This petite City outfit offers trainees the chance to get stuck into AIM and corporate commercial work in a brand-spanking-new office.
Make like a tree
You don't need a crystal ball to see that change is afoot at Memery Crystal. For one thing, the firm has traded in its “pretty poor” former offices for a brand-new “beautiful” space on Fleet Street – complete with its own beer tap! Gone are the days of dank showers and several floors of separation: “The new showers look like a film set – I want that shower in my house!” The firm now occupies three floors instead of six, meaning lawyers “see multiple new faces I hadn't seen before.” In addition, trainees observed: “Now that we're open plan, people are excited again. It's given things a new lease of life.”
And it's not just the digs that are shiny and new: for the first time, the firm is running a vacation scheme – two one-week stints. “I'm not sure how it will interact with training contract recruitment yet, but it's something new and exciting!” said a trainee. The firm has a track record of fairly decent retention rates too, and in 2018 three of five qualifiers were kept on.
“It's given things a new lease of life.”
Against the backdrop of all this change, some things remain the same. The firm still excels at advising clients listed or listing on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), garnering a top-tier Chambers UK ranking for this field, alongside nods for lower mid-market M&A, lower mid-market real estate, mining and commercial contracts. The firm has advised countless businesses on their admission to AIM, including recently marketing specialist Pelatro and concierge service Ten Group. Alongside the work, sources were attracted to the small size of the firm. “I didn't want to be at one of those really large firms where trainees are just another number,” one interviewee said. “I felt Memery Crystal valued individuality.”
AIM to please
When newbies join the firm, their first seats are allocated at random. For the second seat, trainees “can express a preference, but it's not guaranteed that you'll get it.” Second-years take priority and “usually get to go where they want.” Sources had no qualms about this system, with one admitting: “My first seat wasn't one I would have chosen myself, but it went really well and I learnt a lot.”
The corporate department is home to around 25 lawyers, and “most trainees tend to do a stint here.” It handles the AIM work mentioned above, as well as banking, M&A and tax. Sources had encountered quite a bit of work for the energy sector, including “fund-raisings, listings and market admissions for growing mining and natural resources companies.” The firm recently advised Rose Petroleum on a reorganisation and £3 million share placement to fund a 3D seismic survey to drill for oil and gas in Utah. It also acted for mining and construction materials investor SigmaRoc on the acquisition of concrete supplier Ronez for £45 million. Trainees had got stuck into “helping with AIM listings,” “loan reorganisations” and various M&A deals. This means handling verification, drafting ancillary documents, and sometimes drafting documents like share purchase agreements.
Trainees said tax-related work is “very good for improving your research skills.” It involved “reviewing tax warranties in agreements” and “advising clients on what tax structures would best fit their needs.” The team recently advised British pub company Faucet Inn on the tax issues related to the sale of three pubs to the Stonegate Pub Company. Sources noted: “In corporate you get to work on several different areas in one seat, which is very varied but on the other hand it means you might not go into any one of them in particular depth.”
“It's common to work for seven or eight fee-earners.”
Trainees can do both a transactional real estate and real estate litigation seat. The 20-lawyer transactional property team works on commercial acquisitions, leases – “lease extensions, new leases and variations of existing leases” – and refinancings. Recent work has included advising Fairview New Homes on the acquisition of a commercial site in Surrey Quays for redevelopment, and advising investment company Low Profile Holdings on the purchase of the Grade II-listed Boston House in Fitzrovia for £24 million. Trainees “attend conference calls with clients on a regular basis” as well as “going on a couple of site visits.” There are also plenty of stamp duty land tax returns that need submitting. Sources reported: “It's common to work for seven or eight fee-earners at one time – you're the department's trainee as opposed to a supervisor's trainee.” As a result, trainees said, “you get a lot of experience and learn every day, but you do have to know how to multi-task.” On the contentious side, sources were exposed to “smaller matters, often at county court level, often with us trying to get rent from someone.”
The ten-lawyer dispute resolution team deals with construction disputes, private client claims and other commercial disputes. The work can often have an energy, transport or manufacturing slant to it. Recently the team successfully defended Gulf Keystone Petroleum against a claim for damages of up to $1.65 billion in relation to four oil fields in Kurdistan. Sources noted: “Insolvency is becoming an increasingly important area of work for the department.” Trainees had got stuck into “initial drafts of witness statements and letters to the other side” as well as “a lot of legal and procedural research.” Other typical tasks include the occasional bit of bundling and handling debt management “when clients haven't paid the firm.”
In previous years, trainees were able to do a split seat combining employment and CMT (commercial, media and telecoms). Nowadays, these are separate seats, which trainees felt “makes things easier.” The four-lawyer employment team acts for both employers and employees on both contentious and non-contentious matters. The team recently defended Gulfsands Petroleum and one of its subsidiaries against breach of contract and statutory claims brought by its former CEO both in the High Court and at the Employment Tribunal. Trainees “go to hearings at employment tribunals and attend settlement agreements.” Other work includes “drafting basic employment service agreements and quite a lot of research.” Rookies are also tasked with helping prepare for the firm's monthly 'know-how' meetings. On the CMT side, preparing for GDPR was flavour of the month at the time of our calls. Outside of that, trainees might find themselves “drafting terms and conditions for companies.”
Let's get quizzical
“People here are friendly and empathetic towards your position as a trainee,” one source said. “They're always keen to offer help.” Another trainee believed: “I get the feeling people genuinely want you to be your best which is really important.” Interviewees told us there aren't very many trainee-specific training sessions, but noted: “Each department organises its own training, and otherwise it's easy to ask for help if you need it.” A sense of “closeness and camaraderie” among the trainee group means newbies felt particularly comfortable going to more seasoned trainees with questions. “There's no competition between us,” one source said. “We stick together, rather than being up against each other.”
“Having a canteen downstairs has made it easier to organise firm-wide drinks.”
There may not be competition when it comes to work, but when it comes to firm social events it's a different story: there's a trainee-run pub quiz and a 'landmark challenge' for new trainees –“the organisers, the second-year trainees, put together a sheet with clues and we have to work out which landmarks are in the area they refer to.” The wider social scene has benefited from the recent office move – “having a canteen downstairs has made it easier to organise firm-wide drinks.” These now often take place on the last Thursday of every month. There are also regular events for charity – at the time of research, sources were looking forward to an office bake-off. In the past, the firm has also held a 'Tour de Law' event where “two exercise bikes are brought into the office and whoever wants to take part cycles for 15 minutes at a time, and we try to cycle the distance from London to Paris and back.”
An average day for most trainees meant getting in between 8.30am and 9am, then “trying to leave between 7pm and 8pm.” Although some late nights are inevitable (“I stayed until 3am once – I was starting to wonder whether I should go home at all that night!”), trainees said: “People recognise when you're working long hours. After one big trial, the CEO came into my office and gave me the following day off in lieu.”
Around 65% of Memery Crystal’s associates are women and the firm has a female chair, Lesley Gregory.
How to get a Memery Crystal training contract
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 2017 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 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 four 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, 320 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 Helen 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.”
The Alternative Investment Market
Memery Crystal LLP
165 Fleet Street,
- Partners 33
- Associates 38
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices London
- Graduate recruiter: Helen Seaward
- Training partner: Merrill April and Richard Evans
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 320
- Vacation scheme places pa: 16
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Open day deadline: Autumn 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,000
- Second-year salary: £39,000
- Post-qualification salary: £63,000
- 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, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining: International (Band 3)