Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP - True Picture

“A fascinating array of work”awaits trainees at an increasingly international outfit with seven offices in the UK.

Penningtons training contract review 2021

The Firm

June 2019 probably feels like a million years ago now, but we should not forget this momentous month – for it is when Penningtons Manches merged with shipping-focused Thomas Cooper to form a firm with specialist flavours. We’ll let Chambers UK lay them out for us: PMC earns strong rankings for corporate, employment, family, clinical negligence, personal injury, immigration, real estate, IP, IT and travel across various regions of the country. The firm has offices in London, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford, Reading and Birmingham and all but the last house trainees; you’ll also find the PMC banner flying over cities in Europe, South America and Asia.

Penningtons coupled up with Thomas Cooper to strengthen its litigation and international arbitration practice, and former TC trainees were delighted with the merger: “The resulting firm is a good size, it has a great range of seats and everyone is so supportive.” When we called up PMC’s cohort, 18 trainees were in the capital; five were in Guildford; Oxford housed four; another four split their time between Basingstoke and Reading; and two were in Cambridge. Many were drawn to the firm by colourful seat choices like marine trade and energy, social housing, clinical negligence and IP/IT, but prospective applicants should note that not every seat is available in every office. Employment and IP/IT are only available in London, Reading, Cambridge and Oxford, for example. London has the largest range of seats as a whole.

“The resulting firm [PMC] is a good size, it has a great range of seats and everyone is so supportive.”

Trainees only had good reports on the vacation scheme and initial application process: “Out of all the applications I submitted, I found PMC the least invasive, it wasn’t too centred around critical thinking nor was it too rigorous. Everybody was super friendly.” Happy to be part of a modest intake, trainees told us they “received a lot of client contact in all the seats, often working on high-value, cross-jurisdictional matters.” Management is hoping to offer international seats in future: the Covid-19 outbreak delayed those plans for now but they are hoping to launch this in 2021.

The Seats

Trainees submit top seat choices to HR and discuss department rotations two months in advance. “I was lucky, I got all my choices,” one beamed; others who were less lucky weren’t put out, “it’s what you sign up for.” It’s rare to move offices during the training contract – regional trainees may get to relocate but are unlikely to get a spot in London. PMC doesn’t have any compulsory seats and trainees can do the same seat twice over if they particularly enjoyed it and/or hope to qualify there.

M&A is the name of the game in corporate, especially for tech and life sciences clients: in the early months of 2020, nearly 50% of transactions fell under the tech or life sciences umbrella. The other half came from private wealth, real estate or retail clients. All Saints, Onward Luxury and Gordon Murray Design are on PMC’s books – the firm recently advised shareholders of medical communications agency ISO Health on its acquisition by the W20 group, and Pookchurch on its merger with Bolney Wine Estate to form one of the UK’s largest vineyards. Trainees received plenty of responsibility in the seat, often working directly with partners: “It was just myself and the partner on a file, and the client needed help with company filings. I was taking board minutes, drafting resolutions and liaising directly with the clients.” Penningtons often acts in private equity and venture capital investments, typically in the lower mid-market.

“You’re relied upon a lot and receive endless client contact.”

There’s often overlap between corporate and private client; this team handles personal wealth management, tax planning, asset protection and advising family businesses. High net worth individuals fill up the department’s client roster. Trainees were drafting “wills, tax compliance, probate and letters to banks and trustees.” As a seat with ‘client’ in the name it’s only right that it comes with plenty of client contact: “I attend around four meetings per week.” Trainee roles include taking notes and drafting letters based on the results. “The private client seat is great, you’re relied upon a lot and receive endless client contact,”a source said.

Marine trade and energylegal issues range from casualties at sea to commercial shipping disputes. PMC acts for shipowners, yacht firms and renewable energy companies in a mix of wet (incidents at sea) and dry (land-based) shipping cases. “Dry shipping involves a lot of contractual disputes and it’s quite litigation-heavy,” a trainee noted, which means plenty of opportunities to go to court and attend hearings. “I went to a big three-week trial a couple of months into the seat,” one beamed. Matters may involve salvage issues, the process of recovering a ship and its cargo after problems at sea: “We would work on the cargo dispute if a vessel had been hired out and delivered back late or damaged in transit.” Typical trainee tasks in the seat include bundling, technical research, drafting witness statements and instructing counsel and experts. A source with a taste for litigation was left very satisfied, finding the cases here “extremely interesting.”

