Firm profile: Archon
13 February 2006
Senior partner: Jill Andrew
Total number of fee-earners: Nine, including four partners
Main practice area: Employment
Key clients: Cress Nicholson, Diageo, The Economist Group, high-net-worth executives
Number of offfices: One
Life in a boutique firm does not suit everyone, but for Jill Andrew and her partners it is paying dividends.
Andrew is senior partner of employment boutique Archon, the firm she joined in 1995 having had stints at McKenna & Co (now CMS Cameron McKenna), Masons (now Pinsent Masons, where she was head of employment) and DLA (now DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary).
Although the firm is small, it boasts a client list for which many top 100 firms would give their Christmas bonuses. As Andrew points out with a lighthearted hairdressing analogy, it is not always the biggest names that are best. "Those in the know go to Michael van Clark, not Nicky," she says. "And the people in the know, know who we are."
Archon acts for a mixture of high-net-worth individuals, primarily boardroom directors on their way out of or into a company. For example, it recently handled Paul Mason's entry into Somerfield from Levi Strauss. It also advises a raft of well-known organisations, including Diageo, the Dorchester Group and King's College.
Now the firm has taken another significant step forward with the recruitment of well-known employment specialist Corinne Aldridge from Aldridge Parker, the firm that was founded just two years ago by former Bird & Bird partners Aldridge and Helen Parker. Parker plans to continue as a sole practitioner, but Aldridge was attracted by the lure of a slightly larger firm.
The two partners had worked together as a team for several years, having initially teamed up at the pre-merger Wilde Sapte (now Denton Wilde Sapte). Aldridge Parker handled a similar mix of corporate and high-end employment work for individuals, although it also had a particular focus on discrimination work. Aldridge is best known for advising Louise Barton on her sexual discrimination case against Investec.
Andrew is a standard bearer for boutique firms and was instrumental in setting up a group named Niche Network, an employment law-based group that has grown to around 20 firms. "I know we're little, but what the market's missing is the level of work we do," she says. "We're cracking some big clients and with Corinne we have four heavyweight employment partners in one firm. Not many big firms can compete with that."
For those curious about the name Archon, it has a curious pedigree. More erudite readers may recognise it as the name of the principal magistrates in ancient Athens. But the legal link is not, it transpires, entirely intentional. Archon also represents the initial letters of the firm's three partners at the time of a rebrand in February 2001. "That gave us A, R and C," says Andrew. "So we looked in the Oxford English Dictionary and came up with that. It could've been a lot worse."