Irwin Mitchell - True Picture

Do you have a passion for the personal side of law? Or are you more business-inclined? Irwin Mitchell won't stand for fence-sitting.

The Mitchell brothers

A gunshot wound from a mystery assailant, smoke inhalation from setting your mum’s pub on fire, several car accidents, and a blood clot after a brotherly punch-up… if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Phil Mitchell must be one of the strongest men alive. The past 30 odd years in Albert Square have certainly tested him, and if he’d only called up Irwin Mitchell with his various serious injury claims, he might well have left the dangers of the East End far behind and retired to a safer part of the country. IM is “renowned” for personal injury law. You may associate this sort of work with “the adverts you see on daytime TV,” but while IM does run TV ads, don't let that give you the wrong impression: this is a top-rated firm, its personal injury prowess ranked as one of the very best nationally by Chambers UK, as well as in nine UK regions, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, where the firm was founded.

IM has clinical negligence know-how too, with top rankings in seven regions. Nationally, it’s also ranked among the best for aviation claims, travel, Court of Protection work and product liability. Private wealth and services for businesses are the firm’s two other core areas. Most offices offer both business and personal legal services, but four offices are purely personal – Cambridge, Chichester, Bristol and Newcastle. London and Birmingham have the largest trainee intakes, followed by Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester. IM defines the split with personal legal services (PLS) on one side, covering personal injury and clinical negligence matters as well as family law and Court of Protection work. Then there’s business legal services (BLS), which covers corporate, commercial disputes, real estate and employment, among other areas.

“Think about what clients you want to work with.”

For training contract applicants, the split is defined right at the beginning when they indicate on their application form which stream they want to join. It’s a difficult choice, but trainees felt “it’s really helpful to be asked at that early stage to think about what clients you want to work with – the individual who’s had something harrowing happen to them and who you need to help see things through? Or the business, which lets you be a bit more emotionally hands-off?” PLS trainees outnumber BLS trainees by about two to one, and the split was “a big draw” for trainees in both streams. A business boffin boasted: “I don’t have to do personal injury or clinical negligence, which wouldn’t interest me.” And a PLS patron professed: “I couldn’t imagine anything worse than commercial litigation!”

Once at the firm, trainees follow the standard path of four six-month seats, with graduate recruitment checking in on their preferences throughout the course of the two years. Previously, PLS trainees did three four-month seats before undertaking a 12-month ‘qualification seat’ in a department they’ve already sat in; that's been scrapped as the firm felt a year-long qualification seat can be limiting. The first two seats are decided before PLS trainees join, and sources who'd gone through the old system felt “it’s good to have the certainty of knowing where you’re going.”

When it comes to qualification, “if they can see you as part of the team they’ll do as much as they can to keep you.” If more than one person goes for the same role, they have to go through interviews, but sole candidates get to bypass that “daunting” process. In 2019 the firm retained 45 of 47 qualifiers.

This time it's personal

PLS trainees emphasised that rookies should “expect to do a personal injury seat,” and probably more than one. There are several PI seat options: serious injury, international personal injury, workplace injury and medical negligence. Outside the personal injury realm there are seats in family, Court of Protection, and wills, trusts and estates on the private wealth side.

“Our clients might be going through a divorce or have been involved in a serious car accident.”

The firm acts almost exclusively for claimants, and across PLS seats trainees described a lot of client contact. “When talking to people you have to be very sensitive," one source reflected. "Our clients might be going through a divorce or have been involved in a serious car accident.” The serious injury team sees a lot of cases arising from injuries sustained in road traffic accidents. “The cases I do in my name are quite low-value,” one trainee reported, “but I also assist on very high-value claims for complex brain or spinal cord injuries.” For example, the firm recently secured a £3.38 million win for a client who suffered a severe brain injury after being hit by a car on the wrong side of the road. It also won £2 million for a cosmetic surgeon who was knocked off his motorbike and lost the ability to perform the advanced surgery he was known for. Trainees have “a lot of court deadlines” to juggle, which means “speaking to clients, instructing experts on clients’ injuries, reviewing medical reports and making court applications.” There’s also a focus on securing payments for clients’ rehabilitation – “I deal with a lot of therapists,” one trainee told us.

IM's medical negligence lawyers handle claims related to birth, brain and spinal injuries caused by delays in diagnoses or other errors made by medics. The department also has sub-teams that deal with dental and cosmetic surgery claims, sporting injuries and mental health problems. Trainees said the high-value nature of claims in this seat often means they don't get as much responsibility as in serious injury and tend to take on an assisting role. “But I’m not just sat at my desk,” one clarified. “I also go to court hearings and client meetings, and speak to experts.”

