Tech transactions, private client, personal injury and now shipping… a sweet mix of flavours defines Penningtons Manches Cooper's City and regional presence.
PM and TC? We ship it
The Penningtons Manches of spring 2019 was already a pretty distinctive firm thanks to its established presence in the City and several regional bases plus its “balance of both strong business and private client practices.” And then it made a big splash in June 2019 when it announced a merger with shipping and international trade boutique Thomas Cooper. The newly created Penningtons Manches Cooper boasts six offices across the UK and, thanks to the tie-up, six more overseas: Paris, Madrid, Piraeus, Singapore and São Paulo come from the Thomas Cooper side and Penningtons already had a base in San Francisco.
Managing partner David Raine tells us that “the firm’s been thinking for a while that we need to expand our contentious teams and bring in more international capability. Gaining overseas offices wasn’t about looking for a Brexit solution, but taking on that network has been a great boost for us.” We interviewed Penningtons’ trainees before the merger was announced, but even then they described the firm as “ambitious,” saying:“It’s nice to be part of a firm that’s trying to push up through the ranks and hopefully that will mean increased opportunities for us.” David Raine confirms that “there may well be more opportunities for trainees to do work of an international nature whether that’s from the UK or an overseas seat.”
“It’s nice to be part of a firm that’s trying to push up through the ranks.”
The firm already had a buffet of diverse Chambers UK rankings pre-merger: Penningtons is top of the class in Guildford for clinical negligence, private wealth and personal injury; Reading excels for mid-market corporate M&A in particular; Basingstoke is another clinical negligence and private wealth chart-topper; and Oxford fares best for family and IP. PMC is no magic circler but don’t disregard its London team, which earns strong rankings for immigration and real estate law especially. Thomas Cooper was historically ranked in London (and internationally) for shipping and commodities.
When we came calling there were 17 trainees in London (three of whom qualified early). Guildford takes two trainees a year, while another two split their training contract between Basingstoke and Reading. Cambridge also welcomes one trainee each year, while there were three trainees in Oxford at the time of our calls.Some offices have more seat options than others – London has the biggest range, while in Guildford there are as many seats as trainees so “elbowing for position is irrelevant.” Expect shipping options to float in from Thomas Cooper too. During our research, we noticed that several PMC trainees had lengthy work experience either within or outside law before joining the firm.
Trainees begin discussing rotations two months before they’re due to move. Some found the allocation process “a bit hit and miss” as “HR can leave it very late to let us know what’s actually available,” but most ended up where they wanted to go. “One of the biggest problems is being limited by office” and a few trainees wanted more freedom to move between locations during their training contract. This is not impossible though, and some interviewees had completed seats in multiple regional offices – “they very much keep you informed where you’re going next” in such cases.
All manner of transactions fall under corporate, from seed funding for start-ups and university spin-outs to IPOs and private equity investments. Oxford and Reading are especially focused on “science and tech companies spun out of universities and assisting them with attracting investment.” For example, lawyers advised Oxford Uni's biopharma spin-off Oxford Vacmedix on a £9 million funding round with a consortium of East Asian investors.Besides healthcare, tech is a major money spinner: a team from several offices advised Indian engineering manufacturer Bharat Forge on a £10 million investment in UK electric truck maker Tevva. For trainees this seat is “very writing-heavy with less client interaction” and most time spent drafting ancillaries like board minutes and disclosure letters. Some of our interviewees worked primarily on AIM listings – Penningtons recently acted for IT holding company GRC on its £5 million IPO. “I was working with one particular partner compiling agreements and doing a bit of drafting,” one source reported.
“The firm takes on claimant and respondent work so you see both sides of the coin.”
