Memery Crystal’s corporate work gives trainees a buzz, and this petite City firm is AIMing higher than it’s ever gone before.
AIM for the stars
“Dealing with entrepreneurial clients” is part of the everyday at Memery Crystal. Take medicinal cannabis, for example. “We’re one of the lead firms in that area,” claims partner and head of graduate recruitment Richard Evans. “The way the medical world is looking at medicinal cannabis now is a huge opportunity, so we want to be a big player in that. We’ve got a few AIM listings directly linked to medicinal cannabis.” AIM stand for Alternative Investment Market, if you were wondering – the London Stock Exchange's 'junior' sub-market. Memery Crystal's “distinctive” corporate team is known for its work “bringing companies into AIM,” whoever they are, and its AIM work gets top props from Chambers UK. The firm is also ranked for lower mid-market M&A and real estate deals, as well as mining-related energy work. There's no ranking for medicinal cannabis yet, but who knows...
In 2018/19 Memery Crystal's revenue hit £24 million – that's nearly double what it was just four years before, an impressive feat. More revenue has meant a move to a larger office and more people (lawyer headcount has risen from 48 to 75 since 2015), but trainees said this still “isn’t a place where I'm gonna get lost.” Instead, they knew exactly where they were in an intake of about four per year. Each trainee's first seat is allocated to them by the firm, but once you've joined “HR encourages you to talk to them about what you want in the future.” Trainees tend to know where they’ll be placed anyway because they talk between themselves.
Our interviewees were at ease with an “informal” NQ process too, as “HR sends out a document with steps of what’s going to happen.” Once the firm has an idea of the NQ roles available, trainees are asked where they’d like to qualify, and then offers are made. “If they have space they’re quite keen to keep us on,” but “if you don’t get made an offer I understand they help you to find a role elsewhere.” In 2019 Memery Crystal retained all four qualifiers.
The clientele is “distinct from established companies or big institutional firms.”
Most trainees are likely to sit in corporate, the firm's largest department. The team advises on M&A and equity capital markets transactions for companies on both AIM and the London Stock Exchange's main market, with fund-raisings typically in the £20 to £150 million range. The clientele is “distinct from established companies or big institutional firms” as the firm also works with small to medium-sized companies, often in the natural resources sector. For example, the team recently acted for South African phosphate mining company Kropz on its admission to the AIM market, $35 million fund-raising and $40 million acquisition of mining company Cominco Resources. It also works regularly for technology companies, like Australian software company Maestrano which it advised on its AIM admission and fund-raising of £6 million. While trainees said capital markets work “can be dry and admin-layered,” they liked the fact the M&A side of things gives them the chance to “co-ordinate all the feedback for the due diligence report, and engage with the property, employment and commercial teams, because there's crossover between departments and work to divvy up.”
There’s a “strong possibility” trainees will end up doing a property seat, with four options to choose from: property litigation, commercial property, private client property, and the most recent addition, construction. On the commercial side the team handles finance, investment, site acquisition and disposal, and development matters for investors (like Blackfinch Investments), developers (like Fairview New Homes), banks (like Metro Bank), and occupiers (like Travis Perkins). For trainees, “while there is inevitable admin work dealing with HMRC, Companies House or the Land Registry, I’m also doing lots of drafting and speaking to clients every day.”
Trainees also encountered “a hell of a lot of responsibility” in the private client team, which works for high net worth individuals, family businesses and private property companies. Research can take trainees to unexpected pastures: “I had to go to a county town to look at old maps and dig up archives. I got to explain to the client what we found and who owned this miscellaneous pathway to get consent to do something on the land.”
“A runaway art dealer.”
