With a range of top-notch practices plus cross-office support and socialising, this is more than just a run-of-the-Mills firm...
Mills & Reeve training contract review 2024
If you’re looking to start your legal career at a full-service firm outside of the capital, it’s sometimes the case that you’ll start up at a firm with a London HQ and a bunch of satellite offices around the country. For trainees at Mills & Reeve, despite being headquartered in London, this wasn’t the case: “It’s got a strong regional presence, and it’s not mainly based out of London.” The London head office doesn’t house any full-time trainees – not until September 2024, anyway – so current newbies are settled in either Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester or Norwich.
The firm earns a bunch of accolades from Chambers UK across its offices. In East Anglia its rankings include everything from agriculture and professional negligence to corporate/M&A and banking & finance. On a national scale, the guide considers the firm to be cream of the crop for education, healthcare and mental health (providers). Further still, its private wealth law practice has received the highest accolades across the North West, Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich – it’s even considered a ‘national leader’.
“I feel like I’ve found my soulmate law firm!”
The work can speak for itself, but what did trainees have to say about life at the firm? “I feel like I’ve found my soulmate law firm!” exclaimed one starry-eyed interviewee. That’s certainly a bold claim, and this source chalks it down to the people: “It’s so important to find a place with people you want to work with. If you can’t stand anyone in your team, you’ll hate having to work with them until 2am on a corporate transaction.” Others emphasised how, despite having trainees across multiple offices, the firm is a place where “you feel more like a person than a number – that's why I applied.” Work/life balance, support and growth opportunities were other key things that attracted trainees to the firm, so we guess you could say they won’t put you through the Mill(s) here!
Mills & Reeve trainees complete six four-month seats, so there are plenty of opportunities to sample a range of the firm’s full-service offering. “The four months fly by,” said a trainee. “But often you’ll sit with the team you want to qualify in for your final seat and effectively do eight months with them.” While second-years are given priority for seat allocation, our interviewees were happy with the process and felt listened to throughout. The way it works is as follows. Before allocating seats, grad recruitment schedules a call with each trainee to chat about what they do and don’t like, discuss career goals and pick three top seat choices. “If you have a seat you're desperate to do during your training contract, mention it and they’ll go out of their way to give it to you,” advised one trainee.
“The team looked out for opportunities to attend in-person hearings even if I hadn’t worked on the case.”
Lots of trainees had done a seat with the employment team, trying out a blend of contentious and non-contentious work. The department is split into health, education and commercial, with each subgroup working with clients in their designated sector, such as the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, the University of London and Mitsubishi.Newbies work with all three teams and, although the seat is generally disputes-heavy, the commercial team typically takes on slightly more advisory work than the others. “They’ve got helplines where people call in with one-off queries, so you listen to the call and then draft an email of advice,” a trainee explained. The rest of the department’s non-contentious work is essentially reviewing and drafting policies and contracts and advising on corporate transactions. On the litigation side, trainees spend time bundling, researching, liaising with counsel and attending hearings. “The team looked out for opportunities to attend in-person hearings even if I hadn’t worked on the case,” an interviewee explained. There's plenty of witness statement drafting, as well as other employment-specific documents, including settlement agreements and case analysis. The team recently defended the Royal Veterinary College against an Employment Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and philosophical belief discrimination.
Meanwhile, the commercial seat is “most simply, all about drafting contracts and sitting in on meetings to help negotiate them.” It’s an incredibly broad seat, with work going around in data protection and IT, IP, government, projects and procurement. “If it doesn’t fall anywhere else, it goes here,” one trainee quipped, and we heard there’s a growing competition practice, too. Newbies spend their time reviewing and drafting various contracts, such as T&Cs, supply agreements, shareholder agreements, and other niche bits and pieces. There’s plenty of client contact as well – “more than I’ve ever had,” according to one source – to talk through advice or to negotiate contracts. Trainees found the seat interesting as “you need an understanding of the business and commercial sides of the sectors and industries you’re working with.” For instance, the team has advised Macmillan Cancer Support, Beauty Bay and even the Intellectual Property Office. The firm is also providing support to the Ministry of Defence on its £5 billion programme for naval bases equipment. Just like employment, there’s a fair bit of corporate support to be done, with commercial trainees helping review contracts for due diligence on transactions.
