Headline-grabbing work, cutting-edge tech and “passionate” colleagues all make this firm a Reya of sunshine in the legal sky.
Mishcon de Reya training contract review 2022
Founded by and taking its name from Lord Mishcon, a lawyer who’d go on to become a Labour frontbencher in the House of Lords, it’s no wonder that MDR has made a name for itself battling on some of the most exciting cases in the public eye. The biggest recent example was Mishcon taking on Gina Miller’s 2019 case against Boris Johnson to stop him proroguing Parliament during the Brexit process. “I think it’s amazing that the firm steps up on these issues and shows the commitment they have,” one of our trainee sources declared. “People are passionate about the rule of law and aren’t afraid to take on the government.” Alongside its “novel” practice areas such as art, gaming, fraud and defamation, Mishcon has recently started up a dedicated politics group. “It’s about exploring these fringe areas of law and seeing the law as a shield and sword to champion causes that can have a positive impact.”
Mishcon’s stew of niche practice areas means “each department is its own complete thing and the variety is insane. You get a good flavour of so much as a trainee.” It’s no wonder then that “there’s a real buzz around the office, you can tell people genuinely enjoy working here.” The passion pays off: Chambers UK awards the firm rankings in various practices including top spots for art, cultural property and civil fraud nationwide, and lower mid-market M&A and senior executive employment in London.
The firm’s also recognised in areas like financial crime, IP, gaming, retail,big-ticketreal estate, contentious regulatory, business immigration, sport and defamation… now that’s what we’d call variety! If you’re a tech head, Mishcon’s MDR LAB initiative is sure to get your hard drive humming. Investing in tech start-ups with a legal bent, the LAB has so far helped 19 companies get off the ground, including contract drafting platform DraftWise and blockchain-based online dispute resolution system Jur.
“People are passionate… and aren’t afraid to take on the government.”
MDR shut down its New York office in January 2020, but when one door closes another opens – Mishcon set up shop in Singapore in May 2020, mid-pandemic. Training principal Nadim Meer tells us the firm hopes to have a trainee seat in Singapore available as soon as travel restrictions allow – “ideally we’d have two. We can’t promise it, but we’d like to have a mix of first and second years going there.” It may have just two bricks and mortar bases, but Mishcon is internationally minded: “On our intranet we have a map of the world and you can click on a spot to find our lawyer connections there,” insiders revealed. “Rather than partner with specific law firms, we decide which option is best in each jurisdiction for our client.”
We heard that just over half of the current intake had paralegalled at the firm before arriving. When people were working in the office five days a week, “the gap between internal and external trainee applications closed pretty quickly” once they joined the firm and started mingling in person, but working remotely has slowed that down. “It’s not unpleasant," an interviewee clarified. "It’s just noticeable.”
For their first destination, trainees highlight their preferences for general departments as opposed to specific seats. Before rotating, they submit three team-specific preferences from a list which helpfully includes potential supervisors for each. Some ended up “a bit disappointed” by the results of the process, but acknowledged the firm is “trying to prevent the ‘coffee culture’ of trainees talking to partners about getting seats.” Another step to avoid this is a presentation hosted by the firm, giving info about the work on offer in each seat. “They try and give you priority next time around” if you’re unlucky enough to not get one of your picks.
Several seats are on offer in the dispute resolution realm including finance litigation, fraud defence, tax disputes, and insurance litigation. The last of those is “normally policyholder-side work rather than acting for insurers,” on cases in property insurance, medical insurance and even political risk. One trainee said this of insurance litigation: “It’s some of the most intense work I’ve ever done.” The department has been “swamped with Covid-related cases” recently – Mishcon represented around 400 businesses in a £65 million group arbitration against insurer Hiscox over the denial of business interruption insurance claims relating to the pandemic and lockdown measures.
"Cases can be pretty shocking.”
