Michelmores LLP - True Picture

To continue its steady growth, South-Westerner Michelmores is focusing on the London office's international work – trainees said it best: this is “a hugely ambitious firm.”


Brick by brick, year on year, it seems that Michelmores is building something. From the Bristol office with an agricultural streak which it acquired in 2012 to its support of Anglo-Chinese firm Yangtze Law, Michelmores hasn't shied away from adventurous attempts to develop its business. The firm's financials reflect its ambition in starker terms: revenue grew 15% in 2013/14 and 12% in 2014/15. And training principal Sacha Pickering says the firm is hungry for more: “We want to keep up similar growth." As for how the ball will be kept rolling, he added: “We particularly want to see growth in the London office, where we see the opportunity to grow at the moment.”

The London office's importance lies in its capacity to do international corporate work in emerging markets and filter it back to the South West. London lawyers have upped sticks to a new location, 6 New Street Square, which an excited trainee told us has “very swanky glass walls, fantastic views of St Paul's, and the Rolls Building is opposite it too!” Another added: “It's a very big office to fill.” Currently trainees can only get a six-month corporate rotation in London, but it's not far-fetched to imagine a permanent trainee being there in the future. Pickering says: “It's always on the agenda, we are constantly reviewing it. Once work reaches a critical mass, we will have a permanent trainee.”

For the moment though, most trainees call the Exeter HQ home, with only one trainee assigned to Bristol in each intake. Together, the firm gets regional rankings aplenty from Chambers UK – notably in corporate, litigation and real estate – but individually the West Country offices offer specialist areas too: Exeter gets top marks in clinical negligence and Bristol for agriculture. Seat allocation goes like this: trainees rank four preferences from a list HR circulates before each seat change. It's tough competition though, most only take one trainee at a time and second-years are given first dibs. Trainees took a realistic viewpoint: “They're juggling people's wants and it works out okay” – but a few were concerned that it “heavily favours second-years,” meaning “someone might be doing a year in something they aren't interested in – which isn't fantastic.”

“You're not just there to look pretty and sit in the corner taking notes.”

The firm's been growing its corporate and commercial arm, which handles “a mix of private equity deals, mergers, share acquisitions and listings on the Alternative Investment Market,” meaning “if you want an all-round seat, it's perfect.” The Exeter office acts for both local and national clients. It recently advised Magicseaweed, a surfing website founded in Devon, which reports on wind and wave conditions all over the world, over its £7 million sale to Australian surfwear retailer Surf Stitch. In London, international work is on the rise, with a particular focus on emerging markets like Sub-Saharan Africa and China. The team here has recently advised private, public and charitable institutions on their investments, working with Finnfund, a Finnish development finance company, on its investments in Ugandan and Tanzanian forestry management companies, and with Phatisa, a private equity fund management firm, on a joint venture to develop a Nairobi apartment complex. Trainees who'd sat in corporate told of “doing the basics like company secretarial work and due diligence for AIM” but they also drafted bits and pieces: “On an IPO, I was involved in the verification, I got to draft ancillary documents and I worked with regulatory lawyers in other jurisdictions.”

The commercial litigation team attracts some very recognisable clients, including British Transport Police, the Met Office and Flybe. One recent case had the team acting for Muck Truck UK, which makes powered wheelbarrows, in an IP infringement claim against Chinese company Nantong ANT Machinery. “I've done quite a lot of applications, drafting settlement agreements and instructions to counsel," said one trainee, and another said: “On smaller contractual disputes I was the client's point of contact.” The trainees who'd experienced litigation in London told us they were “able to speak in hearings with Masters about four or five times – all good fun, but initially terrifying!”

The commercial real estate group has what one trainee called “a bizarre range of matters.” Trainees can expect to work with commercial transactions, real estate finance, offshore property acquisitions and residential and public sector developments, with trainees' time devoted to one or two of those areas. One trainee described “acting for national developers acquiring bits of farmland, looking through deeds packets and working out what's going on, reading pages from the Epitome of Title with deeds that are a hundred years old!” Whereas those working on educational academy conversions went from “initial instructions, and the report on title, to drafting leases and completing them on the other side. The team is busy and you get a lot of responsibility – you're not just there to look pretty and sit in the corner taking notes.” The firm counts large developers, local authorities and government departments as clients, and recently advised Yelverton Properties on its purchase of Exeter Cricket Club's ground for some Exeter Uni student accommodation.

"Seeing my notes being relied upon to cross-examine a witness made me feel like an integral part of the process.”