The disputes team handles cases connected to breaches of contract, tax, IP, negligence, fraud and insolvency. The firm recently acted for Jersey Oil & Gas in a £1 million claim against Total subsidiary Total E&P over oil exploration rights in the North Sea. At the time of research, much of the department was “locked up with” a big Commercial Court case for commodities broker Marex, which was facing a $32 million damages claim from French bank Natixis over a contract to sell nickel. With “parties in different jurisdictions – France, China – it can be a challenge to work out the time zones!” Working on a variety of smaller cases is a more typical experience in this seat. You might find yourself involved in bankruptcy proceedings for “a runaway art dealer.” Dramatic! Trainee tasks include “preparing exhibits and witness statements, emailing clients, and running to court to file things.” So it isn’t all bundling and doc review: “I’ve drafted witness statements and letters going to the other side, arbitrators and clients.” And all our interviewees got to go to court: “I couldn’t count how many hearings I’ve been to.”
The employment team “acts primarily for medium to large employers” as well as “CEOs and executives that need employment contracts or settlement agreements.” The firm recently advised Karen Millen on the employment aspects of its acquisition of parts of Coast, and acted for German fashion photographer Juergen Teller on the departure of his UK studio manager. Trainees found responsibility “comes about because of the smaller size of the firm.” For example, trainees get one-on-one client contact: “The partner had to go to another meeting and asked me to make a full transcript based on a client’s evidence so we could use it in an appeal – I was entrusted to talk directly to a client for the next two hours. The most rewarding part was the client coming back and asking for more of my time personally.” A6.30pm finish is typical in employment, but one trainee's first late night left them with a high: “I remember walking to the tube at 11.30pm with such a buzz. The partner said it’d wear off, but it hasn’t yet!”
Speaking of hours, these vary a bit by team. In disputes, trainees “go home at 5.30pm if it’s quiet,” but a 7.30pm home time is more common. The property seats are known for having “consistent” hours, “so if you need something from them, you need to get there before 7pm.” Trainees brace themselves for later finishes in corporate: “I usually leave around 8pm but I’ve stayed until 2.30am.” One unlucky soul “had to stay in – and awake – for about 40 hours.”
For the love of fish and chips
A solid group of trainees, NQs and paralegals coupled with a shiny new office on Fleet Street have done wonders for the firm’s social scene. “It’s a complete 180!” exclaimed one interviewee, reflecting on the office move. Trainees said a lot of it was down to the firm’s new canteen called Stella’s, named after a veteran secretary. It’s the venue of ‘Thirsty Thursdays’, where, courtesy of a built-in beer tap, everyone can enjoy a well-earned pint of – Stella? That’d be far too obvious – it’s Birra Moretti. Still, we heard from trainees that the event “is not as well attended as we’d like – because it’s at 4.30pm and people are still working.” There are other chances to socialise too, like trainee-led Fish Fridays – “for the love of fish and chips, we go to different establishments and rate them. There are feedback forms and everything!”
In the new office, some noticed a “separation” between different floors, and thought more teambuilding activities could help “encourage people to mix.” There can be a disconnect when it comes to appraisals too: “As you get to your fourth seat you learn that it’s very subjective to the person you’re working with.” Don’t get the wrong idea though. Higher-ups “are invested in your development. Even if an associate isn’t working on your case, they’ll take ten minutes to answer questions.” The firm has a mentor scheme, pairing trainees with someone senior who trained at the firm. A dress down policy has also been implemented, which trainees commended – “it’s progressive and reflects our clients.”
Memery Crystal recently formalised its application process by opting for a vac scheme route.
How to get a Memery Crystal training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020 midday (opens 1 November 2019)
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.”
Interview with head of graduate recruitment Richard Evans
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights or significant developments from the last year that you’d like our student readers to know about?
Richard Evans: It straddles just over a year now, but moving into our new office has revolutionised the firm in every respect. It’s made us much more collegiate. We were previously spread out over six floors which made it like six firms within a firm – the geography of it just made it that way. There were people you wouldn’t see month to month. We’re now on two huge floors and we’ve got a social break out area called Stella’s – trainees love it. It’s got a beer tap and table football, all these sorts of things that bring people together on a Thursday night. Everyone has gotten into the spirit of it, from equity partners down to paralegals and trainees. It’s a much happier place to work.
