Firm profile: Barnetts

Barnetts is a niche firm, with just one office, two practice areas and only two partners in the equity.

There are no plans to secure another office, broaden its offering or bring more partners into the equity.

The firm’s two equity partners, who share the profit from a massive £14m turnover, are understandably keen to maintain the status quo.

The firm operates a management structure similar to that of a company, with a non-legally qualified CEO at the helm of decision-making, and six others, consisting of legal and non-legal members.

“Around 90 per cent of our revenue stems from conveyancing work,” says partner Gill Preston, who also sits on the firm’s board.

Barnetts represent banks such as NatWest and carries out all conveyancing work on behalf of the bank when a mortgage is being issued. The firm also ensures that all the bank’s mortgage documentation is executed properly.

It has traditionally found clients through tender processes in which the firm wins contracts for 12-month periods to handle all conveyancing work for lenders.

“Our conveyancing work is very large scale – too large for firms who are not specialised enough,” explains Preston.

Posing a threat to the firm’s success is the current uncertainty in the housing market. “Mortgages are getting harder to obtain, lenders are tightening up and it’s having a knock-on effect on the conveyancing market,” says Preston.

To mitigate against this, Barnetts has taken the decision to diversify its client base rather than its practices.

“We’re finding new ways to get clients,” Preston explains. “We want to secure more lenders, increase our introductions and make sure our eggs aren’t all in one basket.”

Under this strategy Barnetts launched its online ‘brand’ Click Conveyancing last summer, which was designed completely in-house. Click allows potential clients to obtain quotations for conveyancing and appoint the firm through the internet.

“We’ve had more than 500 new cases through Click Conveyancing,” Preston says.

Following the success of the tool, the firm launched a similar Click Accident website last December, which is a similar tool for personal injury.

There are plans to increase the contribution of private client work to the top line to between 15 and 20 per cent from its current 10 per cent over the next 12 months.

Preston is also keen to develop further the firm’s internet tools, which have quickly become Barnetts’ fastest means to secure new clients.

But with the demise of claims injuries companies and the volatility in the housing scene, times do look hard, and the firm’s strategy to stick to its niche, and not to offer any counter-cyclical services, is nevertheless a gamble.

CEO: Joe Whelan

Turnover:

£14m

Total number of partners:

Four

Total number of lawyers:

18

Total number of fee-earners:

68

Main practice areas:

Conveyancing, private client

Key clients:

NatWest, Britannia, Royal Bank of Scotland

Number of offices:

One Location: Southport, Merseyside