Personnel Today Awards 2019: Irwin Mitchell claims Employment Law Firm of the Year

Irwin Mitchell collect their 2019 award for Employment Law Firm of the Year.

Irwin Mitchell was named Employment Law Firm of the Year at the Personnel Today Awards 2019. The judges were impressed by its focus on supporting junior HR professionals and the recognition of the particular needs of the education sector. We take a look at the firm’s winning entry and those of our other finalists.

WINNER

Irwin Mitchell

Irwin Mitchell’s Employment Group has more than 70 lawyers. Their aim is to become trusted business advisers, working in partnership with HR professionals. In the last three years, the group has grown its fee income from around £6m to £10m.

Irwin Mitchell operates across a number of sectors and the group was instructed to handle more than 1,000 tribunal claims in 2018. Client retention has grown to more than 90%. A recent Court of Appeal case resulted in one of its partners, Jenny Arrowsmith, being named ‘Lawyer of the Week’ in the Times newspaper. Another high profile case was client Judge Gilham’s ‘judge whistleblowing case’, which was heard at the Supreme Court.

The firm was one of the first to become an ‘Alternative Business Structure’ under the Legal Services Act, which has given it the freedom to develop new and innovative ways to deliver services, such as creating a dedicated team to support complex and high value severances, expand internationally, offer more innovative and transparent pricing structures and legal support around data theft.


RUNNERS-UP

Crossland Employment Solicitors

Crossland Employment Solicitors’ goal is to be “that perfect partner for the HR professional”, helping them to build their confidence and gain credibility so that they don’t have to rely on a law firm. Some examples of case work Crossland has dealt with include obtaining injunctions where clients have found restrictive covenants were not sufficient; helping a client to strike out a tribunal claim that had no merit; and supporting a client to demonstrate an understanding of the IR35 regime.

There is a ‘no targets’ culture where the instructions are to do the best for the client so that they recommend the firm to others. In 11 years this approach has amassed £1.1m in turnover and an ‘expert’ rating in the Legal 500.Crossland’s own team is diverse in gender, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age and religion. Shared parental leave and part-time working are embraced by both men and women, and members of the team are frequently quoted in national and trade press.


ESP Law

ESP Law takes pride in not being a traditional law firm or HR consultancy. It offers an integrated range of employee relations advisory services that combine online HR tools with a case management system. Since it formed in 2015, the company has won more than 50 new customers and logged over 10,500 cases on the system.

After tribunal fees were scrapped in 2017, the justice system has seen its workload spiral and HR/employment relations professionals have often struggled to cope with a high volume of complex employment law cases. ESP wanted to offer something that was cost-effective, where they could access resources online and have real-time case management. It already offered a fixed-cost subscription model for legal advisory support but realised that many HR teams needed more help with the practical realities of these cases.

HR teams can access two personal employment lawyers (a lead and a ‘buddy’) who become an extension of their own team, and promise to respond within an hour. Other activities with clients include a mock employment tribunal, coaching and mentoring and live employment law webinars. ESP boasts a 95% customer retention rate.


Mpm Legal Solutions

Law firm mpm legal solutions was set up by a former partner of a top tier regional firm. The firm’s approach from the start was to partner with their clients, working as an extension of, rather than set apart from, in-house legal and HR teams. mpm prides itself on supporting its clients by getting to know their business inside out, in order to provide robust, commercially astute solutions to legal problems (and not just rolling out trite statements of black letter law).

As a small, boutique firm, mpm has an impressive array of clients including city, national and regional firms and household name clients such as Space NK, Euro Car Parts, and KP Snacks.

mpm took over legal services for KP Snacks in 2017, which had established as a new business after its acquisition by Intersnack four years earlier. KP had used another firm that only tended to deal with serious cases, ending in high cost claims having to be settled. After considering employing an in-house employment lawyer, KP decided to bring in mpm, who have been able to support with 60% more cases than their predecessors.

mpm’s lawyers Sarah and Peter have established a strong partnership with the HR team at KP Snacks – rather than give a simple legal response they offer coaching so the team builds confidence and capability. Involving mpm early on in projects has also proven beneficial, for example in TUPE transfers, national living wage issues, and responding to potential tribunal claims. Mpm also worked with KP Snacks to produce its gender pay gap report. HR business partner Rachel Ovington says: “They are solutions-focused and their diligence, personality, advice and long-term outlook ensured that we could successfully navigate through a significant period of change.”

 


Starford Legal HR

Starford is dedicated to getting to know clients’ culture and to become an extension of their team. As well as employment law advice, it offers strategy support, project support and people management expertise. A flexible culture means consultants choose their own working hours while still being available when clients need them – this means Starford can support global teams in different time zones, as well as enable consultants to balance their career with family life.

The firm is transparent about costs upfront and offers several fixed-rate services so there are no nasty surprises. In 2018, it launched an annual legal HR event called Making Life Work. This is a free-to-attend conference for all Starford’s clients and business prospects, including guest speakers on topics such as flexible working and getting the best performance from employees. Client support includes co-creating an interactive learning management tool for the Caravan and Motorhome Club and supporting the RSPCA to run a series of independent investigations.

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