The employment team covers discrimination claims, TUPE matters, director exits and shareholder issues in industries including education, tech, life sciences and hospitality. “It’s commercial work with a human element,” was one insider's take, “and the firm takes on claimant and respondent work so you see both sides of the coin.” Commercial clients include the AA, Selecta, Ocado and Williams Grand Prix, and the firm recently represented estate agent Spicerhaart in a threatened injunction, refusing to concede until the claimant dropped proceedings. Sources were torn about their responsibility levels: some had “always felt encouraged to share ideas,” while others argued “there’s less responsibility because trainees can’t provide advice.” They can however draft court correspondence and contracts, with bundling kept to a minimum. In addition, one trainee noted that they “got to know the whole team across the firm.”
London and Oxford offer seats in commercial dispute resolution, though in the university city it’s a split seat with property litigation. “The variety of work really appealed” to one trainee – the team does indeed handle a fair spread including education and healthcare-related disputes, though it's perhaps best known for financial mis-selling work such as acting for property investor Scarborough Group in a £500 million claim alleging Bank of Scotland fraudulently manipulated Libor rates. A source told us: “There’s not much unsupervised contact with clients, but you get more responsibility on small cases” – that might mean drafting consent order or witness statements. On bigger cases “trainees play a support role,” collating papers and handling administration.
Penningtons for your thoughts?
Trainees can also do a seat spanning the personal injury and clinical negligence groups, which both only do claimant work. The personal injury team handles catastrophic and domestic injury cases; clinical negligence covers birth injury, spinal injury and delayed diagnosis of cancer claims. Cases tend to be slow because “you’re talking to experts a lot more – I really enjoyed building cases and determining liability.” Matter values can run into the millions, such as when Penningtons acted for an airport worker who suffered a brain injury when they were hit by a car while crossing the road despite wearing a hi-vis jacket and was awarded £7.2 million. The team also handles “massive birth injury cases which are extremely complicated,” with rookies preparing “complex” schedules, researching medical chronologies and drafting instructions to counsel – some trainees even get to try advocacy.
“Lots of the work has an overseas element to it.”
PMC’s ain’t your average family department – many of the clients are mega-rich and matters like divorces, financial arrangements, prenups and postnups (“which happen more and more”)often have cross-jurisdictional implications. An addition to the partnership in 2018 expanded the firm’s capabilities to cover “very interesting and current” matters including surrogacies and same-sex relationship breakdowns. Trainees confirmed that “lots of the work has an overseas element to it whether that’s child arrangements or property,” and praised partners for “doing their utmost” to get trainees into the courtroom when possible.
Mega-rich individuals turn up again in private client, which handles “wills, estates, trusts, tax advice, probate and power of attorney matters” plus Court of Protection work. “The pace is less urgent” in this department than others – “you have the luxury to think things through and draft wills and asset appointments thoroughly.” Many found “the biggest advantage of doing the seat is definitely the client contact.” Common trainee tasks include assisting with legal research and probate administration. “You take on a lot of responsibility for progressing matters,” we heard. “The biggest difference to family is you’re more likely to get heavily involved in specific matters and really get to know the details of what’s happening.”
Manches ado about nothing
Some trainees also get involved in the firm’s social scene. “It’s very much what you make of it,” according to one. “I do see people outside work and there’s a lot more going on in London than elsewhere, but this isn’t the sort of firm where you’ll always find someone to hang out with in the pub.” PMC runs a regular ski trip and the London office has weekly drinks on different floors, but trainees elsewhere did long for more chances to hang out. In addition, “pretty reasonable hours for a City-based firm” leave plenty of time to do so. There’s more ebb and flow in corporate and “litigation is known for having the longest hours,” but most departments pack up at around 6pm; later finishes tend to float around the 9pm mark.
We heard plenty of good reports about the peeps at Penningtons – trainees agreed “there’s nobody I wouldn’t want to approach. We’re definitely inclusive and there’s not too much whispering behind closed doors.” Trainees were also pleased to see the appointment of a diversity and CSR manager in 2018. In most of the firm's offices “everybody hangs out together and there aren’t really divides between the teams;” London’s multiple floors mean there’s less cross-department mixing going on.
