Andrew, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by The Brief. Firstly, can you give us a quick rundown of your own career to date?
It’s been quite a journey. I first joined Irwin Mitchell as a solicitor in 1985 and I became a partner in 1988. During my time with IM, most of my legal career was focused on working with victims of serious injury, which is an area where we have considerable expertise. I worked on a number of major cases including the victims and the families of victims from the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy, which came early in my career, the ‘Marchioness’ collision on the Thames and the coal miners’ litigation.
Every case is different and it was always rewarding to be able to help those injured people I worked with in adjusting to the injuries they’d suffered and to access the rehabilitation they needed to help restore the best possible quality of life. The determination of many of those I worked with was truly inspirational and I’m delighted to say that IM has continued to lead the way in combining legal expertise with a genuine client focus and by pushing for the best possible access to rehabilitation for injured people. It’s vital that anyone with a serious injury has access to rehabilitation as soon as possible and that will remain a key focus for all the specialists we have in this area.
Away from the legal work for clients, I joined the Board of Irwin Mitchell in 1999 and was then delighted to become the head of our market-leading Personal Injury team in 2009. In 2011, we restructured the business along corporate lines, and I took on the role as chief executive of Personal Legal Services, the largest division in the group, working with our experts in our Family, Contentious Probate and Court of Protection teams, as well as specialists in our Public Law, Wills, Conveyancing and Personal Injury teams.
Then, in April last year, our group chief executive – John Pickering – announced his retirement and I was very proud to be offered the chance to become our group chief executive.
It’s been a rewarding career so far but I’ve still got lots to achieve. IM is an exciting business and I think there’s huge opportunity for us to grow it even further. We’ve got a strong business financially and great people both in our legal teams, working with private and business clients, and also in our non-legal teams helping us to deliver great service to our clients. The future looks very bright for us and I’m proud to be the group chief executive of such a great business.
What do you think will be the growth areas for Irwin Mitchell in 2015?
We’ve got clear plans to grow all the areas of our business and we’ve invested heavily to ensure that happens. One area that’s expanding rapidly is our Business Legal Services division, where we’ve seen a number of high quality people join us in the past two years to add to the strong team we already have in place. We’re winning new clients and building the reputation of IM in the business marketplace all the time.
But that’s not all. We’ve invested in brand promotion across our group and that’s reaping rewards too. We’re already well known for our expertise in Personal Injury but we’re seeing real growth too in other areas, including businesses like Ascent, which we launched in 2009 and has grown significantly to become one of the leading recoveries legal services firms in the country.
And – of course – we’ve made a number of acquisitions since we became an ABS in 2009. In November, we acquired a well-known private wealth firm in Berkeley Law, which is a great business and adds another string to our bow. We see real potential to grow our presence in the Private Wealth market, working with clients with complex financial affairs providing a service which will also be an important bridge between our personal and business service clients. That’s an exciting area for us too. Overall, we’ve got a very clear plan in place and we’re committed to delivering it.
You have offices around the country so can you see the effects of the so called ‘north/ south divide’?
Well, we opened two new offices last year, Southampton and Cambridge, and they were both in the south. Both have made great starts and have potential to grow strongly, following on from the success of our last office opening in Bristol in 2010. The economy is improving across the country and we’re well placed to see the effects of that but we don’t view it as a north-south divide. We’ve got great teams in every one of our offices, we may have other offices in the future and our job is to make sure we make a success of them all by working with the clients in each region to deliver the service they expect from us.
At the back end of 2014, the firm acquired Berkley Law so are you looking at more potential acquisitions this year?
Berkeley Law wasn’t our only acquisition. We also acquired MPH Solicitors in Manchester in 2013 and the business of HL Interactive through Ascent in early 2014. Overall, we’ve completed six acquisitions since we became an ABS and all of them have added strength to our group.
