Mills & Reeve LLP - True Picture

You better believe Mills & Reeve will keep growing its regional bases, putting its faith in public as well as private sector work.

Mills & Achieve

We’re ahead of schedule,” beams training principal Caroline Dean. “We were half way through our five-year plan when we passed the £100 million revenue mark.” The firm’s 2017 merger with London's Maxwell Winward went a long way in helping it crash through its stated goal of hitting the nine-figure revenue mark by 2020. The merger also boosted the size of the firm's smaller London office (which doesn't take trainees). However, trainees stressed that “we are very focused on growing and building our regional offices, like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.” M&R has also grown by taking on the odd lateral partner, with recent additions coming from Eversheds Sutherland and Withers.

Another part of this East Anglian-born firm's strategy is a focus on key sectors, of which there are a rather daunting 14, ranging from mid-market commercial and real estate to education and healthcare (two areas the firm is particularly known for). The (semi-)public sector has always been a strength for the firm, as can be seen from its national Chambers UK rankings for education, healthcare, public law and public procurement.

It's worth stressing the quality of the firm in a number of regions. First things first, Mills & Reeve is almost peerless in East Anglia. Next: wherever there's a Mills & Reeve office, its private wealth lawyers treat the region's lucky and loaded individuals to one of the best  practices available in their locale. Then there are a ton more Chambers UK rankings across various locations for areas including litigation, professional negligence, real estate, family law, and banking and finance. M&R is also considered a national leader outside London by Chambers UK for corporate M&A, employment and IP. Caroline Dean further highlights charities and sports as “emerging sectors that aren’t new for us, but where we’re seeing new opportunities because they’re growing.”

“What stood out was the presence of more niche areas.”

This variety of work is what attracts many trainees to the firm. Our interviewees said that “what stood out was the presence of more niche areas like sports, education and charities, alongside mainstream areas such as corporate and commercial.” Trainees' exposure to different areas is helped along by the six-seat training contract, which one source felt “provides you with the opportunity to figure out what kind of lawyer you want to be.” Despite shorter seats, many agreed that M&R has “a good reputation for training and for letting trainees get involved in real work, not just grunt work” – more on that later.

Training contracts are currently on offer in Cambridge, Norwich, Birmingham and Manchester. At the time of our calls there were 18 trainees in Cambridge, eight in Norwich, nine in Birmingham and five in Manchester. Trainees can also do seats in London and Leeds, though at the time of research neither office was taking permanent trainees. Word on the street is that the Leeds office may start taking on its own trainees in the near future, but no decision's been made on this yet.

Back to school

As mentioned, Mills & Reeve has a six-seat structure rather than the traditional four seats. As a result, “you have that ‘first day of school’ feeling every four months, but it’s worth it because I’ve had the chance to try lots of areas.” Previously, trainees were given their first seat without a say, but first-years reported that things have changed: “Before I started I got asked to send through a list of four or five preferences that I might be interested in.” Second-years’ preferences take priority, but with the added option of doing a seat in another office, most manage to get their preferences the majority of the time. Trainees appreciated that if you do move locations “the firm will cover the cost of rent in the new city” and additional costs that come with moving.

“A lot of work managing the estates of universities.”

Most trainees end up doing real estate in some form or another, whether it’s a standard real estate seat, or related seats like planning or construction. Real estate is on offer in all offices which take trainees. Interviewees reported trying their hand at drafting leases and licences, and then “as the seat continues, the responsibilities increase – I got to run files and liaise directly with clients.” One trainee explained what 'running a file' entails: “Making sure the points being negotiated are agreed with the other side, checking any amendments, making sure amendments are sent to the client, and running the completion of leases and sales.” Other tasks include due diligence, filling out Land Registry forms, research on client questions, and compiling reports on title. Within real estate, the firm’s education expertise comes into play as the team also “does a lot of work managing the estates of universities.” M&R frequently acts for the University of Cambridge and its colleges; Cambridge lawyers recently advised the university on the proposed £9 million redevelopment of the Old Press/Mill Lane area on the River Cam. The firm has also advised on the redevelopment of the historic market place in Stockport; on multimillion-pound development plans for the Albert Island area near London City Airport; and on the building of 2,500 new homes in Cambridge.

