With four sturdy offices across England, Pinsent Masons may be big – but it's got a heart to match.
“Pinsent Masons is always winning diversity awards!" crowed one of our interviewees. "The trainees come from an incredible array of backgrounds and it's hard not to feel impressed by it every day.” It may sound like mere hyperbole, but this interviewee's point is backed up by the facts. Over 60% of PM's trainees are female and a sizeable number come from ethnic minority backgrounds. In 2016 the firm was once again named in The Times' Top 50 Employers for Women and ranked fourth in the Stonewall Index of LGBT employers, the highest placed law firm on the list. A diverse workplace is complemented by a wide variety of work, and trainees can choose from a plethora of seats – we count 25. All of which means that “you get great quality work combined with excellent personal support” – a winning formula, we're sure you'd agree.
“You get great quality work combined with excellent personal support.”
Since its merger with Scottish firm McGrigors in 2012, PM has been undergoing rapid expansion, both at home and abroad. It has launched branches in Paris and Munich (both 2012), Istanbul (2013), Melbourne, Sydney and Brussels (all 2015), and Düsseldorf (2016) bringing its total office count to 21. All this helped boost global revenues by a tidy 5.5% to £382.3 million in 2015/16, and is contributing to the strategic aim of becoming a thoroughly international firm by 2020.
It's no surprise that PM has set its sights on overseas expansion as it's already a domestic powerhouse. Chambers UK awards the firm a bunch of UK-wide rankings longer than your arm and it is highly regarded both in London and outside – the Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham offices all sit at the top of their respective markets, and in the capital the firm wins mid-market corporate and litigation rankings plus top-tier recognition for its planning, IT and construction practices. The firm is top-ranked for construction work outside the capital too and this practice area is a historic strength for PM, as legacy firm Masons (which merged with Pinsents in 2004) was a construction specialist. While PM is very much a full-service firm, if construction law is your thing then this is probably the best firm to aim for.
At the time of our calls there were 56 trainees in London, 19 in Leeds and 18 in both Birmingham and Manchester. The firm also offers Scots law training contracts in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh and Northern Irish ones in Belfast. For seat allocation, trainees pick three preferences about six weeks before every rotation from the long list of options. The seat-picking form contains “a box next to each seat in which you can put forward why you should get to do a particular seat.” One important thing to note about seat allocation: trainees can be sent to any one of PM's UK offices for a particular seat. London trainees are especially likely to be sent elsewhere given their large numbers and seats being oversubscribed –“around five trainees go up to Glasgow or Edinburgh every rotation.” Though this might sound slightly arbitrary, sources said they “didn't know anyone who'd gone away and not enjoyed it.”
Built to last
The corporate team's work is divided into three streams: M&A, private equity and public companies. PM uses its national network to cross-sell to and attract a variety of clients – “many of our clients are small and mid-sized businesses based in London who know that work will be cheaper if it's done in, say, Birmingham.” Despite this, clients are often attached to a specific office. For instance, London deals with international corporates like BP and Russian oil company Zoltav, while Birmingham clients include the UK operations of international companies like E.ON, ISS and Siemens Venture Capital plus Midlands-based RAC and Poundland; the office also works for several small London-based tech companies which form part of a burgeoning practice led by partner Andrew Hornigold. Up in Manchester the client roster includes the Co-operative Group and engineering company Amec Foster Wheeler, while Leeds acts for local construction company Turner & Townsend and out-of-towners the University of London. Trainees spoke of a seat where “everyone tends to stick to their traditional roles, which means trainees support associates on transactions and deal with things like board minutes and data lists.” The team recently advised petrol station operator Motor Fuel Group on its £500 million sale to US private equity house Clayton, Dubilier & Rice; the company runs petrol stations for well-known brands across the UK, and lawyers were able to use their national network to ensure the deal was handled as quickly and efficiently as an F1 pit stop.
The construction advisory and disputes department chiefly handles contentious work, from arbitration proceedings to planning appeals and contract disputes. “Construction is very much the engine of the firm and a lot of our other work revolves around it," believed one trainee. "The construction team operates on the global market and a lot of its work comes from cross-selling via other departments.” Its market primacy is reflected in the fact that the team has more than half of the world's top 50 contractors on the books including bricks and mortar heavyweights Balfour Beatty, Laing O'Rourke and antipodean mall mammoths Westfield. A seat here is heavy on research and document management, "which gives you really good exposure to the tactical side of a dispute.” Trainees had worked on everything from big international arbitrations to small claims. “You don't always have the most complex or creative jobs, but everything you do as a trainee is important to a trial,” said one interviewee. “For example, I had to put together over a hundred folders to help a hearing run smoothly. My work wasn't legal in nature, but I knew that if I got a reference wrong, it could have a serious knock-on effect.”
