Irwin Mitchell - True Picture

Irwin Mitchell strikes a balance between personal legal services and burgeoning business groups with a “human touch…”

Irwin Mitchell training contract review 2024

The Firm

As a law student on the precipice of entering the legal profession, it’s easy to feel like you’re about to plunge into shark-infested waters or amble innocently into a lion’s den, given the (often overblown) horror stories that stalk the hallways of universities. Irwin Mitchell’s trainees were keen to get the message across that their firm takes no such approach. “They talk a lot about the human touch,” one trainee mused, “so they have a real focus on people – I didn’t find it as intimidating as other firms.”

That could have something to do with Irwin Mitchell’s extensive personal legal services, encompassing private client, family, personal injury, and clinical negligence work – exactly the types of practices that require a human touch to help steer people through challenging situations in their lives. This focus was a big draw among those we spoke with, “especially the fact that we act for claimants!” Across its Chambers UK ranked departments, Irwin Mitchell gets top commendations in the country for its personal injury, Court of Protection work, police law, and product liability expertise. It also picks up top rankings for clinical negligence and family in several regions. 

Of course, these make up just one side of the firm – “it’s very much focused on the business side as well.” This arm covers corporate, commercial disputes, real estate and employment, among other areas, and it snags a handful of regional rankings in a few of these areas, particularly in Yorkshire and the South.

The firm hosts trainees in 12 of its 17 offices across the UK. Birmingham, London and Leeds often jostle for the largest intake, followed by Manchester and Sheffield.A couple of our interviewees had had paralegal experience prior to joining the firm, but it’s far from a prerequisite, as training principal Emma Rush outlines: “I’m equally impressed if people have experience doing other things – people might have caring responsibilities or be from a socioeconomic background where they had to start working early, so it’s the transferable skills that are more interesting to me.

The Seats

Irwin Mitchell used to split training contracts between those interested in the firm’s business-oriented services and those who wanted to get stuck into the personal side of the firm. Now, all trainees can work across both. The firm does get newcomers to put down their preferences. “They are very much preferences, even if they are taken with serious weight,” trainees cautioned. It helps that “if you want a seat and it’s not available in your office, you can still put that down and move offices” for the duration of that seat.

Trainees sit in four six-month seats, typically repeating the one they intend to qualify into as the final rotation. “The firm is very hot on having good retention post-qualification, so they want you to do seats where they will have NQ positions,” which means that the choice available varies by intake.

“It’s medical lingo.”

Trainees in the medical negligence seat got “straight into it” from the outset, “which is a great way to learn – there’s no particular training, but there can’t be because all the cases are so different.” The group has a particular focus on brain and neurological injuries in both adults and children, and claims can be enormous in value: last year the firm secured a £4.9 million settlement on behalf of a client who suffered significant injuries due to a delayed diagnosis of rectal cancer. The team takes on group action work, often against private surgeons facing claims concerning birth injury, spinal injuries and stillbirths. Newbies are expected to keep on top of civil procedure rules during a case to ensure that, should a matter go to court, the case has been run properly. Interviewees found themselves attending client meetings, taking witness statements, drafting court documents, reviewing expert reports and hopping on conference calls with experts – “it’s medical lingo, so without that exposure, things could get complicated.” Client contact is “relatively limited” here, as the nature of the claims is so severe.Insiders got to experience “every step of the litigation process,” requiring them to review and summarise the strengths and weaknesses of a defence claim.

As part of the serious injurypractice, a seat in workplace injury and illness is also available across most of Irwin Mitchell’s offices. If you’re interested in this kind of work, in the words of one trainee, “this is the place for you,” but it can be emotionally taxing – there are a lot of asbestos-related claims against insurers, in which claimants are suffering from a fatal type of lung cancer called mesothelioma. The source of the illness can date back decades, so, combined with the medical complexities involved, a lot of trainee work is “research-based.” On the injury side, the firm recently represented a labourer who was left unable to work after sustaining serious injuries while dismantling disused aircraft at the former Manston Airport site in Kent.

