Birmingham-headquartered Shakespeare Martineau has its sights set on the top. The commercial and private client firm has more than 900 staff working from 10 offices (London, Leicester, Lincoln, 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 £200m. It set out this target in 2020, when it had a turnover of £71m 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 mergers and acquisitions of legal, professional services and complementary brands.
To give a flavour, the firm has added a clutch of companies in recent years, including 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.
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 2021-2022 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 a mixture of ratings for its training in the 2021-2022 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, however more than one quarter awarded top marks. “The Academy is excellent and on the whole the senior members of staff are very approachable and will talk through anything with you [that you] don’t understand however there are some that forget you are junior,” says one rookie. Another junior describes the training as “varied and interesting”. Other up and coming lawyers report being given “a lot of autonomy at an early stage”, that the firm “is really good at giving you responsibility over matters at a junior level” and there’s “a lot of partner contact”. Another point in its favour 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!”
It’s an enjoyable place to work, with approachable partners and friendly co-workers. Trainees can expect “very supportive” peers, with bi-weekly trainee catchups, 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 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, the survey respondents 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. Somewhat remarkably, the phrase “good” crops up repeatedly among the comments on work-life balance. The firm has adopted an “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.”
Shakespeare acted quickly at the start of lockdown, back in March 2020, providing employees with a new Microsoft Surface laptop, wireless mouse, keyboard, second monitor, head set and free desks where required within the first couple of days. It has been investing in IT, which is now of a “good standard”, although one survey respondent suggests there could be better provision of work mobiles across the firm.
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 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 given an hour off each week to go litter-picking. No opportunities for international secondments are available at the moment but, with a firm as ambitious as this, you never know when that could change.