Fraud work covers “big-ticket, complicated, multi-jurisdiction cases. They’re some of the biggest matters possible in this space.” The fraud defence squad helps “individuals who’ve done allegedly fraudulent things” including secret commission work, conspiracy and “plain old defrauding.” Some the cases here are “scandalous. They can be pretty shocking.” Emotional intelligence is a must in this department: “You get to have that juicy personal connection with the client. These are disputes between people who trusted each other, so when that breaks down there’s a lot of hostility and contention.” The team’s defended Russian businessman Georgy Bedzhamov in a £1.34 billion claim alleging he participated in fraud leading to the collapse of Russian bank Vneshprombank; and acted for Ocado in a claim against founder Jonathan Faiman and others for theft of confidential information.
Contentious regulatory are a “small team with a great reputation who punch above their weight and work on really interesting, juicy matters.” According to our interviewees, the group is full of “deep strategic technical specialists” on compliance, criminal and enforcement matters. The group recently helped Smith & Williamson as administrators of London Capital & Finance (owing £240 million to c. 11,000 bondholders), in a matter involving fraudulent activity and FCA breach elements. Trainee tasks here include drafting letters, research, taking attendance notes and “sending emails to clients directly without review.” When it comes to trial, trainees are charged with bundling, making exhibits and preparing applications. Then there are “administrative tasks like updating schedules, tracking correspondence and checking the electronic port to see if any documents have come in.” That’s a lot to juggle, but our sources suggested your destiny is in your hands: “Whatever you put your hand up for, you can have a go at it.”
Mishcon’s sizeable intellectual property practice spans both IP disputes and transactions as well as data theft, copyright, trade secrets and brand management work. “We’re not just registering and renewing trade marks and patents for clients – we offer brand strategy and how to explore all your options,” trainees explained. Clients here include “large players in their markets” such as Nintendo, Sky and eBay, as well as smaller “emerging companies, making sure their IP is locked down whilst they explore new markets.” The team recently worked with supermarket Iceland on brand protection, including a challenge brought by an Icelandic government agency. This department “wants trainees to come in and do associate-level work with supervision,” including extensive drafting of reports and witness statements as well as general matter management. “Because each issue is quite novel, you can’t rely on precedent and have to get good at free drafting,” interviewees suggested.
“Whatever the luxury asset is, there’s usually an eccentric story behind it."
You don’t need to be a Van Gogh or Hockney buff to do art law work. One trainee per rotation does a seat which can cover “literally anything related to art,” and ‘art’ is a broad-brush term here: “It can be traditional art or any luxury item in general.” One example is work surrounding classic cars. “Whatever the luxury asset is, there’s usually an eccentric story behind it,” trainees said, enjoying getting to “liaise with galleries and artists you’ve heard of – it’s really exciting.” The team recently helped art dealer Simon Dickinson in a case where hackers fraudulently diverted a £2.4 million sum. Trainees can expect to brush up on document collection, “reading through everything at the beginning of new matters coming in,” making chronologies, conducting research and writing blog posts. They’re also in charge of sending “financing updates to clients and using the billing software. It sounds boring but it’s a huge, interesting aspect of being a lawyer that you forget exists.”
Working hoursvary by seat, with fraud specifically coming with “a big hours culture” according to trainees. “It’s harder to mentally step away from the work as the team is very present.” Most seats regularly allow logging off before 8pm; “only midnight” was the latest finish we heard of. According to our trainee survey, Mishcon-ers worked an average of 47 hours in a week. Great flexibility for parents at the firm can have consequences for trainees – “parents often go offline between 3pm and 7pm. Then they can come back at 7pm and send us a task.” With remote working still in its infancy, “hopefully it’s just teething problems we’ll figure out soon.” Interviewees also had “no gripes” about their compensation (£42,000 for first-year trainees).