Sticking with the personal side, trainees might sit in the public law & human rights  seat, which is available in eleven of the firm’s offices, handling mostly health, social care and civil liberties matters. This is where the firm’s strength in police law comes to the fore, with Human Rights Act cases featuring heavily. For example, the group recently acted on a claim against the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police for breach of the Human Rights Act. The social care side covers Court of Protection work as well as matters concerning schools for children with special educational needs. Much of this work is funded by legal aid. “I drafted a lot of court applications and witness statements with clients in care homes,” one told us. “I also got to do a few face-to-face client visits with vulnerable people.”

“… managing relationships with clients that are expected to last.”

Over on the business side, the firm’s corporate  practice sees trainees working with associates and partners across its offices. We heard that Leeds works a lot with Birmingham and Manchester in a lot of M&A and transactional takeover matters, such as the sale of a care home management software provider to Manchester-based business Grafenia for £3.5 million. The Leeds team itself does “a lot of advisory work and managing relationships with clients that are expected to last.” In this vein, trainees get a bit more client contact than they did in serious injury and attend client calls. “There was a lot of document preparation in the run up to completions, assisting with advice for clients, and working with other members in the team to service clients in the best way,” one explained.Otherwise, trainees are essentially responsible for managing a transaction, monitoring the various pieces of a deal, which “is pretty formulaic, as you’re following a set procedure throughout.” Newbies here were also drafting ancillaries like share certificates and disclosures, and setting up data rooms for diligence, so “you get to pitch into every stage of the process.”

In banking & financethe firm advises mostly on the lender side across corporate banking, real estate finance, structured & leveraged finance, and private equity. There is a bit of borrower work too. Clients include well-known banks like Santander and Lloyds, and the team recently advised National Westminster Bank and HSBC on a £75 million loan to a manufacturer based in West Yorkshire to go towards its growth plans. Similar to the wider corporate practice, “you’re drafting ancillary documents like board minutes,” one trainee outlined, “and you also get to have a go at drafting facility agreements.” Trainees also helped with conditions precedent checklists, client calls and post-completion tasks.

“I liked the mix of contentious and non-contentious in employment,” one trainee told us. The group assists individuals with claims and advises senior executives on a changing regulatory landscape. A lot of it is simply managing the contract process, but we heard of newbies working on everything from assisting with tribunals, to helping on the advisory side as corporate support. “I’ve drafted consultancy agreements and joined a judicial mediation,” one shared. Trainees have been known to get presenting experience at HR conferences. The firm has represented some well-known names including Costa, thyssenkrupp and Gatwick Airport, and is the go-to for the Association of Colleges for all of its employment queries. In one gnarly case, the team defended a further education college against claims of religious belief discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal issued by the former school chaplain following their dismissal after giving a sermon (against instructions) which was contrary to LGBTQ+.

Trainee Life

When it comes to the firm’s culture, we heard about more of that human touch. “One of the really lovely things is that we recruit people who are very emotionally intelligent,” one reckoned.Another added that “it’s a really forgiving culture, so there are times where things go wrong but you never feel blamed – their priority is trying to help you fix it.”

Irwin Mitchell doesn’t prescribe a minimum expectation on when trainees should be in the office, but exactly how that translates into reality can be down to the “preference of the partner” in charge of the team. Teams often have one ‘anchor’ day when everyone is expected to be in, and trainees are generally expected to work in the office to soak up knowledge from associates and partners. “You have these corridor conversations which you can then get work from – and that’s a godsend for a trainee!”

“… trying to find the right monkey gif for any given situation.”

We also heard that working in the offices isn’t a super buttoned-up affair – “it’s friendly and clothing is more on the casual side.” In Birmingham, personal legal services sit on one floor and the business side sits two floors above. “Upstairs is more your stereotypical corporate person,” one reckoned. “Downstairs, the Teams chats are full of nice messages, and people trying to find the right monkey gif for any given situation.”

Monkey gifs aside, we wanted to know if there was any time for monkeying around? “It’s hard to meet up across the country, but when our cohort started, our induction was in the Birmingham office for three days and we all went out on one of the nights!” Given the size of the intake, “naturally some people are more social than others, and people have kids and other commitments,” so the firm’s social scene isn’t uber intense. But impromptu drinks after work, fully catered office parties and the annual Christmas party at the Hilton were all on the cards. In addition, practice groups also put on their own events. Interviewees told us that the corporate and finance groups “do the most events, like client dinners and gala balls.”

