With planned growth and a mix of public and private sector work, multi-site firm Mills & Reeve has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
Last year we reported that Mills & Reeve had merged with London boutique firm Maxwell Winward. The move is part of an ambitious 2020 strategy. Training partner Caroline Dean clarifies: “We don’t have a London-dominant strategy and we never will; we’re always going to be heavily regionally focused, but we’ll grow London appropriately.” In Manchester, where the real estate team gained two partners from Pinsent Masons, that outlook is clear. Mills & Reeve remains best known for having a well-spread selection of offices in some of the UK's biggest cities. Trainees themselves were drawn to the firm’s wide range of practices and an increased emphasis on moving between the firm’s six UK offices: “I wanted to be at a regional firm where I could try as many different types of work as possible.”
Nationwide, M&R's healthcare and education practices are among the very best, and both are extremely important sectors for the firm. Regionally, Chambers UK awards the firm top marks for no less than 12 practices in its native East Anglia, honouring a body of work that is heavily commercial. Combining that with its offices in the North West and the Midlands, Chambers UK names the firm a national leader outside London in both corporate M&A and intellectual property. Meanwhile every office plays host to one of the best private wealth and family practices in its respective region. International work is also not a foreign concept. The firm has a dedicated China desk (due in no small part to the firm's healthy relationships with universities), and recently advised on a £200 million Chinese investment in Cambridge Science Park, which will include a ‘Biohub’ research space.
The firm offers contracts in Norwich, Cambridge, Birmingham and Manchester. At the time of our calls, 17 trainees were based in Cambridge, nine each in Birmingham and Norwich, and four in Manchester. The contract's six-seat structure was enjoyed by most. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so the ability to try six different teams was a huge draw.” Others agreed: “As a trainee you have to be flexible and it helps with that. It sets you up for becoming an NQ.”
Newbies’ first seats are allocated before they arrive, “which can mean you get something you don’t particularly want, but it keeps the process fair.” For the remaining five seats: “Roughly six weeks before you change seats you get to express your preference.” Most of the trainees we spoke to had completed seats in other offices, and a couple had done in-house client secondments. Trainees found that “because you can go to other offices, everyone generally gets to try the seats they want.”
Real estate accounts for 29% of the firm's work, so unsurprisingly it's a possible seat in all offices taking trainees. Though there's plenty of regular commercial work – for clients like Indian restaurant business Cinnamon Collection, and real estate investor Marick Capital – the team has a particular specialism in the public sector. Clients include the Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. The team recently advised on the £155 million creation of 1,750 student rooms at the University of Hull, and on the University of Birmingham's purchase of the listed building which will become its new site. “We did a lot of work for Trinity College Cambridge on land leases and licence alterations,” insiders recalled. “And we also do advisory work as well as transactions. It’s not just buying and selling.”
There's also a real estates disputes seat in Norwich, Cambridge and Birmingham (Birmingham trainees split their time between contentious and non-contentious matters). Across landlord and tenant, development, land licence and trusts disputes, the caseload encompasses work for investors, developers, NHS trusts and universities. There’s a specialism in agricultural disputes thrown in for good measure too. “I got loads of exposure right away,” said one trainee. “I attended mediations and went to court with just the client and counsel.” But their involvement was more rounded: “We had to draft a lot of applications in advance of the trial, and then during the trial itself I took notes during cross-examination. At the end of every day we’d all have a conference to discuss strategy.” Cases tackled unusual issues, including a dispute about a piece of land thought to be an ancient highway: “I had to do a lot of research in the national archives and record offices, which was more academic. It’s great to get those quirky instructions as well as more real-time commercial cases.” The firm recently defended demolition company Cantillon against a noise complaint worth £3.6 million; it also aided educational provider LTE Group to secure the possession and removal of telecommunication masts from its Manchester College campus.
"It’s great to get those quirky instructions as well as more real-time commercial cases."
Over in commercial, IP & IT, the team represents an impressive list of clients which includes the Department of Health, semiconductor and software design company ARM, the Department for Education and Jaguar Land Rover. It’s ranked top by Chambers UK for both IP and IT in East Anglia. Along with several others at the firm – the team has been appointed to assist the MOD on Project Morpheus: a multibillion-pound project to roll out new software for the Ministry’s communications system. On the IP side of things, the firm manages the international trade mark portfolio of Queen Mary University. Meanwhile, its commercial work saw the firm advise Center Parcs on a contract which provided heating to one of its swimming domes. It’s a real mix, so trainees could recall working on both “public sector work for the NHS or central government and elements of IP or terms and conditions for local companies.” In Cambridge, where there’s a lot of IP work done, a trainee explained: “We’ve got a booming tech centre here, so our exposure is more specialist.” The mix also meant “you can be doing small, discrete instructions for clients, or big projects, say for the NHS.” And trainees praised their responsibility. “I’ve done initial telephone interviews with clients, fee estimates, one-to-one client meetings to take down instructions, and in most cases you are drafting contracts. It’s quite common in this seat to deal with tasks from start to finish.”
