Irwin Mitchell expands IP volume offering through Unilever counsel hire

Irwin Mitchell has expanded its new IP practice with the hire of IP lawyer Katrina Burchell and is planning on doubling in size over the next year by taking a personal injury volume approach to the IP market. 

Burchell, a formerly IP director at designer brand owner Kerring and Unilever, is joining as the new team as a consultant. The group launched last year, spearheaded by the hire of former Brown Rudnick IP partner Georgie Collins (9 September 2013).

Burchell’s arrival chimes with panel wins for the team after the firm won a competitive tender for the Law Society and is advising the body on employment, IP/trade marks, commercial contracts, litigation and property matters.

The team also took a host of clients from Brown Rudnick when Collins bought over loyal contacts including FX Pro Financial Services and Globe Business Publishing. Burchell has also made several new introductions to the firm from her previous roles.

Current head Collins was taken on with a mandate to grow the fledging IP practice and is understood to have been wooing Burchell for some time. Collins said the hire of another in-house practitioner was a part of its explicit strategy to develop an “in-house USP” after taking on former easyGroup in-house counsel Kirsten Doherty in 2013 (17 October 2013).

The firm has launched an internal initiative to double its IP team within two years by approaching the IP market in a similar way to the personal injury (PI) sector. Key elements of that strategy involve taking on low-cost high-volume work and offering a broader range of fees and packages to clients.

Burchell endeared herself to Collins for her work outsourcing Unilever’s IP work to Baker & McKenzie in 2006, which saw the firm running centralised instructions, single billing and budgeting functions and other back-end administrative tasks from its Manila outpost (16 October 2006). Collins wants to drive more work through LPOs and low-cost offices outside London and is investigating how to organise that with other groups in the firm.

She said: “One of my briefs was to look at the diversification of the IP practice. Katrina and I see the market as really ripe for change particularly in the context of legal services and what clients want and demand in fixed fee services. This is a particular area which has not really been aligned to that.”

The team plans to offer a range of fixed-fee, hourly rates and annual retainer work and will offer complimentary services to IP clients. Collins said its ABS structure meant it was also able to offer insurance products and investigation work to clients on the side.

“One of the reasons why I joined Irwin Mitchell was because the flexibility of how they work in terms of doing PI,” she said. ”The firm has systems in place for highly commoditised volume work and the same can apply to this type of work in that we’ve got great systems for dealing with work that might be seen as low margin or make a loss.”

Those systems include more flexible working and working form home as well as flexi-share working and LPO outsourcing.

The IP team in London now consists of Collins, Burchell and European trade mark attorney Kirsten Doherty in London. It also includes two juniors and one paralegal. The team sits under Pinsent Masons’ former dispute resolution and litigation head Nigel Kissack, who has taken over as national head of commercial litigation. In Leeds the IP team now includes former Squire Sanders former IP head Alex Newman and two associates. Litigation partner Mark Elder is also included in the team in Birmingham