Firm profile: Devonshires

Devonshires is not your conventional City firm: it does not have a managing partner, it derives 65 per cent of its turnover from housing associations and has only one office.

The firm’s unusual management structure, which features functional heads rather than a managing partner, was instituted in April, as management wanted an easier flow of communication within the firm and felt that an executive team should be non-legal.

“For six years we had a managing partner and we decided that we’d grown too large to operate that way,” explains head of IT and strategy Andrew Cowan.

The change in management structure, however, seems to be the first of many for the firm, whose affair with housing associations began in 1972.

“We started working with the associations and kept this central focus,” explains head of HR and facilities Nick Billingham. “We now want to be seen as more than a social housing firm.”

With the firm bringing in new finance director William Wright to its management team in May and corporate head Jonathan Ebsworth from Bates Wells & Braithwaite in September, Billingham says that now all of the vacancies have been filled, management can get on with business.

The firm’s management team has identified specific areas for growth, which are expected to be spun off from its housing offering. “In a way we’ve undersold our other practices,” says Billingham.

“But we can expand areas that are linked to our housing work,” adds Cowan, who explains that housing associations are using their financial power to drive commercial deals.

But the details of these changes are still at the preliminary stages. “We’re just about to commence discussions on our growth,” explains Cowan.

All this and more will be deliberated this November as the firm’s management meets to discuss strategy, where it will deliberate on lateral hires, sector challenges and opportunities and the firm’s market focus.

Ideas high up on the agenda include geographical expansion – although this does nullify the firm’s single office characteristic.

“We’re exploring opening another office in either Birmingham or Manchester,” admits Billingham, emphasising that the office would not be in London.

The traditional firm appears to have been given a new lease of life, with expansions of practice areas, geographical growth and innovative management structures underway.

However, management affirms that not everything will be changing. “We’re quite confident of remaining private and won’t be changing into an LLP,” insists Billingham.

Senior partner: Allan Hudson
Turnover: £18.6m
Total number of partners: 25
Total number of lawyers: 69
Main practice areas: Corporate, social housing, commercial
Key clients: London & Quadrant Housing Trust, Grainger Trust, Southern Housing Group, Tottenham Hotspur FC
Number of offices: One
Main office: London Wall