“Looking through deeds from the 1700s written in fountain pen on paper that’s falling apart was amazing!”
There are separate seats on offer in real estate and real estate litigation, with some trainees doing a split seat to “get the full picture. It’s interesting to see the disputes that arise when real estate goes wrong.” The team mainly works on commercial real estate, and recently assisted Trinity College Cambridge with the sale of its land in Surrey to Vistry Homes. There’s quite a bit of crossover with the corporate team, and real estate often assists on due diligence. Trainees take on some admin tasks such as doc review, filings and tracking spreadsheets. Surprisingly, parts of the admin work were exciting for our interviewees: “Looking throughdeeds from the 1700s written in fountain pen on paper that’s falling apart was amazing!” Drafting is another major part of the seat, with plenty of opportunities to try out leases, licences and various property-specific clauses. Trainees who’d worked on disputes also drafted letters before action and letters of claim.
The insurance disputes seat is essentially professional negligence, defending claims on behalf of insurers and the insured. Trainees gave us the lowdown on the department’s work, explaining that the group largely works on matters concerning construction negligence, clinical negligence and solicitors or barristers who have allegedly acted negligently. Of course we can’t list names of individuals, but the team has worked for companies such as Allianz and Axis. The group is currently defending a law firm against allegations it failed to correctly draft a warranty in a contract between the claimant and G4S, for the provision of asylum seeker accommodation for the UK Border Agency. “It’s basically like commercial litigation,” said an interviewee, “but with the quirks of dealing with insurers.” That means trainees can get plenty of experience drafting pre-action documents, such as letters to the other side, reports to insurers and letters of claim. Newbies also attend meetings with clients, witness interviews and hearings. One interviewee explained that, although most cases tend to settle, there are still opportunities to do disclosure, bundling and to draft instructions to counsel.
Trainees can get a range of contentious experience with a seat under the RPCD (regulatory public & commercial disputes) umbrella. For example, the commercial disputes team takes on various contractual, procurement and insolvency matters with a range of commercial, education and health clients. There are also opportunities to work on cross-border matters, such as one recent financial dispute on behalf of the Texan company Oxyde Chemicals, which involved parties in the UAE and London.
“They say that once you’ve done one contentious seat, you could probably do them all.”
Meanwhile, the separate health and regulatory disputes team assists clients on cases involving health regulators. Trainee tasks are generally quite consistent across seats, except for the more niche claims, such as Court of Protection litigation in healthcare or private client matters. On the admin side, newbies deal with filings, preparing bundles and any initial forms or applications. Drafting is standard, so these very junior litigators can try their hand at witness statements and letters of claim, response or engagement. “They say that once you’ve done one contentious seat, you could probably do them all,” a trainee reflected.
Most interviewees found there was a good work/life balance at the firm and were relieved that supervisors set a good example when it came to hours: “If they need to log off on time for something, they will. There’s never an expectation to stay late if there’s no urgent deadline.” For many, it was rare to finish past 6.30pm: “If you’re still in the office, people come around to ask what you’re still doing here.” That said, the odd late night is still to be expected – 11pm was the latest most of our interviewees had worked. Sources were clear that working late was only necessary when handling a time-sensitive task, and the firm is also flexible when it comes to hybrid working. We heard that the corporate and real estate groups encourage trainees to go to the office as much as they can, while commercial is a bit more balanced. The firm policy is to spend 50% of the time (spread over a fortnight) working in the office, which adds up to two or three in-office days per week.
