The Legal Cheek View
From November 2017 Bond Dickinson and US-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice will combine to form Womble Bond Dickinson – the formal cementing of a successful year-long “strategic alliance” that has seen the two firms work together increasingly closely.
As is common with many modern law firm mergers, the two legacy firms’ finances will continue to be largely separate, supplemented by a shared pot for integration costs and joint projects. But when taken together the new megafirm will have a revenue of roughly £340 million, with more than 420 partners and 1,000 lawyers across eight offices in the UK and 15 in the US.
The duo seem a good fit, with both Bond Dickinson and Womble Carlyle’s historic powerbases lying in the regions rather than global financial capitals. The former has sizable presences in Aberdeen, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle (where it is particularly dominant with two separate offices), Plymouth and Southampton, alongside a base in London, and, as of this year, a new office in Edinburgh. The US firm, meanwhile, is spread across a host of smaller cities including Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, Washington DC and Silicon Valley.
Expect an emphasis on innovation, with Bond Dickinson set to leverage on Womble's expertise in technology, life sciences and healthcare. With the tech revolution spreading out from London to the rest of the country, and Bond Dickinson boasting market-leading infrastructure practices in various regions, this is an interesting opportunity to create something different to your typical NY-LON tie-up.
But don’t expect the firm to move too far away from its strengths, which in the UK include transport, energy, chemicals & manufacturing, corporate, retail, real estate, financial institutions, insurance and private wealth. The latter has been a success story this year, and helped to offset a lull in wider corporate business activity at the firm as it delivered a flat turnover of £104 million and a 4% drop in profit per equity partner (PEP) from £275,000 to £265,000.
Similarly, Womble Bond Dickinson is likely to continue to work hard to preserve the big twin sells to its employees of decent work/life balance and a friendly culture. The money at the firm might not be at City levels (although Legal Cheek understands that the undisclosed newly qualified solicitor pay rate does vary significantly across the country), but not many transatlantic firms can offer an average leave the office time of 6:25pm. “In relation to the rest of the commercial legal firms out there... it's pretty good,” one current trainee tells us.
It’s probably no coincidence that the firm’s relatively unfrazzled partners are some of the most approachable in the country, with Womble Bond Dickinson scoring an A* for this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. "The door is apparently always open" to partners' rooms, while another insider tells us that "I feel like I could go to anyone at the firm if needs be". Certainly if you make it to the top here you can have a very nice life, with the above mentioned PEP amounts going a long way in many of the cities where Womble Bond Dickinson is based.
The training and the work is also highly rated, with the firm’s relatively small intake of 30 across so many offices meaning that trainees get access to some decent stuff. “I have been both busy and challenged throughout my training contract and been given significant work throughout,” one reports.
Much of what you do depends on where you are, with the firm's Aberdeen office known for its links with the oil industry, Newcastle for its market-leading rail practice and Bristol and London recognised for strength in banking work. The latter office is particularly fancy, with gorgeous views across The Thames from its South Bank location, while the Newcastle Quayside office is one of the city's most swish locations.
Currently there are no international secondments, but rookies will have their fingers crossed that this might change following the merger. However, there’s a big focus on client secondments – according to our survey 24% have done one – at companies including leading retailers and drinks manufacturers.
Perk-wise, Bond Dickinson scores a B in our survey. There is private healthcare, a decent pension, gym discounts and subsidised canteens in some of the offices (be warned that Leeds has no canteen). But the social life is reportedly great fun in some locations, with socials taking place every six weeks. Typical nights out include bowling, cricket, crazy golf and pub crawls.