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, London Manchester, Norwich, and the aforementioned Cambridge. The firm also have a gaff in Oxford but there are no TC’s available there at present. 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.
One merry trainee told us, “I never anticipated having a network as close as the one at M&R, especially with the other trainees, apprentices and paralegals around my age. This is probably one of my favourite things about my job.” A lot of cross department working on transactions and an open plan office apparently help to create a “genuine lack of hierarchy” — “it is an M&R cliché but the people really are what make the firm. I have never felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone at any level and I really enjoy working with my peers and coming into the office”. One rookie reports: “Superiors in the business love to get to know trainees, to find out your interests and to learn more about you” and there’s said to be a decent senior turnout at social events too. No wonder the firm is known to report high retention rates!
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”. Another source tells us they have “been told by more than one senior person at the firm to stop checking emails at the evening/weekends,” which they say makes them “feel like they actually want me to have a life”. There are also lots of clubs and events put on by the firm, often for free or discounted rates, “so I feel like there is active encouragement to have a life outside of work”. That said, some transactional seats (especially real estate and corporate) have seen trainees work late: “There have certainly been busier periods and later nights but this is always recognised and appreciated and balances out with the quiet periods.”
The firm’s legal tech also comes in handy at making life easier for trainees, with the verdict being that the firm is heading in the right direction. “Generally, we’re fairly good for tech. Our innovation and tech team do some amazing things. We’ve got some interesting machine learning tech in the pipeline!” remarks one. The more pessimistic have this to say: “There are some really good advances in legal tech at the firm, but it is still somewhat lacking in areas. Advancement could be used to improve it more widely.” But insiders were optimistic that there were “passionate people at the firm working on this” which makes this hopeful trainee “feel positive about the future”.
Many rookies in the legal sphere moan about spending time doing more mundane ‘trainee tasks’. Yet such a concept seems to barely exist at Mills & Reeve: “Trainees get involved in top work from day one. No photocopying or printing!” one rookie reasons. “Objectively, the work is really stimulating.” Another details: “Throughout my training contract there has been a recognition of when I’ve been reaching my comfort zone and a constant effort to keep pushing me further whilst supporting me at the same time. I have been able to run my own matters and take real ownership over pieces of work.” The training contract is split across six seats rather than the more standard four so there is a fair bit of variety. Rookies can expect things to be “particularly stimulating when undertaking work in sectors that M&R really excels in (eg life sciences)”.
And it’s not hard to see why when you learn that Mills & Reeve acts for most of the NHS foundations across the country, and recently advised on a state-of-the-art cancer research hospital in Cambridge. Interesting work can also be found in the banking team, which worked with HSBC on a multi-million pound funding package for outdoor clothing company Equip Outdoor, which owns brands such as Rab and Lowe Alpine. Sporty trainees might also be interested to know that the Manchester office has a dedicated sports team who have acted for Premier League footballers such as Keiran Trippier and had a hand in the construction of professional playing contracts for the Women’s Super League (WSL).
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. 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 refurbed Birmingham offices (which feature adjustable desks) are the most coveted. But equal rookie pay across the firm helps minimise any politics.
The Cambridge office is described by insiders as being a “nice building situated next to the city’s Botanic Gardens. The office has great views over the gardens and the city. Glass-fronted building gives lots of natural light. Nice cafe on the top floor.” The Norwich digs wins some plaudits for its facilities which include “changing rooms, showers, a drying room, very small individual lockers, nice client toilets, a nice client lounge and a café”. M&R’s Manchester hub is described as “stunning” by one trainee, and those in Birmingham love their office canteen and city-central location.
While there are no in-house swimming pools or sushi chefs at Mills & Reeve, the perks are good. “The best perks are buying back an extra week of holiday and outdoor office parties held twice a year,” quips one. Another spy 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 £31,500 a year, rising to £34,000 in the second year, with NQ pay rising to £80,000 in London and £58,000 elsewhere. Common sentiment here is that the “salary could be better but is reflected in work life balance.” Despite the relatively slimmer salaries, the firm posted record revenues of £147 million this year, following a 12% rise. Although they are not revealing their profit figures, the firm did pay its highest-ever all-staff bonus this year. This comes after another record round of promotions which saw 23 new partners being made up.
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 offices outside of London, some of which lack canteens (Birmingham, Cambridge and Norwich all have canteens). However, we understand that the ‘proper coffee’ situation is improving with coffee machines in Manchester and Leeds impressing one caffeine-fuelled rookie. The office café is also highly subsidised meaning that food and drink is very cost effective.