Pinsent Masons - True Picture

Pinsent Masons has plenty of authority in the British legal landscape, but trainees say it’s “as non-hierarchical as firms get.”

Pinsent Masons training contract review 2021

The Firm

Pinsent Masons has a jumbo presence in the UK: it’s got around 1,650 lawyers, eight offices from London up to Aberdeen, and over 130 Chambers UK rankings (over 50 of which are top-tier). And it’s not all about our fair isle. Pinsent has 16 more overseas offices, serving Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Chambers Global bestows it with no fewer than 30 rankings, and it’s one of just two firms with a top worldwide ranking in construction – an area of particular strength for the firm.

Given this sheer enormity, trainees were surprised to find a “personal” feel to the application process: “In the interview they asked me questions like, ‘Who in your family do you admire?’” But before you wax lyrical about Aunt Diane’s unparalleled baked goods and her subsequent Instagram fame, consider this. Senior partner Richard Foley points out that 90% of the firm’s revenue comes from clients in five sectors: financial services, infrastructure, energy, real estate, and technology and science. Pinsent picks up Chambers UK rankings in all of these areas, winning top accolades in and outside London for construction and planning work particularly. Outside the capital, Pinsent is considered a national leader in banking and finance, corporate/M&A, litigation, real estate, real estate litigation, employment, pensions, IT, and IP. For a full list of rankings go to

“A lot of people here have had career changes – not everyone is 22 years old.”

“A huge area of our focus over the past 18 months has been formulating our ‘purpose-led’ strategy,” Foley tells us. “That has been about aligning the whole of our business, from our strategy down, with the reasons we believe we exist, i.e. to champion change, to promote progress and to make business work better." He goes on to say this includes "being vocal about using technology and process to deliver legal services and about the importance of diversity and inclusion, because those are the things that drive the changes that will help us to deliver better services to clients.” Some of our interviewees were indeed attracted to the firm’s efforts to “look for a diverse workforce.” We heard “a lot of people here have had career changes – not everyone is 22 years old.” Out of Pinsent’s 140 or so trainees on our list, around two-thirds were based in the four English offices: more than 40 in London, 20 in Birmingham, and around 15 apiece in Leeds and Manchester.

The Seats

Trainees rank their seat choices before each rotation, and as is the case with many firms, “there’s no guarantee you’ll get your first choice.” But it’s also often the case that trainees who may initially have been “a bit miffed” with their seat placement ultimately ended up enjoying their experience. There aren’t any international secondment opportunities, “but there’s a good list of secondments to our UK clients.”Client secondments are run on a case-by-case basis. Trainees might also do a seat in a different office to the one they join.

“Big infrastructure projects like airports.”

Work in projects, construction and engineering is split into two branches: construction and real estate projects. The construction arm involves “big infrastructure projects like airports.” Case in point, Heathrow Airport is a client of the firm, and Pinsent recently advised Vinci Construction Grands Projects on an engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Nikolai Tesla Airport in Belgrade. Real estate projects encompass hotel developments and student accommodation – the firm recently advised three universities (York, Leicester and Brighton) on multimillion-pound student accommodation projects. Trainees were called on to do any research required at the start of a project, and project management was another key task: “We have an overview of what’s happening, so if partners come to you with a question you can answer it immediately.” Trainees also got client interaction: “They email me their questions directly without CC-ing my supervisor.”

Construction disputes may be “a bit of an alien concept at first,” but trainees can get up to speed with 40-odd training videos (that’s one way to kill time in lockdown).To give an example of contentious topics in the world of construction, the firm recently represented a consortium of contractors in a £25 million dispute concerning the design of the Mersey Gateway Bridge between Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire. Trainees in this seat are likely to work on adjudications, “which are really interesting.” Standard tasks included bundling and pulling exhibits together, “but I also got to draft big parts of witness statements which are extremely technical – one was over 200 pages long!”

The property development and investment team handles some big transactions, such as the £150 million acquisition of an Aparthotel for Aviva Investors. The firm also does work in the residential property space – it recently advised Guildford Borough Council on a residential scheme of 1,500 new homes, for example.Trainees reported handling matters start to finish: “As soon as the instructions come in you open the file, negotiate the documents, keep in contact with the client, and close the file.” Sounds a bit daunting to us, and trainees acknowledged this one is “easier to do as a third seat because it has by far the most responsibility.” Trainees were also responsible for drafting documents and producing lease reports – “I reviewed 180 for one project!” Property folks also “have links with the projects team,” which handles a lot of lease agreements. Sources said these are “a lot more complicated so trainees can’t run them alone, but it’s really interesting to be involved in.”

