With its mix of headline-generating work and impressive growth Mishcon's struck gold – and it's set to only increase in value.
The Mishcon position
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” said Oscar Wilde, and Holborn-based Mishcon has certainly taken this sentiment on board: its portfolio of head-turning work leaves little room for mistaken identity. “They like to get their face out there in terms of high profile, exciting work, and that's really attractive when you're looking to train somewhere,” explained an interviewee. Mishcon's credits include representing phone hacking victims during the Leveson inquiry; serving Princess Diana during her divorce; defending the American historian Deborah Lipstadt against infamous Holocaust denier David Irving (a case that recently hit the big screen in the film Denial); and representing business owner Gina Miller in that Brexit case, which ultimately secured an act of parliament before the triggering of Article 50, but also came with protests staged on Mishcon's doorstep. “There are some seriously brilliant lawyers here and, with Brexit, most of the firm was concerned about it, so they didn't sit back – they went for it.” Similarly, trainees are prone to stand out. Understudies are largely “confident, sociable and outgoing,” but sources reiterated that nabbing a TC here is “less about fitting certain stereotypes and more about your potential and what you can bring to the firm.”
“Mishcon trainees are expected to do a certain level of self-promotion.”
We should add that a look at the legal press will reveal that Mishcon is very much in vogue; its recent string of awards have lauded its emphasis on organic growth and staggering revenue results. In 2017, Mishcon posted a hefty 17% increase in turnover, as revenue climbed from £127.9 million to £149.4 million – that's more than double what it was in 2012. Almost 40% of the firm's revenue is derived from its litigation work. On this front, Mishcon picks up high Chambers UK rankings for its fraud, contentious trusts, competition, IP and real estate expertise. However, its transactional and advisory areas – corporate, real estate, employment and private client – also pick up worthy nods. “I think it's the best performing firm in the country,” boasted one source, forecasting further growth. Managing partner Kevin Gold certainly isn't one for a laid back approach: he's developed a ten-year vision that includes a revenue target of £175 million, plus the development of a leading mid-market corporate department.
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. “You do lodge a formal application noting where you want to go,” sources explained, “but what determines that is an informal 'coffee culture,' where you are expected to meet with partners and associates you would like to sit with and pitch yourself.” Many gained the seats they wanted, but others were disappointed and questioned the methodology. One called it “potentially daunting,” while another mused: “Not all trainees are outgoing, so you could have an excellent trainee who won't get a seat because they don't click with a partner. It's a shame, but Mishcon trainees are expected to do a certain level of self-promotion and get themselves known within the firm. The firm's transparent about that; it's practice for networking.”
Lit freak, c'est chic
Mishcon's litigation department offers seats in fraud, fraud defence, IP, banking and finance, and competition and tax. Client-wise, newbies can expect to work for well known corporates like Sky and Tesco, as well as high net worth individuals like Libyan businessman Walid Giahmi, who the firm defended against allegations of civil bribery and corruption brought by the Libyan Investment Authority. Other recent highlights include acting for private equity house Terra Firma Capital Partners during its £2 billion fraudulent misrepresentation claim against Citigroup. “On the bigger cases, you will sometimes be doing bundling, which is fun... but I also worked with barristers and drafted witness statements and CPR interim applications.” A trainee who'd sat in the fraud seat had their fill of “big ticket cross-border injunctive work. It's a fast-paced, huge team with really long hours, but you get to sample work that's at the heart of what Mishcon does.” On the IP side clients include News UK, Gucci and Ralph Lauren, and matters span patent and copyright infringement claims, misuse of trade secrets allegations and licensing disputes. The group recently advised Sky during a trademark dispute with an IT cloud company, which had been trading under the name 'SkyKick.' Lawyers here also advised British fashion entrepreneurs Stephen and Janie Schaffer on the IP elements of their acquisition of Fiorucci – the Italian fashion label synonymous with the height of disco and Studio 54 in New York.
