Lean teams keep trainees keen at a growing London outfit where “entrepreneurial” corporate work is the AIM of the game.
Fear not, brave adventurer, you haven’t stumbled upon a Dungeons & Dragons textbook. This Memery Crystal is not a magic spellcasting jewel – it’s a small but growing London law firm with an ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to legal practice. Chambers UKawards the firm a top ranking nationwide for Alternative Investment Market (AIM) capital markets work and further recognition for its energy and natural resources practice; as well as lower mid-market corporate and real estate work in London.
MC markets itself as ‘commercially aware, entrepreneurial in spirit, international in outlook, and pragmatic in approach.’When we were in school our teachers always told us to show our working, so what does the firm mean by this? Trainees suggested a smallish headcount of 80 or so lawyers allows it to adapt to changing industries quickly: “We’re able to be a bit nimbler than larger firms, and keep up with key market trends,” one junior noted, highlighting the firm’s desire to be “the market leaders”on the legal front of the medicinal cannabis industry as a prime example. “Memery Crystal is an outward-looking firm with a core approach of helping entrepreneurs and small businesses grow,”they argued, with the benefit that working with entrepreneurial clients creates a more entrepreneurial firm. Makes sense.
“We’re able to be a bit nimbler than larger firms and keep up with key market trends.”
Sources looked beyond the firm’s sole London base to point out that “Memery Crystal’s work often has an international element to it, and lots of our clients are trading overseas.”The firm acts for international clients in High Court proceedings and maintains a strategic partnership with Yingke, the largest China-based law firm. As for pragmatism… MC sticks to a small trainee intake, so each can get a breadth of experience.
“Everyone is assigned their first seat,”but the firm keeps trainees’ preferences in mind for the three remaining six-month seats. “We never have issues with allocation! Having a smaller intake means most people do all the seats they want to,”we heard. Memery Crystal doesn’t have mandatory seats, giving more power to the trainees: “If a department needs assistance, they can bring in a paralegal rather than force a trainee to sit there.”
Sources described MC’s corporatedepartment – the firm’s largest – as a “very different and distinctive offering”in the London legal scene… why? “The firm’s clients are always interesting businesses like cannabis or ultrasound companies,” one explained. “Deal teams are very lean and you get lots of responsibility, which I like.”Memery Crystal tackles both traditional lower mid-market M&A and equity capital markets, with the latter geared towards the natural resources and tech sectors. “It’s such varied work,”a trainee enthused. “Reductions of capital, verifications, listings, venture capital investments… we see them all.”The firm recently advised longstanding client Gaming Realms on the £11.5 million sale of its subsidiary Bear Group to River iGaming; other clients include Pure Gold Mining and Gulf KeyStone Petroleum. Interviewees worked on schemes of arrangements for public companies going private, and commodities filings for mining companies changing jurisdictions; they drafted various documents as part of the deals. Many also enjoyed “working alongside the much bigger law firms who help fund clients’ projects we’re working on.”
“I got to draft key correspondence with clients, witness statements, and instructions to counsel.”
A dispute resolution seat covers a “a very broad spectrum”including commercial litigation, civil fraud, shareholder and company disputes and some arbitrations. Our interviewees also got stuck into “quite a few insolvency matters”for financial markets and institutions – this practice may grow in the wake of Covid-19. “There’s quite a bit of international work here,”a trainee declared. “I’ve worked on disputes based in Spain, Italy and Israel.”Others dipped their toes in “a couple of maritime cases”and tax disputes for asset management funds in Italy. The firm represented independent commodities broker Marex Financial in a Supreme Court appeal addressing reflective loss rules and asset stripping. Big cases can mean smaller responsibilities for trainees, but the ones we spoke to found room for growth: “I was involved in all stages of the bog-standard trainee stuff like bundling and document review,”one said. “Over time, however,I got to draft key correspondence with clients, witness statements, and instructions to counsel. It’s now a really good seat to look back on.”
“Partners have specialisms in technology, licensing agreements, IP, gambling and data protection”in commercial IP and tech(CIPT), all of which fall into one seat. Household-name clients here include the Telegraph Media Group, West Bromwich Albion FC and the Health Lottery. The firm also represents the Saudi national oil and gas company Aramco, recently providing advice for its R&D IP company. Trainees in this seat are “in charge of the due diligence” for commercial contracts and got to do “some really good IP research,”including putting together a cease and desist letter for a trade mark dispute. Cases here also involve “a fair amount of contract review for licensing agreements.”Trainees identified some issues with “unstructured workflow and staffing, there’s not always enough delegation on matters,”but they appreciated the variety of interesting clients and cases in the department.
Memery Crystal’s employmentdepartment mostly advises employers. Financial services, technology, energy, retail and fashion businesses call on the firm’s advice – “the clients range from multinationals to smaller UK established start-ups,”according to trainees. Fashion retailer Karen Millen called on MC to advise on employment aspects of their pre-pack administration acquisition of women’s wear brand Coast – both were later acquired by Boohoo. “My start in the seat was quite interesting as I was in a client meeting on the first day,”one of our sources said.They noticed expectations rise over time: “I’m now given the same tasks, like drafting settlement agreements, but for a shorter turnaround. The shift in expectations has been based on timing more than quality.”The seat was popular for its mix of contentious and non-contentious matters including settlements, redundancies, terminations and disciplinary advice: “You will get a chance to work in all those fields.”
A small headcount means “you get to know everyone’s name,”so don’t panic if you have a bad Memery for faces (panic at our jokes instead). “From the print room to marketing to IT to the secretaries, people know each other and there’s not a divide between support staff and lawyers,”sources stressed, keen to promote the lack of hierarchy at the firm up to the verytop: “Name partner Peter Crystal sits near me. He’s very friendly and says ‘hello’ all the time.”A newish open plan office on Fleet Street helped increase “connection between departments,”and growth in the junior ranks has boosted spirits: “Since we’ve upped the trainee intake to five and brought in more paralegals, there’s a sizeable cohort who lunch and drink together. There’s no feeling of competition between trainees.”
