Mills & Reeve LLP - True Picture

With offices dotted across the UK and clients from both the public and private sector flocking to its doors, M&R is on course to continue its impressive growth.

Mills & Reeve training contract review 2021

The Firm

Rewind to 2015 – in your wildest dreams (or nightmares), could you ever have predicted what would happen in the following five years? Cambridge-based legal eagles Mills & Reeve surely didn’t when they set a five-year target to reach £100 million in revenue by 2020. It says a lot about the firm’s resilience that they smashed through the goal and logged £114.11 million in 2019/2020. A 2017 merger with London real estate and construction boutique firm Maxwell Winward gave M&R a nifty helping hand, while also helping to expand an already varied practice. Even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, employees received £1,000 bonuses in 2020.

Chambers UK gives a thorough account of the firm’s expertise. To start, there’s nationwide top rankings for healthcare and education law, reflecting Mills & Reeve’s storied work for public sector clients. The main course is a feast of regional rankings including top-tier recognition for family law in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich; a gold star for professional negligence in the North West; and 11 top spots in East Anglia spanning transactional and litigious practices alike. Room for dessert? Check out Chambers High Net Worth, which hands the firm private wealth law rankings all over the UK.

“It’s a big draw knowing that we can get so much exposure to several different areas.”

If you can’t decide which of the firm’s practices sounds most appealing, the good news is that trainees rotate through six seats rather than the usual four: “It’s a big draw knowing that we can get so much exposure to several different areas.” Sources were looking for a firm which offered the best of both worlds, “the commercial practices but also the niche areas. Mills & Reeve has great sports, family law and private client practices, plus they offer charity work and CSR opportunities. The client base itself is pretty diverse too with education tech, and government clients as well as corporate businesses.” Trainees were also impressed with firm growth, which hasn’t showed signs of slowing: at the time of writing, M&R had recently made lateral hires into its planning and insurance practices.

Training contracts are currently on offer in the firm’s Cambridge, Norwich, Birmingham and Manchester offices; at the time of our calls there were 18 trainees in Cambridge, nine in Birmingham and seven apiece in Manchester and Norwich. Trainees also have the option to do one-off seats in London and Leeds, but for now neither office is taking trainees on a permanent basis.

Mills & Reeve’s six-seat training contract proved popular among sources. “There are a lot of areas to explore and I’d say that by the end of my training contract, I’ll have done all the seats I wanted, so it works well,” one trainee suggested. During the seat allocation process, trainees let HR know their preferred departments. Even first-seaters get some say: “Graduate recruitment does a great job at talking you through the process and handling preferences from around 40 trainees.” Second-years’ preferences do take priority, but with a seat in another office available, most trainees get their preferences in most cases. Insiders appreciated that if you do move locations “the firm will cover rent increases in the new city” and additional costs of moving.

The Seats

Most trainees end up doing some kind of real estate seat, whether in the main department or a related one like planning or construction; as 30% of Mills & Reeve’s turnover comes from real estate work, it’s hard to miss. “Planning is only available in Cambridge,” we heard. The firm’s real estate clients range from investors and landowners to major corporations and education and healthcare providers.

General real estate matters range from large-scale investment transactions and landlord/tenant leasing to portfolio management and corporate real estate. The Manchester office has been advising the University of Salford on its £850 million regeneration project, while in Cambridge the firm acted for the Cambridge Leisure and Ice Centre on the site search and development of an ice rink. Trainees here typically “draft licences and leases. We’re trusted to coordinate documents and supervise negotiation and completion on a big transfer; on disputes we research complex points and advise clients on sensitive covenants.” Additional tasks include filling out Land Registry forms and compiling reports on title. GP practices, care homes and private hospitals are the client base for the healthcare sub-team: “I learnt a lot about the structure of the healthcare system and NHS,” a trainee reported. “It felt like really important work… we were making a difference for individuals and healthcare providers.” Mills & Reeve recently advised a clinical commissioning group in the South West on the route to procurement for a £1.05 billion long-term care provision contract.

“It felt like really important work… we were making a difference.”

Trainees in Birmingham mix contentious, transactional and advisory elements in real estate; the Cambridge and Norwich offices offer a distinct real estate disputes seat.“The department really tested my research and drafting skills,” an insider said. “On the other hand, there wasn’t a lot of client contact.” A source who’d split their time between the two sides of real estate described it as “a different experience to other split seats. Because the teams sit together, communication between them is good and I could figure out which side I preferred.” Mills & Reeve has assisted the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust on property litigation support for two new mental health hospitals. 

