Pinsent Masons already had a sturdy national network, and it's now set its sights on international expansion.
Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast – PM's network is spread out across the UK and then travels beyond, through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South Africa, and most importantly, the Falkland Islands. But PM wants more. Its recruitment website proclaims: 'our vision is to be an international market-leader in our global sectors.' Since 2012 the firm has been steadily expanding: first in the UK through the takeover of leading Scottish firm McGrigors, then abroad. Most recently the firm opened new offices in Johannesburg and Dublin – the latter directly as a response to the Brexit vote. Does all this foreshadow a future decrease in the importance of the UK network? Not according to training principal Neil Black: “Our international investment will also help us to grow our UK offices.”
“Our international investment will help us to grow our UK offices.”
What about those global sectors the firm's so keen on? They are financial services, energy, infrastructure, real estate and advanced manufacturing technology. This is a pretty short list, but PM wins Chambers UK rankings across the country for a whole range of areas. A full list would leave us with little space to talk about anything else, so here's a quick summary: in England the firm wins its highest rankings outside the capital with a dozen top spots as a 'national leader outside London'. UK-wide it's ranked in 30 areas and wins top grades for education, energy, infrastructure, health and safety and public procurement work. In London the firm's rankings are mostly in the mid-market, but it is top ranked for planning, tech and construction work. These rankings hint at one of the firm's core strengths: construction. There's much more to PM than just this area of law, but if construction law is your thing then this is probably the best firm to aim for.
At the time of calls there were 50 trainees in London, 20 in Birmingham, 19 in Leeds, and 15 in Manchester (the firm also recruits trainees in Scotland and Northern Ireland). Each office comes with a dizzying array of seat options. Trainees felt the graduate development team does a “pretty good job of getting you what you want, but there are a lot of factors that come into play. Other trainees haven’t been as lucky as I have.” Training contract offers are made for a specific office, but it's not unheard of for trainees to find themselves seconded somewhere other than their base office. Some of our interviewees expressed frustration with the firm's habit of sending a few English trainees up to Glasgow and Edinburgh every year, particularly as only two months' notice is given for the 400-mile move. However, we heard that those who did go enjoyed the experience.
Wimpy, waste and widows
In corporate, clients “vary from huge multinational corporations to individuals selling their share in the family business.” For example, London acts for construction group Keir and flight comparison website Skyscanner, while Manchester clients include veterinarian practice the Linnaeus Group, the Co-op and engineering consultants Amec Foster Wheeler. The Manchester office recently advised Capricorn Ventures, which owns Nando's, on the sale of Gourmet Burger Kitchen to South Africa's Famous Brands (owners of Wimpy). Leeds, meanwhile, recently advised Pharmacy2U during its acquisition of Chemist Direct. Trainee tasks include the “drafting of ancillary documents like board minutes, written resolutions and letters of resignation.” There's also a "churn" of work like “due diligence, making enquiries and managing data rooms. A lot of it is just project management really.” A source reflected: “Those sorts of tasks are not very fun but at least you know they are important.”
The construction advisory and disputes team handles chiefly contentious work: everything from arbitration proceedings to planning appeals and contractual disputes. The well-regarded team has 100 lawyers in London alone. “It takes up an entire floor of the office, and the big names and big arbitrators the department works with make it an exciting place to be.” Clients include construction companies Balfour Beatty and Costain, Westfield shopping centre and engineering firm Liang O'Rourke. Across the offices Paypal and E.ON also appear on the client roster with the firm advising the latter on how to get authorisation from the FCA to lend consumer credit. Arbitrations are by their nature confidential, but we can tell you the firm recently assisted Turkish contractor Tepe Insaat with efforts to recover £100 million due to it after an ICC arbitration over the construction of an oil pipeline in the Caucasus. Matters can run on for a long time, and one source reported getting “put onto a large international arbitration which I worked on for the majority of my seat and feeling lucky to get to see it through to the end.” However, bigger cases do mean less responsibility for trainees. “You do a lot of bundling, which is not particularly exciting,” one told us. On the plus side there is the opportunity to research “pretty complex stuff. Issues would often arise over the interpretation of specific clauses which are used a lot in construction industry contract templates.”
“Those sorts of tasks are not very fun but at least you know they are important.”
