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 its latest financial results showing a 4% rise in revenue to £97 million with overall profit jumping 11% to £31 million. That caps 12 consecutive years of revenue growth. On top of all that, average profit per equity partner (PEP) also climbed 12% to £394,000.
But, like many firms, Penningtons has seen some tougher times during the pandemic. Its newest office in San Francisco was the most notable casualty, closing some six years after it opened in late 2014. The firm has, however, bolstered its Singapore and Madrid offices with the lateral hires of corporate partners Nick Dingemans and José Millán Martín. 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. It also has 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.
Due to the relatively small intake — around 15 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. One rookie told Legal Cheek: “I get exposure to a range of different tasks and issues, which is ideal. The boring work tends to be balanced out by the more interesting and it is uncommon to be dealing consistently with mundane/boring tasks”. Another says, “within the first few weeks in my first seat I had been given the chance to draft LBAs, particulars of claim and critical letters to the other side. I was amazed by the opportunities I had been given straight from the off”.
However, a common thread from our surveys is a discrepancy between departments. One newbie commented that the training “has 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”. The general rule is “if you demonstrate competence, you will be given a lot of responsibility which is the best way to learn”. Overall, there’s “top of the market work”, with most saying they have had the opportunity to take part in court hearings, client meetings and substantive drafting. The legal tech is also said to be “good” bar the “occasional buffering circle of doom”.
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 newbies. “The junior associates are very close knit and extremely supportive… People are very good at popping in for a Zoom coffee and as restrictions are easing everyone is very keen to get back to post-work pints”, says one insider.
Another comments: “My team are very supportive. They check in with me to make sure I’m okay if I’m working late on something and are generally thoughtful of the work I might want to be involved with and what interests me. The work I’m given is often challenging and sometimes a little daunting, but due to my team’s support I never feel too stressed or uncertain about whether I’m doing the right thing”. Most partners and senior associates are “approachable and happy to help”, but there remain “the odd old-school partner who appears to be ‘too busy’ to assist”.
In London, where most trainees are located, there is a more lively atmosphere. The hours are generally a nine to six affair. However, some days can be unpredictably longer — making it difficult to organise plans, but on the whole insiders report a good work/life balance. “Even when I have been super busy and working late it never felt like it impacted my personal life”, notes one rookie. Another adds, “any partner I have encountered has been very understanding of the few occasions that I have had evening plans and encouraged me to finish work on time. So far there is no ‘be seen at your desk’ culture, and you are actively encouraged to take breaks”.
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 can be a bit underwhelming, we are told. 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”. There were, however, some positive words about opportunities to get involved in sports activities and firm’s annual summer parties.
The firm has adapted well to remote working. 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.