Over in property litigation, trainees described two workstreams: disputes and asset management. The latter involved serving statutory notices of dilapidations, and trainees reported “lots of contact” with clients’ agents, “which are usually surveyors or asset managers.” The disputes here aren’t usually too dramatic; “it’s more about disputed cost.” For trainees that means a fair amount of bundling. Pinsent recently brought a ‘right to light’ claim for RR Wing Portfolio, which is challenging the construction of a 37-storey student accommodation development in Leeds.

Trainees may sit with planning, energy, environment and infrastructure. The planning team recently advised Land and Lakes on its £120 million development on the Isle of Anglesey and is also advising Heathrow Airport on its £17.6 billion expansion project to develop a third runway. On the energy and environment side, the firm works with clients in the oil and gas, renewables and nuclear power industries. The firm recently acted for Total on the £635 million sale of ten oil and gas fields to Petrogas. This is a standalone team, butthe group also “does a lot of due diligence to support the property and corporate teams.” Interviewees noted that they did “mainly planning work” rather than energy, environment or infrastructure, and reported “a really good mix” of contentious and non-contentious work. Trainees drafted objection letters and attended planning inquiries – “it was really good to see one in action!” They also got stuck into research, which “was cool to be involved in because it was directed at drafting planning legislation for another country.” Newbies here grappled with “tricky concepts” and were “expected to get up to speed quickly, but everyone is happy to spend time walking you through.”

“If I’m working late, the whole team is working late, and we go out to celebrate when the deal is complete.” 

Trainees in corporate reckoned they “spent less time at the printer than friends” in this seat at other firms. Still, they’re not the ones running negotiations: rookies are responsible for managing the due diligence process, running data rooms and “making sure the external specialists keep to deadlines.” A recent highlight saw the firm advise the Zurich Assurance on the £15 billion sale of its UK pensions business. It also advised Kids Planet Day Nurseries on the acquisition of several nurseries. A London trainee pointed out that not all clients are based in the capital, “so we don’t have many physical meetings, but I was usually invited to join client calls.” This seat is a firm favourite among newbies “because in every transaction you learn about a business you don’t know and their quirks are interesting.” Others were pleased that “it’s always a team effort, so if I’m working late, the whole team is working late, and we go out to celebrate when the deal is complete.”

Trainee Life

Corporate and construction disputes were said to have the longest hours, “but I’ve never pulled a literal all-nighter.” The latest clock out we heard among sources was 3am, but a second-year reckoned their average finishing time was no later than 7pm. Trainees said there isn’t a culture of staying “until everyone else leaves – if I need to leave at 6pm for a gym class, no one is going to tell me I have to stay on the off-chance someone needs me.” The firm’s ‘Dress For Your Day’ dress code means they can go straight from the office to the gym without an outfit change: “I wore a tracksuit to the office the other day. So long as you don’t have client meetings, you can dress how you want.”

Interviewees did point out that “teams can be really lean, with just a partner and trainee, because lawyers tend to drop off around the two-year-qualified mark.” They speculated that this might be because “the hours creep up but the wages don’t.” Trainees start on £27,000 (£41,000 in London) rising to £44,000 (£72,500 in London) on qualification. Speaking of which, trainees approaching qualification can apply to two different groups, as well as different offices. In 2020, the firm retained 57 of 72 qualifiers.

At the time of our interviews, sources observed “a lot of promotions go to women” – half of the firm’s 2019 partnership promotions were women; in the 2020 class eight of 13 were men. Trainees did draw attention to a “lack of ethnic diversity – all the UK trainees were sat in a room recently and only five out of 140-odd were ethnically diverse, which made me uncomfortable.” The firm's race and ethnicity initiative SUN was established in 2018 to identify and respond to the obstacles ethnically diverse people face in recruitment and career progression. On the LGBTQ+ front, the firm was named the most inclusive UK employer by Stonewall in 2019. The firm has several diversity networks lawyers and trainees can join, including a mental health group. Pinsent Mason-ers can also get involved in their community through the firm’s CSR programme: Starfish. As well as helping high school students with reading and maths, trainees can assist homeless people with job applications through its partnership with Buses 4 Homeless.

“The partners are always up for a pool night.”