Trainees had a lot of praise for the Bristol-based agricultural practice inherited from Wilsons. “The team has the guy who wrote the book,” enthused one trainee. That's not a metaphor: a senior partner, Peter Williams, is actually the editor of the leading textbook on the law of agricultural holdings. Breach of contract cases often feature, with contentious probate matters also dealt with, alongside farm purchases and sales, and advice on business structures and partnerships. “There's lots of client contact: client meetings, drafting witness statements and being the client's main point of contact," said a trainee. "When one matter was coming to trial, the client would need to talk on a daily basis, and I could be available.” Another told us: “I had to take verbatim notes during a trial, which in itself isn't so enjoyable, but seeing my notes being relied upon to cross-examine a witness made me feel like an integral part of the process.”

Office rocker

“I don't want to sound too clichéd, but it is genuinely very friendly” – that feeling was unanimous among trainees, who also maintained that they “take themselves less seriously than others.” This could well be because the libations and camaraderie begin way before anyone does any work: “The firm has drinks evenings at a local bar with trainees two years ahead of them joining. It makes sure everyone is integrated." Michelmores looks after its trainees: "They're assigned a buddy and many will have friends before they even arrive, so that there's a friendly face as well as a point of contact for the simpler questions.” Training is front-loaded too: “There's a well-structured, intense induction process in the very first month," then upon moving to a new seat “a couple of junior solicitors take you through a 101 dummies guide, so that you have a starting point to progress from.”

The penchant for a party doesn't fade when you join. The firm's Christmas bash included a gig from the firm's in-house band The Disclaimers and “at the last summer party there was an international theme. They definitely splash out – there was a Chinese dragon and people teaching bhangra dancing. Some of the partners certainly weren't holding back.” You'll have to join to see exactly how. They might not always be quite so carefree, but we heard that “in Exeter the open-plan office makes everyone really approachable. We don't stand on ceremony." This culture "really helps training. There's no booking time slots, and even partners will just take five to ten minutes to talk to you.” It seems being down to earth is almost mandatory: “A lot of people run or cycle in, so you bump into people in the changing rooms in the morning and have a natter. Really, nobody is too important to have a casual chat.” Michelmores can't get enough of the cardio either: "We've got running and cycling clubs; we are quite a fitness-focused firm – there's a personal trainer in the office gym too.”

As for trainee workloads, they agreed that between 6.30 and 7pm was a usual time to leave the office in Exeter, though it might be a little later in London, but commercial litigation had the potential to “have you finishing at 8pm for a couple of weeks.”

In 2016 four of six qualifiers were retained.

How to get a Michelmores training contract


Vacation scheme deadline: 28 February 2017

Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017

Initial screening 

Michelmores offers eight training contracts per year: seven in Exeter, and one in Bristol. Getting a foot in the door requires a minimum ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree.

Those who pass the initial screening are the ones who demonstrate “a real passion for law through their general knowledge and previous work experience,” partner Sacha Pickering tells us. “These days candidates come to us with an awful lot of legal work experience, so those without any are unlikely to stand out.”

Many of the firm's trainees have links to the South West, though Sacha Pickering assures us this isn't a prerequisite: “If a candidate doesn't have existing regional ties, we will explore why they want to come here, but more than anything it's about them having a commitment to stay.” He goes on to tell us: “We're full service, so we're consciously trying to maintain a diverse trainee intake with lots of different backgrounds and strengths.”

Vacation scheme 

Michelmores “probably leans slightly towards favouring people who come from the vacation scheme,” Sacha Pickering reveals. “That's because we have a longer amount of time to see what a candidate is really like.”

The firm usually receives around 250 applications for its vac scheme and invites around 45 to video interview. Those who pass this stage are invited to a face-to-face interview with HR. “At this stage we want candidates to relax and show us who they are and why they're passionate about law,” Sacha Pickering says. “We also like it when candidates can demonstrate a strong work ethic.”

Following this, recruiters choose the vac schemers – there are typically 12 spots in total. The firm runs two unpaid week-long schemes during the summer. Candidates spend their visit in a single department, shadowing various team members and completing a group presentation on a commercial topic on the last day. “A lot of people treat this like some kind of Apprentice-style task, but we're actually looking for much more subtle leadership qualities,” confides Sacha Pickering. “We want people who speak with authority and can persuade others to see their point of view.”