All the trainees we spoke with contributed to ‘Irwin Mitchell Communities’ (IMC), the firm’s CSR group which drives fundraising and community work with the firm. “As a cohort we were asked to arrange a quiz for charity, which we hosted at the Grand Union!” one Brummie beamed. Trainees also get two paid volunteering days a year and can join in on voting for the firm’s charities of the year, which most currently include cancer support charity Maggie’s, the Teenage Cancer Trust, and The National Literacy Trust. They can also opt to contribute a percentage of their salary to the firm’s charities.

On that note, some commented that they felt “the salary is a little low compared to other firms.” The firm did recently up trainee pay by £1,500 in both years, and some were optimistic that “pay can increase very quickly once you qualify.” Others acknowledged it’s a balancing act. “I don’t feel hard done by – I typically finish at 5.30pm and I still have all my hair! More money is always good, but it’s a good reflection of the flexible working.” Those we spoke with were keen to emphasise how manageable the working hours are, highlighting that “even partners have ‘the school run’ on their calendars, so they’ll pick their kids up and then work later.”

When it comes to qualification, trainees are given a list of available NQ positions, but they typically have a decent idea of this early on (given how the seat allocation process works). Everyone we spoke to was keen to stay on, with some pointing to the long-term prospects for promotion. In 2023, Irwin Mitchell kept on 39 of 45 qualifying trainees.

An Irwin for applicants: Recruiters don’t get to see candidates’ universities or grades from the outset of the application process.

How to get an Irwin Mitchell training contract

Training contract deadline: 2 January 2024

Vac scheme deadline: 2 January 2024

Application and video interview 

Irwin Mitchell receives over 4,000 applications each year for its 50 or so training contracts that are up for grabs. The firm uses an anonymised screening approach where a short initial registration is followed by an invitation to complete an online strengths-based assessment. Around 800 applicants then make it to a strengths-based video interview, which lasts for 20 to 30 minutes and aims to assess a candidate's “passion for the role and firm, with questions designed to assess potential and what motivates you; whether you already have experience in these areas or not,” Early Careers Manager Alex Burgess tells us. There are usually some IM-specific questions too, so be sure to brush up on your knowledge of the firm's practice areas and geographical coverage. 

Assessment centre 

Roughly 200 people go through to the assessment centre, which involves a discussion and decision-making exercise, a written task and interview, plus a Q&A with the current trainees. 

The discussion and decision-making exercise varies each year, but IM always looks closely at “how candidates collaborate and interact with one another to achieve the desired objective.” For the written exercise candidates are provided with a question and are asked to prepare a written document giving their thoughts. Then there's the interview, which is carried out by two members of the firm, who could be either partners or associates. This involves a mix of questions covering the candidate's motivations, their knowledge of the firm, situations they have encountered in the past or how they would approach a given scenario. 

Vacation scheme 

IM recruits around 60% of its trainees through its two one-week vac schemes. These take place in June and July and are offered in 11 of the firm's English offices. 

There's no set number of places, but Burgess tells us around 50 students participated in 2023. Vac schemers will sample a variety of the firm’s seven client services departments during their visit. At the end of the week is an assessment that covers an interview with questions about the candidate's “motivations and career aspirations, their reasons for wanting to work at Irwin Mitchell, and their awareness of what's happening in the legal world.”

How to wow 

“As a firm we are looking for high achievers,” says Burgess. “We look for candidates who can display a whole array of positive qualities. We want to give applicants the opportunity to sell those skills, whatever their background and experiences through our recruitment process.”  

It's particularly important to demonstrate interpersonal skills too, as Burgess adds: “You'll be dealing with clients and colleagues on a daily basis, so interpersonal skills are incredibly important towards succeeding.” The firm looks to provide opportunities to those who have a passion for the law and who want to make a positive difference to both society and their future careers.

Irwin Mitchell

Thomas Eggar House,
Friary Lane,
PO19 1UF

Riverside East,
2 Millsands,
S3 8DT

Firm profile

We’re legal experts with a difference.

