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 Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Edinburgh, Reading and Belfast.
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 six years consecutively now — by 12% to £154.2 million. Profit per equity partner now stands at £465,000, up 5% on last year, a decent consolidation following big increases in recent years. Despite financial turbulence caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the firm still believes it can break the £200 million barrier by 2022.
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 offices. Last year 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 an office in St Paul’s.
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.” However, Shoosmiths avoids the stuffy, hierarchical culture prominent in many firms. One trainee says: “There is no one in the firm who I would feel uncomfortable approaching for something. A lot of the partners are ex-City lawyers so working at Shoosmiths allows them to be a bit more relaxed in their work — consequently, you can be pretty informal with them.”
Word has it that the quality of work is getting ever 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.”
However, one insider caveats that the quality of the work will depend on your supervisor and seat allocation: “One team was very bad where I was doing administration for a great deal of time. Another team was much better where I was interacting with clients and drafting documents.”
Client secondments are a major part of the Shoosmiths training experience. Around half of rookies do one, with destinations including Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook and Volkswagen. One trainee was seconded to Tokyo this year, the firm’s first non-European international client secondment.
The work/life balance is top notch, with Shoosmiths’ lawyers mainly making it out of the door before 6:30pm. “Most of the time balance is good, and when it’s not it’s 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.
The perks are decent, with nice touches like £50 vouchers and a day off on your birthday, alongside discounted rates on leasing a Mercedes (a Shoosmiths client). Gripes include the lack of bonuses, gyms and no travel subsidies. The pay also rankles among some, although Shoosmiths’ £42k regional newly qualified (NQ) rate is pretty standard for large non-London commercial firms. The London NQ salary is a solid £65,000.
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 IT is apparently “getting there” amid lots of recent investment, and the firm’s tech infrastructure has held up as the firm transitioned to homeworking following COVID-19. “I have been very impressed at how smooth the transition was to working from home,” says one trainee. “Within about a week of lockdown, Shoosmiths had sent out monitors, keyboards and a mouse to connect to our laptops for pretty much everyone that works at the firm.”
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.