Making trainees central to the business

Making trainees central to the businessNational firm Irwin Mitchell is planning a radical overhaul its training ­programme, centralising its first-year training budget as part of the scheme (The Lawyer, 29 September).

Traditionally the firm gave trainees six-month trial periods in four seats over two years. Now trainees will spend four months in three seats for the first year before choosing to specialise in the second year.

Head of graduate recruitment Sue Lenkowski says: “We needed a radical rethink of the training contract to fit the needs of our broad business base.”
Irwin Mitchell’s business model is split between its personal injury practice, which deals with volume claims, and ­businesses practices that include ­corporate-commercial and commercial ­litigation.

Lenkowski says that until now the firm has implemented a “broad training ­contract to reflect its broad business ­structure”, but the partnership agrees
that trainees will benefit more from ­specialising in the second year.

One benefit will be that second-year trainees will have the opportunity to
build relationships with clients before ­qualifying. “In the second year, trainees will get hands-on experience and the ­transition from trainee to newly qualified will be smoother,” she adds.

Partners will also be encouraged to take greater ownership of their trainees, a move incentivised by the restructured training budget. “We wanted partners to see this as a unique way of financing ­training for the first year so they would take ownership of the scheme,” says Lenkowski.

A central budget will fund training ­contracts for the first year, while in the second year the different practice groups will pick up the bill for their own trainees.

Irwin Mitchell takes on between 30 and 40 trainees a year, with the new scheme set to be in place for the 2009 intake of trainee lawyers. Historically the firm has had one of the lowest trainee retention rates of the top 100 UK firms. In 2006 it kept on 68 per cent of its trainees, while in 2007 the rate stood at 74 per cent.

The move to overhaul the trainee ­programme comes after managing ­partner Howard Culley stated his ­intention to raise the firm’s turnover by 35 per cent for 2007-08 to hit £150m (The Lawyer, 25 February). Turnover, in fact, rose by 30 per cent from £111m to £145m.

Culley said at the time that revenue would be bolstered by 25 per cent by the merger with Scottish firm Golds in April last year, the ­preparation for which impacted on the year-end results for 2006. The firm has ambitious plans and the trainees will play a part in Irwin Mitchell’s growth strategy.

It is thought Irwin Mitchell would rather take outside investment than ­publicly list when the Legal Services Act is implemented in 2011. It is leading the raft of firms aiming to develop strong ­commoditised income streams through outsourcing partnerships with high street brands. Last November it signed a deal to provide Automobile Association and RAC members with conveyancing and will-making advice.