.”


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How to get a WBD training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 28 February 2019

Training contract deadline (2021): 28 February 2019

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.”

The law firm of the future

Coming soon.

Womble Bond Dickinson UK LLP

4 More London Riverside,
Website www.womblebonddickinson.com

  • Partners 121
  • Associates 1000+ (globally) 
  • Total trainees: 52
  • UK offices Aberdeen, Bristol, 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 2021: 28 February 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 28 February 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £28,000 (Bristol, Southampton and Plymouth); £34,000 (London); £25,000 (Newcastle and Leeds); £22,000 (Scotland)
  • Second-year salary: £30,000 (Bristol, Southampton and Plymouth); £36,000 (London); £27,000 (Newcastle and Leeds); £24,000 (Scotland)
  • 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: Aberdeen, Bristol, Leeds, London, Newcastle, Plymouth and Southampton. Scottish training contract
  • 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 24 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

Our focus continues to be on 12 major sectors:

• Energy and natural resources
• Healthcare
• Manufacturing
• Public service and third sector
• Private wealth
• Transport, logistics and infrastructure
• Financial institutions
• Insurance
• Pharmaceutical, biotechnology and life sciences
• Real estate
• Retail and consumer goods
• Technology

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 will consider candidates with/on course to get a 2:1.

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 eight 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 and a natural ability when dealing with people.

Apply for a training contract to start in 2020 online. The deadline to apply is 28 February 2018.

The first stage of the recruitment process is an online application form assessing the core behaviours we look for: thinking, communication, motivation and drive, teamwork and a commitment to our business and our clients.

If you successfully pass this stage you'll be invited to complete an online video interview. Which is an opportunity to tell us more about yourself.

The next step will be to attend an assessment day in the location of your choice (Newcastle, Bristol, Southampton or London). This consists of a number of exercises designed to assess the core behaviours. You'll also meet with trainees, partners and other people from around the business.

Vacation scheme

The firm’s work placement weeks are part of the recruitment process and all applicants should apply online. 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. The deadline for our vacation scheme applications is 28 February 2018.

Other benefits

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

Social media

Twitter @WBD_TraineesUK

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018

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 1)
    • 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)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Social Housing (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
    • 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 3)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Licensing (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • 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 Recognised Practitioner
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 4)
    • 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 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)