Education, tech, life sciences and hospitality clients call on PMC’s help with employmentissues, including discrimination claims and confidentiality agreements. Ocado, 20th Century Fox, the AA and several major law firms covered in Chambers Studentfed work into this department recently. Matters can get sticky – non-profit organisation CABI recently needed advice when a complaint was filed against an overseas employee who’d allegedly used discriminatory language about one of their colleagues in another jurisdiction, a case involving parties in Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago. Trainee workloads in this seat split evenly between contentious and non-contentious matters, but settlement agreements were the most common fare. “If someone is having a tough time at work, they come to us,”they summarised. Sources attended client meetings, tribunal hearings and High Court cases, with matters hotting up in the run-up to Christmas: “We had a three-day window to get 45 witness statements drafted. I drafted ten in two days, which were then used in court; it was a highly valuable experience.” Following the festive mayhem, trainees settled down to draft disclosure letters and direct overseas counsel.

"We had a three-day window to get 45 witness statements drafted... it was a highly valuable experience."

There’s a similar advisory practice in IP, IT and commercial. Tech and life sciences start-ups seek help with commercial exploitation issues and IP protection; media, fashion and retail brands can also be found here. We heard from trainees who’d advised on cases of all stripes, from the advertising boards displayed on primetime television to IP rights on flour derived from peas. Wait, what? “The client company wanted to isolate a protein to develop a flour equivalent for people with gluten intolerance,” insiders explained. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, trainees found themselves drafting facemask disclaimers, “doing research and putting together the statement. We had to make it clear there was no guarantee of avoiding contracting Covid-19 while wearing a mask.”Article writing, drafting policy agreements and GDPR compliance filled the rest of trainees’ days; they found supervisors here were “particularly good at giving feedback”on trainee strengths and weaknesses.

Penningtons’ clinical negligencepractice encompasses birth injuries and delayed diagnosis of cancer claims, primarily representing the claimant. Some partners have a broader personal injury docket – the Guildford office picks up a Chambers UKPI ranking. Claims are often brought on behalf of children or those who lack capacity – client identities can often be extremely secretive. One trainee ran us through the steps of a typical clinical negligence case: “Firstly you collect details from the client and how the event has impacted their daily life, then draft up witness statements and review their medical records to see if the client has any pre-existing medical conditions that could affect the case we’re bringing.”Typical follow-up tasks include preparing schedules, attending client meetings, dealing with experts and reading reports. Sources were impressed with the attitude of this department, joking that you “learn a lot more than just photocopying! The team were really conscious of my professional development and I got to learn some of the cases inside out.”

Trainee Life

Referring to their colleagues by the adorable nickname ‘PennPeople’, trainees described team PMC as “friendly, talented and down to earth,”suggesting that this is also what the firm looks for in trainees. Every office has an open plan layout, which helps lawyers of every seniority get comfortable with one another: “Open plan really helps to prevent the daunting knock on a partner's door.” Another source described partners as “very approachable, you work and laugh with them while you’re here.” DMCs in the kitchens are essential to the foundation of firm friendships – the collegial spaces are “a social hub”in offices like Guildford. If you’re looking for a more happenin’ socialscene, London is where it’s at – there’s a drinks trolley in the office every Friday. “A different floor hosts the drinks every week and we all congregate together on that floor.”Impromptu hangs are less likely in smaller bases like Cambridge where “there aren’t really casual drinks events.”

As for firmwide socialising, Penningtons runs an annual ski trip. Across the network you’ll also find a cinema club, sports competitions, curry night and even cake making contests for trainees to unleash their inner Mary Berry. "The whole firm gets together every three months”in some form, and trainees across the UK plan what they’re going to wear (thus avoiding awkward matching outfits) to firmwide dinners and drinks on the active WhatsApp group. We also heard about the ‘coffee randomizers’ diversity and inclusion initiative, where anyone and everyone from an office is welcomed to come together and discuss pressing topics and how the firm can address them, such as “religious worship.” 

“If I need anything, I know I can catch up with my mentor over lunch.”

PMC’s diversitycommittee oversees a panoply of groups including LGBTQ+, gender, ethnic minority and mental health initiatives. Aiming to improve employee wellbeing, the firm recently appointed several employees to take up the mantle of ‘mental health champions’ and provide a check-in service for colleagues. “We can chat to them about any problems,”interviewees confirmed. Penningtons also monitors physical health via a station where anyone can check their general health and blood pressure – helpful if all that bundling has you feeling faint.

