Shoosmiths LLP - True Picture

National firm Shoosmiths is on the up with more offices, bigger clients and an increasingly commercial practice.

Shoo-ting star

Shoosmiths is all grown up: what was once a regional firm focused on volume insurance work has transformed. Whether it's by introducing agile working, acquiring new offices in the City or expanding its strengths from all angles, this firm isn't shy about its ambition to be a leading national firm. Shoosmiths has been increasing its national clout, recently opening offices in Belfast and Leeds, and “there's definitely no signs of stopping," one insider enthused. "The ambition is obvious and the strategy is very clear – it's national domination.” In addition, one trainee pointed out, “the firm is strengthening its affiliations with international law firms via the World Services Group – that puts us in a stronger position with Brexit coming up.” Revenue rose 10% to £128.5 million in 2017/18, and the firm has been investing heavily in new technology, well-being and diversity across its network – it was one of the first top 50 law firms to release gender pay gap data and has had a woman, Claire Rowe, as chief executive since 2009 (Rowe also started out as a trainee at the firm).

“I wasn't prepared for the big household names that I’d be working for."

Chambers UK ranks the firm across the South, Thames Valley, Midlands and North West for commercial areas like real estate, corporate, litigation, employment, banking and planning. The firm is also recognised for claimant clin neg and personal injury work in different regions and has been improving its rankings in Chambers UK's 'national leaders outside London' category too. One insider was quick to mention: “I wasn't prepared for the big household names I’d be working for.” Those names include Volkswagen, Argos, ASOS, Poundland, IKEA and the Open University.

At the time of our calls there were 40 trainees at Shoosmiths: nine in Milton Keynes, seven apiece in Birmingham, Reading and Southampton, six in Manchester and four in Nottingham. In spring 2019 the firm announced it was increasing its annual trainee intake to 30 and that it would now be recruiting trainees in London with the first to start in September 2019.

Each office has its own training principal, and seats ranging across the firm's corporate, real estate, litigation, employment and commercial teams. “Secondments also tend to be really popular and there's quite a bit of competition for them,” one trainee informed us; destinations include 3mobile, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Thomas Cook. “There's also the opportunity to do a six-month seat in another office,” one source revealed. 

Systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic...

The real estate practice covers commercial, residential, property finance, investment and corporate occupancy work for clients like Argos, Balfour Beatty and ASOS. Individual offices have varying specialisms: Southampton has expertise in infrastructure and represents clients in the transport sector (like Hitachi Rail), while the Manchester team has recently advised the Royal Borough of Kingston on an £850 million regeneration to build 2,500 new homes. The firm has also been busy advising Sports Direct on leasehold purchases totalling £30 million across the UK. “I was drafting leases in my first week,” one trainee reported, “and I also completed the first draft of tenancy agreements and was the point of contact for the client.” Other trainee responsibilities include “scouring deeds that are over 300 years old and trying to make sense of them." We also heard that "There was a fair bit of colouring in." Wut? "If there's a big property purchase I'd be given the map and I had to differentiate which pieces of land were owned by the client. I had felt-tips and everything."

Trainees in the corporate team experience a range of M&A, private equity, banking and venture capital work (though the latter is most common in London). The firm has particular strengths in the technology and retail sectors, and big names like Mercedes-Benz, Games Retail and IKEA all come knocking for advice. Nottingham lawyers recently advised South African-listed Atlantic Leaf Properties on its acquisition of office space in Peterborough, while over in Manchester the team have been busy completing the sale of Allied London's interest in No1 Spinningfields – the North West's largest ever office sale – for £200 million. “There's a lot of juggling, but you're never left on your own,” said one interviewee, though another beamed: “I got to do two signings by myself!” Typical trainee tasks include Companies House searches, winding-up checks, drafting board minutes and due diligence, “plus towards the end I was putting together drafts of investment and option agreements.

"There's a lot of juggling, but you're never left on your own."

In commercial litigation trainees get involved in matters spanning shareholder disputes, insurance litigation, fraud and insolvency. With over 250 lawyers nationwide (which includes the spanking new litigation department in Leeds), the team advises household names like Nissan, The White Company, Debenhams and The Southampton team recently represented a creditor involved in the Lehman Brothers administration. “I've helped draft a defence on a large matter involving international jurisdictions and fraud,” one interviewee shared, while another told us: “There was a huge case running out of the Manchester office. I helped by drafting instruction to counsel, drafting witness statements and taking attendance notes.” Another source said: “I dealt with everything from sorting out statement exhibits to preparing the trial bundle – it doesn’t sound like much, but there were 32 lever arch files, so I was knee-deep.

