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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame Icon The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. In the United Kingdon, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for eight years. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.
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United Kingdom > North > Public sector > Education > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings



Index of tables

  1. Education
  2. Leading individuals
  3. Rising stars

Leading individuals

  1. 1

Rising stars

  1. 1

The education team at Burnetts provides HR professionals that specialise in the day-to-day advice required by schools and other education sector clients, notably property-related matters. Natalie Ruane is head of the employment law and HR team, and is an expert in employment law working exclusively in the education sector.

Practice head(s):Natalie Ruane


'Highly skilled professionals who know the sector well'

'The team always ensure they have an accurate clear understanding of the issues'

'The firm offers clear advice and guidance, which is accurate and focuses on a schools needs'

Key Clients

Cumbria Education Trust

Furness Academy

Furness College

Bury College

Lakes College


Austin Friars

Riverside College

Cockermouth School

St Benedict’s Catholic High School

St Bernard’s Catholic High School

Westfield Primary School

Work highlights

  • Represented Cumbria Education Trust in its high profile acquisition of Whitehaven Academy from the Bright Tribe Trust.

Muckle LLP has experience across the sector, acting for HE and FE institutions nationally, as well as multiple MATS, academy trusts and independent schools in the region. Tony McPhillips leads the practice and focuses on multi academy trusts, colleges and universities. Also notable in the team is Joanne Davison, who specialises in academies work.

Practice head(s):Tony McPhillips

Other key lawyers:Joanne Davison


'Muckle has a responsive, commercial and proactive approach'

'The firm has developed relationships with key stakeholders such as local authorities in the region and the department for education which means they understand how to progress matters in the most appropriate way in the sector'

Key Clients

Newcastle College Group

Tyne Coast College

Bishop Auckland College

Newcastle University

University of Northumbria

Sunderland University


Sedbergh School

Dame Allan’s Schools

Three Rivers Trust

Emmanuel Schools Foundation

River Tees MAT

East Durham College

Park View MAT

Balmoral MAT

Valour MAT

Southmoor MAT


Durham Diocesan MAT

Tyne Coast Academy Trust

Hadrian Learning Trust

Kenton MAT


Pele MAT

Balmoral MAT

1590 Trust


Work highlights

  • Continue to provide legal support to Newcastle University on the design and construction of the new teaching and learning facility at Richardson Road and the provision of advice regarding liabilities for replacement of plant within shared buildings.
  • Advised on the creation of the Pele Multi Academy Trust.
  • Advising as to whether the recipient (R.C. School) of a nil consideration transfer of land was in breach of the covenant restricting use, thus triggering an obligation to transfer back to The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle upon Tyne.
  • Providing a specialist service across multiple disciplines at Dame Allan’s Schools.
  • Providing training and support to Diocese of Durham Education Board by running  a programme for all Church of England schools across the Diocese.

With a national coverage, Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP provides a comprehensive range of services. The firm handles advice and support to school clients across various legal disciplines, including academy conversions, FE College mergers, governance and SEN tribunals. The ‘professional and principledKevin Robertson leads the practice and ‘his reputation in the field goes before him.’ Also notable in his team is associate Peter Cantwell, who specialises in property work for education sector clients.

Practice head(s):Kevin Robertson; Simon Rowland; Barbara Painter; Emma Moody; Ian Atkinson; Ian Greenshields

Other key lawyers:Peter Cantwell


'Womble Bond Dickinson is a superb and professional legal firm that supports schools and academies with education matters in a highly proficient manner.'

'Swift and pertinent advice enables all actions to be met within agreed time scales and with highly satisfactory conclusions.'

'The team supported academy conversions to an exceptional level.'

'Provide outstanding service and attention to ensure all matters are dealt with in a timely fashion that supports superb outcomes.'

'Kevin Robertson is the consummate professional. His engagement with clients, married with his exception legal knowledge have made all matters of business seamless.'

Key Clients

Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

Department for Education (DfE)


St Oswald's Catholic Academy Trust

Trent Academies Group

Zaytouna Education Trust

North View Academy

Whitworth Park School

Woodham Academy

Tees Valley Education Multi Academy Trust

St Lawrence Education Trust (which operates Ampleforth College))

