After a period of rapid expansion, Mishcon is keeping it elite with big clients and newsworthy cases.
Lights, camera, Mishcon!
“It’s not your bog-standard law firm” is how one trainee described Mishcon. This Londoner is no stranger to the spotlight, and its high-profile work frequently makes the headlines. For example, it braved the wrath of Brexiters in 2017, representing Gina Miller in the Article 50 Brexit case in the Supreme Court over whether Article 50 could be triggered without the authorisation of Parliament. Mishcon lawyers also stood up for gender equality by advising several senior broadcast journalists, including BBC China editor Carrie Gracie, in light of the exposure of the gender pay gap at the corporation.
Mishcon has been posting rising revenues for the past few years, with 2017/18’s turnover coming in at £161.3 million – more than double what it was five years before. The firm gets high rankings in Chambers High Net Worth for reputation management, family, private wealth and real estate, and scoops Chambers UK rankings for practices including civil fraud, immigration, employment, art law, real estate litigation and mid-market corporate. “I thought Mishcon looked quite cool and edgy," one excitable interviewee told us. "It has a decent mix of private client and commercial work, as well as more sexy stuff like IP and media law.”
“... sexy stuff like IP and media law.”
Trainees can complete seats in all of Mishcon’s core practices, but it’s compulsory to do a non-contentious stint. About two months before each rotation a list of options is circulated by HR and trainees submit their preferences. Sources revealed, however, that there’s “an unwritten rule that if you want to go to a certain department you’ll go for coffee with people to get to know them beforehand.” This ‘coffee culture’ received mixed reviews from trainees, with some reasoning: “It can be awkward but it’s the best way to get to know people on different teams and get your name out there.” Others said: “It doesn’t matter how many coffees you go for – if HR want you in a seat you’ll go there.” The results of this system vary too, with one source saying: “I’ve had one seat out of the four that I wanted.” But most agreed: “I’ve done some seats I wanted and some I haven’t been interested in.” Finally, interviewees felt: “The firm is careful about who it chooses as supervisors and tries to ensure you get good support.”
All trainees we spoke to had undertaken at least one seat in litigation, which is split into fraud, fraud defence, IP, banking and finance, and competition and tax. Clients include Lloyds Banking Group, TK Maxx, Mercedes Benz and Vivienne Westwood, as well as Alexander Yaroslavsky, one of three Ukrainian businessmen accused of defrauding Russian oil company Tatneft out of $380 million by syphoning off oil. The team is also acting for the Meridian Trust Company and the American Associated Group in a $63 million claim against Brazilian businessman Eike Batista over securities fraud which duped thousands of investors globally.
Trainees in fraud defence told us: “The name is a misnomer because it does both claimant and defence work,” and described their workload as “exciting,” including “enforcing debt orders and injunctions, supervising raids, and drafting witness statements.” They added: “There was boring stuff too, like combing through telephone call schedules, but I never begrudged it because of the collaborative ethos of the team.” Another told us that “the forensic aspect of the work is very meaty,” but felt “frustrated that big-ticket items are too elaborate to see through from start to finish during a seat.” We also learnt that “because it’s our biggest money-making department there’s a lot of work, and often you can request to work with a partner who specialises in something you’re interested in.” Trainees also attend court hearings and deal with “a fair amount of submitting documents, bundles and exhibits to court.”
“The forensic aspect of the work is very meaty.”
Mishcon’s real estate team is ranked by Chambers UK in its 'big ticket' category and it shows. The team recently acted for Delancey, APG and Qatari Diar on the ongoing development of East Village, formerly the Olympic Village in Stratford, working on both the acquisition of property and subsequent development. The team also assisted on the £271 million sale of WeWork’s European HQ Moor Place by US private equity fund Brookfield. Trainees handle “leases, licences to assign and property development work.” One told us: “It’s interesting because it’s tangible: you’ll often see buildings you’ve negotiated the lease on, or see something being constructed on land you’ve helped to sell.” One second-year told us: “I was making amendments to sales contracts, assisting with transfers and working on completions. I definitely felt out of my comfort zone, but it all went surprisingly well.”
The private client team hardly needs any introduction: historically it has acted for Princess Diana in a privacy action and for Deborah Lipstadt in libel proceedings which proved author David Irving was a Holocaust denier. More recently, the team was instructed by Richard Lloyd in a claim against Google stating it had breached the Data Protection Act during 2011 and 2012 by tracking the personal iPhone data of millions of people.