Trainees described supervisors as “incredible and super approachable. They’re all like mums and dads, but witha real vision and focus on your career development, capacity and teamwork.” During the Covid-19 pandemic there’s been “a real understanding that there are serious challenges to training remotely,” leading to “lots of catch-ups and touching base during the day. Supervisors offer pastoral mentorship as well as formal training.” Interviewees reckoned it’s “going as well as it could be. They’ll be encouraging people back into the office when possible to teach and train trainees effectively.” As well as centralised learning centreThe Academy, Mishcon offers extra training sessions “every other day or more. It’s all moving your career progression forward so it can just rocket off.”
Before that kicks off, though, there’s a hefty induction. “When we started, we did three weeks of courses and learning together,” a source recalled. “It made us a close group.” Trainees told us they “miss going to the canteen and having that supportive network in person,” and had booked to do activities together once lockdown eases. With many of the trainee cohort coming from “atypical backgrounds,” blue-sky thinking is very much encouraged. “I had an idea about changing the way we work on something and took it to a partner,” an interviewee shared. “I explained how I thought we could make things more efficient and they let me run with it.”
“You’re able to express your opinions rather than just fall in line.”
Diversity and inclusion at Mishcon is “being pushed,” trainees noted, “but you wouldn’t say we’re particularly diverse” at present. Some noticed “more and more women being promoted” and told us about “a newsletter recommending books and viewing to educate yourself.” The summer of 2020 was a catalyst for “some good initiatives around Black Lives Matter, which will hopefully help the fact that there are few black lawyers at the firm.” Mishcon also hosts regular talks and seminars: interesting recent speakers including actress Jodie Foster “in conversation about Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi's fight for freedom,” former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell “talking about a book he’s written about sobriety and mental health.”
There have also been “efforts to discuss wellbeing and mental health – there is support available, but I think this needs to drift upwards to the senior ranks.” As for social mobility, the firm has recently introduced a legal apprenticeship programme “where you can work and complete your BA and SQE at the same time.” The programme lasts for six years (four years are spent studying), is fully paid for and is accredited by ULaw.The general impression of trainees is that “everyone at Mishcon is a bit different” when measured against the stereotypical lawyer. “You’re able to express your opinions rather than just fall in line.”
"There’s a big push to become a Mishconite and stay forever."
Note that qualification is a “formal process” here: “They take away the word of mouth element and make sure people are considered on merit.” The firm releases a jobs list and trainees must apply for two or more positions with equal weighting, which “keeps your options open.” Some found the process “nerve-wracking. It’s a multi-stage process just to get the training contract in the first place – I’ve jumped through enough hoops already!” That said, all felt Mishcon is “very supportive. We’ve had workshops on how to do our CVs, interviewing and what you need to do to qualify here.” Interviewees told us that in 2020 “there were more jobs than trainees, despite the pandemic.” One went on: “There’s a big push to become a Mishconite and stay forever. There’s a partner who’s had their 30 years anniversary this year – and that’s not the longest service.” Mishcon retained 14of 15qualifiers in 2021.
It’s good to know your employer has the planet’s best interests at heart: the environmental initiative Mishcon Purpose “focuses on sustainability, setting the firm on the path to carbon neutrality and B Corp certification.”
Get hired at Mishcon
Vacation schemes 2022 deadline: 31 October 2021 (winter); 21 November 2021 (spring); 16 January 2022 (summer)
In conversation with graduate recruitment partners Nadim Meer and Claire Broadbelt and early careers advisor Lucy Boon
Chambers Student: What have been some of the most exciting cases the firm’s worked in recent years?
Lucy Boon: Our employment trainees have been working on the Supreme Court case surrounding the legal status of Pimlico Plumbers workers.
Nadim Meer: The dispute between Carrie Gracie and the BBC over pay inequality has been another headline-grabber.
CS: Have there been any other big developments at Mishcon recently?
NM: MDR LAB is a major one – it’s our programme for early stage tech start-ups in the legal space. We’ve had three cohorts so far, each incubated within Mishcon over a ten-week period. At the end we host a demo day, inviting clients and journalists to see demonstrations of the products.
