Think all law firms are the same? Think again. With headline-grabbing work, Mishcon de Reya is “positioning itself to take all the most interesting cases.”
“A really good reputation for taking on weird, wacky, interesting cases.” That’s how one interviewee summed up Mishcon’s appeal. Historically, the firm has represented Princess Diana during her divorce; acted for Deborah Lipstadt in her much-publicised court battle with Holocaust-denier David Irving; and made a mark on the Brexit process by representing Gina Miller in the 2017 Supreme Court case on the triggering of Article 50. Miller has since instructed Mishcon's lawyers to bring legal action against BoJo after he prorogued parliament to avoid scrutiny, a case that culminated in victory when the Supreme Court ruled against the PM and declared that the move was unlawful.
Trainees noticed that "Mishcon markets itself in a very eye-catching way – I found it very interesting how it promotes itself through the cases it takes on.” Internally, there's “a lot of emphasis on our core values.” You can find a full list on Mishcon’s website, but they’re all linked to the firm's rather threatening-sounding motto: ‘It’s business. But it’s personal.’ It's not actually as scary as it sounds: sources explained that it's simply a reflection of the fact the firm “takes on trainees with big personalities who all bring something different to the table.”
"Trainees with big personalities."
This bold approach is certainly paying off. Once upon a time, Mishcon was a fairly modest West End private client outfit. But it’s grown considerably in recent years: both revenue and headcount have tripledin the past decade. The firm's also been rising through the Chambers rankings in several areas including private wealth, financial crime, sports, retail and big-ticket real estate. Mishcon's also Chambers-ranked for lower mid-market corporate M&A, employment, financial regulation, competition, family law, art law and more.
Despite all the big changes that have hit the firm, trainees said it maintains a “less corporate and traditional idea of what a law firm is.” For example, sources appreciated that “Mishcon emphasises having a life beyond work,” walking the walk to back up the talk by cutting hours targets for a few select associates by up to 20%.
Before starting, trainees can pick which department to sample first and rank three preferred teams within that – HR then sorts them. About two months before each rotation a list of options gets circulated and trainees submit their preferences. Behind the formalities there tends to be some “meeting people in departments you’re interested in for coffee and a chat, but it’s not clear how much impact that has on where you end up.” Some trainees had more luck getting their seats of choice than others, but one declared: “Even if you don’t get your preferences you’ll always have an interesting time. Sometimes trainees get put into something wacky that they’d never choose themselves, but they end up learning a lot.”
Mish Mish bish
Seat options within litigation include fraud, civil litigation, arbitration, banking and finance, IP, competition and tax. “If the team you’re in is super quiet you can get work from others, but the firm prefers you to stay within one specialism as much as possible,” we heard.
Commercial cases largely come under the banking litigation label and “require lots of strategic thinking – that’s really exciting for trainees.” Mishcon recently acted for Bet365, Kew Green Hotels and a company representing more than 700 Subway franchises in claims worth £150 million related to bank card fees charged by Visa and Mastercard. In litigation as a whole there’s a mix of “very big cases and smaller disputes” on offer. One trainee singled out fraud work as a route to early responsibility: “I was drafting applications for extension of time within my first week, and later leading calls with experts. And there’s not nearly as much admin as I expected.” In one of the department’s larger recent cases, it represented Thai wind energy entrepreneur Nopporn Suppipat in cross-border fraud litigation with potential damages of more than $1 billion.
“There’s not nearly as much admin as I expected.”
Several of our interviewees had done a property litigation seat. Clients here range from retailers like TK Maxx to property investors like Capital & Counties, which Mishcon represented in its opposition to the lease renewal for Covent Garden’s Roadhouse bar. Trainees in the seat work on witness statements and draft claim forms; one found themselves “surprised to only do two bundles.”
Real estate work can – surprise surprise – also be found in a real estate seat. The practice has risen up the Chambers UK rankings in the past ten years, going from a middling mid-market ranking to being recognised as one of the top dozen firms in London for big-ticket work alongside the likes of Clifford Chance. Mishcon’s practice is known for regeneration and redevelopment projects, as well as purchases and sales like real estate investor Mansford’s sale of Manchester Arena, the Chiswell Street Brewery and a bunch of Travelodges and pubs. “In the beginning of the seat I was doing smaller things like leases and low-value purchases,” a source told us. “Within a couple of months I was running my own matters with supervision.”
