Penningtons is more than its London head office: several South Eastern offices, plus a focus on private wealth, tech and real estate create a more diverse arrangement.
Root and branch
Tracing the family tree beyond its foundational 2013 merger, Penningtons Manches' history extends to 1729 and the early days of George II, when obtaining a divorce from your not-so-happily-ever-after marriage required an Act of Parliament. Nigh on 300 years later PM is working its magic in a far more lucrative landscape, but divorces still provide a profitable chunk of the skilled family team’s work (which gets top marks from Chambers High Net Worth in the UK), and a propensity for working with tech and life sciences start-ups has contributed to steady growth in recent years.
“The core sectors are tech, real estate and private wealth."
But these are just two cherry-picked services among a plentiful punnet of goodness. Across the London HQ, and the five offices that encircle it, the firm’s offering covers varied legal services for both businesses and individuals. Chief executive David Raine explains: “The core sectors are tech, real estate and private wealth, with ancillary sectors in education, charities and sport.” Chambers UK awards impressive rankings: London does well in family, immigration and real estate; Cambridge excels in corporate and employment; Guildford in clinical negligence, personal injury and private client; Oxford in family, real estate, corporate, IP, employment, environment and litigation; while Reading receives rankings for family, banking and finance, corporate, employment, IP and real estate.
Trainees pointed to this again and again as the reason they joined the firm: “There’s a broad range in practice areas and sector focuses, which means you have options for your training contract. Some people try to stick to personal practices, like private client and family, whereas you can also avoid those like the plague and end up doing mainly commercial and corporate.” However, seat options at Penningtons vary from office to office, so it’s worth finding out what’s on offer before applying for a specific location. There are up to 14 seat options in London; regional offices tend to only offer four to five. In Guildford and Oxford, for example, there are only four options available, so trainees will experience all of these throughout their training contract.
Roughly half of the firm’s 25 trainees sit in London. Oxford, Guildford, Basingstoke and Reading usually house four or five apiece, while two trainees are typically found in the Cambridge base. The Basingstoke and Reading offices have strong ties, meaning trainees are split between them: “You apply for a Basingstoke/Reading contract – we’re effectively shared resources.” The firm also has a small office in San Francisco, which focuses on tech investment into the UK. On home soil, the firm scored double-digit revenue growth of 12% in 2016/17, and Raine also told us: “We set ourselves targets for expanding the number of fee earners we’ve got, and we’ve achieved them, with 8% growth.”
Ahead of starting the training contract, trainees put forward three choices for their first seat. Four months in, “the HR manager goes to every office, speaks to every single trainee, and finds out what they’re looking for. They give them an idea of how likely it is they’ll get their choice.” This determines the second and third seats, and trainees felt the firm did its best to consider their choices. Those who’d ended up doing a stint somewhere they hadn’t picked weren’t hugely put out: “It’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s a good idea to suck it up because you learn a lot.”
“You probably tend to see the client four times a week.”
Trainees described “a lot of crossover” between the private client and family teams. The latter group advises its wealthy clients - “a lot of high net worth individuals” - not only on divorces, but also on prenuptial and cohabitation agreements. This involves asset protection and tax and estate planning, handling trusts, probate and Court of Protection work. While a large amount of the team's work concerns financial arrangements, the cross-border disputes they deal with often involve addressing the children involved.Of late, the London team has seen an increasing number of Russian clients. Trainees in this group were satisfied with their client contact: “You probably tend to see the client four times a week.” They enjoyed “going to court a lot” and the tasks that went hand-in-hand with that: “preparing numerous documents, bundles for court, and papers to counsel.”
