There’s Mores than meets the eye at this Exeter-born firm, which boasts a platform for international work in the South West and a growing London presence.
Who doesn’t love the South West? While some might delight in the fabulous beaches, the cream teas, the pasties, or the Riviera chic, the discerning readers of Chambers Student will be on the hunt for quality training contracts in the region. “Of the regional firms in the South West, it’s the one that stands out,” a trainee beamed. Other interviewees were particularly drawn to the “really good quality of work” on offer, as well as being able to do “international work – even in the regions.” The firm estimates that international work makes up around 15% of its yearly turnover. Its core focuses are private wealth, real estate and finance within a number of sectors and practice areas. “The private wealth work we’ve done has really complemented the international work we do,” training principal Alexandra Watson tells us. “We’ve done some huge transactions with international elements – a good example is our work for Soros Economic Development Fund [SEDF].” Watson is referring to Michemores’ advising of SEDF on the sale of its majority stake in Aspada (an Indian venture capital firm) to investment management company LGT.
Private wealth law is one of the firm’s top-ranked areas of expertise in Chambers High Net Worth. Michelmores also picks up accolades for its agriculture, lower mid-market M&A, litigation, real estate, and restructuring/insolvency practices (among other areas) in the South West in Chambers UK. It’s also ranked UK-wide for its education work, both for schools and higher/further education institutions. As part of its business strategy, the firm has been conducting focused research into millennials and their investment habits: “In the coming years, millennials will end up inheriting a lot of wealth. They will have a distinctive private wealth strategy and so we are looking at growing that part of the firm's offering,” says Watson. Trainees also noted that the firm wants to “win more high-quality work in London and continue expanding the office there.” Many had done at least one seat there. “We’re moving towards a one-firm mindset, so trainees are encouraged to do seats in either London or Bristol,” one source confirmed. The firm does have one London-based trainee and also sees the value of having trainees elsewhere visiting the capital for either a seat or related work.
The firm sends out a list of available seats and locations about a month before each rotation. Trainees put down around three preferences, then HR allocates seats. Michelmores has recently switched things up in terms of who gets priority: “It used to be that second years got priority, which is the case in a lot of firms. But now, those going into their second and third seats get priority.” The reasoning for this change was that those entering their fourth and final seat would be close to choosing their NQ area, so it made sense to ensure that they’ve had exposure to their main areas of interest before that point. “It was something we had previously raised as being a concern, so I think people are happy with the change,” sources reflected.
Michelmores’ corporate team covers the full sweep of transactional areas, from capital markets to private equity M&A to sustainable investments. In addition, the group deals with “lots of different jurisdictions,” but its impact investment practice is especially focused on investments in the Middle East and Africa. A recent deal saw the team advise sling manufacturer Silvalea and its sister company D-ansermed on its sale to Savaria Corporation for £4.6 million. The work can also tie into the firm’s private wealth matters: “One of our big clients is a large private wealth company that buys lots of smaller private wealth companies. We’ve done something like 50 acquisitions for them over the past two years.” A case in point: the team recently acted for Succession Groups on its acquisition of IPA (Investors Planning Associates), Ellaby Pollad, Warde Graham Consulting and Killermont Investments. Day to day, trainees were able to get involved in a range of drafting, from the more typical ancillary documents to “having a go at drafting subscription agreement letters and legal opinions.” Some went further and had “helped on articles of association and even on the share purchase agreement.” Sources also found they were tasked with “producing knowledge reports for the month to then present them to the team.”
Transactional real estate is loosely split into sub-teams, including secured lending, commercial property, residential development, and planning. Interviewees had worked on the likes of compulsory purchase orders, lease renewals, landlord and tenant work (“like managing landlords’ estates and assets, or granting leases”), and management agreements for residential developments (on which they played a more assistance role). Recently, the team worked on a property acquisition for Ashton Bentley Estates, which purchased a tourist attraction business; it also worked for the University of Exeter on a lease of land at Exeter Science Park. Sources noticed that “trainees are given a lot of responsibility on the management of files like lease renewals or surrenders” and found there was “a lot of opportunity for client contact.” Some had even been able to “get involved in negotiating alterations to leases for tenants.” This trainee was especially pleased that “the team was happy to let me be on the front line in negotiating and drafting those myself.” The seat also involved some more typical due diligence, Land Registry applications and post-completion work.
The tax, trusts and succession seat involves a fair chunk of will-drafting (as you may reasonably expect). Aside from that, sources also got stuck into “drafting trust documents and advising trustees on administering trusts and their other obligations.” The team’s clientele is a reportedly “good mix” of high net worth individuals and “repeat clients who have been loyal to the firm for 30 to 40 years.” No matter which, trainees told us they were able to have direct contact with clients. Other trainee tasks included drafting lasting power of attorney documents and letters of wishes to accompany the wills, as well as general trust admin and taking notes at client meetings. The firm has a separate team that deals with any contentious aspects that crop up in this area.