We heard nothing but good about the firm’s training and support systems. New arrivals receive a partner mentor for the duration of the training contract along with a buddy and supervisor in each seat. “If I need anything, I know I can catch up with my mentor over lunch,”a trainee noted. HR keeps an eye on mid-seat reviews to make sure everyone’s getting the right work; commercial litigation takes things a step further with a checklist “to make sure you’re getting the right exposure – we all have to attend a mediation, receive sufficient client contact, and draft court documents.”Every three months, the managing partner leads a meeting to discuss plans for the future and keep trainees up to speed; “sustainability and the environment are both a big push right now,”we heard.

"In two years I’ve been in the office past 8pm twice.” 

Trainees spent longer in the trenches in some departments than others. Litigation and shipping seats are notorious for longer hours, but insiders had very few complaints in general – an average day for most ran from 9am to 6pm. Late nights can drift closer to 9pm, and PMC compensates Deliveroo for anyone still in the office past 8pm. Don’t reach for those chopsticks yet: "In two years I’ve only been in the office past 8pm twice,”a source revealed. “Partners usually leave around 6pm and there’s no facetime culture.”With that in mind, trainees noted a wage disparity between the London and regional offices, but most were left unfazed: “Londoners get paid more but the regional salary is still very generous.” Qualification salaries rise to £50,000, or a decent £62,000in the capital.

When HR releases the NQ job vacancies, trainees submit a cover letter and CV online to the department they want to qualify into. Interviews will follow shortly after. The firm offers meetings early in the qualification process to provide tips on how to get a cover letter in tip-top shape. Penningtons retained 15 of 18qualifiers in 2020, with one on a fixed-term contract. A point to note: trainees are technically able to apply to any office location for an NQ role, but are more likely to move offices further down the line.

The Penn is mightier than the sword

“There are a lot of volunteering opportunities” availablefor trainees, including helping at the Whitechapel Mission day centre for the homeless and needy.

How to get a Penningtons Manches Cooper training contract

Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021

Open day deadline (2021): 31 January 2021

Training contract deadline (2023): 31 July 2021

The application form

The application process at Penningtons starts with an online form, which prompts candidates to fill out their education history and work experience. Applicants also answer questions covering extracurricular activities, personal challenges they've overcome and Penningtons' strategy.  Early Careers Recruitment Manager Helen Lewis tells us that “we look equally at legal and non-legal work experience, so it really is worth adding in shop and pub jobs too.” She adds that “when it comes to grades, we expect at least AAB and a 2:1, but we will of course consider mitigating circumstances and candidates can make up for problems with a really strong application form.”

Nailing the covering letter is “critical to someone's success – it's the key section I really look at,” says Lewis. “In a perfect covering letter I'd get a feel for their character, and be able to judge how much they want to work for us and want to be involved in what we have to offer. I want to see they've done their research, and aren't just applying to us as a second tier behind the magic circle.” Lewis explains that good reasons for applying could include an interest in a particular practice area or wanting to be part of an innovative, ambitious law firm and demonstrating this through examples.

She continues: “Because we give trainees a lot of responsibility and client contact, we look for people who are comfortable with being given that level of responsibility straight away.” Recruiters are therefore on the lookout for any previous activities – like leading a team or organising an event – that demonstrate a mix of confidence and good people skills.

Interview format

Penningtons attracts around 700 applications for its vacation scheme, and 800 for the training contract. The firm recruits heavily through its vacation scheme where the interview process is via multiple assessment days, hosting 12 applicants in a half day session at a time. Candidates are set a written exercise, an interview with an associate in a fee-earning role and a simulation client interview scenario. 

They've only got three and a half hours to show us what they can do,” says Lewis, “so it's important that they remain in control and organise themselves. It can be really obvious if people are falling apart and start making silly mistakes.”

For direct training contract applications candidates complete an initial first-round HR interview followed by a written assessment and Watson Glaser Test. The final-round interview for both selected Vac Schemers and direct applicants is a joint interview with a partner and member of HR which includes a presentation based on a legal scenario.

Vacation scheme

Penningtons' vacation scheme lasts for one week and runs during Easter (March/April) and Summer (June/July). There are four one-week programmes available. Schemes are available in London, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading.

