Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm

Michelmores LLP

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The firm demonstrated themselves to be very approachable, proactive in their approach to me as an individual, and flexible about integrating me into the recruitment process.

With locations in Exeter, Bristol and London, Michelmores offers the best of both worlds. Trainees benefit from the supportive atmosphere of a regional firm as well as opportunities for secondment to its London office, which attracts significant international work. The firm’s impressive offering has not gone unnoticed, garnering it Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm at this year’s LCN Awards.

Alice Spicer Edwards is a first-year trainee in the firm’s Exeter office. She first encountered Michelmores when the firm gave a presentation at the University of Law in Exeter, where she was completing her LPC. “They spoke about the different types of firm you can work for and how to decide which is right for you,” she recalls. “I completed my undergraduate degree in London, and at university the focus was very much on Magic Circle firms. Until Michelmores came to speak to us, I think I was probably a bit ignorant of the fact that there were law careers outside the City that could be just as rewarding and challenging, but with a better work-life balance.”

Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Trainee Solicitors
Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Trainee Solicitors

Alice attended Michelmores’ assessment day in April 2017 and began her training contract there in September that year. Now in her second seat in education, she identifies client contact as a personal highlight of the experience. “Part of the reason I wanted to become a lawyer was to help people, and my current seat has given me a lot of opportunities to go out and meet clients – it helps you to really put yourself in their shoes.”

We were mentioned in The Times this year for recruiting a higher proportion of state-school pupils as trainees than the average firm.

In her cohort of seven trainees, Alice is one of three not to have done a vacation scheme at the firm. While the scheme is clearly not a prerequisite to securing a training contract, she would encourage prospective applicants to go for it. “Since starting, I’ve been someone’s buddy on the vac scheme and I think it’s the best way to see whether the firm is for you. People get so much exposure when they’re here – they’re doing real work with people in the department,” she explains. “The assessment day in itself was very beneficial – it’s an intense day, and I was lucky to get on it and be able to start the job in September – but you just don’t get the same feel for the firm because there isn’t time.”

Sacha Pickering, training principal and partner at the firm, explains what stand-out qualities he looks for in candidates. “Aside from the obvious ones, like planning and organisational skills, the thing that we really expect to see from exceptional candidates is the ability to think independently, critically and creatively.” Gabby Essame, the firm’s graduate recruitment specialist, adds: “Our trainees are given a lot of responsibility, so we look for people who can demonstrate that they use their initiative and are keen to go above and beyond what’s expected of them in their role. We recruit to retain – we’re looking for trainees who will stay with us and become senior associates and partners. We want candidates who have the potential to be future leaders at the firm, and good commercial awareness is an important part of that.”

The firm’s selection process is designed to draw out these qualities and give candidates every opportunity to shine. “I had a video interview to start with,” recalls Alice. “You’re given a question and you have 30 seconds to prepare your answer and then about 60 seconds to respond. I’d never done one before, so it was a slightly strange experience! After that, I had an interview with HR and it really felt like they were trying to get to know me. They weren’t asking trick questions; they were genuinely interested in me and made me feel at ease. On the assessment day, I had another interview with the training principal, where I was asked a few more commercial questions – they weren’t testing specific knowledge as much as seeing how well I could draw on my own experiences and what my thought processes were like. They weren’t questions that you could really get wrong – it was more like a discussion, so it didn’t feel intimidating.”

Since starting, I’ve been someone’s buddy on the vac scheme and I think it’s the best way to see whether the firm is for you.

Successful candidates are selected by the HR team and various partners. “We all get involved with the interviews and assessments, then we’ll come together at the end of the vac scheme week or assessment day to go through the candidates one by one and come to a collective decision,” Sacha explains.

Michelmores is not content to rest on its laurels when it comes to recruitment – this year, the firm moved its vacation scheme assessment days forward with a view to catching the best candidates early. “We review our processes more or less continuously – every year we do something a bit differently,” says Gabby. “We get feedback at the end of our vacation scheme and we carry out a review at the end of each summer of recruitment to see what we could have done better.” The firm is committed to ensuring that it attracts the brightest candidates, regardless of their background. “We were mentioned in The Times this year for recruiting a higher proportion of state-school pupils as trainees than the average firm,” adds Gabby.

Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Bristol
Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Bristol

Once successful candidates have been offered a training contract, they are assigned a ‘buddy’, who is one of the firm’s current trainees. “The purpose of that is to give them somebody to speak to in the lead-up to joining the firm and ask questions of,” Gabby explains. Incoming trainees who have never worked in a law firm might find this new environment daunting, but Michelmores ensures that new starters are eased into life at the firm through introductory events. “We had an induction day and drinks, which meant that I knew people here before I started,” recalls Alice. “There was also an introductory week, where we met our team and learned practical things, like how the computer system works – we did all sorts of preparation which meant that when we started work, it wasn’t overwhelming because we already felt comfortable within the firm.”

This support endures well after trainees’ first day on the job, as Gabby explains: “We have a trainee liaison network, which is led by four solicitors and associates who act as mentors. This means that trainees always have someone to go to with any concerns or just to talk things through, and they meet every two months – both as a group and individually.”

Sacha observes that “there is a lot of two-way communication between trainees and the firm. I receive regular feedback from both the supervisors and other team members, and trainees have formal mid-seat and end-of-seat appraisals, which means that we can check on their progress – which is generally all good. We also have regular team meetings, which give us an opportunity to update the trainees about firm information and for them to speak to us as a group about any concerns they might have or anything that we could be doing better.”

We want candidates who have the potential to be future leaders at the firm, and good commercial awareness is an important part of that.

This emphasis on communication is balanced against the responsibility entrusted to trainees, allowing them to learn quickly in a supportive environment where asking questions is encouraged. “It’s very much a case of going off and doing the work, and coming back if you’re not sure about something, or to have your work checked before it goes out to the client,” says Alice. “Now that I’m in my second seat, I’m much more confident and I’m given more responsibility in managing the smaller files, but I’m still supervised by the more senior people in my team. It’s an appropriate amount of responsibility – they don’t just let you run off and do silly things!”

Michelmores’ friendly reputation precedes it, as Alice discovered: “Before I started, I kept hearing that the people at Michelmores were just so nice – and now I’m that person that tells everyone the same thing!” she laughs. “Everyone is so approachable, from my trainee peers up to the managing partner – whenever I see him, he stops and asks me how I am.” The office’s open plan helps to foster this supportive environment, with no intimidating closed doors to separate trainees from the upper echelons of the firm. “We have a lot of partner contact,” Alice agrees. “Half an hour ago, the partner in my team called me for a chat, just to check that I was alright and everything was going well. I also sat next to a partner in my previous seat and always felt comfortable asking her questions.”

But it’s not all work and no play ­– the firm regularly organises social events, encouraging people across the three offices to get to know each other and creating a sense of community. “The thing that people say is different about Michelmores is the culture – although we’re heading towards 450 people now, it is still a place where everybody knows who everyone else is,” says Gabby. “It’s really fun,” enthuses Alice. “Today I’m going to play in a mixed netball tournament, and we recently had a sports day – it creates a kind of buzz around the firm.”

Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Office
Michelmores LLP – Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm | Office

For those wanting a change of scenery, the firm’s other locations provide attractive secondment opportunities. Alice is about to embark on a split seat in commercial litigation and employment at the London office – a popular option among trainees. “The secondment to London provides great exposure to a different market,” Sacha explains. “Trainees get a feel for how the firm and the legal sector operate there, and it allows them to get involved in some international work. It also enables trainees to qualify into London if they enjoy it.”

Reflecting on her experience since joining Michelmores, Alice is grateful that the firm’s recruitment programme opened her eyes to the possibilities of a fulfilling career outside the City. “I’d say I’m lucky compared to my peers from university; I think I have a better work-life balance and probably enjoy my job more than a lot of them. I’m really glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work in a regional firm – it’s exceeded my expectations, definitely.”

By Sophie Harrop

Best Recruiter – Medium Regional Firm

The firm demonstrated themselves to be very approachable, proactive in their approach to me as an individual, and flexible about integrating me into the recruitment process.

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