Chambers UK gives the real estate team a 'big ticket' ranking, praising its handling of regeneration and redevelopment projects, as well as acquisitions, disposals and commercial developments. The department rustled up 22% of the firm's 2016/17 revenue, and recently advised Brookfield – the world's largest real estate fund manager – on its role during the development of 1 Leadenhall Street, a 36-storey skyscraper that will soon grace the heart of the City. Another highlight is the team's work with Capco – a business and technology consultancy firm – on the £8 billion Earls Court redevelopment project, which is set to create over 8,000 new homes. Sources told us that “trainees do nearly all of the liaising with the Land Registry, and come post-completion we're the ones getting everything filed and registered.” On top of drafting leases, trainees here also tried their hand at project managing larger acquisitions: “If we're buying then I'm sending out questions to the other side, checking we're not duplicating anything, and tracking the answers. It's a lot of admin.” Another summarised: “There's a decent amount of responsibility, but there's not so much thinking involved – it's more about churning through the work.”
“There are some seriously brilliant lawyers here."
A stint in corporate exposes trainees to mid-market M&A deals. “I was incredibly busy for the whole six months. It stood me in good stead for the other seats but it was something of a baptism of fire. There's a really good team spirit though, and I was very involved in the disclosure exercises and production of due diligence reports. I managed the data room too, and contacted lawyers on the other side, plus I actually saw a transaction from beginning to end.” Others had completed similar tasks, but felt less of a squeeze in terms of working hours, telling us that “if you're looking for a corporate department with less horrendous hours, this is the place to come” – so it's clearly prone to fluctuation. Some told of working on “corporate-wrapper real estate transactions,” highlighting a degree of collaboration between the two departments; one such deal involved advising real estate investment firm Chelsfield Partners as it sold two Central London Hotels for £180 million. Other sectors covered here include energy, retail, technology and sport, with the team recently advising on the takeover of Bolton Wanderers FC by a consortium of buyers.
Employment's diverse client list includes other law firms (Allen & Overy and Kirkland & Ellis), fashion brands (Christian Louboutin), charities (Cancer Research UK), retailers (Harrods) and music companies (the Elton John-founded Rocket Entertainment). Both employers and employees are represented, and one recent case sat at the very heart of the 'gig economy' debate: the firm represented Pimlico Plumbers as the company appealed a decision to grant its employees worker status and entitlement to various employment rights – PP's appeal was eventually rejected and the original judgment upheld. The seat covers both contentious and non-contentious matters, so sources told us that “you could be drafting settlement agreements and correspondence to the other side on disputes, but also helping HR departments with employment contracts and redundancies on the advisory side.” Another interviewee flagged that they were “fortunate enough to go to a tribunal alongside counsel – it was nice to see the work that I'd been doing on a case come to fruition.”
Mishcon's private client department attracts a range of ultra high net worth individuals, entrepreneurs and family businesses. The group works on the administration of estates and the creation of wills to keep these clients on the right side of the taxman, but is also well known for handling trust disputes. Under the banner of the department trainees can complete seats in trust and succession disputes; media and reputation management; non-contentious private client; tax; and immigration. Sources who'd sat in trust and succession disputes revealed that the work is “very hands-on: you're drafting applications to the court, preparing bundles; dealing with counsel; corresponding with the other side; reviewing skeleton arguments and feeding back – such a myriad of things! And it's not just a training exercise – you're dealing with decisions that affect people's lives significantly.” This subgroup also takes care of reputation management issues, which, as you can imagine, remain tightly under wraps.
“They really want to challenge us to think about the world in a different way.”
Overall, sources felt the training they'd received was well tailored to their needs. “Partners would often say 'you haven't had experience of this, so come along to this meeting.'” In keeping with the 'coffee culture,' one keen bean told us that they were “asked to draw up a business plan detailing where I saw myself heading, and to identify a target client for the firm. You're encouraged to thinking about how you might develop your practice.” Praise was especially heaped on Mishcon's Academy programme, where themain attraction is a long list of guest speakers who present to the entire firm. Alongside legal luminaries, trainees had also been treated to the oratorical talents of Jimmy Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia), Hilary Mantel, Stephen Fry and Gina Miller – “they really want to challenge us to think about the world in a different way. I love it, it's inspired.”
