One of the first big law firms to become an Alternative Business Structure (which allows non-lawyers to be partners), Irwin Mitchell has a reputation for innovation and business savviness. Over the past few years, the national giant had been concentrating on building up that business at pace, gobbling up smaller firms and opening new offices — most recently in Cardiff and Liverpool — as it aimed for scale (it now has 17 locations across the UK). The net result is multiple years of consecutive growth with the latest figures showing a turnover in excess of £270 million.
IM boasts three key practice areas: corporate, personal and private client. Its work for individuals is dominated by personal injury and medical negligence, while corporate clients are divided across eight main sectors: manufacturing, technology, financial services, real estate, education, media, sports and consumer services.
The firm operates a “flexible by choice” policy, which basically means individual teams set their own WFH policy. One trainee reports on what it means for them: “flexible by choice policy is well-implemented and there is support when home working. It is less than ideal as a trainee to spend the majority of time working from home, but this is not a reflection on the firm, and I suspect the benefits of home working are felt more by those who need less oversight.” Another trainee says that the policy has become less flexible with time, with some teams requiring office presence on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week.
Other trainees are more positive, although several highlighted that the quality of training varies between teams. “As with many firms, the standard of training depends on the seat. Although trainees do get given some admin tasks, they are given a lot of responsibility on matters from the start. However, there isn’t consistency among training supervisors as to how to give proper instructions — you can either be quite well-informed and given a precedent, or it’s a baptism by fire and you have to find out for yourself what you need to do from one line in an email”. A further insider reports that “the training [I] have received thus far has been outstanding. Very supportive throughout and the calibre of work is next to none”. So, the consensus appears to be, as one trainee puts it, “varies with seats, but overall, very good”.
The work is reportedly “fascinating” and “there is a lot of responsibility given” to trainees. “Work is very varied both in terms of urgency and type.”, one source explains. “I’ve been exposed to a broad scope of tasks at various stages of a matter”. Another insider tells us: “Contentious departments tend to give more stimulating work but generally I feel you are given a wide range of tasks and trusted to get on with the task and feedback given. You are always thought of when there is a meeting with clients, Counsel or experts and given this exposure which is a key part of learning during your TC.”
IM’s London office in the Holborn/City borders handles much of the firm’s corporate work, and is very much what you would expect from a City law firm. Meanwhile, the Sheffield office — which is the firm’s headquarters, having been founded there in 1912 — is the nerve centre for the wide-ranging personal injury practice that IM is probably best known for. It’s also home to insolvency, litigation, employment, construction, regulatory investigations and real estate teams. Private client is split across a range of locations in West London, the South, Manchester and Leeds.
What unifies this all is a very supportive culture, both among trainees and emanating from supervisors and partners. “Everyone is always extremely happy to offer help and advice”, a survey respondent tells us. “There is a genuine willingness for trainees to succeed and get involved as much as they can, and people are always willing to help if tasks are difficult. I’ve also found that people are very supportive in a personal capacity too, and have been quick to offer support (whether that be picking up workload or pointing me in the direction of further help) when it comes to wellbeing matters as well”. Another describes the approximately 100-strong trainee cohort (split across two years) as a “very supportive, tight-knit group”, with “supportive” and “friendly” being popular adjectives to describe fellow juniors. Superiors are also found to generally be “incredibly approachable and friendly”, although variations between departments occur, as in most law firms.
Tensions arise less from interaction between fellow humans than with the firm’s problematic IT, with one source resorting to sarcasm: “2004 called it wants one of the 100 case management systems back.” IT issues, according to one insider, are “extensive and consistent”, while another complains: “There are constant IT issues. The databases are very old and systems regularly crash. As trainees, we are not allowed work mobiles. This means we rely on softphones which often don’t work.” Our spies don’t hold back with their IT gripes ― “the technology is really lacking and way behind the curve”; there are “regular system outages… our time recording platform, Outlook and case management systems are regularly down” and the legal tech is “very poor”. Some improvements have been made by way of “new laptops” and the introduction of the Office 365 suite, both of which are “much better”. There is also a “definite push for new systems and a firmwide CRM system”. But overall, trainees find that “the firm is far behind competitors” when it comes to tech.
The perks are private healthcare, shopping discounts through a corporate deals website, and cheap cinema tickets. But who needs barista-poured coffee and lavish socials when you have a life? Perhaps the greatest perk of working at Irwin Mitchell, aside from the friendly team and interesting work, is the work-life balance, which sounds pretty much as good as it can get. This is appreciated by Legal Cheek’s spies, who report it is “rare to do overtime and I generally feel encouraged to speak up if my workload gets overwhelming. Flexible working policy means I get to drop off my daughter at nursery and pick her up at the end of the day without any issue, even if it means I have to supplement my hours in the evening”. One insider says they generally leave work before 6pm, although they acknowledge trainees in some teams will regularly work considerably later. The firm’s flexible working policy “allows me to plan my own day around other commitments or responsibilities. I never feel pressured to work late and my workload is manageable”, finds one trainee.
Another rookie describes their experience: “At first, I missed the engagement in the office however, most colleagues make an effort to go into the office once a week and the flexible nature of the way the company works means I can work when it suits me, which enables me to go to medical appointments/ the gym throughout the day and then work earlier in the mornings or later in the evenings.”
Those physically in the office send mixed feedback depending on which location they’re operating out of. It’s not exactly rooftop swimming pools, but the firm’s relatively new digs in Manchester and Birmingham are located in “lovely and inviting” surroundings. Others, such as Bristol, “could be better” with one trainee finding that “little things like decent coffee and office facilities are non-existent” in some of the older offices, like Leeds and Sheffield. One spy reports that the Leeds office is potentially considering a move soon, as lease renewal edges closer, so watch this space. Efforts to make the place more eco-friendly are also similarly site-dependent (although one insider tells us there’s an “environmental society” on the case).