It is fair to say that Merseyside firm Barnetts is pleased with its recent move to a new £3m purpose-built office which is an impressive 20,000sq ft.
“The problem with being in Southport is people’s perceptions and the fact that if you have a little office, then you’re considered to be a little firm,” says senior partner Richard Barnett. “Now we’re in a new building and whoever drives here will immediately go ‘Wow!’” He believes that the building, with its glass front and cantilevered roof, will eventually house 300 staff. “It looks very smart, especially in the evening when it’s all lit up,” he adds, proudly.
But the four-partner firm has another reason, apart from aesthetics, for its new home to deliver a statement. “We want financial institutions to come to us and feel happy trusting us to do their work,” Barnett says. “The building shows we’re serious and not some tin-pot office with dust on the tables.” The distinction he is making is with those neglected dusty offices on the high street where conveyancing solicitors occasionally dwell and that are forever stuck in the 1950s.
The firm employs only 14 solicitors with some 240 other employees, including paralegals and other clerical staff. It is best known for its volume conveyancing practice, but it also boasts a sizeable personal injury department with 50 staff and a small commercial department, which has eight staff. The small number of lawyers in comparison to non-lawyers is all part of the firm’s factory ethos. “We’ve isolated those areas that need qualified lawyers so that we can make sure our lawyers are best utilised and not just hanging round to do basic boring administrative functions,” Barnett says.
When Barnett likens the new premises to a call-centre with its open plan offices, he means it as a compliment. Economies of scale and use of technology is how the firm likes to differentiate itself from others. And it seems to be working well – in the past year the personal injury department has recovered more than £6m for claimants. The conveyancing department also claims to have hit a personal best after banking more than £2bn of mortgage transactions during the previous 14 months, despite fears of a slowdown in the housing market. This represents a 110 per cent growth in turnover during the last financial year and there has been an increase in staff by 84 per cent.
Most interesting, perhaps, is that the firm uses text-messaging to inform clients when a transaction has completed. “We can send a message to some guy sitting in the pub and tell him we’ve exchanged contracts on his house purchase,” Barnett explains. “What a great way to deliver a good message.”
Number of partners
Number of solicitors
Number of paralegals and clerical staff
Main practice areas
Conveyancing and personal injury (in revenue terms conveyancing is about twice the size of personal injury