“You might have a particular hotel where over 100 claimants fall ill.”

International personal injury tackles group action claims brought by “clients who for example contract Legionnaires' disease or gastrointestinal illnesses during a package holiday you might have a particular hotel where over 100 claimants fall ill.” The firm recently handled a multimillion-pound group claim arising from the 2015 terrorist attack in Sousse in Tunisia. It also acted for over 50 individuals in a £350,000 claim against Thomas Cook after they contracted gastric symptoms while staying at the same hotel in Egypt. Trainees said it was “interesting to see different legislation: what local standards are expected of a hotel, what the expectations of a UK-based package are, and how that applies to the claimant.” Trainees admitted: “It makes you quite wary when you want to book a holiday!”

We'd also from Sheffield and Leeds trainees who'd been tasked with the additional responsibility of fielding new enquiry calls. “We then have a Friday meeting to talk through all the new enquiries and judge whether to take them on,” interviewees reported. “You soon learn really good verbal communication skills, especially when you're calling people up and having to explain why we’re not taking on their case.”

50 Shades of Gray’s Inn

BLS trainees who’d sat in corporate reported working on M&A deals as well as “everything from IPOs for public companies to corporate advisory work.” There's also restructuring work for clients include accountancy firms KPMG, RSM and Mazars. One trainee told us of their experience on a deal: “I was never gonna go anywhere near the sale and purchase agreement because of the value of it, but I was asked to drive over to see a client myself on three occasions to explain various documents that needed to be signed.” Some trainees had “worked with quite a few startup tech companies on blockchain and AI – things I wasn’t familiar with!”

The firm’s commercial litigation grouphandles director disputes among other things, particularly in the manufacturing, retail, IT and professional services industries. Leeds litigators recently secured a £500,000 victory for cleaning company Christeyns in a breach of fiduciary duty claim against several defendants. Lawyers also obtained an injunction for hydraulics company Pirtek against a former franchisee who made defamatory statements about the company online. The firm also handles legal expenses insurance cases, which “range from consumer disputes to neighbourhood boundary disputes.” Trainees also described doing advisory work related to Brexit: “A client asked whether a product was categorised as a cosmetic, because there’s an EU cosmetics regulation that won’t apply domestically post-Brexit. That meant a lot of looking into the company’s supply chain and distribution agreements.”

“I had to read through a BDSM contract sent via email.”

Employment offers trainees a mix of contentious and non-contentious work as well as both claimant and respondent work. On the employee side, IM acted for the pavilion supervisor of Marylebone Cricket Club, who brought discrimination and harassment claims against the club. Employer clients include household names like easyJet and National Grid. The firm also recently advised fashion company Beeline Accessories after it established itself in the UK, and has assisted French tech company Eptica for many years. Trainees also deliver training to clients, and our interviewees emphasised some of the interesting and unusual bits of work you get in an employment seat: “I had to read through a BDSM contract sent via email between a barrister and a paralegal. They had a BDSM relationship which included spanking her in the boss’s office while the boss was out. You can’t get bored of it!” Indeed not.

BLS and PLS trainees are paid the same (London trainees get more than their colleagues elsewhere). But the end prize is different, with BLS qualifiers earning up to £10,000 more than their PLS counterparts (again, pay is higher in London). “That’s the only bugbear,” a PLS trainee in the capital admitted. “I think we’re much more stretched – I usually stay until 7pm or 8pm, and I’ve stayed much later than that.” That said, work can be “high tempo” on the BLS side too – we heard of one Sheffield trainee staying until 9pm. Still, across offices trainees on both sides of the firm said it's “easy to leave at 5pm” without raising any eyebrows if there's nothing to do.

IM party planner

Give or take the odd bad egg (“to put it bluntly, my supervisor was horrendous”), support for trainees was roundly praised by interviewees. Trainees get three reviews per seat, and across offices they “never once felt uncomfortable asking questions, no matter how stupid.” Trainees were also quick to tell us about the firm’s various diversity groups: there's IM Equal for LGBTQ+ folks; IM Respect for people from different racial and religious backgrounds; IM Able for people whose lives are affected by disability; and groups which cover gender and age. “I’ve never felt treated any other way because of my accent,” one interviewee reported approvingly. Trainees also noted a high number of women partners, with the caveat that “I’m not sure the firm is doing enough to address the pay gap” at partner level.

“… and there were lions!”