Will there be more? Well, we’ve been pretty open about the fact that mergers or acquisitions have a part to play in our strategy and that hasn’t changed. I’m not going to go into details about anything because it’s highly confidential but people are interested in talking to us and joining a business that’s got financial strength, a great reputation and a clear strategy. The important thing is to find the right complementary businesses for us.
Irwin Mitchell was named as the most successful firm online in 2014. How important is digital marketing/ communications to your growth?
Any successful business in 2015 needs to have a clear plan for digital. We’ve had one for years and it’s reaping the benefits but there’s no question of us standing still. The most exciting thing about digital is it’s always moving, always developing. We’re determined to stay ahead of that, so in the last few weeks we’ve launched on Instagram and on Vine. We’ll keep on doing new things and finding new ways to communicate with our current and future clients. Remember, we have the most visited law firm website in the UK and more than 20,000 Twitter followers, more than any other law firm following I’ve seen. That’s not a position we intend to give up and our new look website we launched earlier this month will help us stay ahead.
I know there are still people in the legal sector who query whether digital, and particularly social media, really has a role but I’m not one of them. It’s great to get the recognition but there’s still more we can be doing to ensure we continue to be at the forefront.
Can you tell us a bit about Irwin Mitchell’s brand refresh?
We launched it earlier this month with a refreshed logo and visual identity on our revamped website, and it’s all about showcasing our expertise in embracing the progress of our clients. You may already have seen press adverts for our Family team and we’ll be promoting our services for business, including in relation to new shared parental leave laws. On top of that, there’s our new TV commercial, which I’m really proud of because it depicts people who have overcome various types of injury. Some of the scenes feature disabled actors and I think that’s really important. Authenticity is important in ensuring trust between our expert lawyers and our clients and it also reflects the high levels of support and care we offer in helping injured people progress throughout their case.
As I mentioned earlier, we also launched a Vine channel and a social media campaign focused on the theme of progress with the hashtag #immakingprogress, which urged people to share stories and photos of how they have rebuilt their lives following an injury or illness. That, of course, links back to our previous campaigns and sponsorships in support of disabled people; campaigns like the nationwide photography competition No Limits and our Design for Life competition, which is run in partnership with Disability Rights UK and aims to find innovative product ideas to help disabled people live independently. We announced the winner of that last week (w/c 16th March).
That isn’t all either. We’re also giving our website visitors a free legal health check, which is a quick online survey that gives you an instant traffic light report highlighting key legal issues they need to be aware of based on questions around property, employment, family status and wills, as well as providing guidance on how to resolve them.
We’re an innovative business and this is the next step in our evolution. It’s an exciting time and I think Irwin Mitchell is a unique proposition. We’ve got a respected Business division, large Private Client practice and the best Personal Injury teams in the country. There is no other law firm that can provide all those services to the quality and scale that we can and we’ll carry on breaking the mould. So many law firms say the same things. I think we’ve got something genuinely different to say and I’m proud of that.
Where do you think the firm will be in 10 years time?
It’s always dangerous to predict things but what I will say is that we’re in a very good place as a business. We’ve got a strong financial base and a strong reputation in all our markets. On top of that, we’ve got a very clear plan to grow our business and great people who are committed to delivering great service. That’s a very good platform to build on and, if we carry on doing what we’ve been doing, then we’ll keep on developing our business and achieve our goal to be the genuine leader and a household name in legal services.
In five words, why do clients choose Irwin Mitchell?
Integrity. We care. We’re different.
In your opinion, what makes a good lawyer?
A commitment to the overall advancement of their clients’ interests; not just the immediate case or transaction. Legal expertise should be a given so, in my view, what really makes a lawyer stand out is the ability to support their clients and work with them. The legal world is constantly changing so the best lawyers are also those who recognise that and prepared to adapt and innovate.
Finally, what are your own career goals that you still want to achieve?
There’s still lots to achieve. It’s been great so far but, it’s far from over. For me, it’s the continued success of Irwin Mitchell that really matters now though and we’ve got a great platform to build from and a great team. That’s my focus and I’m enjoying the challenge.