Over in property, Manchester counts organisations as diverse as Aldi and the Church of England among its clients, while Birmingham acts for E.ON, Danish energy company DONG and Countryside Properties. The Birmingham office recently helped preserve 700 jobs by advising on the sale of the Ed's Easy Diner chain to the Giraffe restaurant group. Meanwhile, London advised on the £921 million cross-border acquisition of the Odeon & UCI Cinema Group by AMC Theaters, the Chinese-owned US cinema group. Trainees have to "juggle competing responsibilities," working on multiple matters at the same time. One commented: “Rather than just having two or three matters to work on, I had ten to 15.” Trainees reported “drafting lease reports and deeds along with doing due diligence. We have big supermarket and insurance clients so I did lot of ad hoc research for them as well. I was also given free rein to agree small leases myself.”
Projects pulls in a lot of international work and helps contractor clients turn blueprints into reality. The firm recently advised Dangote, West Africa's largest industrial conglomerate, on a $12 billion petroleum refinery and petrochemicals plant in Nigeria, and acted for the China Machinery Engineering Corporation on its first outbound investment project which had a value of $2 billion and spanned five jurisdictions. The firm has also done its part to keep Kuwait clean, advising five international banks on the construction of a solid waste disposal facility in the emirate. A source outside London reported that “as the team here is quite small you get responsibility early on. I drafted some of the key documents for a £2 billion rejuvenation project, as well as attending a lot of meetings and researching the extent of government powers.” We heard there are also opportunities to get involved in business development, with trainees helping to prepare and run client training sessions.
In pensions, trainees found “the hours are quite steady as the work is very research heavy.” One source found the department's contentious/transactional split useful: “It meant I was able to decide early on whether I preferred contentious or non-contentious work because I could see both sides.” The Manchester team works for clients ranging from investment and pensions giant Legal & General to Unite the union, whose pension scheme trustees sought advice on a range of matters totalling £900 million in value. Leeds acts for pension providers Royal London, Smart Pension and Scottish Widows. On the contentious side the firm acted for Royal London in Hughes v Royal London, settling a point of law regarding when pension providers and trustees can decline transfer requests to schemes suspected of being scams. Client contact occasionally breaks up the cycle of drafting, research and bundling. One trainee reported “sitting in on several trustee meetings via conference call, as well as getting to go to the client's offices to get documents executed.” Client contact can be less formal too: one team outside London “has lots of breakfast meetings so you get to meet clients that way rather than just emailing them.”
Shantay, you stay
Start times “vary depending on what team you are in. Some are early birds, while in others people usually get in at 9.30am.” End times are equally varied: pensions and property see a regular exodus at 6 or 6.30pm, while departure times in corporate range from 5.30 or 6pm on a quiet day to 8 or 10pm during busy periods. We did also hear of a few midnight and early morning finishes and one working day that stretched into 2pm the following day. However, such late finishes are fairly infrequent. “I can count on two hands the number of times I have been here past 7pm,” said one source.
The firm's offices are “all done up to the same standard and style,” though Birmingham sources were keen to brag about their “swish new digs” – they're in a smart renovated Victorian building on Colmore Row. The Manchester office in Spinningfields has an on-site deli and “all the meeting rooms have panoramic views of Manchester. You can see Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium.” In London, the firm moved into a "very flashy" new City office in 2011, which boasts “showers, an underground car park, a restaurant, and a subsidised in-house Costa coffee.”
“We had five partners in drag!”
'Approachable, Bold and Connected' is how the firm loftily described its values. These buzzwords are not without a basis in fact, trainees told us. When it comes to being approachable, our interviewees said “everyone makes time to say hi, people always chat in the lifts and the canteen, and you really get the sense we're a team rather than just people working together.” The firm is also notable for making a push on diversity: the current trainee cohort has a fair number of people from BME backgrounds and we heard of one individual receiving substantial disability support with significant changes being made to the office and their desk to fix accessibility issues. In terms of connectedness the firm makes an effort to cross-sell services between offices. There are also social events which help boost team spirit within offices: we heard the amusing story of a fancy-dress Christmas party in Birmingham, where “the litigation department all went as Marilyn Monroe, so we had five partners in drag!” 'Boldness' is a harder quality to pin down. Does it mean making sure your drag look features some fierce contouring? No, said trainees, pointing instead to the firm's agile working programme. (Yeah, not quite as exciting, we know.) What this means at PM is that there are specific working spaces for lawyers visiting from other offices, the firm offers extended paternity and maternity leave, and there are some lawyers who work from home.