There’s also a real estate sub-team that focuses on investment work, when “funds invest into high-value properties.” Trainees said this area provides “a nice opportunity to get a more corporate spin on real estate.” A ten-lawyer team led by two partners in Cambridge recently advised Trinity College on a £200 million redevelopment investment from a developer backed by Tsinghua University in Beijing. Meanwhile, lawyers in London advised a real estate fund on the £11 million acquisition of a small retail park in Hampshire.

Trainees can also do a real estate disputes seat in Cambridge or Norwich (while Birmingham trainees can do a mixed contentious/non-contentious seat). Lawyers work on “lots of landlord/tenant disputes, where we act for the landlord more often than not.” Trainees get stuck into “research on complex areas of disputes law” and also draft applications for court and attend hearings. A recent matter saw Norwich lawyers defend demolition company Cantillon against a £3.6 million private prosecution over noise nuisance caused by the demolition of a car park in Mayfair.

German whip

The corporate seat spans the likes of venture capital, private equity, M&A, IPOs and other general commercial/corporate deals. A recent matter saw a team of 12 lawyers mostly based in Norwich (with people from Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge too) advise the shareholders of the Robinsons Motor Group on the £22 million sale of its Mercedes-Benz franchises to Group 1 Automotive. Depending on the timing, some trainees said they were able to see small transactions through from beginning to end. Initial tasks include due diligence and managing data rooms, as well as drafting ancillary documents and handling research tasks. Trainees are also responsible for “finishing post-completion stuff, like updating registers and making sure share certificates and other documents are in the right place.” Most found the tasks to be “project management-based” rather than legalistic, but were pleased they had been able to “manage certain areas of the transaction myself.” On smaller transactions, trainees reported “working directly with the partner and doing the due diligence report myself.”

Trainees doing a seat in commercial, IP and IT came across a fair bit of public sector-related work, whether that was on public procurement matters, contract reviews, or commercial work for the healthcare sector (the firm is top-ranked nationally by Chambers UK for this area).The team recently advised NHS England on the revision of the snappily named National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS-funded Nursing Care, which sets guidelines for care services commissioning. Lawyers also recently helped the government's Maritime and Coastguard Agency procure a replacement for its existing radio equipment. The team does corporate support work too, “like contract reviews in advance of a sale or purchase.” As such, a big task for trainees in this seat is contract review, as well as amending contracts, drafting non-disclosure agreements, and research. On the IP side, trainees are exposed to “negotiating trade mark licences” and drafting commercial IP contracts. The team in Cambridge manages all of industrial software company AVEVA’s international trade mark portfolio, covering the EU, the US, Australia, India, China and Mexico. Trainees working on IP matters found they were able to “advise clients directly and be involved in meetings” while also getting “good technical drafting experience.” Throughout all this, sources agreed, “we’re also really well supported.”

In the regulatory, public and commercial disputes seat trainees see “a lot of general commercial litigation work, often on the defendant side with occasional claimant work.” Litigation clients range from the Law Society, the University of East Anglia and the Department of Health to Shell, Centrica and Rangers FC. Some sources also mentioned working with defamation specialists on that type of litigation, which sources “really enjoyed.” Specialists in Manchester recently represented the West Midlands Ambulance Service when it faced a libel claim after allegedly defamatory statements it made to the BBC. Trainee tasks include “drafting responses to letters of claim, writing instructions to counsel and other correspondence,” sitting in on conferences with counsel, and “researching tricky points of law.” One source added: “I had a bit more client contact in this seat than in others and tried interviewing clients.”

Solicitor or barista?

Our interviewees agreed that M&R “has struck a balance between doing great work and treating its people well.” From Cambridge to Manchester and everywhere in between, sources agreed that “everyone you come across, whether partners or other trainees, is extremely helpful and willing to talk.” One source highlighted “small things, like the partners getting involved in the tea and coffee rounds” as an example of something which “develops a good team feel.” Another source shared, somewhat soppily: “I feel like when I come into work I'm coming in to see my friends as well as my colleagues.”