M&A, private equity and capital markets all fall into the corporate seat. The firm excels in the healthcare field here too, while also carving niches in charities, tech and life sciences. Strutt and Parker Farms called on the team’s expertise during the sales of its anaerobic digestion subsidiaries; Mills & Reeve has also advised the world’s largest beverage bottler, Refresco, on its £25 million acquisition of a bottling plant and distribution centre in Milton Keynes and Northampton from Coca-Cola. Keen not to bottle it themselves, trainees dived into “drafting ancillary documents, board minutes, loan notes, resolutions and share purchase agreements,” as well as aiding on post-completion steps. Though client contact was rare in corporate, sources relished “opportunities to get involved in a wide variety of deals spanning different sectors.”

“There’s a good level of responsibility with quick turnaround times.”

Trainees doing a seat in commercial, IP and IT came across plenty of public sector matters including contract reviews, public procurement and commercial cases within the healthcare sector (the firm is top-ranked nationally by Chambers UK for this area). “There’s a good level of responsibility with quick turnaround times,” they agreed. “You’ll generally draft commercial contracts, review documents, attend client calls and meetings and research interesting points of law.” Mills & Reeve advises on some massive projects: recent examples include working for the Ministry of Defence on its ominously named £3.2 billion MORPHEUS programme to upgrade battlefield and tactical communications systems. On the IP side, the firm manages the trade mark portfolio of Microsoft-owned video game development studio Ninja Theory.

What Mills & Reeve calls regulatory, public and commercial disputes is what other firms would dub commercial litigation, though it comes with other niches like cybersecurity and defamation. The firm acts primarily for defendants (but also some claimants) in the technology, life sciences, food and agribusiness, private client, health and education sectors. “We’ve done lots of data protection, specifically subject access requests,” a source noted. “We have to figure out how to deal with those processes and then if things go wrong and become a dispute, we go to court.” Recently the team has secured a £10 million worldwide freezing order and proprietary injunction against Interlink Metals’ former UK-based sales agent and associate companies; and acted for a hedge fund manager in one of the first ever English law crypto-asset shareholder disputes. “Disputes is a busy team,” sources noted. “Trainees will be dealing with anything from drafting court documents and bundling to drafting instructions to clients and researching points of law.”

Trainee Life

Interviewees told us that the firm encourages trainees to “work and collaborate across offices and to see everything as a one-firm initiative rather than acting as satellite offices” to the Cambridge HQ. Many were impressed by “the level of interest in us as individuals by the partners. They will frequently take you to the side and discuss anything you’re not sure about for your own learning and development.” Sources described Mills & Reeve’s culture as forward-thinking: “We have an internal Innovation Hub which acts as a forum in which anyone can share ideas or tips for efficient working.” It’s not all serious tech thoughts – when we came calling, “the current major topic was which brand of squash we should be drinking. It’s safe to say we’ll revert to Robinsons.” Don’t get them started on which flavour is best…

“…to leave around 5pm to catch the train. No eyebrows would be raised.”

While Mills & Reeve may strive for its “one firm” work ideal, sources noted cultural differences between its offices: “I suppose Norwich has a more united front when it comes to events,” one said, citing the “whole office having bacon and sausages in the morning.” Because Cambridge is the largest base, it tends to be “more team and practice-driven in a social events capacity. If you want to go out with people every month, there will be opportunities to do that; but if you’d rather keep yourself to yourself then nobody will hold it against you.” Birmingham interviewees told tales of end of month socials in the office’s basement with a different theme every time: “We supported a mental health initiative in January through being active around the office, and we all took part in doing a step count challenge across the floors.” As for Manchester, trainees prefer to keep active in one place with regular yoga sessions. Life at Mills & Reeve isn’t all downward dog and cooked breakfasts: the Cambridge office houses a NextGen business development group, helping young lawyers build connections with clients and prepare for potential futures as rainmakers.

Since the majority of the trainees we spoke with were avid commuters, most would get into the office a tad earlier (around 8.45am), “to then leave around 5pm to catch the train. No eyebrows would be raised.”Several found their hours“market-driven”with transactional practices calling for longer stints in the office. What does longer mean? “9 or 10pm finishes with maybe two or three stretching to midnight,”sources said. They were well prepared for such eventualities and noted that when they did have to put in extra time, “it’s consistently recognised by supervisors as going above and beyond. There’s definitely no facetime culture.”A mix of busy and slow periods was also common in the family department, whereas litigious practices were more predictable.

