Irwin Mitchell - True Picture

Want a training contract that means business, or one with a personal touch? Trainees must pick their poison at this sprawling national firm.

New order

The ancient Roman god Janus had a lot of jobs – he presided over beginnings, endings, time, duality, doorways, gates... we could go on – but he's perhaps best remembered for having two faces... much like Sheffield-born Irwin Mitchell. The firm's a titan in personal injury, and its personal legal services (PLS) offering also spans family law, trusts and probate and court of protection work. Its other face is a rapidly growing business legal services (BLS) division including the usual suspects of corporate, litigation, real estate and more. Altogether the firm boasts a spread of top Chambers UK accolades, including clinical negligence rankings in eight different locations and nationwide recognition for Court of Protection, personal injury, product liability and travel.

Incoming trainees decide before starting whether to commit wholly to the PLS or BLS path. Trainees advised: “If you're struggling to decide which you want, this probably isn't the firm for you,” but most newbies “liked the way it's done. You only develop skills in areas that will help you and it's good to not waste any seats.” While BLS trainees complete the standard six months in four departments, speaking to HR about where they'd like to go each time, PLS-ers do three four-month seats (they learn where they'll be going on day one) followed by a 12-month stint in the area they plan to qualify into. “In second year you get increased responsibility, it's geared towards making the transition to NQ smoother,” veterans of the system explained. We did hear some complaints that “seat allocation isn't very transparent – it feels like we don't really get a say” – but most ended up being happy with their destinations.

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Becoming a lawyer outside London (sponsored feature)

Irwin Mitchell has 14 offices across the UK; nine of them take trainees each year and if you fancy seeing more of our fair isle “you can do seats in another city as long as there's room. The transparency about that is great.” At the time of our research London was home to 24 trainees; Birmingham to 20; Sheffield had 16, Leeds 13, Manchester nine, Bristol six, Newcastle five, Southampton four and Cambridge three. London aside, each office pays trainees the same across the country, which most felt “is pretty much market and quite fair,” no matter where they were. NQ salaries were a point of contention, however – BLS qualifiers earn more than their PLS counterparts, the latter grumbling: “We've pointed out the salary's not high enough over and over again.”

On a happier note, trainees across the board declared: “The firm is doing well and continuing to grow; there's a clear structured plan for organic expansion.” A 2015 merger with Thomas Eggar gifted Irwin Mitchell a private wealth team and beefier BLS offering, while former RPC man Bruce Macmillan recently came on board as Irwin Mitchell's first ever general counsel. Gatwick regional managing partner Faye Bargery tells us that “the firm is looking to new technology to connect better with clients as part of its Irwin Mitchell 2022 five-year programme. That's being lead by a lot of millennials in the business rather than the established partnership, which makes it very exciting and progressive.”

Tears for fears

Clinical negligence was the most popular PLS seat. Irwin Mitchell's department is known for its handling of traumatic birth cases, but covers everything from late cancer diagnoses to surgical errors. “You learn a lot both medically and legally,” sources said: “Recently we've dealt with a lot of cerebral palsy cases and child brain injuries.” If it sounds intense, that's because it is – “the work can be quite emotionally taxing but you've got to have the right approach, sympathising with clients but taking things on the chin. It feels like you're really helping people through a difficult time.” In one such case in Cambridge, the firm pushed for an eight-figure settlement on behalf of the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, following delayed treatment of the child's hypoglycaemia. Matters span from “low-value, inappropriate hip replacement claims” to multimillion-pound lawsuits. “Direct client contact was one of the best parts of the seat” according to trainees: “You do lots out and about. I've had meetings with crying clients – that's one of the reasons I wanted to go into law.”

“I've had meetings with crying clients – that's one of the reasons I wanted to go into law.”

International personal injury ('travel' if you're in a hurry) deals with both group illness and major injury from the claimant side. “Everything had cross-border elements,” one trainee recalled, “the procedure is similar to any commercial seat but you get a lot of exposure because things are so busy.” The team's been hard at work representing former BP employees caught up in the 2013 In Amenas terrorist hostage crisis in Tunisia; Irwin Mitchell also acted for almost 100 claimants in litigation brought against Thomas Cook after holidaymakers contracted gastrointestinal illnesses during their stay at a Zante hotel. Having been provided with “plenty of client contact – but not irresponsibly” – trainees came out of the seat with “lots of transferable skills.” Newcomers got stuck into first stabs at drafting claim particulars, calling courts and reviewing medical reports and evidence related to the cases.

