Bond Dickinson and US-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice combined to form Womble Bond Dickinson in late 2017. It was the formal cementing of a successful year-long “strategic alliance” that saw the two firms work together increasingly closely.
The duo is proving to be a good fit, with the historic powerbases of legacy firms Bond Dickinson and Womble Carlyle lying in the regions rather than global financial capitals. The former has sizeable presences in Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Newcastle (where it is particularly dominant with two separate offices), Plymouth and Southampton, alongside a base in the City of London. The US firm, meanwhile, is spread across a host of smaller cities including Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Silicon Valley, Washington DC and Winston-Salem. The firm recently added a Nashville office taking its US office tally to 22 and global office numbers to 29.
And it appears the merger is working very effectively and efficiently with gross revenue rising over 9% to $520.5 million (£426 million) despite the firm’s headcount dipping by 0.6% to 880 lawyers in the firm’s latest financial results.
In the past two years there has been an emphasis on innovation, with Womble Bond Dickinson in the UK leveraging on Womble’s expertise in technology, biotech, life sciences and healthcare. With the tech revolution spreading out from London to the rest of the country, and Womble 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.
Other strengths in the UK include transport, energy & natural resources, chemicals & manufacturing, corporate, retail, real estate, financial institutions, insurance, public sector and private wealth. Alongside the range of work, Womble Bond Dickinson’s big twin sells to its employees are a decent work/life balance and a friendly culture.
The money at the firm might not be at City levels, but not many transatlantic firms can offer an average leave time of around 6pm. “This is a major advantage of working at WBD. The culture is excellent and maintaining a healthy work/life balance is massively encouraged,” one trainee tells us. There’s also good work from home flexibility with juniors normally coming into the office two-three times a week.
It’s probably no coincidence that the firm’s relatively unfrazzled partners are some of the most approachable in the country. The door is apparently “always open” to partners’ rooms, while another insider tells us that “they make the effort to be involved in the usual office chat, even if this occurs remotely, and make it very easy to come to them with questions, problems or discussion points.” Certainly if you make it to the top here you can have a very nice life, with a profit per equity partner (PEP) up 12.8% this year to $810,000 (£663,000) which will go a long way in many of the cities where Womble Bond Dickinson is based.
The training and the work is also highly rated, with one spy reporting: “The majority of the time all fee earners are willing and happy to give us good quality training. We are given a lot of training sessions at the beginning of each seat which help us with the basics. Everybody is approachable and I never feel like I cannot go to people with questions.”
The firm’s intake of 25 is spread across so many offices meaning that trainees get access to some decent stuff. “Having a diversity of where you train really knocks the London chip off your shoulder which I think other firms have,” one reports. Another adds: “Regions need more seat options, but the training is first class, hands-on.” On the whole though, the work is “incredibly varied and thought-provoking” offering plenty of opportunity to be involved in larger transactions and drafting or litigation tasks as rookies steadily take on high levels of responsibility. “No two days have been the same, that is why I love it here,” remarks one insider.
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 their 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. And there’s great excitement among Newcastle rookies who are soon to be moving to the impressive Newcastle Helix in the city centre.
Currently there are limited international secondments, but Legal Cheek understands that business travel for junior solicitors to the US is becoming more common. The big focus on client secondments remains — according to our survey almost a third have done one — at companies including FTSE 100 companies, global retailers and major insurers.
Perk-wise, there is private healthcare, a decent pension, gym discounts, subsidised canteens in some of the offices (be warned that Leeds has no canteen), free fruit and wellbeing day, a new extra day of annual leave. 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. “The trainees often meet in their own time”, we’re told, while there’s apparently a ‘pop-up pub’ hosted by different partners in their office one Friday a month which often ends in a night out.
The transatlantic law firm has taken steps in recent years to improve its green credentials. In 2017 it set a target to reduce emissions by 5% annually, and the following year, was awarded The Planet Mark certification in recognition of its efforts to cut carbon emissions. Last year the firm announced its plans to run all its offices on renewable energy resources by 2026. No wonder Womble Bond Dickinson is frequently in the running for most eco-friendly at the Legal Cheek Awards!