Irwin Mitchell - True Picture

It’s an Ir-win-win for incoming trainees curious about both the personal and business sides of the law at this renowned national outfit. 

Irwin Mitchell training contract review 2021

The Firm

Emerging from law school, the first real choice you'll have to make is whether you want to represent companies or individuals. This decision will usually take your career in fundamentally different directions, but at Irwin Mitchell that's a moot point. When trainees join Irwin Mitchell they choose a stream, either personal legal services or business legal services, but for one seat out of four, they now get to experience lawyering on the other side. “It’s an interesting change,” one source reflected, “as you’re still doing most of the training contract in your stream, but it encourages client sharing and growth.”  

“Clients talk to a face rather than a job title. We’re relatable and are bucking traditions for the stereotypes about lawyers.” 

Irwin Mitchell was traditionally known for its strength on the personal legal services side (you may well have seen the firm’s personal injury claim adverts on TV), and this very much shows in the firm’s Chambers UK rankings. For personal injury and clinical negligence work, you’ll find that Irwin Mitchell rules the roost in most of the regions its ranked in. On a UK-wide basis, the firm is rated as one of the best out there for Court of Protection and product liability matters, while its civil liberties and human rights, police law and education work also come highly recommended. You’ll also find IM’s private wealth law capabilities celebrated in Chambers High Net Worth. Though it’s not all individual-based at IM. “We’re completely full service – anything for anybody, that’s us!” one source pointed out. On the business side, you’ll find that IM comes in for praise for its real estate, planning, restructuring/insolvency, corporate/M&A, employment, IT, banking and litigation expertise. IM’s business hotspots (according to Chambers UK rankings) include its home turf of Yorkshire and the South (where the firm’s merger with regional outfit Thomas Eggar in 2015 brought a range of commercial clients and work into the mix). 

IM boasts 15 offices across the UK, with the largest being Sheffield. Despite this broad presence, we heard that shared cultural dynamics prevail: “We have a massive ‘one IM’ approach: even in a particular stream within a particular office, you’ll work with people across the whole business.” Another interviewee added: “There are experts in every single office, so knowledge is equally weighted across the whole country.” 

The Seats 

At the time of our calls, most trainees were based in either Birmingham, London or Sheffield. The rest of the trainee cohort were scattered evenly across the remaining bases. Despite the new structure, the offices in Cambridge, Chichester, Bristol and Newcastle only offer PLS routes, while Gatwick, for example, only offers the BLS contract. We’re told moving across offices for seats “isn’t really encouraged, as you apply to a specific office knowing what the seats available there are.”  

“We have a massive one IM approach: even in a particular stream within a particular office, you’ll work with people across the whole business.” 

The changes don’t stop there. Whereas those previously on the PLS stream would do three four-month seats followed by a 12-month qualifying seat, trainees now uniformly do four six-month seats across the firm. In addition, PLS trainees used to select their seats in full before starting their contracts. Now, they have their first two seats allocated from the get-go but submit preferences for the final two stints like their BLS counterparts. An informal ‘third branch’ falls under the PLS route as well; it covers private wealth, with a focus on family law as well as wills, trusts and estate disputes – the latter is helpfully named WTED. 

Despite its foreboding title, IM’s serious injury seat was deemed one source’s “favourite, because it was so varied. One day it’s a road traffic injury, then another day it’s someone getting injured in a Zorb Ball or from jumping onto a trampoline.” Of course, this seat requires someone who can deal with the harrowing details of some injuries and maintain a sensitive yet professional approach on matters. For example, trainees also reported working on “very high-value, complex brain injury cases,” serious spinal injuries following road traffic accidents, burn injuries and injuries caused by animals. Sources were grateful for “the good exposure to pretty much everything,” including the chance to review medical records, draft letters of claim, instruct experts, take witness statements over the phone, and attend court hearings and joint settlement meetings. One trainee noted a highlight: “Arguing liability is always interesting. It involves looking at the quantum [value of a claim] side of things, as well as determining specialist care and plotting out the costing of everything.”  

“We’ve had lion attacks, a shark attack, injuries sustained on boats and someone getting hit with a canoe on the head.” 