The corporate team is especially prominent in Norwich and Cambridge. It handles M&A, joint ventures, IPOs and listings. The firm recently advised Canadian agribusiness Richardson International on its acquisition of European Oat Millers. It also advised RVB Investments, owners of a large industrial property portfolio, on its £90 million sale to property fund Paloma. Other work saw the firm advise insurance investor Randall and Quilter Investment Holdings on a placement which raised £49 million, and oversee the £70 million AIM IPO of Nexas infrastructure. “It's quite full-on from day one,” said one Cambridge trainee. “You're working for all sorts of clients. There are small deals for businesses in Norfolk where everyone is local and you get to interact with clients. On the other side there is work on a bigger scale for national clients. There's not as much face time but you're very involved in preparing new versions of documents and ancillaries.”
The regulatory, public and commercial disputes team pools the firm’s expertise in healthcare and education matters. It represents top organisations and institutions, including the Department of Health, Bupa, Virgin Care, Great Ormond Street, the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. But it's broader than that – lawyers recently defended the football agent Fernando Felicevich against allegations by Cardiff City FC of fraud and conspiracy. The firm also advised Jaguar Land Rover in an IP tussle with the Canadian company Bombardier Recreational Products, which sold an off-road vehicle named 'Defender'. The seat was seen as “very hands-on,” with trainees “attending client meetings alongside fee earners, drafting settlement agreements and corresponding with court. I went to the RCJ for my first administrative law hearing.” On the healthcare side “there’s a focus on Health and Safety Executive prosecutions and CQC [Care Quality Commission] appeals, which often go to tribunal.” The team also works on inquests. “They’re interesting because you’ve got that ethical, politico-social element to it.” Trainees’ varied workload included “drafting witness statements and arguments, as well as document review. You get a lot of responsibility very quickly. On my first day I visited a prison!”
"On my first day I visited a prison!”
The employment seat includes cases of workplace discrimination, pay disputes and other regulatory matters, usually on behalf of employers. Clients include many of the public sector bodies we’ve mentioned, plus companies like Carlsberg and Topps Tiles. “You get to see the advocacy side of things as well as advising on contracts, so it really plays to all of the skills you’ve been trying to develop,” said trainees. “You’re the person the lead fee earner turns to when they want to evidence a claim, and they begin to ask for suggestions when it comes to tactics and strategy. That usually comes much later.” The family seat, meanwhile, “is great for developing soft skills, especially when it comes to speaking to people with no legal training.” The team’s work sees them “deal with a lot of high net worth financial divorces and settlements, prenuptials, postnuptials and child arrangements.” Trainees again described having “a lot of client contact, including urgent hearings which teach you how to think on your feet.”
“I don’t want to sound cheesy,” one trainee began, “but working here is like working with family.” That does sound a little cheesy – others put it this way: “Support is the first thing that comes to mind. Everybody is respected and valued, you get a lot of responsibility and you feel like they’re investing in you because they want you to stay here.” Trainees’ supervision came in for praise, with insiders chiming: “In my experience you’re always involved in real client work. It would be easy to give us more discrete tasks but people go out of their way to make sure you develop.” And the firm’s transparency earned more credit. The managing partner hosts monthly drop-ins in each office to update staff on the latest goings on, and trainees had a clear picture of M&R’s strategic goals. The family feel is further cemented by the fact that bonuses are shared equally, so that “secretaries and fee earners get the same amount.”
The firm’s generosity doesn’t stay within its walls, however. There’s a strong emphasis on charity work. “Trainees have to arrange an annual charity challenge, which is a fundraising weekend in the Lake District or similar.” Another firm feature is ‘Innovation Week’ – when each office gets together for plenty of “blue-sky thinking” about ways to improve the firm. “We’ve had a reputation for being conservative in the past,” a trainee revealed, “but I think it’s very progressive. I sat on the female partnership task force to brainstorm ideas on how to increase the percentage of female partners by 2020.”
