Post-merger Penningtons Manches has e-merged as a prominent South Easterner with its gaze fixed on private wealth, tech and real estate.
When a merger's announced, it's big news. The merger between Penningtons and Manches hit the headlines in 2013; the former was known for its private client panache, with offices in London, Cambridge, Basingstoke and Guildford, while the latter came with digs in Oxford and Reading, and was well regarded for its family work. So what's the story four years on? “The integration has gone well and the merger's history; it doesn't really get referred to internally anymore,” chief executive David Raine tells us, adding: “What's great is that plenty of people have come in since and we've recorded a good percentage of growth over the last year.” Revenue did increase by 7% to £61.6 million in 2015/16, but what do our trainee sources think about recent developments? “It feels like the firm is growing and going places. Every department has been incredibly busy with loads of enquiries.” But what's the motivation for growth? “We'll grow in line with what is useful for our clients,” Raine confirms, “not because it will get us to X-million turnover.”
“The integration has gone well and the merger's history.”
Raine calls private wealth, technology and real estate “our three main sectors,” and tells us that PM will be looking to expand its offering in sub-sector areas like reputation management, cyber crime and education. As it stands, the firm does well in Chambers UK, where it picks up regional accolades for serving well-off individuals (in private client and family) as well as businesses in areas like corporate, IP, real estate and banking & finance. But PM also has its sights set on work from overseas; an office in San Francisco sprouted up in 2014 to advise US tech outfits looking to invest in the UK. “It dovetails nicely with what's happening in the UK and our focus on tech,” Raine explains. “The devaluation of the pound has made UK tech cheaper, which should drive venture capital interest from the States.” Raine adds that on home soil “we're still focusing on digital businesses, but also developing tech-transfer work that's spun out of universities.”
Encircling the firm's London HQ are five offices, each with its own unique mix of work (worth taking note of if applying). A look at PM's Chambers UK rankings shows that Oxford is good for family and private client work; Cambridge for corporate and employment; and Guildford for clinical negligence, personal injury and private client. Reading has the strongest commercial offering in the whole network, with high nods awarded to areas like corporate, employment, IP, litigation and real estate. Joining a firm with a good regional reputation was a top priority for our interviewees based outside of London: “I'm not a City kid," said one. “So I was looking for a firm that would give me high quality work and training without the City setting and lifestyle.”
Choo on that
PM has boosted its trainee numbers of late; ten new trainees started in 2015, while 17 joined the ranks in 2016. At the time of our calls London was home to just over half of PM's total trainees (14); there were four apiece in Guildford and Oxford, three in Basingstoke/Reading (trainees are assigned to both offices), and two in Cambridge. When it comes to seat allocation, everyone submits three preferences before each rotation – but take note, as not all offices offer every seat. For example, family only tends to be available in London and commercial dispute resolution in London and Oxford. Seat options across the regional offices do change regularly, while London boasts a more permanent and wider selection. Trainees don't tend to move between offices; those outside the capital rely on the slim chance of a trainee swap from one office to another to nab certain seats. “If there's a strong business case for it then yes, it can happen.”
"You're also working with partners on the key documents.”
The corporate department focuses on a number of sectors – technology, life sciences, cleantech, private wealth, healthcare, fashion and retail – and handles all manner of transactions, from seed funding start-ups and university spin-outs through to IPOs and private equity investments. One trainee told us that venture capital matters “can involve raising finance for companies looking to find the cure for cancer and other conditions.” Recently the department advised battery materials developer Nexeon as it raised £30 million from institutional investors to build a development lab in Asia and establish a larger manufacturing facility. Lawyers here also advised the biopharmaceutical company Akarna Therapeutics – which has offices in both San Diego and Cambridge – on its sale to Allergan for an estimated $50 million. Smaller deals provided trainees with a little more responsibility: “You're working on the ancillary documents – like investor consents, board minutes and shareholder resolutions – but you're also working with partners on the key documents like share purchase agreements.” Other sources highlighted that “corporate is very process-driven, so whether a deal's worth a thousand quid or a hundred thousand quid it's still the same. But it teaches you key skills: attention to detail and how to work alongside partners in a commercial setting.”
