“Ambitious” Exeter firm Michelmores sees its future lying beyond the South West.
Ever since 121 AD, when those upstarts in Londinium overtook it in size and population, Isca – or Exeter, as it's now known – has been working to reclaim some of the fame from its brash younger rival. Exeter-based Michelmores is doing its part and is in expansion mode: in 2012 it acquired a Bristol presence and its London office, founded in 2005, continues to grow and moved into new digs in 2016, welcoming its second NQ almost simultaneously. But the real proof is in the pudding – the numbers pudding to be precise: in 2015/16 revenue grew by a double digit figure for the fourth year in a row and stands at over twice what it was ten years ago.
“The firm is quietly determined.”
“The firm is quietly determined and takes an entrepreneurial outlook,” a trainee told us. “London sees itself in a good position to deliver quality work, and to do so cost effectively thanks to our presence in Exeter.” The 60-strong office in the capital has “brought in some new private equity and capital markets work” as well as international corporate instructions. For instance, advising a UK-Chinese-African-UAE consortium on the acquisition of a bioethanol plant in Sierra Leone; working for the financial advisers to Chinese firm Trillion Trophy Asia on the takeover of Birmingham City FC; and helping the African Agriculture Fund on an investment in a packaging manufacturer in Kenya. The firm can build on a solid reputation in the South West: it wins a respectable array of rankings in Chambers UK for areas including corporate, employment, litigation and real estate; it's also top-ranked in Exeter for its private client, agriculture and clinical negligence work.
Lawyers work across three divisions: commercial, real estate and private client – each sits on a different floor of the Exeter HQ. Several seats are available under each of these umbrellas and almost all are based in Exeter. There's also an agricultural option in Bristol and at least one trainee every rotation heads to London for a corporate seat (though at the time of our calls there were two in the capital). We even heard rumours that “there are plans for London to take its own trainees,” though these are unconfirmed. Before each seat rotation, trainees are sent a list of options and put forward three preferences. First-years are “sent a list of seats that are still available” once second-years have had their pick, but this still left first-years happy: “I've got my first preference in both seats so far.”
Three's a crowd
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. There's some international work – like the Kenyan investment mentioned above – but quite a bit has a regional flavour, like acting for Cornwall's St Austell Brewery when it bought several pubs and restaurants from brewer Bath Ales. Lawyers have also recently advised on several crowdfunding-financed acquisitions, including helping out trendy London bike shop Velorution when it bought rival Mosquito Bikes. In Exeter there's also a seat in banking, restructuring and insolvency, where trainees might “do technical research related to banking like looking into the reinstating of already dissolved companies for the purpose of fulfilling contractual agreements.”
Clients of the commercial litigation team include some well-known institutions like the British Transport Police, the Met Office and the Legal Aid Agency – the firm has even advised the European Commission. It also recently acted for Intelsat, a major international satellite company, in a $14 million case against an Indian telecoms company which failed to pay licence fees. For trainees “there are more mundane tasks like bundling,” we were told, “but you also get to write initial drafts of letters before claim, instructions to counsel and court applications, and spend time liaising with clients and the other side.” Disclosure is another big task – “I have to take a view on a bunch of emails and reports related to the case which have come off the client's computers.” Trainees in the London seat do some litigation work alongside corporate – “the cases are bigger than in Exeter and we act for some big names.”
“The partners travel a lot and bring in work from all sorts of places.”
The real estate team recently rebranded as the snappily named 'South West Transactional Real Estate Team'. Trainees can do a seat in residential development or commercial property, where the work covers commercial transactions, real estate finance and offshore property acquisitions. An interviewee told us: “I dealt with the sale and purchase of freeholds, acted for both landlords and tenants in leasehold transactions, and secured various easements. I was responsible for the day-to-day conduct of files, which means being very proactive.” Clients include Dorset County Council as well as property managers and developers like Persimmon and St Modwen. The firm recently advised on the letting of an Amazon distribution warehouse by the M5 just east of Exeter and on the purchase of a site in Paignton, South Devon, to build 80 new homes. “I suppose most of the work we do for national housebuilders is in the West Country, but we don't exclusively do West Country work,” said one trainee.
Trainees can do a private client seat in tax, trusts and estates; contentious probate; or private wealth. Rookies in the first of these spend their time “drafting wills, lasting powers of attorney and documents setting up trusts, plus dealing with queries from charities as they are trusts too.” There's also “quite a lot of tax planning work for people domiciled outside of the UK” – we heard that “the partners travel a lot and bring in work from all sorts of places.” Clients range from “Joe Bloggs down the road to high net worth individuals” to trustees of big West Country landed estates to business-owning families. Advice gets dispensed on all kinds of matters – one interviewee told us: “A trust I was looking after had to check with me if it was responsible for clearing sand off a road.”
If you're flummoxed by that question and need help, don't fear – Michelmores' other lawyers are there to help. “You work alongside lawyers who are very reputable, but who are also very approachable,” an interviewee told us. Supervisors take a hands-on approach – “you sit next to your supervisor, and they get you involved in things that will give you a good learning experience even if it's not chargeable work. Most are not partners so they're a bit closer to the trainees.” Rookies are also assigned a buddy as soon as they're offered a training contract who's “very helpful” and can be approached with questions.
“Trainees do socialise a lot.”
The open-plan layout of the Exeter HQ got credit for producing the “friendly and welcoming” atmosphere, while trainees cooed about the “nice views of St Paul's” from the firm's new 12th floor offices in London's New Street Square. The Exeter office is in a business park near the M5, but this doesn't dampen the social life – “there are still some pubs around.” The office hosts themed 'Thirsty Thursday' nights once a month – one involved board games while another brought in Chinese takeaway for Chinese New Year. The firm's pretty sporty too: there's an on-site gym, netball team, and running club, plus a “competitive” annual 5k charity run. In addition “trainees do socialise a lot” via regular Friday get-togethers and firm-sponsored dos which future trainees are invited to as well.
Trainees usually get in around 8.30am and leave around 6 or 6.30pm. Late nights are an unusual occurrence and happen “just two or three times in the whole training contract.” All in all, a pretty good package, topped off by the fact that the NQ jobs process was brought forward in 2017, so qualifiers knew by April if they were staying on. Five out of eight did.
Michelmores recruits around half its trainees through its vac scheme, so it's worth getting a look in.
How to get a Michelmores training contract
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2018
Open day deadline (2018): 2 January 2018
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.”
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.” (So don't relax too much.)
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.”
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
- Partners 64
- Associates 81
- Total trainees 14
- UK offices Exeter, Bristol, London
- Graduate recruiters: Gabby Essame, [email protected] 01392 687721 and Becky Pike, [email protected] 01392 687763
- Training partner: Sacha Pickering, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 12
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 30 June 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 20 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,000 (Exeter)
- Second-year salary: £27,500 (Exeter)
- Post-qualification salary: £40,000 (Exeter)
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days increasing to 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Exeter, Bristol
- Client secondments: Available
The firm works across three strategic sectors - finance and investment, real estate and private wealth.
Our clients are placed at the heart of everything we do – we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes to offer tailored legal solutions and advice.
We take an entrepreneurial approach to developing our business, forging opportunities and encouraging and supporting innovation.
Michelmores has an impressive history of growth and we are continuing in this trajectory, with particular emphasis on growing our Bristol and London offices. It is by working collaboratively and capitalising on individual strengths that we achieve success as a team.
Main areas of work
Alongside other practice areas, our growing Bristol office houses the largest agricultural team in the country, whilst each of our three strategic sectors are represented in London.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017
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