This thriving Exeter firm sets itself apart by attracting international work through its London office.
Exeter-born and bred Michelmores wants a lot: expansion of its private wealth, finance, and real estate practices. But top of its list is more international work. Enter its London office, which, Michelmores hopes, will increasingly serve as a gateway to all things international. Now, we’d give it a while before Michelmores is taking on A&O and co., but international work does already trickle through from that London office to the South West. “The firm's strategic vision is very much to ensure that we have a strong, collaborative culture between our offices,” says training principal Alexandra Watson. And for trainees starting from 2021 onwards, this vision is going to have real consequences: “Each trainee will be asked to complete at least one of their seats in the Bristol or London office. We want our homegrown talent to be part of our one-firm mentality. There are huge benefits in knowing that the future members of the firm will have worked between offices.”
Sources reported being attracted by the firm’s “ambition to crack the London market with their organic growth,” but also by Michelmores’ “ethos of what a trainee’s life should be like.” London might be the talk of the town, but make no mistake: for now, Michelmores is a South West firm doing a lot of regional work. The vast majority of its trainees are still based in Exeter, and their lifestyle benefits. Newbies described “working regular hours till six o’clock and walking to the beach straight after.” And when they’re finished shaking the sand out of their shoes? Michelmores’ lawyers find time to earn Chambers UK South West rankings for corporate/M&A, family, litigation, real estate, restructuring, employment and agriculture. The firm also receives Chambers High Net Worth rankings for private wealth law in Exeter and Bristol (trainees commonly complete a seat in tax, trusts and succession).
In light of the upcoming changes to the training contract, Watson tells us that “trainees who move between offices will get accommodation sorted, and those who will sit in London will receive a travel card and an allowance.” To place trainees in their seats, HR distributes a list of departments and the roles available within them. That happens a month before joining, and subsequently a couple of months before the next rotation. “Second-years get first dibs; first-years pick their top three out of the leftovers.” Newbies reassured us HR approach things fairly: “If you didn’t get one of the seats you mentioned first time round, HR will make sure you get a seat in that department next time."
Remain seated for responsibility
Chambers UK ranks Michelmores’ corporate team as one of the top four firms in the South West operating in the lower mid-market. The team’s M&A and private equity work involves plenty of clients with a connection to the region, but that doesn’t prevent national and international deals also cropping up. Lawyers in London and Exeter recently advised IT services company TESM on its acquisition by the US company DXC technology. Recent, less international matters include two investments by the small-business-orientated private equity player Business Growth Fund. Michelmores helped clothing brand Seasalt Cornwall on its £16 million investment; and advised Business Growth Fund itself when it invested £3.2 million into Lightfoot, a tech company monitoring drivers’ behaviour for fuel efficiency. In a seat where “timescales were tight and things needed to get done,” trainees began by playing “a supportive, project managerial role.” Overseeing the documents list for a transaction was a common task. “You have to be the man in the moment, understanding what stage everything is at, and learning different documents work. The serious drafting is done at a higher level; you’re largely left to draft minutes and more predictable documents.” But a different trainee put a more positive spin on it: “The longer I was in the seat, the more responsibility I was given. I ended up being in charge of a disclosure letter and drafting resolutions and other ancillaries for M&A.”
“…work ranging from defamation matters to trust litigation to projects disputes.”
The transactional real estate team “treats trainees as solicitors, allowing them to build personal relationships with clients. There’s a lot of opportunity to be the person running the file for straightforward leases and licences on a day-to-day basis, calling clients daily.” Overall trainees experienced a mix of acting as support on large matters, and running smaller matters on their own. The team’s expertise lies in large residential and leisure developments and student accommodation, with plenty of work coming from the public sector. The client roster includes Persimmon Homes, Cavanna Homes and the University of Exeter. Cornwall Council recently used the firm for its purchase of a site in Newquay intended for 450 new homes.
The commercial litigation seat puts trainees in “a diverse team with work ranging from defamation matters to trust litigation to projects disputes.” Lawyers recently worked on the fallout from the Blavo & Co scandal, representing the Legal Aid Agency in its efforts to recover the £22 million Blavo claimed for work it allegedly did not do. Again, international clients do feature, such as Intelsat, a satellite service provider working out of Luxembourg and Washington DC. The top end of trainees’ responsibility here included “instructing counsel and updating witness statements.”
For a more niche contentious experience, trainees can also ply their trade in the agricultural property litigation team, which is only in Bristol. “I’ve dealt with disputes between farmers, partnership disputes and acted on landlord and tenant eviction cases.” Agriculture partners “challenge trainees but provide sufficient support along the way. As well as attending various hearings and client meetings, we help prepare bundles and draft instructions and briefs to counsel.” Many cases involve succession disputes, but as well as dealing with private land and farm owners, the team also advises local councils, including West Dorset and Staffordshire councils.