In the private client team, “the angle is also very much family planning.” Again, the group deals with divorces, financial remedy work, and pre- and post-nuptial agreements. A recent high-profile international dispute concerned the contested burial place of WWII veteran and millionaire Paul Morigi. Trainees described “drafting a lot of documents, wills, codicils, and lasting powers of attorney for private individuals. Then there’s quite a lot of tax planning for large business figureheads who want to manage their personal affairs, or foreign investors looking to manage their UK assets in line with tax planning. I did quite a bit of research on tax matters.” There’s also trust and corporation work on the table which could involve “drafting trust deeds and various amendments to trust facilities.” Matters trainees had been able to work on included “the sale of a property for a trust corporation. I was out of the office five or six times a week to liaise with estate agents, clients and other trustees in selling the property.” There was an international element too, provided by offshore trusts in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and Guernsey. As such, the consensus was that work was interesting and varied: “You’re operating with three different hats on, which is a great experience, but I did find it very stressful.”
“I never had hours or even minutes where I was twiddling my thumbs.”
Trainees doing a seat in commercial dispute resolution (typically only available in London and Oxford) were similarly occupied: “I never had hours or even minutes where I was twiddling my thumbs – I didn’t even have time to do admin tasks like my trainee diary.” The teams handle regulatory, financial and commercial disputes, plus IP, IT and data protection matters – we also spoke to trainees working on “the mis-selling of financial products.” But how exactly were trainees kept busy? “Disclosure work, preparing bundles for court, attending client meetings, taking attendance notes, a lot of research, and preparing witness statements.” The team works for high-profile individuals, but also businesses, like IKEA (on IP matters) and Robert Bosch. It recently aided The Pirbright Institute, a virus research organisation, in a case related to a 'vishing' fraud on its bank account. Defamation and reputation management work has also recently been added to the roster.Penningtonsobtained a six-figure sum in damages for Robert Murat in four libel claims against national newspapers after being regarded as a suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. On these cases, a trainee revealed how “a potential client would ring in and ask to speak to the specialist partner – who was inevitably super busy – so the trainee would do the initial fact-taking interview.”
Penning tons of deals
Trainees noted varying levels of responsibility seat to seat. In family and commercial dispute resolution they were “expected to check every single email with an associate before sending,” while in corporate “a partner will just ask me to reflect what we’ve discussed in an email and tell me it doesn’t need to be checked if I feel comfortable.” Among a number of focuses, the firm’s corporate group works with clients in the technology and healthcare spaces. It handles all manner of transactions, from seed funding start-ups and university spin-outs, through to IPOs and private equity investments. It recently advised the shareholders of analytics platform OTAS Technologies on its £16 million sale to international trading network Liquidnet, and real estate investment company Aprirose on the purchase of 73 pubs worth £70 million from Mitchells & Butlers. Trainees had been involved in “a mix of really small transactions of a few million pounds, to massive deals.” Some were excited at being able to run the due diligence process, but others admitted: “You're certainly less client-facing and quite heavy on paperwork – drafting and looking through data.”
“Tactically speaking you’re thinking on both sides.”
PM's employment team covers employment litigation, discrimination claims, TUPE matters, director exits and shareholder issues, in industries including education, tech, life sciences and hospitality. The team covers both the claimant and defendant sides, which trainees found beneficial: “Tactically speaking you’re thinking on both sides, so you can apply what you’re learning to a different matter. It’s a good learning experience.” Recent examples either side of the divide include the firm's representation of four police officers seeking damages of up to £400,000 from the Metropolitan Police in the Supreme Court; and its work for Stanford University on the dismissal of a member of UK staff. Other recent work includes advising fashion platform Farfetch on several hires and departures in the UK and US, and ongoing support for Ocado on data protection, regular HR matters and several tribunals.
Trainees may also do a seat across the personal injury and clinical negligence groups, which are both claimant only. The personal injury team handles catastrophic injury and domestic cases, while the clinical negligence team is known for work in birth injury, spinal injury and delayed diagnosis of cancer claims. It also advises on fatal cases, orthopaedic, and negligent gynaecological and cosmetic surgery matters. Cases can go on for many years, but as a trainee “you’re able to see each stage in the process because there are lots of different matters on the go. You’ll get tasks like writing a short letter to a company or a request for medical records.” Highlights for trainees included getting to grips with “a big cerebral palsy claim. I was marshalling a lot of information: copying, filing and co-ordinating to prepare to disclose to the other side.” For trainees, it was a bit like Marmite: “It’s one of those areas you either love or hate. Some find it too emotionally draining.” That aspect meant “some fee earners were happy for me to speak to clients; others wanted me to be more like administrative support, probably because of their client’s emotional state.”