The education team incorporates a mix of the firm’s expertise, from property work to the more commercial and corporate elements. For some, the work was “largely to do with the ‘academisation’ process for schools,” which included the conversions themselves, as well as converting multi-academy trusts to a single-academy trust. The seat also involved giving a hefty amount of advice, like “advising on government guidance from the Department for Education.” The team’s client roster is made up of more academy trusts than you could shake a whiteboard pen at; a recent matter saw the department advise Ambitions Academies Trust on the overturning of a multimillion-pound government loan. Trainees got stuck into property-related tasks like drafting leases, licences to occupy and easements, as well as corporate/commercial-related tasks like “transfers of schools or assets.” One source recalled “getting more involvement in drafting commercial transfer agreements, which enabled schools to move.” Overall, interviewees found it to be “a good seat to do because you get a broad overview of lots of areas.”
“The firm is very keen for trainees to be treated as equals,” interviewees reflected. This meant that “partners speak to you how they speak to each other – they’re very approachable.” Trainees appreciated this atmosphere and found it made it easier to facilitate “lots of collaboration, across both teams and offices.” Sources reiterated that “you’re encouraged to go to different offices and get to know people. There’s a big push for it to be ‘one firm.’”
Even on the social side trainees noted that “the firm will do what it can to get Exeter lawyers up to London if the event is there, or vice versa.” The Bristol and London offices were said to be “better on the social side,” mostly because of their proximity to bustling city centres. “The Exeter office moved to the edge of the city around 15 years ago, so it is no longer within walking distance of the pubs and bars.” That said, Exeter sources appreciated that “the firm does make an effort to put on events where it can.” Source highlighted an annual summer ball, periodic drinks, various charity events and “events for current and future trainees so we can get to know each other.”
On average, sources found their working hours to be “really reasonable.” Unsurprisingly, they varied depending on the team and the office: London hours were almost always a little longer, but “compared to others [firms in the capital], it was still a good work/life balance.” One interviewee recalled thinking they’d “never get to go home in my London seat, but I was surprised to find I was leaving on average around 6.30/7pm.” Some trainees had “got caught on an overnight completion” but many reiterated that “it’s very rare.” Most averaged closer to 8am to 6pm days.
Second years were due to go through the qualification process at the time of our research, but things were slightly up in the air due to the coronavirus outbreak. “The jobs list was supposed to come out last week, then second years would’ve picked up to two roles to apply for with a cover letter and a CV. You’d usually only have to interview if there’s competition for the role.” Despite the general uncertainty, trainees were grateful for regular communication from the firm: “Our training principal has been brilliant at keeping in touch with everyone and reassuring us. She has two video calls a week with everyone to check we’re okay working remotely and getting enough work.” In 2020, all eight second-year trainees were retained for NQ roles.
The more the merrier
Those who’d been to the London office highlighted “organised drinks on the last Thursday of the month,” as well as plenty of ad hoc get-togethers.
How to get a Michelmores training contract
Training contract deadline (2022 and 2023): 31 January 2021 (Spring Assessment Day) and 30 June 2021 (Summer Assessment Day)
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021
Open day deadlines (2020 and 2021): December 2020
All applications open: 1 October 2020
Michelmores offers up to ten training contracts per year. Typically trainees join Michelmores' Exeter HQ and spend a period of their training in either Bristol or London. The Firm ideally look for 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 an 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 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 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 59
- Associates: 102
- Total trainees: 17
- UK offices: Exeter, Bristol, London
- Graduate recruiter: Gabby Essame, [email protected], 01392 687 721
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: up to 10
- Minimum required degree grade: ideally 2:1
- Minimum A levels: ideally ABB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 & 2023 start: 31st January 2021 for our Spring Assessment Day and 30th June 2021 for our Summer Assessment Day
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £28,000
- Post-qualification salary: £40,500 (Exeter); £44,000 (Bristol); £60,000 (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
Michelmores LLP is headquartered in Exeter, with offices in Bristol and London. We have a strong national and continuously growing international presence and we offer specialist legal advice across a wide range of sectors, including private wealth, finance and investment, real estate and technology and innovation. Collaboration and team work are central to our strategy and our lawyers have access to high-quality work and clients, whatever their location. Our growing client base includes Santander, the Met Office, Greenland Group and Finnfund, to name a few. We put a strong emphasis on home grown talent and retaining our trainee solicitors, who are central to our growth plans. For the past three years we have retained 100% of our trainees.
Main areas of work
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, education, employment, projects, specialist real estate, tax, trusts and succession and technology and innovation.
Our trainees typically join us at our Exeter HQ and spend a period of their training in either Bristol or London, with the opportunity to qualify into any location. Our training contracts comprise four seats of six months and enable our trainees to experience a wide range of practice areas. 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 every July at our Exeter HQ. 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.
In addition to sponsoring the LPC and offering a £5,000 bursary, our benefits include: private medical insurance; in-house gym; group personal pension plan; a day off for your birthday; ability to buy and sell holidays; a day off each year for volunteering; free subscription to Headspace; free fruit; social events, such as our late summer ball and annual firm quiz; running club and choir.
Open days and first-year opportunities
We will be holding virtual Open Days across December and January. Our virtual Open Days are open to anyone interested in pursuing a training contract, including first year students. Further details will be added to our website later in the year.
University law careers fairs 2020
University of Exeter, University of Bristol, UCL, University of Law, University of Cardiff, University of Durham and University of Birmingham.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
Bristol and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
Exeter and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 4)
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