Not every PLS option is a personal injury seat – Irwin Mitchell's public law team sees a smorgasbord of health, local government and human rights disputes. “The pace is faster” than in other seats, “it's so quick and busy that it took me a while to adjust,” insiders said.There's crossover here with the firm's Court of Protection work: trainees tackled cases “revolving around peoples' mental capacity. The stuff you do is really interesting, I've been called onto cases surrounding dignity in dying and challenging the law on assisted suicide. There's also some judicial work which involves challenging local authorities.” Like in other PLS seats, plenty of opportunities arose for getting out of the office – “I'd be sent out to a person's home to interview them and had to gauge their best interest in a human rights context.” Some found the freedom afforded went too far, arguing that “there wasn't enough supervision,” but others were happy to sink their teeth into big responsibility. The firm recently represented a client, Noel Conway, in his widely reported fight against the Secretary of State for Justice for the right to assisted suicide.

Human league

Over in BLS, trainees in real estate – one of the largest departments – can expect a broad range of work including both commercial and more traditional landlord/tenant matters. Bigger projects sometimes require the might of multiple offices: Manchester and Gatwick recently collaborated on the property separation aspects of National Grid Gas's sale of its North West distribution network. Other big name clients include HSBC and Thorntons. Dubbed “quite an easy first seat,” trainees “weren't doing one thing consistently – I did a lot of drafting agreements and land registry applications, and was thrashing out title reviews with a partner.” Certain sources found it a little too easy, quibbling: “I wasn't given much exposure to the technical side, I felt a bit like a paralegal.” The majority, though, found “the team got me involved in everything and I got a good overview of the conveyancing process.” It's worth noting the firm's work varies by region: for example, lawyers in Leeds and Chichester focus especially on property development, while the Manchester team has a growing presence in the retail sector.

"They asked me what I wanted to get out of my six months, and I'd done most of it after two weeks.”

It's a similar situation in corporate, where clients often fit the local character: Sheffield is frequently on call for manufacturers, while the Southampton crew represents a lot of shipping companies. High street banks including NatWest and Barclays also call on the firm. You can bank on seeing “a big range of deals, as we work with a lot of start-ups, then other matters can be over £100 million.” Trainees appreciated that though M&A is part of the diet, “we do all parts of the corporate spectrum, unlike bigger firms which just focus on the high end.” Sources trumpeted Brighton-based life sciences company Destiny Pharma's £70 million AIM flotation as a particular highlight. Deal size notwithstanding, trainees worked on ancillary document drafting, updating of stat books, putting together board minutes and liaising with clients. “Over my six months I saw seven closings,” one trainee reminisced fondly: “I definitely got a good balance of admin and other tasks.”

The commercial litigation department deals with all sorts of disputes including breaches of directors' duties, defamation claims, intellectual property rights spats and IT fallouts. New arrivals “quickly got exposure to a number of areas. On day one they asked me what I wanted to get out of my six months, and I'd done most of it after two weeks.” In one case, Irwin Mitchell represented the executors of the Beryl Coulter Will Trust in a statutory appeal concerning inheritance tax on charity gifts. And, in an unusually large matter, the firm represented the Co-operative Bank in a tussle with Deutsche Bank over a £25 million financial facility. Trainees were relieved to find “you're not chained to the photocopier.” They'd ticked document drafting, assisting counsel, putting together witness statements and client meetings off their lists. Caseloads can be “very up and down” compared to other seats, and “it can be stressful when there's a last minute court deadline. When that does happen everyone hunkers down and gets on with it.”

Culture club

It's rare you'll find the Irwin Mitchell gang in the office after hours, though. “We're very well known for maintaining a good work/life balance and that's definitely justified,” trainees declared, “long days are the exception.” Even heavier periods are forgiving compared to many firms – the latest home times we heard were “10 or 11pm on two or three nights,” and the majority of sources were out the door by 6pm most days. “If I'm here until 7 or 7:30 I'm one of the last in the office and it feels like a late night,” one declared.

