The Legal Cheek View
Since Shoosmiths was founded in Northampton in 1845, it has gradually conquered the country. Once known for its out-of-town bases in locations such as the Solent and Milton Keynes, the firm is now made up largely of city centre sites, in hubs including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Reading, Nottingham and Edinburgh.
This is a disciplined, focused business, run by a combination of Shoosmiths loyalists and, increasingly, partners brought in from City law firms. Once more it has been performing well financially, with revenue up again — for eight years consecutively now — by 8% to £181.8 million. Following last year’s 46% jump in profit per equity partner, PEP is up 3% to £675,000.
Growth has been particularly strong in Leeds and Belfast, with both offices almost doubling their headcounts in recent years, while firmwide Shoosmiths counts over 200 partners in 13 different UK offices. In 2019, the firm increased its training contract numbers by over a third, from 22 to 30, and extended its TC programme to London, where it has a swanky new office in St Paul’s. Shoosmiths last year expanded its trainee solicitor scheme to Belfast, and this year, opened its very first international office in Brussels. It now offers a hefty 36 TCs annually.
Again, Shoosmiths scores well in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. Trainees are said to get “good quality work and lots of responsibility from day one”. Although the quality of the training is said to be very dependent on your supervisor and department, “those teams/supervisors who do take the time to train you properly are excellent and will sit down with you to explain the background of a case or deal and feedback on your work and how you can learn and this is very valuable. Such colleagues also genuinely want the best for your career and development and this is really motivating”. There are also some “great” formal training resources such as on-demand e-learning training sessions and monthly team-wide live training sessions.
As can be gleaned from these comments, Shoosmiths partners are generally pretty approachable. One trainee says: “I haven’t ever felt like I can’t approach anyone. I am really grateful to those who have made time for me to assist in my learning”. However, there were several complaints about certain departments. “I’ve been left to my own devices with no guidance and a string of declined calls from senior lawyers who weren’t willing to spend time with me”, says one. Another notes: “There is a general feel that partners are ‘too busy’ to support trainees.”
A fairly balanced take is this: “Most seniors are great and very approachable but in some seats the partners make clear that they don’t have time for you. This included ignoring emails, declining calls etc. On the whole I think the culture is broadly good but there are some people here who let the team down.”
Word has it that the quality of work is getting even better as the firm wins more high level corporate and real estate mandates. “I have been given the responsibility to liaise directly with senior management and even general counsel of large US organisations to advise,” one trainee tells us. “On other occasions, however, whilst you may be involved in something big and exciting, you may take a behind the scenes role.” That said, newbies are frequently trusted to run matters and deal with clients directly and, perhaps unusually for a training contract, insiders claim there is “little to no time spent on administrative tasks”. The regions in particular stand out for the calibre of its work: “City class work in the regions. Top clients to work with and even better secondments — I’ve spent time on secondment at Volkswagen Group” .
Client secondments are a major part of the Shoosmiths training experience. Around half of rookies do one, with destinations including the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance, Hamleys and RBS, as well as Volkswagen. One trainee was seconded to Tokyo last year, the firm’s first non-European international client secondment.
But as the high quality work becomes more commonplace, so does the firm’s excellent reputation for a good work/life balance ebb away. “The firm’s work/life balance is not totally what its reputation had once suggested. As the firm moves into a new phase of growth, working hours across many offices and departments are becoming much more closely aligned with City firms all whilst maintaining its substantial national presence”. That said it’s not “a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ approach to work where you’re left on your own to work things out and expected to be available at all hours”. Supervisors have also been known to step in when rookies begin getting overwhelmed.
Perks are ok, with nice touches like sweets and free coffee in the office and a day off on your birthday, alongside discounted rates on leasing a Mercedes (a Shoosmiths client). But many feel that this does not make up for the growing hours. The pay also rankles among some, although Shoosmiths’ £58,000 regional newly qualified (NQ) rate is pretty standard for large non-London commercial firms. The London NQ salary is a solid £87,000.
The offices win mixed reviews. To some, they’re “fantastic”, to others they’re “overly colourful”. Manchester is reported to be the standout. An insider who has seen them all summarises as follows: “There is not one office that is appalling. There are, however, some absolute jewels in the crown. For example, the new Manchester office has won multiple awards for its innovative workspaces and is a true pleasure to work at.” The new London digs are said to be “beautiful”, whilst Reading is described as “bland”. Beyond aesthetics, some bemoan the lack of a café in certain offices.
The IT is apparently “getting there” amid lots of recent investment, although there is apparently some excellent tech in place such as the AI used by the real estate team. Monitors, laptops, keyboards and mice are provided for WFH as well as a £250 budget, though there is a clear preference amongst rookies for going into the office, which many would like to see more of.