West-Ender Mishcon has grown rapidly since the millennium, but a fresh ten-year plan shows it won't be putting on the brakes any time soon.
The drawbacks of being a wallflower
According to trainees, it's “all about personality” at Holborn-based Mishcon de Reya. “A lot of importance is placed on the people making the firm and it's so true,” said one interviewee. “Mishcon isn't afraid to stick its head above the parapet, make a stand and become known for something quite controversial.” Indeed, at the time of our calls Mishcon was making Brexit-related headlines for its attempt to ensure that Article 50 is not triggered without an Act of Parliament. But this isn't the first time Mishcon has made a splash in the public sphere: it did so when it represented Princess Diana during her divorce, and, more recently, throughout its work on the phone hacking scandal.
Though the firm favours “big personalities,” trainees were just as quick to point out that they weren't “a bunch of obnoxious, shouting loudmouths.” But one mused: “You do need to be able to push yourself forward, have opinions and stand up for yourself. Wallflower types wouldn't do as well here.” Perhaps Mishcon is looking for big personalities to help realise its big plans. Managing partner Kevin Gold recently revealed the firm's 'ten-year vision', and if all goes as hoped, Mishcon will be pulling in a revenue of £175 million by 2026 – that's an ambitious 40% increase on where it is now, which at the time of writing was projected to be around the £125 million mark. Ambitious, but Mishcon has shown it's a dab hand at revenue increases, considering that in 2002 it was finishing the financial year with £20.2 million in its pockets. The litigation department – which contributes the largest chunk of revenue (£35 million) – will play an increasingly important role, with recent laterals from King & Wood Mallesons and Addleshaw Goddard strengthening its IP and insurance expertise. But Gold also wants to build a leading mid-market corporate department, and is shooting for growth in the firm's other core areas: private (which includes a family practice), employment and real estate. Chambers UK ranks the firm in all of these areas, with top rankings going to its art, IP, lower mid-market corporate, regulatory and employment practices.
“Time management really is very important.”
Trainees can complete seats in all of Mishcon's core areas. About two months before each rotation, a list of available seats and supervisors is circulated by HR. Many of our sources had then arranged coffees with supervisors in order to schmooze their way into a seat. “Well, I wouldn't say schmooze, I'd say 'pitch',” said a trainee sternly. “It helps to pitch yourself as an individual. You have to take your future into your own hands and you should be able to talk with conviction about why you want a seat and why you're well suited to it.” Most trainees were positive about this process (“it teaches us to stand on our own two feet”), but some pointed out that “it's quite contrived and could do with more formalisation.”
Mishcon's broader litigation department offers seats in fraud, fraud defence, IP, banking and finance, and competition and tax. Client-wise, newbies can expect to work for a mix of blue-chip corporates like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, as well as high net worth individuals like oligarchs and high-flying business people. Recent highlights have seen the team act for Mercedes-Benz during a £500 million VAT dispute with HMRC, as well as various members of a group litigation claim – including Scottish Widows and BAE Systems – against RBS, who accuse the bank of misleading its shareholders. Future trainees should prepare for a lot of drafting, as a seat here is “full of it.” One told of having “a first stab at application notices, witness statements, letters of advice and court orders. There are also bundles to put together and I worked with a paralegal to co-ordinate that.” There's also “lots of court time. I got to go to the Queen's Bench Division a lot. It's rewarding as everything you've been working towards culminates in that day in court, where you see the fruits of your hard work.”
Over in the intellectual property arm, “we act for a lot of brands that face counterfeit goods issues on the market, like a computer manufacturer, for example, that's dealing with fake chargers being sold on eBay.” The trainee's role in this serious business is to “liaise with the client, instruct investigators and advise on how to go forward. You do the legwork and analyse if there's any merit in taking further action, then you start drafting letters to the other side.” Another reported: “This seat gave me my first experience of working on more than ten matters at the same time – time management really is very important. You're able to run with matters yourself, but you're constantly supervised too.” Big names on the client list include Arcadia, Tottenham Hotspur, drugs giant Pfizer and Tesco. Recently the firm acted for well-known gilet purveyors Jack Wills in a trade mark claim against House of Fraser over the former's pheasant logo.
Chambers UK gives the real estate team a 'Big Ticket' ranking, commending its growing commercial work, alongside traditional strengths in the private sector. Lawyers advised Minerva on the sale of City skyscraper the Walbrook Building to Taiwan-based Cathay Life for £575 million. It's also acting for property developers Delancey and Qatari Diar as they make plans for Stratford's East Village, which was formerly known as the Olympic Village in East London. “I was able to run matters by myself, like drafting leases and negotiating with the other side on four commercial lettings,” boomed an interviewee. Others had been kept just as busy: “You have to balance a lot of matters. I was on one huge project that involved several late nights. I was in charge of the data site, which meant handling thousands of documents and leases. As well as assisting with overall project management, I was able to drill down and do lease renewals for specific parts of the project.”
