Leigh Day was founded on 10th June 1987 and now has over 500 people, with main offices in London and Manchester. It is one of The Times top 100 law firms and is ranked at the highest levels for the majority of its practice areas in both the law sector’s independent legal directories, Chambers & Partners and Legal 500.
The firm was founded by Sarah Leigh OBE who had left the law firm Bindmans in 1985 to form a specialist personal injury firm. She was joined by Martyn Day in 1987 and Leigh Day & Co was created, with its first offices in Gray’s Inn Road.
Watch the First 100 Years interview with Sarah Leigh OBE
"My mum tells me I was an active member of the awkward squad when I was a child. It seems clear that this characteristic did not change when I was in my twenties and was an employee. There is little doubt in my mind that it was this side of my character that led to the setting up of Leigh Day & Co.
“I first met Sarah Leigh when she was a partner at Bindman & Partners where I had applied for a job in their immigration department. Interviewing me (with a wooden parrot watching over us from behind her shoulder) I knew immediately that I had found a lawyer I could work with.”
Top ranked firm
Consistently ranked as a leading law firm since the directory was first published.
Chambers and Partners
Top ranked in 8 practice areas in the 2023 edition
Times Top 100 Law Firms
'Leigh Day is a champion of the vulnerable and the threatened'
In 2011 the firm appointed its first managing partner, Frances Swaine. Frances stepped down as managing partner in March 2021, and was succeeded in the role by Chris Benson.
Under Fran’s leadership the firm grew exponentially in London and set up its Manchester office in 2014, currently around one quarter of the firm’s staff are based in the North West.
In 2013 the firm published an annual review of the work it had undertaken during the year.
In 2017, to mark the firm’s 30th anniversary the firm published a 30th anniversary brochure looking back over its 30 years in practice. Sarah Leigh OBE was also interviewed by Richard Stein, the renowned human rights lawyer, to discuss the creation of Leigh Day and the history of the firm:
During this year the firm fought allegations brought by its own regulator, the SRA, for its role in acting on behalf of Iraqis against the Ministry of Defence. Despite Leigh Day having taken many successful cases against the MOD, including on behalf of British service personnel, many of these cases were the source of fierce debate in the media and the Government.
The firm and the lawyers charged with misconduct were cleared of all allegations in June 2017. The SRA went on to lose its appeal of that decision at the High Court in October 2018. In 2018 Leigh Day decided to set up its own regulatory and disciplinary team, putting to use all the knowledge garnered in the previous four years of defending the prosecution.
The work that Leigh Day has taken on since 1987 has always been challenging, ground-breaking, bold and exciting. The firm continues to make headlines and act for thousands of people against the Government and big business, the firm remains, for many, their only hope for justice.
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Sarah retired from Leigh Day in 2002 but she remains an inspiration to many to carry out the excellent work she pioneered representing people who have been injured in a healthcare setting.
Leigh Day’s clinical negligence department, led by Suzanne White, has the largest collection of lawyers, paralegals and forensic accountants focusing specifically on these types of injuries in the UK.
Richard Meeran head of the international department, joined in 1990, and the firm became renowned for representing individuals in successful innovative group actions. These claims were on behalf of miners and other workers suffering from industrial diseases against British companies both in the UK and abroad.
The firm quickly developed a reputation as one that was prepared to deal with all aspects of personal injury and human rights law, with a particular strength in representing those who have suffered injury against national and local government authorities and services, powerful commercial organisations and institutions.
Martyn Day explains:
“Whilst at Bindmans, I had been approached by Greenpeace Netherlands to advise them in relation to the blocking of the radiative waste pipeline at the nuclear power plant at Sellafield. I was able to take the case take with me to Leigh Day.
“Within days I was I walking on the Cumbrian beach at Seascale, opposite the nuclear power station, waiting to be picked up by a Greenpeace dingy to be taken on board as a result of the organisation having been served with an injunction by helicopter flown up from the Court in London.”
The international team has continued to make history in many ground-breaking claims against multi-national corporations and the British government. Notable cases include the Mau Mau torture claims, and claims against companies including BP, Shell, Trafigura, Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Cape plc.
The personal injury department expanded alongside the other departments, Sally Moore joined the firm in 1991 and her team developed a national reputation for representing people catastrophically injured including those who have been in road traffic collisions, but also especially workers who have been exposed to asbestos. The team, which is still led by Sally, has an exclusive partnership with British Cycling and the British Triathlon Association to represent their members.
The opening of a human rights department in 2001 followed the incorporation of the Human Rights Act into English law. The human rights department, led by Jamie Beagent and Gene Matthews, offers support for people in challenging decisions of public authorities that infringe their rights to medical and social services and their environmental rights.
In 2006 Chris Benson joined the firm from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and created the employment team at the firm. The team has expanded rapidly and now handles some of the largest group actions in the UK, representing thousands of clients in multi-party equal pay and employment rights claims.