Take care of the Penningtons...
The emotional state of Penningtons' people is handled by the Penwell programme. The clue's in the name: “It’s a staff wellness programme to help us improve our well-being – physically, mentally, financially... it’s nice they put the time and energy into providing that.” Trainees had attended workshops on sleeping, mindfulness, and managing their finances, as well receiving on-the-house health checks. In a step-count challenge, lawyers were split into teams and given pedometers: “The aim was to walk the distance from London to San Francisco. It worked out at a marathon a day for the team as a whole. Everyone is competitive so we got quite far!”
“We went to see School of Rock.”
This care and attention fits PM's billing. While the salary doesn't match many of its London counterparts, sources reminded us: “We’re at Penningtons because we didn’t want to be at a magic circle firm, where we're in the office until 2am.” While the odd late night could provide some nuisance, it wasn’t a staple feature in trainees’ schedules, with early morning finishes described as “outliers.” 6.30pm was a regular time for trainees to leave the office.
Regional trainees felt it was getting a bit cramped in the Basingstoke and “incredibly friendly” Oxford offices. Cambridge, meanwhile, is the only office that isn’t open-plan (although it will be soon), but London’s open-plan layout is spread across three floors, “so if you move up a floor after six months it can feel like changing offices.” The Guildford lot stood out as “a very sociable bunch,” and the London office wheels out a drinks trolley on Fridays; when the free booze runs out “we normally end up going to the pub.” Londoners also described “a cooking class, a darts tournament, a ghost walk, theatre trips – we went to see School of Rock.” There are active sports and social committees in every office, but beyond Guildford and London, spontaneous socialising was rarer. “If I had one criticism it’d be that there isn’t a huge social side to the firm,” said one affected source. Trainees were more upbeat about staying on at the firm – “they encourage us to apply and want us to stay.” In 2018, 11 of 14 qualifiers were kept on.
Penningtons Manches’ independent Charitable Foundation focuses particularly on anti-trafficking, and provides trainees with an opportunity to get stuck into some pro bono.
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How to get a Penningtons training contract
Open day deadline (2019): 31 January 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019
The application form
The application process at Penningtons starts with an online form, which prompts candidates to fill out their education history and work experience. Applicants also answer questions covering extracurricular activities, personal challenges they've overcome and Penningtons' strategy. Resourcing manager Jenny Vine tells us that “we look equally at legal and non-legal work experience, so it really is worth adding in shop and pub jobs too.” She adds that “when it comes to grades, we expect at least AAB and a 2:1, but candidates can make up for problems with a really strong application form.”
Nailing the covering letter is “critical to someone's success – it's the key section I really look at,” says Vine. “In a perfect covering letter I'd get a feel for their character, and be able to judge how much they want to work for us and want to be involved in what we have to offer. I want to see they've done their research, and aren't just applying to us as a second tier behind the magic circle.” Vine explains that good reasons for applying could include an interest in a particular practice area or admiration for specific lawyers at the firm and what they've managed to achieve.
She continues: “Because we give trainees a lot of responsibility and client contact, we look for people who are comfortable with being given that level of responsibility straight away.” Recruiters are therefore on the lookout for any previous activities – like leading a team or organising an event – that demonstrate a mix of confidence and good people skills.
Penningtons attracts around 700 applications for its vacation scheme, and 800 for the training contract. The firm filters candidates via assessment days, which host 12 applicants at a time. They undergo two interviews: one with Vine and another member of the HR team, and one with Vine and a partner.
Candidates are also set a written exercise, a presentation exercise, and the Watson Glaser critical thinking test. “They've only got three and a half hours to show us what they can do,” says Vine, “so it's important that they remain in control and organise themselves. It can be really obvious if people are falling apart and asking silly questions.”
