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It was an eventful 2003 for Newcastle’s Gibson & Co. In just a year the 300-year-old firm grew from four partners to six with the hire of two Allen & Overy (A&O) litigators.
The firm, one of the oldest in the UK, was founded in the 1720s in the agricultural town of Hexham and has been in the Gibson family for 10 generations since. Of the six partners, four – including managing partner Anthony – are Gibsons. As managing partner, Anthony Gibson says: “Up until now, it’s been very much a family-based private client operation.”
Wills and probate and conveyancing account for the bulk of the work, alongside family and personal injury, with a sprinkling of commercial and property. The two-partner Hexham office, where the firm was founded, has practices largely in private client work for local Northumberland families, some of which have been clients for 200 years.
Flaunting clients is not the done thing at the firm. “I don’t feel disposed to disclose a lot of names. My father would turn in his grave,” says Anthony. Nevertheless, the firm’s clients include energy company Mitsui Babcock and property company J Bradburn & Co. BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland and pottery queen Emma Bridgewater are also clients.
The hire of married pair Toby and Jane Gibson has prompted a strategic rethink. Last year it started targeting national and local clients. In particular, the firm is now targeting banking clients.
Gibson & Co may also benefit from the pair’s ties to A&O. At least one client followed from A&O, and they hope to win referrals. Jane says: “Given our experience of complex financial disputes, including derivatives disputes, there are big conflicts opportunities.”
Litigation presently accounts for only a fraction of turnover, but Toby and Jane are aiming to expand the commercial and financial litigation practice. Anthony says: “They have expertise and experience of commercial litigation in London. We’re able to offer that service at a far more competitive rate because of our lower overheads.” The firm is a safe bet on litigation conflicts, as it presents no threat to the referring firm. “They know we won’t be competing with them for transactional work,” says Jane.
The firm has resisted at least two mergers. “We’d have to move more centrally to Newcastle. A huge proportion of our clients live within walking distance of our offices – it just wouldn’t have worked,” says Anthony.
The secret to the firm’s longevity is simple. “There’s always been a son ready to take it on from his father,” says Anthony. “Toby had doubts to start, but he later saw the comparative advantages of living in the country.”
But retiring early is not among them. “My father and great-grandfather were all working full time in their 80s,” says Anthony, adding: “I have a long time to go until retirement.”
Gibson & Co
Total number of partners
Total number of lawyers
Main practice areas
Commercial litigation, conveyancing, matrimonial, personal injury and wills and probate
Emma Bridgewater, J Bradburn & Co, Mitsui Babcock and Sir Christopher Bland