Liverpool’s global law firm has shifted away from insurance work in recent years, developing stronger footholds in areas including healthcare, real estate and banking, as well as continuing to grow its highly rated shipping practice.
A key milestone on this journey was Hill Dickinson’s sale of its non-marine insurance business to Keogh’s in 2018, which saw 17 partners leave the firm. Another encouraging sign is Hill Dickinson’s expanding Leeds office, which launched in autumn 2017 following the hire of a team of specialist healthcare lawyers from Capsticks.
More recently, in the summer of 2022, the firm set up its sixth UK office in Newcastle marking its entrance into the Toon alongside the likes of Clifford Chance and Norton Rose Fulbright. Notably, however, this is not just a legal outsourcing centre like many City firms’ Newcastle outposts but, headed up by former DAC Beachcroft legal director Andrea Proudlock, offers legal services like all its other UK offices as well as taking on trainees. It also has strong overseas presence in Singapore, Monaco, Hong Kong and Piraeus.
According to the latest accounts filed at Companies House, Hill Dickinson’s turnover sits just shy of £120 million, having increased by a healthy 15% in the year leading up to April 2022. The firm hasn’t disclosed its profit per equity partner (PEP) figure but the latest results show its highest earning partner drew £1,026,000, a 55% rise on 2021-22.
The mood within Hill Dickinson is pretty good, with the firm again scoring well in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023-24. Expect to be working with “some of the most down-to-earth, approachable, friendly and outgoing peers” and partners who are “very willing to offer insight into the work they do and eager to get you involved.” As one source enthuses, “everyone is so supportive and really keen to see you progress your career.”
Firm newbies benefit from the firm’s thorough trainee development programme, which brings together trainees from different UK offices every four months to take modules on a range of topics including communication techniques and receiving feedback. Teams also provide practice area specific training including monthly seminars from industry figures.
This focus on development also extends to other qualification pathways. “The firm has a good record of promoting paralegals to trainees,” one insider tells us, “which really shows how keen the firm is to grow internal talent and help everyone keep progressing.”
“A great group of peers who are friends too,” one trainee gushes, “everyone just gets on well”. Another echoes this view and attributes some of this closeness to cohort size, saying, “small trainee intake means there is never a fight for the best seats.” The solid support continues up the ranks. “Partners are extremely approachable” and adhere to the firm’s open-door policy “at all times”, our sources tell us, adding: “When joining the firm I definitely had conversations with people and didn’t realise they were partners until later on.” “No hierarchy here”, another proclaims, “supervisors always make time, and no question is ever silly”.
With the pandemic firmly in the rear-view mirror, trainees are now expected in the office at least four days a week. This has provoked a range of responses, from craving “more flexibility,” to finding it “really beneficial to both training experience and relationships within the firm”. A £200 budget to spend on home office equipment is appreciated nonetheless, though as one trainee pointed out the new office attendance requirement means “it doesn’t get used much.”
The consensus is that the legal tech “could do with some work,” however we have heard that there is a plan in place to improve this. One source said that a “new laptop rollout has helped, but generally, systems such as finance and time recording are all lacking in efficiency.” Work phones are also reportedly an issue, where most firms provide as standard the ‘bring your own device’ policy seems an awkward way to save money,” explains one insider.
This flexibility and supportive culture make Hill Dickinson’s work/life balance “perfect”. One spy explains: “Hill Dickinson really supports flexible working hours, for example, I am allowed to leave to get a more off-peak train and am entrusted to fit my work in around this which I really appreciate.” This attitude was corroborated by another, who tells us there is “no culture of presenteeism: as long as the work gets done, partners are happy for you to leave at a decent time to make commitments during the week.” One well rested junior adds: “It is very rare that I leave later than 5:40 pm.”
When you are undergoing a more intense period of work, it’s normally pretty interesting stuff. “Individual teams and supervisors are excellent at involving trainees in high quality work, a feature that is consistent across all the teams I have worked in,” says one spy. Another reports being given a good level of responsibility on transactions and being trusted by supervisors. One independent insider told us: “My supervisor allows me to run matters on my own (with supervision) which has given me the opportunity to complete mandates from start to finish. My supervisor also doesn’t believe in giving trainees admin tasks so everything I have been involved in has been real legal work.”
However, despite these positive experiences, “grunt work” as one spy puts it, is perhaps inevitably still on the cards. “If the team you are assigned to does not have admin support, as a trainee you end up doing a lot of admin work such as printing, diary management, scanning etc which does give you the requisite skills to become an independent lawyer,” they tell us.
The trade-off is regional salaries that are some way off City of London levels with trainees starting on £28,000 in northern offices and £39,000 in London. The same is also true of Hill Dickinson’s regional newly qualified solicitor rate which has fallen behind comparable firms in light of recent pay rises in the City and the regions.
Perks are another relative weak point. There is no canteen in most offices and, although there are biscuits in the office. Not that everyone is that bothered: “Would rather have work/life balance than perks!” comments one. You do, however, get an extra day off on your birthday which is widely appreciated.
The firm is headquartered in Liverpool and has further five UK offices, and recently put pen to paper on a lease that will see it relocate its Manchester operations to a new space which is part of footballer Gary Neville’s £400 million St Michael’s development. Sources tell us the move “cannot come soon enough”, as the current Manc digs feel “like working in a 70s police station”. The Leeds office also has a relocation planned for late 2023 with a new larger space lined up at 11 Wellington Place.
On the upside, there are some decent international secondments up for grabs. Destinations include Singapore, Hong Kong, Greece and Monaco, though they are relatively rare with one hopeful jet-setter saying “it would be good if Hill Dickinson did have more international secondment opportunities.” There are also some good client secondments too — to the NHS and easyJet, among others.