Some of the highest achievers start late in life. Some of those people end up at the very top of their professions. It’s the benefit of life experience, they say.
Claire Singleton, managing partner at Kent firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes, fits neatly into that mould.
At 48, she is heading a 12-partner regional practice that is predicting 20 per cent growth for the current financial year.
That’s not a bad track record for any managing partner, but it’s even more impressive considering that Paris-born Singleton wasn’t even a fully-qualified lawyer 15 years ago. It was only when her youngest child started going to nursery that she considered a radical change of direction. After qualifying in law, she took her first job as an assistant solicitor.
Things have moved quickly since then, but Singleton insists that family remains an integral part of both her personal and professional life. And she is keen to keep it that way at Clarkson Wright & Jakes.
“We’re going through a culture change,” she says of her firm. “We want to preserve our family approach and the personal touches our clients and staff hold dear, while becoming a slicker and more profitable machine in the marketplace.”
Clarkson Wright & Jakes started out as a Lincoln’s Inn firm in 1875, founded by the great-great-grandfather of an existing partner.
These days, following some significant expansion in 2001, it is based in a single Orpington office.
Streamlining the firm’s activities is a top priority, and Singleton, along with chief executive Frank Saxby, has pitched her practice at a specific level in the market.
“We see ourselves as a one-stop shop for the small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and high net worth individuals,” she says. “It’s all about providing a truly balanced approach.”
The firm now targets small and medium-sized businesses, and is careful to present a partner-led service. It is this top-level attention that draws clients who may be used to receiving advice from lower-level fee-earners at Clarkson Wright’s larger City rivals.
Spreading the firm’s work base across personal injury (PI), clinical negligence, commercial and private client has ensured an impressive growth of 50 per cent since the extension was completed, and the current software system was installed three years ago.
As a panel firm for the RAC, the practice can also draw a substantial level of PI work, another commitment that Singleton is keen to continue.
Her strategy for the future focuses on a growth trend that would keep the firm snapping at the heels of regional rivals including Tunbridge Wells-based Cripps Harries Hall and Thomson Snell Passmore.
Singleton has also recently introduced a new appraisal system as part of an improved management structure.
All this modernisation might tempt some managing partners to go all-out for more lucrative corporate work, but not Singleton. “We will always keep the family connection,” she maintains.
Clarkson Wright & Jakes
Total number of partners
Total number of fee-earners
Main practice areas
Commercial, personal injury, clinical negligence and private client
Philips Electronics UK, Panalpina World Transport, Ferndale Foods, Lancaster Group