We also dress down now almost 100% – that’s been a big difference. Obviously if we have clients in the office, or if you’ve got a meeting or you’re in court, you’re expected to be in formal attire – but I’m sitting here now in jeans and a jumper. The firm has grown up a bit, which is the way the world is going. We treat people like adults. Obviously people aren’t walking round in flip flops, but the mentality is we’re all busy, so if you want to come in to work in jeans that’s no issue. And if you want to be smartly dressed it’s not an issue. We treat all staff like adults.
CS: What should students know about the firm’s strategy and what it wants to achieve in the next three to four years?
RE: We’ve increased growth this year by around about 20%, so we’ve taken on a lot moving into a bigger building. There’s much more room to expand; we were previously curtailed purely by space. Whereas now, for example, we’ve brought in a new gaming partner – Carl Rohsler from Squire Patton Boggs. And Stephen Ravenscroft now heads up the employment team. We’ve made six fairly substantial lateral hires and that’s had an immediate impact on turnover: this year we’re hoping to reach £24 million. A year or two ago we were at £18 million, so the firm has naturally grown in size and revenue. I think from Nick Davis’ point of view, we’re hoping to press on beyond that to the mid-twenties. We’re not just completely financially driven, but we are becoming a bigger firm in terms of numbers and turnover.
CS: Which practice areas are doing particularly well at the moment?
RE: One area of the firm which is especially in the media at the moment is medicinal cannabis. We’re one of the lead firms in that area. Nick Davis is one of the lead practitioners in this area – he’s talked about it for years and has said this is a growth area. The way the medical world is looking at medicinal cannabis now is a huge opportunity, so we want to be a big player in that. We’ve got a few AIM listings directly linked to medicinal cannabis. It’s very innovative and still early stages. In corporate we still have a huge presence with AIM clients and I think three or four Main listings at the moment.
Property wise, obviously Brexit is on everyone’s lips at the moment. There’s a feeling that perhaps property has been a little stagnant, across central London especially. My view is that once Brexit gets resolved, which it will one way or another, we will see a big upturn in transactional work. We found that post referendum, rather than the depression people were expecting, property had its best year. A lot of the funds were offloading, clients were quite entrepreneurial and seizing those opportunities. So there’s the feeling in the firm that property will significantly grow, especially after the end of March.
CS: You’ve said the firm is growing in numbers and turnover – does this mean you’ll be growing trainee numbers?
RE: I think so – we’re taking on five trainees this year. We’ve changed our recruitment process, so we’re now also doing a vac scheme, which we did for the first time last year. Integrating candidates during the vac scheme has been very interesting and novel. We think it really worked to the point that we’re sticking with it again this year, and we’ve got two coming up in Easter. In terms of numbers, I imagine we’ll be increasing the intake. Traditionally it’s been four trainees a year and going forward we will be pushing up to five a year. We had two exceptional paralegals who’ve gone through the process – they still do exactly what external candidates do. There’s an emphasis on a level playing field, although we still aim to recruit most of our candidates from the vacation scheme and summer recruitment.
CS: What sort of person thrives at Memery Crystal?
RE: We’re a very entrepreneurial firm, so if you have any entrepreneurial skills you’ll flourish here. We want somebody who’s a good communicator. It’s very hands on at Memery Crystal: you’ll be dealing with clients within your first week. We’re not a firm that hides trainees behind the scenes. It does vary department to department, but within my team on day one the trainee will be liaising with the client and taking instructions. So being able to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in is important, because you’re dealing with clients from the outset. There’s a good degree of responsibility which our trainees thrive on, so much that some trainees who’ve stayed on are virtually fee earners by the time they qualify. They’re so ingrained in transactions it’s seamless. Being entrepreneurial and responsible, having the ability to communicate clearly with clients, and being organised is imperative. As is being ambitious: we want them to become partners and we’ve got a good record. A number of partners were trainees here, and the message we say from day one is that you are future partners of the firm. It sounds cliché but it’s true, some of our best associates and assistants are people who trained through the firm.
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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st July 2020 (mid-day)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Open day deadline: Autumn 2019
- 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, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)