The Legal Cheek View
With offices in Milton Keynes rather than Manhattan, Southampton rather than Singapore and Basingstoke rather than Barcelona, Shoosmiths is sometimes overlooked by students when it perhaps deserves more consideration. This is no global megafirm, although it does have string of further city centre bases in desirable locations such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh. Most importantly, it’s a very successful business. And unlike some sprawling law behemoths which have been struggling to make their model pay, Shoosmiths has been doing rather well lately, led by its real estate corporate, private client and personal injury staples.
Revenue has grown again this year, by 9% from £107 million to £116.7 million, in a third year of consecutive growth. Profit per equity partner now stands at £366,000, up slightly from last year. So trainees and associates that can accept the lack of international glamour and relatively low pay, and instead concentrate on climbing the ranks, can hope to be healthily rewarded one day if they play their cards right.
In the meantime, they will receive decent training, with Shoosmiths scoring well in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 for quality and variety of work. Trainees are said to get "a good degree of responsibility" which rises as they win the trust of their superiors. In this, the firm's "unstuffy vibe" seems to be very much a contributory factor, with a "non-hierarchical, friendly structure" engendering "lots of banter with the partners". Still, life as a Shoosmiths trainee can be a “mixed bag”. One trainee gives an insight into the contrasts they’ve experienced: “In one seat I scanned for six months, [in another] I was the main point of contact for clients across several deals and negotiated various documents and felt like I learnt a lot. Generally, the latter made up for the former but there shouldn't be this disparity across practice areas.”
Client secondments are a major part of the Shoosmiths training experience. About half of rookies do one, with destinations including Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook and Volkswagen. And one trainee apparently “got lucky and went on a six-month secondment to Palma, Majorca”.
The work-life balance is top notch, with Shoosmiths' lawyers mainly making it out of the door by just after 6:30pm. “Most of the times balance is good, and when it's not it is quite rare and everyone in the team pitches in to work hard,” one rookie reports. “A great intake” of trainees apparently helps in this respect, with the odd exception.
While the perks could be worse, with nice touches like free fruit and a day off on your birthday, there are a fair few grumbles about freebies – or lack of them. Gripes include a lack of private medical insurance for trainees, no bonus, no gym, no health insurance and no travel subsidies. The pay also rankles among some, although Shoosmiths' £40k newly qualified rate is pretty standard for large non-London commercial firms.
The offices win mixed reviews. To some, they’re “fantastic”, to others they’re “overly-colourful”. The IT is apparently “frustratingly slow” and in need of investment. And there are no canteens. “Pret love us,” quips one insider.
Where Shoosmiths probably falls down most is the social scene at its out of town offices. It is “harder on the business parks as everyone drives from different places meaning you are quite spread out for arranging social events,” we are told. At some locations, there is just “a visit to the pub once in a blue moon and the majority of people don't turn up”. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham are apparently a different story, so future trainees should be mindful of where the firm proposes to station them.