The Legal Cheek View
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, Bristol, Sheffield, Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Solihull and Stratford-upon-Avon) and is currently working to a five-year expansion plan.
Its goal is to double in size by 2023 and become a top 30 law firm by 2025, with a turnover in excess of £200 million. It set out this target in 2020, when it had a turnover of £71 million for the year to 31 April. To help it achieve its ambition, chief executive Sarah Walker-Smith, a chartered accountant and former marketing director, announced a “house of brands” strategy of building legal, professional services and complementary brands. These are all brought together under the legal and professional services company Ampa, which functions as Shakespeare Martineau’s holding LLP.
To give a flavour, the firm has added a clutch of companies in recent years, including cyber security company CSS Assure, debt and loss recovery business Corclaim, personal injury and clinical negligence specialist Lime, Leicester law firm Harvey Ingram and Leicester town planning consultancy Marrons Planning. Under Walker-Smith’s model, each brand will retain its individuality and decision-making powers rather than having its personality flattened to fit with the ways of the mothership. Most recently, the firm has expanded its reach to Bristol, merging with GL Law in May 2022.
Rapid growth is predicted. 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 2022-2023 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 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 July 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. “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. 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”.
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”, which is definitely a plus during these days of remote working. In fact, 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. The firm has adopted a popular “empowered working” policy so employees can work where and when they want, in the office or elsewhere, subject to team demands. One rookie describes the deal: “We can start early, or finish late. The key is communicating. It is a lot of responsibility and trust they put into us for that.”
There’s no culture of presenteeism; what matters is that you get the job done! One trainee shares their experience: “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.
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 applying for B-Corp status. While a few did client secondments, there are no opportunities for international secondments available at the moment. But, with a firm as ambitious as this, you never know when that could change.