“People stay here because they genuinely like the workplace and have built long-lasting relationships.”

Given these reasonable hours, most were content with their salary and praised the benefits on offer at Mills & Reeve: “On top of the 25 days’ holiday allowance, we get an extra day during the Christmas period or for other religious reasons. You can also get an extra day off for your marriage and up to two days if you’re moving house.” If anyone had a cross to bear, it was a few trainees in the Cambridge office who believed they were “having to fund a London standard of living on Leeds wages. We need to be better compensated.” The firm told us it looks to pay market rate in the locations it operates in.

The NQ process kicks off around March, with the firm releasing a jobs list across all offices. “If more than one person applies for the same job there will be an interview, otherwise it’s just an application form,”interviewees clarified. “There’s always central communication to confirm official timelines, and job decisions are typically made in April.” We spoke to trainees who were keen to stick with Mills & Reeve for a while: “It isn’t a place where you’d stay for three years before moving on. People stay here because they genuinely like the workplace and have built long-lasting relationships.”The firm retained 17 of 18qualifiers in 2020, with one on a fixed-term contract.

Where there’s a Mills, there’s a way

The firm has "recently appointed a diversity and inclusion officer to run events firmwide and raise awareness of internal gaps." Existing initiatives include annual leave for religious festivals such as Eid, Christmas and Ramadan; a BAME and Allies Network; the Spectrum network for LGBTQ+ folks and allies; and signing up to the Social Mobility Pledge.


How to get a Mills & Reeve training contract

Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 4 January 2021

Training contract deadline (2023): 4 January 2021


Mills & Reeve offers just 20 training contracts a year – spread across the Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester and Norwich offices – so be aware that competition is high. In 2019/20, the firm received over 1000 applications. 

Mills & Reeve requires a minimum 2:1 degree. Graduate recruitment manager, Rachel Chapman, says applicants should research the firm very well: “Don’t use generic answers, and don’t just regurgitate our published material.” She points out that proofreading is, as ever, essential. 

Assessments and interviews 

Mills & Reeve will be aiming to recruit its 2023 trainee intake from its 2021 summer vacation scheme. Candidates submit an online application form and take an online test – the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Test. Around 100 candidates are invited to a central assessment centre in its London office, which consists of a welcome talk, group exercise, written exercise and a Q&A session with some current trainees.  

For the group exercise, candidates are tasked with taking part in a mini-hackathon. Essentially, candidates are presented with a non-legal business problem, which they then “hack” together to find a solution. Finally, they present that solution to a team of assessors. The exercise is designed to test their commercial aptitude and ability to work in a team. 

Candidates who pass the assessment centre are then invited to interview in either Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester or Norwich.  

Our trainee sources recalled the interview as “fairly informal” and told us “you’re not expected to have any technical legal knowledge.” As one elaborated: “Ultimately, their aim is to get to know you and understand why you’re interested in the firm.” In return, interviewees should “make an effort to show what you as an individual can bring to the firm.” Interviews are conducted by a partner and a principal associate. From here the firm makes its vacation scheme offers. 

Summer placements 

Mills & Reeve holds a summer vacation scheme in its Cambridge, Birmingham, Manchester and Norwich offices. Each lasts two weeks, and there are around ten places available in each office. Attendees receive £325 a week for participating. Over the course of the fortnight they sit in four departments, receiving “a good flavour of the range of things you might do as a trainee” according to sources. 

During their visit, vac schemers undertake a mix of live work and set tasks. “Everything I did was constructive, decent work,” recalled a current trainee, while another recounted how “they really invested in me by taking me along to client meetings and getting me involved – when I came back two years later the partners even recognised me!” 

Each vac scheme features a handful of social events, from punting in Cambridge to a treasure hunt around Norwich, and candidates are encouraged to socialise with current trainees to get a feel for the firm and its lawyers. 

The vac scheme is capped by a short chat with HR about the experience. Rachel Chapman advises approaching the vac scheme as an opportunity to “show that you’re willing to learn and make the most of the opportunity you’ve been given. We don’t expect anyone to know the law inside out, so really we’re looking for enthusiasm and a good attitude.” 

