With a strong presence in Cambridge and particular expertise in sexy areas like tech and life sciences, Mills & Reeve has a donnish image that attracts students seeking an alternative to global megafirm life.
Trainees are split between the firm’s offices in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Norwich and the aforementioned Cambridge, but frequently spend time in London. They’re a nice bunch, as are the partners; both groups score consistently well for their respective supportiveness and approachability in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.
Merry trainees told us “the people at Mills & Reeve couldn’t be kinder or more supportive” and “everyone is rooting for your success!”. A lot of cross department working on transactions and an open plan office apparently help to create a “genuine lack of hierarchy”. One rookie reports: “As a trainee, you are respected by everyone in the firm — both on a work and personal level”. No wonder the firm recently reported a 100% retention rate for its latest trainee cohort.
That employee-focused ethos feeds into some fantastic work life/balance, with most people out the door around 6pm. “The hours are a dream,” we are told, with “people working hard and staying as long as needed, with no facetime culture”.
One junior recounts their experience: “As a trainee, you have the opportunity for an excellent work/life balance. I have children and when we were in the office, I had to leave at 5pm to get my kids from after-school club. This was never questioned. Since we started home-working, I have been allowed flexibility to be able to drop and collect my kids as and when needed and my team has been really understanding when I’ve had to homeschool my kids through the pandemic. I know that when I am expected to reach a billable hour target, I may struggle initially to achieve a true work/life balance but I know that the firm will still allow me the flexibility and will support me in achieving the balance”. But do note that real estate and corporate have a reputation for longer hours.
The work itself is generally “varied and interesting”, while the training is said to often involve a “good level of responsibility and interesting tasks”. “‘Trainee’ work (eg. photocopying, admin) is extremely limited. I have worked independently on matters at all levels, including substantive advice, correspondence, court papers, and corporate documents”, one spy told Legal Cheek. Another recounts: “I was trusted to liaise directly with clients and generally “have a go”. I was given complex work for interesting clients and if I asked to get involved in something specific, my supervisors would make an effort to find the work for me”. The training contract is split across six seats rather than the more standard four so there is a fair bit of variety.
The client secondment opportunities are another element of the Mills & Reeve trainee experience that wins praise, even if they haven’t been as numerous this year. Popular destinations include Jaguar Land Rover, AstraZeneca and even, in a throwback to trainees’ LPC days, BPP University.
When a secondment is outside a trainee’s home office the firm pays accommodation costs, bills and travel. For secondees placed in the capital, this helps mitigate the fact that pay (see below) is set at regional levels (there are no TC places at the firm’s London office). However, it’s worth noting that Mills & Reeve has bulked up in the capital in recent years, having taken over City real estate, projects and construction law firm Maxwell Winward.
As usual with firms that have several UK offices, there are occasional tensions between the locations. The shinier Cambridge, London, Norwich and the recently refurbed Birmingham offices (which feature adjustable desks) are the most coveted. But equal rookie pay across the firm helps minimise any politics.
While there are no in-house swimming pools or sushi chefs at Mills & Reeve, the perks are good. One insider put it like this: “To be honest, I didn’t join Mills & Reeve for the perks. I joined for the positive and supportive working culture and the interesting work and clients. I would rather have a good work/life balance and enjoy going to work every day than get financial perks. Saying that, we have a good pension, good holiday (including the ability to flex your annual leave), options to opt into dental/health/life insurance etc. We also get a bonus that is not linked to performance. Our pay is commensurate with firms of the same size and the firm will pay for you to relocate if you want to do a seat in another office”.
The current salary for first year trainees is £28,000 a year, rising to £30,000 in the second year, with NQ pay rising to £65,000 in London and £46,000 elsewhere. Despite the relatively slimmer salaries, the firm’s latest financial results make for good reading. Turnover hit £124.4 million over 2020/21, while profit per equity partner (PEP) rose from £409,000 to £448,000.
But don’t expect much from the coffee, with one rookie claiming that “a tub of Nescafe instant” is all that is on offer at most of the offices, some of which lack canteens (Birmingham, Cambridge and Norwich all have canteens). However, we understand that the ‘proper coffee’ situation is improving and now can be procured more easily. The office café is also highly subsidised meaning that food and drink is very cost effective.