During the week, vac schemers attend an hour-long competency-based interview with a member of HR and a partner, who look for evidence of organisational and project management skills, as well as commercial awareness. “You need to be prepared, of course,” says Sacha Pickering, “but we don't intend it to be particularly intense.” The firm's current trainees backed this up, with one telling us “mine was just an expansion on my initial application; there wasn't anything out of the ordinary.” Sacha Pickering has this advice for impressing: “Find out which partner will be interviewing you and then tailor your answers to that person's practice area – it'll show that you treat their work seriously.”

Direct applications 

Michelmores generally receives 150 direct applications for a training contract. This involves the same online application and video interview. From here, successful applicants are invited to attend an assessment day: 12 hopefuls are assessed in Exeter, while six are in Bristol. The assessment days include a one-to-one discussion with a partner on a current legal issue and a verbal reasoning test. There's also an hour-long interview with a partner and a member of HR that focuses on a candidate's commercial awareness and ability to match certain competencies.

Rounding off proceedings is an informal lunch with various partners, solicitors and trainees. Sacha Pickering tells us “this isn't part of the assessment,” though attendees are asked to give feedback on the candidates.

Doing business in the South West

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Michelmores LLP

Woodwater House,
Pynes Hill,
Website www.michelmores.com

  • Partners 68
  • Total staff (incl partners) 475
  • Trainees 15
  • Contact[email protected]
  • Method of application Online application form
  • Selection procedure Assessment days and vacation placement assessments
  • Closing date for 2017/19 
  • Assessment day: 31 July 2017
  • Vacation scheme: 28 Feb 2017
  • Training contracts pa 8
  • Applications pa 350
  • % interviewed 15%
  • Required degree grade 2:1
  • Training salary (Exeter) 
  • First year: £24,000
  • Second year: £26,000
  • Holiday entitlement 25 days pa
  • % of trainees with a non-law degree 40%
  • Number of seats available abroad 0
  • Post-qualification salary (Exeter 2015) £38,000
  • % offered job 100%

Firm profile

Michelmores is a top 100 law firm with offices in Exeter, Bristol and London, over 450 staff and a turnover in excess of £30 million. The firm provides a full service of practice areas to a wide range of local, national (including several central government departments) and international clients. Teams include corporate and commercial, real estate and private client, as well as cross practice sector focused team, such as energy and renewables, manufacturing and international trade. Michelmores is ranked a ‘Leading Firm’ by Chambers UK and a ‘Top Tier Firm’ by Legal 500. We have also been recognised in the South West as ‘Law Firm of the Year 2016’ by the Devon and Somerset Law Society. The firm has established a track record of attracting quality lawyers at every level, enabling its trainees to learn from solicitors who have been recognised as leaders in their field. The partnership has retained a collegiate style, which has helped to foster a law firm renowned for the enthusiasm of its lawyers, from the managing partner to the first year trainee.

Main areas of work

Michelmores has an excellent reputation for its work in company commercial law, dispute resolution and commercial property and the firm’s private client group, which includes the family and agricultural property teams, continue to thrive. The firm also has specialist teams in areas such as projects/PFI, technology, media and communications, construction and insolvency and restructuring.

Trainee profile

Michelmores welcomes applications from both law and non-law graduates. Successful candidates will have a strong academic background, be logical thinkers, practical problem solvers and team players. We look for well-rounded individuals who share our ambition and drive and genuinely want to share in our future success as we continue to grow. The firm recruits to retain, viewing its trainee recruitment as the recruitment of future Senior Associates and Partners of the firm. Retaining trainees is very important to us and we have an excellent track record, retaining an average of 93% of trainees over the last four years.

Training environment

Our structured trainee development programme aims to equip our trainees with the key skills needed to be successful solicitors, on both a technical and personal level. Trainees work closely with their supervisors in each department and are given a high level of client exposure, responsibility and client involvement at a very early stage. Trainees usually spend six months in each of the Firm’s main departments – business, real estate and private client. There are also opportunities to have seats in different offices and to undergo secondments. As part of the trainee development programme, trainees attend training sessions on areas such as marketing, time management and finance and are also encouraged to attend conferences, seminars and marketing events. Our aim is to give our trainees a comprehensive and diverse training experience, ensuring they qualify as fully rounded lawyers.

Sponsorship and benefits

We sponsor trainees to complete the LPC at the University of Law and offer a £5,000 bursary. We also offer private medical insurance, a group personal pension plan, group life assurance and a gym and subsidised café at our Exeter office.

Vacation placement

We run two one week vacation schemes in our Exeter office each July. To apply please complete our online application form before 28 February 2017.