Each of those businesses is assigned Mishcon lawyers to work with whose role is to help shape the practical role of the technology. Some of these business are doing really well: Ping time-recording software has had several rounds of venture capital funding. Others are now commercialising their products and they’re a great opportunity for lawyers here to get involved in early stage tech businesses.
Claire Broadbelt: Trainees are involved in that as well. The shift towards technology has been driven by clients, they want things done quicker and more efficiently, especially on transactional work. We have big real estate and corporate departments which have invested heavily in developing our business practices and processes in order to ensure that our lawyers can focus on spending their time on legal matters that really add value.
CS: Trainees wanted to make clear Mishcon is very distinctive from other firms. From your perspective what is it that drives that?
CB: It’s been really good to ask our vacation scheme students about this so that we can get an authentic perspective – they all told me they couldn’t believe how nice and friendly everyone at the firm is. When comparing their experience with vacation schemes at other firms they couldn’t believe how people here were genuinely so interested in them. The feedback we have from internal applicants for the scheme is that they are very keen to stay with us as they love working here and feel the firm invests in them. Taking an interest in people and understanding them helps us do that.
We also tend to only take up to 25 trainees a year and do so deliberately so that we can properly invest in their development. Mishcon has tripled in size since I have been here but the trainee intake hasn’t grown that much. It’s important to us to make sure that we get the right people in and can get them properly involved in the work that we do. This is often for high profile, interesting clients and trainees work directly with partners; you’re not a small cog in a huge wheel, you’re absolutely involved in cases.
NM: Having been here six years I had forgotten just how different Mishcon is to other firms.. There is a real emphasis on values that is like no place else that I've worked and, despite the growth, Mishcon has remained a family orientated organisation. It seemed bizarre compared to the previous firms I’d worked at that people really are interested in what you’re doing and genuinely care. When I first joined, everyone was coming over and asking about me and my practice. At other firms it seemed that nobody really cared about other people’s lives. I think Mishcon’s ethos is what has made this firm a success and enabled it to grow.
LB: Every time a seat rotation comes we’ll have a proper conversation with our trainees. We want to know what they want to do and because we have such a variety of departments they’re spoilt for choice. That carries through to selection of qualification options.
CS: How else do you help support trainees?
CB: In the last couple of years we’ve brought in partner sponsors for each trainee so that they can have regular catch-ups and talk through any concerns. I sponsored a trainee who had never worked in an office before and was a bit daunted by it all. We just had a chat over coffee about what she wanted to do and be involved in here. We spent time making sure she was planning her training contract properly and got to know the teams she might be interested in, as seat rotation can seem to come around very quickly. We very much encourage people to try and get to know people in other teams, and not just the work that they do, before they move there so that they can make sure it’s the right fit for them.
LB: We've had Mark Foster, Margaret Hodge MP, Juliet Stevenson, Stephen Fry, and David Lammy MP come in and talk to us through our Academy. Beyond their legal education, trainees gain a different perspective and are encouraged to consider wider issues in society.
CB: There’s a lot happening outside this bubble that is the law. We’re very privileged with what we do and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.
CS: So what kind of person fits well at Mishcon and how can they get across in application that they’re a strong candidate?
LB: Just being very interested, honest and genuine comes across in interview and especially when you’re doing a vacation scheme.
CB: People who show that they can be robust and resilient when needed. You can be sat in a client meeting and think you’re dealing with one problem, then they come up with five others. Trainees also need to be able to deal with working outside their comfort zone. We will always support them through any difficult situations – they won’t be left to fend for themselves - but clients can be very demanding. We want to find people who can deal with those challenges, qualify here and stay for a long time.
CS: You’ve mentioned the growth of the firm – how much growth do you envisage in the near future and in which practice areas do you see opportunities?
CB: We will always seek to make the most of opportunities that arise. In the next few years, arbitration is an area we want to invest further in, particularly with Brexit and how that may affect the legal market here. That’s an area where we need to add to our current offering. The same for white collar crime as we have developed a great team, but would like to expand and bring in further specialists.
