Penningtons Manches Cooper is the product of a 2014 merger between Penningtons and Manches, and a subsequent 2019 tie up with Thomas Cooper. Penningtons had a large private client team and a small but skilled family team, whereas Manches had a large family team and a small private client team. By combining, the firms sought to enhance their expertise in these sectors and attract notable clients. Thomas Cooper specialised in shipping and international trade, bringing another dimension to the firm. Founded in 1825, it has offices in London, Paris, Madrid, Piraeus, Singapore and Sao Paulo — which have been brought into the Penningtons Manches stable.
The 2014 and 2019 merger has proved financially successful for the firm, as demonstrated by the firm’s 2019-2020 financial results showing a rise in revenue to £93 million and overall profit to £28 million. With this successful growth, Pennington Manches Cooper has been expanding its newest office in San Francisco. This is a symbol of the firm’s ambition. But this US office remains at an early stage of development, and trainees at the firm certainly shouldn’t hold their breath about a secondment. It remains to be seen how the 2019 combination continues to play out, but there is certainly optimism around it, with Penningtons Manches Cooper CEO David Raine describing the coming together as “very exciting and historic”.
In the UK, the firm has eight offices: two in London, Basingstoke, Birmingham, Reading, Cambridge, Guildford and Oxford. Trainees can choose to train in most of these locations but must choose wisely as the available seats differ across offices. For example, IP/IT and employment are offered in Oxford, Cambridge, London and Reading.
In addition to its private client practice, Penningtons Manches Cooper has a strong M&A team focusing on deals up to £50 million in value. Of late the firm has handled transactions within the real estate, technology, life sciences and retail sectors, notably advising Evotech on a £42 million takeover of Cyprotex.
Due to the relatively small intake — around 18 trainees across all UK offices — trainees have significant exposure to matters. However, as is the case at many law firms there are also more basic trainee tasks such as bundling. Trainees are allocated a mentor (a partner or senior associate) to support them during their training period and help them with any questions they have. Additionally, the firm provides training days and in-house courses which cover a range of legal and developmental topics including presentation skills and personal impact. These courses combined with the firm’s mentor system help to explain the consistently strong grades that Penningtons Manches Cooper received for training in Legal Cheek’s Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.
Penningtons Manches Cooper’s small intake fosters a close bond between trainees. In London, where most trainees are located, there is a more lively atmosphere. In pre-COVID times trainees generally left the office between 6:30pm and 7pm. However, some days can be unpredictably longer — making it difficult to organise plans, but on the whole insiders report a good work/life balance.
Each of the firm’s offices have different characters. The London head office is located among many other law firms, near St Paul’s and Liverpool Street tube stations. The building is shared with an interesting variety of businesses including a Jamaican sauce company, but unfortunately there is no canteen. In Reading, the office is next to the train station in the funky Apex plaza. Cambridge’s office is also near the city’s station but in a more residential area and only a five-minute walk from the botanical gardens. The office in Guildford is beside a green space, Allen House Grounds, which contains sports facilities for those who need a quick re-energising over lunch. Oxford’s office is quite far out from the city centre, about a 30-minute bus ride, and is in an industrial area.
The social life at the firm is rather underwhelming. There is not much social interaction between offices, which is a particular shame for the smaller offices with only one or two trainees. The firm does engage in regular pro bono and corporate social responsibility work outside the office, including volunteering at soup kitchens, but other social events are fairly rare. The firm also scored relatively lowly for perks in the Legal Cheek Survey, with trainees reporting they’re “not brilliant”. One insider explains “they’re more tailored towards fee-earners with families (e.g. dental insurance plans, vouchers), so there’s not many that would benefit trainees”. The only positive comment noted that the netball team received funding.
The firm has adapted well to the switch to remote working during the COVID-19 crisis. Whilst there were initially a “couple of teething problems with IT” it has since been plain sailing, with all fee-earners equipped with Surface Pros and each department organising regular team meetings and Zoom calls.