The mid-market corporate seat offers a mixture of M&A, private equity and public work, and trainees can sample it all. The group is known for its work in the betting and gaming sphere, and recently acted for an online gaming company, Intertain, as it acquired several brands – including Jackpotjoy – from bingo and slots operator Gamesys. Other sector strengths include life sciences and mining and natural resources. For rookies, transactions entail “drafting lots of ancillary docs, like all the board minutes, resolutions, director resignations and stock transfer forms, as well as managing the data rooms.” Some matters can bestow more responsibility, with one telling us they'd “done a lot of negotiation on one deal and drafted the investment agreement.” Even long hours couldn't dampen our interviewees' enthusiasm: “On another matter I experienced my first all-nighter in the office. The adrenalin was fantastic! Our client was acquiring a company for over £500 million. It was stock market-related so it had to complete by a certain time. I handled the due diligence, as well as the correspondence and liaising with the other side.”
Employment's diverse client list includes fashion brands Christian Louboutin and Kering (formerly Gucci Group), law firms like Allen & Overy and Kirkland & Ellis, and charities like Cancer Research UK. Both employers and employees are represented, and there's a mix of contentious and non-contentious work to get involved in – everything from day-to-day HR advisory points to high-profile cases. “On the big-ticket litigation matters I was controlling the documents and doing the bundles. One thing that was fun was defending an injunction, as I was allowed to interview witnesses and draft witness statements.” On the non-contentious side of things, sources drafted employment contracts and staff handbooks, and “really owned the assignments.” One recent matter saw the group advise a management team as they exited Morgan Stanley and joined US commodities firm Castleton.
Mishcon's private client department attracts a range of ultra high net worth clients. Trainees here can complete seats in contentious, non-contentious, tax and immigration. Trusts and will disputes are handled by the contentious team. According to some, “this is a tough seat that demands long hours. Day-to-day I did lots of correspondence drafting, lots of bundling and an awful lot of research.” Trainees can also sit in the reputation management (defamation) part of the contentious group. A source here explained: “We often act for foreign individuals who want to have a business presence in UK but find that they can't on the basis of reputational issues. We'll strategise ways for them to improve their reputation and get them off the world checklist that blocks them from having a bank account here. In some cases they've been put on the list because of incorrect information, rumours, suspicion, or for political reasons – with enough evidence they can be removed.” A day in the life of a trainee might include “writing to Channel 4 to have them amend, pre-broadcast, a programme which we fear will defame our clients. I regularly write to newspapers – predominately the tabloids – with a view to getting them to remove, amend or not publish stories.”
Tax involves “a lot of client contact. It's a very technical area that requires a lot of research. I looked into tax issues and drafted reports, and when we had monthly know-how sessions I'd be expected to keep the rest of team up to date on the new laws.” A stint here also includes “the traditional private client work like drafting wills, as well as helping to create charities.” The family department, meanwhile, covers everything tied to “divorces and related child work.” Trainees prepare for court by “bundling, liaising with the counsel's clerks, instructing experts and handling first drafts of letters. In smaller cases you're the main point of contact, so you have to know your stuff! I drafted the main forms and documents and liaised with the client regularly for disclosure.”
Rookies agreed that “the training is brilliant!” Every department offers a series of sessions for incoming trainees. “They're really helpful and get you familiar with the terminology. You don't learn everything, obviously, but it's definitely a springboard that makes everything a lot easier.” In addition, sources confirmed that “every fee earner I've worked for has given feedback. People are approachable.”
“You're encouraged to speak your mind.”
A few trainees told us that the hours had been “longer than expected,” while others breezily declared the opposite. As you'd expect, “the hours in corporate aren't always great,” but real estate can come with some gruelling schedules too: “The latest I've stayed was 4am, which was on a big real estate finance transaction. Another trainee was away on holiday, so there was a huge churn on paperwork. I spent a week getting home just before the sun came up and going back not long after.” Those stints appeared to be quite rare, with most reporting late finishes between 11pm to 12am; on a very average day trainees can expect to leave by 7pm. Weekend work isn't unheard of though: “I'll hold my hands up and say I’ve worked a few Sundays, but it's only in preparation for something like going to court the following week.”