The commercial disputes team advises clients ranging from high net worth individuals to major companies like IKEA and German engineering maestro Bosch. Fashionistas might also be interested to know it has worked for both Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo. Commercial disputes lawyers work out of both London and Oxford and have recently been representing a group of high-profile claimants (comprising celebrities, footballers and high net worth individuals – we can't name names!) who entered film investment schemes and now face potentially significant losses. On top of general commercial spats, newbies here can expect a mix of regulatory, mis-selling, IT, IP and data protection disputes. The firm's wider India Group also feeds the department work. Our sources had worked on “a big Libor matter,” a “number of mis-selling cases against lenders" and “a group negligence action against solicitors, with over a hundred international and national claimants.” These cases allowed interviewees to conduct “lots of research on various intricate points,” draft instructions to counsel, prepare bundles, email clients and “attend conferences with counsel.”
PM's personal injury and clinical negligence department handles claims relating to road traffic and workplace accidents, brain damage, spinal cord injuries, birth injuries (including cerebral palsy), amputations and burns. As trainees explained, “it's purely claimant-based and we're not limited by location, so we get enquiries from across the country. You could work on anything from low-value repetitive strain injuries to catastrophic multi-million pound brain injuries.” Interviewees here got experience “drafting witness statements and statements of case, attending conferences with counsel, making funding arrangements with clients and obtaining medical records.” The opportunity to attend an inquest was the real highlight for one source though: “Throughout I wasassisting counsel and liaising with the client, which was difficult, but it gave me great experience in real client care."
The employment department is on hand for high net worth individuals and senior executives in a spot of bother. The team also acts for employers like Ocado, San Fran-headquartered Yelp and Hyatt Hotels, and handles issues relating to boardroom disputes, whistleblowing, discrimination claims, restrictive covenants and data protection issues. The department recently achieved a settlement (worth hundreds of thousands) for a finance director of a healthcare company, who claimed he was forced from his job on the basis of his disability. One trainee recalled enjoying “loads of client contact within the first couple of weeks: I was their first port of call and I went to court.” This was a common experience, with another source revealing that they'd “prepared for and attended tribunals for unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. I had a lot of responsibility and felt really involved in the team. I also attended client lunches and dinners.” However, “with it being a litigious seat there are always bundles to prepare, which is time consuming and not that exciting!”
“Drafting a will for an elderly person one day and attending a large trial the next.”
The private client team specialises in cross-border estate planning, tax planning and dishing out fiduciary advice to family businesses. The team has expertise in Court of Protection issues too. Trainees really got a chance to hone their drafting skills here, as they put together wills, trust documents, lasting powers of attorney and advice letters. Sources were also given their own small probate files to run under supervision, and on occasion had less conventional responsibilities: “On one case we were trying to sell a client's property and I had to let the estate agent in!” In the Basingstoke and Reading offices the private client seat also covers contentious matters. “It gives you an incredible range: you might be drafting a will for an elderly person one day and attending a large trial the next. On the contentious side you'd get involved in the disclosure exercise and do the first drafts of responses to action.”
In the family team, lawyers cover “prenups, financial remedies and big divorces. There's also child-oriented work, like abduction.” Yes, this trainee did just mention child abduction. “It sounds far more dramatic than it is,” one reassured us. “It's normally just a parent moving to another country and they don't have permission from their ex-spouse to take the child with them.” Still sounds pretty dramatic... In fact a lot of the work is international, which, combined with “regular court trips,” makes family a popular seat. One source who'd gone to the High Court recalled: “I've just gone to take notes but I'm sitting with the client and can hear everything that's being said to them. Once I was left alone with the barrister so I looked like the lead solicitor!” Overall, trainees “maybe go to court once a fortnight; during the preparation phases you fill out forms which relate to financial disclosures and cost estimates for the client.”
Water-way to live
Trainees were attracted to PM's reputation for “not being a dog-eat-dog kind of place.” One Londoner explained: “Although I knew I wanted to be based in the City, I was attracted to a more 'regional firm' attitude. Even when researching the firm I got the impression that it was more down to earth.” Trainees could keep personal commitments and found people “incredibly friendly and very understanding of your personal needs; your family and life outside of work is viewed as important.” Most people across the locations left the office by 7pm every night; all nighters were needles in haystacks, and for the majority 9.30pm was the latest they'd ever stayed behind.
With the merger behind it and further growth on the horizon, trainees picked up on “changing attitudes: there's a new well-being initiative, for example, and as part of that we've all been given water bottles to encourage good hydration levels! They are taking the time to make sure we are well.” But it will take more than freebie fluid receptacles to keep all of the offices content. A number of regional trainees were disgruntled about having to travel for trainee meet-ups or well-being sessions. “Every three or four months we meet up for training and drinks afterwards, but it's always in London which puts off regional trainees.” Some felt this endangered “a training environment with a close-knit group of trainees who all feel tied to the firm.” A few others felt restrained by their offices. “With limited seats available you don't have much choice in terms of a career path. It would be nice to have more opportunities to work in different offices, even if it's logistically harder.” The firm reiterated to us that it recruits on an office-by-office basis, so it pays to check what seats you can do where.