Such a humane schedule left plenty of time for social mingling. In several offices, the end of the week is the beginning of festivities: the Friday Night Pub Club gathers weekly in London (singled out as one of the more gregarious locations), while Leeds plays host to a monthly 4.30pm Friday 'Fuddle'. Certain interviewees felt firm-wide socialising was “limited,” but they were united in taking part in the Irwin Mitchell Charities Foundation. That involves each office selecting a local 'charity of the year' to raise funds for. As for the offices themselves, London “recently moved to an agile working system” and we're told “it's hiring all the time.” The Sheffield HQ is “the second biggest private employer in the city, and that's reflected. There's a huge canteen and good facilities in both buildings.” The Manchester team upped sticks to One St Peter's Square in June 2018, and trainees in Birmingham wanted some change themselves, suggesting “the office needs work but it's being sorted. Our location is great at least!”

“We're very well known for maintaining a good work/life balance and that's definitely justified.”

On the firm's website you'll find its core values listed as 'pioneering, approachable, tenacious, efficient and integral'... but what does that actually mean? “For me it's about how we treat clients and our lawyers and staff,” Gatwick managing partner Faye Bargery explains, "and that if anyone in the firm wants to talk to management, they feel able to." Trainees confirmed “there's no glass ceiling with senior peers, I often go for a cup of tea and a chat with partners.” They also suggested that “a lot of internal development is structured around those five pillars. Irwin Mitchell recognises the more they put into training the more everyone will benefit.” Most departments run formal (but not mandatory) sessions, and trainees also get monthly reviews with their supervisor. Many found “the review process was very... 'HR'. It didn't matter particularly because supervisors talk about issues as they come up.”

As for the qualification process, PLS trainees “received a list at the end of March listing the NQ positions in our office.” Most will be targeting the department they've done their final year-long seat in. There was more uncertainty on the BLS side. Prospective IM associates discuss where they'd like to go with graduate recruitment before the jobs list is published. Interviews take place if more than one trainee wants a spot, but “there's some flexibility for qualifying into another office” if yours doesn't have a space. In 2018 the firm retained 50 of 59 qualifiers.


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How to get an Irwin Mitchell training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 13 January 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)

Training contract deadline (2021): 30 June 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)

Application and video interview

Irwin Mitchell receives over 2,500 applications each year for its 45 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,” graduate recruitment officer 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 listen to a phone message and prepare a brief in order to discuss the potential case with the assessors. This tests their ability to extract relevant information, prepare a summary and analyse it effectively.

Then there's the interview, which is carried out by a partner and an associate. This involves a mix of questions covering the candidate's application form, their motivations, their knowledge of the firm and competencies like client focus 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 are offered in ten of the firm's English offices.

There's no set number of places, but Burgess tells us around 80 students participated in 2018. 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 take academics into consideration, and are looking for high achievers,” says Burgess. “However, academics are just one area, and 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.” A 2:1 degree is “preferred” – but they will take into account your application if there are mitigating circumstances for not achieving your predicted outcomes.

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.”

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Irwin Mitchell

Riverside East,
2 Millsands,
S3 8DT

Thomas Eggar House,
Friary Lane,
PO19 1UF

  • Partners 255
  • Associates 412
  • Total trainees 98
  • UK offices Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chichester, Gatwick, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newbury, Newcastle, Sheffeld, Southampton
  • Contacts 
  • Head of graduate recruitment: Craig Thompson, Head of Graduate Recruitment
  • Training partner: Lisa Jordan
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 45
  • Applications pa: 1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or higher preferred
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 70
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
  •  Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30 June 2019
  •  Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
  •  Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 13 January 2019
  • Open day deadline: November 2018
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £36,000 (London), £25,000 (elsewhere)
  • Second-year salary: £38,000 (London), £27,000 (elsewhere)
  • 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

Founded in 1912, with over 2,500 employees, in 14 UK locations, we are one of the leading legal businesses covering business, personal and private wealth legal services.

We are passionate about delivering excellent levels of service using an expert hand and a human touch, with our five core values guiding us at every stage.

We encourage applications from all backgrounds; we recently won the 2018 award for ‘Excellence in Diversity’ from the Signature Awards.

We are also listed in numerous graduate surveys for most popular graduate recruiter including The Guardian, The Times and TargetJobs.

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 (listed on our website) 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 2018

Cambridge, Cardiff, 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, 2018

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)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
    • Financial Crime: Individuals (Band 4)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 4)
    • 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)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)