Penningtons Manches Cooper scores low for its perks (“there aren’t any”) and below average for its offices (“we have plants”) but receives widespread praise for its home working, quality of work and high standard of training. Trainees will also find supportive peers and approachable partners as well as a constant drive toward greater environmental consciousness.
The firm 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. Core practice areas now consist of dispute resolution, corporate and commercial, real estate, private client, and family law. It has 130 partners and more than 880 people in total, and is under the leadership of corporate lawyer Helen Drayton, who succeeded David Raine as CEO in October 2022.
The 2014 and 2019 mergers proved financially successful for the firm, as demonstrated by its most recently available financial results showing global revenues of around £100 million, profits of over £30 million and an average profit per equity partner (PEP) of circa £390,000. Recently, the firm has boosted its London corporate team with three senior hires and its Birmingham real estate team with two further senior hires – six partners were made up across the firm’s UK offices in its latest round of promotions.
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. The firm has handled transactions within the real estate, technology, life sciences and retail sectors, notably advising US owned extreme sports challenge organiser Tough Mudder on their commercial contracts. Rookies in the IP team also have the opportunity to work with brand names such as Jimmy Choo and Ikea, both of which Penningtons has advised on infringement claims. The firm has also been known to be involved in top family law cases such as representing the Safeguarder for the children in the matter of ‘XY’ in the Supreme Court and, more recently, PMC became one of a number of select firms chosen to develop a legal framework for policing cryptoassets.
Due to the relatively small intake — around 10 trainees across all UK offices — trainees have significant exposure to matters. “I have been afforded an amazing amount of responsibility in each of my seats, from completing the first draft of contracts or pleadings, as well as leading contract negotiations with the other side and clients,” says one trainee. “Each time I have done so I have received constructive feedback and my skills have developed considerably as a result.” However, as is the case at many law firms, there are also more basic trainee tasks such as bundling. Another rookie told Legal Cheek: “Often client facing work, where you do bundles you are rewarded by being able to go to the hearing. Partners and senior staff are approachable and listen if you have something you specifically want to do.”
Another trainee reports that the work is generally “very stimulating as the level of responsibility given to those that want it is very high. I am regularly drafting documents, engaging with clients and leading on calls”. Support is on hand if needed. A rookie describes it thus: “I feel like I can approach people, ask questions and I receive helpful and constructive feedback. People always have time to discuss anything I’m unsure of.”
However, a common thread from our surveys is a discrepancy between departments. One former newbie commented that their training had “varied quite significantly between departments, but the family department in particular went above and beyond to provide excellent training and support particularly given the home working circumstances. They actively involved me in all various hearings and client meetings”. Another noted that “a program for external training sessions/resources would be useful to ensure I’m learning about all the necessary topics”.
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, with PA and floor support generally meaning that “trainee tasks are ‘proper’ work”.
Additionally, the firm provides an induction week, 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 2023-24.
Penningtons Manches Cooper’s small intake fosters a close bond between newbies. Insiders say, “one of the best things in the firm is the culture, people really support each other at every level” and “my colleagues are incredibly helpful and provide the support needed to tackle tasks that are out of my comfort zone. This has allowed me to push my development to its limits without much fear of failing”.
Most partners and senior associates are “approachable and happy to help”. The firm operates a flat structure with trainees often working directly on matters alongside partners early on in their training contracts. A trainee told us, “you are encouraged to ask questions of senior staff. I feel able to call partners when I need to”. And this is the same whether in the office or working from home: “they are all responsive and helpful when reached remotely,” notes one.
In London, where most trainees are located, there is a livelier atmosphere. The hours are generally a nine to six affair. Some days can be unpredictably longer — making it difficult to organise plans, but on the whole insiders report a good work/life balance with very little disturbance of weekends and holidays. An insider states, “One of the biggest positives of the firm is the lack of presenteeism.” It can vary between departments ― one trainee told us there were “peaks and troughs ― sometimes 7am – 11:30pm, sometimes 8:30am – 7:30pm. Usually check emails at night/ weekends. No ‘face time’ culture though, and the team is generally understanding of prior commitments”.
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, though the social space has recently been updated. 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, though one trainee tells us it’s “in need of modernisation”. Oxford’s office is quite far out from the city centre, about a 30-minute bus ride, and is in an industrial area. And last but not least, the Basingstoke office in Matrix House is said to be “very modern” and even has a small gym in the basement!
The social life at the firm can be a bit underwhelming, we are told. There is not much social interaction between offices — apart from the annual summer party — 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.
Where the firm fails to impress is its perks. While there is a “junior’s networking group with social and career events” and an “ability to buy annual leave”, as well as free tea and coffee (and Weetabix!), that’s about it. This is a source of complaint among some rookies, one of whom moaned: “The firm doesn’t even have a Christmas party and the ‘big’ summer party they hang their hat on for all social interaction, you only got three drinks, had to pay for your own train (anything above £11.50) to the venue which was not local to any office. Trying to get any form of budget for socialisation out of the HR team is like pulling teeth.”
Having got that off their chest, the rookie did concede the “PennFuture” team try to organise “fun events like gin tasting” and you “can also opt into private health and dental plans”.
Enthusiasm returns, however, when it comes to the subject of working from home, an area in which the firm excelled. “Two screens and a desk chair were delivered to my door,” reminisces one rookie. “There is a ‘team charter’ for days in the office, but this roughly translates (for my team) to ‘work from home when you want but be in the office for client meetings’. Mondays and Fridays are definitely for WFH.” Moreover, “the teams are flexible in their approach to working from home. Generally each department has a team day where everyone is expected to be in the office, but if you cannot make that day it is not frowned upon. Other than that people can come in or stay at home whenever they want, provided they don’t need to be in the office for meetings etc”.
In terms of tech, the firm is developing AI and automation tools, there’s a six-session “Legal Tech” course for trainees and an in-house team has been set up to consider how legal tech at the firm can improve its offering. Trainees assure us that there’s “a lot of updates in the pipeline for the next few months”.
The offices are “fairly standard” although they “try to make it more welcoming with plants and flowers”. The firm received praise from rookies for “regularly considering its environmental impact”, its environmental committees and “regular internal talks” on the subject. The firm has apparently gone “entirely vegan for any catering events”.
Both international and client secondments were not available at the time of the survey, although last year one rookie spent three months with the British Athletes Commission and six months at Evox Therapeutics.