Mills & Reeve LLP

Botanic House,
100 Hills Road,

  • Partners 133
  • Associates: 360
  • Total trainees: 41
  • UK offices: Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, London, Manchester, Norwich
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Rachel Chapman,, 0121 456 8393
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 20
  • Applications pa: 1000
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 120/BBB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 50
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
  • Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 4th January 2021
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 4th January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £27,000
  • Second-year salary: £28,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £43,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days+flex
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £5,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Norwich with option to undertake seats also in Leeds and London
  • Client secondments: Various opportunities with clients based throughout the UK

Firm profile
You will often hear us say ‘Achieve more. Together’, and while many law firms talk about teamwork and collaboration, it’s not just a catchphrase for us, more the cornerstone of our culture and how we work. Of course, you want to know that we have six offices across the UK with 1,000 staff and over 500 lawyers. But, more importantly, you should know that we have been crowned Law Firm of the Year by both Legal Week and RollonFriday and we have been ranked in the Sunday Times ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ for the past 17 years. We consistently win accolades for our vacation scheme and training contracts. This is because, as a trainee at Mills & Reeve, we offer something a bit different.
The quality of the work you will get involved with, the contact and relationships you will build with clients and the culture of the firm you work in. And 97% of us would recommend that you work here. We are a major UK law firm and our work spans a broad range of legal sectors and jurisdictions for a diverse range of clients: from the FTSE250 to fast-growth start-ups, from individuals to some of the world’s most established and prestigious organisations.

Main areas of work
Our service is delivered through firm-wide core groups: corporate and commercial, employment, family, insurance disputes, private client, projects and construction, real estate and regulatory, public and commercial disputes. Core sectors are automotive, charities and social enterprise, education, energy, food and agribusiness, government, health and care, insurance, life sciences, mid-market, private wealth, real estate investment, sport, technology.

Training opportunities
A Mills & Reeve trainee receives more opportunities and experiences than many firms. We want you to really understand what it’s like to be a lawyer and the best way to do that is to give you responsibility. You’ll be working with national and international clients where you are given the freedom to learn in a supportive environment.
Trainees take on six 4-month seats in our offices in Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester or Norwich offices. Completing a seat in a different office (including Leeds and London) is encouraged and supported with an accommodation allowance. We want people who are ready for early responsibility because that is what we will give you. You will be highly motivated with excellent interpersonal skills and commercial awareness.
You will need high standards of academic achievement; to demonstrate maturity, use initiative and business acumen. You will enjoy untangling complicated issues and thrive on building relationships with clients and colleagues.

Vacation scheme
Our award-winning summer vacation scheme is the ideal introduction to Mills & Reeve and gives you a real taste of life as a lawyer. You will be placed in real-life situations, preparing draft documents, researching, attending court hearings and meeting clients. You will work with a variety of lawyers around the business over the course of two weeks, changing teams every two to three days.

Other benefits
Flexible benefits scheme, pension scheme, life assurance, bonus scheme, 25 days holiday a year, sports & social committee, subsidised restaurants, season ticket loan, employee assistance programme, membership costs for junior lawyers groups.

University law careers fairs 2020
We are attending the Legal Cheek and AllAboutLaw virtual law fairs series.

Social media

Twitter @MillsandReeve

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Diversity and inclusion is a key strand of our 2025 vision. At Mills & Reeve, we recognise the foundation of the firm’s success is our people. Our aim is to ensure that everyone working for or with us feels valued and supported, not only for how they perform in the working environment but also for who they truly are.
• We are committed to being a fair employer, which recruits, develops, promotes and retains a diverse and talented workforce
• We recognise the need to provide an inclusive and positive workplace where people are able to do their best work
• We recognise we cannot achieve our vision as a Firm without developing and implementing best practice in diversity and inclusion, not only as an employer but also as a provider of legal services, as a purchaser of goods and services and in our wider role in society

We have the following objectives for the Firm to help us achieve our goals:
• Achieve a more diverse workforce by identifying and communicating a number of diversity and inclusion workforce profile goals
• Embed good equality, diversity and inclusion practices into our daily activities and decision-making processes
• Celebrate, communicate and promote equality, diversity and inclusion both within and outside of the firm

We believe that embedding diversity and inclusion creates a positive workforce environment. It will make us a better law firm and helps us to attract the best talent, drive innovation, and deliver the best experience for our employees and clients. We have a number of initiatives in place to support us to embed Diversity and Inclusion practice including:
• Maternity and paternity mentoring
• Wellbeing support
• Flexible working
• Diversity networks
• BAME development bursary
• Social Mobility Pledge and Social Mobility Foundation
• Race At Work Charter
• Stonewall Diversity Champion
• Business Disability Forum
• Mindful Business Charter

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Charities (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
    • Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 1)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 2)
    • Sport (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)

More from Mills & Reeve:

Visit the firm's graduates page.

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