Our sources similarly commended the variety of work on offer in medical negligence“There are five or six sub-teams due to the sheer size of the department,” one source informed us. “We’re all dealing generally with medical negligence but within specialist areas, like child abuse, birth trauma, diagnosis delays, and cosmetic and dental claims.” Another interviewee added that “it’s a very technical seat where you have to get used to the scientific terminology.” And pretty quickly by this account: “I took a witness statement in my first week!” one trainee enthused. “I also attended joint settlement meetings, went to trial and did the bundling for that; it was really fun to get stuck in and prepare everything.” Rookies also celebrated the other opportunities on offer: “My favourite thing was speaking with experts as a trainee. We get to instruct them, ask them direct questions and attend all the conferences.” Happily, this source relayed: “I never felt like I wasn’t allowed to try something.” 

International personal injury sees trainees assisting British nationals who’ve been injured abroad, as well as foreign citizens who have secured injuries in the UK. Sources again highlighted the “broad umbrella of serious injury claims” that cover more or less anything you can think of, as this interviewee explained: “We’ve had lion attacks, a shark attack, injuries sustained on boats and someone getting hit with a canoe on the head.” Other matters were centred on issues with travel agents, instances of food poisoning and gastric injuries. “Legally speaking, it’s quite substantial” as an area to practise in, owing to the fact that it’s “more complicated to bring international claims, as the cases are bigger and more intricate.” So, whether they were reviewing medical records, making sure evidence was sufficient enough to be served to defendants, or just conducting the run of the mill search to “find experts in niche areas like safari standards in X country,” trainees praised the exposure: “I felt that I was never just someone helping a fee earner – you really get involved and I was always encouraged to give my opinion and to think outside the box.” 

“I took a witness statement in my first week!” 

For the BLS track, things are more conventionally commercial. In IM’s commercial litigation team, sources found that “one moment you’re doing a big case on a shareholder dispute and then you’re on a contractual dispute with a cleaning company the next.” The range is also there with regard to value: “We could be doing a financing dispute over a £12,000 car and then a contractual dispute for over £2 million.” Interviewees reported drafting letters before action, claim forms, court correspondence and settlement agreements, as well as being on phone calls with clients. “You might be notetaking on a client call, but you’re exposed to a lot,” one trainee found. There’s not really a chance to feel siloed here, as “you work nationally across the whole firm with other teams. We had a massive disclosure job, which had three million documents needing review and the whole litigation team were doing that.” Clients across Yorkshire include specialist recruiter Rullion Group, automotive supplier Transcal Group and French company Helis. The firm recently represented Transcal during a case that involved a breach of warranty under a share purchase agreement. 

The firm’s real estate team is split between transactional matters and disputes. Trainees noted that Sheffield, London, Birmingham and Manchester offer both, while the Leeds base is purely transactional. Gatwick, meanwhile, offers real estate, construction and planning. In London, real estate clients include HSBC, iconic department store Liberty London and Honda’s research and development arm. Lawyers have been advising private bank/wealth manager Coutts & Company on several investment loans worth up to £50 million. On the non-contentious side, “we worked on an awful lot of landlord/tenant work, with lots of portfolio investments, as well as corporate investor/occupier matters.” The drafting of lease agreements, sale agreements and environmental deeds coloured non-contentious life for trainees, as did Land Registry work and post-completion tasks on deals. “Doing some completion work by myself was terrifying after drafting docs back and forth for months,” this interviewee recounted, “but completion is a monumental moment and it felt amazing!” There’s “lots of clients crossover” with the disputes side, and trainees found themselves “working for landlord and tenants, portfolio and asset managers, lots of receivers for banks, and individuals in rental disputes.”   

Trainee Life 

“From day one we went straight out to help at a local charity painting walls – it’s been like that ever since!” Plainly speaking, corporate social responsibility (CSR) work is highly valued at IM. “There’s an expectation that you’re not just here for matters, but also business development and CSR work,” noted one source. Each office reportedly raises money for a specific charity: we heard, for example, that the Manchester office ran “a huge stem cell registration drive and got the whole building involved.” We were also told about the firm’s work with homeless charities like The Mustard Tree and Shelter. IM’s lawyers recently did a 10km 'sleep walk' for the latter and have also been conducting mock interviews for those looking to get back into employment. The firm gives its lawyers two days of paid voluntary leave each year, so you “can get involved with an existing CSR relationship or one you’d like to develop.” IM also established a free helpline for those suffering domestic abuse in the time of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

“I can’t think of anyone at the firm who I’d not want to talk to!” 

