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Being a regional firm can have its advantages, as Birketts in East Anglia discovered this year. The 38-partner firm benefited from the closure of Eversheds’ Norwich office and has seen its total lawyer headcount in the town rise from six in 2004 to more than 50 fee-earners today.
Birketts chief executive Alistair Lang, a non-lawyer credited with improving the firm’s fortunes since he was appointed in 2001, has been keen to snap up lawyers with “local knowledge”. A former regional director at Bank of Scotland, Lang has presided over double-digit growth for the past five years – up from £6.3m in 2005 to £16.3m last year – making Birketts the third largest firm in the region. He is now targeting turnover of £17.5m over the coming financial year.
Lang says a recent drop in work in the firm’s property practice is being balanced by success within its four-strong shipping team. Shipping clients in the Far East, successfully built up by Singaporean partner Nicolas Woo, now account for revenue of £750,000 a year with a target of £1.5m for 2008-09.
“It’s an interesting part of our practice,” explains Lang. “The coming year will throw up some twists, so it’s good to have unusual skills that mark us out.” Lang admits Birketts could see some people leaving during the downturn.
“We’ll be looking at trimming people who are not as competent as we would like,” he says. “We have a long-term game plan and short-term nudges off the path will be inevitable.”
That said, December will begin on a positive note for Birketts, with the opening of a new 25,000sq ft Norwich office to house the new recruits.
Firm: Birketts Chief executive: Alistair Lang (above) Turnover: £16.3m Number of partners: 38 Number of equity partners: 21 Number of lawyers: 130 Number of fee-earners: 130 Main practice areas: Corporate finance, commercial services, commercial property, shipping, agriculture and estate planning Key clients: Greene King, Hopkins Homes, BOCM Pauls, Lafarge, P&I Clubs Number of offices: Three Locations: Ipswich, Norwich, Cambridge