Best Recruiter - Medium Regional Firm

Like the place with which it is closely associated, EMW has established itself on the national scene as a potent force that punches well above its weight. Milton Keynes was developed as a new town in the 1960s with the immediate aim of relieving housing congestion in London, but the longterm vision was much more ambitious. Situated equidistantly between the capital, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge, and now home to an impressive stable of businesses, it has gone from being the new kid on the block to an important commercial hub in its own right. EMW likewise may be smaller than many of its national rivals, but it has exploited this strategic location since it opened its first Milton Keynes office in 1998 to become a key player on the national legal stage. Today, the firm's leading real estate and corporate and commercial practices are complemented by a stellar reputation for employment, dispute resolution, insolvency and intellectual property law.

"Despite being much smaller than our main competitors, we have a very strong corporate presence between London and Birmingham and have the largest corporate team in that sphere, which has won the Corporate Dealmakers Award on quite a few occasions in recent years," says HR manager Cynthia Becker. "From a candidate's perspective, this means the opportunity to experience the same standard of work as at a much larger firm, but with a much more personal approach to training, development and future opportunities. That really makes us stand out from other firms - trainees at some of the bigger ones are seen as no more than numbers, frankly."

The firm's rapid ascent on the market is due in no small part to its unswerving commitment to nurturing home-grown talent, and its awardwinning recruitment process is central to this philosophy. The HR team, led by Cynthia, handles the early stages, reviewing applications and conducting initial telephone interviews. Candidates who shine are then invited to an in-person interview with Dawn Bonarius and one of the firm's principal, Gurpreet Sanghera, who himself trained at EMW. Finally, there is a second interview overseen by firm chairman Ian Morris, chief executive Joy Vollans and Cynthia.

The process is rigorous, but also incorporates a much more obviously ‘human' element than at many other firms. "We look for candidates who have achieved a good academic standard, of course, but that is not the be all and end all," says training principal Stephen Kay. "We want our trainees to have personality and soft skills so that we can be confident putting them in front of a prospective client. We place a lot of emphasis on business development across the whole firm, so we expect trainees to network and talk to people pretty much from day one."

The firm takes a much more inclusive approach to recruitment than some of its peers and even welcomes applications from candidates with 2.2 degrees who can outline what they have to offer. "We always consider each individual on their own merits," says Cynthia. "Foreign travel and charitable volunteering are good examples of the things we like to see in an application, as they give us a bit more insight into what kind of person the applicant is and how they might be able to get involved in our business development later on. Obviously, not all students can go travelling, but that is just one example of the kind of initiative and experience that we find attractive. Involvement in campus activities - such as organising a ball, working with the students' union or raising money for a particular cause - are other examples of what we want to see. We look for the kind of communication and presentation skills that will enable recruits to participate in the firm's business development - and that's what the final interview is all about."

 There is a trainee dinner, so all the incoming trainees meet well before the first day.

If that all sounds a little daunting, current trainee Sean Halliwell offers some reassurance: "The first interview with Cynthia and Gurpreet wasn't an unpleasant experience at all. They weren't trying to catch me out - they were just trying to find out more about me and my interest in the firm. I was nervous ahead of the second interview with the chairman and chief executive, but it was nowhere near as bad I first feared - they were just seeing how I would cope with a bit of pressure and how I fielded questions."

During this final stage, candidates are also asked to give a presentation on a topic of their choice. The selections thus far have been eclectic, to say the least. "We have had all kinds of subjects, from chocolate to fracking," says Stephen. "We want candidates to talk about something that they really care about, not what they think seems like a ‘worthy' topic, because this gives them the best chance to show what they're really about." Sean's own presentation was on golf course design. "I play golf in my spare time and had attended the Ryder Cup in 2010, and it's just something that I am interested in," he explains.

For the lucky few who make the cut, the firm takes pains to cultivate a sense of belonging even before they step over the threshold. "A couple of months before starting, there is a trainee dinner, so all the incoming trainees meet well before the first day," Sean continues. "It was also a great chance to talk to the chairman, training principal and trainee supervisors again. I was just moving to Milton Keynes and they gave me some really good advice about good areas to live in. It was absolutely invaluable in helping to get me set up - I haven't moved since." And although Milton Keynes is very much home, trainees also benefit from spending a proportion of their training contract in the firm's London office, based in the legal heartland of Chancery Lane.

Trainees can also expect to play their own part in the evolution of the EMW recruitment process, which - as Cynthia explains - is selfrenewing: "Once our trainees reach associate level, we get them involved in graduate recruitment too. They have been through it themselves and know the firm, so they can really help prospective trainees, as well as giving us valuable insights into the recruitment process. Meanwhile, participating in graduate recruitment also helps our junior lawyers to grow as they progress towards partnership."

Tellingly, this focus on development does not just extend to the firm's solicitors: reflecting the store which EMW sets in its people, it is also renowned for helping support staff to gain new qualifications and move forward in their careers. "We have a formal development programme in place as part of our commitment to investing in our people and are among the 2% of organisations to have been given the gold standard in this respect," says Cynthia. "We actively encourage our legal secretaries to undertake legal training, whether that be through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives or something else. Some go on to do the LPC - one of our secretaries who has been with us for years is currently completing the Professional Skills Course and is just at the point of qualifying as a solicitor. We look at people's talents and skills, and try to use them to the best of our ability. To give another example, one of our secretaries didn't want to go on to do formal legal training, but she trained instead in due diligence, which is very involved and rigorous. She is now one of our two due diligence managers who sit in the corporate and real estate teams, respectively, dealing with our electronic data rooms and compiling reports, and the client contact that comes with it."

The last word goes to Sean, who confirms that the unique ethos of EMW has been made all the more apparent by the experiences of his peers at other firms: "I'm a member of the Northampton and Bucks Junior Lawyers Division, so I have had the chance to meet quite a lot of junior lawyers in the area and I think we have a better firm than most of them, at least in terms of training. There is a great level of work, responsibility and supervision here, and you're not just a number like you might be at some other firms - especially the larger firms in London and among the US firms in the City. I also have friends at smaller firms and although they appear to get more responsibility, I'm not sure that the quality of work and supervision necessarily matches up. I think EMW has the perfect balance."

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