But trainees across offices weren't short of choice on the social side. “There's a sports and social committee in each office which organises various events and subsidised activities, like cooking classes and escape rooms.” For sporting trainees there are football and netball teams in most offices. Beyond the activity-based socialising, some offices struggled to get the troops out more informally. Basingstoke trainees grappled with a more sedate nightlife, while Oxford's business park location hindered spontaneity. In London though, “people seem to be up for a beer on a Friday.”
Those approaching qualification told us that “the process has been well explained. They have circulated guidance on CVs, cover letters and what they expect you to include in the application. The email that contained the jobs list also made it clear how long the process would take.” Our sources were quietly confident about their chances, as they suspected that “the departments release jobs with people in mind.” In 2017 nine of 12 qualifiers were retained.
The firm recently launched the Penningtons Manches Charitable Foundation, which is dedicated to pro bono work. Its focus for 2017 is human trafficking and modern slavery.
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How to get a Penningtons Manches training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
The application form
The application process at Penningtons starts with an online form, which prompts candidates to fill out their education history and work experience, and answer questions covering extracurricular activities, personal challenges they've overcome and Penningtons' strategy. Graduate recruitment manager Helen Lewis tells us that “we look equally at legal and non-legal work experience, so it really is worth adding in shop and pub jobs too.” She adds that “when it comes to grades, we expect at least AAB and a 2:1, but candidates can make up for problems with a really strong application form.”
Nailing the covering letter is “critical to someone's success – it's the key section I really look at,” says Lewis. “In a perfect covering letter I'd get a feel for their character, and be able to judge how much they want to work for us and want to be involved in what we have to offer. I want to see they've done their research, and aren't just applying to us as a second tier behind the magic circle.” Lewis explains that good reasons for applying could include an interest in a particular practice area or admiration for specific lawyers at the firm and what they've managed to achieve.
She continues: “Because we give trainees a lot of responsibility and client contact, we look for people who are comfortable with being given that level of responsibility straight away.” Recruiters are therefore on the lookout for any previous activities – like leading a team or organising an event – that demonstrate a mix of confidence and good people skills.
Penningtons attracts around 700 applications for its vacation scheme, and another 700 for the training contract. The firm filters candidates via assessment days, which host 12 applicants at a time. They undergo two interviews: one with Lewis and another member of the HR team, and one with Lewis and a partner.
Candidates are also set a written exercise, a presentation exercise, and the Watson Glaser critical thinking test. “They've only got three and a half hours to show us what they can do,” says Lewis, “so it's important that they remain in control and organise themselves. It can be really obvious if people are falling apart and asking silly questions.”
Penningtons' vacation scheme lasts for one week in July. Schemes are available in London, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading. There is room for 40 candidates in total.
Vac schemers sit in one department for the week, and express preferences for which one before they arrive. They're mentored by a trainee, and complete a mixture of real work under supervision, as well as a number of exercises. One of these involves researching a report on another area of law covered by the firm and doing a presentation on it.
Lewis has this advice for future vac schemers: “Professionalism is key. Treat it as a week-long interview and do the absolute best you can. Look enthusiastic, ask appropriate questions without pestering people, pay attention to detail in your work, and treat everyone – whether partner, trainee or secretary – with respect and enthusiasm.”
Information days are held at Easter and primarily aimed at those hoping to complete a vacation scheme the following year, ie first-year law students and penultimate-year non-law students. The day is spent meeting the graduate recruitment team, getting to know the firm's practice areas in more depth, and chatting with the current trainees to find out why they chose the firm and what they make of their training experience so far.
Interview with chief executive David Raine
Chambers Student: How has the firm done in 2016/17? Have there been any particular highlights?
David Raine: It's been a really good year for us, despite some jitters around the time of the EU referendum. In fact, all our teams were all firing on all cylinders at the same time. As a result the numbers have come in above budget, but it also means there's that great buzz because everyone's busy. On Brexit, I suspect lawyers will be busy come what may.