Vac schemers sit in one department for the week and get to express preferences for which one before they arrive. The focus of the vac scheme is to understand what life as a trainee would be like at the firm. Vac schemers work alongside a dedicated  trainee, and are involved in real work under the supervision of a senior associate mentor. Vac schemers could be drafting letters for clients, conducting research, sitting in on client meetings and even attending court. There is also an interview as part of the vac scheme which is used alongside your feedback from the week to decide if you are invited to a final-round interview for the training contract.

Lewis has this advice for future vac schemers: “Professionalism and being inquisitive are key. Treat it as a week-long interview and do the absolute best you can. Look enthusiastic, ask appropriate questions without pestering people, pay attention to detail in your work, and treat everyone – whether partner, trainee or secretary – with respect and enthusiasm.”

Open days

Information days are held at various points of the year and are primarily aimed at those hoping to complete a vacation scheme the following year, i.e. first-year law students and penultimate-year non-law students. The day is spent meeting the graduate recruitment team, getting to know the firm's practice areas in more depth, and chatting with the current trainees to find out why they chose the firm and what they make of their training experience so far.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

125 Wood Street,

  • Partners 141*
  • Associates: 318*
  • Total trainees: 24*
  • * denotes worldwide figures 
  • UK offices: Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford, London, Oxford, Reading
  • Overseas offices: Madrid, Paris, Pireaus, Singapore
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Helen Lewis, 020 7457 3000
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: circa 16
  • Applications pa: 800
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 40
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 1st October 2020
  • Training contract deadlines, 2023 start: 31st July 2021
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £38,000
  • Second-year salary: £40,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £62,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 24 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: No
  • Maintenance grants pa: Yes
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Basingstoke, Cambridge, London, Guildford, Oxford, Reading
  • Client secondments: Ad hoc

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. Today, we have UK offices in the City of London, Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading while our growing overseas network stretches from Asia to America through our presence in Singapore, Piraeus, Paris, Madrid and Sao Paulo.

Main areas of work
Our main areas of practice are dispute resolution, corporate and commercial, real estate, private client and family. 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. Penningtons Manches Cooper is 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
Penningtons Manches Cooper seeks high calibre candidates with enthusiasm, drive and resilience, good communication skills and commercial awareness. Strong academics are expected: three or more good A level passes and preferably a 2:1 or better at degree level. The firm has UK offices, giving you the opportunity to work in or outside London. 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. The firm is dedicated to delivering a varied training programme, avoiding too specialised an approach before qualification. Penningtons Manches Cooper knows its trainees are happiest and most successful when busy with good quality and challenging work. The value of giving its trainees responsibility and allowing direct contact with clients is recognised, with the knowledge that experienced solicitors are always ready to give support when needed.

Vacation scheme
The firm offers vacation scheme placements and applications are accepted from 1st October 2020 – 31st January 2021.

Other benefits
Life assurance, critical illness cover, pension, private medical insurance, minimum 24 days holiday, interest free season ticket loan, sports and social events.

University law careers fairs 2020
We are attending virtual law fairs this year and will be at All About Laws Virtual Law fair Series from 26th October, Legal Cheeks Virtual Law fair on 10th November and BPP’s National and Regional Virtual Law Fairs 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 Chairs of our six subgroups. Those subgroups are:
• Age
• Disability & Mental Health
• Gender
• Race & Faith
• Social Mobility

Each subgroup is tasked with delivering high-impact initiatives to drive inclusion through the business. Some examples of these initiatives in the last couple of years include:
• The launch of a parents and carers employee network. This will provide a support framework across the firm for parents and those colleagues with caring responsibilities. This group meets (via Zoom) on a bi-monthly basis
• Signing the Time to Change pledge to end the culture of silence around mental health at work. The pledge was a high point in an ongoing effort involving colleagues at every level of the firm to build a comprehensive, data-led programme to address the issues connected with poor mental health at work. This programme covers every aspect of life at the firm, and has the backing of the Management Board
• Recruitment and training of our first cohort of MHFA Mental Health Champions from among colleagues across our UK offices
• The launch of 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
• Attendance at Pride festivals local to our UK offices with the aim to demonstrate our support for our LGBTQ+ colleagues and to promote inclusion within our communities
• The launch of our social mobility work experience programme for students aged 15-18 from low income backgrounds

In addition we work closely with a number of partner organisations to support the work of our subgroups, including:
• Stonewall; we are a Diversity Champion member
• Aspiring Solicitors
• The PRIME Commitment
• Rare Recruitment
• Time to Change
• The City Mental Health Alliance

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • 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)
    • Immigration: Business (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
    • Retail (Band 4)
    • 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