We’re more than just a law firm – we’re a group of like-minded, friendly people working together to help individuals and businesses navigate life’s ups and downs. We are based across 17 offices in the UK and we focus on what really matters: our clients, colleagues and communities.

Main areas of work

We’re legal experts with a difference. As well as offering a full-range of legal services to individuals and businesses, we also support people with their finances, wealth and asset management. We work with our clients, and take the time to understand what matters most to them.

For businesses, the firm offers expertise in: Commercial, Litigation, Corporate & Finance, and Property. Clients can be growing businesses to large companies and come from a range of sectors, including: technology, consumer, financial services, manufacturing, media and entertainment, real estate and education.

For individuals, the firm remains one of the leading personal injury and medical negligence litigation practices in the UK. We cover all the key injury areas, such as: personal injury, serious injury, international personal injury, and medical negligence. We also offer a wide range of services for private clients, including: succession planning, tax, reputation protection and family matters.

Training opportunities

As a full-service law firm, there is a wide range of seats available for you to train in. You'll undertake three or four seats over two years, giving you a breadth of experience within either:

Legal Services for Businesses
Commercial Advisory & Disputes
Corporate & Finance


Legal Services for Individuals
Complex Personal Injury
Court of Protection
Public Law
Family Law
Private Client Services

Each office offers different seat options dependent on departments available and business need. You’ll need to select which office you wish to train in and whether you wish to be in legal services for businesses or individuals. Please see our Early Careers website for further details regarding which seats are available in which office.

Vacation scheme

Our work placements are a vital part of our recruitment strategy and take place during June and July. A large proportion of our trainee solicitors have undertaken a work placement with the firm therefore we encourage all those interested in joining us to apply for a legal work placement.

Our one week summer Legal Work Placement scheme is a great way to get an insight into what life is really like at Irwin Mitchell.

You will spend time with different departments within our client service areas to get a true insight and a real feel for what it is like to be a trainee solicitor at Irwin Mitchell.

You’ll experience an induction, social activities, breakfast meetings, and have the opportunity to get involved with community and sports activities.

During your legal work placement, you will work on tasks that are relevant to the trainee role and receive feedback from your supervisor. You’ll also attend meetings with key stakeholders in the business and gain a real insight into the unique culture of the nation’s leading full-service law firm.

Candidates can apply online from the 1 November 2023. We pay the national living wage and the scheme is in-person for one week.

Other benefits

25 days holiday, employee assistance programme, online GP service, contributory pension scheme, health plan, death in service cover, critical illness cover, recognition scheme, season ticket loan, two volunteering days a year, sports team sponsorship.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Please check our website for further details and/or click our ‘Get Updates’ button on our website to find out more about our events.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
It’s in our DNA to value people for who they are and what they bring. We’re committed to creating a diverse and inclusive culture where our people can flourish. We have a strong network to celebrate and support our colleagues, clients and communities covering sexuality, disability, age, gender, race, social background, and culture.

We’re passionate about continued progress which is why we have over 100 Healthy Mind advocates trained by Mental Health First Aid England, our HR team are trained in suicide prevention, and we have a wellbeing hub with a focus on a holistic approach to wellbeing. Our flagship inclusive leadership programme has led to an increased understanding to support authentic leadership development in diverse talent. We have one of the lowest Gender Pay Gaps in our industry and we’re proud to the UK’s number one Law Firm for Female Partners.

We’ve developed policies to help us attract, support and retain transgender and our LGBTQ+ colleagues and we’ve also picked up a gold award from Stonewall for our work on inclusion.

A supportive and ambitious culture where we care about each other, our clients and the difference we make in our communities -

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Children Law (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: £10-50 million (Band 4)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 4)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: £5 million and above (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Administrative & Public Law: Traditional Claimant (Band 2)
    • Aviation: Claimant (Band 2)
    • Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 3)
    • Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 1)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 1)
    • Education: Individuals (Band 2)
    • Group Litigation: Claimant (Band 3)
    • Inquests (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
    • Police Law: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency: Personal Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Crime (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 3)

More from Irwin Mitchell: 

Watch: We are Irwin Mitchell - a unique legal business

Visit the firm's graduate recruitment page for information on work placements and training contracts.

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