That's soooooo Mishcon
Trainees reported 7pm finishes as common, but longer days were often expected, especially in corporate. “I've been totally lucky,” one source told us. “I've had a blessed training contract as I've worked 9-7pm pretty regularly. However, if something goes off in a department, and you're there, you won't leave the office for six weeks – that's understood and trainees know that. On those occasions you see that the culture is awesome – they bring in food and you're all in it together. Some people love that side of things.” A less fortunate trainee's longest spell included “three months of working until at least 12 midnight, plus weekends.” Ouch.
Corporate may be known for long hours, but we heard that litigation is “legendary” for its social side, “to the point where I'm not sure whether they have lives beyond the office circle!” joked one source. On the whole, “most teams are pretty fun,” as they boast departmental Christmas parties and Friday drinks trolleys – during one of our calls a trainee excitedly revealed that “there's drinks going on right now on my floor!” There's also a firm-wide party in the summer: “We went for a cruise down the Thames, on a boat with a bar and a dancefloor,” a trainee told us of the 2016 do. Back on dry land, Mishcon's chosen trainees have something about them. “It's almost like an X-factor. We have a phrase we use when we see it: 'That's so Mishcon.'” For trainees, this all reflected Mishcon's “massive focus on branding and identity,” but they did want to emphasise that “it's a really inclusive firm; people are proud that they work here and you do feel a part of something.” So who are the people helping to shape one of the coolest brands in law? “There are a lot of big characters: people who aren't afraid to voice their opinions and get stuck in. Your supervisor might ask you what you think of Corbyn, and you'll debate it for two hours, but you're respected – you're not pushed about.”
Trainees are equally expected to fight their corner in the qualification process, which was deemed “opaque” by some of our interviewees. Others rushed to Mishcon's defence, and told us that “they have taken on feedback and ran sessions on the NQ applications.” The process requires “everyone to submit a detailed CV, detailing what we've done in each seat, before being interviewed. The interview approach varies depending on the department: some have case studies, others have technical interviews, for example.” However, the “coffee culture” remained a constant, which ruffled some feathers: “The firm has grown quickly, and you can see that in the way it is run. There are some advantages to fluidity, but the process needs to be standardised to take the stress out of it.” Trainees were calmed by healthy retention stats though, and in 2017 Mishcon kept on nine out of its 14 qualifiers.
In line with its innovative reputation, the firm's “hired a guy called Nick West, who's in charge of moving us into the tech age,” said one trainee. “That includes starting a legal-tech incubator called the MDR LAB.”
How to get a Mishcon training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 15 January 2018 (opens 1 October)
Training contract deadline (2020): 15 January 2018 (via vac scheme, opens 1 October)
Since 2015 Mishcon de Reya has recruited 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 1,200 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 2017/18 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.
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. Different departments bring different challenges and opportunities and the ability to successfully navigate these will be immensely valuable to us."
Interview with training principal Jonathan Berman and graduate recruitment manager Charlotte Lynch
Chambers Student: From what we've seen in the press, it seems to have been another very busy year for Mishcon. Can you tell us a little about how 2016/17 was for the firm?
JB: The thing which featured in the press the most was our work with Gina Miller and the Article 50 case – it was a bit of a classic! We act for people at both ends of the spectrum – pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit – but everyone understood we were doing something of significance. Irrespective of people's views, it was considered to be something notable.
People were seeing us taking on a case that others simply wouldn't go for. It wasn't a cookie-cutter case, and it's representative of what we do for that reason, more so than the specific issue at its core.
CS: You ended up with protests outside your office because of that case. What was that experience like?
JB: It really didn't have any noticeable effect; we've got good systems in place so everyone feels secure. I think the protest was only about four people, anyway, and one person offered them drinks! Joking aside, though, I would expect people to protest about matters they feel strongly about. That's what makes this country interesting.
CS: Why is it the firm ends up getting involved in so many cases that appear in the papers?
JB: Firstly, I would like to think it's down to the quality of the lawyers. If you go to a magic circle firm there will be excellent work, but it's a different type of work. They're acting for corporates and many won't act for individuals, irrespective of the value of the transaction. We've always acted for business owners and their businesses: people with wealth looking after their personal and business affairs. We look after their interests in the round.