When it came to socialising, trainees reported office-wide socials like gin tasting. “You don’t have to be the biggest drinker though,” they clarified. “They cater for everyone.” Trainees were disappointed “there’s nothing for us in the budget” for trainee-specific socials, but each office has its own social committee with money set aside for events.Given the size of the firm, the social life varied by team. On a smaller team in the London office, “the only time we socialised was if someone was leaving,” whereas other groups “do drinks all the time.” In Manchester, “the partners are always up for a pool night” – that’s the sport by the way, before you get your swim gear out.

Across interviews, trainees praised their supervisors: “They’re really good at protecting trainees against how some people might want to use them.” Even if your supervisor isn’t around, “not once have I been scared to ask someone senior if I didn’t know what I was doing.” On this note, trainees said Pinsent is “as non-hierarchical as firms get.” They felt the office setup lends itself well to a flat hierarchy. In London, “it’s all open plan so the partners don’t sit separately from us.” A hot-desking system means “you get exposure to lots of different people – every day if you want.” The firms tells us all offices are moving to an open plan and hot-desking setup. When it came to remote working, “nobody actually worked from home until Covid-19 hit.” Speaking of which, interviewees were pleased when a WhatsApp group was set up for associates and trainees: “I always had people reaching out to make sure I was okay.”

Calling bright sparks

Trainees can join the firm’s Spark Board, which Pinsent’s decision-makers consult “so that they have everyone’s view, not just those of senior people.”

How to get into Pinsent Masons


Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 7 December 2020 (opens September 2020)

Training contract deadline (2023): 21 May 2021 (opens September 2020)

Initial screening

Aspiring Pinsent Masons trainees hoping to get a foot in the door at one of the firm's UK offices need a history of strong academics and be on track for a strong 2:1 degree.

Beyond this, graduate recruitment manager Margaret Ann Roy tells us the firm is looking for candidates who are “confident, proactive people who want to make the most of the opportunities presented to them. We want people who have the ability to generate innovative ideas and the tenacity to see them through to the delivery of a successful commercial solution for our clients.” Showing you're flexible and resilient also impresses.

The firm prefers candidates to apply via its vacation scheme: around 60-70% of trainees are recruited this way. “A vacation placement is the perfect way to discover if a firm is right for you, and it will be a fantastic experience regardless of whether you end up with a training contract or not,” says Roy. She adds that "of course we do understand that not everyone can undertake a vacation placement and so we always have a small number of training contract places which we fill directly.”

Vacation scheme

Over 1,500 candidates typically apply for the firm's 100 vac scheme places. The application begins with an online form that focuses on biographical info, academic results, transferable skills and work experience, although that need not be legal specific. The use of a contextual recruitment system allows candidates' academic results to be considered in light of the circumstances in which they were attained.

Pinsent Masons then uses a framework of key competencies to decide who to invite to the firm's assessment centre. This consists of a number of different assessments with various Pinsent Masons representatives who assess traits like commercial awareness, confidence, self-direction, attention to detail, organisation, drive, intellectual capability and sociability. Those who come out on top at this stage nab a vac scheme spot and are very much in the running for a training contract.

The firm runs two vac schemes in each of its offices. These take place between June and July every year, and each lasts for two weeks in English offices and three weeks in Scottish offices. Attendees spend the duration of their visit in a single practice group. “This lets vacation students develop strong working relationships with their peers and colleagues, and allows them to get involved in substantive work," says Roy. Candidates express their practice group preference before the scheme starts.

Vacation students are assessed for a training contract as part of their placement. Feedback from candidates' supervisors and the other lawyers they've worked with is taken into account in making the final decision, together with the results from the initial assessment centre.

Social events aren't compulsory but there are a few things like comedy nights, 'escape room challenges' and pizza-making courses scattered across the scheme, giving students a chance to mix with a wider range of potential colleagues.

Direct applications

Around 1,500 candidates complete a similar online form to apply for a training contract directly. The same key competency framework is used to screen applicants and whittle them down to the select few that will attend an assessment centre.

Candidates complete the same psychometric test, SWOT presentation, business simulation exercise and partner interview. Just under half of those attending the assessment day are offered a training contract.

The firm offers around 45 UK-based training contracts per year in their English offices, with a further 23 being offered to candidates applying for training contracts in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Candidates applying for the English offices can expect to hear back by mid-September.