But trainees still found time for plenty of jaunts to the pub, partaking in various sports teams including rowing, netball and hockey, and an annual firm-wide Christmas party. “Trainees are always asked to provide entertainment. This year we formed a band with a partner on bass guitar, a senior associate on lead guitar and a bunch of vocalists – all dressed in AC/DC outfits!”
"I can count on one hand the occasions where I've had to stay past 8pm."
The Norwich office has just undergone renovation, including brand new sit/stand desks and flexible working spaces, which received high praise from insiders. Birmingham is now following suit, with renovations well underway. In Cambridge, meanwhile, sources described their workplace as “the nicest offices in town.” Lawyers have free passes to the botanical gardens it overlooks, as well as access to an office canteen and “a clever open-plan design with effective break-out spaces.” The word in London was that the recent merger had gone “seamlessly,” and that “the office used to be a bit less collegial but now it’s got a real vibe about it.” Others who had sampled London life told us: “It’s definitely becoming more of a hub, especially if you’re doing a seat in insurance.” Those who chose to travel for their seats could do so in the knowledge that the firm covers their rent and bills.
Trainees mostly reported working days of 9am to 6pm, adding: "I can count on one hand the occasions where I've had to stay past 8pm." Some warned that a seat in corporate can come with late nights, "which some people don't appreciate, having come to work in Norwich or Cambridge." Most, however, agreed: "The firm is very aware that you need to have a work/life balance, and if you put in the extra hours it's really appreciated."
Trainees were confident about qualification. "The firm's very transparent. There’s no need for coffees at midnight to secure a place." In 2018, 17 out of 18 qualifiers were retained.
How to get a Mills & Reeve training contract
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019 (open 1 November 2018)
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 2016 the firm received 945 direct training contract applications.
Mills & Reeve requires a minimum 2:1 degree. Graduate recruitment manager Fiona Medlock 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
The application process is the same whether you're applying for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract. Everyone submits an online application form, and the firm invites the top 300 to take an online critical thinking test. After further shortlisting, 90 are invited to a half-day assessment centre in either Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester or Norwich, which consists of a group exercise and an interview.
For the group exercise, candidates are tasked with conducting a mock meeting around a business scenario and then giving a presentation to partners. The exercise is designed to test their commercial aptitude and ability to work in a team.
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: “They asked me about current affairs and went through my application in detail. 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 at least one partner, but there may also be an associate in the room. “Try to find out who’s interviewing you beforehand,” a trainee advised. “The partner I spoke to was very impressed that I knew which practice area he specialised in.”
From here the firm makes its vac scheme and training contract offers.
Mills & Reeve holds a summer vac scheme in its Cambridge, Birmingham, Manchester and Norwich offices. Each lasts two weeks, and there are ten places available in each office. Attendees receive £300 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. Fiona Medlock 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.”
Cutting the costs of divorce law
Mills & Reeve LLP
100 Hills Road,
- Partners 122
- Assistant solicitors 994
- Total trainees 39 (first and second years)
- UK offices Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, London, Manchester, Norwich
- Contacts Graduate recruiter: Rachel Chapman, [email protected], 0121 456 8393
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 20
- Applications pa: 950
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 120 (post September 2017)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 36
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £26,500
- Second-year salary: £27,500
- Post-qualification salary: £41,000 (Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester)
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £4,500
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Norwich
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Occasional
Commercial clients include global and UK based businesses, FTSE and AIM listed organisations, private companies and start-ups. Mills & Reeve works with firms across the globe (including fellow members of the SCG Legal, a worldwide network of leading law firms) to support their clients’ international requirements.
For the 15th year running Mills & Reeve has been listed in The Sunday Times 'Top 100 Best Companies to Work For', which recognises that the firm puts people at the centre of its business.
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2018
• University of York
• University of Sheffield
• University of Cambridge
• University of Warwick
• University of Leicester
• University of Sussex
• University of East Anglia
• University of Manchester
• University of Essex
• University of Birmingham
• University of Wolverhampton.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
Birmingham and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Cambridge and surrounds
- 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)
Leeds, Bradford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Insurance (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence: Legal (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
Manchester and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Construction (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Pensions Recognised Practitioner
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: SME/Owner-managed Businesses (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
Norwich and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 4)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 2)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 1)
- Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Healthcare: Mental Health: Providers (Band 1)
- Private Client (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 3)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
- Public Procurement (Band 3)
- Sport (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner