Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP - True Picture

A tip-top property practice, stellar shipping service and a firm favourite family offering. Yet PMC is still oPenn to growth.

Penningtons Manches Cooper training contract review 2024

The Firm

From the Godfather to the Fast and Furious franchise, you’ve had plenty of warning that nothing is more important than family. Granted, Vin Diesel probably wasn’t talking about a family/matrimonial Chambers UK ranking, but the point stands. Enter Penningtons Manches Cooper, a firm boasting top-tier Chambers rankings for its family work in London, Oxford, Guildford and Reading. Of course, while family might be the most important ingredient for a 12-movie franchise, it isn’t the only important thing when it comes to life at Penningtons. Around 30% of the firm’s work revolves around private individuals, with 50% split between contentious and non-contentious business services, and the remaining 20% focused on real estate. The firm even bags top-tier rankings for the latter in London, clinical negligence in the South, and intellectual property and real estate litigation in the Thames Valley. This broad split wasn’t lost on the firm’s current crop of trainees either: “When I was applying, it stood out to me that Penningtons had a good business services and private wealth practice, which was quite unique.”

But the firm isn’t stopping there. Back in 2019, Penningtons merged with Thomas Cooper, expanding the contentious side of the coin, and opening its doors to clients in the shipping sector, which remains an area of strength. The HQ in London is bolstered by offices in Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading. At the time of writing, London took on the largest number of trainees, followed by Oxford and Guildford. It’s also worth noting that the Basingstoke and Reading offices operate a joint training contract, and the general consensus was that moving between offices (particularly regionally) was a possibility.

The Seats

Ahead of joining the firm, Penningtons publish a list of available seats on their website according to location, which is updated regularly and from which trainees select three unranked preferences: “Not every team will feature on that list, because some simply won’t need a trainee,” one source explained, “conversely, some teams wanted two or three trainees per rotation, because they had a lot of work on.” None of the seats are compulsory, and there is an opportunity for trainees to discuss and reorder their options towards the end of the first seat if they choose. Chances are, some seats will only be available if you’re willing to spend time in a different office to the one you’re based in, “but they are clear about that in discussions.”

“…all the partners are really approachable and willing to engage with trainees.”

As one of the firm’s marquee practices, trainees pointed out that a seat in commercial real estate has at some point cropped up in “pretty much every office aside from Basingstoke.” As the name suggests, the commercial property team is primarily focused on working with businesses rather than private individuals, covering areas like investment, property development, joint ventures, business establishment and distressed property workouts. In one recent matter, Penningtons London team acted for the investor behind the Paddington Square development – an office and retail space that encompasses a new entrance to the underground station at Paddington Station. For the trainees we spoke to, one of the standout features of life in commercial property was that “all the partners are really approachable and willing to engage with trainees,” which brought with it a willingness to get trainees involved at every stage: “I worked on anything from the land registry, to drafting reports on titles, doing searches, some residential sales, and research if we were working in a particularly niche area of law.” Property litigation and construction form separate teams at the firm, and there is “a separate post-completion team, so we don’t have to put through those final stage aspects ourselves, although it could be useful to see that side of things as well.”

“There’s a commercial team in pretty much every office, although specialising in different areas of work,” one trainee helpfully summarised. In fact, it’s this encompassing of several different specialisms that gives the group its name – IP/IT & Commercial. “There’s lots of cross-office interaction,” one told us, “so everyone gets to make use of the trainee, regardless of where they are based.” This equates to an opportunity to get a taste of a bit of everything: “I’ve got a taste of agreements in the commercial world, but also trademark and patent arrangements.” There’s some research too on the IT/data side of things, “simply because the law around data protection is constantly changing.” The firm advises clients on the data aspects of a number of key sectors like technology, healthcare and education. For the latter, this includes work with colleges, schools and exam boards on GDPR compliance and data protection issues relating to ad-tech SaaS tools and subject access requests. One recent matter saw the firm advise the American Institute for Foreign Study (responsible for running Camp America and various study abroad programmes) on their UK GDPR compliance around data transfers from the UK to the US.

Another department that sits across the firm’s London and Oxford offices is commercial dispute resolution (CDR): “Each office has their own CDR team,” one source told us, “in London, it’s quite large relative to other teams at the firm, but each looks after a wide variety of different types of commercial disputes.” Much like the commercial team, CDR covers the contentious aspects of the same sorts of industries. As one trainee put it: “There aren’t strict boundaries, but there are flexible divisions within the team – informal subgroups that do specialised work like white-collar, fraud, insolvency and cryptocurrency.” Business & finance disputes is another example, covering work in shareholder disputes and complex financial contract claims. As a trainee in the seat: “It’s never dull, firstly because you can dip into all those different areas, and secondly because the actual work is varied too. I’m drafting letters and witness statements, going through disclosures, and doing doc review.” In one recent case, the firm acted for around 50 NFU Mutual policyholders pursuing unpaid business interruption claims against the insurance company as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The private client offering at Penningtons is split between contentious and non-contentious teams. Contentious private client makes up a slightly smaller portion of the firm’s work with individuals, but there is plenty to keep the team busy: “It’s quite probate focused at Penningtons,” one trainee told us, “so there’s the chance to attend a few hearings, but there are a lot of wills and addendums. On the non-contentious side, there are plenty of letters to accounts when they are dealing with the probate.” Of course, this comes alongside plenty of the bread-and-butter drafting of witness statements, but one trainee who had spent time in the seat emphasised that “I never felt like I was stuck on bundling.” Particular areas of strength for the firm include breach of trust claims, inheritance disputes, lost wills, Court of Protection, and international trusts and estates disputes. In one recent case, the firm mediated a claim on behalf of an adult child who suffered from a minor disability and was left nothing in his mother’s will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. As one source put it: “It’s a smaller team, but that meant that it was quite a tight-knit group and a nice seat to do in your first year.”

Trainee Life

Because Penningtons regional trainees will likely come across a few of the firm’s offices throughout their training contract, you’ll find plenty among the current cohort who have a good birds-eye view of the firm-wide culture: “I’ve made my way around a few of them!” one joked, “but wherever you are, it’s friendly and accommodating, but also high-performance. It’s relaxed when it should be, but when it’s crunch time, you realise that you are working around some really impressive people.” At the time of writing, the Oxford contingent are set up in a temporary space while the office undergoes a refurb, while Basingstoke, we were told, is one of the more recently updated: “It’s very large and open plan with a gym and coffee shop downstairs.” With the majority of trainees based in London, the majority of cross-office social events were held at the London HQ (which was seen as a bit of a downside for the regional cohort), though each office has its own social scene: “Oxford is nice and social, and Guildford in particular is great for the sport side of things.”

“It’s relaxed when it should be, but when it’s crunch time, you realise that you are working around some really impressive people.”

When it comes to hours, the trainees were unanimous that “the culture was very different. They are aware of that need for a work/life balance. They don’t expect you to sell your soul to it.” But rather than incentivise a more relaxed approach: “It actually means people are happier and so put more of themselves into it than they would in a place where it was an expectation.” This is very much by design rather than by accident too. “I don’t think many people are online before 8, and not many after 7pm,” one told us. In fact, trainees on average finished between 5:30pm and 6:30pm. Regarding working from home: “Most teams work on a 50/50 basis in terms of office working, but there’s not a firm-wide approach and that varies,” – something the firm sees as part of its effort to support its employees ‘in how, when and where they work’. A yearly salary review meant that trainees were happy with the compensation on offer too.

Supervision was another area that came in for praise from newbies at the firm. While the extent to which supervisors are the main source of work varies, “they are more of an advisor or mentor, which means you can ask really frank questions.” Mid and end-of-seat reviews are built around meeting the expected standard rather than a particular score: “We get a trainee checklist/matrix which we fill out independently, and then there’s frequent reviews of that record with our supervisor.” According to those we spoke to, more bespoke one-on-one training at Penningtons is front-loaded, “but it is there after induction, you’ll just need to go and look for it.” Know-how sessions continue through the year too: “There’s a dispute resolution know-how session once a month where someone gives various talks on a particular area of dispute resolution that no one will know much about.”

As trainees approach qualification, the firm hosts a workshop where the fine folk at Penningtons will provide top tips on applications and help get them ready for NQ positions. “About a month into your fourth seat, HR will begin conversations with you about where you see yourself,” one second year explained, “they then release a job list four months before you are due to qualify with which qualification seats will be available.” The interview process varies between teams, but most begin with a formal interview with a team partner before a second wave of interviews. In 2023, the firm retained 16 of 21 qualifiers.


A good sport:

“We’ve been able to take part in dodgeball, cricket, netball and football. Then there are walking, running and riding clubs,” one trainee told us, “we’ve got sports clubs coming out of our ears!”

How to get a Penningtons training contract

Opening dates for training contract applications: 6 November 2023

Training contract deadline: 12 April 2024

Vac scheme deadline: 3 January 2024

EMpower Programme deadline: 3 January 2024

Application process

Each year, Penningtons takes on around 15 trainees across their offices in London, Basingstoke & Reading, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford and Oxford. A fairly large proportion of positions are filled through the firm’s vacation schemes, but some direct applicants do make the cut. Regardless of where you’re applying from however, the process is the same – an application form covering work experience, additional questions, and a covering letter. According to Penningtons’ early careers department, “we are looking for dedicated, diverse candidates with strong commercial acumen.” In short, that translates to a range of degree disciplines and backgrounds: “We see the value people can bring when they have gained skills and experience in other roles.”

It's also important to note that not having specific legal work experience won’t hold you back: “We recognise that it’s not always easy to gain legal work experience, and for us, non-legal work experience is equally as important as legal. The key is to highlight the skills you have gained and explain how they’re transferable to a career in law.” Top tip for how to stand out? An excellent covering letter.

Assessment & interviews

While the interview and assessment stage differs slightly for vacation scheme applicants (more on that shortly) the first stage consists of a competency-based telephone interview with a member of the early careers team. Applicants that make a good impression will then be invited to complete a written assessment which incorporates typical trainee tasks, and the firm emphasizes that no prior legal knowledge will be required for this. The final stage then consists of an interview with a partner and member of the early careers team, which will also incorporate a presentation based on a legal case study. This can be completed in-person or virtually.

Vacation schemes

Penningtons runs one vacation scheme in the Spring, and two in the Summer across its UK offices. To apply, prospective vac schemers will complete an online application form, before then being invited to a virtual assessment centre. These typically run between January and March and are made up of three timed exercises: a written assessment, an interview with an associate at the firm and a role play exercise. The aim is for applicants to have an answer within two weeks of the assessment centre. According to the early careers team at Penningtons: “Our assessment centres are designed to ensure you can demonstrate your best self. We are able to make individual adjustments at any stage of the recruitment process and encourage you to contact our Early Careers team to discuss how we can help.”

In the run up to the vac scheme, the firm will arrange a call with successful applicants to walk them through what to expect, and provide some top tips on how best to prepare. During that week, vac schemers will be assessed to determine whether they will then be invited to a final round training contract interview, which follows the vacation scheme.

So, what does life on a Penningtons vac scheme look like? The idea is to get an insight into what life at the firm is really like, which means spending time working in one of the firm’s practice areas in either business services, dispute resolution, private individuals or real estate. There will be opportunities to be involved in real assignments, whether this be drafting documents, attending client and team meetings, conducting research and attending court hearings and arbitrations. You’ll also be allocated a trainee buddy and senior mentor who will be on hand to support and guide you through the process. As the early careers team is quick to point out, there will also be opportunities for things like introductory sessions on the firm’s practice areas, team building sessions, a chance to meet the firm’s CEO and committees, and networking.

Empower Programme

In Spring 2022, Penningtons launched its Empower Programme as part of its wider efforts to increasing the representation of Black heritage and ethnic minority individuals in the legal sector. Aimed at students from a Black heritage or ethnic minority background who do not feel ready to participate in a vacation scheme, the programme provides an opportunity for students to gain an insight into the firm, develop skills relevant for a career in law and build relationships with lawyers which will continue once the scheme has finished through a mentoring programme.

The four-day programme includes practice area talks, commercial awareness insights, shadowing opportunities, panel sessions, skills sessions, including a bespoke mock trial and careers advice. On the final day of the programme, there is the option to participate in one of the firm’s vacation scheme assessment centres, where the best candidates will have an opportunity to secure a place on the vacation scheme the following year. This year’s programme will run from the 2-5 April 2024 in the London office, and is paid in order to cover travel and accommodation expenses (oh and there are lunch vouchers on offer for all participants too!).


Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

125 Wood Street,

Firm profile
Penningtons Manches Cooper is a leading UK and international law firm which provides high quality legal advice tailored to both businesses and individuals. We have UK offices in the City of London, Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading, as well as international offices in Singapore, Piraeus, Paris and Madrid.

