Nigel Emmerson, head of Womble Bond Dickinson's Newcastle office, shares the story of how the North-East-based international law firm has grown, innovated and supported the economic development of the region.

A law firm with a local heart and a global vision

The Northern Echo: Nigel Emmerson, head of Womble Bond Dickinson's Newcastle office.Nigel Emmerson, head of Womble Bond Dickinson's Newcastle office. (Image: Womble Bond Dickinson)

Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) is not your typical law firm. We have a local legacy, national presence of offices and a global perspective. With over 400 employees based in the region, our Newcastle and Teesside teams work across many sectors including manufacturing, energy, tech, education, charities and the public sector; advising them on key issues which are impacting their businesses such as digitisation, international trade and inward investment and energy transition.

Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have not slowed down our pace of growth and development. We have invested in our people, our technology and our infrastructure and also reaffirmed our commitment to the region by moving our Newcastle team into new offices at The Spark, a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly office space located in the heart of the city inside Newcastle's innovation quarter, the Helix. We've also expanded our office at the Wilton Centre in Teesside (which is at the heart of the industrial cluster and on the Freeport site).

We are proud of our long-standing history and presence in the North East and we are committed to supporting the economic and social development of the region. We have an exceptional team of talented lawyers who deliver excellent service and value to our clients, and we are always looking for ways to enhance our offering and stay ahead of the curve. Our strength lies in our local knowledge, our sector insight and our unrivalled local, national and international reach.

A new home for innovation and collaboration

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As part of our commitment to the region, WBD moved its Newcastle workforce into new offices at The Spark in 2022. The transformational move had environmental considerations at the forefront, creating a viable workplace of the future in the centre of an inspiring new community of businesses.

Newcastle Helix is already renowned as a hub of innovation in Europe and as a firm dedicated to embracing and driving innovation in the legal sector, its values aligned perfectly with ours making it an obvious choice for our new office. It’s fantastic to have settled in as we first made this commitment during the pandemic to play our part in the economic recovery of the region. It was incredibly important that we created a space with green credentials that will evolve with us over time. The move also signals confidence in the North East and emphasises the demand for 'offices of the future' as businesses adapt to new ways of working and collaborating.

Our expansion at the Wilton Centre in 2023, a science and business park which is home to over 60 companies, confirms our long-term dedication to the region and means we can provide more accessible and tailored legal advice to clients in the area.

Peter Snaith, partner and sector head of manufacturing for WBD and leader of the firm's Teesside practice, says: "We have already increased the work we do with the business community here and are using our local, national and international expertise to attract inward investment opportunities for Teesside. We have been actively engaged with the development of freeports in both the UK and US, especially in relation to the successful bid for and launch of the UK’s first and biggest freeport on Teesside. Our enhanced presence in the region, with an office inside the freeport has given us the exciting opportunity to support the success of Teesside and wider region and the huge opportunities to level up the UK economy and improve the UK’s trading position in this key strategic location."

Leading the way in energy, digital and international trade

The North East is a region of opportunity and potential, and WBD has been at the forefront of advising and supporting clients as they combat challenges linked with the energy transition, increased adoption of new technologies and expanding to trade in new markets. 

We have advised on some of the region's most significant and high-profile energy transition projects and transactions, such as advising Envision on its multi-million pound car battery factory, currently being built near the Nissan plant in Sunderland, SeAH Wind on a deal to supply turbine foundations for the Hornsea 3 wind farm from their site currently being built in Teesside and EnAppSys, an energy sector data and analytics provider, on the sale of the business by, and subsequent reinvestment into, Montel AS (a Norwegian based entity), backed by The Riverside Company, a global private equity investor. We have also been supporting clients with a range of other energy transition matters linked with the decarbonisation of heavy industry, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

Much of the energy transition work we have supported clients with has showcased our international trade capability as well as the support we can provide investors coming into the region. Our local knowledge and networks combined with our transatlantic presence and global network of partner firms means we have been ideally placed to help our clients continue to grow. We've been helping clients to attract and secure investment from overseas markets, such as the US, China and the Middle East.

Sarah Daun, partner at WBD, says: "We help clients with the legal and commercial aspects of doing business overseas, navigating and reducing the risks so they can take advantage of the benefits of trading in a post-Brexit context, as well as looking for new possibilities in emerging and established markets. Our understanding of the local market and network of contacts and intermediaries has been invaluable in enabling us to provide broader support to our clients."

Our digital practice works across a large number of sectors and has been particularly busy regionally and further afield, with investors very interested in what the North East has to offer: Caroline Churchill, digital partner at WBD, says: "The North East is home to a thriving tech and digital scene and in the last five years, emerging technologies and Artificial Intelligence have changed the landscape. We have been advising clients on a range of matters linked with this, from data protection considerations to cyber security challenges. We have also been helping clients to navigate the increasingly complex regulatory and legal landscape in the digital space, such as the impact of Brexit, GDPR, the Online Safety Bill and fast paced developments linked with AI regulation."

Growing and nurturing talent

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WBD is committed to investing in talent in the region and developing home-grown lawyers who can deliver exceptional service and value to clients. Over the past few years, we have welcomed new partners to our senior team, promoted several lawyers to senior positions and hired new recruits to strengthen our team. Our fantastic team of lawyers is passionate about its work and committed to its clients and the region. We're always looking for ways to nurture and reward our talent and to provide opportunities for career development and progression. That's why we were one of the first firms to offer the ground-breaking North East Solicitor Apprenticeships (NESA) programme, which allows aspiring lawyers to combine part-time academic study with work-based learning and earn a law degree and postgraduate qualification without the debt of a student loan.

We are very proud of our apprenticeship programme, which helps to make sure we have a continued pipeline of exceptional and talented people.  We recently celebrated the success of one of our apprentices, Ellie Gadsby, who passed her six-year apprenticeship and became the first graduate of the programme. Ellie is a great example of how apprenticeships can provide an alternative and accessible route into the legal profession.

Making a difference in the community

As a responsible business, we are committed to giving back to the local community and delivering real social value through charitable giving, volunteering and sharing our expertise. We have a long-standing relationship with a number of local charities and organisations that work to support social inclusion, education, health and wellbeing in the region. In Newcastle the team has worked closely with Anxious Minds, Smile for Life and the West End Foodbank in recent years and our charitable efforts are currently supporting The People's Kitchen, which is a stone's throw away from our base at The Spark. On Teesside, we're working with the Hope Foundation to champion community transformation in the area. We believe that by giving back, we can help to create a more inclusive and sustainable society.

Celebrating success and excellence

WBD's achievements and excellence have not gone unnoticed by our clients, industry and beyond. We are ranked as a top 25 law firm in the UK by The Lawyer, and as a top 100 law firm in the US. In 2022, we were named 'Corporate Law Firm of the Year' at the North East Dealmakers Awards, and in 2023 we won ESG Firm of the Year at The Legal 500 Northern Powerhouse Awards. Other achievements include being recognised by Stonewall in the Top 100 Employers list, receiving a gold award for being an LGBTQ+ inclusive employer in the process, and ranking 11th in the latest Social Mobility Employer Index.

These awards and accolades reflect the hard work and dedication of our people, and the trust and confidence of our clients. We are always striving to improve and innovate, and to deliver the best possible results for our clients and stakeholders. We appreciate the support and feedback we get, and we look forward to continuing to develop our people, support clients with their growth plans and play our part in in shaping the next five years for the region.

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