Interview with senior partner Richard Foley

Pinsent Masons

30 Crown Place,
Earl Street,

  • Partners: c. 480
  • Associates: c. 1550
  • Trainees: c. 180
  • UK offices:Overseas offices: London, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester Dublin, Madrid, Munich, Dusseldorf, Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Doha, Dubai, Johannesburg, Sydney, Perth, Frankfurt, Riyadh and Melbourne
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: The Graduate Team,
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 68
  • Applications pa: 1,500+
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
  • Minimum UCAS points: 300+ UCAS points
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 100
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: October 2020
  • Training contract deadlines, 2023 start: May 2021
  • Vacation scheme applications open: October 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: December 2020
  • Open day deadline: Please check website
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: London - £41,000, English regions - £27,000, Scotland - £24,000, Belfast - £17,50
  • Second-year salary: London - £44,000, English regions - £30,000, Scotland - £27,000, Belfast - £18,500
  • Post-qualification salary: London - £72,500, English regions - £44,000, Scotland - £43,500, Belfast - £30,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grants pa: Yes

Firm profile

At Pinsent Masons we are a purpose-led professional services business with law at its core. We recognise that our clients rarely have legal problems; they have commercial challenges and opportunities. That’s why we combine legal expertise with a wide range of complementary professional disciplines - enabled by process and technology – to address our clients’ most pressing needs. With over 480 partners and more than 3000 people operating globally from 25 offices around the world, our people champion change, promote progress and enable everyone to make business work better for people.

Main areas of work

At Pinsent Masons we believe that if we do business in the right way and for the right reasons, success will flow from that. Some highlights from the last year include:
• Launching the Mindful Business Charter with Barclays and Addleshaw Goddard. Over 50 organisations have now signed up
• Proud to be the highest ranked law firm on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2020
• Being ranked as a Times top 50 employer for women

Training opportunities

The two-year training contract comprises four six-month seats, spent in four different practice groups, and combines regulatory and skills training. Seat allocations take account of trainees’ preferences and aim to strike a balance between their choices and the firm’s requirements. In each seat trainees will be supervised by a senior colleague who will guide them through their learning and development. There is also full support from Pinsent Masons’ Graduate Development team who will meet trainees regularly to discuss their on-going performance.

Vacation scheme

Over the course of a number of weeks, attendees will be fully immersed in all aspects of working life at Pinsent Masons. We design, structure and develop the placement programme to give you an experience which is practical and enjoyable whilst authentically reflecting the Trainee Solicitor experience. Working alongside trainees and qualified solicitors on real client projects, you’ll enjoy structured workbased learning, skills training and presentations.The programme is available across all of our UK offices — with placements available in London, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. We typically recruit around 60-70% of our trainee solicitors through this programme, but acknowledge that not everyone can undertake a placement and fill a number of Training Contract placements directly.

Other benefits

Private medical insurance; pension; life assurance; childcare vouchers; dental insurance; gourmet society and/or taste card; travel insurance; employee offers- discount website on a variety of providers and services; various social and sports clubs.

Insight evenings

Details of the dates and deadlines for the firm’s events are available online. Pinsent Masons’ events are open to all law and non-law students.

University law careers fairs 2020

Please find all details on our website.

Social media

Facebook PMGrads

Twitter @PMgrads

Instagram @pm_grads

Diversity & Inclusion:
Pinsent Masons has long believed in creating an inclusive and supportive workplace that enables its people to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. The firm is proud of its rewards and recognition to support this. A few of these include a global champion for LGBT+, named as the UK's most LGBT+ inclusive employer, amongst the top global LGBT+ employers by Stonewall, included in The Times top 50 employers for women, 'Law Firm of the Year' at the Legal Business Awards and included in The Times top 100 graduate employers.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Competition Law (Band 4)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 1)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Technology & Construction (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 6)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Education: Institutions (Band 1)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
    • Licensing (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Education: Institutions (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Financial Crime (Band 1)
    • Health & Safety (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Licensing (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Product Liability (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Shipping (Band 1)
    • Transport: Road: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 1)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 3)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 4)
    • Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
    • Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 2)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
    • Health & Safety (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 2)
    • Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Local Government (Band 3)
    • Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Parliamentary Agency (Band 2)
    • Pensions Litigation (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Public Procurement (Band 3)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
    • Sport (Band 4)
    • Tax: Contentious (Band 1)
    • Tax: Contentious: Fraud (Band 2)
    • Telecommunications (Band 4)
    • Transport: Rail: Planning & Authorisation (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 2)

More from Pinsent Masons:

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page.

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