Memery Crystal may have a rather dainty name, but this small City firm certainly packs a punch with its AIM work.
Nabbing a number-one spot in Chambers UK for its Alternative Investment Market (AIM) work, Memery Crystal is big on helping young businesses which are just starting out in life. As graduate recruitment partner Tim Crosley puts it: “We have a broad spectrum of clients, but a lot of them are entrepreneurs. That's the core of our client base.” Broad-ranging clients were one thing that attracted trainees to this petite firm. “I really wanted a small firm, but not a boutique – a firm that did everything,” one trainee told us. Indeed, MC also scoops up Chambers rankings for commercial contracts, corporate M&A, real estate, litigation, employment and energy work.
Trainees' first two seats are assigned, but they can have a say about the second two. And while most of our interviewees had done a seat in corporate, this is not compulsory. Our sources cautioned that because of the small size of the firm, options are limited, and “if there are more people than seats there's always a bit of bargaining.” But they also noted that precisely because of its size the firm can be flexible: “At the last rotation three people wanted to do corporate, so they moved things around to accommodate that," one source reported. "In the end, the work from the tax seat was shared between the three trainees, so that everyone could do corporate too.” This set-up also means trainees can do multiple seats in the same department if they have a preference to.
AIM of the game
The corporate department has a well-established practice dealing with AIM/capital markets matters; AIM is a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange that allows small companies to float shares and raise funds flexibly. More specifically, trainees reported that at present the majority of big AIM matters come from the energy and oil and gas spheres, while technology and mining are other strong areas in the corporate department generally. MC recently advised broker Brandon Hill Capital on a £29 million fund-raising for AIM-listed oil and gas explorer San Leon Energy, and helped software and consulting provider Publishing Technology with the placing of shares on AIM to raise £9 million. But while “AIM has historically provided the majority of the corporate department's work,” there's also venture capital, private equity and M&A on offer, plus there's been “a push to increase the amount of debt finance work.” The firm is currently acting for Shanta Gold in connection with a new $44 million loan facility with Investec.
Interviewees were generally pleased with the amount of responsibility on offer. “I was given quite a lot of freedom in corporate,” one trainee recalled. “I was often running whole aspects of a transaction, such as the checklist of conditions that need to be met. That would involve communicating with the client and the lender's solicitors.” On the capital markets side trainees described “helping with placings, listings and fund-raisings.” Less exciting tasks such as verification do crop up too, particularly on larger deals, and it was for this reason that a few felt that “sometimes it can be hard as a trainee to know exactly what you'd be doing as a qualified solicitor if you joined this group.” We were told that the hours “really vary” in corporate, depending on what stage a deal is at. Trainees reported that an average day lasts from 9am to 7pm, but one added: “I've been working 14-hour days for the past few weeks.” Another commented: “The latest I ever worked was until 1am, but that was unusual. I also worked a couple of weekends when I was doing verification.”
"Very much a growth area for Memery Crystal."
Over in dispute resolution, sources reported working on “everything from misrepresentations to breaches of contract to insolvency.” How does this translate into day-to-day tasks? “I drafted witness statements, interviewed witnesses, instructed counsel and went to hearings," said one trainee. On larger cases things become a little less compelling: “In those situations you do more grunt work like bundling because of the sheer amount of documentation involved.” Interviewees warned that “litigation is the seat you need to watch out for” when it comes to hours. “I had some really crazy nights, working until around 4am,” one revealed. Another added: “I'm working from 8.30am until 8pm at the moment, and I haven't seen the worst of it...” We were told that litigation has a lot of oil and gas clients, although it also works for other industries including mining, retail and transport. MC recently acted for Japanese-owned energy company Idemitsu Petroleum in a dispute with oil and gas company BG over the sharing of a floating oil processing vessel in the Moray Firth off the coast of Scotland.
According to Tim Crosley, real estate “is very much a growth area for Memery Crystal at the moment.” The work is split between transactional and litigation matters, although trainees reported some overlap between the two. On the transactional side, the work includes commercial acquisitions, leases and refinancings of commercial and residential properties. Clients include Z Hotels and Imperial Pharmaceuticals, and MC's recent involvement in securing a loan for a £50 million residential scheme in Southend demonstrates that there is also residential work on offer. Real estate litigation cases were described as “totally different” to those in the dispute resolution seat, as the matters tend to be a lot smaller. “That means that as a trainee you can cut your teeth on different pieces of work; you get a lot of small things to do. I drafted several letters before action and spent time chasing payments for bankruptcy matters." While it is fairly common to have individuals as clients in this group (usually landlords), there's also work for corporate big-shots like ASDA, Metro Bank and Deloitte. The hours in real estate are generally “very steady – you never have to stay much past 7pm.”
