A lot of law firms talk about understanding their clients’ needs, but Clarke Willmott claims to offer “more understanding”. This is the South West firm’s brand, and it means what it says. “It could sound a bit nebulous,” says managing partner David Sedgwick, “but we’re serious.”
What, though, does the brand mean? “Primarily, it’s to denote that we offer more understanding of our clients’ industries and the businesses in which they operate,” says Sedgwick, who became the firm’s managing partner in April 1999. “On top of that, we have as good a technical expertise as anyone. And we’re flexible as an employer, so we have more understanding of the balance between our clients’ and staff’s needs.”
Sedgwick’s colleagues “immerse themselves” in the firm’s chosen sectors, which range from sport and housebuilding to personal injury (PI) and corporate. “Our lawyers get very involved in their clients’ industries, often, for example, going on secondment… But we recognise we can’t be all things to all people and don’t try to be. What we aim to do is be proactive and avoid the stereotypical image of lawyers sitting in ivory towers.”
It is a forward-thinking approach that has served Clarke Willmott well. When Sedgwick became managing partner, turnover was around £12m. It has since trebled and, as Sedgwick says, “the firm has changed out of all recognition”. A few years ago the firm, which was set up in Taunton in 1898, was perceived as a West Country practice handling largely agricultural matters. Sedgwick points out that this, in itself, was wrong. “We didn’t have that big an agricultural practice,” he insists. But there is no question that the firm now has a radically different image.
Clarke Willmott’s merger with Southampton’s Ensor Byfield in 2002 continued a transitional phase started in 2000, when various of the firm’s Somerset offices were closed, with Bristol becoming the new head office. The firm had developed a highly-regarded sports law practice, acting for the likes of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, the Professional Rugby Players Association and individual players. The merger with Ensor Byfield – itself known for its sports work – raised Clarke Willmott’s profile for sports work. “This is very much one of the sectors we chose to focus on,” agrees Sedgwick. The firm acts for motor racing boss Tom Walkinshaw and football clubs such as Queen’s Park Rangers, Swindon and Gillingham, as well as various motor racing drivers.
Housebuilding is another mainstay of the firm’s work, as is PI and commercial property. The firm has established itself as a leading regional practice and Sedgwick can see a time when a London office will become necessary. “It’s something we’re thinking about,” he says. But if the finite details remain uncertain, he is unequivocal about where Clarke Willmott is going. “The plan is to be a top 50 firm by turnover within the next three years, with profits – of around £250,000 per partner – to match turnover,” he says.
Managing partner David Sedgwick
Total number of partners
Total number of lawyers
Main practice areas
Commercial property, corporate, dispute resolution, personal injury and private client
David Wilson Homes, Royal Automobile Club and Tom Walkinshaw