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Established in 1890, Hempsons is anything but an old-fashioned firm. In the 115 years since it was created, when its partners broke away from Slaughter and May, the firm has remained independent, preferring, as managing partner Janice Barber puts it, to “slip the baton and pass on the partnership over the years”. As a result, the firm is very focused on its distinct culture and has homed in on specialist areas. And with 20 female partners out of a total of 33, things here are obviously done a little differently.
“Women tend to be inherently interested and attracted to the type of work we do. I think that a good woman can be better than a good man, as women have always had to push a bit harder and this is still true of today,” says Barber.
Primarily, the firm’s specialist areas are health, not-for-profit and charities work, alongside crime, regulatory work, commercial, property and employment. Barber says the work is heavily focused on the NHS and lists key clients as the NHS Litigation Authority, 52 acute NHS trusts and 57 primary care trusts. Hempsons has cornered a 20 per cent market share in both charities and hospitals work.
“We are a silent but extremely big player within our fields,” Barber told The Lawyer. “We expressly don’t comment to the press or public and, as the health sector generally chooses no publicity, we take client confidentiality extremely seriously.”
The firm stands out for being staffed by lawyers with relevant backgrounds. One partner is president of the Mental Health Act Review, another the chair of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, and another is an assistant coroner. The partners also include two district judges, an honorary fellow of the Royal Colleges and a member of the Legal Mental Health Commission. Barber points to other Hempsons lawyers who are dual qualified in fields ranging from medicine, dentistry, nursing and veterinary medicine. She says this phenomenon is not entirely coincidental. “Our staff are exceptional for their double careers, having taken skills and deployed them to work in a sector. We actively look for people who have some street cred in their fields,” she says.
Hempsons’ strategy for the future is to continue to grow organically, as Barber says the firm’s culture is too important to risk merging. “We aim to grow in our representation of both general medical practitioners and the NHS. We’d also like to extend to clients such as vets and dentists. In the health sector we’re looking to pick up more work and then to transfer those skills into the private healthcare sector,” she adds.
Further anticipated work includes advising on primary care trusts and general practitioner contracts, which were implemented in April this year. The firm is involved in a challenge to NHS consultants concerning the discrimination of part-time workers and “some significant criminal defence” in the ongoing organ retention litigation.
Barber admits Hempsons is something of an interesting and odd palette. “We’re incredibly lucky. Other peoples’ tragedy is intrinsically interesting and we do really care about an outcome. Our lawyers go home thinking they’ve made a difference, she says.”