For those looking to try their hand at employment, Shoosmiths offers the full platter – redundancy, disciplinary, dismissals, immigration, data protection and more. In Reading, the team is big on representing technology and retail clients, as well as organisations from the third sector (the National Trust) and educational bodies (the Open University). Other clients include Krispy Kreme, Ann Summers and Coca-Cola. The team recently advised Swiss-founded Kuehne + Nagel on a theft from its distribution centres, which ultimately led to the dismissal of five employees who were all caught stealing beer. One trainee said: “My first responsibility was to instruct counsel and liaise with the Employment Tribunal.” Another source had “looked into various things related to redundancy and maternity, and then drafted an initial response to the client.

"I really enjoyed giving advice and thinking on my feet..."

The commercial team is a much-desired destination among trainees and encompasses sub-groups handling intellectual property, data protection, commercial contracts and financial services. The team was instructed to advise McDonald's on its collaboration with Welsh fashion designer Julien Macdonald to design the luxury boxes for its 'signature collection' burger range in 2017. The team also advised the Solicitors Regulation Authority on its three-year programme to revamp its entire IT system. Other clients include H&M, Pizza Hut and Weetabix. One trainee told us: “I have negotiated a number of terms and conditions, prepared various key risk reports and taken the necessary steps to ensure agreements and privacy policies are GDPR-compliant.” Trainees also draft outsourcing and distribution agreements, but one warned: "Due diligence is the necessary evil of trainee life. Whatever direction you're coming at it from, it's got to be done.

A majority of our interviewees had done a client secondment, often to a car company or retailer. The firm circulates a list of available secondments before trainees submit their seat preferences, and newbies are required to write a 250-word application to the partner overseeing the placement. One secondee reported: “I was involved in putting together all sorts of contracts, from multimillion-pound oil contracts to sponsorship deals with athletes.” Another insider believed: “You get a lot more responsibility on secondment because the business views you as a proper lawyer. I really enjoyed giving advice and thinking on my feet.” Another added that it's simply “great working with people who aren't lawyers for a change!

Money on my mind

Trainees were eager to point out that “the hours do tend to go up and down… If a deal comes in and it needs turning around, then you have to stay until it’s done.” After a typical start time of 8.30am, many of our sources said they were out the door between 6.30pm and 7pm on an average day. Those in corporate and real estate experienced later finishes, maybe 8.30pm, but assured us that "staying late all the time isn't expected.” Plus one newbie pointed out: “We’re never here by ourselves. The rest of the team would be here too.

“It's almost like you’re walking into Google’s offices.”

The first-year trainee salary is £27,000, which led to multiple sources piping up that they “wouldn’t mind a little bit more money.” The firm doesn’t offer bonuses, which one insider explained “is a bit of a sore subject.” However, another pointed out that “it’s a compromise for the fact we don't have a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality” and harsh hours targets. Another trainee added: “We’re growing and progressing at such a rapid rate, taking on newer and bigger clients and getting better work. The firm pays rates that were competitive with the firms it was competing with four years ago, but we’re up against bigger players now.

Shmoozin' and boozin'

Every partner I've worked with is approachable and I've never felt intimidated,” one trainee said, while another added: “One of the partners is almost like my mate. Relationships in each of the offices are really fluid.” A Birmingham-based source pointed out: “The firm is open-plan and has adopted agile working, which means we have no fixed desks and move seats every day. There is a bit of a joke that the desks near the windows need to be kept free for the partners, but they laugh and encourage us to sit there.” On the topic of the firm’s revamped interiors, our interviewees unanimously voted Manchester the “trendiest office.” One source cooed: “It's almost like you’re walking into Google’s offices – we have plants growing out of the walls!” Foliage aside, each office is fully decked out with breakout areas, quiet rooms and a forum with sofas and TVs that trainees can lounge in with their laptops and headsets.

Each office has its own social and charity committee that hosts events throughout the year. “Sometimes we have an office get-together in a boardroom," a trainee told us. "We've actually got a pizza and prosecco event with the partners coming up.” In Southampton and Milton Keynes, there’s a “drive to increase the social life” which had previously been a bit lacking due to a lack of nearby public transport and culture of driving to work respectively. All the same: “We have indoor climbing events, dog walking events and monthly drinks to make up for that.