Trainees can do a seat in one of the following subsections: trust and succession disputes; media and reputation management; non-contentious private client; tax; and immigration. “I was given a ton of responsibility,” reported trainees. “I was drafting letters, writing up strategies and liaising with barristers.” Another source told us: “You go into private client expecting things like wills and probate but instead it’s Article 50! That was a huge and brilliant experience.” One interviewee described their time in the seat as “a six-month game of whack-a-mole, putting out fires and dealing with crisis management.” Another revealed: “The private client team is still finding its identity. Some cases are more suited to litigation than private client so things could do with some refining.” We're not surprised to hear this given that Mishcon's a growing firm embracing new areas of practice.
The space race is over
Mishcon’s employment team drew attention to itself recently as a result of its previously mentioned involvement in the BBC gender pay gap controversy. Other well-heeled clients include Christian Louboutin, Warner Music, Expedia and Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey. The seat covers contentious and non-contentious work for both employers and employees; so you might find yourself “advising a senior executive on their exit from a bank.” Trainees told us negotiations can have “a stroppy slant – we might say a client has grounds for a claim and unless you pay up we might bring those claims forward.” One interviewee told us what else to expect: “You’ll be drafting employment contracts, negotiating settlement agreements, corresponding with the other side and doing advisory work. Your role as a trainee during big bits of litigation is managing the case, making sure the court is updated, running the data room and reviewing documents.” Sources weren’t daunted by the formidable workload, and some described their time here as “the best part of the contract.”
"A six-month game of whack-a-mole."
Those who had done a family seat described a “fantastic” experience working for high net worth clients in a range of proceedings. Recently Mishcon represented Meera Thakkar, wife of Ashish Thakkar (banking entrepreneur and reportedly Africa’s youngest billionaire) in a divorce case over the ownership of family assets, which included a $200,000 ticket into space on a Virgin Galactic flight. We heard: “The family team is really good at keeping track of your training. They have a checklist to make sure you’re getting the full spectrum of experience.” One trainee reported: “I’ve done a prenup, been to court twice and worked on financial disclosure.”
Supervision varies between seats, which is, according to trainees, “part of the reason some seats are more popular than others.” They explained: “Some supervisors give you loads of responsibility because they think you’re there to learn as much as possible, but it completely depends on their personal ethos, so it often feels like pot luck.” Another source added: “I’ve never really felt like I’ve had a buffer for my workload. The lack of consistency is difficult to adjust to, especially when you get a supervisor who is more hands-off.” Some, on the other hand, felt: “Even if it’s not your supervisor, there is always someone you can speak to if you are struggling. As a trainee, you have to make your own choices and tell someone if you’re being overworked.”
Mishcon de player
We mentioned above that Mishcon has changed a lot in recent years: from being a West End private client outfit it's transmogrified into a firm hauling in commercial work and big-ticket litigation. Some trainees felt that the recent period of expansion had led to some cultural “growing pains,” adding: “I think now is the time for consolidating our growth and figuring out our identity.” Most agreed “it’s a different firm to the one I applied for,” with one saying: “It’s trying desperately to hold on to a small firm culture while also trying to grow.” Others had concerns about the firm's rapid growth: “You’re expected to keep your head down here. The firm relies heavily on its old culture but people are overworked and the firm is understaffed.” Many, however, told us: “The culture here is open, collegial and collaborative. Although it is changing as we grow, I feel like as law firms go it’s a good place to work and there’s a real buzz about it.”
“It’s trying desperately to hold onto a small firm culture while also trying to grow.”
The hours frequently emerged as a point of contention during our research. Many agreed: “The firm has to stop selling itself as somewhere you can get a good work/life balance because it’s just not true.” Reports of trainee working hours varied drastically, with some reporting an average finish of 7.30pm in certain seats, and others telling us: “In private client I would consider finishing before 9pm a good day.” A source said: “Sometimes it’s horrendous – I’ve had weeks where I’ve been going home at 11pm every day.” One trainee informed us: “I have been told I have to be the last person in the office even if there’s nothing to do.” Another added: “If you’ve worked all-nighters for three days, a partner might let you come into work late but you’re still expected to be there.” Despite the often gruelling hours, many trainees remained sanguine: “Law isn’t for the faint-hearted and we knew what we were getting into. If it really got too much, you could speak to a supervisor.”
