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 cities 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 five years consecutively now — by 7% to £137.6 million. Profit per equity partner (PEP) now stands at £441,000, up 2% on last year, a decent consolidation of the previous year’s sharp 18% growth. Trainees and associates who climb the ranks can hope to be healthily rewarded one day if they play their cards right.
Growth has been particularly strong in Leeds and Belfast, with both offices almost doubling in headcount in recent years. But the big news for 2019–20 is that the firm has 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 “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”. One trainee tells us: “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.”
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. Over 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 by 6:30pm. “Most of the times 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 pretty 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 stand out. An insider who has seen them all summarises as follows: “There is no 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 work spaces and is a true pleasure to work at.”
The IT is apparently “getting there” amid lots of recent investment. But while “client facing tech is great”, “they need to get back to basics with the staff and case management tech”. 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.