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Times have changed a lot since Berkshire firm Gardner Leader was set up in 1895. Nowadays firms are brand-aware, have state-of-the-art IT systems, work through management committees and even, in the case of the present day Gardner Leader, allow clients to provide ‘qualitative appraisals’.
“We’re a very approachable firm and recently introduced a system whereby clients give us feedback on the service we’ve provided,” says senior partner Derek Child. “As a profession, lawyers aren’t traditionally very good at this sort of thing, but no one should have anything to fear unless they’re not giving a good service.”
Child explains that the qualitative appraisal enables clients to score the service they have received between zero and six. “It’s very empowering for both sides,” he says, agreeing that the system helps keep the firm’s lawyers on their toes. So much so that scores at the upper end of the scale are the norm. “One client even gave us a seven,” says Child.
The work receiving such enthusiastic praise is a broad mix typical of a leading county firm. Historically, Gardner Leader has links to Newbury Racecourse, and Child says the firm is still involved in the racecourse and racing industry. He declines to talk about clients (“I make it a rule never to talk about them,” he explains), but says that the firm “punches well above its weight”, citing membership of LawNet as one way in which “added value” is given.
“LawNet enables us to share our experiences with other firms and means we can offer clients more,” says Child, who is a convert to the cooperative framework for training, education and legal services evolved by LawNet, a federation of independent law firms. “The cooperative spirit of LawNet is vital in today’s legal marketplace,” he adds.
A similarly cooperative modus operandi exists within Gardner Leader itself, according to Child. “Following a rebranding process in 2002, we’ve hit upon a system in which everyone takes part in marketing,” he says. “Everyone has an input in where we’re going. The tendency in many firms is for partners to try and dodge the system, but here no one can opt out – and no one wants to opt out.”
Management of the firm is conducted by a management board, which consists of Child as senior partner and two managing partners. There is a marketing committee and a case management system which, as Child says, “underpins everything, but also has a human face”. The firm has a total staff of 76 and five distinct teams handling real estate, commercial, family, litigation and inheritance protection.
With so much change at the firm since 1895, Child has no intention of leaving it at that. “Having rebranded, we’ve taken the last financial year to position ourselves for expansion, and we’re looking to grow over the next two to three years,” he says. After all, “you can’t stand still,” continues Child. “If you do, all that happens is that you just go backwards.”
Senior partner Derek Child
Total number of partners
Total number of solicitors
Main practice areas
Commercial, family, inheritance protection, litigation and real estate