On the social side, we heard that there are “three, maybe four, firm-wide dos a year, including spring and summer parties.” There are plenty of office-specific socials too: a Leeds source quipped that “there's so much going on it's difficult to get involved in everything. Every week for the next three months there's both a business development and a social event.” Londoners reported receiving regular emails “asking if anyone fancies going to this gig or teaming up to, say, play darts.” We also heard of a variety of sports clubs, a wine tasting society and an LGBT group.
According to one trainee we spoke to “when it comes to applying for an NQ role it is only natural to feel quite stressed. Everyone tells you to feel relaxed but you still get very worried just by the nature of wanting the job.” In order to ease this stress the firm provides career coaching though an external training provider. Trainees get two full-day workshops which give you “tips on what you should be doing and allow you to reflect on what you want to do before the NQ application process starts. It's an impartial, open and useful forum in which to have an honest conversation.” There where grumbles that the announcement of who has an NQ job comes quite late in some offices compared to other firms. In 2017, 67 of 91 qualifiers were kept on.
The trainee induction week is held in Glasgow. According to one source “the hotel is incredible, the food is brilliant, the rooms are gorgeous and there are social events every night. It must cost a fortune!”
How to get a Pinsent Masons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 5 January 2018
Training contract deadline: 27 July 2018
Aspiring Pinsent Masons trainees hoping to get a foot in the door at one of the firm's English offices need 300+ UCAS points and a strong 2:1 degree. They will also need to achieve a commendation at law school in either their GDL or LPC.
Beyond this, graduate recruitment manager Margaret Ann Roy tells us the firm is looking for candidates who are “confident, proactive people who want to make the most of the opportunities presented to them. We want people who have the ability to generate innovative ideas and the tenacity to see them through to the delivery of a commercial solution for our clients.” Showing you're adaptable and open-minded also impresses.
The firm prefers candidates to apply via its vacation scheme – 70% of trainees are recruited this way. “A vacation placement is the perfect way to discover if a firm is right for you and it will be a fantastic experience regardless of whether you end up with a training contract or not,” says Roy, adding: “Of course, we do understand that not everyone can undertake a vacation placement and so we always have a small number of training contract places which we fill directly.”
Over 1,000 candidates typically apply for the firm's 100 vac scheme places. The application begins with an online form that focuses on biographical info, academic results and transferable skills. The use of a contextual recruitment system allows candidates' academic results to be considered in light of the circumstances in which they were attained.
Pinsent Masons then uses a framework of key competencies to decide who to invite to the firm's assessment centre. This consists of a psychometric test and an interview with a senior lawyer, who assesses traits like commercial awareness, confidence, attention to detail, drive, intellectual capability and sociability. Those who come out on top at this stage nab a vac scheme.
The firm runs two vac schemes in each of its offices. These take place between June and August every year, and each lasts for two weeks. The Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds offices have room for up to ten candidates on each scheme with Birmingham normally accommodating more than Leeds and Manchester, while London takes on up to 15.
Attendees spend the duration of their visit in a single practice group. “This lets vacation students develop strong working relationships with their peers and colleagues, and allows them to get involved in substantive work," says Margaret Ann Roy. Candidates express their practice group preference before the scheme starts.
Vacation students are assessed for a training contract as part of their placement: during their final week, they'll complete a business simulation exercise and give a presentation based on the SWOT analysis framework. They'll also undertake a partner interview that focuses on the aforementioned traits, plus their future career ambitions and what they've learned on the scheme. Feedback from candidates' supervisors and the other lawyers they've worked with is also taken into account.
Social events aren't compulsory, but there are a few things like comedy nights, 'escape room challenges' and pizza-making courses scattered across the scheme, giving students a chance to mix with a wider range of potential colleagues.
Around 750 candidates complete a similar online form to apply for a training contract directly. The same key competencies framework is used to screen applicants and whittle them down to the select few that will attend an assessment centre.
Here the firm assesses candidates “in the same way as those on the vac scheme, but in a one-day format,” says Roy. Candidates therefore complete the same psychometric test, SWOT presentation, business simulation exercise and partner interview. Just under half of those attending the assessment day are offered a training contract.
