Niall Baker, chief executive of Irwin Mitchell’s Business Legal Services division, explains the key reasons of how the firm has started to establish its reputation as a commercial legal practice.

Irwin Mitchell has never been a business to shy away from doing things differently. Not only was it one of the first legal firms in the UK to allow non-lawyers to have an equity stake, it announced its intention to become an Alternative Business Structure before anyone else and then became the first ABS licence holder to complete an acquisition.

Irwin Mitchell has always taken pride in its pioneering approach to the fast changing legal landscape and this willingness to think differently has certainly paid dividends in other areas, including its fast growing Business Legal Services (BLS) team.

For example, unlike many of our competitors that cut back their investment in their commercial teams during the recession, we were one of very few firms to actively grow our business division during what was the worst economic downturn since the Second World War. Rather than divesting in regional offices, we bucked the trend and decided to focus on recruitment opportunities which presented long term benefits.

Irwin Mitchell’s BLS division has subsequently recorded double-digit % income growth during the most recent financial year - something which has contributed significantly to enhancing our credentials as a credible alternative in the commercial market.

As highlighted above, a key part of our growth strategy over the last few years has been our senior level recruitment drive which has seen the firm attract almost 30 Partners since the start of 2012. In addition to attracting a 20-strong real estate team from city firm, SJ Berwin, we have more recently recruited a high profile four-Partner commercial property team from DLA Piper in Manchester.

These strategic acquisitions have provided a solid platform for growth and have dovetailed with other appointments across the firm including national head of corporate & commercial, Chris Rawstron; national head of commercial litigation, Nigel Kissack; and national head of banking and finance, Andrew Watson.

Other partners to join in the last 12 months include IP specialist Alex Newman, real estate lawyer, Ayesha Hasan; commercial litigation partners Jonathan Sachs, Jonathon Crook and Dorrien Peters, as well as corporate & commercial specialists Nick Dawson and Sarah Riding.

In addition to boosting fee income, this investment is paying off in a number of other ways. In the recent Legal 500 directory, published at the beginning of October, the firm saw six teams within BLS improve their ranking positions. Indeed, following the success of previous years, Irwin Mitchell is now ranked as a top three firm in 38 of Legal 500’s business related categories.

We are also working with some large household names including British Land, Thornton’s and Vue Entertainment. Our real estate team also advised US bank, Wells Fargo, on the acquisition of a £4 billion commercial real estate loan book from Hypothekenbank Frankfurt –a deal believed to be one of the largest European commercial real estate debt transactions ever completed.
Recruitment is clearly a crucial part of our strategy, but key to our on-going success is a determination from our teams to ensure all our clients are at the heart of everything we do. Law firms often claim to offer a partner-led approach to law, but surely providing businesses with senior level advice is a given? We believe our alternative of a client-led approach is another clear and fundamental differentiator which will increasingly sets us apart in the market.

That isn’t to say that we are simply reacting to the needs of our clients. Instead it’s about innovation and a willingness to operate in a flexible manner which is in our clients’ best interests, not our own. Rather than attempting to fit all clients into a business model and a set of working practices that suit us, we have instead chosen to develop our offering and processes around their needs. This way they get the service they want, at a time when they want it, and at a price that they are willing to pay.

We are on an exciting journey and although it is impossible to predict with certainty what is around the corner, I am confident however that Irwin Mitchell’s BLS division is in the strongest possible position to grow, take advantage of market opportunities, and most importantly exceed the high expectations of our clients. After all, clients are really everything.

Twitter: @irwinmitchell