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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 also added a Nashville office taking its US office tally to 22 and global office numbers to 29.
WBD’s latest financial results have been impacted by rising costs associated with the opening of four new locations (NYC, Alabama, Nashville, San Francisco). So while revenue grew a modest 2.3% to nearly $532.6 million (£414.25 million), profits fell by 13%. Moreover, the firm recently absorbed two California boutiques, in a bid to expand its presence in the states and adding five partners in the process.
With the firm’s major practice areas of IP litigation, banking, finance and transactions having strong years, it seems that the downtick is not cause for concern, but a consequence of geographic expansion, which is likely to pay off in the long term. In addition, the firm’s eight UK offices recorded a 2% increase in revenue, with the exception of the London office, which, like many of WBD’s rivals, experienced a revenue decline as a result of inflation.
In recent 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, and the firm also contributing towards office equipment.
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.” One trainee even goes so far as to say that save for their email signature, it would be difficult to identify someone as a senior partner. In summary, while “some superiors are more approachable than others, [I’ve] never felt [I] couldn’t go to my superiors with any questions I may have”.
The training and the work is also highly rated, albeit with variations between departments, as in most law firms. One spy reports: “The training overall has been good. Depending on the seat you are in, some teams give more formal training by leading group training sessions and others less so. Some teams also give you more hands on experience than others.” Another finds that the “supervisors are great” and “the responsibility is real”, with trainees being given the chance to have a tangible impact on matters”.
Trainees are also largely positive about the quality of the work they are given, finding it “generally good and engaging, but also a lot of admin tasks as expected”. One rookie offers a detailed overview, saying: “It really depends. In my first team, I found that most of the work I was given was very stimulating. In my second team, it’s been more of a mix, as some of the work I get is really interesting, but some of it is quite repetitive. Nonetheless, my supervisor is completely aware that I’ve been doing some repetitive tasks, and has expressed that she’d give me a bigger variety as and when the opportunity arises.”
Trainees also rate the supportiveness of their peers very highly. One notes that “the trainees and juniors in the office have formed a tight-knit support network, which is useful when we are having a difficult time on a matter and want someone to talk to”. Another gushes that there “couldn’t be a better trainee cohort group in the office”, so it’s safe to say that rookies are very positive about their fellow Wombles.
Trainees seem generally optimistic about the firm’s engagement with legal tech as well, although one grumbles that “basic IT functions often break down and the amount of system updates is very disruptive to daily work”. Another notes that “the firm is always looking to use new platforms such as Everlaw, Contract Express and more”, although there might be some resistance from more senior members of the firm.
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 new Newcastle Helix office “is a 10/10”. The Leeds office refurb also scored well, with “amazing views, great layout and a variety of work spaces with suit everyone”.
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. A recent gripe among trainees and juniors is “a common feeling that non-published pay hasn’t improved to keep up with benchmark firms in the area, or inflation”.
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. In 2021, 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!