Corporate mainly means mid-market M&A at Mishcon. Trainees were also going ‘mmmm’ as they found “the deals not being massive means you get to see them from inception to end and get a real overview of corporate practice.” The firm advises both businesses and private equity houses; one of the firm’s largest recent deals involved advising Japanese insurer Sompo during the $952 million sale of its UK subsidiary to a private equity firm. Lawyers also advised Soho Gyms on its £22 million sale of PureGym. “I was initially doing project management and drafting ancillaries,” one trainee told us, “but the more time I spent in the seat the more I was pushed to take client calls and draft disclosure letters.” Another source noted that corporate provides more partner exposure than other seats, but also that it's “relatively time-pressured and challenging compared to other seats – I was doing quite a lot more hours.”
More generally trainees said the hours “really depend on what you’re working on. Some days are dreamy and I’m out the door by 6pm, others I’m in the office for 15 hours.” Another source said: “I can often leave the office at 7 or 7.30pm, and 8.30pm is my most typical late finish.” There’s a 1,000-hour annual chargeable target for trainees, but it's not strictly enforced and sources said the firm “didn’t really pay attention to it – HR will only quiz you about hours if you’re working too many.”
When you Mish upon a star
Mishcon’s long-established private client team subdivides into non-contentious; immigration; media and reputation management; trust and succession disputes; and tax. “The best thing about a seat here is how varied the clients are,” trainees suggested. “You’re very involved in cases from the beginning and there’s lots of freedom to try different things.” ‘Private’ may be in the department’s name, but some of the cases get plenty of public attention: Mishcon helped bring a data protection challenge against the OECD's new Common Reporting Standard and beneficial ownership registers (which aim to combat tax avoidance); it also represented MP Margaret Hodge during the Labour Party anti-Semitism row.
Trainees in the reputation seat found the work “quite fast-paced, because we’re trying to establish the client’s position then convey it so papers don’t publish damagingly incorrect facts.” Immigration appealed for its mix of contentious and non-contentious work; trainee tasks varied from preparing witness statements and visa applications to managing client needs, though “the nature of the work means that partners keep a closer eye on you.”
"Reading the papers every day to see what could affect the practice.”
There’s a similar split between disputes and non-contentious fare in employment. Mishcon’s practice is “fairly balanced” between acting for companies like Warner Music and Harrods, and individuals. Lately, the firm represented top female BBC journalists and broadcasters (including former China editor Carrie Grace) in their disputes with the Beeb over equal pay and discrimination. Employment law is “really cerebral and technical” and trainees also enjoyed “reading the papers every day to see what could affect the practice” and “researching what the client could reasonably claim. Plus on bigger cases I was effectively running the disclosure process.” Larger disputes are more likely to come with classic bundling tasks; cases get pretty large indeed, such as acting for Pimlico Plumbers in a Supreme Court case surrounding its workers’ self-employed status.
Some sources who'd done an employment seat also represented employees on pro bono. “Nobody ever shuts trainees down” if they want to take on pro bono work, because “it’s a really good opportunity to build experience.” Mishcon works with Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre on two pro bono initiatives: SPITE, which advises victims of revenge porn, and Pink Law, which helps LGBT people with family law issues.
Mishcon's family team represents “lots of high net worth and individuals who are in the public eye,” handling “two major lines of work: financial divorce disputes and matters related to children.” Trainees get exposure to both of these areas and right from the off “there's a lot of client contact.” This is a particular challenge because “you’re dealing with people who are going through a very stressful period in their lives and you’ve got to stay on the ball for lots of matters at the same time.” The seat comes with an additional element of strategy and case management, plus lots of opportunities to attend hearings if not court. Our sources had also worked on surrogacy and prenup matters.
