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For a small property firm founded just eight years ago, these could be dangerous times. But being small has its advantages, says Simon Manuel, joint managing partner at Clegg Manuel.
The Clerkenwell-based firm is on the edge of the cloud – both geographically and economically – that has formed over the City, and is a good barometer of what is happening post-property crash lower down the turnover scale.
“We’re still quite busy and taking new instructions every day, but residential property’s really dropped off,” says Manuel. “It’s difficult to know how to attract new property work because the market’s so unpredictable. One way of growing is to expand into new markets. We’re small enough to be fairly nimble and seize the opportunities as they come along.”
The firm is looking at growing its commercial work book with an eye on expanding its litigation and employment categories. Manuel says most of the firm’s clients are friends of Clegg Manuel – high-net-worth individuals and property owners who like “coming in to say hello” and who Manuel says will be fine to sit out the downturn, living off the fat of the property boom. That will not help bring in the fees, but at least the firm’s main clients will not fall over completely.
When they are not sitting tight and Manuel gets a call, the market tension hangs over the work the moment it comes in. The firm’s clients may be friends, but Manuel says the nervousness brings its own problems for lawyers.
“A lot of deals in the market are falling over at the last minute,” he says, “so both vendors and buyers are anxious that each other can come up with the money. This means there can be massive time pressures to get deals completed. The key is the funding – available cash is the big issue.”
Diversifying work and having friends as clients may help Clegg Manuel over the next 12 months. Many other firms of a similar size are hoping for the same.
Firm: Clegg Manuel Managing partners: Simon Manuel (left) and Richard Clegg Practice manager: Teresa Randles Turnover: £1.5m Number of partners: Five Number of equity partners: Two Number of lawyers: Eight Number of fee-earners: Eight Number of offices: One Location: London Main practice areas: Property, commercial, private client Clients: Premier Foods, Danescroft Commercial Developments