Ciaran Foster is a trainee solicitor in Shoosmiths’ Belfast office. Here he shares an insight into working in Northern Ireland as he puts five partners from the office in the hot seat.
Shoosmiths made a bold move into uncharted territory in 2016 – bringing their exceptional client service into a whole new jurisdiction – Northern Ireland. The move marked the beginning of what has been an exciting journey for the firm through a legal industry different to others in the United Kingdom. When Shoosmiths first touched down in Belfast it was big news in the legal sector. The opening of an office right in the heart of Belfast city centre in 2019 was a statement of intent to all in the city that Shoosmiths had well and truly ’arrived’ on the scene.
Trainee solicitor Ciaran Foster sat down with five partners in the Belfast office to chat about Shoosmiths’ plans to continue its rapid rise within the Northern Ireland legal market.
Why is this an exciting time to be a part of Shoosmiths in Belfast?
Grant: It’s an exciting time because it's a young office and there's a market to go after. I think that's a true goal to be number one in this market and one that's achievable. With the resources that we have and the calibre of people that we're bringing in, it's really exciting.
Sarah: I think we're seen as a disrupter, coming in and taking clients off indigenous firms in Northern Ireland. We've already been able to establish an excellent client base. It's exciting that we're seen as part of something new and other firms are keeping an eye on us because we’re part of a big shift in the legal profession.
John: I think it's also a great time to be a lawyer in Belfast. In terms of infrastructure and developments, tech and fin-tech, you can see that a lot of very exciting things are happening here. Because of the huge amount of technical expertise across Shoosmiths we can also offer services that not many other firms in Northern Ireland can.
What makes our legal market in Northern Ireland unique to other parts of the UK?
Gillian: We benefit a lot from the fact that we work within a smaller legal jurisdiction. I think some of our colleagues in the rest of the UK would be amazed by some of the local networks in Northern Ireland. For example, in terms of litigation, there is only one High Court in Northern Ireland, and we therefore have the benefit of being able to personally appear before, and have knowledge of, almost all of the Judges who frequently deal with our cases.
Grant: One of the biggest things is our proximity to Dublin and our ability to partner with top Dublin firms. We are also seeing lawyers with long term aspirations coming back to Northern Ireland from Dublin and London. They realise that they need to have relationships with clients here and a good network in order to build a practise.
Anna: Because many of us are qualified in other jurisdictions, we frequently operate on cross border matters, whether that is for Irish or English clients. We are really well positioned to be able to work on the best transactions across all jurisdictions.
How will Shoosmiths continue to grow its presence in Northern Ireland and compete with the more traditional firms in the region?
Grant: We are building on a great foundation and excellent client base. It’s all about how we execute the right strategy now and build our teams out. Get it right and it’s just a matter of time before we are Tier One in all of our respective sectors.
Sarah: Shoosmiths will grow locally by delivering a fantastic ‘client’ experience whereby all of our clients have the opportunity to work with our great local team and also to draw on our national expertise. Our chosen markets will help us deliver our strategic goals of being a dominant force in the local legal market. We have a huge amount of expertise as well as resource around the business support aspect of our firm that others simply don’t.
Gillian: We act on behalf of a number of fantastic clients in relation to core sectors in Northern Ireland such as Financial Services and Renewable Energy and we are really keen to continue to showcase this work from the Belfast office – this enables us to highlight our presence both locally and firm-wide. The firm has also developed bespoke learning and development programmes for each level of an employee’s career within the firm, developing personal as well as legal and technical skills, which is certainly unique among Northern Irish firms.
What do you enjoy most about working in the Belfast office?
Anna: Our office is committed to delivering on the Shoosmiths values and as a result is generating a friendly and inclusive workplace. This ensures close working relationships across the teams meaning we really enjoy working together, which is essential for a thriving workplace. In addition, we are winning and delivering on the best transactions in the NI market and everyone can be proud of the growth of the NI office and the strides we are making in the market.
Grant: This is something that’s growing. We are at the outset of this office and everybody here can help to shape the way the office develops and make their contribution towards that. We can look back in years to come and say, ‘look how far we’ve come’.
Gillian: We all work very well together and everyone in the entire office is made to feel part of our journey - this is something that is definitely not reflected in every business and something that I think is unique about Shoosmiths in general and also the Belfast office.
Sarah: The culture is very inclusive and there is genuine access to everyone at different levels. It certainly feels very different in terms of hierarchy to other more traditional firms in Belfast.
How does the Belfast office work with other Shoosmiths offices to achieve our firm-wide goals and unite behind one set of values?
Gillian: We are very much people and relationship focused and that’s an important part of Shoosmiths as a whole. We work together with our colleagues across the firm, who can be based in any location. Our work can be team-based, sector-based or division-based. As an office, we are becoming even more and more involved in Shoosmiths’ firm-wide committees and initiatives, with the aim of getting everyone in the office involved.
Grant: Our offices really benefit from each other in terms of resources. Earlier this year, our corporate team were working with 12 associates from up and down the UK, from Glasgow to Solent. It’s fantastic to be able to have so many offices which back each other up.
John: Where you’re located doesn’t matter as to what you want to do in Shoosmiths – if that’s a leading role in a sector then just because you are based in Belfast or any other office is not a hurdle to that. It’s very much one business rather than 14 separate office businesses.
Find out more about working at Shoosmiths
To find out more about the employment opportunities Shoosmiths offers in Northern Ireland and be a part of the growth of this location, have a look at our vacancy page here.
We recruit two trainee solicitors into our Belfast office each year. If you are interested in becoming a solicitor, you may be interested in applying for a one-week paid placement which takes place on 7thAugust 2023. The application for this placement will open on 1st May 2023, followed by the training contract opportunity which opens on 1st September 2023, to start your trainee solicitor apprenticeship in September 2024. You can learn more about our trainee solicitor programme here.