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, Manchester, Norwich and the aforementioned Cambridge, but frequently spend time in London and Leeds too. They’re a nice bunch, as are the partners; both groups score consistently well for their respective supportiveness and approachability in the 2020-21 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “A lot of cross department working on transactions” helps, as does the lack of a “sense of hierarchy”. One rookie reports: “As a trainee, you are respected by everyone in the firm — both on a work and personal level.”
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.” 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”. One rookie gives a flavour of the ethos: “The work is really challenging and interesting (minimal grunt work here, except where necessary). I think that’s the case at smaller firms — they can’t afford for you not to get stuck in. The cases are more interesting as there aren’t 50 fee earners on one case working in multiple work streams with grunt work at the bottom. I love my job and feel challenged and stimulated.” The Mills & Reeve 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, with sweeteners instead focusing largely around the social side (which has apparently “increased a lot with the expansion of the paralegal support team”). There are also extra holidays that can be bought. What’s more, you can “actually use them — even as a trainee”, reports one insider. 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.
To make up for the relative lack of benefits in kind, there’s traditionally a “great bonus scheme”. An annual bonus pot is split between every employee who has been with the firm for at least a year. That came to about £1,000 per head this year, down from £1,500 the year before and £2,300 in 2018. The drop is no surprise given that the firm’s 2019/20 financial year included a couple of months of lockdown: the firm’s managing partner, Claire Clarke, says that “our growth last year has, without doubt, been affected by the coronavirus pandemic impacting our final quarter”. But it was growth all the same, with turnover up 2.9% to £114 million.