Culturally, the emphasis on connection and care is discernible in the office: “There’s an underlying sense that it’s not just about coming into work; it’s about getting stuck in with the firm, owning responsibility and developing relationships with people.” Another interviewee added: “I can’t think of anyone at the firm who I’d not want to talk to!” Across the firm, “the culture is so flat” in the sense that “everyone treats us as equals; you can chat with anyone without fear.” One trainee nicely summarised the collective view: “I think generally speaking, people work at IM not because they want to make the most money, but because they want to do it for noble reasons, which comes with an underlying ambition, tenacity, and drive to do the best they can for people.” 

Regarding diversity, “they’re putting in so much time and effort,” with sources highlighting “tons of initiatives” for various causes: IM Respect, IM Equal and IM Age are examples of such groups. “It feels like a genuine commitment and not just window dressing,” one trainee commented. Trainees pointed to the recent shrinking of IM’s gender pay gap (from 12.8% to 10.3%) as an example of the firm’s commitment, alongside a 77% female partner class made in 2019. “The women’s statistics say it all,” a source enthused. Across the offices, interviewees observed the celebration of difference: “There’s such a range of people and no one notices or cares about the differences!” 

“There’s always something going on; you’re never an outcast or alone.” 

Diversity initiatives take on a social element, too. “Our CSR events focus on things socially. IM Equal putting on a drag queen bingo night was an example of these two aspects marrying up.” Beyond this, trainees highlighted a wide array of sports teams, office-wide murder mystery events, pizza and bingo nights, and more occasions for connection: “There’s always something going on; you’re never an outcast or alone.” Our interviewees also commended the two-week Professional Skills Course (that each newbie attends prior to the contract) for being a great way to connect with the entire trainee cohort (trainees spend three days in Sheffield and the complete the remainder of the course in Birmingham).  

Hourly demands proved to be another positive talking point: “They really encourage you to have a life outside the IM walls.” As such, “it’s not all-consuming here, and they’re always stressing the importance of a good work/life balance.” Slight differences do emerge between the PLS and BLS streams, however. “It’s very rare that I’ll leave the office late. If it’s after six, it’s a rarity,” one PLS trainee commented. For BLS trainees there’s a “more corporate demanding hours ethic,” so finishing times tend to fall somewhere between 7pm and 8pm. “There was a big job where I had to stay until 10pm once, but that was an anomaly and they’re so thankful when you do stay late.” 

Further differences emerged when it came to compensation: first and second-year trainees are paid evenly across the firm, but BLS NQs go on to earn more upon qualification than their PLS counterparts. For some, “it’s a point of contention” and was said to “divide opinion.” Others had a more measured view and considered the increased potential for profit-making in the business sphere: “It’s the nature of the industry.” Another added: “They’re super transparent and it’s never hidden! If you’ve got an issue, go elsewhere!” 

Speaking of people potentially leaving, IM has a good track record for holding on to its trainees: 2019 saw the firm retain an impressive 45 of its 47 qualifiers. Yet amidst Covid-based realities, qualification remained a concern for some: “We’re all a bit worried about qualification. Some people qualified six months early because of paralegalling time brought forward. But for us fresh out of uni, we’re concerned a little bit.” Another added: “It’s a waiting game...waiting for that email to come through.” Despite the uncertainty, trainees commended the firm’s transparency and thought that “they’ll do everything they can to keep as many people as possible.” In 2020, IM retained 47 of 52 qualifiers. 

Patience is a virtue 

The global pandemic has caused IM to delay its 2020 training contract start date for six months. 


How to get an Irwin Mitchell training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 4 January 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)

Training contract deadline (2023): 4 January 2021 (opens 1 November 2020)

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.”