Main areas of work
Our main areas of practice include dispute resolution, business services, real estate, and private individuals. We have established a strong reputation in a variety of sectors, particularly private wealth, shipping, technology and property. By joining forces with the partners and staff of Thomas Cooper in July 2019, we have added significant depth to our core practice. The move builds on the expansion of our litigation and arbitration offering and has introduced us to the maritime community in which Thomas Cooper has long been a key player. Among our clients we count multi-national corporations, public companies, professional partnerships, banks and financial institutions as well as private individuals, owner managed businesses and start-ups. Our broad international focus is supported by well-established links with law firms throughout the world. We are a member of Multilaw and the European Law Group, networks with representatives in over 100 countries, and many of our lawyers play leading roles in various international bodies. 

Training opportunities
We seek high calibre candidates with enthusiasm, drive and resilience, good communication skills and commercial awareness. We look for candidates that have achieved or are on track to achieve a 2:1 in any degree discipline. The ability to work outside London, while at the same time being part of a firm with a City presence, appeals to many of the trainees that we recruit. Whichever office you are based in, you will be given a thorough grounding in the law, with four six-month seats across the firm’s divisions. Trainees get immersed in the work and culture of their own office, but come together with all the trainees on a regular basis and with the whole firm at sports and social events. We are dedicated to delivering a varied training programme, avoiding too specialised an approach before qualification. We recognise that our trainees are happiest and most successful when busy with good quality and challenging work. The value of giving our trainees responsibility and allowing direct contact with clients is also recognised, with the knowledge that experienced solicitors are always ready to give support when needed.

Vacation scheme

We offer vacation scheme placements in all our UK offices. The deadline for applications to our 2024 Vacation Scheme is 3 January 2024. 

Other benefits
Life assurance, critical illness cover, pension, private medical insurance, minimum 25 days holiday, interest free season ticket loan, sports and social events.  

University law careers fairs 2023

We are attending a number of virtual and in-person law fairs this year and will be at the All About Laws Virtual Law fair Series, Legal Cheek’s Virtual Law fairs and BPP’s Virtual Law Fair throughout autumn. For more information please visit our website. 

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
Our programme to promote inclusion is known as Pennclusion. It comprises a steering committee of key internal stakeholders (with representation from the Management Board, HR, Communications and the Partner Sponsors and Chair(s) of our six committees. Those committees are:

• Age
• Disability, Neurodiversity & Mental Health
• Gender
• Race & Faith
• Social Mobility

Each committee is tasked with delivering high-impact initiatives to drive inclusion through the business. Some examples of these firmwide-driven initiatives in the last couple of years include:

• Recruitment and training of MHFA Mental Health Champions from among colleagues across our UK offices;
• Our monthly Coffee Randomiser networking initiative, in which colleagues are randomly matched to meet (or connect via Zoom) for a 30 minute catch up to get to know each other better. The intent of this is to break down silos between teams across the firm to promote collaboration and to foster a sense of community; and
• The launch of our Empower programme, aimed at increasing the representation of Black heritage and ethnic minority individuals in the legal sector.

As a firm, we are members or partners of the following organisations which support the progression of DEI related issues:

• We are members of WorkLife Central, a global digital offering of expert-led content designed to support, inform and inspire professionals in their family life, work life and wellbeing.
• We partner with Rare Recruitment in order to ensure our recruitment is contextualised.
• We are signatories to the Race Fairness Commitment.
• We have signed the Women in Law Pledge. The pledge, launched in partnership with the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), was created to bring gender equality to the forefront of the conversation. The Women in Law pledge builds on the work we have been doing to create a more equal legal profession for all, and supports our gender pay gap action plan.
• We are signatories to The Mental Health at Work Commitment.
• We are members of the Black Solicitors Network.
• We are members of Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charity and annually complete their Workplace Equality Index.
• We are members of the Business Disability Forum.
• We are signatories of PRIME – which seeks to advance socioeconomic diversity in the legal profession.
• We are also members of legal CORE, a cross firm collaboration designed to substantively increase the representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minority individuals across the legal sector.
• We are Gold members of MyPlus – disability consulting.
• We are also Gold members of Women in the City Afro-Caribbean Network (WCAN).

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
    • Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 2)
    • Employment: Senior Executive (Band 4)
    • Family/Children Law (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial Finance: Ultra High Net Worth (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: £25 million and above (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: £10 million and above (Band 2)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Social Housing (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Physicals (Band 4)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 2)
    • Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
    • Education: Institutions (Schools) (Band 3)
    • Group Litigation: Claimant (Band 3)
    • Immigration: Business (Band 2)
    • Shipping (Band 4)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 2)

More from Penningtons Manches:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.

Follow the firm on LinkedIn and Twitter @penn_graduates