In Reading, one trainee revealed: “We're all really close, and we're going out for a cheeky Nandos tonight actually.” Other trainee favourites include “grubby pubs like The Three Guineas and Oakford Social Club which they’ve done up all funky now.” A Birmingham-based trainee shared that “every fortnight we have a drinks trolley that goes round with wine and prosecco – that's operated by the paralegals and trainees.” As for firm-wide dos, “there are a few occasions where all the trainees get together,” such as the Professional Skills Course that packs all newbies off to Birmingham for a weekit means you can make friends with people across the firm.

When it comes to qualification, one trainee explained: “At the beginning of our fourth seat, we all have a meeting in Birmingham with graduate recruitment and HR. They go through the process with us and circulate a draft list of jobs across all offices.” Trainees are provided with a final jobs lists shortly afterward, usually in early May, and “have a week in which to apply for your preferred spots in any location by emailing HR. We’re encouraged to apply with a covering letter and CV.” Interviewees told us that “you will then be invited for an interview with the team's heads and their decision will be communicated to you by June.” The firm also has a fast-track NQ route for those who can qualify with time to count from paralegal experience gained at Shoosmiths: a small number of NQ positions open up early, “but that’s only if a certain team requires urgent help and they can’t wait until September.” Overall in 2018, Shoosmiths kept on 15 of its 21 qualifiers.

Shoosmiths recently launched a Facebook Live series, which gives students and candidates a good opportunity to ask members of the firm questions in real time. Well worth checking out.


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How to get a Shoosmiths training contract


Insight evening deadline: 30 November 2018

Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 28 February 2019 (opens 3 December 2018)

Training contract deadline (2019, 2020 & 2021): 31 May 2019 (opens 3 December 2018)


In recent years Shoosmiths representatives have attended law fairs at the following universities: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Dundee, Exeter, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Northampton, Nottingham, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and Strathclyde, plus the BPP and University of Law campuses (Birmingham, Guildford, London and Manchester). The firm strongly encourages potential applicants to meet their lawyers at law fairs, insight evenings and other events.

In spring 2019 the firm announced it was increasing its annual trainee intake by a third from 22 to 30. At the same time it said it would be recruiting trainees to start in London from 2019 and introducing a spring intake from 2020. As a result the firm is recruiting extra trainees to start in 2019 and 2020 on top of its regular 2021 intake. The deadline to apply for all of these is 31 May 2019.

On an average year the firm receives around 2,000 direct training contract applications, plus another 750 for its vacation scheme. All applicants fill out the same online form, which requires their GCSE and A level results and their undergraduate degree modules and final grades (if studies are complete). Shoosmiths is looking for a minimum of CCC at A level and any degree or equivalent. There's also room to log work experience. Shoosmiths isn't prescriptive on this front; at a general level recruiters are looking for the kind of commercial skills acquired by handling customers or clients, and from working under pressure.

The application form rounds off with a series of competency-based questions that require candidates to describe occasions where they've worked well in a team, taken on leadership roles and so forth. “We're not looking for people who have climbed Everest!” HR director Louise Hadland is quick to point out. “We like normal people who can build relationships and who enjoy working collaboratively – that really comes back to Shoosmiths' philosophy and the values we have here.”

Vacation scheme

Completing a vac scheme is a good entry point into Shoosmiths – around half of the firm's trainees have completed one. Placements last for a week and are available in the Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Reading, Southampton and Edinburgh offices. Seven or eight positions are up for grabs per office, and there are no more than three vac schemers in one location at a given time.

Vacation scheme spots are awarded based on the strength of a candidate's online application. Note that candidates are not allowed to solely apply for a vac scheme; they must be gunning for a training contract too.

Participants are assigned a trainee buddy and spend their visit in a single department – they have a chance to express a preference for where beforehand, but the firm makes no guarantees. Business development and skills sessions, as well as social activities and a mini-project, supplement any live work. The mini-project culminates in a presentation delivered at the end of the week and is assessed by the office's training principal, HR manager, and usually another partner. Finally, there's an exit interview that helps determine whether to invite a vac schemer to attend an assessment day for a training contract.

Assessment day

The firm asks around 120 direct training contract applicants to attend one of four assessment days – all of which take place at Shoosmiths' Birmingham office in July.

Over the day candidates complete a written task and a group exercise. Both are linked to a scenario. In previous years, this has focused on the value of client service and the importance of business development within a law firm.

