Fancy training in different locations? Look no further than Southwestern sensation Michelmores, where there’s more than meets the eye.
Michelmores training contract review 2024
If you look at Michelmores’ footprint on a map, you’ll see most of its offices are located around the South West (in Exeter, Bristol, Cheltenham and Sidmouth) with another base in London. Your first assumption, then, might be that it’s a snug, regional firm with its feet firmly planted in the West Country. Training principal and commercial partner Alex Watson explains how “that perception of the firm is archaic, as we’re very much looking nationally. We don’t have a national office footprint, but you don’t need that to be a national firm. We’ve experienced both national and international growth.”
Indeed, if you look at its Chambers UKrankings, you’ll find Michelmores receives top-tier accolades in agriculture, lower mid-market corporate/M&A, litigation and infrastructure. Watson highlights private wealth as another key focus of the firm’s work, and Michelmores’s family practice also comes with a unique international twist. The firm's rebrand in March 2023 has helped display what’s at the forefront of the business, which Watson sums up as “providing a flexible and supportive environment for the people who work here, focusing on sustainability credentials and the importance of being a responsible business.”
"We’re doing high-quality work, but we don’t have beds in our offices!”
Access to a full spectrum of traditional commercial practices alongside more local specialties proved to be a significant motivating factor when our interviewees were deciding where to train. One source added that they wanted “access to high-quality work in a nice regional firm with a good work-life balance.” As Watson confirms, “this is not a lifestyle firm. We’re doing high-quality work, but we don’t have beds in our offices!” Trainees can also take advantage of the firm’s flexible training contracts, with seat options across the Exeter, Bristol, Cheltenham and London offices, although only Exeter and Bristol take on trainees full-time.
Seats are allocated based on trainees’ top three preferences and the firm's business need. That being said, trainees can pick a 'must-do' seat which the firm will guarantee at some point in their training contract. “We’re encouraged to be as open as possible, as early on as possible, and trainees aren’t pitted against each other,” an insider explained, with others adding that the corporate, commercial and employment seats are particularly popular. The London office also hosts two trainees per rotation in the business teams (like banking, corporate, commercial and restructuring & insolvency) and we heard these are in high demand. On the plus side, London trainees get to live (for free!) in a flat that’s a 10 to 15-minute walk from the Liverpool Street office. We’re putting our applications together now.
“They’re not shy about giving you qualification-standard work!”
Thecommercial and regulatory disputesteam covers both the contentious and advisory sides of the practice with lots of international work, too. There’s lots of cross-office collaboration, but trainees mentioned that the London office has a particularly strong IP practice. Insiders added that “no task is the same,” but, more broadly, “if you don’t like drafting contracts, commercial law isn’t going to be your cup of tea.” Depending on the scale of a matter, tasks can involve legal research, lots of drafting, assisting with disclosure, and attending client meetings, hearings, mediations and appeals. “They’re not shy about giving you qualification-standard work!” one source enthused. The group recently represented engineering company Centek and its parent company Madison in their claims against a former employee who used confidential information whilst on garden leave.
Trainees in corporatehave access to a range of transactional matters, such as M&A, investments and capital markets. There’s a range of clients, too, such as Exeter Rugby Club, Mobeus Equity Partners and Emma Bridgewater. Recently, the group advised Succession Wealth on its £385 million sale to Aviva. Trainees explained that “learning on the go” is typical in this seat, with “more scope to run with things.” Trainees work directly with senior associates and partners, meaning “you’re often trusted to jump on a call with a client and get things done.” There’s plenty of drafting, too, with trainees having a go at ancillary documents, document lists and board minutes.
Real estate can be divided into two main umbrellas: transactional and SPREE (which encompasses specialised real estate, projects, planning, construction and development), and trainees can do a rotation in either. The transactional seat largely covers commercial transactions with some residential work, most of which is available in the Exeter office. The department has advised Holland & Barrett on its UK Property Telecoms Project, which involves upgrading the telecommunications infrastructure across more than 400 of its UK stores. Other clients include Royal Devon University NHS Foundation Trust and St Austell Brewery.
Trainees felt that it was “a very methodical seat,” with a lot of lease, contract, transfer, and deed drafting. Insiders mentioned that there’s a good level of client contact and appreciated the opportunity to work with commercial clients who “have a higher expectation of your legal knowledge.” It was one of the busier seats for many trainees and “a really good one for managing your workload yourself.”
“We’re a leading firm in the agriculture space.”