With a bifurcated set of solicitors, “we have a massive push for what we call ‘one IM’,” sources said. In some of the larger offices with several hundred people – like Sheffield, London and Birmingham – there can still be a social separation between the BLS and PLS sides of the firm. “We don’t see our PLS colleagues that often because we sit on different floors," a BLS source told us, "so as trainees we try to organise events ourselves.” Another interviewee declared: “No one else makes the social scene happen, so I’ve taken it upon myself to be the party planner!” But when IM does put on a party “it goes all out.” For example, previous themes of Sheffield’s Christmas party include New York and Narnia – “we had to walk through the wardrobe and there were lions!” Not real ones, presumably. “We also had a three-course meal and an open bar, so they really did treat us.” The Newcastle office organises ‘fuddles’ from time to time, while in Southampton “there are netball, running, pilates and arts clubs.” Manchester trainees approved of the “fantastic” new office space at One St Peter’s Square, and Leeds’ address in Wellington Place puts it firmly is in the heart of the city’s business district. The Birmingham team is also relocating to new premises in the Colmore Buillding.

IM lawyers like to "get involved in the local community.” The Leeds lot recently supported a disabled-friendly show at the Leeds Playhouse and made up Christmas hampers for disadvantaged families.

How to get an Irwin Mitchell training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 12 January 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

Training contract deadline (2022): 30 June 2020 (opens 1 November 2019)

Application and video interview

Irwin Mitchell receives over 1,500 applications each year for its 50 or so training contracts that are up for grabs. They use an anonymised screening approach and the application has been streamlined so that only necessary information is required to be assessed against. There is no cover letter; this is covered within the application questions, some of which refer to “your reasons for choosing to apply to Irwin Mitchell, what you believe you could add to the firm, and your motivations for applying for a particular stream,” early careers advisor Alex Burgess tells us. (Read our True Picture on the firm to learn more about these 'streams'.) There are also the usual competency-based questions, plus ones covering type of work experience and qualifications.

Around 500 applicants make it to a video interview (a link is sent to the candidate, inviting them to complete the interview at a convenient time within a set deadline). The interviews last 15 to 20 minutes and, in Burgess' words, aim to discover a candidate's “passion for the role and firm, as well as their commercial awareness and client focus.” 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 group exercise, an instruction-taking task, a written task and an interview, plus a Q&A with the current trainees.

The group 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 instruction-taking task, candidates are given information that they need to analyse, find solutions for, and prepare a summary of.

Then there's the interview, which is carried out by two members of the from, who could be either partners or associates. This involves a mix of questions covering the candidate's application form, their motivations, their knowledge of the firm and competencies like commercial awareness and resilience.

Vacation scheme

IM recruits around 65% of its trainees through its two two-week vac schemes (aka 'Legal Work Placements'). 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 2019. Vac schemers will sample two different departments during their visit and the firm “attempts to let candidates experience at least one area of particular interest.” Candidates are asked to provide their preferences before the start of the scheme.

At the end of the two weeks 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” and also questions around an article that candidates are asked to prepare for at the end of week one.

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. As the early careers team read every single application, we want to give applicants the opportunity to sell those skills, whatever their background and experiences.” 

IM is looking for “well-rounded individuals with a varied amount of work experience behind them.” 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.”


Interview with training principal Lisa Jordan

Chambers Student: Are there any particular developments from the last year that you’d like to highlight to our student readers? 

Lisa Jordan: We’re working our way through a five-year plan called the Ambition Programme which has been very much focused on the younger people within the firm. We have a council of younger colleagues who are looking towards the future, advising the firm and working with outside companies to come up with ideas to ensure that IM are fit for the future

CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm or clients’ businesses?

LJ: I don’t think anyone has escaped the impact of the uncertainty Brexit has created. I know from speaking to transactional partners that they, along with all of their peers in the market feel that the inability to get a Brexit deal agreed has negatively impacted clients appetites  for certain types of deals, That being said there has been a recent spike in transactional activity which is probably attributable to the fact that business people are so fed up with Brexit they are just getting on with life.

CS: Are you growing or shrinking trainee numbers in any offices? If so, why?

LJ:  Growing, certainly in our newer offices as they grow – particularly Cambridge and Southampton which have grown quite rapidly – their trainee numbers will inevitably increase to support the teams within them.

CS: With the split between business and personal at Irwin Mitchell, what advice do you have for students who might be interested in applying to the firm, but aren’t sure how to make that decision on the application form?

LJ: The simple thing is if you don’t know which route you want to go down – that’s not to say which subject, but either business legal services (BLS) or personal legal services (PLS) – then IM probably isn’t for you. We have had trainees transfer, but it’s not an easy thing for them to do. For example, transferring from BLS to the personal training route means that they’ve missed out on some of the PLS seats. A large majority of the PLS trainees are going to end up doing personal injury work, so we try to get them doing a Court of Protection seat, or a seat in our public law team, so that they’ve got an understanding of the holistic services around our personal injury offering. If they transfer halfway through their first year, they’re going to have missed one of those seats. It’s a disadvantage but certainly not impossible. If we facilitate it, it’s usually because they’ve been an outstanding trainee. 

