Malcolm Price, managing partner of BPE, has a down-to-earth approach to business that is reflected in the firm’s name.
“We were Bretherton Price Elgood following a merger between two established Cheltenham firms in 1989, but that was too much of a mouthful,” he says. “We’re not precious about our names and so became BPE a couple of years ago, at the same time as we put all our Cheltenham operations under one roof.”
Price’s tenure as managing partner has seen the firm emerge as the largest practice in Gloucestershire, with more than 250 staff working on one large open-plan floor. Cheltenham remains the centre of operations, which are conducted in a “non-hierarchical and egalitarian” spirit, according to Price.
“We have a very relaxed working atmosphere with very few rules,” he says. “Hardly anyone wears a suit and those who do are the rebels. We don’t regiment people – there’s no point trying to get rainmakers to time-record, and equally you can’t expect the more shy and retiring to be thrust into the limelight. But everyone here tends to be a self-starter.”
BPE has achieved a four-fold increase in turnover in the past eight years, a rate of growth that has prompted the opening of an office in Birmingham. “We want to continue at this rate but recognise that we need another centre to help us do it,” says Price.
The Birmingham office is staffed by 20 people and BPE has a hot-desk facility in London. The firm has also started to attract those disenchanted with City life.
“We’ve attracted many City escapees from magic circle firms,” says Price. “Just as they are benefiting from the quality of life here, we are benefiting from their training.”
Training is something BPE takes very seriously. “We appointed a training director and set up ‘Project Vampire’, by which we decided that the young lawyers were the victims of the partners,” explains Price. “We gave the junior members of the firm as much help as we could to get out there and get the business, and they’ve all responded brilliantly.”
BPE is on the panel of the C&G and Chelsea Building Society for volume remortgage work, and also handles volume residential conveyancing referrals from Bradford & Bingley and Countrywide Property Lawyers. The corporate and property teams worked together recently on the sale of retail chain Bewise, and the firm has a strong reputation for AIM flotation work.
BPE also has its own software company, Intelligent Conveyancing, or ‘Icon’. “We sell a fully-developed case management system for residential property to other lawyers to enable the high street to handle e-conveyancing,” says Price. “I don’t think I’m overstating things to say that this could be the salvation of the high-street practice.”
Price will finish his stint as managing partner in 14 months. He cites John Harvey Jones’ belief that management needs a change every seven years: “You shouldn’t hang around in the managing partner’s role for too long. You need fresh blood and new ideas to stimulate the business.”
Suits or no suits, BPE looks set to be in good shape by the time he leaves.
Total number of partners
Total number of lawyers
Main practice areas
Corporate, litigation and real estate
C&G, Chelsea Building Society, Hammerson and Wolsey