“Name partner Peter Crystal sits near me. He’s very friendly and says ‘hello’ all the time.”
The social scene at MC is “not just hanging around the beer tap in the kitchen or the social committee organising drinks,”and trainees enjoyed “casual conversations about TV and our weekend plans with colleagues. Partners will come and join as they’re interested in what we’re up to.”Horror stories of partners beasting trainees were nowhere to be found; instead we heard “the firm balances work incredibly well and encourages you to have a life outside the walls of the office. If you can leave at 5.30, do it; but if you need to stay until 10pm, that’s also expected of you.”10pm was a late night for our sources, with several telling us they’d “never once stayed past 12pm. We have a really good work/life balance.”Seasonal parties, firmwide pub quizzes, first-year treasure hunts and Thirsty Thursdays at Stella’s canteen (named not after the lager, but a veteran secretary) help jazz up the ‘life’ side of the equation.
Trainees get two reviews in each seat. They felt “the balance between formal and informal feedback really benefits you. Many of the senior lawyers at Memery Crystal trained here and remember what the training contract is like, so you can ask them any questions.” Perhaps looking to follow in their footsteps one day, sources agreed “the firm really wants to see you run. It’s a small intake so they’re fully invested in you.”
How good is your Memery?
Qualification at MC is “not very formal, we just chat with HR.” The firm kept all four qualifiers in 2019 and retained all six of its qualifiers in 2020.
How to get a Memery Crystal training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 July 2020 midday (opens 1 November 2020)
Open evening and interview
Memery Crystal runs open evenings in the autumn where partners, fee earners and trainees give short presentations on their roles, and attendees get the chance to network over drinks. The evenings aren't assessed, but to be invited you do need to apply with a CV and covering letter. In 2018 the firm gave places to around 35 people.
Training contract applications at Memery Crystal begin with an online form. Current trainees told us this is “pretty straightforward and doesn't have any of those obscure questions like 'If you were a colour, which would you be?'” The firm typically receives around 250 applications at this stage, and each one is read by two or three people.
Around 40 applicants make the grade and get through to the interview stage. This is usually held with head of human resources Helen Seaward and a senior associate, and involves competency-based questions. Seaward tells us: “We test their legal knowledge through scenario questions. Those who've not yet studied law are not disadvantaged. It's more about finding out what their thought processes are.”
Our trainee sources advised applicants to “take ten minutes to actually work out what kind of thing the firm does. You should be prepared to give examples of recent cases we've been working on.” Seaward agrees: “If your passion is to become a City lawyer, you've got to know what's going on in the City. Surprisingly, that's where a lot of people fall down.”
As well as summer recruitment, Memery Crystal also runs a vacation scheme over Easter. The scheme is for individuals applying to start a training contract in 2022. The week-long vacation scheme allows students an opportunity to get an insight into the firm through work experience. The week is assessed and successful candidates will be offered a training contract.
The firm invites up to 16 applicants to attend its assessment centre, which takes place over two days. We heard this is “an intense and tiring experience,” though trainees did praise how “varied it is – you get the opportunity to shine in different areas and to present a rounded view of yourself.”
Participants spend part of their first day in one department, observing what goes on and working alongside trainees. “It felt like a mini vac scheme at that point,” a trainee recalled. During the day attendees complete two individual exercises, plus a group task. “The exercises are designed to find out how you think and approach tasks,” said a trainee.
The second day sees candidates give a presentation to two partners. They receive the topic a week before, and it usually involves a current affair – previous ones include Scottish independence and Brexit. “Generally the topics have a legal element, a business element and a human element,” clarifies Seaward. Afterwards, the partners ask questions on the presentation before proceeding onto the final interview. “We are interviewing you,” says Seaward, “but don't forget you should also be interviewing us and finding out what we're about – all the best candidates do.”
The firm offers up to five training contracts each year, and candidates can expect to hear whether they've been successful two weeks after the final interview.
Prospective trainees need good GCSEs, 128 UCAS points at A level and a 2:1 degree. The firm values work experience. “We find those who have this are more likely to hit the ground running when they start,” says Seaward. “We place a big emphasis on legal work experience in particular. We want people who know for sure that they want to become a lawyer in a City firm.”
Personality-wise, Memery Crystal looks for self-starters. “You can be the only trainee in a department, so the whole team will go to you for junior support. You can't be the kind of person who likes to hide behind a desk,” Seaward suggests: “We also like people who can show they have a genuine interest in business and enjoy the fact that law is always changing.”
Memery Crystal LLP
165 Fleet Street,
- Partners 32
- Associates 43
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Helen Seaward
- Training partner: Alex Barnes
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 128
- Vacation scheme places pa: 16
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 31st July 2021 (mid-day)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Open day deadline: Autumn 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000 Second-year salary: £40,000 Post-qualification salary: £65,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: No
We have a strong internal culture, based upon a set of core values, which underpins our individuality, our emphasis on long-term client relationships and our collegiate and entrepreneurial approach. We act for a broad range of clients, from individual entrepreneurs and owner-managed businesses, to City institutions, educational organisations and multi-national corporations.
Unusually for a single-office firm, we have a strong international focus, which we see as vital to our vision of remaining independent in a globalising economy. We have considerable cross-border transactional experience and have built strong relationships with other independent law firms around the world. Our key strength lies in the quality of our award winning people. We seek to recruit and retain leading individuals, who provide the highest level of service to our clients.
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)