Leading national law firm and Legal Futures Associate Irwin Mitchell  has announced that Michael Napier is to retire from the firm after four decades – 29 of them as its senior partner.
Mr Napier, currently chairman of Irwin Mitchell Holdings Ltd, will step down from his role at the end of December to hand over to a new non-executive chairman and will retire from the company at the end of its financial year in April 2012.
Announcing the news, group chief executive John Pickering paid tribute to Mr Napier, describing him as a pioneer in law reform and praising his “outstanding” leadership during his four decades with Irwin Mitchell.
Mr Napier, a former president of the Law Society, joined Irwin Mitchell in 1972 and has led the senior management team which has seen it grow from a small Sheffield practice to one of the biggest law firms in the country as it prepares to celebrate its centenary next year.
He was Irwin Mitchell’s senior partner for almost three decades and became its chairman in May this year, as the firm announced its plans to become an alternative business structure.
Mr Napier, who turned 65 in June, said: “When I retire next April, it will be Irwin Mitchell’s centenary year. By then, I will have enjoyed four decades at the centre of a superb firm on an incredibly exciting career in the law and in the business of law at Irwin Mitchell. So now is the right time to say ‘I’ve done my bit’, to step aside and make way for a new chairman and move my career onto the next stage.
“I have complete confidence that my successor, together with our chief executive John Pickering and his team, will successfully move forward to ABS, and beyond, ensuring that, in serving its clients today and tomorrow, Irwin Mitchell will maintain the innovative and caring attitude towards the delivery of legal services that I have supported over the past 40 years.”
John Pickering said: “Mike has had a long and distinguished career in the law. In many areas he has pioneered major developments in law reform, notably in the area of group actions, and has rightfully gained a reputation as one of the country’s leading lawyers.
“He has been an outstanding senior partner for Irwin Mitchell, not only showing leadership flair but, above all, care for our clients. I and the partners hold him in high esteem and wish him a very happy retirement.”
He added: “Mike will leave us as we celebrate our centenary as one of the largest law firms in the country and as we look forward to a new era in our sector with real confidence.”
In a distinguished career, Mr Napier represented clients in a number of landmark cases and pioneered major developments in the law of personal injury, clinical negligence, mental health and pensions. He was particularly at the forefront of developing group actions in the 1980s and 1990s while working on behalf of victims of some of the major transport and public liability disasters of that period.
He was also the first solicitor-advocate to appear before the European Court of Human Rights in 1981 and a leading voice in pressing for changes in consumer law to improve access to justice.
An honorary QC and bencher of Gray’s Inn, he was also president of the Law Society in 2000-01, a founder member and former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, a member of the Civil Justice Council and, for the last 10 years, has been the Attorney General’s pro bono envoy.
He was awarded the CBE in 2005 and was an assessor to Lord Justice Jackson in his report on civil costs.
His successor as chairman of Irwin Mitchell will be announced in due course.