NM: Aside from adding to our core legal practices, the firm is adding non-law services that complement the core of the firm. We’ve launched MDR Cyber, a cybersecurity consulting service, and MDR Brand Management which offers licensing, franchising and commercial advice which works well with our mainstream IP and Brands team. In addition, we've launched Mishcon Purpose, a consultancy targeting businesses that creates long-term value through being purpose-led. That’s something we’ve been focussing on already, such as our partnership with the B Corporation movement, and I’m really quite excited about developing that further.
CS: Taking into account these new projects and how high-profile some of the firm’s work is, how do you ensure trainees get good levels of responsibility?
CB: It comes down to placement and allocation of trainees in the different seats and making sure that the departments doing interesting work have trainees. It’s also about making sure their supervisors then get them properly involved in that work.
LB: We aim to have only one trainee in each team, so trainees work directly with partners on a variety of cases. It’s a collegiate team environment and it can be all hands on deck when things get busy. Trainees get a lot of client exposure. They're a very valued resource within the firm.
CB: There’s a mindset here where we make sure trainees and vacation scheme students get exposed to good work and good experience. We make sure they get to do things like go to court, attend mediations and get involved in various types of client meetings so they’re learning the right skills for when they qualify. We want to make sure of that even if it means they get involved in interesting things at the expense of chargeable work. We’re conscious of making sure trainees aren’t just working through documents. We can often call on other support to help with that and trainees should be tested and stretched.
NM: In corporate, process work mostly gets allocated to paralegals so we can increase the client exposure that trainees get. We spend a lot of time and effort recruiting trainees so we want to make sure people get the most out of their training and enjoy high quality work when they are with us.
CS: Do many paralegals make the transition to a training contract?
CB: Yes. We do encourage paralegals to apply but they go through the same process as external candidates so that we are comparing everyone in the same way.
LB: We want to encourage and develop people internally and recognise when our people have been working hard. Two of our recent qualified solicitors were paralegals here and it’s nice to see them make that journey.
CS: How do you think the shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
NM: We’re having sessions to work out our strategy and what works best for us and the trainees we recruit. We want to continue to see applicants with different backgrounds which is very important for us as a firm.
LB: We’re hoping that if anything the SQE will give us the opportunity to expand our training.
CS: Finally, what advice would you give a student considering a career in law or applying to Mishcon specifically?
CB: Do your research for the type of firm you want to work at so you know what would be best for you and then make focused applications. There are lot of different types of firm, it’s hard work and you want to stay on after training. Consider the culture of firms as well as you’ll always do better at a firm where you enjoy spending time with the people there.
Get experience – if you can spend some time in a law firm before committing its invaluable. I originally wanted to be a barrister, but after doing both a mini pupillage then work experience and paralegalling, I realised I really didn’t want to be a barrister after all!
NM: If the applicant’s done their research and genuinely thinks Mishcon is culturally right for them they that will shine through in the process.
Reputation management and immigration seats
In the reputation management seat, the work was “broadly split between pre-publication work and post-publication work.” Pre-publication matters involved situations like this: “A story is going to be run about a client on the internet or in a newspaper, so we liaise with the newspaper to discuss what is acceptable and what isn’t.” Post-publication work cropped up less, but when it did, it involved “claims for defamation, which could lead to full-blown litigation.” As one would expect, the clients are largely confidential but do include high-profile politicians, footballers and TV personalities. In the immigration seat, trainees often assisted with preparing asylum applications and liaised with the Home Office. Sources had attended several meetings and calls with clients, covering initial conversations about a matter to appeals or extradition proceedings. The team provides immigration advice to tech start-up Qubit Digital and recently helped the charity Beit Halochem UK apply to the Home Office for an urgent Tier 2 sponsor licence.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
- Banking Litigation: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Planning (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Gaming (Band 2)
- Immigration: Business (Band 2)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 3)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)
- Tax: Contentious (Band 3)