"Projects is the most international team in the firm."
The projects team makes good use of PM's impressive contractor clients and focuses its attention on helping them turn blueprints into reality. The recent addition of veteran government and infrastructure lawyer Robbie Owen to the London team has boosted PM's ability to work with local authorities and on government infrastructure projects. In Manchester there's a special “team within a team” called 'solutions' (yes, really) that deals entirely with finding the right contractors for different public sector institutions –“if a public authority is joining forces with a private company to develop a certain site – to build a hospital or a school perhaps – we help them find the right partner. That means getting together people from different teams and cross-selling between clients.” While each office does a lot of work related to matters in its local area, sources agreed that “projects is the most international team in the firm." A Leeds source said: "During my seat a senior associate went to Cameroon, another went to India, and a partner spent time in Istanbul. I didn't go abroad but I did spend a lot of time receiving calls from London and Scotland when assisting on their projects.” The team has been focusing on the renewables sector of late, as evidenced by work advising Beatrice Windfarms on the £2.6 billion financing of a 588-megawatt, 84-turbine wind farm in the Moray Firth.
Besides advising on their financing and construction, PM also has a good line in leasing and selling properties once they're built. In fact, the real estate department is the largest team in the firm, with over 400 lawyers across the UK. “As a trainee you're expected to pick stuff up straight away when you start and throughout the seat you're juggling 20 to 30 smaller matters which you run yourself.” The group receives a national ranking from Chambers UK for its work in the hotels sector as well as its social housing expertise, while the London team has done work related to many of the new developments springing up in the capital like those at Earls Court, the Royal Albert Docks and the Olympic Park in Stratford. Outside London, the team assisted the University of Gloucestershire on the construction and administration of 603 new student flats.
We mentioned the size of the real estate department just now and you've probably got a good impression of PM's national bulk by now. So we were interested to hear a trainee say that in terms of working environment the firm “really gives the impression of being much smaller than it actually is.” For example, the Glasgow-based grad development team “schedules regular catch-ups and travels around the country to check on how trainees are doing.” In addition, social reps in each office ensure there's a busy calendar of events for trainees. In London there are Easter, summer and Christmas parties, team socials at least once a month, barbecues at partners' houses, and netball and softball teams. There are similar events elsewhere too and trainees are encouraged to attend networking dos and socials organised by the local junior and trainee solicitor networks, like Yorkshire Professional Meet in Leeds, which PM helped found.
The trainee cohorts in each office are already likely to know each other quite well when they start, as PM trainees are encouraged to do the LPC at firm-designated providers. We noticed that this led to a particularly close-knit group in Leeds where trainees start as “close friends with loads of shared experiences, and even nicknames for each other.” In addition, the two-week induction for new starters is a chance for trainees across the network to get to know each other – the first week is spent on general training in London, while the second week sees rookies head up to “a Hogwarts-esque hotel” in Scotland for PSC training and socials including “a black-tie ball, a magician and a cocktail-making workshop.” And abracadabra, trainees are ready to start work!
So what can you expect from your working day? One trainee described the firm as "the best of both worlds, as we have a lot of leading lawyers but still have a friendly and supportive culture." This translates into an approach to hours that means that even if you do have to work late, "it's not just the trainees and the paralegals in the office." Occasional long hours are to be expected for trainees, especially in corporate. "At the moment I am consistently working from 8am to 8pm or 9am to 9pm," a corporate seater told us, while another reported working 50 to 60 hours a week in the seat. Interviewees appreciated perks like dinners on expenses and taxis home after a certain time. The hours in other seats are shorter too – outside corporate most trainees reported working from 9am to 6.30pm or 7pm and doing 40 to 50-hour weeks.
If you are working a longer day as a PM trainee then you certainly can't complain about the firm's digs. The London office at 30 Crown Place, where the firm moved in 2011, was designed by an architect who worked on the International Space Station. Having visited ourselves we can attest to the fact the office has a space-age feel to it with teams gazing out onto the London skyline through huge floor-to-ceiling windows. On the seventh floor you'll find 'The Hub', a subsidised restaurant with "really good food" cooked up by "a chef who came second on Masterchef." The Manchester office is in the similarly slick surroundings of Spinningfields and possesses a deli that serves restorative grub all day long, while the Leeds digs boasts a cafe with an outdoor terrace for barbecues and client drinks. Only the Birmingham received less glowing reviews –“it's quite outdated,” one source felt –but does benefit from a prime location in Colmore Circus.