Internationally, people like us. We aren't in a club, we're not the establishment. People feel that when they come here they're treated as an individual, that we understand both business and personal issues.
It's never the same from one case to another. That means the type of trainee we look for is one who can deal with disparate information and a variety of topics. They need to be well rounded to handle a level of complexity and a range of areas they've not previously experienced. Clients come in with a novel issue and we don't stand back – we engage with it. Long may it continue.
CS: How is the continued success of Mishcon going to help trainees?
JB: There are some real fundamentals which are going to improve things for trainees. We relaunched and revamped our Academy because we want to ensure people are given a rounded education. It's not good enough for me to only know company law – lawyers need to learn outside of their own area. You also need to understand political and social issues.
In addition, we're predicting radical change from a technological standpoint, so we're pursuing a knowledge drive as part of our ten-year vision. Nobody has a crystal ball, but we don't think law will look the same in ten years' time. The service provided won't be the same, so we want to bring in people who are comfortable with change and have the skills to live in a fast-paced environment, who can adapt to technology.
Our MDR LAB aims to foster legal tech start-ups, and that has really changed the mood music in the firm. People have come to understand that the firm considers technological change as truly important in making what we do more efficient or better. Clients are also utilising our new cyber-security offering – it's not law, but people want a universal service.
Finally, we're also taking people back to basics. We've started what we're told is a novel tax course where trainees are taken out of the office for a week to understand tax fully. They're learning about the overarching principles so that they're not scared of the subject and won't run away when a tax partner comes in! Instead they'll be engaged and helpful.
CS: Trainees spoke a lot about the so-called 'coffee culture' (see our True Picture for more information) – is it something you actively encourage?
CL: The firm operates on relationships. We don't want seat allocation to be an entirely internal HR process. We think it's important that trainees have conversations to find out about a seat rather than simply being placed there.
JB: We understand that trainees work for a huge number of hours with their teams and we don't want people to be disconnected. Just as they would have to speak to clients, they should get to know others within the firm. If you want to enjoy yourself then you need to get yourself out there. We use the word 'shapers,' to describe what we're looking for: people who want to shape their career, shape the firm and help their clients shape their businesses. To do that you have to get out and argue your case and speak. It's not dog-eat-dog, it's collaborative. It's the normal Mishcon way. We all do it, we all go into each other's rooms – we enjoy that interaction.
Mishcon de Reya LLP
- Partners 115
- Associates 261
- Total trainees 29
- Graduate recruiter: Charlotte Lynch, graduate and lateral recruitment manager
- Training partner: Jonathan Berman
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12-15
- Applications pa: 1,000+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30 - 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation schemes 2018 deadline: 15 January 2018
- Open day deadline: Please see our website for more information
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Second-year salary: £42,000
- Post-qualification salary: £67,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000
Mishcon de Reya has grown rapidly in recent years, showing more than 100% revenue growth since 2010. In 2015, the firm moved into a purpose designed building on Kingsway, enabling all fee-earners to be under the same roof for the first time in some years. The firm has also recently converted to both an alternative business structure and LLP. Mishcon de Reya prides itself not only on the diverse range of legal services that it offers as a practice, but also on the diverse range of people who provide those services. The central role played by the Academy, the firm’s in-house place of learning, development and new thinking, the active and innovative social impact strategy and various diversity initiatives are reflected in its top 25 place in the Sunday Times ‘best companies to work for’ list of 2017.
Main areas of work
Trainees have the opportunity to gain experience, skills and knowledge from across the firm in four six-month seats involving contentious and non-contentious work. Because of the relatively few training contracts offered, trainees are exposed to high-quality work with lots of responsibility early on. Trainees are supported with a wide ranging training and development programme in addition to the Professional Skills Course. Trainee performance is monitored closely and trainees can expect to receive regular feedback in addition to mid-seat and end-of-seat appraisals.
- Duration: 2 weeks
- Closing date: 15 January 2018
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.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017
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