Some of our interviewees felt the equal pay across offices was fair, especially considering the hour expectations. However, many felt that the firm could better evaluate pay on a regional basis: “Trainees up North are getting more value for money than a trainee in Cambridge, who’s paying higher rent on the same salary.” Despite this, sources were optimistic about potential salary reviews now that the firm will be taking on trainees in London as “you probably can’t pay a London trainee that same £30,000. They’ll have to tier it, and at that point there’ll be an argument to say Cambridge should be somewhere in the middle.” In September 2023, the firm slightly increased regional salaries.
“I. Love. Going. To. Work. I’ve been working from home today and I’ve got FOMO!”
Sources also felt the supportive culture was consistent across offices, with one trainee exclaiming, “I. Love. Going. To. Work. I’ve been working from home today and I’ve got FOMO!” Other trainees broke this down for us, explaining how people are approachable and supportive across all levels. “I never feel like I’m spoken down to because I’m a trainee,” said an interviewee. “Everyone’s treated equally.” Regular social events help to maintain this culture, with one trainee highlighting a recent charity challenge where trainees, paralegals, support staff and partners all got together. “Everyone gets on so well. They’re just a pretty cool bunch of people.” Interviewees highlighted other informal socialising such as lunches, after-work drinks and trainee get-togethers. More formally, insiders enjoyed the firm’s Christmas and summer parties, alongside opportunities to organise socials. “It’s a rite of passage as a trainee to join the sports and social committee,” an interviewee joked.
Trainees are encouraged to attend networking events for business development, and the Manchester office often hosts an informal ‘Why Not Wednesday’ event for young professionals. Similarly, trainees across all offices are signed up to the Cambridge Junior Lawyers’ Division and can attend a bunch of external networking events. Trainees can also have more personal discussions on development with their supervisors.
Each office has a trainee principal and training principal (that’s not a typo.) The former acts as a mentor for each trainee over the two-year contract, whilst the latter oversees organisational aspects of the training contract, like recruitment. Newbies are also assigned separate supervisors for each seat. “I meet with the trainee principal every few months to check in on how I’m doing and chat about career progression. It helps that he’s well connected as a partner and has links with the other offices,” explained a trainee. Seat supervisors typically check in with their reports at least weekly, and insiders felt “you know they’re there if you need them.”
“It feels like the quality of training is really high.”
Regular training sessions offer a more structured approach to development at Mills & Reeve, with trainees often visiting other offices to do their PSC sessions. The Manchester and Leeds lot typically head down to Birmingham, while Norwich trainees visit Cambridge to get their fill of legal learning. “It’s generally good fun!” according to one interviewee. “We usually stay over so there’s a social side to it, too. We go out for food and drinks and get to interact with other trainees.” Practice groups also deliver know-how sessions, often going through different topics of the law or sitting down to discuss weekly updates. One trainee was glad to say, “It feels like the quality of training is really high, as is the amount of it.”
The firm’s D&I networks also hold presentations to discuss what they do and who they support. The main networks are Reach (ethnicity), Abilities (disabilities and neurodiversity) and Spectrum (LGBTQ+). Insiders revealed that the networks aren’t limited to those who identify as part of the group, as allies or those who want to learn more about diversity join in and attend events. Trainees explained that the firm is bolstering its diverse recruitment through the 10,000 Black Interns Scheme. “It gives them six weeks in the firm as opposed to the two-week vac scheme,” an interviewee explained. “They get a week with each team, and some have been to hearings, mediations and client calls. It’s such a broad variety of experience.”
For our interviewees, qualification was generally straightforward and informal. Once the jobs list comes out, trainees have a week to pick which they’d like to apply for and email their request. There’s no application form, but potential qualifiers might have to do an interview if more than one person has applied to a position or if they haven’t done a seat with the team. Sources mentioned that “the firm is good at finding you a role you want. If you miss out on an oversubscribed position, it’s not ‘tough luck.’ The firm will discuss other options with you and find out where there’s space.” That means the firm’s pretty good with retention, keeping on 20 out of 21 qualifiers in 2023.
Mills & Believe
Local trainees can assist students on pro bono matters through the Birmingham University’s Free Legal Advice Group.