More on employment and private wealth seats

In employment, sources noted how the firm “sits on lots of insurance panels” and also acts for a “portfolio of clients in the education sector.” Matters are conducted “mainly on the respondent side.” For education clients, “we operate a helpline for them so we can respond to ad hoc queries that require specific legal research. We then draft answers back in an email.” In the South (IM’s London, Gatwick and Southampton offices), IM advises the Association of Colleges – which is comprised of over 300 colleges – on various employment law matters. One trainee shared their experience: “When first starting I was diarising court dealings and completing merit assessments, but as I’ve progressed, I’m doing ET1 [request for claim to tribunal from plaintiff] and ET3 [response to claim from defendant] claims, as well as drafting witness statements and settlement agreements.” The firm also runs a programme called IM HR+ for businesses looking to be kept updated with advice on contract and handbook policy drafting. 

There may be an “awful lot of family gossip” for those in WTED (“which is really enjoyable!”), but the matters are decidedly serious. Sources recounted working on a barrage of “capacity cases, where people argued over wills.” Trainees noted that Inheritance Act claims are also common, and that the firm acts for both claimants and defendants. “This seat felt very different as it’s private-paying with different demands on time,” an interviewee reflected. Ultimately, our sources celebrated their involvement in drafting instructions to counsel, taking notes in court, drafting letters of claim, and both conducting client calls and sitting in on them. “You’re also involved in the new inquiry rota as there’s a large volume of prospective clients in this department, so you’re on the phone every day listening to new family dramas, which is good.” Curtain twitchers at the ready! 

Irwin Mitchell

Riverside East,
2 Millsands,
S3 8DT

Thomas Eggar House,
Friary Lane,
PO19 1UF

  • Partners 190
  • Associates 1560
  • Total trainees 108
  • UK offices Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chichester, Gatwick, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough (consulting office), Newbury, Newcastle, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton
  • Contacts 
  • Head of graduate recruitment: Marissa Sanders,
  • Training partner: Emma Rush 
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 40-50
  • Applications pa: 3,800
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum A Levels: BBB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 100
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: 1 November 2020
  •  Training contract deadline, 2023 start: 4 January 2021
  •  Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2020
  •  Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 4 January 2021
  • Open day deadline: Different per office
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year regional: £26,500
  • First-year London: £38,000
  • Second-year regional: £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, Newcastle, Sheffeld, Southampton

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 15 offices in the UK and we focus on what really matters: our clients, colleagues and communities.

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, Commercial Litigation, Corporate, Employment, Insolvency and Real Estate. 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 personal legal services, the firm remains one of the leading practices in the UK. We cover all the key injury areas, such as: Personal Injury, Serious Injury, International Travel Litigation and Medical Negligence. Within the personal legal services training contract, we also offer a wide range of services for private clients, including: succession planning, tax, reputation protection and family matters.

Training opportunities

The firm’s training contracts allow you to see work covered within personal legal services (PLS) stream or business legal services (BLS) stream, with some trainees having access to experience both divisions where possible. You will undertake 4 x 6 month seats.

We are known for our Personal Injury work and within PLS most of the seats fall under this area and in some locations we also offer Private Wealth options. Within BLS our teams work nationally across seven locations and each office offers different seat options dependent on departments available and business need. Please see our online brochure for further details of which seats are available in which office for PLS and BLS.

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. Those who are able to start in 2023 are eligible to apply. Candidates can apply online from the 1 November 2020. We pay the national living wage and the scheme is for two weeks.

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 CSR days a year, sports team sponsorship.

Open days and first-year opportunities

We offer Open Evenings in all our offices and we are looking to run these virtually to students across all years. Please check our website for further details and/or click our ‘Get Updates’ button on our website.

University law careers fairs 2020

Individual university attendance TBC.

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 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 leader 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 colleagues and our LGBTQ+ networking group was highly commended by Stonewall.

Our plans for this year include expanding our diversity training for all colleagues and a D&I Festival. We’re also working with our strategic partner BITC to launch a mentoring scheme. Our Diversity Board continues to help shape our Diversity & Inclusion strategy in a way which means we build an inclusive business for everyone. 

Social media

Twitter @IMGraduates

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 1)
    • 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)
    • Employment: Senior Executive (Band 3)
    • Family/Matrimonial (Band 5)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • 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 3)
    • 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 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 5)
    • 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 3)
    • 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)
    • 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)
    • Information Technology (Band 3)
    • 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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