The firm recently introduced a ‘health and happiness’ initiative “to promote wellbeing and mental health with sessions on eating well, sleeping well and managing stress.” Trainees added: “There’s a happiness partner in each department who’s responsible for wellbeing.” Other developments included the MDR lab, which means bringing start-up companies into the office to develop legal technology: “I got involved and was able to test their tech and provide feedback, which was really cool.” There’s also the Mishcon Academy, which is “a learning platform and includes discussions about different topics. Often there are really brilliant speakers.”
Trainees described Mishcon as having a culture of personality, opining: “You have to be a team player. Being cut-throat doesn’t fly here and it’ll isolate you early on.” What kind of person thrives at Mishcon? “You need confidence but not arrogance. You need to be okay with backing yourself and knowing you’ve been chosen for a reason.” Others added: “You really can’t paint all of the departments with the same brush. Some are so far removed from each other that they could be a different firm.” Opportunities for socialising are frequent, with some describing a “work hard, play hard” culture. “The fraud team goes out for drinks once a week; corporate and litigation do ski trips...” We also heard about an “awesome” summer party (at the Mondrian Hotel in 2018) and a quarterly social which trainees organise.
Interviewees described the NQ process at Mishcon as “arduous and opaque,” with some saying the application and interview are “too formal.” The HR team announces a list of jobs in May, and trainees have to formally apply before being interviewed. In 2018 nine of 14 qualifiers were retained.
In 2017 trainees organised an ‘Africa House to Africa’ fundraiser in which they had to walk, run and swim the distance from the firm's London HQ to Africa.
How to get a Mishcon training contract
Application deadline (2021): 15 January 2019 (only via vac scheme)
Since 2015 Mishcon de Reya has recruited its trainees exclusively through its vacation scheme. “People are all particularly good at interviews nowadays,” training principal Jonathan Berman says, telling us the new system gives recruiters a broader view of how candidates behave and react in certain situations. The firm will continue taking on around 15 new trainees each year.
Those after a place submit an online application form. “The form is very particular to Mishcon, so copying and pasting answers won't cut it,” recruiters warn. One section involves a cover letter with a strict word limit, so you'll need to demonstrate succinct communication skills to make the cut.
The firm typically receives around 1,500 applicants and invites a few hundred of those to participate in a video interview. Successful interviewees – usually around 150 – then progress to an assessment day that includes a commercial awareness exercise, plus a face-to-face interview with a partner and an associate. From here, the firm allocates vac scheme places.
In 2018/19 Mishcon is running one spring vac scheme at Easter and two summer schemes in July – the deadline for both is 15th January. There are up to 15 places available on the Easter vac scheme and up to 30 across the two summer schemes. Every scheme lasts two weeks and students participate in group learning sessions and individual tasks alike. Current trainees reported attending client meetings, conducting research into topics such as environmental issues and corporate affairs, and drafting case studies during their time as vac schemers. Attendees sit in two departments during their visit.
The firm devotes half a day of the vac scheme to a training contract assessment, which takes the form of a group task.
After the vac scheme, the firm whittles down a shortlist for the final interview, which takes place with two partners. Current trainees recalled this as fairly informal, telling us topics covered range from candidates' past experiences to current affairs.
The firm is hosting both winter and spring open days this year. The winter open day is open to all applicants and will take place on 13th November; applications open on 3rd September. As for the spring open day, that's open for first-year law students and penultimate year non-law students only and is taking place on 28th March with applications opening on 3rd December.
How to wow
Mishcon requires prospective trainees to have a minimum 2:1 degree and AAB at A level, though the firm tells us it can be flexible on this depending on the circumstances. As far as personal attributes go, “Mishcon likes robust characters who speak up and make their voice heard,” we're told.
According to training principal Jonathan Berman, ideal candidates are the ones who are “able to deal with lots of different personalities. Our trainees work with clients frequently, so they need to have interpersonal skills and enjoy dealing with people. Different departments bring different challenges and opportunities and the ability to successfully navigate these will be immensely valuable to us."
Interview with training principal Jonathan Berman and graduate recruitment manager Charlotte Lynch
Chambers Student: We’ve heard it’s been another busy year for Mishcon – are there any developments over the last twelve months our readers should know about?
