My, how Michelmores has grown! This Exeter firm's international aspirations have it shaping up nicely.
Ten years younger
What have you achieved in the last ten years? Well, Exeter firm Michelmores has roughly tripled its revenue, becoming a UK top 100 firm with a 2016/2017 turnover of £34.4 million. Not bad. The firm's growth slowed slightly in 2017, but with new managing partner Tim Richards taking the reins, it seems the firm isn't done just yet. “Tim's appointment has given us a renewed energy,” proffered training principal Sacha Pickering. “The current strategy is focused on three sectors: private wealth, finance and investment, and real estate. We're hoping to grow through our London office, and in particular, attract more international clients.” To that end, London recently hired the former head of US firm McGuireWoods' London office, and a restructuring and insolvency partner from Travers Smith.
“You'll often see instructions coming in that are much larger than you'd expect for the size of the teams we have,” noticed trainees. The increasing opportunity “to get involved in higher-value and international work” does rely upon the London office, but “it's funnelling London-quality work down to the South West.” This is no out-and-out City slicker just yet, however – there's plenty of regional work, and trainees (the vast majority of whom are based in Exeter) maintained that “it feels like you're working in a smaller, friendlier firm.”
This dynamic provides the firm with an array of South West rankings from Chambers UK. Among the practices recognised are corporate/M&A, family, litigation, real estate, restructuring, employment and agriculture. For trainees to snag a place in their preferred departments, they must submit three choices to HR – and second-years get priority. Newbies are assigned a ‘buddy’ prior to joining the firm, in part to provide the lowdown “about each seat in detail, which was so helpful because I didn't have a clue!”
You shall go to the stall
Previously, the corporate and commercial teams worked side by side, but they're now two separate entities. A recent corporate highlight saw the firm advising financial advisers Cantor Fitzgerald and Spark Advisory on their role in the multimillion-pound restructuring of Trinity Exploration and Production, an oil and gas company operating in Trinidad. The team also worked for investment manager Downing on the £15 million sale of Vulcan Renewables. In the commercial team, one trainee declared that “there's a huge amount of responsibility available.” Newbies are involved in drafting bespoke contracts, distribution agreements and advice notes, among a whole raft of other tasks. One insider recalled “helping out the education team by updating GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] policies and providing IP advice to their clients.” We also heard of trainees braving client meetings on their own: “It was nerve-racking because I hadn't done many, but I knew what was going on and had enough support to give me more confidence!” More recognisable commercial clients include media organisation Thomson Reuters, the University of Plymouth, regional airline Flybe and favourite of men in sheds everywhere, Haynes Publishing.
“We do a lot of work with agricultural clients.”
Providing some contrast, trainees can also join the agricultural property litigation team. “Most people don't have a clue what it is when you hear the name,” one source laughed, “but we do a lot of work with agricultural clients dealing with litigation, arbitration and professional negligence disputes.” One common subject is succession: a highly publicised case from previous years had the team advising the parents of a daughter who was dubbed “Cowshed Cinderella” in the media for her unsuccessful attempt to take complete ownership of their £4 million farm. As well as private land and farm owners, the team works with local councils, including Dorset County Council and West Sussex County Council. While the work can be “research-heavy,” trainees reported meatier tasks like drafting instructions to counsel and corresponding with clients directly. “You can build a relationship with them and they'll even ask you questions,” one excitable newbie shared.
The broader litigation team pulls in notable clients such as British Transport Police, the Met Office and the NHS. The London office acts for ticket company Ticketus in connection with Glasgow Rangers' bankruptcy, and the fraudulent actions of a former director, which has amounted to over £20 million in claims. The firm also acted for the Lord Chancellor in a recent case which upheld the termination of a solicitors firm's legal aid contracts. Trainees were also keen to praise the team's regulatory arm which provides the chance “to help on really large health and safety matters, as well as some financial crime, financial services litigation and money laundering cases.” Responsibility gradually increased throughout this seat, meaning newbies could draft letters before action and attend hearings and client meetings. “That's really good. When you've been deeply involved in something all the way through – you can run with it.”
The commercial property team shelters up to three trainees at one time, and juniors shared their experience of working on land acquisitions, private investment, commercial leases and secured lending. Trainees worked with “private sector clients and some from the public sector, which involved some good client contact, negotiation, drafting of licences, reports on title and leases.” The Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime has used the firm to sell off properties including Fulham Police Station and New Scotland Yard, but the team also works on residential development – it recently advised development manager Stanhope on the sale of 900 apartments within the redevelopment of the former BBC Television Centre. More regional work had the team helping clients like Cavanna Homes and Persimmon on site purchases in the South West.
