From humble beginnings in Plymouth, Bond Dickinson (formerly Bond Pearce until its merger with Dickinson Dees on 1st May 2013) has grown to become a serious commercial contender.
The Bristol office in particular went from strength to strength since its launch in 1998. Originally set up as a local base for the employment and insurance teams working with the Post Office, the office grew incrementally through a series of small mergers and lateral hires. It took over Eversheds' entire Bristol property team and Cartwright's 11-partner corporate department in 2001, as well as setting up a clinical negligence team in 2004.
Back in March 2012, Bond Pearce threw in the towel after a months-long attempt to merge with Maclay Murray & Spens. But they succeeded with regional peer and Golden Turd recipient Dickinson Dees. Then, in 2017, the firm tied up with US firm Womble Carlyle, and as a result is now the only firm with offices in both Plymouth and Silicon Valley.
Pay wise, there are a few grumbles that the money is "abysmal". In 2020 a senior solicitor said "we like to pitch ourselves work wise against the likes of Burges Salmon, OC and Simmons, but our pay lags well behind those firms and is more on a par with smaller regional outfits."
But whilst salaries may be a little lower than its main rivals, this may reflect the very decent 9:00am-5:30pm working culture. The firm has tried to improve things - at least for partners anyway.
Trainees told RollOnFriday that pay "has been a traditional gripe for legacy Bond Dickinson and the same is true of WBD, which leads to a number of associates heading out for pastures new. There is still the hope of some kind of pay review now we're Wombles". But "not holding my breath. At least the work/life balance is good to make up for it."
Career development is apparently "fine if you want to get up to being a managing associate", but "partner seems like a step too far for most." Like all law shops, then.
As for work/life balance, "No complaints here", said a junior lawyer. The firm "really seems to care about getting people out of the office at a reasonable time and I've only had to stay late when the situation has really demanded it".
Others attest to a "Really nice working atmosphere and still some genuine leftover excitement as to how the firm might look in 5 -10 years following the Womble combination (Wombination?)".
Prior to the merger, assistants told us there was a "relaxed, friendly atmosphere", although there was a sense that it "wants to be national but can't break its mentality away from regional southwest."
Lawyers said the firm "has ambitions to become an international force but it needs to professionalise it's support staff and the way of thinking of its fee earners. There is still too much of a 9 to 5, parochial mindset." A trainee said "some partners definitely need to go on that world cruise and stay there."
NB stated salaries are for London. In the regions, first year trainees receive £22-28,000, second years £27-30,000, and NQs £37,500-42,000.
"WBD is not the highest payer in the market, but in my view the hours and culture mean that it is still very worthwhile", said a junior solicitor. "After making great noises about increasing pay in the summer to be more competitive, all our competitors have just increased pay again so we are still once again lagging well behind our main competitors, particularly in London and Bristol where staff are getting poached left, right and centre", said a senior solicitor.
"Being panicked into redundancies during the first wave of Covid was foolish given the current staff shortages. Hopefully the new MP will change things after the years of style over content", said one lawyer. "The ones I work with are really supportive and open with staff", said another. "What on earth ware management thinking, suing a client then immediately retracting when it became an embarrassing joke"? asked a third, in reference to the firm's aborted decision to take action against the government for dropping it from a panel.
"Fair advancement through the ranks up to Managing Associate level, but the amount of ageing blockers in the partnership means upwards from MA seems a distant prospect", was a senior solicitor's verdict. "I’ve given up on trying to fathom the partnership promotion criteria at WBD", said a colleague. "The reality is totally unrelated to the firm’s published criteria and candidates with no apparent business case are promoted year after year". There were some who said career development prospects were "good" and "clear", and others who said it was "not clear". "Passage of time seems to be the main driver", said one lawyer. "only one 'asshat' from last year in my office was made a Managing Associate", remarked a lawyer. "It shut her up I suppose".
"Fantastic", was a junior solicitor's view. "There’s periods where work/client needs mean working late but it’s not so frequent that it causes a problem", said a colleague. "Plus hours are flexible so I can largely work whenever suits me". That was the consensus. "Most of the time you have good control over work/life balance", said one lawyer. "I think that we have a good work/life balance given the level and type of work that we are involved in", agreed another.
"Read the judge and court of appeal views on Bates v Post Office and the Horizon scandal on how our litigation department behaves", was the advice of one WBD lawyer. Others were also critical. "Used to be great place to work but over last few years management have lost the plot", said a colleague. "Lacks drive. No clear identity. Littered with regional tribalism", suggested a peer. Some were potentially in a sunnier place: "It's better when you can get in the office but that is probably true of most firms. Pop up pub on Fridays were always a great end to the week", said a lawyer.