The “very high-spec” London digs frequently earn “comments from clients about how nice the meeting rooms are.” The capital has “provided the template” for PMC’s other bases – Cambridge has “recently had a refurb” and Reading and Guildford earn good reports from trainees too. Oxford’s the only office that isn’t open-plan, and Basingstoke “needs improvement but that’s in the pipeline – watch this space!” London does deviate from the rest of firm on salary, a sore point for trainees elsewhere. “It makes sense to have London weighting but all our non-London offices are in very expensive places to live,” one argued. “The salary could be more competitive given the firm is on the rise.”
“There’s not too much whispering behind closed doors.”
PMC keeps its people happy in other ways, not least via the 'PenWell' wellness programme. The firm’s recently hosted mental health seminars and “it’s not frowned upon to engage with things like that. Practising law you worry about ‘not being able to show weakness’ – there’s no impression of that here.” Some felt they’d benefit from more regular support sessions but admitted they “might just not be conscious of what’s happening. I do use my PenWell water bottle every day!” Supervisors check up on trainees via “regular feedback rather than waiting for formal reviews.” A few interviewees did express a desire for more feedback, saying: “The onus is very much on trainees, and it varies between teams how keen partners are to give feedback.” Different departments also offer more specialist training than others and interviewees were happy with the balance struck between on-the-job and classroom-style learning.
Qualification is “quite an easy process,” although in 2019 “there was a slight delay in the release of vacancies, but once those came out the timeline was clear.” Trainees submit a CV and cover letter for their roles of choice and interviews quickly follow. Retention is usually around the market average and in 2019 12 of 15 qualifiers stayed on. Beyond that, some told us: “You can absolutely stay long-term with the added benefit of the regional offices if you want to move out of London or vice versa.”
Each of Penningtons Manches Cooper's offices has a CSR committee – they all select two charities and organise fund-raising events throughout the year.
How to get a Penningtons training contract
Open day deadline (2020): 31 January 2020
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 July 2020
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. Resourcing manager Jenny Vine 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 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 Vine. “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.” Vine explains that good reasons for applying could include an interest in a particular practice area or admiration for specific lawyers at the firm and what they've managed to achieve.
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.
Penningtons attracts around 700 applications for its vacation scheme, and 800 for the training contract. The firm filters candidates via assessment days, which host 12 applicants at a time. They undergo two interviews: one with Vine and another member of the HR team, and one with Vine and a partner.
Candidates are also set a written exercise, a presentation exercise, and the Watson Glaser critical thinking test. “They've only got three and a half hours to show us what they can do,” says Vine, “so it's important that they remain in control and organise themselves. It can be really obvious if people are falling apart and asking silly questions.”
Penningtons' vacation scheme lasts for one week in July. Schemes are available in London, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading; there's room for 50 candidates in total.
Vac schemers sit in one department for the week and get to express preferences for which one before they arrive. They're mentored by a trainee, completing a mixture of real work under supervision as well as a number of exercises. One of these involves researching a report on another area of law covered by the firm and doing a presentation on it.
Vine has this advice for future vac schemers: “Professionalism is 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.”
Information days are held at Easter 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*
- Totaltrainees 32*
- * denotes worldwide figures
- UK offices Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cambridge, Guildford, London, Oxford, Reading
- Overseas officesMadrid, Paris, Pireaus, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Singapore
- Graduate recruiter: Helen Lewis, 020 7457 3000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: c.16
- Applications pa: 800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 50
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 30th September 2019
- Training contract deadlines, 2022 start: 31st July 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 30th September 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- [NOTE - 2020 spring vacation scheme postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
- Open day deadline: 31 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Second-year salary: £40,000
- Post-qualification salary: £62,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- 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
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
Guildford and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
Oxford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Southampton and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
- Charities Recognised Practitioner
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 4)
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 3)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Shipping (Band 4)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 2)