CS: Anything to add?

LJ: One of the things I’m particularly proud of is our retention rates. I think in this current market it’s a good indication both of how well we select trainees and also of our commitment to them. They get very good training and therefore a large majority are kept on, and they are outstanding. Very many of our current Partners were trainees in the firm and we think that says a great deal about our culture and how much we believe that our trainees are the best foundation for growth.

Irwin Mitchell

Riverside East,
2 Millsands,
S3 8DT

Thomas Eggar House,
Friary Lane,
PO19 1UF

  • Partners 260
  • Associates 412
  • Total trainees 110
  • UK offices Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chichester, Gatwick, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newbury, Newcastle, Sheffeld, Southampton
  • Contacts 
  • Head of graduate recruitment: Marissa Sanders, Head of Graduate Recruitment
  • Training partner: Lisa Jordan
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 50
  • Applications pa: 1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or higher preferred
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 65
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1 November 2019
  •  Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 30 June 2020
  •  Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2019
  •  Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 12 January 2020
  • Open day deadline: Different per office
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year regional: from £26,500 First-year London: £38,000 Second-year regional: from £28,500 Second-year London: £40,000
  • Newly qualified salary: Dependent on the office and division you qualify in
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £4,500
  • International and regional  
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chichester, Gatwick, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newbury, Newcastle, Sheffeld, Southampton

Firm profile

Foundedin 1912 we are the UK’s largest full-service law firm covering business, personal and private wealth legal services. We are passionate about delivering excellent levels of service with an expert hand and a human touch with our five core values guiding us at every stage. As a leading national law firm, we provide excellent training with Tier 1 ranking partners, as well as offering a great place for people to work. Our social responsibility programme is fundamental to who we are and comprises four strands woven into the fabric of the group. Our independent registered charity evidences how social responsibility sits at the heart of Irwin Mitchell, having made over £2 million of charitable donations since establishment. Our award-winning early careers programmes are a vital part of our recruitment, and we continue to be a Times Top 100 graduate employer and in the top 25 of Stonewall’s Legal Workplace Equality Index.

Main areas of work

As a full service law firm we provide business services for organisations, personal legal services to individuals, and private wealth services to private clients. For business legal services, the firm offers expertise in banking and finance, commercial litigation, construction, corporate, employment, insolvency, investigations, pensions, planning, real estate and tax. Our typical clients are drawn from a cross-section of 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 personal legal services, 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 asbestos-related disease, serious injury, international travel litigation, medical negligence and product liability. Within the personal legal services training contract, private wealth offers a wide range of services for private clients including succession planning, tax, reputation protection, family, and probate administration. It also advises business owners and executives on their personal business wealth.

Training opportunities

The firm’s training contracts are streamed so that as a trainee you would either undertake a training contract based within the personal legal services or business legal services division. You will undertake a number of training seats in your chosen stream, gaining practical experience and real responsibility. We carry out anonymised application screening ensuring that we test your suitability through our various assessments. We look for candidates who can demonstrate they are able to deal with the complexities of the theory and application of the law within a business setting. Applicants should share the firm’s five core values, show evidence of our key competencies and also display a real motivation for their application to Irwin Mitchell. We welcome candidates from law and non-law backgrounds as well as career changers.

Vacation scheme

Our work placements are a vital part of our recruitment strategy. It is a great way for you to demonstrate your skills in a practical environment and to make a positive impression. A large proportion of our current/ future 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.

Other benefits

25 days holiday, contributory pension scheme, health plan, death in service cover, critical illness cover, recognition scheme, season ticket loan, two CSR days a year, sports team sponsorship.

Open days and first-year opportunities

We offer open days in all offices. Check our website for dates and deadlines, and first-year opportunities.

University law careers fairs 2019

Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton, Sussex, Warwick, York, University of Law.

Social media

Twitter @IMGraduates

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Employment: Employee & Trade Union (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Crime (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 4)
    • Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Administrative & Public Law: Traditional Claimant (Band 3)
    • Aviation: Claimant (Band 1)
    • Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 3)
    • Civil Liberties & Human Rights: Prison Law (Band 2)
    • Court of Protection: Health & Welfare (Band 1)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs (Band 1)
    • Education: Individuals (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant: Industrial Disease (Band 1)
    • Police Law: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Travel: International Personal Injury (Claimant) (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)