Interviewees reported that that “each department has a slightly different feel to it. Real estate has more older people with families, whereas in dispute resolution everyone is quite young, which is fun – there's more socialising.” This sentiment of disparity is perhaps accentuated by the fact that “the departments are spread over six floors,” which can limit contact between departments. On the topic of communication, a few of our interviewees grumbled about internal comms. “You hear things on the rumour mill long before you're told officially,” one said. Despite this and the differences between departments, trainees felt that one thing the entire firm has in common is that “it's a comfortable environment – nobody is too stressed or pressured.” Another added that friendly partners mean “you don't feel a massive 'them and us' hierarchy – everyone's approachable and pretty easy-going.”
“You don't feel a massive 'them and us' hierarchy.”
Our sources reported a fair amount of socialising, although a few felt “there could be more of it,” and get-togethers are mainly organised by trainees rather than the firm itself. “What started out as a trainee Thursday night drinks has escalated, and now anyone in the firm who wants to go out for a drink can join.” That said, there are firm-sponsored Christmas and summer parties – held last year at the Meridian in Piccadilly and Devonshire Terrace near Liverpool Street respectively – as well as a firm-wide quiz. “They're always pretty fun, relaxed affairs,” we were told.
Almost everyone we spoke to was hoping to stay on at Memery Crystal. In 2016, three of five qualifiers did.
How to get a Memery Crystal training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
Open evening and interview
Memery Crystal doesn't offer a vacation scheme, but it does run open evenings in July, where partners, fee earners and trainees give short presentations on their roles, and attendees get the chance to network over drinks. The evenings aren't assessed, but to be invited you do need to apply with a CV and covering letter. In 2015 the firm gave places to around 30 people.
Training contract applications at Memery Crystal begin with an online form. Current trainees told us this is “pretty straightforward and doesn't have any of those obscure questions like 'If you were a colour, which would you be?'” The firm typically receives around 300 applications at this stage, and each one is read by two or three people.
Around 40 applicants make the grade and get through to the interview stage. This is usually held with human resources manager, Helen Seaward, and a senior associate, and involves competency-based questions. According to Seaward, “we test their legal knowledge through scenario questions. Those who've not yet studied law are not disadvantaged. It's more about finding out what their thought processes are.”
Our trainee sources advised applicants to “take ten minutes to actually work out what kind of thing the firm does. You should be prepared to give examples of recent cases we've been working on.” Seaward agrees: “If your passion is to become a City lawyer, you've got to know what's going on in the City. Surprisingly that's where a lot of people fall down.”
The firm invites up to 16 applicants to attend its assessment centre, which takes place over two days. We heard this is “an intense and tiring experience,” though trainees did praise how “varied it is – you get the opportunity to shine in different areas and to present a rounded view of yourself.”
Participants spend part of their first day in one department, observing what goes on and working alongside trainees. “It felt like a mini vac scheme at that point,” a trainee recalled. During the day attendees complete two individual exercises, plus a group task. “The exercises are designed to find out how you think and approach tasks,” said a trainee.
The second day sees candidates give a presentation to two partners. They receive the topic a week before, and it usually involves a current affair – previous ones include Scottish independence and the Greek financial crisis. “Generally the topics have a legal element, a business element and a human element,” clarifies Seaward. Afterwards, the partners ask questions on the presentation before proceeding onto the final interview. “We are interviewing you,” says Seaward, “but don't forget you should also be interviewing us and finding out what we're about – all the best candidates do.”
The firm offers up to four training contracts each year, and candidates can expect to hear whether they've been successful two weeks after the final interview.
Prospective trainees need good GCSEs, 320 UCAS points at A level and a 2:1 degree. The firm values work experience: “We find those who have this are more likely to hit the ground running when they start,” says Helen Seaward. “We place a big emphasis on legal work experience in particular. We want people who know for sure that they want to become a lawyer in a City firm.”
Personality-wise, Memery Crystal looks for self-starters. “You can be the only trainee in a department, so the whole team will go to you for junior support. You can't be the kind of person who likes to hide behind a desk!” Seaward warns. “We also like people who can show they have a genuine interest in business and enjoy the fact that law is always changing.”
Interview with graduate recruitment partner Tim Crosley
Student Guide: Are there any significant highlights from the past year that you'd like our readers to know about?
Tim Crosley: Our real estate department is very much a growth area at the moment, which is exciting. A significant lateral hire we made was Matthew Lindsay on the property finance side. We'll also have more new senior members coming into the real estate department shortly. Additionally, we've added a new partner, Mark Whelan, to the dispute resolution practice.