Penningtons' vacation scheme lasts for one week in July. Schemes are available in London, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, Oxford and Reading; there's room for 50 candidates in total.
Vac schemers sit in one department for the week and get to express preferences for which one before they arrive. They're mentored by a trainee, completing a mixture of real work under supervision as well as a number of exercises. One of these involves researching a report on another area of law covered by the firm and doing a presentation on it.
Vine has this advice for future vac schemers: “Professionalism is key. Treat it as a week-long interview and do the absolute best you can. Look enthusiastic, ask appropriate questions without pestering people, pay attention to detail in your work, and treat everyone – whether partner, trainee or secretary – with respect and enthusiasm.”
Information days are held at Easter and are primarily aimed at those hoping to complete a vacation scheme the following year, i.e. first-year law students and penultimate-year non-law students. The day is spent meeting the graduate recruitment team, getting to know the firm's practice areas in more depth, and chatting with the current trainees to find out why they chose the firm and what they make of their training experience so far.
Interview with chief executive David Raine
Chambers Student:What are some of the highlights from the past year at Penningtons Manches?
David Raine: It’s been a busy year with all teams fully-engaged. In terms of changes, the contentious teams are continuing to perform very strongly and we’re still seeing the benefit of London as a centre for dispute resolution. Looking back, we were recently looking at targets from a year ago while preparing for a team partner session, and it’s good to see that we’ve hit many of our goals in terms of growth. We set ourselves targets for expanding the number of fee earners we’ve got, which we’ve achieved with 8% growth of fee earner head count over the last year. We’re just closing the books at the moment and it looks like that top line is probably going to grow by quite a bit more than 8%. I wouldn’t say any particular team has been focused on or changed significantly in the last year. It’s been a case of steady growth in most practice areas and sector focuses.
CS:Which do you consider to be the firm’s core practice areas?
DR: We focus more on sectors than practice areas, so our core sectors are tech, real estate and private wealth, with ancillary sectors in education, charities and sport.
CS:In terms of offices, are there any plans to expand or focus on any particular office?
DR: There are no plans – we’ve had a fairly settled year and I wouldn’t want to single any particular location out. We do try to work across offices and I think we do fairly well at this. Increasingly, agile working is all the rage and I think that really plays to our network of offices around London. You tend to find people pitching up in different locations all the time.
We’re putting a bit more resources into the San Francisco. We’re focused again on the tech sector in particular. It’s tiny – there are four people, but it’s obviously it’s supplemented by people going out there on rolling programme. It’s had steady growth. We focus on English law and that of course means the size of the market is not going to be huge necessarily, so we wouldn’t expect the actual head count to rival any of the other offices here, but I think what’s important is that it gives us a gateway into private equity and other organisations there, and also vice versa – companies that are looking to expand their operation outside of the States.
We’ll obviously consider Europe as a base. We’ll also need advice on things such as setting up the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).
CS:Last year when we spoke, you didn’t anticipate huge change from Brexit. Has that changed in the last year?
DR: We’re probably talking about two or three years now from when the referendum result was announced. I’m sure we all feared worse and it still hasn’t materialised from our perspective. There’s been no noticeable slow-down. If anything, people are trying to crack on. For professional advisors I think the change is probably going to produce work. Even if the economy does slow down because of impact of Brexit, it may be that professional service firms are insulated a bit from the effects of that. Certainly in the short term, but who knows? If suddenly we have a hard Brexit it could be a shock to the system. Then it could be difficult to predict with any certainty, but at the moment things seem to be fairly steady. Normally, the leading indicators seem to be real estate and corporate transactions, and at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any sign from those areas. We do a little high-end residential and there’s still a little nervousness in that market – there’s more impact of stamp duty changes and a slight question mark about London property prices, but generally in terms of commercial property it’s been fairly steady. So if there was to be a shock into system one would start to see that in real estate ahead of anything else.
CS:Trainees told us a bit about the Penningtons Manches Charitable Foundation – how has its first year been?