Tight ties, but loosened ties
“Everyone's open and friendly and always happy to help,” one newbie reported; “people will come over to my desk and ask me what I'm doing and check up on me,” a colleague added. “Non-hostile,” said another, “they seem to want to take care of people.” In the end, these charming appraisals came too frequently to doubt them. “Trainees and junior associates get the same respect, time and appreciation as everyone else. Partners really do value your work and it's a very supportive environment.” And the reason for this? Well, some sources suggested their respectful treatment was aided by the majority of trainees having had work experience prior to joining the firm – “we’re not old, but we’re quite mature!”
“You'll find yourself chatting with people quite a lot!”
While Exeter gains importance from its status as HQ, insiders agreed that “all of the offices are very unique and each have their own personality.” For example, “Bristol isn't as modern, but it's located bang in the centre of the city, which is great for grabbing a quick drink after work.” In contrast, the aforementioned HQ “makes it quite difficult nipping to the pub straight after work because we're a drive away from the centre of town.” Nevertheless, “Exeter has a lovely vibe. It's completely open-plan, so you'll find yourself chatting with people quite a lot!” And last, but by no means least, London's sparkling office has a “stunning view over St Paul's, which makes you feel like you're on Suits!” Interaction between offices is actively encouraged, with charity fundraisers, bingo nights and annual Christmas and summer parties bringing everyone together. “Often the partners stay out much later than the trainees!” remarked one source. “We were out until 4am once at the summer ball and there was still a partner there dancing with a tie on his head!”
Trainees were equally pleased to report a healthy work/life balance: “I feel like the firm tries to take care of its trainees and nobody expects us to stay really late.” Trainees usually clock in around 8.30am, and leave at 6pm across the board, with late nights rarely extending past 9pm. “It's fairly civilised,” another source agreed, and while “litigation is consistently busy,” with an average finish of 7pm, everyone “genuinely tries their best to not stay longer than they need to.” Anyone partial to an early start can also take advantage of the firm's on-site gym in Exeter – all for a cool £5 a month. Qualification provides the only other reason to perspire on-site, as the firm's retention rates have been patchy in the past. However, 2018's qualifiers didn't have to break out in a sweat, as all seven were retained by the firm. NQ jobs are released in March, inviting trainees to apply for a maximum of two positions by May with a CV and covering letter. An interview may be required if there's any crossover.
There's an agricultural seat in Bristol available to all, a corporate seat in London comes up every six-month rotation, and a client secondment to the Met Office.
How to get a Michelmores training contract
Training contract deadline (2019 and 2020): 31 January 2019 (London, opens 1 November 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (all offices, opens 1 November 2018)
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
Open day deadline (2019): 1 January 2019
Michelmores offers ten training contracts per year: seven eight in Exeter, one in Bristol and one in 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 Sacha Pickering tells us. “These days candidates come to us with an awful 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 Sacha Pickering assures us this isn't a prerequisite: “If a candidate doesn't have existing regional ties, we will explore why they want to come here, but more than anything it's about them having a commitment to stay.” He 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,” Sacha Pickering reveals. “That's because we have a longer amount of time to see what a candidate is really like.”
The firm usually receives around 250 applications for its vac scheme and invites around 45 to video interview. Those who pass this stage are invited to a face-to-face interview with HR. “At this stage, we want candidates to relax and show us who they are and why they're passionate about law,” Sacha Pickering 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 14 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 Sacha Pickering. “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 Sacha Pickering, “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.” Sacha Pickering 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.”
Direct applications (Exeter, Bristol and London)
Michelmores generally receives 225 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: 12 hopefuls are assessed in Exeter, while six are assessed in Bristol and in London. 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. Sacha Pickering tells us “this isn't part of the assessment,” though attendees are asked to give feedback on the candidates.
Doing business in the South West
- Partners 66
- Associates 94
- Total trainees 16
- UK offices Exeter, Bristol, London
- Graduate recruiters: Gabby Essame, [email protected] 01392 687721 and Becky Pike, [email protected] 01392 687763
- Training partner: Sacha Pickering, [email protected]
- 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: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2019 and 2020 start: 31 January 2019 (London)
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019 (all offices)
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Open day deadline: 20th January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,000 (Exeter)
- Second-year salary: £29,000 (Exeter)
- Post-qualification salary: £41,500 (Exeter)
- Holiday entitlement: 22 days increasing to 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Exeter, Bristol, London
- Client secondments: Available
The firm works across three strategic sectors – finance and investment, real estate and private wealth.
Our clients are placed at the heart of everything we do – we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes to offer tailored legal solutions and advice.
We take an entrepreneurial approach to developing our business, forging opportunities and encouraging and supporting innovation.
Michelmores has an impressive history of growth and we are continuing in this trajectory, with particular emphasis on growing our Bristol and London offices. It is by working collaboratively and capitalising on individual strengths that we achieve success as a team.
Main areas of work
Alongside other practice areas, our growing Bristol office houses the largest agricultural team in the country, whilst each of our three strategic sectors are represented in London.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
Instagram Michelmores Solicitors
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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)