Legal Business Blogs

Irwin Mitchell’s outgoing chief executive John Pickering on change in the sector and why it was time to hang up his boots

Announcing his retirement last month, Irwin Mitchell’s longstanding head and current group chief executive John Pickering pointed to ‘the changing legal sector’ and his desire for the firm to have settled long-term senior management.

Speaking to Legal Business, Pickering (pictured), who joined the firm as an articled clerk in 1977 and now plans to pursue non-executive director positions elsewhere, explains his reasoning behind the decision.

The changing legal sector seems like Irwin Mitchell’s ideal market, why did you decide to resign now?

I’ve led us through a period of very significant change, from a partnership to a corporate entity [in May 2011], and that’s been going for three years now.

We’d come to an appropriate point in the strategy, things are going well. It’s a continuous strategy, which looks out over years and is an evolutionary journey for the firm. But the timing was good and we’ve done an awful lot of things: we’ve changed the structure of the firm; got all the ABS licences in place; done a lot of deals; gone through the £200m mark; grown the client base; we’ve seen huge expansion over the last year; and put the new bank finance facility in place. An awful lot of things have been ticked off so it’s a reasonable time for me to hand it over to someone else.

How do you see Irwin Mitchell developing?

The strategic model we’ve built enables continuity. The idea is to grow the business.

The whole market is changing, we see it as the business of law, it’s a consolidating marketplace and we want to be a major player in it. Merger activity is certainly something that’s in our contemplation.

We felt that an ABS was a mechanism that was useful for the growth of the firm. We see the practice of law as being a bit more sophisticated, more about legal and related services, something that our business has already taken on board.

So the ABS vehicle is something that makes a lot of sense for our business model and as, or when, we want to, it enables us to bring in external investment.

Having put the ABS model and corporate model in place we’ve then been able to bring in some other highly competent skill-sets like our non-executive chairman, non-executive board member, and chief finance officer.

How have you seen the firm change during your time?

If you think of where Irwin Mitchell was, it was a little Sheffield firm not known outside the City, a small magistrates court practice, and when I joined I think there were about 30-40 lawyers. Now we’ve got over 2,200 and we’ve gone from nowhere into the top 20. The change I’ve seen and been part of has been enormous. I’m very proud of it.