DR: It’s managed by a set of trustees independent of the firm, but they’ve been doing great work focusing on the prevention of trafficking. The foundation’s aims include poverty relief, education and property, but the particular aim has been the prevention of trafficking so we’ve been working with various charities through the course of the year providing some high level legal advice in relation to anti-trafficking measures. One of our partners is an advisor to Kevin Hyland, the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner. She’s been helping train judges in what to look out for when dealing with trafficked people, so high-level work, but there’s also been grass-roots type work which everyone can get involved in along with local charities in each office. So everyone has been encouraged to take their allotted 21 hours of pro bono. I’ve taken mine!
CS:What are the recruitment plans going forward? advice for students?
DR: Of course we recruit years ahead, so with continued steady growth as the firm gets bigger presumably there will be an opportunity to take on more people. I wouldn’t have thought there’d be a big change in the profile of fee earners we’re looking for going forward, so we’ll still be concentrating on complex legal work where we can, rather than volume-processing work so to that extent we need quality people as well as efficient working practices and great technology but wouldn’t have thought there’d be much of a change in the profile of people we take on.
CS:Anything to add?
DR: We just upgraded all our technology so we’re a lot more resilient I think in infrastructure. Everyone has now got surface pro laptops – that’s the latest change and refresh. We’ve also got the staff wellness programme which is called Penwell. That’s been going on for about 18 months and gaining traction for some time and has gone really well in all sorts of health and well-being initiatives from physical health, mental health, and stress. It’s quite diverse – we’ve had step challenges and BUPA station assessments in to the offices to get people to think about their lifestyle.
Penningtons Manches LLP
125 Wood Street,
- Partners 113*
- Associates 186*
- Totaltrainees 25*
- * denotes worldwide figures
- UK offices Basingstoke, Cambridge, Guildford, London, Oxford, Reading
- Overseas offices San Francisco
- Graduate recruiter: Jenny Vine, 020 7457 3000
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 12-15
- Applications pa: 800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 50
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1t October 2018
- Training contract deadlines, 2021 start: 31t July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Open day deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £36,000
- Second-year salary: £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £60,000
- Holiday entitlement: 24 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grants pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Basingstoke, Cambridge, London, Guildford, Oxford, Reading
- Client secondments: Ad hoc
Main areas of work
Our business services division advises on the full range of corporate and commercial matters including joint ventures, M&A, IT, IP, corporate tax, dispute resolution, business immigration and commercial contracts. We advise on the full range of commercial and residential property matters, including landlord and tenant, conveyancing, construction and property litigation. We help individuals with advice on tax and estate planning, wills, trusts and probate, family law, clinical negligence, personal injury and capacity issues.
The firm has six UK offices, giving you the opportunity to work in or outside London. The ability to work outside London, while at the same time being part of a firm with a City presence, appeals to many of the trainees that we recruit. Whichever office you are based in, you will be given a thorough grounding in the law, with four six-month seats across the firm’s divisions.
There are occasions when you might be offered a seat in a different office or on secondment with a client. Normally, however, trainees get immersed in the work and culture of their own office, but come together with all the trainees on a regular basis and with the whole firm at sports and social events. The firm ensures a varied training programme is given, avoiding too specialised an approach before qualification. Nonetheless, the experience gained in each practice area gives you a solid foundation, equipping you to embark on your chosen specialisation at the end of your training contract with the firm. Penningtons Manches knows its trainee solicitors are happiest and most successful when busy with good quality and challenging work. The value of giving its trainees responsibility and allowing direct contact with clients is recognised. However, experienced solicitors are always ready to give support when needed.
Open days and first-year opportunities
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
Guildford and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
National Leaders (outside London)
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
Oxford and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
Reading and surrounds
- Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
Southampton and surrounds
- Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Social Housing (Band 3)
- Charities Recognised Practitioner
- Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 3)
- Defamation/Reputation Management (Band 5)
- Education: Institutions (Higher & Further Education) (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 3)