Jonathan Berman: There’s so much going on, it’s difficult to pick things out! We are continuing to grow and are progressing along our ten year plan. We are becoming increasingly engaged with our push towards using AI so that fee earners and staff will start to use those technologies. In the past year we’ve appointed a head of data analytics and machine learning, Dr Alastair Moore, as well as an innovation team in our tech department and a cohort of tech champions – fee earners who spend about 20% of their time working on technology projects. We’ve also got the MDR Lab, which is where a number of startup companies spend ten weeks here developing their products and using our advice. There’s a real engagement throughout the firm, and trainees and applicants are very interested in it. We see ourselves as a business and not just a law firm, and we want everyone involved in technology and the new kinds of thinking that facilitates.
Another thing we think will interest applicants is the way we’re expanding our knowledge and capabilities into non-legal services. We recently appointed Patrick Connolly in the new position of Academy Director to enhance our in-house offering around learning and development. We want to provide an education that goes beyond the law and includes things like social impact, business and technology. We’ve had people come in like Jimmy Wales who co-founded Wikipedia, Gina Miller and Ramón Calderón, ex-president of Real Madrid.
Chambers Student: How do you think the recent period of growth has impacted the training program?
JB: When I first joined the firm over 20 years ago, there were just 100 of us, and now there are over 800. We’ve kept trainee numbers low but we’ve embedded the firm’s personality into the structure of the firm to give people the ability to manoeuvre and make sure trainees aren’t treated too rigorously. The ‘coffee culture’ will continue because that’s the system we like here and it gets people to speak freely.
Charlotte Lynch: At other firms partners are quite happy to be removed from things like seat allocation and qualification, but it’s the opposite here. Partners will wonder why someone hasn’t had a coffee or asked to meet, and we don’t want to change that because we are looking for shapers and for people who will take themselves out of their comfort zone to illustrate why they’re going to make a difference here and persuade people they deserve to be kept on.
Chambers Student: We’ve heard about a ‘Health and Happiness’ initiative – could you tell us a bit more about this?
CL: There are a number of initiatives the firm is working on that are grounded in doing the right thing and looking after people. To drive our strategies forward we have appointed health and happiness champions into each area of the business. One recent initiative we are working towards is reducing the associated stigma and building an understanding around mental health.
JB: We have also committed to making both agile and flexible working practices an integral part of our culture and we encourage people to consider if they could do their jobs more effectively by working differently. We’ve made the decision to head in that direction and now it’s just a matter of working out practicalities.
Chambers Student: How would you describe the ideal Mishcon candidate?
JB: What we are looking for are people who are shapers: someone who makes a difference. Whether it’s in a business or in school we want people who have done something that lasts after they leave, and that they keep in touch with. Another thing we’re looking for is an interest and an urge to be engaged with new technological advances and thinking about how dramatically the law will change over the coming years.
Mishcon de Reya LLP
- Partners 124
- Associates 272
- Total trainees 30
- Graduate recruiter: Charlotte Lynch, Graduate & Lateral Recruitment Manager
- Training partner: Jonathan Berman
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12-15
- Applications pa: 1,600+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 35-40
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation schemes 2019 deadline: 15 January 2019
- Open day deadline: Please see our website for more information
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £45,000
- Post-qualification salary: £70,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000
Our clients are dynamic and sophisticated and we reflect that in our belief in challenging the conventional or accepted ways of working. We fiercely guard our clients’ interests, recognising the significant nexus between business affairs and personal affairs.
We appreciate the privilege of sitting alongside our clients as a trusted advisor. Building strong personal connections to our clients and their businesses is important to us. It is for these reasons we say ‘It’s business. But it’s personal’.
Mishcon de Reya has grown rapidly in recent years, showing more than 100% revenue growth since 2010. A central role played by the Academy, the firm’s in-house place of learning, development and new thinking, the active and innovative social impact strategy and various diversity initiatives are reflected in its top 30 place in The Sunday Times‘Best Companies to Work For’ list of 2018.
Main areas of work
Trainees have the opportunity to gain experience, skills and knowledge from across the firm in four six-month seats involving contentious and non-contentious work. Because of the relatively few training contracts offered, trainees are exposed to high-quality work with lots of responsibility early on. Trainees are supported with a wide ranging training and development programme in addition to the Professional Skills Course. Trainee performance is monitored closely and trainees can expect to receive regular feedback in addition to mid-seat and end-of-seat appraisals.
Open days and first-year opportunities
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking Litigation (Band 5)
- Competition Law: Private Enforcement: Claimant (Band 2)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 4)
- Gaming (Band 2)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 5)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Art and Cultural Property Law (Band 1)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 2)
- Private Client (Band 3)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 4)