The firm offers around 68 UK-based training contracts per year, and candidates applying for the English offices can expect to hear back by 1 September.
Pinsent Masons' international presence
The past few years have seen Pinsent Masons engage in a concerted effort to expand its international presence. In summer 2015 it opened two offices in Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne. The two bases will work closely with the firm's Asia-Pacific practice, serving the same clients that are currently handled by the firm's China, Singapore and Hong Kong offices. In 2015 the firm also opened an office in Brussels which won't have permanent staff, but will be poised and ready as a base for lawyers to use when advising UK clients on competition law and the challenges facing Britain and the EU as Brexit looms. Similar work, and more besides, can be expected for the firm's new Düsseldorf office which opened in 2016.
More recently, the firm has been expanding into South Africa and Ireland with offices opening in Johannesburg and Dublin. The Dublin office was opened with specific reference by the firm to 'the context of Brexit' and the fact the city will become more important to the financial services sector after Brexit. The office opened was reported on with some glee by Irish national newspapers The Irish Times and the Independent and by national broadcaster RTE.
International opportunities for trainees
Pinsent Masons' fierce ambition was a big part of its appeal for some of our trainee sources. One explained: “I was quite impressed by the fact that when I applied, they'd just merged with McGrigors. It looked like Pinsents was really trying to go places as a firm, rather than just being stagnant. It was exciting to see a firm looking at growing more than just organically.”
The effects of the firm's rapid expansion in the UK are clear: a network of eight offices across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But our sources also noticed the firm's big ambitions further afield. One trainee noted: “Since I've joined we've opened several new offices abroad, both in Australia and across Europe. I do get the impression that the international side of things is growing. There's no sense that we're taking on the magic circle, but we're trying to occupy the space below that. We're branching away from being a national firm to rival some of the bigger players in the international market.”
The firm's foray into the crowded international sphere will require it to ensure its growing brood of offices works together closely. One rookie commented: “The slogan used is that we want there to be 'one Pinsent Masons' which sounds clichéd, but I have seen it at work myself. I called up someone from Paris to ask about a civil code issue and they provided loads of help and really took the time to talk me through it.” Another source found that “partners move around a lot and make the effort to stay in touch with different offices. We feel very, very connected.”
This movement up top doesn't (yet) translate down to trainee level much. One trainee source observed that “the international opportunities are very limited, which is something trainees bring up a lot.” The lucky few who get to do the firm's overseas seat in Dubai confirmed that the spot was highly sought after. One returning trainee told us that “all the work was really interesting and there was a wealth of responsibility to run with matters. Pinsents has been there for 30 years and works on huge, complicated construction disputes costing god knows how much. In Dubai, the law isn't as mature so things aren't as clear cut. And what's fascinating is that there are so many different cultures from across the West out there, as well as Indian and Middle Eastern clients. You have to be able to adapt yourself to all these different cultural norms.”
Our senior sources at Pinsents were clear that trainee overseas seats were less of a priority than allowing for movement for lawyers higher up the firm. But at a firm this ambitious, being able to adapt to different cultural norms back in the UK won't hurt potential trainees' prospects one bit.
30 Crown Place,
- Partners c. 420
- Associates c. 1,600
- Trainees c. 140
- UK offices London, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester Overseas offices Dublin (opening late 2017), Madrid, Munich, Dusseldorf, Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Doha, Dubai, Johannesburg, Sydney and Melbourne
- Contact Graduate recruiter: The Graduate Team, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 68
- Applications pa: 1,500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points: 300+ UCAS points
- Vacation scheme places pa: 100
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2017
- Training contract deadlines, 2020 start: July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: September 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: January 2018
- Open day deadline: Please check website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 (London), £26,500 (English regions), £22,000 (Scotland), £15,500 (Belfast)
- Second-year salary: £43,000 (London ), £29,750 (English regions), £24,500 (Scotland), £16,500 (Belfast)
- Post-qualification salary: £68,000 (London ), £42,000 (English regions), £39,000 (Scotland), £28,000 (Belfast)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grants pa: Yes
Main areas of work
• Financial services - 20%*
• Real estate - 13%*
• Energy - 12%*
• Infrastructure - 19%*
* % of firm-wide fees generated
Vac scheme salary:
London - £350 per week
English regions - £300 per week
Scotland - £300 per week
Belfast - £255 per week
University law careers fairs 2017