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-savvy. But over the last few years the national giant – which has 11 offices across the UK – has been concentrating on the rather more traditional pastime of gobbling up smaller firms as it aims for scale. Specifically, Irwin Mitchell has been building up a private client practice (AKA advising very rich people), following the acquisitions of Mayfair’s Berkeley Law and multi-office South East firm Thomas Eggar.
This strategy has seen IM create three key practice areas: corporate, personal injury and private client. They are divided across six sectors: manufacturing, technology, financial services, real estate, education and consumer services. Some teams have a distinct identity, say insiders, with the feedback from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 indicating that the trainee experience at the firm can be very different according to which seat you find yourself in.
As one rookie puts it: “The training varies greatly between different departments. In some I was given regular training sessions in matters which were directly relevant to the work I was/am carrying out. However in others the training was essentially ‘on the job’ and gained through experience and asking individual supervising solicitors to explain aspects of the work.”
The quality of work is similarly mixed – but of generally a high standard. “Supervisors are willing to give high degrees of responsibility if you demonstrate you can handle it” – which can mean some fascinating (and harrowing) stuff for those doing a seat in IM’s market-leading personal injury team, in particular.
IM’s London office in the Holborn/City borders is the scene of much of the corporate action, and is very much what you would expect from a City law firm, minus the international network. Meanwhile, the Sheffield office – which is the firm’s headquarters – is the nerve centre for the wide-ranging personal injury practice that IM is probably best known for. It’s also home to a regional corporate team which handles some high profile national deals. Private client is split across a range of locations in West London and the South.
What unifies this all is a down-to-earth culture that isn’t great for perks (“biscuit and Fruit Wednesdays” seem to be the highlight) but is good on reducing hierarchies. There is a “complete open door policy,” one of the firm’s young lawyers tells us, “as it would have to be, with an open plan office.” And the work-life balance is fantastic with an enviable average leave the office time of 6:05pm.
Still, a bit more effort from the powers that be on things like coffee (IM’s is apparently terrible) and canteens (not all of the offices have one) would go a long way to boosting morale. Happily there are trainee-organised socials, like Friday drinks at local pubs, that go some way to filling the gap. And perhaps this approach is more IM anyway. As one tipster tells us: “I wouldn’t expect my job at a corporate law firm to be the source of a banging night out.”