And of course, friends tend to socialise. There are plenty of opportunities, both firm-organised and otherwise: if organised sports are your game, there are multiple teams to join including hockey, cricket, netball and football. The less physically coordinated need not fret, as office social committees organise events like trips to the theatre and “pizza and prosecco nights” (in Birmingham) and cocktail (or mocktail) making and bowling (in Cambridge). Without fail, every interviewee also mentioned the firm’s CSR committee, which organises an annual ‘charity challenge’. The most recent challenge saw around 100 lawyers and staff head to the Lake District to compete in activities such as hiking, gorge walking and abseiling. “It was a really nice event,” trainees reflected, “and a great way to spend time with colleagues.”

“We leave around 6pm most evenings.”

Sources found they had enough time for their own life outside the firm too. “Generally, we leave around 6pm most evenings, though it can depend on what seat you’re in.” Most agreed that the corporate seat has the longest hours, but felt “it’s still quite good when you compare it to London firms.” To demonstrate, one reckoned they’d “stayed late maybe four times in four months” (late being between 9pm and 10pm). Sources also added that “if you’re going to have to stay late, you can usually predict it so it’s still perfectly manageable.” Given these reasonable hours, most were content with their pay. The only grumbles came from Cambridge sources who admitted that “Cambridge is pretty expensive, and I don’t think the salary reflects that. The cost of living isn’t too different to London.” Those in Norwich and Birmingham felt the salary was “pitched just right.”

Cambridge folks did mention it's a plus that their office is next to the city’s botanical gardens and they get a free pass to visit when the feeling takes them: “I try to go on some lunch breaks; it’s so green and really relaxing.” The Birmingham office on Colmore Row is “looking pretty glam these day” after a recent renovation. “Everything is brand new and shiny, plus there are nice breakout areas which are good for collaboration” – and, we hope, for taking a break.

At the time of research, second-year trainees had just started the NQ jobs process. Many felt the firm had been “quite transparent” throughout: it publishes a jobs list of all NQ positions across all offices. Trainees can then apply, and it is “at the discretion of the team as to whether it holds formal interviews or not.” This is more likely if there is more than one applicant for a job. Sources felt confident about their chances looking at past retention rates (since 2013 the firm has retained over 80% of qualifiers in every year but one), and only considered looking elsewhere if the department they wanted wasn’t available. We heard that in 2019 there were more jobs available than qualifiers and eventually 17 out of 21 were retained.

Mills & Reeve hires most of its trainees via its vac scheme. Head to Bonus Features for more info on what it involves.

How to get a Mills & Reeve training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 5 January 2020

Training contract deadline (2022): 5 January 2020


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 the firm received 1080 direct training contract 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 recruiting its 2022 trainee intake from its 2020 summer vacation scheme. Candidates should submit an online application form, and the firm will invite the top 500 to take an online critical thinking test. After further shortlisting, around 100 are invited to a central assessment centre in its London office, which consist of a welcome talk, group exercise and a Q&A session with some current trainees.

For the group exercise, candidates are tasked with conducting a mock meeting around a business scenario (non-legal) and then giving a presentation to partners. 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. “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 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 £315 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 126
  • Assistant solicitors 1069
  • Total trainees 38 (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: 1000
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 120 (post September 2017)
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 38
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1st October 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 5th January 2020
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 5th January 2020
  • 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: £ 5000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Norwich with option to undertake seats also in Leeds and London
  • Overseas seats: None
  • 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 16 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. 

Trainee opportunities

A Mills & Reeve trainee gets 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, confidence and commercial awareness. You will need high standards of academic achievement; to demonstrate maturity, have initiative and business acumen. You will enjoy untangling complicated issues and thrive on building relationships with clients and colleagues.

This year, we will only be recruiting trainees through our summer vacation scheme and we are currently recruiting for our 2022 trainee cohort. Due to an increase in trainee numbers, we also anticipate recruiting some additional spaces in our 2021 cohort.

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. During your time with us 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 and social committee, subsidised restaurants, season ticket loan, employee assistance programme, membership costs for junior lawyers groups.

University law careers fairs 2019

Birmingham, Cambridge, East Anglia, Manchester,York, BPP.

Social media

Twitter @MillsandReeve

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

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 5)
    • Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • 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 3)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Administrative & Public Law (Band 4)
    • 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 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)