Hadland has this advice for impressing: “Act professional and be friendly. We want to see a candidate's personality shine through, so we want you to relax. We're not looking for the loudest voice in the room, but we are looking for those who are assured and confident in a group environment.”

An interview with two partners concludes the day. This is done 'blind', meaning that partners won't have looked at a candidate's application form beforehand, and involves a presentation candidates have prepared on the day. Current trainees recalled much of the interview being tied to the competency questions posed on the application form. As one explained: “The partners want to make sure they're recruiting in line with Shoosmiths' values, especially those connected to working collaboratively, so they pick up on those points relating to teamwork and initiative.”

Interview with chief executive Claire Rowe

Chambers Student: What should our readers know about what the firm wants to achieve going forward?

Claire Rowe: Our vision is to be the leading national law firm, famous for its client experience. The last part of that is really important, not only in terms of the legal advice we provide to our clients but also understanding their business so that we can provide both a legal and commercial solution. We're driving that as the heart of our strategy. The firms' chairman, Peter Duff, and I have been out on the road explaining to all of our staff everybody's role in that. Whether you've just joined us as a trainee or been a partner for 20 years, everyone has a part to play to ensure the client goes away feeling they've been really well looked after.

We're one of the leading national firms in the UK, and we want to be the leading national firm. Our strategy right now has a domestic focus, we have no plans to put flags in other jurisdictions, though we do a lot of work to support clients internationally and we're a member of the World Services Group. The international work we do is both for Shoosmiths clients and also in collaboration with other firms abroad.

CS: How has Brexit affected the firm, and how do you think it will going forward?

CR: In common with a number of firms, our transactional practices like corporate and real estate saw a pause in activity while clients considered the potential ramifications, and thus we saw a slowdown in summer 2016.  However, that has picked back up, and 80 to 90% of those transactions have now been completed albeit with some price-chipping along the way. We now appear to be back to business as usual, the run-up to Christmas was the busiest we'd had in transactional work for a number of years. On the commercial side, we've seen an increase in advisory work directly relating to Brexit.

Nobody knows what Brexit will mean long term, what's important is ensuring you've thought about what it might mean. We've run a Brexit hub on our website to point clients to areas they might need to look at even if we don't know the exact details yet. Our UK focus means we don't have the dynamic of exchange rates impacting on business, and we haven't had to work out how to resource European operations.

CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm?

CR: Our culture is all about teamwork, so an obvious common characteristic is the ability to collaborate. It's not about 'me', but 'we'. We're much more effective when taking a collaborative approach to a task. The important thing is to bring the right people together on a project, and somebody who works in that fluid way rather than in a silo will thrive here. We do encourage individual ideas and innovation, and we're always happy to see people with ambition. Some of the best ideas come from the most surprising places! I myself trained with the firm, so I have a long history here, and I'm still here because of both the opportunity and the culture of teamwork and collaboration where everybody will be listened to and has a part to play.

CS: How do you ensure that culture bridges all of the firm's different offices?

CR: First of all we have firm-wide values. We make sure everyone really understands talking business sense and having a commercial view, so they don't give clients overly legal answers to questions. That's something we encourage right from the initial induction. Throughout their time here, we're discussing lawyers' current progress and where we think they need development, so when it comes to promotion we've highlighted what we want to see. We have an 'Above and Beyond' scheme to recognise staff who go the extra mile, and thank those who really live our values. On the flip side, we have to ensure that any step outside of those values isn't tolerated.

CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?

CR: I'd encourage them to get as much work experience as possible, and not be sniffy about paralegal roles. I've spoken to some graduates who see them as second rate, and I don't know where that comes from. Some of our best lawyers have come through the paralegal route because they get a wider perspective of the profession. If there is any negative PR about it, I'd encourage them to have an open mind as paralegaling is a valuable opportunity.

CS: That's interesting, as quite a few of the Shoosmiths trainees we spoke to had previously paralegaled at the firm.

CR: Of our last class of trainees, about 50% came through the paralegal route and 50% through the external one. We put them through the same assessment process. If you're a paralegal, you'll need the recommendation of your line manager but those who do come to the assessment day tend to do incredibly well.

CS: We heard from female trainees that it was inspiring to see a woman at the top of the firm, do you have any particular advice for women going into the law?

