The Newsroom

Innovation is key: An interview with Joanne Smallwood

Following their recent combination, Womble Bond Dickinson's Joanne Smallwood reveals the challenges they face, and the innovative solutions they're finding in tech.


“Opportunities in that space, like Signin, are valued highly as an important bridge to that gap."

Joanne Smallwood
Graduate Recruitment Specialist, WBD

    • In this Q&A, Joanne Smallwood gives an insight into the challenges faced by companies looking to hire interns and graduates, and how top firms like Womble Bond Dickinson can benefit from supporting and utilising the latest in technological innovation.

      "I have over 13 years of experience within student recruitment, starting with the world's largest commercial shipping company Maersk back in 2004. Following Maersk, I moved into law with Dickinson Dees in 2010, which has gone onto become the transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson. At WBD I take responsibility for the entire graduate selection process along with the methods we use, from application right through to the offer of a training contract and the continued support of new hires thereafter."

      One of the best things for me as a founder, is the welcome WBD have given me, and your collective attitudes to encouraging and supporting innovation. Would you say this is reflective of WBD's broader focus on the next gen of tech talent?

      Absolutely, innovation is important to Womble Bond Dickinson. Our head of Innovation Group, Nigel Emmerson, believes that the legal sector needs to embrace innovation in order to remain competitive, relevant and progressive, and I think we each play our own part in ensuring that. As a firm, we were recently recognised as one of Europe's most innovative law firms in the FT's 50: Most Innovative Law Firms and Legal Service Providers 2017.

      In terms of our graduate recruitment process, innovation plays an integral role, and it is important that we support those who seek to find new ways of working - whether within our own business, or those who have ideas we can help develop. In terms of the candidates themselves, those who show a proactive understanding of tech and the changes happening in the legal profession really do standout from the crowd.

      What particularly interested you in Signin? Is this something that other budding startups could look to focus towards?

      Signin in is a completely new way of engaging with students. The concept was clearly thought out with realistic timescales with regards to development, investment and roll out. Having well established investors and academic institutions already attached to the enterprise really provides credibility.

      Anyone looking to introduce something new to the market, must do their research, understand what their product is, and know exactly how it will develop in the future. Graduate engagement is a saturated and out-dated market, so something new and innovative really does stand-out from the usual job-boards, email circulars and graduate fairs.

      Bond Dickinson's recent decision to extend and develop its partnership across the pond with US firm Womble Carlyle is a big move, and catapults the firm into the UK's top 20, and the top 80 in the US. What is the biggest challenge or opportunity you think you'll face with this expansion as a graduate recruiter?

      Following the combination (1 November 2017) of Bond Dickinson and Womble Carlyle to form Womble Bond Dickinson, it is vital we continue to engage with students. This is the second significant change for the firm since 2013, therefore engagement allows us to highlight our growth from a regional firm to a national firm (Bond Dickinson) and the formation of a new transatlantic firm in WBD.

      My challenge as a graduate recruiter is to find new ways to communicate with students in a busy market place, keeping Womble Bond Dickinson at the forefront of their thoughts when considering who they may wish to work with. Opportunities in that space, like Signin, are valued highly as an important bridge to that gap.

      As you know, Signin has raised just over £100k of our £150k fundraise target so far, and very much looking forward to working closely with WBD throughout our development thereafter. Which part of Signin are you expecting to be of most value to yourself and the firm when we launch?

      Likewise! I think one of the most anticipated features for me is the ability to run targeted campaigns to niche groups and demographics in specific locations, Universities or faculties. To this extent I see Signin as a very effective way to engage with more passive students. Faculties who want to be more proactive in embracing and adopting new technologies like Signin will expect all of the student body to use the app, which will mean those students who have not considered a career in law, or have not considered their career path at all, will become more familiar with WBD and the great opportunities we offer.