Birmingham-headquartered Shakespeare Martineau has its sights set on the top. The commercial and private client firm has more than 900 staff working from 11 offices (London, Leicester, Lincoln, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Solihull and Stratford-upon-Avon) and is currently halfway through its five-year expansion plan.
And expanding it is. Since announcing its plan to become a top 30 law firm by 2025, Shakespeares has undergone some major changes. In 2020, CEO Sarah Walker-Smith announced a “house of brands” strategy, to build a group of legal, professional services and complementary brands that are brought together under the Ampa LLP ― which functions as Shakespeare Martineau’s holding LLP. This was followed by a string of acquisitions and mergers by Alma, which included cyber security company CSS Assure, debt and loss recovery business Corclaim, personal injury and clinical negligence specialist Lime and Leicester law firm Harvey Ingram. But wait; we’re not quite finished. It also included Leicester town planning consultancy Marrons Planning, regional south east firm Mayo Wynne Baxter and, most recently, Bristol-based law firm GL Law.
So far, this revamp is paying dividends with revenues for the Ampa group up 30% this year to £104.8 million. Shakespeare Martineau accounted for 16% of this growth, only 5% of which came from the merger with GL Law ― with the other 11% being organic revenue growth. Even better news for those at Shakespeare Martineau is that this growth is being reinvested back into the firm, which has seen a new office in Lincoln, as well as a relocation to modern, new digs in Leicester, in 2023. As Shakespeares accelerates into a prosperous future, this may be the perfect time to hitch a ride. So, what’s it like to work there?
Pretty good, according to the results of the 2023-24 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. The firm allows flexible working, appears to trust its junior staff, has a healthy approach to the work-life balance, and has generally supportive peers and approachable supervisors and partners.
Commercial property makes up a large proportion of its work ― the firm tackled nearly £1 billion worth of real estate financing this year alone ― but its solicitors advise on a diverse range of areas, from surrogacy to IT & Telecoms. It specialises in energy, education, litigation and insolvency, has a sports law team, and is highly regarded for its expertise in private client, planning and professional negligence work, agriculture and rural affairs, corporate M&A, family and banking law. In 2021, it opened an “India Desk”, with a team of specialist dual-qualified lawyers acting for both individuals and businesses in the UK-India space. With the benefit of lawyers fluent in languages spoken across India, it is positioned to support investors in both jurisdictions, advise on international transactions and cross-border disputes, and provide individuals with tax, family and immigration advice.
The firm received top-notch ratings for its “excellent and really high quality” training, hindered only by the fact that trainees tell us this is slightly seat-dependant. “There is the occasional unenviable task (as you would expect as a trainee), although I have been given an enormous amount of responsibility on high profile and complex matters. Supervising solicitors and partners always provide feedback and ways I could tweak work to improve,” says one rookie. Trainees also benefit from a great deal of partner contact through regular ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, and there are always “extra optional sessions and online options” for further training. Another trick up Shakespeare Martineau’s sleeves is that it provides a training seat in its legal tech team.
The work involves “very stimulating tasks from drafting and researching through to client interaction” and “a varied caseload with new areas that I am learning about as I go along which is a good thing”. One trainee reveals: “We get told the times of trainees photocopying bundles is over!” The overall effect of this is that rookies feel “engaged with the work and like you’re gaining competency to help you once you become an NQ”.
The firm’s clientele includes the National Grid, Lloyds Bank, and Dr Martens ― the latter of which the firm recently advised on their £3.4 billion IPO. And it’s not just London who get the big names ― trainees in Bristol can expect stimulating work representing claimants under the new Windrush legislation, whilst those in Birmingham get their pick of the spread of universities the firm advises, including Cambridge and Warwick. Plus, it’s an enjoyable place to work, with “very very supportive” co-workers.
“Genuinely have made some great friends in my cohort. We have each other’s backs,” remarks one spy. Trainees can expect bi-weekly trainee catch ups, and daily communication via Teams. Generally, everyone “is up for a laugh”. One junior happily reveals “I have always found the firm to be like a family. I chose the team I wanted to qualify into because I enjoyed the work, and the team are great lawyers, but also because the team has the most fun by far!”
The firm’s partners score highly for approachability and make “asking any questions feel very easy”. There are, predictably, “a couple” who are less approachable but, on the whole, the trainees we spoke to shower praise on their “receptive and nurturing” supervisors, and on the partners’ “open doors” attitude, which is refreshing to hear.
Moreover, trainees and juniors can still have a life. The phrase “good” cropped up repeatedly among comments on work-life balance, with working weekends being a rarity and average reported finish times of 6:30-7pm. There is variation, with seats such as asset finance and shipping litigation said to have “much longer hours” but even here trainees seem happy. “In Energy (commercial) I worked many late nights and sometimes the occasional day over the weekend…I didn’t mind this though as the work was thrilling and with some big clients (Shell, EDF) ― depends what you’re looking for!” However, there were some gripes about the pay being below market rates. London trainees start at £40,000, rising to £43,000 in year two, whilst those in the regions receive £30,750 and £33,000. Rookies are allowed to WFH up to two days per week and receive a £350 allowance for equipment.
Further perks include BUPA healthcare, travel loans, pension and life assurance, a small corporate gym discount and the option to take a day off on your birthday (the day off doesn’t necessarily have to be taken on your birthday). The office pastries on a Tuesday are good too, as is the bean to cup coffee machine. Trainees also receive iPhones, Microsoft Surface Pro laptops with a wireless mouse, dual screens and desks for remote working.
The head office, near Snow Hill station in Birmingham, is in “a grand building”, and all the offices (known as “hubs” within the firm) are being or have been renovated, with breakout areas, hotdesking and standing desks. The firm is regarded as environmentally responsible and community-minded, with staff being given an hour off each week to go litter-picking and the firm achieving B-Corp status.