Don't Mish out
The changes at Mishcon in the past few years are symbolised by its 2014 move to a swanky new office in Africa House on Kingsway. No expense has been spared with the interior. “It’s meant to look sexy because that’s the client base we’re aiming for," one source cooed, "and the firm has done a great job!” In fact, the firm has already outgrown its new(ish) home: some departments are based down the road at Weston House, which might not have as large a lounge or cafeteria but “the heating’s better so it’s arguably the nicer space to work from.”
The office is not the only thing that's heating up: as the firm grows its gears are starting to turn faster, "creating some challenges," according to some trainees, such as "a lot of movement of lawyers coming and going, which the firm is trying to address." While some of our sources felt they detected some recent changes to the feel of the "Mishcon family" as a result, others said "the vibe is still the same." So what is that vibe? Well, several sources said departments are typified by "big personalities" and "characters" in the partnership and that, as already mentioned, trainees might "go for a coffee with partners to talk about things" – whether that's seat allocation or firm strategy. Happily "partners are approachable and keen to hear what you have to say as a trainee," which many felt leads to "a very open and friendly workplace."
“Pretty much every week we’ll sort out drinks over WhatsApp."
It's a pretty sociable workplace too, as each department hosts weekly Friday drinks and a Christmas party; there’s also a firm-wide summer party. Corporate hosts a popular ski trip and the litigation and fraud teams “have a reputation for being particularly sociable,” whereas smaller departments “go home after work and have separate lives.” Trainees get together as a group too: “Pretty much every week we’ll sort out drinks over WhatsApp and we’ll do a meal every month or so.”
Food is also provided at each department’s training sessions. Litigation runs a particularly intensive programme, “mainly going through key procedural issues over a series of lunches.” After a month-long (!) induction before seat rotations start, there’s a 12-month contract law course in the first year followed by tort law training in the second. As if that's not enough, the firm’s also trialling basic coding tutorials; the jury’s out on how helpful these will turn out to be. The verdict was also split on mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews, with one source suggesting “they've been relatively cursory but I get enough ongoing feedback so it doesn’t matter.” As well as a supervisor for each seat, trainees get a partner sponsor to oversee the whole training contract and chart long-term progression.
Qualification season officially kicks off in May with the NQ jobs list release, but we heard “trainees are encouraged to go for coffee with heads of department beforehand, so they factor us into their budgets.” Now where have we heard that before! Some trainees were keen on this “more practical and realistic” approach, but others felt it meant “qualification isn’t very transparent.” Retention has gone up and down in recent years, and in 2019 13 of 15 qualifiers were kept on.
Mishcon sets each trainee a fund-raising challenge for a charity of their choice, lasting the first year of their training contract.
How to get a Mishcon training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 15 January 2020
Application deadline (2022): 15 January 2020 (only via vac scheme)
In conversation with graduate recruitment partners Nadim Meer and Claire Broadbelt and graduate recruitment and development advisor Lucy Partridge
Chambers Student: What have been some of the most exciting cases the firm’s worked on over the past year?
Lucy Partridge: 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 15 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.
LP: 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.
LP: 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?
LP: 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 looming 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. The next thing I’m keen to drive forward is another non-legal business, Mishcon Purpose, a consultancy targeting businesses that want to create 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.
LP: 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.
CB: Ultimately we want to have 15 NQ positions available and 15 trainees applying that are ready to do that job. If they’ve just been doing process work then they won’t be.
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.
LP: 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 looming 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.
LP: 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.
Mishcon de Reya LLP
- Partners 128
- Associates 404
- Total trainees 30
- Graduate recruiter: Lucy Partridge, Graduate Recruitment and Trainee Development Adviser
- Training partners: Claire Broadbent and Nadim Meer
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 1,500
- 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 2019
- Vacation schemes 2019 deadline: 15 January 2020
- Open day deadline: Please see our website for more information www.mishcon.com/graduates
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £45,000
- Post-qualification salary: £72,000
- 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 platinum level award from the investors in People standard.
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- 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)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 5)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Employment: Senior Executive (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 3)
- 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 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)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 3)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Individuals) (Band 1)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 1)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 3)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 3)
- Tax: Contentious Recognised Practitioner