The NQ process is a precisely run affair. “We have career coaching workshops with HR before the process gets under way," a source reported. "There's one in October and another in April. They talk you through how the process is going to work, look at your CV and give you interview coaching.” The NQ jobs list then comes out at the beginning of April and trainees have a week to submit up to two applications consisting of comments from their supervisor, feedback from departments and their CV. Trainees find out their fate by the last day of May, and in 2016, 51 of 69 were retained.
Pinsent Masons' Middle East training contract lets you qualify as an English solicitor by spending a year in the UK and a year in Doha or Dubai.
How to get a Pinsent Masons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 8 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 29 July 2017
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.
Pinsent Masons then uses a framework of key competencies in order 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, 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 then 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 72 training contracts per year, and all candidates can expect to hear back by 1 September.
Interview with senior partner Richard Foley
Student Guide: Looking back at the past year at the firm, what have been the highlights?
Richard Foley: I think there have been three big things: innovation, international expansion and continued growth.
Innovation is a huge thing here. Before Christmas last year we were named as 'the most innovative law firm in Europe' at the FT Innovation Awards. Innovating the way in which we deliver legal services is something we're heavily investing in. Indeed, we have one of the largest teams of in-house data analysts and computer scientists dedicated to designing new ways of working.
Last year we opened three new offices, in Sydney, Melbourne and Dusseldorf. We also established a presence in Brussels. We moved quite a few members of staff to the new Australian offices. The new offices connect really well with our existing business and are a critical part of our plan to establish ourselves internationally as market leaders in the global sectors which we specialise in.
Another big contributor to our recent success has been the significant lateral hires we've made – in one year we brought in 23 new partners. It's pretty obvious to say it, but momentum in a business is really important. It helps to build an environment in which people are excited about the future and that feeds off itself. I felt that we really maintained and sustained the growth we experienced the previous year.
SG: What is it about PM that makes it equipped to thrive in this uncertain, post-Brexit landscape?
RF: Naturally one has to preface the answer with the fact that none of us know what the future will look like. We've already seen huge volatility in the markets. The real 'unknown' is exactly how long it will take for it all to settle down. I think we are particularly well placed because a post-Brexit world will mean different things to clients in different sectors. We have built our entire business around five global sectors, and we've become the firm that businesses reach out to in those sectors. Our sectorial focus gives clients the confidence to know that when they ask about specific market trends, we will know what the answer is.
A tightening of the purse strings will definitely occur – clients will proceed with a 'more for less' approach. Firms (like ours) that have invested heavily in doing things differently will have a head start. We are so strong in the many areas that impact the way our clients' businesses operate, which is essential as the changing landscape has fractured the certainty of how they will do that day-to-day. We could all be in for a bumpy ride, but I am confident that we are really well placed.
SG: What sort of person thrives at PM?
RF: Pure and simple: a people person. The core values of our business are 'approachable, bold and connected.' Those values do not exist in a parallel universe; they sit at the heart of our strategy. We know that we can't be seen as market leaders in our global sectors unless we're bold and well connected – internally and with our clients. Equally we can't succeed without approachable people who are capable of building strong relationships. At all levels we need people who are good with people.
In addition, there's a misconception in business that ideas and thinking are reserved for senior people only, and that's simply not true. We want people who are prepared to put their hands up and put forward their ideas, regardless of seniority.
SG: How would you describe PM's culture?
RF: I think we're non-hierarchical, and not just in the way we work. I'm the senior partner and I have exactly the same open-plan desk as everyone else. I'm keen to lead by example: we're strong supporters of agile working and we put a great deal of store on the approachable value.
We also have a market-leading reputation for responsible business, diversity and inclusion. We've been absolutely on the vanguard of LGBT inclusion; we're the highest ranking law firm on the Stonewall index. We've also made great strides when it comes to gender diversity through our "Project Sky" initiative. We're creating an environment in which your views – whatever they may be – will be listened to and respected. Our reputation means that we attract a lot of people who recognise that their talent will be nurtured here regardless of their background, ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever. An environment that is encouraging and supportive is good for all of us – not just for those who identify most closely with minority groups.
We also like a laugh and try not to take ourselves too seriously. There's a lot of pomposity in big law but we're just people working together trying to do an excellent job and wanting to have some fun along the way.
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 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.
Pinsent Masons' fierce ambition was a big part of its appeal for our trainee sources. One explained that “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 410
- Lawyers 1,600
- Trainees 160
- Contact The graduate team, [email protected]
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection Process Psychometric test and assessment centre
- Closing date for 2018 Dates available on website (varies by location)
- Training contracts pa 72
- Applications pa 1,500+
- % interviewed pa c.15%
- Required degree grade Strong 2:1 (or equivalent)
- Salaries Highly competitive (details available on website)
- Regional offices London, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester
- Overseas offices Beijing, Doha, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Falkland Islands, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Melbourne, Munich, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney
Main areas of work