Trainees were crystal clear on what this petite City firm has to offer: “The perfect balance of corporate-commercial work, client contact and really down-to-earth people.”
Memery Crystal might sound like the mystical source of Superman's powers, but this firm's special skills – especially in the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) arena – are anything but a fantasy: Chambers UK places this strand of the firm's work in the highest UK-wide tier. “We're incredibly proud of our AIM work,” graduate recruitment partner Tim Crosley tells us, “but we're not just an AIM firm. For instance, we've recently hired new partners in real estate and they're doing a fantastic job of tying that work up with our broader corporate offering.” Proving that MC isn't a one trick pony, Chambers UK dishes out another top-notch nod to the firm's lower mid-market real estate work, while also acknowledging its corporate, litigation, commercial contracts and mining expertise in the energy sphere.
Looking to the future, MC has appointed a shiny new CEO in the form of Nick Davis, but the present appears to be quite rosy too: Crosley informs us that the firm witnessed a 20% profit increase during 2016/17. With a healthy set of results, Crosley confirms that “we're not planning to change our business model: we intend to remain a single-site, independent, full-service, international-facing firm.” The latter part of that strategy was recently bolstered by an exclusive cooperation agreement with one of China's largest law firms, YingKe. “We're looking to build upon our relationships in China and we're also continuing to work hard on our network of buddy relationships with firms all around the world,” Crosley adds.
Trainees' first two seats are assigned, but they can have a say about the second two. “It doesn’t really bother me at all,” said a first-year trainee, reflecting the consensus; “I appreciate that second-years' preferences take precedence.” Most had done a seat in corporate, “because there's space for three trainees there at any one time.” With asmaller intake, sources found the approach to allocation quite flexible: “You have more of a chat with HR about where you want to go, and you can do a repeat seat in a particular department if you really want to.”
MC's AIM work falls under the remit of its corporate department. Let's give you a bit of background: AIM is a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange that allows small companies to float shares and raise funds flexibly. Energy is a key sector here, and the team recently helped new client Jersey Oil & Gas during its second fund-raising, which amassed £1.6 million. Beyond this, the department also handles a mix of M&A, private equity and venture capital work, especially in the technology, financial services, retail and sports sectors. Hits of late include assisting software provider Bond International on three M&A deals worth around £65 million, as well as advising on the sale of West Bromwich Albion F.C. to a Chinese investment group.Typical trainee tasks included “a lot of verifications: that's when a company presents itself to potential investors and we go through its presentation draft and footnote every single statement to make sure it's accurate. This can either be a presentation or a 200-page prospectus.” Drafting ancillary documents and parts of larger share purchase agreements was also common.
Energy is again an important sector in MC's dispute resolution department, as is transport and manufacturing. Clients include Tanzanian-based mining company Shanta Gold, Japanese energy outfit Idemitsu Kosan, and commodities broker MF Global. Trainees gushed that “we were the defence on the infamous Ruhan case [a complex commercial fraud case which ended with the claimant – a twice-convicted fraudster – pulling out of the dispute and being sued by their former solicitors]. Half of the department were on it and they've only just come off.” Others experienced “smaller fraud cases where a guy had started a relationship with a woman, told her they were going to start a business together and then he took all of her money.” Likely trainee tasks include “preparing witness statements and exhibits, bundling, attending hearings, instructing counsel and taking notes.” Some felt that the seat was great for responsibility, while others bemoaned that “you don’t necessarily get much involvement early on as the cases are quite high value. People check your work a lot, but at the same time you need that so you can learn.” Other disputes handled here centre on negligence, insolvency, IP and defamation issues.
“We're not just an AIM firm.”
Over in real estate, the work is split between transactional and litigation matters, with each side claiming its own trainee. On the transactional side, the work includes commercial acquisitions, leases and refinancings of commercial and residential properties. A recent highlight here involved advising property investor Johnny Sandelson as he snapped up the swanky Thomas Goode building in Mayfair and sold it to US fund Cain Hoy Enterprises. Sources on this side of the coin had been working on “a lot of development agreements for large companies that were purchasing land. You also do a lot of Land Registry applications and get to run your own simple lease files.” On the litigation side things can get quite hectic: “It got to the point where I was literally running through the office because I had 25 tasks on my to-do list!” Apart from the odd mad dash, interviewees felt that out of every seat this was the one where they could sink their teeth into work right from the off. Trainees were exposed to development disputes, rent recovery issues, injunctions and possession hearings. “You get a lot of opportunity to write particulars of claim and statutory notices to get people out of buildings where they shouldn't be.”
Trainees can also undertake a split seat between MC's employment and CMT (commercial, media and technology) departments. Both digital and print media are covered in the latter, where clients include Guardian News & Media and Pearson Education, and matters touch upon the likes of rights ownership, social media use and the deployment of interactive apps. The employment department, meanwhile, provides a lot of support on corporate and real estate transactions, but low oil prices and unrest in the Middle East have driven up the group's disputes work: the team recently defended Gulfsands Petroleum and its subsidiary during a boardroom dispute arising from the freezing of assets in Syria. For trainees, “a split seat can be demanding, but you're managed really well and given freedom to pursue interests in certain areas. Also, because they're smaller departments, you can spend time doing non-chargeable marketing work, like writing articles for the website.”
Four seasons in one evening
On a standard day, trainees were clocking in at 8.30am and clocking out at 7.30pm. Predictably, corporate-seaters said their hours were “very unpredictable. You can leave at 5.30pm if you've got nothing on, but when you're busy it can be 4am.” Property tended to have the most consistently long hours though, with trainees regularly staying past 9pm. “It's never a struggle going to work,” however.Trainees put this down to the fact that everyone is “very friendly, very friendly indeed!” They felt that the smaller intake gave them room to form solid relationships with people, with some going as far as to say that “I've made one of my absolute best friends here!” The only downside was that the office's split-floor layout meant that “it can be quite difficult to talk to people in different departments and interact on a daily basis.”
But fear not. Insiders informed us that “the social committee has been re-established, so now we have monthly office-wide drinks and weekly departmental drinks, which have helped us to become more integrated across the firm.” Other socials have included “the famous pub quiz – it gets quite rowdy,” and the firm's Christmas party, which first-years in waiting are invited to as soon as they get offered their traineeships. In previous years it's been hosted at The Savoy and The Four Seasons: “It's always a big event and it's so much fun.” However, sources were keen to stress that “it's not like we go out all the time. Some people are more social than others, but it's better than before.” One final word of warning: “Watch out for the showers, they're pretty dank and underground...” Although rumour has it that MC will soon be moving to a new space, so hopefully these inadequate cleaning facilities can be banished from memery for good.
Retention rates have been pretty decent in recent years, and 2017 was no exception: two of three qualifiers were kept on.
How to get a Memery Crystal training contract
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 2017 the firm gave places to around 35 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 250 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 the head of human resources, Helen Seaward, and a senior associate, and involves competency-based questions. Seaward tells us: “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 Brexit. “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.”
Memery Crystal LLP
44 Southampton Buildings,
- Partners 27
- Associates 59
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices London
- Contacts Graduate recruiter: Helen Seaward
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 December 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Open day deadline: 30 June 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £35,000
- Second-year salary: £37,000
- Post-qualification salary: £62,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
We have a strong internal culture, based upon a set of core values, which underpins our individuality, our emphasis on long-term client relationships and our collegiate and entrepreneurial approach. We act for a broad range of clients, from individual entrepreneurs and owner-managed businesses, to City institutions, educational organisations and multi-national corporations.
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.
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017