Trainees were pleased to report, “we’re a leading firm in the agriculture space,” meaning the seat came with a variety of interesting work, often crossing over with the real estate, disputes, and corporate and commercial teams. The department works across contentious and transactional matters, representing private landowners, local authorities, landed estates and large farming companies. For example, the firm has been involved in million-pound disputes between family farms, and large-scale commercial matters. For example, Michelmores worked with the Forestry Commission on its mass tree planting project by the River Stour – one of the first nutrient neutrality deals to be made in England. Sources mentioned that the partners bring specific expertise to the team, like biodiversity and net zero issues. Tasks for rookies can range from research to substantive drafting, as well as the chance to attend hearings.
Trainees explained that work-life balance is central to the Michelmores experience. “They tell me to log off on a Friday!” one trainee exclaimed. Most interviewees reported that 9 to 6 is an average working day. That said, the odd late night is part of the job, “the firm doesn’t ask trainees to do any more than anyone else in the team. If you feel like you have too much work on, you’re encouraged to let other people know.” We also heard that experts frequently come to the firm to give seminars on wellbeing, sleep, nutrition and exercise. Overall, trainees felt it was a pretty sweet deal, especially since this flexibility comes with a competitive salaryfor the area.
The firm has also been flexible with allowing trainees to work from home, though most teams organise an anchor day for everyone to come in. “Everyone pops a message in the group chat to let others know if they’ll be in,” one trainee explained. This flexibility extends to the offices themselves; the London office offers financial support to trainees, and there's the option to do seats across different offices depending on availability.What’s more, we heard the Exeter HQ is the biggest, with three floors, coffee machines and a canteen. The other offices are smaller, and the Bristol base will be moving to a more modern space in the autumn.
Moving on to the social side of things, Exeter’s office isn’t centrally located so spontaneous after-work drinks aren’t the norm. However, the firm hosts monthly Thirsty Thursdays and rents out a space in town for the whole office to get drinks, catch up with colleagues and meet people from other teams. Michelmores also has quite an active sports community. Interviewees highlighted football, netball and cycling as firm specialties. There's also a charity run and an annual step challenge.
“The trainee cohort is your first team.”
“Everyone wants to get to know you, especially as a trainee,” one interviewee mentioned when asked about the firm’s culture. “Partners will initiate conversation with you and everyone’s very approachable.” Trainees were grateful for the collaborative atmosphere: “People want to see you succeed and will go out of their way to help you if you ask for it. It’s so easy to phone someone in a team you’ve never worked with and ask them a question.” Sources mentioned that coffee chats were common on days in the office, adding that “the trainee cohort is your first team.”
Michelmores’s inclusivity was also valued by interviewees. One reflected, “I think its diversity matches the location. The representation in the London and Bristol offices reflects the surrounding community.”Training was mentioned as a key part of the firm’s DEI improvement, alongside “a lot of good work on gender inclusivity and unconscious bias when it comes to internal promotion.” There’s been a big push for mental wellbeing, and we heard training also includes a six-part programme on workplace soft skills, such as resilience. “When times have become tough and I’ve had a tricky deadline, there’s never been a time I couldn’t reach out to someone, ask for help and have a genuine conversation,” a trainee explained, adding that their approachable supervisors have helped improve their experience.
A trainee mentioned that the route to qualification “sounds as seamless as it could be.” Essentially, the firm releases the job list and fourth-seaters pick which one they want to apply to. Interviews may be required if there are multiple applicants to a position, or if the trainee hasn't sat in the department. However, the firm is “very keen to retain trainees,” and kept on seven out of eight qualifiers this year.
The more(s) the merrier
Earlier this year, Michelmores invited the whole firm to Windslade Manor to have a ball, literally!
How to get a Michelmores training contract
- Spring Assessment Day deadline: 31 January 2024
- Summer Assessment Day deadline 30 May 2024
- Vacation scheme deadline (2023): 18 February 2024
- All applications open: 2 October 2023
Michelmores offers up to 12 training contracts per year. Trainees will join in either our Exeter or Bristol office with the opportunity to complete a six-month seat in our London office if they want to.
Those who pass the initial screening are the ones who demonstrate “a real passion for law and Michelmores through their general knowledge and previous work experience,” partner Alexandra Watson tells us.
Many of the firm's trainees have links to the South West, though Alexandra Watson assures us this isn't a prerequisite: “We are looking for candidates who are committed to a career at Michelmores and there are opportunities for our trainees to qualify into our Exeter, Bristol and London offices.” She goes on to tell us: “We're full-service, so we're consciously trying to maintain a diverse trainee intake with lots of different backgrounds and strengths.”