The Mishcon culture “varies from department to department.” Those in litigation are particularly “gregarious and extroverted – they work hard and play hard,” while “private client is much less relaxed.” However, “the generalising feature across groups is that you're encouraged to speak your mind and get your personality across.” Our interviewees were mostly happy with the atmosphere, indicating that Mishcon's done a good job of sourcing recruits on the more outgoing side of the spectrum. One exclaimed: “I never have that Sunday-evening feeling. I enjoy coming to work! My family think it's nuts.” Unsurprisingly, Mishcon's lawyers maintain an active social scene. To give you a brief glimpse: there are Friday drinks trolleys, departmental Christmas bashes and a big summer party – the latest had a 'Rio' theme and took place on a boat on the Thames. In addition, there are always charity fund-raising events like cake sales to get involved in, and the trainees often gather to eat lunch together and sample Holborn's hotspots – Bar Polski is a popular choice, and there's also a handy Wetherspoons next door to Mishcon's plush Africa House digs.
On the subject of qualification, trainees had some qualms. “It starts with good intentions but somewhere along the way it gets a bit messy. The key issue is that there's no set system, so partners dictate what their process will be, whether it's just a 20-minute chat or a case study and an interview.” Despite this, everything worked out well in the end, as all 11 of 2016's qualifiers were retained.
Mishcon converted to both an LLP and an ABS in 2015, but managing partner Kevin Gold may not be done with structural changes just yet: a further conversion to a John Lewis-style shared ownership model – which would give every employee a stake in the firm – is currently being considered.
How to get a Mishcon training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 15 January 2017
Since 2015 Mishcon de Reya has begun recruiting its trainees exclusively through its vacation scheme. “People are all particularly good at interviews nowadays,” training principal Jonathan Berman says, telling us the new system gives recruiters a broader view of how candidates behave and react in certain situations. The firm will continue taking on between 12 and 15 new trainees each year.
Those after a place submit an online application form. “The form is very particular to Mishcon, so copying and pasting answers won't cut it,” recruiters warn. One section involves a cover letter with a strict word limit, so you'll need to demonstrate succinct communication skills to make the cut.
The firm typically receives around 1,000 applicants and invites a few hundred of those to participate in a video interview. Successful interviewees – usually around 80 – then progress to an assessment day that includes a commercial awareness exercise, plus a face-to-face interview with a partner and an associate. From here, the firm allocates vac scheme places.
In 2016/17 Mishcon is running one spring vac scheme at Easter and two summer schemes – the deadline for both is 15 January. There are also up to 15 places available on the Easter vac scheme and up to 30 across the two summer schemes. The spring and summer schemes last two weeks, and students participate in group learning sessions and individual tasks alike. Current trainees reported attending client meetings, conducting research into topics such as environmental issues and corporate affairs, and drafting case studies during their time as vac schemers. Attendees typically sit in two departments during their visit.
The firm devotes half a day of the vac scheme to a training contract assessment, which takes the form of a group task. In the past, candidates have prepared and delivered presentations to partners on topics like the Legal Services Act and alternative business structures. (Mishcon converted to ABS status in spring 2015.)
After the vac scheme, the firm whittles down a shortlist for the final interview, which takes place with two partners. Current trainees recalled this as fairly informal, telling us topics covered range from candidates' past experiences to current affairs.
How to wow
Mishcon requires prospective trainees to have a minimum 2:1 degree and AAB at A level, though the firm tells us it can be flexible on this depending on the circumstances. As far as personal attributes go, “Mishcon likes robust characters who speak up and make their voice heard,” we're told.
According to training principal Jonathan Berman, ideal candidates are the ones who are “able to deal with lots of different personalities. Our trainees work with clients frequently, so they need to have interpersonal skills and enjoy dealing with people.”
As far as work experience goes, Berman has this to say: “Each of our departments has individual challenges and caters for people with certain personalities. If your previous career has enabled you to successfully handle these situations, that's immensely valuable to us.”
Mishcon de Reya LLP
- Partners 102
- Solicitors 243
- Total trainees 25
- Contact Charlotte Lynch, graduate recruitment and development manager
- Method of application Online application form
- Closing date for 2019 15 January 2017
- Training contracts pa 12-15
- Applications pa 1,000+
- % interviewed pa 5%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £38,000
- Second year: £40,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Occasional secondments available
- Overseas/regional offices London, New York
Main areas of work
Sponsorship and benefits
Duration: two weeks
Closing date: 15 January 2017
Candidates will only be considered for a training contract once they have completed a vacation scheme. As well as being paid for the vacation scheme, those not living within commuting distance of London will be provided with free accommodation. Our vacation schemes have been designed to provide students with an opportunity to gain an insight into the role of a trainee, our culture and our people. We run a fun and informative workshop programme covering all practice areas of the firm, combined with individual and group work sessions.