We've had great success with our recent lateral hires, and I think the reason for that stems from Memery Crystal's ethos; there is a good feel about the equity partnership. Of course our profitability is good, but you couldn't attract the calibre of people that we've been able to attract on that alone. We provide a great, encouraging platform upon which to develop your practice.
SG: What's the reasoning behind Memery Crystal's recent alliance with Chinese firm Yingke?
TC: There's no question that that part of the world is growing incredibly fast, and a lot of law firms are trying to get into that space. I think the alliance highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of our management board, and also shows that (because we're quite small) we're quite nimble in terms of the strategic decisions that can be made. Strategically, we saw an opportunity to join their network of firms around the globe and to be part of their China-centre in London, which offers legal services to Chinese nationals looking to do business in the UK.
SG: What are you looking for in potential Memery Crystal trainees?
TC: The CV already tells you quite a lot about someone's raw intelligence. Our process is about looking at cultural fit, and also someone's potential for developing a commercial brain and becoming a good technical lawyer. We have a broad spectrum of clients, but a lot of them are entrepreneurs – I still think that's the core of our client base. We don't generally deal with in-house legal departments. We usually deal more directly with the board: we floated Gulf Keystone on AIM and then the main market, for instance, and the origin of that was a key relationship with one individual. This means that quite a lot of the recruitment exercises we do are not only designed to test pure legal intelligence, but also a candidate's understanding of why the law is the way it is. If you understand why, you are able to explain the law in a business context.
There's a strong emphasis on communication here, because you don't sit at your desk paginating. You get out there: speaking to the client, talking on the phone, and part of the engine room for each transaction. The smaller trainee intake here means there is no cannon fodder. People work hard but, because of our client base, there isn't often that level of total unpredictability that you might get at a larger firm when it comes to hours.
The other thing we want to get a clear sense of is that the candidate really wants to join us. It sounds an easy thing to detect, but it's sometimes difficult to tell from the CV and application. We're looking for that little spark that shows we're not just someone's reserve firm, but their number one choice. You can usually tell that from their engagement and enthusiasm during the assessment process.
SG: Do you have any tips for candidates entering the application and interview process?
TC: The two things I would highlight are: number one, be yourself, and number two – with regards the application form – carry out a 'read it to a friend' test. When you're writing your application form, read it to someone who knows you very well and ask for their reaction, because trying too hard to be someone you are not is often easy to pick up on reading the application. Don't use legal jargon or overcomplicated sentences: use words you would use in ordinary speech, because part of being a lawyer – especially at a firm like ours – is about using ordinary English to describe something very complicated. The 'read it to a friend' test is a good way to check: is this me? Have I sold myself properly? Have I told that person everything that I should, or have I gone over the top? Have I used expressions and terms or examples that I simply wouldn't use on a day-to-day basis? These are all questions you should be thinking about.
I would also add that you shouldn't try to be too clever. We don't ask questions like 'What sort of biscuit are you?' because the answer is unlikely to tell me anything about the real you. I sometimes hear of questions that are designed to throw candidates, and I don't think that achieves anything. We don't like to manufacture 'pressure situations' because candidates will be under pressure anyway. We ask basic questions that we hope candidates will want to talk about, such as 'Tell us about a challenge you've faced' or 'Talk about an important moment in your life.' We also want to hear about things that you've done outside the academic arena that you're proud of.
At the end of the first day of the second-stage assessment process we go out for dinner, which gives the candidates the opportunity to talk to each other, find out more about the firm and unwind a bit – which, in turn, helps us to find out more about them. I think that's an important part of it, because it helps the candidates to make an informed decision about the firm. We never forget when we are interviewing strong candidates – the ones we might offer training contracts to – that they are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them.
Memery Crystal LLP
44 Southampton Buildings,
- Partners 27
- Solicitors 36
- Total trainees 8
- Contact Tai Patel, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure First interview followed by assessment centre
- Closing date for training contracts starting September 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 4
- Applications pa 300
- % interviewed 15%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2016)
- First year: £35,000
- Second year: £37,000
- Post qualification NQ salary Competitive
- Holiday entitlement 25 days pa
- % of trainees with a non-law degree 80%
We offer a partner-led service and pride ourselves on the strength of our client relationships. We set ourselves apart from our competitors through our pragmatism and pro-activity and we have a reputation for punching well above our weight. Unusually for a single-office firm, we have a strong international focus, which we see as vital to our vision of remaining independent in a globalising economy. We have considerable cross-border transactional experience and have built strong relationships with other independent law firms around the world.
Our key strength lies in the quality of our award winning people. We seek to recruit and retain leading individuals, who provide the highest level of service to our clients.
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