Carmel Education Trust, Darlington

Waterton Academy Trust, Wakefield

Newcastle City Council

Castle Trust

Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School

Pocklington School

Illuminare Multi Academy Trust

Vision Academy Learning Trust

Liverpool City Council

The Constellation Trust

Northumberland County Council

Nicholas Postgate Academy Trust

St Hilda's Catholic Academy Trust

Our Lady of Light Catholic Academy Trust

Skills for Life Trust, Kent

FocusEducation (Lincolnshire) Limited

Sewell Education York Limited

Sewell Education Hull Limited

Romero Catholic Academy Trust

Trinity Multi Academy Trust

Horizons Specialist Academy Trust

Extol Academy Trust

Durham University

Northumbria University

Gateshead College

East Durham College

Durham Students Union

City Of Sunderland College

Work highlights

  • Continuing to advise the ESFA and DfE on the flagship Free Schools programme which includes UTCs and Studio Schools.
  • Advising multiple governing bodies on their conversion to Academy status.
  • In May 2018 the firm were successfully appointed by the Department for Education (DfE) under a call off from the Crown Commercial Services Framework to provide general legal advice services.
  • Advised St Hilda's Catholic Education Trust, St Oswald's Catholic Education Trust and Our Lady of Light Catholic Education Trust on the transfer of their 20 academies to the Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust.
  • Advise this four-school well established Tees Valley Education Multi Academy Trust on all of their commercial, contract, property and employment legal issues.

Ward Hadaway in known for expertise in governance and school to academy conversion, as well as being experienced in a range of matters for a diverse clientele, notably multi-academy Trusts. Frank Suttie co-leads the national team with Tim Care, who specialises in issues arising from the Government's current academisation programme; and Graham Vials, who focuses on employment and HR issues in the sector.

Practice head(s):Tim Care; Graham Vials; Frank Suttie


'A calm, common sense approach supported by years of knowledge and experience within the Academy Conversion setting.'

'The team has extensive experience.'

'Tim Care, Chris Bowen and Jennifer Patterson all provide critical and welcome support in all aspects of academy conversions, specifically, CTAs Buildings/Leases.'

'They always make time and are easily accessible.'

'Michelle Fleming is very supportive, practical and clear in her advice.'

Key Clients

Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT)

Delta Academies Trust

Co-operative Academies Trust

WISE Academies

The Durham Diocesan Multi Academy Trust

North East Learning Trust

Advance Learning Partnership

Northern Education Trust

Balmoral Learning Trust

Eden Learning Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising on the transfer to Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) of six academies from the Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT), which has transferred all of its schools during the course of the year.
  • Act as sole legal advisers to Delta, which provides education to primary and secondary school children at 50 academies.
  • Advise The Co-operative Academies Trust (CAT) on its programme of expansion and in the past 12 months have completed 7 school to academy conversions or transfers (from a previous Academy Trust), with a number of other projects of this kind ongoing.
  • The sole legal advisers to this small but growing WISE Academies Trust. During the course of the year it has grown from 6 to 13 schools and we have acted on each of those transfers into the Trust.
  • Appointed as sole employment law advisers to Durham Diocesan MAT (DDMAT) and instructed in 2018 to review and redraft staff employment contracts and policies and procedures, including advise on the collective consultation process with the recognised trade unions.

The Watson Burton LLP team is comprised of experts in corporate, commercial, employment, real estate and litigation. The firm supports educational institutions from schools and academies to further education colleges, universities and providers. It particularly specialises in advising institutions looking to convert to academy status. Practice head Paul Wigham focuses on advice to academy trusts on expansion and major capital build projects, as well as providing advice to further education and higher education clients on corporate issues. Also notable is solicitor Olivia Brown, who is ‘thorough, organised and reliable.’

Practice head(s):Paul Wigham

Other key lawyers:Olivia Brown


'Watson Burton provides good support in conversion processes.'

'Olivia Brown is excellent. She builds confidence with clients.'

Key Clients

Northumberland College

Biddick Academy Trust

Gosforth Federated Academies Limited

Hurworth School Limited

Redcar and Cleveland College

Meadowdale Academy

New College Durham

Nunthorpe Academy

Iris Learning Trust

University of Leicester

University of Northumbria

University of Sunderland

Work highlights

  • Acted for long-standing client Stockton Riverside College in relation to its merger with Redcar and Cleveland College by way of a “type B” merger under the provisions of the Further and Higher Education Act. The merger successfully completed in August 2018.
  • Acting for Wellspring who have agreed with Leeds City Council to take a lease of 3 new school sites which are to be constructed by the council in 3 separate phases for Social, Emotional & Mental Health provision.
  • Acting on behalf of Academies Enterprise Trust in employment tribunal proceedings brought by a teacher for breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
  • Acted on behalf of Gosforth Federated Academies in the academisation of a large comprehensive school.
  • Provided advice to client and its insurer in respect of a grievance raised by a pregnant employee who had been involved in an incident whereby she was subjected to verbal and threatening abuse and subsequently went on sick leave.

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