Michelmores’ education team advises state-funded schools and further education colleges on issues ranging from establishing Multi Academy Trusts, to the thorny problems of social media, disgruntled parents, disability discrimination and SEN. There’s property work too: lawyers recently advised Truro and Penwith College on the development of a £23 million campus in Bodmin. Newbies excitedly informed us of the opportunity to travel to schools for marketing purposes, hosting presentations and seminars on GDPR. “The work is a lot more hands-on and straightforward and so we’re thrown in at the deep end early on.” More legally substantive trainee tasks included drafting and reviewing transfer agreements.
Trainees couldn’t help but notice the firm’s desire for organic growth, and felt it informed the culture: “Everyone is really ambitious. Everyone is striving to better themselves and the firm.” But it’s a soft sort of ambition. “There’s a real emphasis on cross-office working and creating a supportive environment,” said one trainee. “Support here is really good. I’ve found that I’ve consistently received sound supervision. People are willing to let you try difficult tasks and they’re always on standby to pick up the pieces if you’re struggling.”
“I’ve found that I’ve consistently received sound supervision.”
A healthy mix of formal and informal social events allow trainees to partake in the likes of gin tasting, bowling and golf. “The firm invites future trainees to come along to drinks and meet their colleagues – it makes it way more comfortable to settle in once we start.” Importantly, some of this frivolity is firm-wide: lawyers from all offices took on the Three Peaks challenge for charity and everyone was invited to the end of summer ball too. While all offices were judged to have “a good, sociable atmosphere,” London’s central location proved far better suited to informal drinks than the out-of-town Exeter HQ.Trainees clock in around 8.30am and can exit the premises without turning any heads at 6pm. Late nights are rare. The corporate and agriculture departments were sometime offenders, but nobody we spoke to had exceeded a 9pm finish.
Scoring a 100% retention rate for the second year running, Michelmores retained all seven NQs in 2019. “A list of jobs comes out in March and we’re given a six-week period to chat with both HR and heads of departments about our preferred seat.” HR encourages trainees to begin discussions early to avoid any surprises once the job list is sent out. “The firm has been really transparent with the process. All it takes is a simple CV and cover letter – if there are any clashes over jobs, then an interview will take place.” As the new intake will now sit in multiple offices, they’ll also have the chance to apply for positions where they’ve had experience.
The [email protected] campaign aims to remove barriers to female progression within the firm.
How to get a Michelmores training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020
Open day deadlines (2019 and 2020): Exeter – 1 December 2019; London – 1 January 2020; Bristol – 10 January 2020
All applications open on 1 October 2019
Michelmores offers ten training contracts per year. Typically trainees join Michelmores' Exeter HQ and spend a period of their training in either Bristol or London. Getting a foot in the door requires a minimum ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree.
Those who pass the initial screening are the ones who demonstrate “a real passion for law through their general knowledge and previous work experience,” partner Alexandra Watson tells us. “These days candidates come to us with a lot of legal work experience, so those without any are unlikely to stand out.”
Many of the firm's Exeter 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.”
Vacation scheme (Exeter)
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 150 applications for its vac scheme and invites around 40 to video interview. Those who pass this stage are invited to a face-to-face interview with HR and to undertake a verbal reasoning and written 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 unpaid week-long schemes during the summer in its Exeter HQ. 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.”
During the week, vac schemers attend an hour-long competency-based interview with a member of HR and a partner, who look for evidence of organisational and project management skills, as well as commercial awareness. “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 150 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 in Exeter. 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 an hour-long interview with a partner and a member of HR that focuses on a candidate's commercial awareness and ability to match certain competencies.
Rounding off proceedings is an informal lunch with various partners, solicitors and trainees. Alexandra Watson tells us “this isn't part of the assessment,” though attendees are asked to give feedback on the candidates.
- Partners 66
- Associates 102
- Total trainees 18
- UK offices Exeter, Bristol, London
- Graduate recruiters: Becky Pike, [email protected] 01392 687763
- Training partner: Alexandra Watson, [email protected] com
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 16
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 & 2022 start: 31st January 2020 for our Spring Assessment Day and 30th June 2020 for our Summer Assessment Day
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £28,000 Second-year salary: £30,000
- Post-qualification salary: £41,500 (Exeter), £45,000 (Bristol), £63,000 (London)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Exeter
- Client secondments: Available
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
Instagram Michelmores Solicitors
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
Bristol and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
Exeter and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Planning (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Partnership (Band 4)