How to get a Mills & Reeve training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 2 January 2024 (opens 2 October 2023)
Mills & Reeve offers around 30 training contracts a year and for the last few years has recruited all of its trainees via its summer vacation scheme.
Over 1,000 candidates usually apply for roughly 60 vacation scheme spaces. The graduate recruitment team tell us that the firm is looking for applicants who are driven, and have a positive attitude, an agile approach and the potential to be an excellent future lawyer.
The firm uses the Rare Contextual Recruitment System in its application process to identify high-achieving candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has also worked with recruitment firm Amberjack to redesign its selection process, to ensure it recruits diverse trainees with the key competencies to be excellent future lawyers.
Assessments and interviews
Candidates submit a basic online application form and then take an online blended assessment via Amberjack. The online blended assessment explores applicants’ motivations for joining Mills & Reeve, their thinking style and abilities to embrace change and creatively problem-solve. They will be asked a mix of situational judgement questions, verbal and numerical reasoning questions and one long answer question.
Although the firm does not recruit on a rolling basis, candidates will be invited to take the assessment within two weeks of applying so are advised to not submit their application until they are ready to take the assessment.
Around 120 candidates are invited to an assessment centre, which consists of a welcome talk, group exercise, written exercise, individual presentation and an interview. There is also an opportunity to meet some of the firm's current trainees over lunch to learn more about the role and the firm. Following the assessment centre, the firm makes its vacation scheme offers. It will then select its future trainees from those who attend the summer vacation scheme.
The firm runs summer vacation schemes and offers training contracts in 6 out of its 7 offices – Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, London, Manchester, and Norwich.
Each vacation scheme lasts two weeks and candidates receive £400 a week for participating (£450 if in London). 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 remembered me!”
Each vac scheme features a handful of social events and candidates are encouraged to socialise with current trainees to get a feel for the firm and its lawyers. A recent vac schemer shared: “I had an amazing week! The work was challenging and interesting. Everyone I met at Mills & Reeve was genuinely warm and welcoming, and I finished the scheme feeling very excited for my future career in law.”
There are no more formal assessments during or at the end of the vac scheme and the firm makes training contract offers following a candidate’s performance on the vac scheme. The graduate recruitment team advise 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. They don’t expect anyone to know the law inside out, so are really looking for enthusiasm, a good attitude and the core competencies to be an excellent future lawyer.
Mills & Reeve LLP
100 Hills Road,
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 seven 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 UK’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the past 20 years. We’ve also been awarded Platinum status in Investors in People 2023 – something that only 6% of 50,000 assessed organisations achieve.
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.
Everyone at Mills & Reeve brings a unique perspective and ideas to the team and we do everything we can to help each person to thrive. Diversity and inclusion is a key strand of our 2025 vision. 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 have recently been recognised by Legal Week with an award for Standout Diversity in Innovation and a Lifetime Contributor to Innovation award.
Mills & Reeve is 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.
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 to allow you to experience the breadth of the work we do and you will be supported by dedicated supervisors, a partner mentor, a trainee buddy and the graduate team throughout the two-year training programme.
We want people who are ready for early responsibility because that is what we will give you. You will be driven, have a positive attitude and an agile approach. You will enjoy untangling complicated issues and thrive on building relationships with clients and colleagues.
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. You will be paired with one of our current trainees who will answer your day-to-day questions and help you make the most of your experience. Presentations and a selection of social events will allow you to appreciate our culture.
We offer two weeks' work experience at one of our offices in Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, London, Manchester and Norwich.
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 2023
We are attending the Legal Cheek and AllAboutLaw virtual law fairs series.
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
• 10,000 Black Interns
• 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, 2023
Birmingham and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
Cambridge and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (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)
- Family/Children Law (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial Finance: High Net Worth (Band 1)
Manchester and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Pensions (Band 3)
- Professional Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Professional Negligence (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Professional Negligence (Band 1)
- Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 3)
Norwich and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
- Charities (Band 3)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)
- Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Public Sector Clients) (Band 2)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 5)
- 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: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 5)
Yorkshire: South and West
- Employment (Band 4)