CR: First and foremost, don't assume any sort of negativity. We're consistent with other firms in that at entry level there are a higher proportion of women than men. then at the senior level that goes in the other direction. We've had discussions with our 'Lean In' networking group aimed at everyone at the firm, telling them how to make their mark.

We also have a gender equality group whose remit is to determine why women are leaving and/or not being promoted. Part of that is perhaps the lack of sufficient role models, and part of it is how the role of partner is perceived. If it's perceived as difficult to reach that level and still have a family etc., some may not go for it. Various studies suggest women are less likely to self-promote, but as a woman you're every bit as able and if you think you can do the same job as a man, put your hand up for it. There's a lot more work to be done, also in terms of ensuring women recognise a family commitment is a joint responsibility. It shouldn't be the woman's sole responsibility to look after the children – that's a conversation to have with your other half as much as with your employer.

Lawyering in the Thames Valley

Find out more about living and working in Reading and surrounds.

Shoosmiths LLP

The Lakes,
Bedford Road,

  • Partners 190
  • Total trainees 44
  • UK offices Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Nottingham, Reading, Solent
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Samantha Hope,  [email protected]
  • Training partner: Sarah Winship, [email protected]
  •  Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 30
  • Applications pa: 2,000+
  • Minimum required degree grade: Any degree
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: CCC or equilvalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 50
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 3 December 2018
  • Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 May 2019
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 3 December 2018
  • Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 28 February 2019
  • Open day deadline: 30 November 2018
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £27,000
  • Second-year salary: £28,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £40,500
  • Holiday entitlement: 23+ flexible
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes joint with Northampton, Nottingham, Reading, Solent
  • Client secondments: Various opportunities at well-recognised brands including international banks, automotive and retail clients based in London and across the UK.

Firm profile

Our approach to meeting clients’ requirements is based on the simple premise that each client has a unique challenge and deserves to get the best services, expertise and attention.

All of the Shoosmiths offices are open-plan or agile, meaning that you will be supported by your entire team, with flexibility on how you work within the office.

Main areas of work

Shoosmiths is a full-service firm offering you a varied experience, no matter which office you’re based in. You will be able to choose from commercial, corporate, employment, real estate, private client or asset finance, as well as specialist teams such as tax or sports law.

Training opportunities

Over two years you will complete four six-month placements, one could be a secondment to a client’s in-house legal team.

Your experience will be built around a manageable workload, complemented by technical and business skills training. We allocate no more than one trainee to each team, which means you’ll enjoy high levels of involvement with the team, and are given good quality work and contact with clients.

Our trainees are encouraged to participate in business development activities, and develop their personal brand, and written communication style by contributing to the Shoosmiths careers blog and social media.

Shoosmiths takes corporate responsibility, wellbeing and diversity very seriously. Trainees are engaged with internal ‘champion’ groups and run initiatives in their office and firm-wide to support the firm’s strategy in these areas.

Vacation scheme

We offer paid placements of one week to help you get a real insight into the life of a trainee. You will get early exposure to clients and case files, and will be supported by an expert solicitor. Placements can even fast track you to a place on the assessment centre for a training contract.

We offer 50 placements a year, with around 35 of those going forward to an assessment centre for a training contract.

Other benefits

You’ll be working for a firm who puts your wellbeing first, with many benefits designed to support you, including 23+ days flexible holiday, pension, life assurance, private medical insurance, dental plan, corporate discounts, eight-week mindfulness course, fruit in every office, we’ll cover your membership for junior lawyer groups, and £50 and a day off on your birthday.

Open days and first-year opportunities

We host insight evenings so you can meet our people, and understand more about a career in law. This opportunity is open to candidates who are currently at university or have graduated, in any degree discipline. Submit your application by 30 November 2018, to attend an event in early 2019.

University law careers fairs 2018

We are attending careers fairs throughout the year but if you can’t meet us in person, tune into a ShoosmithsLIVE video via our facebook page.

Social media

Twitter @shoosmithsgrads

Facebook shoosmithsgraduates

LinkedIn shoosmiths

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018

Ranked Departments

    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Pensions Recognised Practitioner
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Clinical Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Retail (Band 3)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)
    • Personal Injury: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 3)
    • Competition Law (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Pensions (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 4)
    • Consumer Finance (Band 3)
    • Court of Protection: Property & Affairs Recognised Practitioner
    • Education: Individuals Recognised Practitioner
    • Health & Safety (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 4)
    • Product Liability: Food (Band 2)
    • Retail (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)