8 July 2002
Birkett Long's three offices would form a triangle across Essex if you joined up the dots between their locations, a geometric quirk that allows the firm to lay claim to the whole county as its target market area.
It has been a busy couple of months for the firm. Not content with opening a new office in Chelmsford last month, the top-tier management has been reshuffled and Birkett Long has now set its sights on further expansion.
According to Philip George, who has recently succeeded Chris Holmes as managing partner while Holmes has become senior partner, the 17-partner firm has "developed quite rapidly" during the past six years. "We have seen an overall increase in terms of staff numbers and the number of partners. There are a lot of exciting things going on," he says.
George expects to see a 20 per cent growth in turnover this year to £5.5m, a target that he admits is ambitious, but that he believes is realistic thanks in part to a newly recruited batch of fee-earners, including a partner. In addition, the firm has just splashed out on a spanking new case management system throughout its offices, in an attempt to maximise efficiency.
"Historically, the firm has serviced agricultural and private clients," says George. "But now the split is almost 50:50 between commercial and private client work. I think it would be true to say that the commercial end of things will grow much more quickly, so I expect to see the proportions change quite dramatically in the future." He says that this drive will be helped by the fact that the new office in Chelmsford is entirely geared towards commercial work.
As well as positioning itself as a major player in Essex, Birkett Long is now competing with London firms for a growing body of work, particularly PFI ventures, which it professes to specialise in. "PFI work is quite unusual in a firm of our size, but we've been able to develop that skill and it has certainly helped us to grow our profitability," says George. Other target clients include health trusts, educational institutions and publishers, thanks to the hire of the former in-house counsel of Reader's Digest.
After such a flurry of activity in recent months, Birkett Long could be forgiven for wanting to sink back into a comfy chair for a while to catch its breath. But with Tony Frost on the brink of retirement after spending more than 23 years in the senior partner role, George is well aware that he can only rely on the stability of the "old faces" for a few years longer and is anticipating a "period of consolidation".
"I have got the wise heads to turn to and their brains to pick for a few years yet," he says. "But it is my job to look at the next generation of management very closely. I need to put the building blocks in place so that we can continue to develop in the way that we have done over the past five or six years."
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