We've done more to develop our main sectors this year. In tech, we're still focusing on digital business, but we're also continuing to develop the tech-transfer work spun out of universities, which usually concerns a lot of life sciences IP. We're dovetailing that tech-transfer work with our life-sciences practice and it also fits in well because we've expanded in the education sector to really focus on universities and colleges. It's been rewarding dealing with both the commercial bits of universities – they're increasingly business-oriented and well funded – as well as the universities themselves on everything really: student disputes, immigration audits, governance and litigation.
CS: Have you found that Brexit has had much of an effect on the firm so far? Are you anticipating it will be an opportunity or a threat?
DR: I don't think anyone really knows. I think the GDPR [the EU's General Data Protection Regulation] is probably going to have more of an immediate impact than Brexit. I'm not anticipating any sudden impact from Brexit unless something silly is said and that puts the economy into a spin and Europe takes against us. Given sensible negotiations, it will take years to take effect. But GDPR will come into effect and give extra work for commercial and data protection teams.
It's difficult to know which way things will go, but there are good signs like Apple going into Battersea, Google deciding London will be its base and White & Case concentrating on New York and London to grow by a significant percentage. That bodes well for London's position in the world. To what extent those things benefit mid-market firms is difficult to know. Typically our firm hasn't done projects work for multinationals, but every firm is doing international trade and there will be the additional layer of regulations which should generate work.
The other important thing is London's position as the dispute resolution centre of the world because of English law. That will continue to be attractive and we ought to continue with our contentious facility and grow the contentious teams accordingly.
CS: Considering it's been four years since the merger between Penningtons and Manches, what's the strategy going forwards? What do you want to achieve?
DR: The integration has gone well and the merger is now part of our history; it doesn't really get referred to internally anymore. What's great is that plenty of people have come in since and we've recorded a good percentage of growth over the last year.
Going forward the idea is to grow our three main sectors: technology, private wealth and real estate. We're also thinking about building additional service lines such as reputation management and cyber crime. Private wealth means understanding what international families might need in order to do what they want to do around the world.
When we ask what teams need to do to thrive, they do talk about additional strength and depth. If you bashed those plans together and you produced a wish list, we would be a much larger organisation. There is the germ of an idea to grow, for good reasons. We'll grow in line with what is useful for our clients, not because it will get us to x-million turnover. We're also looking at our IT, specifically a hardware refresh, agile working, and cloud servers.
CS: How is the San Francisco office progressing?
DR: The San Francisco office is targeted at technology and venture capital in the Bay Area, and it dovetails nicely with what's happening in the UK and our focus on tech. It helps generate work and contacts on that side of the Atlantic. The recent devaluation of the pound has made UK tech cheaper, which should drive venture capital interest from the States.
Penningtons Manches LLP
125 Wood Street,
- Partners 110*
- Associates 173*
- Totaltrainees 25*
- * denotes worldwide figures
- UK offices Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, London, Oxford, Reading
- Overseas offices San Francisco
- Contact Graduate recruiter: Helen Lewis, 020 7457 3000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12-15
- Applications pa: 800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadlines, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications ope:n 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £34,000
- Second-year salary: £36,000
- Post-qualification salary: £57,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grants pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Basingstoke, Cambridge, London, Guildford, Oxford, Reading
- Client secondments: Ad hoc
Main areas of work
Our business services division advises on the full range of corporate and commercial matters including joint ventures, M&A, IT, IP, corporate tax, dispute resolution, business immigration and commercial contracts. We advise on the full range of commercial and residential property matters, including landlord and tenant, conveyancing, construction and property litigation. We help individuals with advice on tax and estate planning, wills, trusts and probate, family law, clinical negligence, personal injury and capacity issues.
The firm has six UK offices, giving you the opportunity to work in or outside London. The ability to work outside London, while at the same time being part of a firm with a City presence, appeals to many of the trainees that we recruit. Whichever office you are based in, you will be given a thorough grounding in the law, with four six-month seats across the firm’s divisions.
There are occasions when you might be offered a seat in a different office or on secondment with a client. Normally, however, trainees get immersed in the work and culture of their own office, but come together with all the trainees on a regular basis and with the whole firm at sports and social events. The firm ensures a varied training programme is given, avoiding too specialised an approach before qualification. Nonetheless, the experience gained in each practice area gives you a solid foundation, equipping you to embark on your chosen specialisation at the end of your training contract with the firm. Penningtons Manches knows its trainee solicitors are happiest and most successful when busy with good quality and challenging work. The value of giving its trainees responsibility and allowing direct contact with clients is recognised. However, experienced solicitors are always ready to give support when needed.