Michelmores “probably leans slightly towards favouring people who come from the vacation scheme,” Alexandra Watson reveals. “That's because we have a longer amount of time to see what a candidate is really like.”
The firm usually receives around 200 applications for its vac scheme and invites around 80 to video interview. Those who pass this stage are invited to an interview with HR and to undertake a verbal reasoning assessment. “At this stage, we want candidates to relax and show us who they are and why they're passionate about law,” Alexandra Watson says. “We also like it when candidates can demonstrate a strong work ethic.” (So don't relax too much.)
Following this, recruiters choose the vac schemers – there are typically 16 spots in total. The firm runs two paid week-long schemes during the summer. You'll be paid the National Living Wage during your time with us. Candidates spend their visit in a single department, shadowing various team members and completing a group presentation on a commercial topic on the last day. “A lot of people treat this like some kind of 'Apprentice'-style task, but we're actually looking for much more subtle leadership qualities,” confides Alexandra Watson. “We want people who speak with authority and can persuade others to see their point of view and overall enjoy working collaboratively.”
During the week, vac schemers complete a scenario and strength-based interview with a member of HR and a partner. This is an opportunity for the firm to find out more about you, your strengths and natural tendencies as well as look for your commercial awareness and problem-solving skills. “You need to be prepared, of course,” says Alexandra Watson, “but we don't intend it to be particularly intense.” The firm's current trainees backed this up, with one telling us: “Mine was just an expansion on my initial application; there wasn't anything out of the ordinary.” Alexandra Watson has this advice for impressing: “Find out which partner will be interviewing you and then tailor your answers to that person's practice area – it'll show that you treat their work seriously.”
Michelmores generally receives 250 direct applications for a training contract. This involves the same online application and video interview. From here, successful applicants are invited to attend an assessment day. The assessment days include a one-to-one discussion with a partner on a current legal issue and a verbal reasoning test. There's also a strength and scenario-based interview with a partner and a member of HR that focuses on a candidate's commercial awareness and ability to match certain competencies.
Michelmores is a leading, full service law firm with offices in Bristol, Exeter, Cheltenham and London, with a growing national and international client base. We want to be the destination law firm for enterprises, individuals and families navigating change to find a positive future.
Our collaborative, creative and commercial people focus on our clients’ futures, wherever they need us. We understand what our clients need to do to stay ahead, and that’s what we deliver.
We are committed to growing Michelmores into a more diverse and equitable business, with a visible strategic vision, Destination 2030.
We offer our trainees a high level of responsibility, together with a supportive and inclusive training environment where everyone can flourish. We put a strong emphasis on home grown talent and retaining our trainee solicitors, who are central to our growth plans.
Michelmores is a full service firm, providing legal advice to a broad range of local, national and international clients. Our legal teams include: agriculture property litigation, banking, restructuring and finance, corporate and commercial, commercial disputes, commercial real estate, contentious probate, family, employment, projects, specialist real estate, tax, trusts and succession and technology and innovation.
Our trainees join us in either our Exeter or Bristol office and have the opportunity to complete a 6 month secondment in our London office. Trainees can qualify into any location. Our training contracts comprise four seats of six months and enable our trainees to experience a wide range of teams. Operating as one firm, we offer trainees a high level of responsibility and a supportive and inclusive training environment, where each individual is able to thrive.
Our summer vacation scheme runs the last week of June in our Bristol office and first week of July in Exeter. The scheme is as much about you getting to know Michelmores as a place to work, as it is about us getting to know you. You will have the opportunity to spend time in one department for the week, as we aim to give you a real hands-on insight into one area of law and life as a trainee. Our vacation scheme is open to all undergraduates and graduates from any discipline.
We want to encourage everyone to have an active lifestyle to maintain your health and wellbeing. We offer gym schemes, yoga and relaxation classes, running club, as well as a Cycle to Work Scheme. We proactively support mental wellbeing and promote a culture of openness about mental health. You will have access to a range of resources and activities across the year, including subscription to Headspace, guest speakers, and wellbeing apps. Should you or your love ones need extra support, you will have access to qualified counsellors and behavioural therapists.
Our approach to agile working is to create a vibrant working environment, that gives our people greater choice over where they work. Where people choose to conduct their work should be activity led and based on discussions with their Team Leaders. We believe this approach enables our people to optimise their performance and deliver their best work.
In addition to sponsoring the SQE and offering a £5,000 bursary, our benefits also include: private medical insurance; group personal pension plan; a day off for your birthday; ability to buy and sell holidays; a day off each year for volunteering; together with a range of social events and special interest groups.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
Bristol and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Partnership (Band 4)
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